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Nice Guys Finish Last (unless you're Steve Rogers)

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After waiting impatiently for nearly twenty minutes, Bucky fired off a curt text to Brock, asking where the hell he was. Bucky placed his cell phone next to his almost-finished drink, and stared at its blank screen as he drummed his fingers on the bar.

If Brock was on the subway, he may not get the message. That’d be the only good reason he wasn’t replying, Bucky thought.

Inconsiderate jerk.

Someone brushed against his side, and Bucky bristled instantly. He’d fielded off a couple offers already. Damn Brock for choosing a gay-friendly bar, and then stranding him here alone. He had to know that patience was not Bucky’s best virtue by now.

The body brushing up against Bucky’s side was a man, laughing at something his companion, a woman, had said. Bucky hoped they were together, and that they’d leave him alone. It wasn’t like the bar was crowded, why press up against him, for fuck’s sake?

He seethed quietly, back ramrod straight as he glared at his phone.

Brock, you’re a dead man.

Almost as if in reply, a message came through. It was from Brock.

At last.

But Bucky’s relief was short lived, and as soon as he read the message his anger returned in earnest.

“The fuck…” he muttered, re-reading to make sure he wasn’t seeing things.

Something came up, the message said. Raincheck?

“Raincheck,” Bucky gritted out, followed by a snort. “The fuck does he think this is?”

Likely sensing his anger, the couple at his side fell quiet and moved away.

Good.

Bucky felt angry enough to pick up his glass and pitch it into the wall, property damage or not. He had to get out of here before he lost his temper for real.

He left money on the bar, grabbed his phone and jacket, then stormed out. It wasn’t even seven PM yet, and still light outside. Bucky scowled at everyone else in the street, probably going to their dates that hadn’t stood them up. And here Bucky was, stranded on a Friday night.

“Just perfect,” he grumbled to himself, looking at his phone as he went through his contacts. He selected Natasha, and held the phone to his ear, listening to it ring. “Pick up, pick up,” he chanted, pressing himself into the side of a building to avoid all the pedestrians rushing past. Traffic was busy, and loud. For the moment, it all felt a little too overwhelming for Bucky to handle.

Thankfully, Natasha picked up. “James,” she greeted warmly. “Is this your pocket calling me again, or is it actually you?”

Bucky huffed a small laugh. “Hey. My pocket and I both wanna know, are you working tonight?”

He prayed she wasn’t.

“Friday night,” Natasha said slowly, “our busiest night? Yeah, I’m working. Are you going to drop by? Clint’s been asking after you.”

Bucky cracked a smile. “Yeah, I was… I mean, you’re not doing a function or anything? We’d have time to hang out?”

“I am doing a function, as it happens,” Natasha said, as Bucky’s hopes sank. “But, it’s actually for a friend of ours, Sharon. You should come down. There’ll be people you know, and Clint will be downstairs with Sam.”

Bucky debated this. Of course he wanted to see his friends, it’d been too long. But he already knew it wasn’t his idea of fun to sit at bars on his own, watching his friends work a busy Friday night with hardly a spare moment to chat.

Well… it wasn’t like he had anywhere else to go. Maybe he’d stop in for one drink, show his face at least.

“Yeah,” he said finally, “I’ll come by now. Tell Clint I need a whiskey on the rocks as soon as I walk in the door.”

Natasha hummed lightly. “Like that, is it? Sure thing, James. I’ve got the vodka on standby.”

Bucky laughed. “No, no. Now you’re asking for trouble, Natalia. I’m not gonna mix my drinks tonight. Just one and I’ll head home.”

She snorted lightly. “I’ll remind you that you said that.”

 

~ ~ ~

 

Two hours later.

 

“How much vodka are you putting in there?” Bucky demanded, watching Clint mix the drink. “I said no tequila! It makes me insane.”

“You’re already insane,” Clint said with a smirk. He covered the tall glass with a mixer, winking at Bucky as he picked them up to shake.

Bucky grinned back at him, watching his friend shake the cocktail like a pro. “You just wanna show off your guns,” he teased, admiring Clint’s strong arms and overall physique in his tight tank top.

Hey, he was allowed to look.

“Why’d you think I chose bar tending as a career?” Clint shot back, twirling the mixer round in nimble fingers and totally showing off now. Bucky loved the attention, it made him smile.

He’d really missed his friends.

Sam ---Clint and Natasha’s business partner--- was on the other end of the bar, working hard in order to give Clint a chance to talk to Bucky.

Natasha was upstairs, dealing with that birthday party, and Bucky really needed to go say hi to her too, but then Clint and cocktails had happened.

“Business good?” Bucky asked, although it was obvious that the bar was doing well. Another couple of minutes, and Clint would probably have to go serve other customers.

“Can’t complain,” Clint said, but his smile gave away how happy he was. Bucky had never seen him look this calm and relaxed, considering he was in charge of a busy bar. It was a good look on him, Bucky thought. He was pleased the business venture was working out.

Clint poured the Long Island Iced Tea in a tall glass with ice, and placed it in front of Bucky, topping it off with a curly pink straw.

“Oh, gee, thanks.” Bucky grabbed the straw and took a large sip. “Shit, that’s amazing. Why do I taste orange in there?”

“That’s the triple sec.” Clint grinned, obviously proud. “Trying out some different flavors. Stick around and you can be my guinea pig.”

Bucky groaned, taking another large sip. “You tryin’ to get me drunk, Barton?”

Clint waggled his eyebrows, which made Bucky nearly snort drink up his nose.

“Seriously, though,” Clint said, “stick around. I’ve gotta go serve right now, but I’ll be back.”

“Yeah, I know.” Bucky leaned back a little so he could fumble in his jacket, searching for cash. “What do I owe you for this?”

Clint waved him off. “I already opened you a tab.”

“Man,” Bucky muttered, as Clint smirked and then left him with his drink. He was gonna get so drunk, this wasn’t good. Maybe he should ask Clint to confiscate his phone, Bucky thought. Preventative damage control.

He pulled his phone out to check it. No messages. He tried not to feel bitter about that, but it was difficult. What the fuck was Brock doing anyway? What was more important than seeing him?

Bucky festered over that, considering typing a message. He hadn’t replied to Brock as yet, too angry to trust himself with a mature response. No, he’d ignore Brock. That’s what he’d do. Ignore the fuck out of him, then wait for the asshole to realise he was in the dog house and come crawling back.

Bucky sighed, and put his phone away. Don’t message anyone, he told himself.

He took another sip of his drink.

Shouldn’t be drinking tequila, he thought. Especially not tequila and vodka together… with rum. And those whiskey’s he’d had earlier.

No more drinks after this one, Barnes.

Except, over an hour later, Bucky had drunk another Long Island Iced Tea, this one with a hint of cherry, and he still hadn’t gone upstairs to see Natasha. In fact, he hadn’t wanted to move from his spot at the bar. It was Friday night, and it was busy. Busier than he’d expected.

Which was fine, it just… made him a little edgy. Crowds meant that people pressed together, drunk, and they never noticed his left sleeve pinned up where his arm used to be. They didn’t notice, and often they’d bump into him. Sometimes it could be enough to knock him off balance, sometimes it just plain hurt and annoyed him.

All of it was unpleasant, and not something Bucky wanted to deal with. He realised he was kinda drunk, and trapped here on his own. He couldn’t exactly bother Clint or Sam to get them to escort him out. He didn’t want to interrupt.

As he sat there panicking, Natasha appeared, a silver ice bucket in hand. She wore all black, much the same as usual, though tonight it was a black vest top, her red hair worn loose. She spotted him, and made her way over.

“So this is where you’re hiding out.” She smiled at him, but he saw the concern in her eyes.

Bucky didn’t know what to say without feeling ridiculous. I got ditched tonight, I’m in a bad mood. The bar is too crowded and I just want to be at home… except I’m sick of being lonely.

No. No, he definitely wouldn’t be saying any of that out loud. He wasn’t that drunk.

And yet somehow Natasha picked up on his mood, as the next thing she suggested was that he follow her out back while she got more ice, and they could bypass the bar by taking the back stairs.

“Not a big party,” Natasha told him, “just a few friends.”

Bucky was on his feet in a second, only wobbling a little. “Sounds good,” he slurred.

She smiled at him, then reached out with her free hand to run a finger across his jaw. “You shaved?”

“Shut up.” He shrugged her off. “I shave. It happens, sometimes.”

“What’s the occasion?”

Bucky frowned. “Nothing,” he grumbled, not wanting to talk about it, at least not where it was so busy.

Natasha nodded calmly, almost like she was telling him in a silent language, hey, it’s okay. “Like the hair,” she commented, which Bucky knew was a peace offering. “Haven’t seen it tied back before.”

“Yeah,” he forced out, “the man bun is in this season, didn’t you know?”

She smiled at his feeble attempt at humour, then beckoned him to follow.

 

~ ~ ~

 

Bucky had no idea who Sharon was, but apparently she was a friend of Natasha’s and Sam’s.

Natasha hadn’t lied, this really wasn’t a big party. The upstairs private bar was nice; cosy and comfortable with dimmer lighting. Bucky approved.

The birthday girl, Sharon ---at least Bucky assumed it was Sharon, given the fact she was surrounded by cards and gifts--- was seated at a table, surrounded by friends. The tables were only small, decorative, so a couple had been pulled together to house everyone’s drinks and Sharon’s birthday paraphernalia.

There were only a handful of people seated, while out on the floor couples were dancing, drunkenly, to some sort of swing music.

Bucky cast the dancers a look, but he definitely wouldn’t be partaking. He looked back to the table as Natasha guided him to an empty chair. It was then that Bucky’s brain kicked into gear and he realised he did know people here.

Thank God.

Tony, Pepper, and Rhodey greeted him, surprised but welcoming. They got him seated, Tony poured him a fresh drink from a pitcher he had, while Pepper introduced Sharon. Bucky smiled, somewhat in relief, as he wished Sharon a happy birthday.

Natasha had gone back to her small bar, just as Sharon asked how Bucky was acquainted.

“We were at college,” Bucky rattled off. “Me, Clint and ‘Tasha.”

He didn’t really want so much attention on himself, so he quickly turned the focus back on Sharon, asking if she wanted a drink, if she’d had a nice birthday… yadda, yadda.

Bucky could turn on the charm when he wanted, and it wasn’t long before Tony was butting in, commanding the spotlight and talking up a storm. It was always a relief to be around Tony, for that reason.

Conversation and laughter flowing steady, Bucky looked to his side, assessing the handful of people he wasn’t acquainted with. His eyes passed over the girls ---pretty, but not for him--- and an older, brunet man he didn’t know, but his gaze came to a stop on a cute and totally built blond man.

Blondie was staring right back at him, like he’d seen something he wanted. Bucky knew that look, and in turn his eyes raked over Blondie’s tight white t-shirt and exposed arms, beautifully toned with smooth, pale skin.

Nice.

Bucky was feeling drunk enough to flirt, so he leaned forward and demanded, rather offhand, “I don’t know you, do I?”

The blond blinked, and Bucky wished it was brighter in here so he could see what colour his eyes were. Blondie’s full, pink lips curved into a smile, and he looked gorgeous smiling.

“Steve,” he said, in a rich, deep voice, and offered his hand.

Bucky didn’t have time to dwell on anything ---like how hot this guy’s voice was, not to mention the rest of him--- before he was panicking about the handshake, and looking down…

Steve was offering his right hand.

Oh, thank God.

Bucky grabbed it, muttered his name as he pumped it once, but he couldn’t look at Steve again. Suddenly he didn’t really feel like being around all these people, so he made some excuse about going to the bar, and retreated.

Clearly, he’d had too much to drink.

Under the pretence of keeping Natasha company, Bucky lurked at her small bar, checking his phone.

Still no messages. Damn Brock and his game-playing. Bucky was sick of this shit. Why couldn’t he find someone to date who wasn’t a complete asshole?

Glancing back at the party-goers, Bucky’s hungry gaze found Steve. The guy was happily chatting with his friends, though he seemed somewhat quieter than anyone else. Maybe he wasn’t as drunk as the rest of them.

Bucky was so drunk. The lights were starting to blur, and that meant he’d really had enough. Maybe in the morning the terrible hangover he was bound to get could distract him from this weird, out of place feeling he usually got when he was with people.

Sort of… unmoored. On his own.

As usual, he thought gloomily.

“I didn’t know you had horse genes,” Natasha commented, pushing a glass of water his way.

Bucky blinked at her, not sure he’d heard right. She stared at him levelly until he responded with a grunt, “Huh?”

“Horse genes,” she repeated. “They’d explain your long face this evening.”

“Ugh.” Bucky rolled his eyes dramatically, as Natasha chuckled. “That was fucking terrible,” he slurred, “Clint’s been rubbing off on you.”

She raised one eyebrow, smirking a little.

“Gah!” Bucky grunted. “That was’ what I meant.”

“It is true, though,” she said.

“’m sh- sure…”

“Barnes, you’re slurring. Taxi for one?”

“I…” He thought about that, and conceded she was right. “Yeah,” he said sheepishly. “Thank you.”

“No problem.”

He sulked at the bar while she called him a cab. What a crappy night, he thought, checking his phone for the millionth time. If only he could doze off here and forget all about it.

“Cab’s waiting,” Natasha’s voice floated near his ear.

Wow, he felt sleepy.

“You all right to share with Steve? He’ll walk out with you.”

Bucky tried to protest ‘no’, but his incredibly drunk mouth only managed a half-hearted, “Nnnnnh…”

Natasha ignored him anyway, taking his hand and guiding him through that secret staff entrance again. Then a larger presence was by his side ---his right side, thankfully--- holding his upper arm firmly but carefully, and guiding him down the dark stairs to the street.

“Lucky we live in almost the same direction, huh?” Steve’s voice was saying. Bucky didn’t concentrate on the words so much, just the rich baritone and the strong, firm body against his.

Steve was huge. Bucky hadn’t realised when the guy’d been sat down, but next to him now, Steve was a large, reassuring presence. Something about him felt very calming, and strangely Bucky didn’t rebuff the help like he normally might.

On some level he was aware that this was embarrassing; Natasha had seen him stumble around drunk before, but Steve hadn’t. What a great first impression.

For some reason Bucky started laughing. Then his stomach did a tell-tale gurgle and he quickly shut up. “Man…” he groaned, then muttered about Clint’s cocktails under his breath.

They reached the street, and Steve guided him into the back of the waiting cab. “Here we go, nice and easy. Perfect.” He shut Bucky in and then went around to the other door, giving the driver directions to Bucky’s apartment.

“How’d you know where I live?” Bucky mumbled, head lolling sleepily.

“Natasha wrote it down for me,” Steve said quietly. It was dark in the cab, and Bucky couldn’t really focus on anything… except Steve’s legs next to him. Those thighs looked pretty firm. Bucky wondered how firm, and debated how much effort it would take to reach out and squeeze. Just to be sure.

Steve seemed like a decent kind of guy, he probably wouldn’t mind. Bucky was a master of getting away with shit when he was drunk.

Except the last thing he remembered was pulling up outside his apartment, and Steve helping him out ---because he was taking too long to stand up, apparently--- and pretty much frog-marching Bucky to his door.

Then the blissful darkness of sleep.

For a crazy moment, Bucky woke up expecting to be in bed, with that handsome stranger beside him…

But no, he was alone, sprawled out on his couch. He huffed to himself, and closed his eyes again.

 

Chapter Text

Bucky felt gross even in his sleep, and worse when he actually woke up. The room spun a little, so he didn’t try to move, just lay back on his couch feeling more disgusting and sick than he ever remembered feeling.

Damn Clint and his cocktails.

After a half hour, Bucky felt okay enough to move his hand and look for his cell phone, to text Clint his feelings on the matter. It was then Bucky noticed the large glass of water on his coffee table.

Huh.

He must’ve had a moment of forward thinking before he passed out here on the couch. Gingerly, he reached for the water, trying not to move too much. When he clutched the glass and tasted the cool liquid, he grunted in relief, gulping it down.

That helped.

Now he could find his phone. Brock had better have replied by now, Bucky thought, still pissed off about last night, though his anger was somewhat muted by his hangover.

A bunch of messages and notifications greeted him as he opened his touchscreen, and Bucky’s hopes shot up.

But as he went through each message, he realised none of them were from Brock.

It was nearly eight AM. Far too early for a Saturday morning. Most of the messages had come through last night, or even earlier this morning. One from Natasha, wishing him a safe journey home, with winking face.

Bucky snorted at that.

One from Clint, calling him out on being a lightweight. Bucky just rolled his eyes. Clint’s mixing was lethal, there was no other explanation for it.

He replied to Clint first, apologising for skipping out before paying his tab, and promising to come in again soon, with cash. He also blamed him for this monstrous hangover.

A message from Tony, mocking him for being so drunk ---Wow, he hadn’t been that awful, had he? God, please don’t let there be pictures--- and something about ‘the good boy scout’ seeing him home.

Bucky was mildly confused about that, until he checked his Facebook notification and saw he had a new friend request.

From Steven Rogers.

Oh, right. Steve, his booze-addled mind supplied. Cute, built, blond. Nice smile.

Bucky dwelled on the memory of Steve for a long moment. All he really remembered was one image, of Steve sitting there, staring back at him, and then later, the strong presence of a man next to him… but maybe Bucky’s eyes had been part closed then, as he couldn’t recall any visuals to go with that feeling.

He huffed a sigh. Steve had felt very solid. The guy was probably straight, though. It was weird he’d sent a friend request. Bucky didn’t even know the guy.

A quick glance at the screen told Bucky that they had quite a few mutual friends.

Hmm…

Bucky went to check his newsfeed first. He’d deliberate over anything else later. First he wanted to untag any gross photos of himself if they’d popped up overnight, as tended to happen at any social function he dared venture into.

Bucky was very careful over his online photos, mainly because he didn’t like full shots of him where it was quite obvious he was missing an arm. It just kinda hurt to be reminded of it, or have pictures there for anyone else to study at length.

He hated when people posted pictures of him.

This time, he was fortunate enough to find that he hadn’t been tagged in anything. It was still early though, everyone else was probably asleep.

A few of his friends had been tagged or shared photos already from last night. Bucky could see from the names tagged they were all these mutual friends he’d only just met.

Including Steven Rogers.

Bucky stared at a photo from Sharon’s birthday, studying Steve, mostly. Yeah, he was definitely cute.

The next thing Bucky saw in his newsfeed made him freeze. A cold, icy feeling ran over his skin. Brock had been tagged in someone’s photos, and it looked very much that Brock was in some random bar, pressed against some random, extremely handsome male, and they were clearly in the middle of enjoying a conversation.

The photos had gone online around one AM last night, about an hour after Bucky had passed out drunk.

Bucky was furious. What the fuck was this, exactly? Brock had cancelled on him to… what? Go hang out with someone else? He wasn’t even trying to hide it, by the looks of things.

Sure, they hadn’t had the talk or anything yet, they weren’t exclusive. They hadn’t been seeing each other long enough for anything heavy, but…

But.

Why was Brock ditching him on a date night?

Bucky was so angry. If he weren’t in mortal danger of vomiting, he’d get up and trash his own apartment.

It hadn’t even been three months, was Brock bored of him already? Bucky tried counting off the dates they’d had, the hook ups versus the actual dates, and tried to figure out if it seemed too much, if he’d come on too strong.

He felt like he hardly ever got to see Brock as it was, so how could Brock want to see other people this soon? Unless he’d been seeing them all along.

Shit.

Bucky felt like a sucker, he couldn’t believe he’d pinned his hopes on an unreliable jerk. Like, again, dammit. He knew what he needed to do, he had to teach Brock a lesson. Make him jealous. Fucking get back out there and net some total hunk, get right back at Brock where it hurt, and…

Oh.

An internal lightbulb pinged in Bucky’s brain as a wicked idea formed. He ignored his newsfeed, and went back to his notifications.

Steven Rogers, friend request accepted.

 

~ ~ ~

 

After dozing an hour more, Bucky finally dragged himself into his shower. At least he didn’t feel sick now, he reasoned, resting his head against the cool tile wall as the spray massaged his back. The water was still warming up, he’d forgotten to wait before stepping in.

Bucky went over things in his head as he showered. One thing was clear: he had to up his game with Brock. He’d obviously been too eager, too complacent.

Too trusting, dammit.

Well, if there was one thing Bucky knew for sure, it was that guys like Brock didn’t like being denied anything. All Bucky had to do was make the guy jealous, dent his pride a little to get him to come crawling back.

Play the game.

Except… ugh. Bucky had kinda run out of enthusiasm for the game. All that falseness, and the playing around. It was so damn tiring.

Okay, maybe he’d enjoyed dating before…

Before the accident. And after, sure, once he’d got back in the saddle he’d played around a lot, hooked up with guys whenever he could, then never saw them again.

Who’d want to date a guy missing an arm anyway? No one, he’d thought. Until Brock came along and… Well, Bucky wasn’t sure. They’d hooked up, yeah. In fact neither of them had actually spent a whole night with the other, not yet. But there had been these almost-dates, the meeting for coffee, or drinks in a bar, the long make out sessions, and they felt more intimate than hook ups.

That’s what had got Bucky’s hopes up.

Brock just had this way about him too, he was big and strong and always seemed attentive when they met. Bucky didn’t need anyone to look after him, but it was still kinda nice to think that someone wanted to. That Brock wanted to be that guy, and the promise that this thing between them could turn into something more.

Bucky huffed, his breath steaming up the tile. The water was still luke warm. Well, that about summed up his life right now. Luke-fucking-warm.

He had to grit his teeth and shower with the water as it was. He washed his hair, just another one of those tasks where he was very aware of only having one hand. Then he rinsed off and got out of the shower, wrapping towels around him to warm up.

There was no explanation for no hot water, not in a modern apartment building like his. Bucky debated complaining about it to the superintendent, but truthfully he couldn’t be bothered dealing with anybody today.

Another lonely weekend with take-aways and the television loomed in front of him.

Bucky checked his phone before going into his bedroom. Not that he expected Brock to have messaged him, but…

He did have messages.

Surprised, Bucky held his phone closer. Steve Rogers had messaged him.

Huh. That was quick.

Bucky should probably let the guy wait, but his curiosity got the better of him, so he opened the message. Hey, it greeted, along with a couple smiley emojis, it was good to meet you last night. I kinda got you into your apartment and you fell asleep on your couch. Left you a glass of water, but couldn’t find where your tylenol would be. How are you this morning?

Bucky winced. Man, not the greatest first impression at all. But he could work with this. Quickly, he went to his room and got changed, towel dried his hair roughly and left it to do its thing. Then he went to make himself a cup of coffee, came back to his couch and picked up his phone again.

Right, now he could deal with this.

Thank you for the water, he typed, adding in a whole bunch of emojis to convey his gratitude. I rarely get that bad, I swear. Clint’s cocktails did a number on me, but I’m fine. Thanks for looking after me.

He added a winking face to the message, then sent it, smirking to himself. While he waited for a reply, he decided to have a sneaky peek at Steve’s profile. Couldn’t hurt, after all.

First things first, Bucky checked out his details. Steven Rogers, hometown New York ---well, at least he’s local, Bucky thought--- originally from Brooklyn, New York—

Huh. Coincidence?

---works as freelance graphic designer, political views liberal, interested in…

Aha.

Men and women.

Bucky’s eyebrows quirked. Oh, really, Steven Rogers from Brooklyn? Men and women, huh? Good to know.

Steve’s profile picture was a shot of him standing in a park on what looked like a sunny day; it was a little too small to see clearly. He looked like he was dressed for a workout or something, and was in the middle of laughing. It was a nice picture. Bucky wondered who’d taken it for him.

Another message from Steve came through, and Bucky went to open it.

Glad you’re okay! Punctuated with several smiley faces and even a high five, which made Bucky smile. Think quite a few people had too many drinks last night, Steve wrote. There’s a wonderful video of Tony doing a solo dance. Highly recommend watching it! So, I gotta ask, James ‘Bucky’ Barnes, where does the Bucky part come from?

Bucky re-read the message a couple times. Steve seemed chatty and sweet. Bucky wondered what he was doing this Saturday, if he was just bored and killing time, or actually wanted to talk with Bucky.

Soon find out, he thought. First, he replied with the usual part about his middle name, being sure to add some smileys and winking faces in too. And why not? Bucky was actually pretty chatty and friendly himself, if anyone bothered talking to him.

He couldn’t really remember what Steve had been like last night, it was too much of a blur of alcohol and nervous worry fogging his brain. He could’ve sworn Steve seemed quieter in person.

Not unlike himself, maybe.

I’ve seen Tony dance before, Bucky wrote. Which one was it this time? Last time I’d seen him really drunk he tried to get everyone to join him in a conga line.

Bucky sent the message, then went to Tony’s profile to check for this alleged video. Sure enough, there was an upload from Rhodey, tagging Tony, so Bucky watched it.

The camera work was shaky, and the bar was almost too dark to see in, but Bucky could make out Tony posing and gesturing at the camera, singing along to what sounded kinda like a Britney Spears song. Tony kept a perfectly straight face through it all until Pepper’s laugh filtered through off camera, then he broke down laughing himself.

Bucky smiled. He kinda wished he’d hung around to see that.

A new status update from Tony had appeared, tagging himself with Pepper in some eatery or another, ‘having brunch and nursing hangovers,’ it said. ‘Really good to see everyone last night. I have more photos to come!’

Of course he did, Bucky thought, but hopefully no pictures of himself.

A message popped up in his inbox again, another reply from Steve. Noooo, not the conga. Just watch it, it’s priceless. Clearly we got away at the right time! Ah, I see. I like Bucky, it suits you. You’re the first Bucky I’ve met.

Bucky laughed a little. “Yeah, pal,” he muttered to himself. “I’m probably the only Bucky you’ll meet.” Still, it was kinda sweet. Probably a bit too sweet for Bucky, and now he wasn’t entirely sure how to play this after all.

Before he could reply, Steve began typing another message. Bucky sipped his coffee as he waited.

So what are your plans today? Steve asked. Sure enough, he’d tagged on some smiley faces. Bucky was tempted to ask Steve if he had an emoji addiction.

No plans until I wake up properly, Bucky wrote, far too tired to think of anything else. I don’t usually drink that much. Not since college. Clint's always a bad influence.

Steve replied almost immediately. So I’ve heard! Hope you feel okay? Get a couple painkillers down, and drink lots of water. I can recommend hangover cure food if you need?

Bucky was slightly bemused by this. Then he recalled that Steve hadn’t drunk much himself, and how built the guy was. He was probably some healthy gym-goer in his spare time, Bucky thought. He quickly went back to Steve’s profile, feeling nosy.

Under the photos section, Bucky scanned through the pictures that came up. Lots of Steve outside, in parks, dressed in casuals or tight and revealing workout clothes ---and looking pretty hot, admittedly--- standing around with other people and talking, laughing, and watching them work out.

Huh.

Bucky wasn’t entirely sure, but it looked like in a lot of these pictures Steve was watching another person working out, or adjusting their stance and talking to them.

All the recent photos anyway. What was all that about? Some kind of group exercise? A personal trainer? Had to explain why he was in such good shape.

Before Bucky got too distracted, he went back to Steve’s message to reply. I’m cool, he wrote. Gonna take it easy today. What about you? What are you doing?

Bucky had a feeling Steve was a bright and early morning person, no matter what the day. In the next message, Steve pretty much confirmed his suspicion.

Just down in Central park, he wrote. Tai chi group this morning, we finished earlier. Going running soon. I’m just waiting for my track buddy to show.

Bucky raised his eyebrows. Interesting. He’d bet money that Steve was the group leader, or whatever it’d be called. Those photos made more sense now.

You’re making me feel lazy, Bucky wrote back. He added in some emojis to soften the remark. I used to be into keeping fit. Not so much now!

Not after the accident, besides his basic physical therapy following the long stays in hospital. Bucky wasn’t sure what else to say, so he sent the message as it was. No point lying. He wasn’t in too bad a shape, but he definitely hadn’t seen the inside of a gym for a few years. Walking around the city or hooking up for sex was about as vigorous as Bucky’s exercise got these days.

That seemed a bit lame to say to someone like Steve, someone who clearly enjoyed exercising his body.

Bucky slumped into his couch. This was why he found talking to new people a little draining. Eventually something would come up that made him feel awkward and uncomfortable, and that wasn’t a good feeling.

Steve replied again, just as fast as before. No one’s lazy, he wrote. Just gotta do whatever you enjoy, that’s what’s important. I do all this stuff outdoors because I go a bit stir crazy working from home sometimes. How about you? Where do you work? I couldn’t help but notice the computer set up in your apartment last night.

“Hn,” Bucky grunted, mildly surprised. Well, at least Steve wasn’t admonishing him for being a lazy ass.

I work from home half the week, he wrote back. Then two or three days a week, I go into my office, or Skype from home. Depends on the project. It’s design engineering. Kinda boring really.

Bucky didn’t actually think his job was boring, but he was well aware that anyone outside of the design field weren’t terribly interested in his work, which largely consisted of computer modelled pipe systems for large structures, like ships.

As far as Bucky was concerned, it was his dream job. It was actually how he’d met Tony, back when he’d being doing internships. Tony’s company specialised in software, most of which Bucky now used.

Steve’s reply came through. That’s cool, you’ll have to tell me more about it. I do graphic design, mostly freelance. My buddy just showed up, we’re gonna do this run. Can I message you later?

Bucky smiled at that. Sure, he wrote back. Have fun!

Thanks! Steve replied. Talk to you later. A flurry of emojis followed, making Bucky chuckle.

Okay, he thought, Steve was cute. Cute, and nice, and this could definitely work in Bucky’s favor.

 

Chapter Text

It’s just a party, Bucky told himself, sitting in the cab and watching the New York streets whiz by. At least it’s only a few blocks away. Seriously, he could probably walk the distance, but…

Not right now. He had to get there quick if he wasn’t going to change his mind. Walking anywhere gave him too many chances to chicken out and run back home.

It’s just a party. Stop panicking.

The driver took a turn, driving slow as he looked for the number. “Y’ know which one it is?”

Bucky swallowed hard. “One… one-oh-seven.”

“One-one-oh-seven?” the cabbie asked.

“N-no.” Bucky took careful breaths, trying to keep calm. “One-oh-seven.”

God, this was insane. He was freaking out about going to someone’s house party. He was twenty-seven, for fuck’s sake, why couldn’t he hold himself together?

“Gotcha,” the cabbie said, driving a little further as he scanned the buildings. “Here ya go, pal.”

Oh, God, take me home. “Thank you.” Bucky handed over a twenty, hoping the guy wouldn’t notice his shaking fingers. He always had his money ready for a cab, so he wouldn’t have to fumble. “Keep the change.”

“Thanks, buddy. Have a good time, okay?”

“Yeah, thanks.” Bucky forced himself to get out. How lame would it be if he asked the guy to drive him straight home again?

He stood on the sidewalk, looking up at the old brownstone as the cab drove away. It was dusk, daylight fading fast. He stared at the windows and it was easy to spot the second floor party, although the lights were fully on, and people just seemed to be leaning against the window and talking.

Maybe he was too early?

Bucky’s nervous energy was going haywire. No one knew he was here yet, he could turn around and walk away, he didn’t have to do this.

He wanted to; Bucky didn’t care if it made him a coward, he wanted to run home right now, dammit. But he knew if he did that, then his plans would’ve all been for nothing. His week-long flirtation with Steve via Facebook messages had led to this party invite, which Bucky had accepted because ---and he wasn’t exactly proud about this--- he wanted to make Brock jealous.

Brock who hadn’t so much as sent one single text message in seven days, the jerk.

Bucky’s options were, sit home alone and sulk. Sure, he could go out and do whatever he wanted, go find some other guy in a bar and get even with Brock that way, but Steve and his friends seemed to tag each other a lot on Facebook, and in Bucky’s mind…

Well, maybe he wasn’t sure if he wanted to get tagged in anything, but maybe luck would be on his side for once and he’d just get mentioned at being at a party. Didn’t have to be a photo, did it? If he could just stick it out at this lame-assed party for a few hours, have someone put up a status like, Bucky! So great to party with you! And wham, Brock would be jealous.

Wouldn’t he?

God. Bucky took a deep breath. “Get it together, Barnes,” he muttered. “You’re being ridiculous.” He stomped his way up the building’s stone steps and found the door buzzer. Steve’d said it’d be listed as Coulson.

Bucky’s heart thumped heavily as he waited for a reply. He took deep breaths, hoping he wasn’t about to have a panic attack or, even lamer, pass out from nerves. He’d skipped on dinner, and now he was starving and light-headed.

A voice buzzed from the intercom, making Bucky jump. “Hello?”

Bucky frowned in confusion. The voice sounded like… an older guy? “Er, hi,” he said into the intercom. “Um, is Steve there? It’s Bucky. He, er, he invited me…” Bucky winced. How much lamer could he get?

But the voice said, “Oh, sure! Come on in.”

A loud buzz indicated the door was open, and Bucky shouldered his way through before it locked again. Okay, okay, he was in now. No turning back. He took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and looked around the lobby.

It was actually pretty nice. Was Steve loaded or what? Maybe it wasn’t his apartment, Bucky thought.

Although, huh. Elevators out of service, a sign said. Even nice buildings suffered from bad maintenance, then. Bucky didn’t mind taking stairs, even if he was wearing his skinny jeans.

Just go slow, he told himself. Be calm. You’re cool.

Fuck it, you used to be really cool. You can do this, Barnes.

Bucky stomped up one flight of stairs, then ahead to the next. A door opened somewhere above and noise streamed out; voices and laughter. Someone was coming down the stairs, and Bucky slowed down, mindful to keep his one hand on the smooth wooden stair rail. If anyone was going to rush past him, he didn’t want to get knocked.

“Bucky’s here!” a voice announced happily, like he was the guest of honor. Bucky glanced up, just as Steve appeared at the top of the stairs, grinning down at him.

Bucky’s mind went blank for a moment, all he could do was stare up at Steve, at this perfect vision of all-American hotness. He was dressed casual and it looked good. Tight fitting jeans, well worn, and a tight white tee with a blue shirt over the top, hanging open and with the sleeves rolled up to show off his muscled forearms.

Just… damn.

Bucky realised he must’ve been really drunk last time to have not remembered how hot Steve was in person. Just… yeah.

Hot.

“Uh… hi,” he said, hoping his voice didn’t sound too breathy. Hell, he could blame it on the stairs.

Steve was still grinning at him, his gorgeous face lit up by his smile, beaming at Bucky like he was so pleased to see him. For a moment Bucky was kinda floored, stopped in his fucking tracks just by a smile.

“Sorry about the elevator,” Steve said. “It went out earlier today. If we’re lucky it’ll get fixed sometime tonight.”

“Oh yeah?” Bucky managed to keep walking, each step bringing him closer to Steve. “That’s fast. No way my building would get on repairs that quick.”

Steve laughed a rich, bubbly laugh that did strange things to Bucky, like made him smile back without a second thought. “Yeah, it’s a neat building. I’m lucky Phil rents me a room, to be honest. I could never afford to live in a place like this otherwise.”

“Er… right.”

“Phil’s one of my room-mates,” Steve explained. “Come in and meet everyone!”

Here we go, Bucky thought, forcing his smile to stay on despite his nerves. “Sure thing.”

 

~ ~ ~

 

They had red cups.

Bucky was in Steve’s kitchen. Well, not really Steve’s, as apparently the whole apartment belonged to this older guy, Phil, who was busy pouring out cola into these red plastic cups. Sharon was there too, dropping a dash of vodka into each as Phil topped them up, chuckling between themselves. They were dressed casual, and seemed welcoming to Bucky. The kitchen was spotlessly clean, all shiny and modern looking, even if it wasn’t that big.

Everything just seemed so… nice and wholesome, and Bucky was slightly bemused, standing there still holding the red cup he’d been given by Steve, in the brightly lit and nice kitchen with his nice house-mates, while Steve had gone off to answer the door bell.

Door chime.

Bucky thought it sounded more like a fancy chime.

“So, you know Tony and Pepper?” Phil asked, turning a polite smile on Bucky.

Bucky nodded, taking a small sip from his drink. “Yeah, through work,” he mumbled into his cup.

“That video Pepper uploaded of Tony miming to Britney was so funny!” Sharon laughed. “We had to have my first party last weekend, ‘cause they’re away now and couldn’t make tonight.”

“The Britney dance made it all worthwhile having two parties,” Phil said, amusement in his voice.

Bucky wasn’t sure what to add to that, so he just hmmed non-committedly. Honestly, this standing around in the kitchen at parties gig wasn’t really his thing. He’d made a fatal mistake coming early, he should’ve arrived later when things were more… more…

He glanced around, glare fixing on the red cups.

More something. This was ridiculous, he felt like he was back at college. Where the fuck was Steve anyway? He’d come here with the sole purpose of scoring a hook up, not to make small talk with some friends of friends and feel awkward.

Gah.

Voices filtered through, Steve’s and other people’s, but no one Bucky recognised. As they entered the kitchen, Sharon greeted the couple that had arrived, and they brought out birthday cards and cute little wrapped up gifts for her.

Bucky’s anxiety levels were starting to climb. He felt really awkward being stuck in the middle of Sharon’s birthday party ---again!--- without having brought anything. How stupid of him. He just hadn’t thought. Steve had said in one of his many messages that they’d have plenty of booze and snacks, so there was no need to bring anything.

What sort of present do you bring a person you don’t know anyway? All Bucky wanted was to get Steve alone anyway.

Bucky caught Phil glancing at him, almost like he was assessing him quietly, then Phil addressed Steve, “Shall we set up the living room?”

“Yes!” Steve exclaimed, like it’d suddenly occurred to him all their guests were squeezed into the kitchen, without even any music playing. “It’s all ready to go.”

Thank God for that, Bucky thought. He gratefully followed Phil from the kitchen, leaving the excited birthday vibes behind him. Across the narrow hall and into the living room, Steve went over to the sound system and began to fiddle around.

Phil dimmed the lights, then bent down to the small table where Bucky was sure a TV usually sat, but tonight it’d been cleared away ---how thoughtful of them--- and replaced with what looked like a large Rubix cube on a stand. Phil turned the device on, and suddenly it was an instant disco.

Multi-coloured lights swirled across the room, and Bucky couldn’t help himself from smirking. Phil turned to him, that half-smile on his face, and said, “Can’t have a party without lights.”

Bucky grinned back. “It’s real cute.” He wanted to ask when they were going to play spin the bottle, or Twister.

Then Steve called over, “Phil designs them!”

“Huh?” Bucky spluttered, but then the music kicked on, thankfully filling the silence.

Phil was still looking at Bucky, that half smile seeming somewhat challenging now. “I’m in electronics,” he said over the music, some pumping pop number which Bucky didn’t recognise. “This light was from a range I did a few years back. It’s how I met Tony, originally, but I work for another company.”

“Oh,” Bucky squeaked. “That’s, um… wow.”

Steve joined them, grinning broadly and seemingly unaware of any tension Bucky was feeling. “We have lots of cool electronics thanks to Phil,” he announced, and Bucky kinda glanced up at Steve like, Oh really? But he wasn’t feeling comfortable enough to crack rude jokes right now.

Phil chuckled to himself anyway, so Bucky wondered if his mind was on the same track.

“So…” Bucky cast about for something to say, a change of topic. “Is there… anything else to set up? Can I help, or…?”

Steve shrugged, while Phil assured him it was fine. “We like to keep things simple. That’s why a lot of stuff has been cleared away.”

“Yeah.” Steve grinned, gesturing to the leather couch. “One of the seats on there is kinda… broken. From last time we had Bruce round and he sorta… Well, no one knows what happened but we think he leapt onto it when he was drunk, and broke the springs.”

“Oh,” Bucky said, eyeing the couch.

“Be careful where you sit,” Phil warned, just as the door chimed again.

More guests arrived, Steve ran off to let them in, and Bucky got stuck in the cheesy disco room. Sharon came in with her friends, introducing them to Bucky, and he found himself cornered by saying hello to a steady stream of new people.

As time went on, Steve would appear with the new arrivals, mingle for a few moments, then dash off again to let more people in. Bucky even watched him escort couples upstairs. What the…? Was he showing them the bathroom, or what?

When the guests came down sans their coats, Bucky deduced Steve must be acting as cloakroom attendant too. What the fuck, Steve? He hadn’t signed up for this, hanging around endlessly with people he didn’t know.

Bucky forced himself to smile and make small talk with people nonetheless, while trying to edge his way around them so he could escape the disco room. This was just too much.

Escaping took a little longer than he’d planned; people kept trying to chat to him. They were all nice enough, it was just…

Well, that was the problem. It was all a bit too nice and not at all what Bucky had pictured when he’d agreed to a house party. Steve’s friends and room-mates weren’t the types of people Bucky normally mixed with, and he didn’t know what to say. He was still wearing his jacket, having declined to take it off earlier, and now he was feeling hot and bothered and just generally uncomfortable.

Somehow, he had to get Steve alone. Firstly, ‘cause he totally needed space right now from all these Goddamn people, and secondly he really did want to hook up. Surely that’s why Steve had invited him? Even just making out would be cool.

C’ mon, Steve. Where’d you go?

Bucky successfully made it to the entryway. The lights here had been dimmed, but there was light filtering down from the upstairs. Wow, the apartment seemed so crammed with people now. Bucky glanced around, trying to locate Steve.

If he didn’t find someone to talk with soon, it’d be obvious he was standing on his own.

Ugh, he hated parties. This sucked.

Phil magically appeared at his side, offering Bucky another drink. Bucky took it gratefully.

“Want to ditch your coat?” Phil asked him. “I can put it safely with the others for you.”

Bucky panicked, trying to think of a polite way to say no. “I’m… I’m good, thanks.”

He was feeling a bit too shy right now to expose himself in just a shirt, where one sleeve would be mostly empty. He didn’t want anyone staring at him more than he felt they were already.

Besides, this outfit was a complete ensemble, it worked with the light jacket. If he took that off now it would ruin the whole look.

Or so he told himself.

Phil smiled at him, a kind smile. “You let me know if you need anything. And you know where the bathroom is, right? Just up the stairs, first room on the right.”

“Sure, thanks.” Bucky forced a smile, then promptly hid his face in the new red cup, taking a long swig. Dammit, he was never coming to another party as long as he lived. This was unbearable.

Maybe he could take a trip up to the bathroom. It’d give him something to do, at any rate.

Just as Bucky had made up his mind, he spotted Steve coming into the hall. He didn’t notice Bucky watching him, he was too busy talking to this gorgeous fox of a brunette at his side.

Bucky stared. And stared.

Who. The hell. Was that?

The woman was stunning, a real looker. Obviously into her vintage style; brown hair expertly curled and pinned, bright red lipstick on plump lips, and a killer red dress to match.

Her dark eyes were fixed on Steve as they cut through the hall, then began to ascend the stairs.

What the actual fuck?

Bucky stared after them, utterly confused. Steve didn’t notice him at all, but just before she rounded the corner of the staircase, the woman spotted Bucky. Her red lips curved in a smile, and Bucky bristled instinctively.

Then they disappeared.

The party carried on all around him, but Bucky felt like wilting. He cursed himself for coming here in the first place. What’d he been thinking? He slunk back into the disco room, looking for Sharon because at least she was nice and paid him attention.

Unlike Steve. Rude.

Bucky had a good mind to stomp upstairs and interrupt them, whatever it was they were doing. Probably just stashing her coat somewhere, the rational part of his mind supplied.

Had she had a coat? Bucky couldn’t remember.

He force-grinned his way through more small talk with people he didn’t know, watching as some of them almost got to dancing, but more in a cute, fumbling way than anything full on.

Where was Tony when you needed him? He’d liven this party up.

Bucky looked out the large windows at the apartments opposite, lights on inside now it was dark. He wanted to go home. This venture was a disaster. He checked his phone, on the off chance there might be something from Brock, but nope. Nada.

Maybe Bucky should try making out with a random guest instead of Steve, then call it a night. At least then he’d have done what he’d come for, and could go home to sulk in peace.

But that thought wasn’t appealing either.

Finally Steve appeared, with that foxy brunette at his side. Sharon greeted her with open arms. “Peggy! You’re here!”

Steve grinned, and stepped close to Bucky. “Peggy is Sharon’s cousin. She’s from England.”

I don’t care, Bucky thought, but he put on a smile anyway. When Peggy came in close, smiling and saying hello, Bucky greeted her back.

Phil brought Peggy a drink, then asked after someone named James.

“He’s parking,” Peggy informed him, accent crisp and clear. “I asked him to drop me off first.”

“You have him well trained,” Phil quipped.

Peggy smiled in return, and all the while Bucky’s brain turned this information over. If Peggy had someone with her… maybe she wasn’t here for Steve after all. Maybe he’d been paranoid?

He glanced between Steve and his friends, feeling unsure and awkward. But as they stayed chatting together, some of Bucky’s nerves ebbed away. Watching Steve joking and laughing with them was… nice. Real nice.

Steve’s laugh was infectious and, Bucky had to admit, while none of these people were the type he was used to hanging out with, they’d welcomed him in so far. And here he was now, cocooned in their little group. He started to feel more at ease, and joked around with them.

He’d just have to tone his dry and dirty humor down a bit, that was all. Don’t wanna offend the nice kids, he thought.

A new song came on, and Sharon started busting out some moves, grabbing onto Phil’s sleeve to make him join in. Peggy clicked her fingers and swayed elegantly, looking cool and sexy. Bucky stared in appreciation before he remembered where he was; at Steve’s place, not in a club. He couldn’t hit on this woman.

Which was a shame, because he almost wanted to ask Peggy to dance.

He caught Steve looking at him, and decided he still had all his chips placed on Steve. Peggy may be a fox, but Steve was just… nngh. The way he looked Bucky dead in the eye and smiled at him made Bucky all hot and bothered in a good way.

Bucky smirked back at him. “You got any moves, Rogers?”

Steve grinned wider, and Peggy answered for him, “Oh, he’s got moves.”

Bucky’s smile froze.

“Thanks for that,” Steve said in amusement, now looking at the floor, bashful again. Peggy laughed, elbowing him in the side.

Sharon started talking about Tony dancing, but Bucky was still fixed on Steve and Peggy. Okay, he thought decidedly, those two had definitely slept together at one time. He wasn’t sure if he was jealous about it, or jealous that he couldn’t watch.

The door chimed, and thankfully Peggy disappeared, saying that it was probably James.

Phil chose that moment to ask Bucky if he ever went by his first name, James. Bucky blinked at him. “Er, no,” he said. “Only on like, official stuff, or whatever.”

Phil nodded, smiling. “Not James, then. Have to say, that would’ve been a funny coincidence.”

“Anyone need another drink?” Steve leapt in, seeming a little flustered. “I’ll get some refills!” Then he darted off again, much to Bucky’s disappointment.

He didn’t really need anyone explaining to him what that was all about. Steve and Peggy must’ve dated at some point, and now she had a guy named James. Phil was clearly amused by the fact that Bucky’s first name was James too.

Bucky almost felt like announcing that he wasn’t here to date Steve, he was here to fuck him as revenge on the guy he was actually dating, and that was all.

But that seemed rude, even by Bucky’s standards, so he kept quiet.

Chapter Text

Predictably, Steve didn’t return for ages. Bucky was left on his own again. Even when Steve did eventually come back, bringing new drinks for everyone, he soon darted back to the kitchen to get drinks for Peggy and the tall, handsome man with her.

Bucky sighed. Maybe he would take a trip to the bathroom after all. He’d had a couple of drinks, he could go. One of Sharon’s friends came upstairs with him, as she said there were people smoking on the balcony. Bucky didn’t understand until they got there, and was shown the bathroom.

Ah. To get to the balcony, people had to go through the bathroom, which had an outside door.

There were two women and one guy smoking outside on the balcony, overlooking the street. They waved and seemed to make no move to leave, so Sharon’s friend shut the door on them, bolting it. “Just open it up again when you’re done,” she told Bucky. “There’s a blind over the window, so no one can look in.”

“Er… right,” Bucky said, awkwardness creeping back in.

She left him, and he locked himself in the bathroom.

Peace at last, he thought. Even if there were voices and laughter nearby. Bucky sighed in relief, then went about his business. He hoped no one was going to be waiting outside for him, because using the bathroom with one hand was never lightning fast.

They’d just have to wait.

Funny, he thought, how no one tonight had asked him about his missing arm. Usually someone did, especially if they’d been drinking. Bucky wasn’t sure he liked waiting for it, for the questions. It put him on edge, because surely they’d start at some point?

Maybe Steve and his friends were too polite for that shit.

Bucky finished up, washing his hand with the nice handwash at the sink. He couldn’t help but study the items in the bathroom; it was like peeking into someone’s personal life. There was a large, glass shower cubicle too, which struck Bucky as rather kinky, like someone could totally be taking a shower while someone else took a piss.

Maybe he could ask Steve about it. See if the guy blushed or not.

Bucky checked himself in the mirror above the sink. He’d left his hair down tonight, which was his usual style; whatever was easy. The whole hair-up thing he’d tried last week was a rarity, mostly because he’d had to get someone else to help him do it, and Bucky didn’t like asking for help.

He opened the bathroom door and was about to leave when he remembered the smokers on the balcony. Unbolting the outside door, Bucky tried to be friendly and said hello.

The smell of weed hit his nostrils, and when one of the girls offered Bucky to join them, Bucky jumped at the chance. This was exactly what he needed; fresh air, a blunt, and not too many people.

The minutes buzzed by quickly, and Bucky didn’t check the time. Until something buzzed in his pocket, and he realised it was his phone receiving a message.

He thought ---hoped--- it might be Brock, but when he checked it was Steve. They’d swapped numbers the day before, in case Bucky needed help finding the address. Bucky squinted at his phone screen.

The message read, you gone? Followed by an emoticon ---of course--- of a surprised-looking face.

Bucky snorted a laugh, and texted back: nope, am upstairs!

Time to get this show on the road, he thought.

He said his goodbyes to the smokers, then re-entered the bathroom. Some dude was taking a piss, but Bucky ignored him and went back into the apartment. There were people milling about, some drunkenly, and some on their way up or downstairs. The other bedrooms must be up another level, he thought.

Seemed so much busier now. The air was hot and the music filtered up from the disco room.

Bucky waited, hoping Steve would hurry the fuck up already.

When he spotted Steve’s blond head and those broad shoulders coming up the stairs, Bucky’s pulse picked up. “Hey,” he breathed, grinning slyly as Steve approached him.

“Uh… hey,” Steve replied, quiet and staring back at Bucky like he was unsure.

Hey, if Steve needed direction, that was fine with Bucky. “So,” he ventured, stepping close to Steve, “which one’s your bedroom?”

Steve blinked at him, then his eyes darted off to the side. “Uh… that one,” he said, pointing at a nearby door.

He was just adorable, and Bucky wanted to tackle him to the floor. “Show me?” he asked, voice going that much deeper because he was beyond horny at this point.

“Um… sure.”

Steve led the way, and finally Bucky was inside Steve’s bedroom, shut away in privacy. With about fifty coats all piled at the end of his bed, Bucky noticed. But that was fine.

He busied himself looking around. “Nice room,” he commented, because it actually was. It was clean and tidy, with crisp, fresh colours accented by a few artsy posters here and there. The double bed dominated the room, along with a large computer set up on an enormous desk. Steve had said he worked from home, so that made sense.

“Any of these yours?” Bucky asked, nodding at one of the posters; a bold, modern art design.

Steve shook his head, looking at the floor as he smile. “Oh, no. I wish, though. I haven’t done any… um, exciting artwork for a long time. Most of my work is infographics or, like, illustration.”

“Okay.” Bucky sat himself onto the bed, before Steve rambled on anymore. “How’s your music collection?”

Steve blinked at him. “My… Oh. Um, well…” He glanced to his computer.

“Wanna put some on?” Bucky prompted.

The music from the living room could barely be heard, so Bucky figured some background noise in Steve’s room would set the guy at ease a little.

With any luck.

He watched Steve grab an iPad of some kind, then sit down on the bed, leaving far too many inches between them for Bucky’s liking.

“Phil got me this last month,” Steve said, voice wavering slightly. He busied himself fiddling with the pad, calling up a playlist by the looks of it. “It’s pretty cool,” Steve went on. “It’s still in the testing phase, but… uh, yeah.”

Music came on over the speakers, something upbeat and preppy. Not exactly what Bucky would’ve chosen, but he wasn’t too bothered. He slid closer to Steve on the bed, pressing against him. Bucky’s pulse was thudding and he was really looking forward to getting on with the sex already.

Steve, the giant dork, just sat there rigidly. Bucky brought his hand up and touched one finger to Steve’s large hand, then slowly trailed it up his bare forearm, tracing one of his veins. God, he was sexy. All hardened muscle under smooth skin.

Bucky ducked his head a little, trying to catch Steve’s eye and give the guy a smile.

Except… what the hell? Steve was still sitting ramrod straight, face frozen and eyes fixed ahead of him. He sure didn’t look comfortable.

Bucky withdrew his hand.

Steve didn’t look at him, didn’t acknowledge him at all.

Oh, Bucky thought. Had he totally misread this? A flush stole up his neck and onto his cheeks, heating his face. His pulse raced harder. How fucking embarrassing.

They sat in silence for a long, painfully awkward moment. Then Steve cleared his throat and said something about infographics, jumping up from the bed and all but throwing himself at his computer.

Bucky watched him in utter confusion as Steve pulled up some design spreads on the large monitor. He sat on the office chair in front of it ---Bucky noted there was only one--- and started chatting aimlessly about the graphics he was working on, flicking through the spreads.

Bucky had never felt so confused and ridiculous in his life. Had Steve just brushed him off? That had just happened, right?

“You use a Wacom pad?” Steve asked, glancing over his shoulder at Bucky, eyes wide and impossibly blue from the light of the screen.

“Uh… Yes,” Bucky said, for lack of a better response. Who the hell cared?

“I find it easier on my wrist,” Steve admitted. “I’ve actually got this, uh, like a type of arthritis in my joints, so I use a voice recognition software for typing. Saves on, y’know, repetitive strain.”

Bucky pulled a face, hopefully conveying his bewilderment of how they suddenly jumped onto this topic. He used voice recognition for typing at home too, and he couldn’t help wonder if Steve had ogled his set up last week.

Seemed that’s all Steve was into.

Bucky breathed out long and hard in defeat, and stood up. “I have to get going.”

“Huh?” Steve stared at him, now giving Bucky his full attention. “Go?”

“Yeah,” Bucky said shortly. He felt cranky at being jerked around, while a small part of him was still hoping for a heavy make-out session at the very least. “Thanks for inviting me.” He tried his best smile, a last ditch effort to win Steve over.

Steve blinked, looking somewhat like a deer caught in the headlights.

Oh, boy. Bucky wilted. So much for being bi, Steve Rogers.

“Well… see ya, then.” Bucky went to go, and Steve sprung up to follow him.

“Let me see you out?”

With his back to him, Steve wouldn’t see Bucky roll his eyes. “Sure.”

They trudged down the stairs together, Bucky dejected, Steve following behind.

Thankfully he didn’t see any of the people he knew on the way down. The hallway was rammed with attractive looking people enjoying themselves and laughing. Everyone else must be in the living room, going by the noise.

Bucky grunted under his breath, just wanting to be out of here. He finally reached the door, and before he could figure out where the handle was under all the coats hanging up, Steve opened it for him.

“Thanks,” he said curtly, because dammit, he was pissed off. He looked up at Steve ---damn, he looked gorgeous even now--- who stared back at Bucky with a concerned look at his face.

“Get home safe,” he said softly.

“Sure,” Bucky replied, ready to walk away, but then Steve surged forward and enveloped him in a quick hug. It was over before Bucky could react, all he registered was how hard Steve’s chest and shoulders were ---fuck, wow, oh my god--- and how good he smelled.

Uh.

Bucky stared at Steve after he let go. Steve stepped back and smiled, and for the life of him Bucky couldn’t figure out what this all meant. So he turned and bolted for freedom.

As he stomped down the stairs of the apartment complex ---because the elevator was still out of commission--- he glanced back to Steve’s door, only to see it was already shut.

Weird.

Really fucking weird.

 

~ ~ ~

 

“And then…!” Bucky recounted, properly building up a storm of frustration, “he just sat there and didn’t move! Didn’t even fucking do anything, except run to the other side of the room to get away from me.”

Natasha raised an eyebrow. Her lips barely moved, but Bucky just knew she was fighting a smile.

“It’s not funny, Nat!”

Now a smile broke over her face. “Isn’t it?”

Bucky scowled at her. They were at the end of the bar, away from the rowdy business of Saturday night and its customers. Clint and Sam had it covered.

“I’m serious,” Bucky told her, a whine creeping into his voice. “I made a total idiot of myself, hitting on him like that. I thought he was interested!”

“James, don’t write him off so soon,” Natasha spoke calmly, leaning forward on the bar. “So, he didn’t want to hook up on the first date. Big deal. It wasn’t even a date, was it? Maybe you should ask him out first.”

“But he asked me to the party,” Bucky argued, because he was grouchy. He was always grouchy when he’d been denied sex. “What the fuck was I supposed to think, huh? Parties mean hook ups. We were in his room, it was private.”

“Well,” Natasha levelled him with a look, “maybe Steve isn’t that type.”

Bucky blinked at her. A snap response burned on his tongue, but he was aware of the fact that this was Natasha he was speaking to, and he’d been firing off the swears more than she usually let him get away with.

If he told her to fuck off now, she’d likely punch him. It’d happened before.

Before he could decide, she beat him to it and said, “Oh, wipe that offended look off your face, Barnes. I’m not saying you’re that type either. All I’m pointing out is, you went to that party assuming Steve was that type of guy, but I’d say you were wrong.” She smirked at him. “So give him a chance. Don’t write it off before it starts.”

“But…” Bucky frowned as he digested that. “Yeah,” he huffed in defeat. “Yeah, okay. I get it. I fucked up, but there’s no it, Nat. He’s like… I mean, he’s…” Bucky fought for the words to explain his frustration at this entire aborted mess of an encounter.

He’s too good for me.

He’d never want to date someone like me.

Not long term.

So a hook up was the best option, but that’s off the table now, and…

Bucky sighed heavily. “I don’t think we’re compatible.”

“You’ve only met him twice,” Natasha pointed out. “And the first time you were so drunk he had to help you home.” She chuckled lowly. “I’d say just from witnessing that he’s a good match for you.”

Bucky rolled his eyes.

“You know,” she added, “he kept staring at you that night.”

“No, he didn’t.”

“I was sober, James, unlike you. And I noticed.”

Bucky huffed. “Lots of people stare at me, it isn’t always a good thing.”

Natasha was beginning to look exasperated. “I’ve known Steve quite a while now, and I know he isn’t the type to stare. You were the only one he was casting longing looks at all night.”

“Longing looks?” Bucky laughed, because really, that was ridiculous. “You’re projecting your romantic ideals onto this or something?”

“No more than you’re projecting your insecurities onto everyone you date.”

“Screw you,” Bucky grouched back. “I do not.”

He expected her to lay into him for cussing her out, but Natasha only poured him a shot of whiskey and slid it across the bar to him. “Just some advice from a friend who cares,” she said calmly. “Lose the chip on your shoulder, and give the poor guy a chance.”

“Fine.” Bucky picked up the glass and knocked back the whiskey in one gulp. “But I’m telling you, nothing’s gonna happen. He’s obviously not interested.”

Chapter Text

There were times when Bucky truly hated social media.

Hated it with every fibre of his being. Those times were usually when he was stuck home alone with nothing but work, and he checked in on Facebook only to see how much everyone else had enjoyed their weekends.

The pictures from the party had started rolling in on Sunday, and Steve had been tagged in quite a few. Bucky glared at most of them, and analysed a couple in detail.

So, Steve had been having a swell time after Bucky’d left, huh?

Fucking nerve of the guy.

There was a shot of Steve with his housemates, and that Peggy girl, but they were all wearing superhero masks. Grouped in close and clearly having a whale of a time.

Looked kinda fun, and dammit that was exactly the kind of photo Bucky wouldn’t have minded being in. A mask, awesome idea. And if people were close enough ---but not actually touching him--- then any group shots made it harder to spot that he had a missing arm.

That would’ve been perfect.

Well, that was just his luck, right? Maybe if he’d hung around longer, instead of stomping off in a tantrum, he could’ve joined in with that photo.

Because he’d totally shot himself in the foot by leaving early. There was no mention of him being at a party, and no photos. No one had tagged him. Not that Bucky had expected any special treatment or anything, but it felt like he may as well have not even bothered.

And his sole reason for going had been to make Brock jealous.

Brock, the guy Bucky was into, the guy Bucky actually considered himself to be seeing.

Or, well. Not recently, but. They had kinda been seeing each other. It’d been over a week since their cancelled date, and Bucky hadn’t heard a word from Brock. Even his Facebook profile seemed oddly quiet after that one instance of being tagged having fun in a random bar.

Those photos had been mysteriously absent last time Bucky checked Brock’s profile. Had he untagged himself, or what? Bucky knew he’d been hungover when he saw the photos, but he was pretty sure he hadn’t hallucinated them.

Ugh, whatever.

His love life was non-existent. He was pathetic for playing games and he knew it too. What made it worse was that Steve hadn’t jumped at the chance at hooking up with him, making Bucky feel really lame on top of everything else.

Thanks for that, Steve. Now there was a guy who clearly didn’t know what he wanted. Bucky figured Steve was one of those guys who said he was bi but never actually did anything about it. No point pursuing it really.

The last thing Bucky felt like doing was biting the bullet and actually heading out to bars on his own in the hopes of meeting someone new.

Maybe he could try online dating?

Maybe not. They’d always proved a disaster too. If he didn’t mention his arm before a date, people got freaked out when they met him. If he did mention it before, then either people didn’t reply or only kinky weirdos did.

Nope, online dating wasn’t for him.

Perhaps Natasha had a friend she could set him up with. Bucky wasn’t sure he trusted her; she seemed hell bent on always suggesting nice, wimpy guys to him. Bucky’s type was more the bad boy with swagger.

Hence, Brock.

Bucky’s fingers twitched for his phone. If he messaged Brock first, would that make him a pushover?

Yes.

He sighed. Okay, no messaging. Bucky knew if the guy was truly into him, he’d message first. He’d do something, dammit. Not just treat him like a chump then ignore him.

Well, the weekend was almost over. Bucky had a whole five days until next weekend where he’d feel under pressure to have a date and be doing something interesting.

Five days’ worth of sulking to get through until then.

 

~ ~ ~

 

It was Tuesday when Bucky’s phone buzzed with a text alert. His sulky mood fell away instantly, and he really thought it’d be Brock texting him.

It couldn’t be anything work related, they always used his Skype.

But it wasn’t Brock, it was Steve.

Do you like the movies? The message read, with a dozen smiling face emojis.

Steve and his emojis, Bucky thought.

It was odd that Steve was messaging him out of the blue like this, but Bucky felt a happy little buzz about it anyway.

Who doesn’t, he messaged back. And then because that felt a little curt, he chose a bunch of smiley faces too and sent those.

Bucky waited nervously. It took over a minute for Steve’s reply to come. Great! It read, I’m booking tickets for that new action movie. Friday afternoon. Want to come with?

If you’re not working, a second message added.

A grin spread across Bucky’s face. He hadn’t been asked out to something other than a bar in… Well, a long time.

I can be free on Friday, he replied, throwing in a winking face just for the hell of it.

Steve sent a flurry of happy emojis in response, which made Bucky laugh.

Just booking now, Steve wrote. Any preference on where to sit?

Don’t mind, Bucky replied. Just not literally in the front row, anywhere else is fine.

No problem! Steve wrote.

A few minutes went by without another message, and Bucky tried to get on with his current project but found himself too distracted. There were actual butterflies in his belly, which was exciting.

A new message came in.

All booked! Steve announced, followed by high fives and smiley faces. Bucky smiled at those because, really, Steve was such a dork, but it was kinda cute.

It’s for 4.30, Steve wrote. But it’s all the way uptown so taking the car. You’re just a few blocks down from me, want to be picked up?

Bucky studied the message, thinking. He didn’t know Steve had a car. That was certainly interesting.

Sure, he wrote back. Because why not? He’d have to get the subway or something otherwise, and Bucky tried to avoid that if he could possibly help it.

Steve sent a message in reply, but this one had Bucky frowning for a whole different reason.

We’ll pick you up just after three!

Bucky stared at Steve’s message. “We?” he said to himself, because now he was confused. Either Steve had a chauffeur, or this date wasn’t going to be just the two of them.

 

~ ~ ~

 

Friday rolled around, and Bucky’s work had seriously suffered because he wasn’t concentrating. For some reason, he felt nervous.

The hell was that all about anyway?

Like, he couldn’t decide on what to wear, and he rarely fussed around like that. He would pick out his clothes, and it was decisive. Now, he dithered.

Time slipped by quickly, with Bucky sticking his head and shoulders out his open window to try and gage the weather. Sunny, spring day, but with a breeze. But theaters were usually kinda cold, at least from what Bucky remembered.

He hadn’t been to one for ages.

Finally he decided on his clothes ---it was all the same casual chic anyway, what was he stressing over?--- and went to brush his teeth. In the mirror he assessed himself, for the hundredth time. Hair down, and he’d washed it last night, using a new shampoo that smelt really nice.

He couldn’t help wondering if anyone would get close enough to smell it today. Anyone being Steve in particular, maybe.

Steve had said we’ll pick you up, so Bucky wasn’t expecting Steve to come alone. At ten past three, Steve called him and said they were nearing Bucky’s apartment, so Bucky went downstairs to wait.

Out on the street, heart thumping a little heavier, Bucky watched the traffic, wondering what Steve would arrive in.

A sleek, silver people carrier slid into view, rolling to a stop just by Bucky. Phil was driving, which suddenly made sense, given how expensive the car looked. Sharon was riding shotgun, and Steve jumped out the back.

“Hey!” Steve beamed at him, holding the door open. “You good in the back with me?”

Bucky couldn’t help a smirk. “Sure, Rogers,” he said, stepping closer. His gaze flitted over Steve, relieved he was also dressed in his casuals, but appreciating the sight nonetheless.

“Great!” Steve directed a smile at the ground, like he was shy. “You get in this side, I’ll go around.”

Bucky chuckled, because it was kinda cute how Steve was acting all polite and shit.

“Okay.” He got in the car, sliding onto soft, cream coloured leather, Steve shutting the door after him. Phil and Sharon had both turned in their seats to smile at him, putting him on the spot a little. “Hey,” Bucky greeted. “How’s it going?”

“Excited for the movie!” Sharon exclaimed. “Are you okay with 3D? Steve forgot to ask.”

“Yeah, that’s cool.”

Steve opened the other door and got inside, just as Phil began talking about the movie. Bucky was only half listening as he watched Steve strap himself in.

“Steve’s been raving about this movie for months,” Phil mentioned.

Bucky glanced at him, then back to Steve. “Oh yeah?”

“Not months,” Steve defended, still smiling. “Maybe a few weeks?”

Bucky smiled back at him, then went to grab for his seatbelt. One of those other things that made only having one hand a pain in the ass, but before he could wrestle with it too much, Steve had already reached out a hand to help clip it in.

Normally, Bucky didn’t like anyone fussing at him. Normally, he’d feel pretty embarrassed. But Steve was so quick and smooth with it, Bucky was actually kinda impressed. And Phil was already pulling out and driving down the street, so they hadn’t noticed.

Bucky was still staring at Steve, not sure whether he should acknowledge this little helpful action or not. Steve noticed him looking, and offered him a quick smile.

Before he could dwell on it, Bucky was distracted by Sharon turning music on, flicking through selections. “Everyone ready to go uptown?” she asked, a smile in her voice.

Phil started laughing. “Oh, you know what’s coming now.”

“Oh, God,” Steve said, grinning wide. “Do we really wanna subject Bucky to this?”

“Yes,” Phil and Sharon said in unison.

“Huh?” Bucky looked to Steve, just as a song came over the speakers. He recognised this one. “Oh,” he said, as realisation dawned. “Uptown funk?”

“Sorry,” Steve said quietly, “I made a joke earlier about going uptown. This is my punishment.”

“Or reward,” Phil shouted over the music, then he and Sharon started singing along with gusto. Steve joined in too.

Wow, Bucky thought, watching as they got excited over the song. He was in a car with the biggest bunch of dorks ever.

Steve was sorta dancing in his seat, throwing his hands around.

Bucky watched him. Okay, maybe it was kinda cute. He smiled at Steve getting the words wrong. “You don’t even know the words?” he butt in. Because, seriously?

“I do, I do,” Steve insisted.

“Oh, he does,” Sharon added, turning around in her seat to grin. “Just not in the right order, perhaps.”

Uptown funk got played a couple more times, purely because by the end of it Bucky was nearly in tears watching Steve fluff the words. He wasn’t sure why it was so funny, but he hadn’t laughed this much in a long time.

 

~ ~ ~

 

“Right, we are seriously uptown now,” Steve mentioned as they walked through the parking lot.

Bucky groaned, walking next to Steve. He nudged him with his shoulder. “How long are you gonna milk this joke? Actually, don’t answer that. I know exactly what you’re gonna say.”

Steve laughed. “That predictable, huh?” He nudged Bucky back, gentle for someone of his size. Bucky thought he wouldn’t mind Steve being a little rougher with him.

“Yes, you are, Rogers.” He debated shoving Steve again, harder this time, but then he remembered Phil and Sharon were right next to them.

Bucky kept himself in check. He was still a little unsure of his place. Was this a date? Some weird double date? Surely Phil and Sharon weren’t…?

Bucky studied them, but it was hard to tell. Not that it was any of his business, but… He wasn’t sure how to act with Steve. Maybe Steve just wanted a friend so he wasn’t the third wheel?

Maybe that was it?

Huh.

They approached the entrance, where Phil darted off to the left, saying he’d pick up their tickets, while Sharon strode straight ahead.

“Meet you at the concessions stand!” she called over her shoulder.

“Where’s she going?” Bucky asked.

“Restroom?” Steve guessed. “We’re meeting Peggy inside, maybe she spotted her.”

“Oh.” Bucky felt himself stiffen at the mention of Peggy.

Her again.

What the hell, Steve? What was this weird group date anyway? Bucky felt like declaring in writing that he didn’t do groups. He didn’t know if Steve was polyamorous or just one of those too-nice guys who collected his ex’s, but…

Yeah. Bucky was tense.

“I’m gonna go to the restroom, how about you?” Steve asked.

Bucky blinked at him. “Uh…” Oh God, no way should he be peeing next to Steve Rogers. Bucky knew what he was like, he’d end up sneaking a look and then things would get awkward. He swallowed, looking away. “No, I’m good,” he lied.

He was busting. He’d just have to hold it.

“Okay.” Steve smiled at him. “I’ll meet you where Sharon said.” He pointed to concessions across the hall. “We’ll get popcorn before we go in.”

“Sure. Yep.”

Steve left him, and for a few moments Bucky stood there alone feeling like a prize chump. Then Phil came back with their tickets.

“Um,” Bucky started, looking at the mass of tickets in Phil’s hands, then at his kind smile. “Shall I give you cash, or…?”

“No need,” Phil said. His eyes crinkled as he smiled. “My treat, I insist.”

“Um… er, thank you.” Bucky followed him as Phil led the way to concessions. “I can buy the popcorn?”

“It’s already included in our ticket price,” Phil told him. “Bag of popcorn and a drink each. Pretty good value, I’d say.” He got into line, standing still and looking straight ahead.

“Um…” Bucky floundered. “Yeah… Well, that’s…”

Phil side-eyed him.

“That’s great,” Bucky finished, unsure what else to say. “Thank you.”

“You’re more than welcome.” Phil smirked.

Okay, this was weird. Bucky couldn’t put his finger on why, but it almost seemed like Phil was amused by something.

“So,” he started, before his brain could decide it was a bad idea to ask, “Steve and Peggy?”

Phil inclined his head slightly, like an agreement, but he said, “Were an item a long time ago, stayed friends, which was good for all of us because as you may have noticed, we’re close. Steve’s single.”

Side-eye again.

Bucky raised an eyebrow. “Yeah?”

Phil nodded. “And yourself?” he asked, turning the tables on Bucky. “How long have you been single?”

Shit.

Bucky’s mouth opened before he could think, but luckily no words came out. He was far too surprised.

Thankfully, Sharon arriving disrupted the strange conversation. She had Peggy in tow, with another lady Bucky didn’t recognise.

“Bucky!” Peggy exclaimed, greeting him enthusiastically. “You must meet Angie…” She introduced the fairer haired lady at her side, then said in a stage whisper, “See, Angie? Told you he was handsome.”

Bucky blinked, and found himself short of words yet again in less than a minute. Definitely not like him. “Uh…” he offered, looking between all the smirking women in front of him, and even Phil at the side smiling to himself.

Nope, he wasn’t sure what to say without flirting back. And honestly he wasn’t sure he should be flirting with anyone today. Where did he fit in here?

Moving forward in line distracted most of them, as everyone debated what refreshments to have. Bucky felt the ache of his full bladder once again. The car ride had taken almost an hour, and if he got a drink too he’d never make it through the film.

Bucky made a tactical plan.

When Steve re-joined them, everyone got their popcorn and drinks, then shuffled away to find their screen. Steve carried Bucky’s popcorn as well as his own. He hadn’t even asked, he’d just collected it without a fuss, allowing Bucky to carry his own slushie cup with his one hand.

No one had mentioned anything either, and it didn’t look like they would. For once, Bucky’s tension about his missing arm ebbed away slightly. Things were easy when Steve was around. Things that other people never considered were a pain for Bucky, Steve managed to take care of in the blink of an eye.

The guy even picked up 3D glasses for both of them when they had their tickets checked. Everything was taken care of.

Bucky cleared his throat, about to execute his plan of Mission: toilet. “What seats are we in?” he asked Steve quietly.

The others were chattering excitedly. Everything had dialled up a notch since Peggy and Angie arrived.

“Row G,” Steve told him, smiling. “Middle part.”

“Okay.” Bucky breathed in. “I’m gonna run to the toilet first.”

Steve looked at him for a moment, but didn’t question it. “Come find us inside. Here, let me grab that.”

Bucky nodded, giving Steve his drink. The guy’s arms were huge enough to carry everything, with room to spare. Bucky made his way to the toilet and let the others go on without him.

He found a cubicle and shut himself in. Doing this in public restrooms didn’t take any less time with one hand, and Bucky wanted the privacy.

Bucky wondered where he'd be sitting inside the theater. When he would join them in there and find everyone already in their seats, where would he sit? He’d expected to sit next to Steve. In fact, if Steve didn’t want to sit next to him, Bucky would feel a little annoyed.

Maybe a lot annoyed.

He finished up and went to wash his hand. Now he had to go find the others.

It was warm in the theater ---go figure--- and absolutely enormous. Bucky knew this was an IMAX, but he hadn’t been prepared for the sheer size of the theater and the screen itself. He got a little distracted by it as he went to climb the steps, very nearly tripping over his own feet.

Smooth, Barnes. Look where you’re going.

He read the letters on the rows, getting closer to G. Then he heard a familiar laugh, and happened to look up. He spotted Peggy laughing, and the others around her, up near the very back.

Huh. Steve had said row G?

Bucky began to walk toward the back, when a large presence stepped close to him. Bucky almost jumped.

“Hey,” Steve said, chuckling. “I was waving at you. Do you need glasses?”

“Uh…” Bucky’s gaze raked over Steve. The guy had taken off his jacket, and Bucky hadn’t realised how tight Steve’s t-shirt was, showing off every contour of his beautifully shaped upper body.

Hot, Bucky’s mind supplied.

Okay, so maybe he’d already perved over some of Steve’s Facebook photos ---all those ones of him working out in the park--- but seeing him up close with his chest and arms bulging out of his top--

“C’mon.” Steve indicated back along the clearway. “We’re on the other side.”

“But…” Bucky glanced up, seeing the others all sitting up in a row far away. “Aren’t they…?”

“I like it over here.” Steve shrugged like it was no big deal. “Phil likes to sit at the back. Do you mind sitting with me?” He flicked a smile at Bucky over his shoulder.

Bucky chuckled. Oh, so now he was being flirty? “I’m sure I can rough it down here,” he replied.

Steve laughed, and Bucky had to admit, he liked the sound of Steve laughing.

He showed Bucky where they were sitting, almost a little row all to themselves. “I like this place ‘cause of the leg room,” Steve explained. “I feel too far away right at the back, anyway.”

Bucky smiled, then he laughed when he saw Steve had arranged all the refreshments; drinks in the cup holders, popcorn balanced on the armrests.

“That looks precarious, Steve,” Bucky teased him.

“They’re fine,” Steve said. “At least they will be if you don’t knock them over.”

“No way I’m wasting food.” Bucky grabbed a popcorn bag, and took a seat. He was too warm in his jacket, but he’d wait until the lights went down before he took it off.

Steve didn’t ask him about it, only swept up his popcorn and dropped into the seat next to him.

Okay, this was good, Bucky thought. Somehow, he had Steve all to himself. He thought about looking behind him to check if the others were watching them, but then decided he didn’t care. It’d be dark soon.

“Glasses.” Steve handed him a pair, and Bucky laughed when he saw Steve already had his on.

“Nothing’s showing yet,” he teased.

“I like to be prepared.” Steve stuffed popcorn in his mouth.

“Sure.” Bucky settled his popcorn on his lap. He was just considering delving his hand in, when something soft hit the side of his head.

Bucky looked up in surprise, and as soon as he saw Steve’s grin, he knew what’d happened.

“How old are you?” he demanded, but he had to fight a grin. Steve looked too cute in those huge glasses, trying to look innocent.

“What?” he retorted. “I’m just eating my popcorn.”

“And throwing it at me.”

“No, wasn’t me.”

“Sure, Rogers.”

As soon as Bucky took his eyes off Steve, it happened again. “Okay, seriously, knock it off.” Bucky responded by flicking a kernel at Steve in retaliation. Steve started laughing, and Bucky knew this shouldn’t be adorable but it was. “How old are you.”

“Old enough to know better?” Steve guessed.

“Good answer.” Bucky waited until Steve wasn’t expecting it, then as the lights went down, he threw a handful of popcorn at Steve’s face.

Steve’s laugh in the dark was a pretty good sound.

Chapter Text

The movie was hilariously entertaining, if only because Steve kept harrumphing next to him over the so obvious plot-holes, or sighing when the main character fell into yet another trap.

Bucky thought Steve was more entertaining than the movie, which was a typical big budget shoot ‘em up, a remake of an older movie. Nothing ground breaking. After the final blow out and the plot started winding itself down ---and setting up for the next film, of course--- Steve was already restless in his seat.

As the credits started to roll, Steve shook his head. Bucky couldn’t help a laugh. “Aw, c’mon! Was it truly that bad?” He had to shout over the music.

Steve still shook his head, but he was smiling. “I’m not sure what I was expecting, really. My childhood is ruined.”

Bucky threw his head back and laughed. The movie had sucked pretty bad. Steve seemed to take it in good humor now it was over. Bucky placed his half eaten bag of popcorn on the floor, then shifted in his seat to get his jacket back on.

He got a little tangled at first, and shot a glance to Steve in the dark, to see if he was watching. Steve smiled at him, then looked away. Bucky wasn’t sure if he wanted Steve to have offered help or not, but…

Yeah, he was never really sure in these situations. If Steve had offered, Bucky may not have liked it. As it was, Steve didn’t make a big deal out of it, and Bucky didn’t feel under pressure to get his jacket on any faster than usual.

He managed it, and all while the lights were still down.

Win.

Steve held his own jacket in hand, but didn’t have it on yet. People were streaming past them as the credits rolled. “Shall we wait for the others?” Steve looked to Bucky.

Bucky nodded in agreement. He had no urge to dive into the throng of people all charging down the steps. He was happy to wait.

“Um…” Steve started, fiddling with his jacket and staring at it intently.

Bucky watched him, leaning in a bit closer in case he missed what Steve was saying. After a big breath, Steve said, “We were all gonna go to back downtown after this, get some food together. Are you hungry?”

Bucky smiled. “I could eat.”

Steve shot him a glance, a shy smile on his lips. Even in the dark he was gorgeous.

“I’m not sure where Phil said they were going,” he said, leaning closer to Bucky, “but, uh… well, I know this really nice Italian place in Brooklyn. I mean, you may already know it, I just wondered if…” He swallowed. “If you wanted to eat with me? Y’know, like, just you an’ me.”

Bucky watched Steve fumble and felt a smile blooming over his face. The guy was adorable. Bucky was pleased it was dark so Steve couldn’t see his goofy smile. “Sure, I’ll eat with you.”

Steve looked up at him, blinking. When he caught Bucky’s smile, he smiled back, looking absolutely beautiful with it.

It was a good thing that Bucky was already sitting, because this was the second time he felt floored just by Steve Rogers smiling at him.

 

~ ~ ~

 

On the drive back to Brooklyn, Steve and Phil debated the merits and plot-holes of the movie. Sharon tried to turn the music up to drown them out, but Phil turned it back down in order to argue with Steve.

Bucky found it amusing. He didn’t really care about the movie, but it’d been a pleasant afternoon so far. His stomach had butterflies with the thought of what would come next. Dinner, with Steve.

Not a weird group date after all.

Although Peggy and Angie were following in Peggy’s car behind them.

“I’ll never hear the end of this movie,” Sharon teased them, finally giving up on the stereo and sitting back in her seat.

“Bucky,” Phil addressed him directly. “Your thoughts?”

“On the movie?” Bucky paused, flashing a smile at Steve. “I’m not so good with plots. I got distracted by the spaceships and the set design, y’know? I was wondering about their structure and how it all works and…” He trailed off when he realised everyone had gone quiet listening to him, and how boring it must seem to them.

“You mean the mechanics?” Phil prompted.

“Um… yeah.”

“Why’s that?” Sharon asked, twisting round from her seat.

“Bucky designs that kinda stuff,” Steve explained, shooting a big grin his way. “I have to admit, the set design was amazing. I’ll give them credit where it’s due. I can’t wait to get my hands on any concept art books that come out.”

Bucky smiled back, feeling a little relieved. Steve got it, he was a designer too, although in a different field. “So, the design was good, just a shame about the plot?”

Steve nodded, face grim. “Yes. I’m considering writing a serious letter of complaint.”

Bucky burst out laughing, while Phil said, “That’s Steve’s answer to everything. A stern letter.”

“Hey, you’d be surprised what a letter can do in your favor,” Steve defended.

“I’ll bear that in mind,” Bucky said.

 

~ ~ ~

 

The place Steve took him to was cosy, a little restaurant that seemed homey and inviting. They were seated at a booth, so it felt private. Bucky slipped his jacket off, and Steve hadn’t even put his back on.

Bucky caught the appraising look that the young waitress gave Steve, and he couldn’t say he blamed her. The guy was model material, and yet Steve seemed blissfully oblivious of her lingering stare, and accepted the menu from her with a polite smile.

Oh, Steve, Bucky thought, taking his menu too. Maybe he was too hungry to notice girls? The guy examined his menu and didn’t even look up at Bucky as he said, “Hope you’re cool with Italian? I mean, it’s kinda my favourite. I haven’t been here for a while, but the food was always good.”

Now he glanced up at Bucky, possibly gaging his reaction. Bucky grinned. “It’s great. Are you getting a starter, or…?”

“Oh, I don’t do starters or anything,” Steve said, quite serious. “I usually just dive straight into the main course.”

Bucky bit his lip, fighting a smile. “Well, I can’t argue with that.” He closed his menu while throwing Steve a flirty look. “In fact, I already know what I’m having.”

Steve blinked back at him, then a smile curved his lips. “Oh, do you?”

“Yeah.” Bucky leaned back in his seat, smirking.

This was cute, he thought. Flirting with Steve, on their own. This was going well.

“And are you gonna tell me?” Steve prompted.

Bucky gave a little shake of his head, enjoying that Steve was watching him. “Nope. You’ll just have to wait and see.”

He was rewarded with one of Steve’s rich chuckles. “Oh, it’s like that, huh?” he muttered, going back to his menu. “Two can play that game.”

“I hope so,” Bucky said quietly, just loud enough for Steve to catch it.

Steve smiled down at his menu, while Bucky fought the urge to play footsie with him under the table.

Patience, Barnes, he told himself.

He thought he had a better read on Steve now; the guy was flirty, sure, but he was still shy. Bucky didn’t want to pounce too early and scare him off.

Plenty of time for pouncing later.

By the time the waitress came back ---making eyes at Steve again--- Steve asked Bucky if he wanted to get a beer.

“Sure,” Bucky agreed. Alcohol would be helpful, he hoped.

The waitress brought them a tall glass of beer each, and took their food order. Steve ordered the calzone, and Bucky ordered gnocchi.

Steve praised his choice, saying he’d tried that the last time he’d been here. Bucky smiled at that, wondering if Steve realised why Bucky had chosen that particular dish.

Then he wondered who Steve had been here with last time, and felt a little jealous.

“So, you guys all go out a lot, huh?” Bucky ventured, honestly curious about Steve and his friends.

Steve had taken a big gulp of beer then set his glass back on the table. “Yeah, when we can. And we try to make the most of Peggy when she visits too.”

“Oh.” Bucky tried not to look too interested. “Doesn’t she live here?”

“Nah, she goes all over with work. Then she’s in England, so, yeah. We don’t see her that often anymore.”

“Ah.” Bucky nodded, his mind whirring away at this new information. So Steve had bowed out of dinner with Peggy and the others, and chosen to spend time with him instead?

Bucky kinda liked that.

It wasn’t that he had anything against Steve’s friends ---or his ex, in particular--- but he wasn’t sure he was in the mood for group outings right now. It was a lot to be thrust into all at once.

“I think they’re meeting up with Tony and Bruce,” Steve went on.

“Oh yeah?” Bucky hadn’t realised Steve’s friends saw Tony and his circle that much. “And Pepper?”

“Pepper’s away this weekend.”

“Ah, right. Well,” Bucky smirked, “when you live with Tony, gotta get away whenever you can.”

Steve smiled but remained tactfully quiet.

Their food arrived soon after, and they ordered another beer each. Steve tucked into his food with enthusiasm. Bucky hadn’t seen Steve eating before ---not counting the popcorn, which he’d mostly thrown at Bucky anyway--- and the guy certainly ate fast. Bucky wondered how much Steve ate during any one day, especially if he was out doing all that training in parks all weekend, or so it seemed.

Bucky had ordered the gnocchi as it was easy to eat with one hand; all he needed was his fork to prod each small piece of pasta, so it was pretty manageable.

Italian was a good bet if he had to eat out.

Well, if anyone asked him to eat out. Brock never had, they’d just met in bars, or clubs. They’d never had dinner together, unless coffee counted.

Bucky couldn’t remember the last time he’d had dinner on a date. Not for years. Maybe it was before his accident?

“You okay?” Steve asked.

Bucky blinked, coming back to the present. “Uh, sorry, I was… just trying to remember something.”

“Okay.” Steve flashed him a small smile, almost like he understood what Bucky was trying to say.

Bucky wasn’t sure himself what he was trying to say. He looked down at his plate, poking the food with his fork. He felt tense suddenly, wondering if Steve ever thought about his arm, and if he was going to question it.

Before he could lose his appetite, Bucky blurted out, “So, you haven’t asked about my arm.”

Steve paused, in the middle of cutting his food. He looked at Bucky for a moment, then nodded. “Yeah, I guess I haven’t. I, um… I thought I’d let you bring it up. I mean, if you wanted to.”

Bucky watched him. Steve seemed too earnest to lie, especially about something like this. He’d really considered Bucky’s feelings instead of pushing in with invasive questions.

It made a nice change.

“And none of your friends asked me,” Bucky pressed on, not entirely sure why he was saying this. “Even at the party, I thought one of them might…” He shrugged. “I’m used to people being nosey.”

Steve nodded slowly, his eyes lowered. “I admit, I did want to ask you, but I tried to put myself in your position and thought I wouldn’t appreciate someone asking me unprompted, so… I thought I’d wait for you to… Well, y’know. And everyone else, I like to think they’re polite. I’d told most of them you were coming to the party, and you didn’t really know any of us yet. I think they wanted you to feel welcomed more than anything.”

He glanced at Bucky, smiling now. “Everyone was asking after you, y’know. After the party. They like you.”

“Oh?” Bucky grinned back, pleasantly surprised. “Do I get the vote of approval?”

Steve laughed, ducking his head a little. “Yeah, I’d say you do.”

“Good to know.” Bucky bit his lip, wondering if he should say more, or let it drop and keep up the flirting. But he felt like he wanted to get this off his chest, so… “I fell off a mountain.”

“Oh.” Steve stopped laughing and looked at him solemnly. “I… I’m sorry.”

Bucky waved his fork, dismissing Steve’s worry. “It’s okay, it was a long time ago. It was… five years this year, actually. I used to be…” He swallowed, hoping his voice stayed steady. He hadn’t talked about this to anyone new in a long while. “I used to be into hiking, right? I used to be a lot more active, always out when I could. But hiking, exploring, that was my thing. I’d graduated and got my engineering job, and that was all great but, I found being cooped up in an office too much, y’know? So I liked to get out, and… Well, anyway, long story short, I went out alone a lot, in the woods. Not the brightest idea. And one time I misjudged this path down a slope, fell, and…”

He shrugged again, indicating his lost arm. “I was airlifted out, nearly twenty hours after I fell. I was lucky it wasn’t worse, I guess. People always tell me I’m lucky.” He grabbed his glass and took a large gulp of beer.

Steve nodded, his face seemed so solemn Bucky almost regretted telling him at all.

Then Steve said, “People used to tell me I was lucky too. It’s weird when they say that.”

Bucky waited for him to go on, watching Steve idly play with his fork.

“I was in hospital a lot, as a kid,” Steve explained. “Probably spent more time in hospital than I did at home, to be honest. I guess now that I am lucky I made it through, but at the time… I remember it didn’t feel like it.”

“Why were you…?” Bucky frowned, thoughtful. “If you want to tell me, I mean.”

Steve looked at him and smiled. “It’s okay. I had a weak immune system, so I caught a lot of bugs. Almost died twice; first time was pneumonia, second was the flu. Pretty lame, but I was tiny back then. No immunity to speak of, so my mom got me into this research program where they pumped me full of steroids and a whole bunch of stuff. Helped a lot, then I hit a growth spurt and things got a little easier. Sorry,” Steve looked embarrassed, “you don’t want to hear me go on about that. I don’t usually…” A flush painted his cheeks.

“I want to hear,” Bucky told him, and surprisingly he meant it. Steve was just so honest about things, Bucky could only respond in kind.

They smiled shyly at each other, and fumbled the rest of the way through their meal.

Bucky steered the conversation onto something a little more safe, and after talking about their mutual friends some, he asked about Steve’s tai chi classes.

Admittedly he’d never brought it up before, and aside from perving over Steve’s Facebook photos, he didn’t really know anything else.

Steve seemed shy at first but after some prodding ---Bucky was good at prodding--- he opened up to how he’d first seen tai chi groups in parks and joined, then worked with one of the trainers and later worked his way to leading his own groups.

“I like to be outside too,” he explained, “working from home most days, I go stir crazy otherwise.”

“You must visit the gym too?” Bucky teased, eyeing Steve’s beautifully toned upper body.

Steve smiled back. “I do, but it’s not the same as tai chi. I do the gym because I have to, but tai chi helps me unwind.”

“Mmm.” Bucky nodded, trying to think when the last time he’d set foot in the gym. Couple of years, most likely. He sometimes worked out at home, because he preferred the privacy these days.

It was on the tip of his tongue to mention how much he’d loved martial arts, and competed in tournaments… before his accident. But Bucky didn’t want to bring all that up again, so he asked more about Steve’s classes.

“They’re free to join in,” Steve mentioned. “Y’know, if you ever felt like it.”

Bucky laughed, trying to imagine himself getting back into something that required patience and new skills, and dealing with other people. “Maybe I’ll swing by and watch sometime.”

Steve grinned in response. “That’s free too.”

Chapter Text

After they were done in the restaurant they walked along together, heading downtown. Bucky hadn’t realised how much he missed eating out.

“Man, that was so good! I’m pleased I didn’t wear my really tight jeans today, or there’d be problems right now.”

Next to him, Steve shook with laughter. “Aren’t all your pants skinny?”

“Yes,” Bucky nudged into him with his shoulder. Steve was on his right. “But I wore the less skinny ones today. I thought y’know, we were gonna sit in the cinema, comfort was a priority.”

“Good forward planning, there.”

“I like to think so.”

They walked side by side, both wearing their jackets as there was a mild mid-evening breeze.

“I love Italian food,” Bucky said, still half in love with that dessert he’d had. And some of Steve’s too, because Steve was some kind of crazy person who wasn’t really into sweet things, so he’d happily shared his with Bucky.

“I can tell,” Steve teased him.

“It’s not that it’s difficult to cook,” Bucky went on, “but it’s…y’know, lots of chopping, and…”He looked away, not sure why he’d said that, especially out here in the street. He’d been so careful not to bring this up, to draw attention to his disability.

He was always so careful, but the thing about Steve was that he made Bucky feel comfortable enough to talk about it.

“Can I ask you something?” Steve said quietly.

“Sure.”

“Did you have any… I don’t know what it’d be called, a prosthetic? Was anything offered to you, or…?”

“Oh, yeah.” Bucky huffed a breath. “I have a couple at home, I just…” He shrugged, watching the sidewalk instead of looking at Steve. “Don’t like ‘em.”

“That’s fair,” Steve said. “Sorry for asking, I---”

“Steve, you can ask.”

They walked along a few steps in silence, then Steve said, “Okay, Buck.”

That got a chuckle from Bucky. “Y’know, my sister is the only person who’ll call me that.”

“Oh. Do I need special permission?”

Bucky had to look at Steve to see if he was joking. The guy came off as shy most of the time, but the more they’d talked this evening, the more Bucky saw another side of Steve. A snarky little wiseass, mostly.

Steve was grinning playfully, so Bucky decided that teasing and flirting was still a go.

“Yes,” he said firmly, “but I reckon you got a special pass, Rogers.”

“I’m honored.”

“Yeah, you should be.”

He was so busy grinning at Steve that he hadn’t noticed which way they were headed. “Which way you going?” Bucky asked.

Steve nodded ahead. “I’ll walk down with you.”

“But…” Bucky glanced about, trying to guess how many blocks away Steve’s place was. “Aren’t you back that way?”

“Yeah, but I’ll walk with you. I like the exercise.”

“Oh.” Bucky grinned. “You do, huh?” He was itching to say more, but he bit his lip.

Tone it down, Barnes. Play it cool.

“You know…” Steve ventured, slipping his hands in his jacket pockets, “I think I’m a pretty good cook. If you… er, if you ever want… something… I mean, I’d cook dinner for you. Sometime. If you want.”

Bucky looked at him curiously. “Oh, yeah? What would you cook for me?”

Steve wouldn’t meet his eye, but he answered confidently enough, “Whatever you want. I’ll give it a try.”

“Whatever I want, huh?”

“Within reason,” Steve added, as Bucky barked a laugh.

“What am I not allowed?”

“Well, just…” Steve laughed. “I need to work with what I got, y’know? You’ve seen my kitchen, it’s not gigantic. So as long as you don’t want… a hog roast, or a Korean barbeque, or…” He waved his hand in the air. “Something where I’d have to hire in special equipment.”

Bucky was laughing for almost half a block. He had to wipe tears away. He wasn’t even sure why it was so funny, it was just Steve. “Now I want Korean barbeque,” he said, once he’d calmed down.

“Turn down my hog roast? Okay.”

“You’d never fit a hog in that kitchen.”

“True. Well, I do like Thai. Do you like Thai?”

Bucky nodded. “I can go for Thai. Depends what it is.”

“Maybe you should make a list of what you like, then,” Steve suggested, “and I’ll surprise you.”

Bucky raised his eyebrows. “Oh, really?”

Now he was curious. They’d been flirting all evening ---unless the beer had gone to his head, which wasn’t unlikely--- and Steve seemed pretty serious about actually cooking him dinner.

Going out for dinner was one thing, but a guy making him dinner? Bucky wasn’t even sure anyone had done that for him, ever. Not in a romantic way, more like… roommates.

“So…” Bucky frowned as he thought. “Will… er, will Phil and Sharon be around for this magical meal you’re serving up?”

Steve looked at him, almost seeming surprised. “Um… they could be?”

“Would you invite them?”

“If you want me to,” Steve offered, but didn’t sound nearly as enthusiastic as before.

“Or did you mean you’d cook for me, just the two of us?” Bucky pressed.

“Uh, yes,” Steve’s voice lowered. “Yeah, that’s kinda what I meant.”

“I see.” Bucky processed that, a sly grin forming on his face. “And tonight? Was this a date?”

“Do you want it to be?” Steve asked.

“Sure,” Bucky tried to sound blasé about it. No point dancing around each other anymore.

“Um, great.”

“So,” Bucky nudged into Steve’s side ---which was rock solid--- and said, “it was a date?”

“Sure, Buck.” Steve nudged him back, gentle but firm. Bucky grinned at him.

Win.

And, four more blocks and they’d be at his apartment.

The anticipation built the closer they got, and Bucky tried to play it cool. All he wanted was to pounce on Steve and demand to be carried straight to his bedroom for a night of wild sex. But he figured that may be a bit too eager.

They reached his building, and Steve followed Bucky up the steps to the front door. Bucky was thrilled, buzzing with nerves and excitement as he unlocked the door. He stepped inside, then Steve started chuckling and recounted how, two weeks ago, he’d had to manhandle a much drunker Bucky into the elevator and up to his floor.

Bucky slapped Steve on his broad chest, mostly as an excuse to touch him. “Shut up, Rogers. That never happened.”

“But you were so cute,” Steve insisted, grinning wide. “You were muttering all these nonsensical things, and I couldn’t hear what you were saying.”

Bucky fought the embarrassment building inside him. “Good thing too.” He took a deep breath, then turned his most sultry look on Steve, looking up at him from under his eyelashes. “So,” he tugged lightly on Steve’s jacket, “are you escorting me upstairs?”

“Um…” Steve remained still, even when Bucky tugged a little harder the man remained immovable, like a mountain. “I’d better head home,” Steve said quietly. “Gotta be up early for my class.”

Bucky blinked at him, incredulous. “But it’s not even nine o’ clock,” he argued, then, as inspiration struck, “I have really good coffee.” He tugged on Steve’s jacket again, and this time Steve stepped closer to him, although he was laughing at what Bucky had said.

“Laugh all you want, Rogers, it’s amazing coffee.” Bucky let go of Steve’s jacket, sliding his hand down Steve’s arm to find his hand. He went to tangle his fingers with Steve’s, thrilled when Steve clutched his hand and squeezed back.

Bucky looked up into his eyes, marvelling again at just how gorgeous Steve looked, how blue his eyes were. But Steve gazed back at him with a regretful little smile, and Bucky could sense defeat.

“So… you’re not coming up,” he guessed.

Steve shook his head. “Not tonight, Buck.”

“Okay.” That’s okay, Bucky thought, all was not lost. Steve was holding his hand, and it was warm, and being so close to him made Bucky feel light headed, and hopeful.

Maybe not for a hook up tonight, but hopeful for something else. Something more.

“I, um… I had a real nice time today.”

Steve’s smile grew. “Yeah?”

“Yeah. It was…” Bucky’s gaze fell to Steve’s lips, so full and pink. He wet his own lips, hoping that Steve would kiss him. “Um… it was really good.”

“I had fun too,” Steve said quietly. “I like hanging out with you.”

That surprised a laugh out of Bucky. “Um, thanks.” He felt a blush creep onto his cheeks, and hoped Steve wouldn’t notice. “I like hanging out with you too.”

“That’s good to know.” Steve stared into his eyes, and Bucky couldn’t take it anymore.

“Rogers, are you gonna kiss me or what?”

Steve smiled. “Can I?”

Yes.” Bucky tugged on Steve’s hand, pulling him in. Steve leaned close and Bucky tilted his head, catching Steve’s lips and, oh wow, kissing Steve was amazing. His lips were plump and warm, he was gentle at first but then Bucky swiped his tongue at Steve’s lips, and Steve opened his mouth and kissed him properly.

Oh, that was amazing.

Bucky wanted it so bad. The kiss quickly turned heated. Bucky found himself pressed up against the wall, one of Steve’s large hands on his waist, the other cradling his face. Bucky melted into it, pulling Steve against him, desperate for more. He’d happily let Steve fuck him against the wall right now, just like this.

Steve’s tongue twirled against his ---damn, he knew how to kiss--- and Bucky couldn’t help it, a little moan of pleasure escaped as he kissed Steve back.

But then Steve was pulling away, ending the kiss. Bucky almost moaned again, this time in disappointment. Steve was still close, face just inches from Bucky as he stared into his eyes. They were both breathing hard.

“I should… probably go,” Steve said.

Bucky licked his wet lips, tasting Steve, and hummed in resigned agreement. Steve was going, he’d obviously made up his mind. “Just kiss me again?”

Steve smiled at him, then leaned in. He kissed Bucky, but just once on the lips, almost chaste.

When Steve pulled back, they gazed at each other a moment before Steve spoke. “Bye, Buck,” he said, squeezing Bucky’s hand once before stepping away.

“Bye,” Bucky said, still leaning against the wall. He wasn’t entirely sure he could move yet.

Steve didn’t hang about; with one last smile over his shoulder, he exited the building, closing the door behind him.

Alone, Bucky breathed a huge sigh.

He wasn’t disappointed, exactly. Sure, it would’ve been nice to get some, but…

But.

Natasha must’ve been right. Steve wasn’t that kind of guy. Bucky wasn’t all that sure where this left him. Aside from breathless from one kiss, which was pretty incredible.

He ran his hand through his hair, and breathed deep.

Yeah. Pretty incredible.

He eventually made his way to the elevator, got in and pressed the button for his floor. He couldn’t believe Steve wasn’t here, after having spending the better part of six hours with him today. Could he really miss someone’s presence that quickly?

Hm.

Interesting.

Bucky got a text alert as he was letting himself into his apartment. He closed the door and got out his phone.

It was from Steve. Bucky’s pulse picked up as he opened the message.

I wanted to kiss you all day long. x

Bucky smiled at that. What a dork, he thought. And yet, how utterly adorable.

The message had no emoticon’s, not like Steve usually sent. Just that one little x.

Bucky flopped onto his couch to send his reply. And, because he was feeling giddy and horny, he wrote, Just all day? ;)

He waited impatiently for a reply, and after a couple minutes, a message came.

Except this one wasn’t from Steve.

It was from Brock.

Bucky stared at it, dumbfounded.

Oh, now Brock gets in touch. Wasn’t that just typical?

Good mood all but obliterated, Bucky opened Brock’s message with a frown.

Hey you, it read, how’s it going?

That’s it? Bucky thought, incredulous. Nearly two weeks of radio silence, and that’s it? At nine on a Friday night, it was clearly a booty call.

Bucky was so not impressed with that. Brock would have to try a lot harder to get back in his good books.

Would he? Bucky wondered. Would he try harder?

Just then, another message came through. Bucky almost sighed when he saw it was from Steve. Good ol’ Steve, he always replied.

Bucky opened the message.

Not just today, it read, I wanted to kiss you the first night I met you---

Bucky had to re-read that part, because he couldn’t quite believe it. His pulse was racing again, thudding in his ears.

---but you were insanely drunk, and all my smooth talking would’ve been a waste, so… :p

Bucky guffawed at that.

Honestly, he’d never live that night down. Bucky sat there, re-reading Steve’s message, chuckling to himself.

Smooth talking, he thought. Yeah, right.

Bucky wasn’t sure how a guy could go from completely charming to being a sass master, and then a huge dork, and yet still be cute and irresistible.

Scrolling between the two messages from two different guys, Bucky frowned to himself.

Well… shit.

Now what was he supposed to do?

Chapter Text

Bucky stewed in his thoughts for the rest of the evening, and didn’t get a good night’s sleep because of it either.

He’d replied to Steve, even if it was a cop out reply; he’d sent back a winky face emoticon, and that was all. He just wasn’t sure how to deal to Steve and his outright honesty. Bucky wasn’t used to that behaviour.

Brock, on the other hand, he was more what Bucky was used to. When he thought about Brock, and compared his general behaviour to Steve’s, Bucky felt even more pissed at Brock. 

It was like, before Steve, Bucky hadn’t really considered how much he’d let himself get screwed around by guys who couldn’t even maintain a casual friends-with-benefits deal. Seriously, why couldn’t they communicate? Or have basic manners?

Bucky wasn’t stupid, and he wasn’t against casual dating either, but it’d been different with Brock. At least, Bucky had thought so. Hook up’s, yeah, cool. Great, even! But the chatting in between with Brock, the hanging-out-dates, and all those long looks and affectionate touches?

Mixed signals, buddy.

Those had been dating vibes, or so Bucky had though. That last time, especially that last time. Hook up sex ---amazing sex, honestly--- and then Brock offered to walk him to the subway station, and on the way there just happens to mention this little coffee place he knows. Bucky had sat there, next to Brock, with a fancy eight dollar coffee, while Brock flicked through one of the magazines he’d picked up. Brock had glanced at Bucky and smiled, all roguishly handsome with his dark eyes, stubbly jawline and mussed-up hair.

They’d sat there and had coffee, all cosy, like they were dating, and little things like that had made Bucky think that Brock wanted something more meaningful.

And maybe Bucky wanted that too.

Except then, Brock had stone-cold ditched him the next time they were supposed to meet. Radio silence for two fucking weeks, and now a booty call.

Yeah, Bucky was pissed. He ignored Brock’s message, even deleted it when he felt the urge to reply. If he’d been on his own all this time, maybe he’d have felt differently, but as it so happened he’d just been kissed by a really amazing guy, and his lips still tingled when he thought about it.

And maybe other parts of him joined in the happy, tingly feeling too.

Bucky tossed and turned in his bed most of the night, having strange dreams when he did finally fall asleep. He dreamt he was in a noisy bar with Brock, yet caught sight of Steve far off in the crowd. Steve commanded all Bucky’s attention in this dream, his blond head and square shoulders standing out from the everyone else. Suddenly Brock didn’t seem as appealing anymore, and Bucky still had that thought lingering when he woke.

At ten AM Bucky dragged himself out of bed and made himself a coffee. Sweet coffee would make everything better. He took the steaming mug over to his couch, sat down, and placed his coffee on the table, next to his phone.

He sighed, smoothed his hair back with his hand and stared at the phone. He’d switched it off last night, because the thought of talking to anyone was starting to stress him out big time.

10.14, and he wondered how early was too early to text Natasha. She would’ve worked last night, and Bucky was aware that bar staff slept in later than most people because of their hours.

He turned on his TV and stared at it, chewing on his lower lip.

Steve’s tai chi class would’ve finished by now, unless he was doing a double. Bucky had a burning curiosity to see Steve in action, but maybe from the side-lines. Possibly behind a tree so Steve couldn’t see him watching.

Bucky wanted to watch. He wanted to meet up with Steve again, but… He felt hyper-aware of what this could mean, and all this talk of Steve making him dinner? Those were some quite serious date-me vibes.

Weren’t they?

Bucky huffed a sigh.

None of this crap had even worried him yesterday, not until he’d seen Brock’s message. He’d thought Brock had been a nice guy at first. Now he wasn’t sure what to think.

At 10.47 AM, he turned on his phone and texted Natasha. He didn’t expect a reply right away or anything.

No other messages came through ---and Bucky felt somewhat peeved at that--- so he checked his Facebook. There’d been a few notifications from yesterday that he hadn’t even looked at yet.

His eyes widened when he saw he’d been tagged in a post.

What the…?

Bucky checked, but with relief he saw it was just a status update he’d been tagged in, not something with pictures.

Thank fuck.

It was from Sharon, who’d friended him recently, tagging them all at the cinema yesterday:

Ready for popcorn and over-produced CGI blockbuster action! It read, with, Phil Coulson, Steven Rogers, James ‘Bucky’ Barnes, Margaret ‘Peggy’ Carter, Angie Martinelli.

Bucky saw that several people had liked the post, a mix of everyone’s friends.

Steve had commented: It was over produced, I’ll give you that, sparking a debate between a couple more people Bucky didn’t know, but Steve hadn’t replied again.

Bucky scrolled through his newsfeed, smiling when he saw that Sharon had uploaded pictures, but taken from their back row seats in the theater, so none of him and Steve. There were selfies of Sharon with each of her friends, all pulling silly faces.

What a bunch of dorks.

But okay, Bucky had to admit, they were nice people. He felt a kind of giddy happiness at having been included in their outing, and tagged in it like he belonged there.

Scrolling through, he saw more pictures of what must’ve been their evening meal, when they’d met with Tony and Bruce. Bucky was a little disappointed he hadn’t been there for that, but then again, he’d been with Steve.

Bucky wondered if Brock had seen him get tagged, and if that was what’d prompted him into texting out of the blue.

Because he was bordering on paranoid, Bucky checked Brock’s profile. But nothing new had been added, except a status update two days ago about his work. Bucky had already seen that, and he didn’t care if Brock was apparently crazy busy!!! with three exclamation marks; if he had time to post an update to Facebook, he’d have time to send a ‘hello, how are you?’ text to Bucky.

At 11:11, Bucky’s phone rang and jolted him out of his fug. It was Natasha. He answered the call with his hands-free set and said, “I didn’t wake you up, did I?”

“I’m still in bed, technically,” she replied. “But I’m usually up by eleven, don’t worry your pretty head, James.”

Bucky huffed a laugh. “Okay.”

“So what is this important thing you need to ask me so early on a Saturday morning?”

“Um…” Bucky leaned back in his couch, gazing up at the ceiling like it held the answers. Now he actually had to say this out loud, he find kinda dumb.

“Have you got a question,” Natasha asked flatly, “or do I have to sit here and listen to your brain slowly turning over?”

He sighed. No point being embarrassed with Natasha. She’d seen him in far worse situations. “Y’know how Steve is a nice guy…” he started.

Natasha was silent for a moment, then said, “I’d say that’s a universal law.”

Bucky chuckled at that. “Yeah. Well… what if he’s too nice for me?”

No answer.

Bucky replied to it anyway. “But he is!”

“Barnes,” she sighed, “are you really trying to talk yourself out of dating Steve?”

“Well, I… just… don’t think we’d be compatible.”

“How do you know that?”

“Cause he’s all… he… y’know…”

Because he’s too good for me.

Because nice guys like him don’t end up with punks like me, they end up with another nice guy and make a perfect pair.

Bucky sighed heavily. “See, there’s this other guy---”

“Please don’t tell me it’s the same one who ditched you two weeks ago.”

Frowning, Bucky almost wanted to deny it. “Maybe,” he grouched.

Natasha was silent, which always put Bucky on edge. He could almost feel her glaring at him. “He’s been busy with work,” Bucky defended, “and he messaged me last night.”

“Let me guess. Booty call.”

“No,” Bucky fibbed, “he just messaged me.”

“So, let me get this straight,” Natasha’s smile was loud and clear in her voice, “you called me up because you want my opinion on which guy you should date. Right?”

“Well… maybe.”

“Or,” Natasha said brightly, “what you think you need is someone else’s approval before you allow yourself to date Steve, the proverbial knight in shining armour, before you chicken out completely and keep slumming it with the skeezy commitment-phobes you usually date.”

Bucky opened his mouth, but Natasha hadn’t finished.

“Sorry,” she said, “I meant the skeezy commitment-phobes you usually try to date, except that they won’t let you because, surprise, Barnes! They don’t want to date and they aren’t reliable. Why do you put up with these flaky guys anyway?”

“Wow,” Bucky said, frowning hard, “you done?”

“Don’t get upset,” she teased.

“I’m not upset.”

“Yes, you are,” she insisted, “I can hear your huffy breathing. I know I touched a nerve, James, but this conversation is long overdue. Now, I have a question for you. Why do you think we didn’t work as a couple?”

Bucky couldn’t answer that. Not without a good amount of preparation at least. This certainly wasn’t how he’d intended this talk to go; he’d wanted advice from a friend, not a grilling from his ex.

“I can imagine the face you’re pulling right now.” Natasha chuckled. “I’m not trying to catch you out here. Just think about it. Why didn’t we work? Why does it never work with these flaky guys you keep chasing? I'll tell you why. Because you actively pursue people who don’t want to be with you, and you always say no to the ones who actually do want to be with you.” She took a deep breath, then said gently, “Steve is a nice guy. He really is. And he seems into you. It would be a shame to waste this by throwing excuses around, because you’re scared of taking a chance.”

Bucky grimaced to himself. Well, this sucked.

Instead of responding to her accusations, he demanded, “How’d you know he likes me? You some sort of mind reader?”

“I talk to Sharon,” Natasha stated. “And Phil. Plus, I’m good at reading people, you know that. No one’s really said anything, because Steve doesn’t discuss his personal business and they all respect that. But the fact that they’ve all noticed that he likes you, without him saying as much, that says something to me.”

Bucky flushed hot all over. In his mind, he was reliving their date in the cinema, him and Steve seated separately from the others, throwing popcorn over each other and generally having a good time.

And having dinner with him, opening up about their pasts, and things seeming so… easy. So natural.

Okay, maybe Natasha had a point.

“Yeah, but…” Bucky floundered. He didn’t really have a but, he realised.

“You’re welcome,” Natasha said.

That drew a loud laugh from Bucky. “Oh, yes. Of course.”

“Are you going to be all right?” she asked. “I don’t need to organise an intervention, do I?”

“Huh? Shut up, I’m fine.” Bucky shuffled down in his couch, fully preparing to sulk the moment he’d hung up the phone.

“Think about what I said,” she instructed. “My honest opinion---”

“Yeah, don’t hold back.”

“---is that Steve is nice guy, sure, but that shouldn’t put you off, and that doesn’t mean you aren’t compatible. Give him a chance, Barnes.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he mumbled. “Thanks a bunch.”

“You’re welcome. Now, I’m going to go because some of us have to work over the weekends.”

“Have a good weekend,” Bucky told her. “Hey, Nat?”

“Mm?”

“So… what were we? I mean, if you’re saying I… That I fucked it up?”

Natasha was quiet, then said softly, “The past is past now, let’s leave it that way.”

Bucky rolled his eyes. Typical evasive maneuvers.

“We’re better as friends,” Natasha went on. “I have my nice guy, y’know. Now it’s time you get yours.”

Bucky laughed. “Wow, you’re so corny these days. What happened?”

“Fuck off, Barnes. And take care.” She hung up, and Bucky chuckled quietly to himself.

Boy, oh boy.

He knew Natasha dished out straight talking, but he hadn’t been prepared for that amount of home truths.

Now he figured he’d employ some evasive tactics of his own, and avoid the issue at hand for as long as possible.

 

~ ~ ~

 

As it happened, avoiding the issue of his love life took a backseat to dealing with the much bigger issue of having a headache he just shouldn’t shift, and a nose that kept running.

Fuck, he wasn’t getting ill? He’d only had a cold a few weeks back, having another one now was ridiculous.

Bucky was almost tempted to message Steve and blame him for it. If Steve had a cold too, then it’d be obvious where Bucky’d caught it from.

Except when Bucky gave in and checked Steve’s profile, he’d been tagged in a couple new pictures and put up a status about the tai chi in the park. In the pictures Steve was clearly leading a group, all of them in their work out clothes.

Steve looked incredible wearing a light grey, tight fitting top, and slim-fit navy joggers. Most of the pictures he looked to be concentrating on his task, whatever pose he was going through. Graceful, poised, hot-looking; like a Greek statue come to life.

Okay, so Steve was amazing and he didn’t have a cold. The guy must have an iron immunity or something. Maybe Bucky had picked it up in the cinema, or because he hadn’t slept much, or…

Blah, it didn’t matter. He felt tired and was tempted to go sleep it off. His only other options were ordering take-out and watching whatever shows he’d recorded.

Another thrilling weekend alone.

Bucky went back to bed. He managed a long nap, woke up feeling slightly less horrible, and stumbled into his kitchen to see if he had any food that wasn’t out of date, or if he really did need to order in.

Considering how much trouble it was cooking with one hand, take-out was his preference most of the time.

Much later in the afternoon, Bucky’s phone lit up with a text message. Bucky paused his messy pizza eating to lean over and see who it was.

Brock Rumlow.

Well, well, he thought, scowling at his phone as he continued chewing.

Let the guy wait.

Bucky finished his slice, went to wash his hand ---it was easier than trying to use a napkin, and more clean than wiping it on his pants--- and came back to his couch. He picked up his phone and read the message:

You okay? Been wondering how you are!

Bucky chewed his lip, thinking.

This was Brock being nice again, and Bucky hated to admit it did pull him in. He couldn’t help it. It was difficult to think of Brock and not remember all the fun they’d had over the last…

How long was it? About three months?

Seemed a lot to throw away, Bucky thought. And he already knew they were an awesome match in bed. Or up against a wall, or crammed into a toilet cubicle, anywhere. Brock was very sexual and just took what he wanted, and Bucky loved that.

Well, he had when Brock actually paid him attention. The guy just sorta blew in like a tornado force when he felt like it, and fucked off again in the same way.

Bucky tried to ignore the text, but he was too invested with this guy. After waiting a few minutes ---which was really hard--- he texted back: I’m fine, just been busy. How’s it going with you?

That was polite, Bucky thought. No reason he couldn’t be civil.

Bucky jiggled his leg waiting for the reply, holding his phone in his hand. When the message came through, all it said was:

What you doing tonight? :)

Bucky frowned at that. Direct, he thought. Did Brock want to hook up? After two weeks of silence? Well, he could fuck off. Bucky didn’t plan on doing anything tonight, not with this headache anyway.

And the runny nose.

He didn’t want anyone looking at him let alone making eyes at him. No way.

Nothing much, he wrote. Need to chill.

Suck on that, he thought, as he sent the message. Let Brock chase him if he was that interested.

Games, games, games. What a load of crap.

Brock sent another reply within a minute:

You home now?

Bucky replied the affirmative, then leaned forward in order to place his phone on the coffee table; he wanted to get more comfortable on the couch. But before he set the phone down, it started ringing.

Bucky tensed immediately, his eyes darting to where his hands-free set was lying on the coffee table, because he’d unplugged it earlier.

And Brock was calling him.

The fuck?

Before Bucky could think it through, he accepted the call and put the phone to his ear. “Hey,” he said, hoping he didn’t sound too nasal from his stuffed nose.

“Hey there,” Brock’s voice purred at him. “I wanted to hear your voice.”

“Oh yeah?” Bucky almost smiled, almost felt warm and giddy from this direct admission, but then he heard tell-tale sounds on the line.

Skin slapping sounds.

Bucky frowned. “Um, what’re you doing?”

Brock growled back at him, and the sounds Bucky could hear became more obvious.

“Brock, are you doing what I think you’re doing?”

“Missed you, baby,” Brock’s deep voice caressed his ear. “Missed having that tight ass of yours around my dick.” He grunted, and the sounds of flesh on flesh and heavy breathing coupled with the dirty talk flipped the horny switch in Bucky’s brain, just like that.

“Uh… look, hang on, yeah?” Bucky’s voice came out lower, his pulse was thudding hard. “Let me get my…” He had no choice but to put the phone down as he reached over to grab his hands-free set. Then he had to untangle it, plug the thing in, all with his hand shaking and his dick doing his thinking for him, and then put his earbuds in.

With Brock now in his ears, Bucky was about to settle back on the couch, hand on his dick. But he paused when he heard Brock making all these sex noises, like he was really going for it.

“Hey,” Bucky spoke up, “slow down, I needed to---”

“Ohh, yeah,” Brock’s groan interrupted, “c’mon, baby.”

“Brock, I don’t even have my dick out yet,” Bucky snapped. Didn’t the guy remember Bucky only had one fucking hand here?

“C’mon, then,” Brock grunted back. “I’m real close, hurry up.”

Bucky blinked, his memory flashing back to a time where they’d had sex and Brock’d been in such a fucking hurry to have his orgasm he hadn’t even bothered asking Bucky if he was close yet. Brock got his, and fell asleep drunk, while Bucky'd been left hanging.

Frustration filled him up, and now Bucky kinda felt like doing the exact opposite of what Brock wanted. He listened silently, almost in disbelief, to this meathead jerking off down the line, while Bucky was still fully clothed.

Had Brock always been this selfish, or was Bucky only realising it now?

“Hey, Brock,” Bucky said, voice cheerful, “enjoy jerking that on your own.”

“Huh? What---”

Bucky cut him off. Silence replaced the sex noises, but Bucky was still seething.

Seriously?

Had that actually just happened?

He was still thinking about it when a new message came through. Bucky pulled out his earbuds, and read the message from Brock.

Why’d you hang up on me?

Bucky knew he probably shouldn’t reply, but he’d never been afraid of confrontation.

Because you seemed to be doing fine on your own.

He smirked as he sent that.

He wasn’t smiling when he got Brock’s reply:

Fuck you then.

Ugh, really, Brock?

Fighting down the hurt, Bucky replied: Nope!

Then he blocked the douchebag’s number before it got worse.

Chapter Text

Despite feeling hurt over Brock’s amazing levels of douchiness, Bucky also felt a little…

Relieved.

That incident had helped him see Brock was kind of a jerk.

Or, a lot of a jerk.

And that hadn’t been the first time Bucky had wanted to shout at him one hand, Brock! Because people just didn’t fucking realise how difficult everyday things were with one goddamn hand, and some people didn’t even seem to care much. Brock Rumlow had strayed into that territory more times than Bucky usually tolerated, but…

Well, it was all over now.

Wasn’t it?

Bucky had blocked the guy’s number, so why was he lurking on Facebook on his laptop, instead of watching the movie he’d decided on? What was he expecting, Brock to send him a message through Facebook and chase him?

Seriously, Brock wasn’t the type to chase or apologise. It’d likely take ages for Brock to calm down and even miss him, assuming the guy didn’t have other booty calls lined up anyway.

You’re an idiot, Barnes, Bucky told himself, not for the first time.

He huffed as he refreshed his newsfeed again. It was never a good idea to prowl Facebook on Saturday night, all Bucky’s friends were either in couples or out doing something fun ---or both--- while he was stuck at home hoping someone would talk to him.

There were new pictures from Tony and Pepper, out at some restaurant. Did those guys ever eat a meal in, Bucky wondered.

Natasha had shared a picture of Clint mixing cocktails, saying something about their new range at the bar. Sam was in the background of the picture, clearly in the middle of laughing while Clint showed off with his cocktails.

Bucky kinda wished he was there with his old friends, but being in a crowded bar with a snotty cold wouldn’t be pleasant.

Like being stuck at home was a thrill.

He should just watch the movie and try to forget about stuff for a while.

Then a new status appeared, from Steve:

A whole packet of Doritos to myself! Oh I just love my Doritos, mmmmm!!!

Bucky stared in confusion. That status didn’t make much sense, but as the minutes ticked by people began liking it. The first comment was from Tony Stark: I knew it!!!!!

Followed by Sharon: He’s starting on bag number two!!

Tony Stark: Cool ranch??

Sharon Carter: Naturally!

Bruce Banner: Finally his secret is revealed ;p

Bucky watched with interest, and a few minutes later Steve commented:

Thank you, Sharon Carter, for posting this when my back was turned. Revenge will be sweet and when you least expect it. :p And Tony Stark, there is nothing wrong with cool ranch!

Tony hit back with, you’re talking to a hot and spicy man, Rogers. You can keep your cool ranch.

Then Phil waded in: Tony’s flavor is cheese.

Steve’s reply was entirely made up of laughing emojis.

Bucky smiled at the screen, watching these goofballs bicker over some inside joke. It was cute. Bucky wished he knew what had started it all. He wished he was in on the joke too.

Would he fit, he wondered. Would he fit into Steve’s little group? His mind kept catching him out with these hopeful thoughts and daydreams; he’d picture himself joining in with Steve and his friends, maybe helping them set up for their next party, standing with Steve and greeting guests, hanging off the guy’s arm and watching him laugh, and feeling like he belonged.

Bucky wanted that. He hardly admitted it to himself, but he did want that.

Did he want it with Steve? The guy seemed almost too good to be true, Bucky kept expecting some other person, a much more eligible bachelor than Bucky himself, wading in to date Steve. Surely Steve was already seeing someone? Or other people? No way he was totally one hundred per cent available?

Bucky stared at his laptop screen as his mind went round and round in circles. Natasha’s words came back to him, bringing him up on his avoidance of dateable guys, and his habit of sticking with unavailable guys instead.

Harsh, but true.

So where did that leave him? Steve had messaged him yesterday, but nothing today. He was clearly with Sharon, possibly Phil too, so maybe he was home as well.

Sometimes Bucky missed having housemates.

Bucky went to Google, absently browsing through images. Maybe he could send a picture to Steve? Join in on that joke, or find something different and send it to him. Bucky browsed for a while but nothing jumped out at him.

There were some cute pictures of rabbits jumping mid-air with slogans like Yoga bunny! Would that be funny or kinda rude? Bucky didn’t want to insult Steve or anything.

He gave up with the pictures, admitting defeat. Time for the stupid movie.

In a last, desperate bid to reach out, he went to his Facebook to make an update. Bucky didn’t usually post on weekends, mostly because he felt embarrassed that he had nothing exciting to share, unlike his friends, so he’d keep quiet. Tonight, he felt like talking.

He typed it out manually, as it was only a short sentence:

Gonna watch Jupiter Ascending. This better be good!

He almost deleted it, but took a deep breath and posted it before he changed his mind. He just sat there and breathed for a moment, trying to fight the panic he usually got after sharing something of his admittedly boring life and putting it out there for people to see.

He wasn’t sure why he got himself so worked up over social media. He hadn’t always been like this, but after the accident and rehabilitating himself with work and day to day activities, he’d felt disconnected from people, and unsure how to repair all the long periods of silence he’d subjected friends to.

Truthfully, Bucky wasn’t sure what he had to offer friends anymore. He had a lot of baggage now, and no one wanted to deal with that.

It was just that spending time with Steve and his friends had been so easy. The attention they gave him was seductive, and it chipped away at his walls.

Bucky really wished he were with some good friends right now.

Well, no one had paid any attention to his post yet. Bucky was tempted to delete it, but made himself leave it up. He closed his laptop and placed it on the coffee table, grabbing the remote for the TV and settling in to watch the movie.

The opening scene had barely started when Bucky’s phone started flashing for attention. Someone was actually communicating with him.

Bucky picked up his phone, huddled into his couch with the comforter as he checked his notifications. A couple people had liked his status, Bruce, and Pepper. Tony had commented, don’t bother, it’s dreadful.

Bruce had commented right after, it’s not that bad! Enjoy :)

Bucky gave in and wrote a reply: will I laugh?

Undoubtedly so, Bruce commented.

Bucky smiled, and began typing a response when a new comment appeared, this one was from Steve: 

I love this movie! Hope you enjoy! :)

Oh, Bucky thought.

A grin was on his face already. He was thrilled Steve was talking to him.

Channing Tatum fan? Bucky posted on the comment.

Not really, Steve replied, the production and effects are better than the acting!

Ah yes, Bucky thought, he should’ve known that’d be Steve’s thing. The guy was into his visuals.

Bucky was about to reply when a comment from Tony appeared: You have appalling taste in movies, Rogers.

Steve replied, shut up, Stark :p

Okay, Dorito, Tony quipped back.

That inside joke again.

Tony’s quip got immediate likes from Bruce, Phil and Sharon, which meant they were all following the conversation.

Bucky felt brave enough to type a comment, what’s with this Dorito thing?

Tony’s response was to post several laughing emojis.

It’s nothing! Steve commented. Tony just thinks he’s hilarious but he is mistaken.

It’s his nickname, Tony wrote. I would’ve thought Barnes would know by now. ;p

Bucky raised his eyebrow at that, while a new comment from Steve appeared:

SHUT UP TONY!

He chuckled. This was intriguing, and also kinda funny. Bucky knew what Tony was like; the guy enjoyed prodding people.

He doesn’t know yet? Sharon commented.

Bucky, Steve wrote, please block all these jerks.

Laughing, Bucky typed in, but I wanna know!

I’m PMing Barnes now, Tony wrote.

NO Stark! was Steve’s reply, but a private message from Tony had already appeared in Bucky’s inbox.

Bucky couldn’t help but read it. He was too curious.

Dorito, Tony had written, so named because of his shoulder to hip ratio. Plus, he is tasty :p

Bucky smirked to himself, even though that'd made little sense to him.

Does Pepper know you just called Steve tasty? He wrote back to Tony.

Pepper said that herself, Tony replied, I merely wrote it, with a few winking faces added.

These guys and their emojis. Bucky’d had no idea they were such dorks.

A new notification told him more people were commenting on his post, and when Bucky went to look he saw that Clint had left a comment:

This conversation is making me hungry.

Then Tony’s new comment: Barnes now knows the secret about Dorito.

Steve: Wow, I hate you all.

Tony: Sorry, Dorito!

Bucky: I’m not even sure I get it

Steve: It’s no big deal, truly! I’ll tell you next time I see you :)

Sharon: You mean show him :p

Steve: I’m seriously going to block you guys.

Sharon: hah :p

Bucky: Are they picking on you, Steve?

Steve: All the time! See what I gotta put up with :p

Bucky: your secret is safe with me, Dorito

Steve: noooo! Not you too. Traitor! :p

Bucky: sorry!! Don’t block me

Steve: I won’t block you, just play nice :)

Bucky: I’ll play nice, I promise

Steve :)

Bucky: :p

Tony: jeez, get a room.

Steve: shut up, Stark!

Bucky: shut up, Stark

Chapter Text

Despite still having a cold and feeling snotty, Bucky woke up Sunday morning in a relatively good mood. Everything felt kind of… lighter. Sure, he had a headache, a runny nose and a sore throat, but…

But, he was in a good mood.

He hadn’t paid much attention to Jupiter Ascending last night, as Steve had messaged him privately and started a conversation that’d lasted longer than the film. It was nice, just chatting. Even if Bucky had to type his responses one handed, and eventually switch to using his voice recognition device, because he’d wanted to keep talking to Steve.

It was easy, talking to him. And even though he’d spent his Saturday night at home not doing much, Bucky felt so much better for it. After all, Steve was spending his Saturday night talking to him, so that was good, right?

The thought of that had Bucky smiling. A lot.

He even made his coffee with a smile that morning, which he was pretty sure had never happened. Usually he didn’t crack a smile until well into the afternoon, if at all.

Today felt good.

Well, apart from having a cold. Bucky had medicine ---his bathroom cabinet was well stocked--- so he’d cope. He’d send his boss an email to say he’d likely work from home all week. They were pretty understanding. No biggie.

If he was lucky, he’d be well before next weekend. Maybe Steve would want to do something with him.

Bucky tried not to get his hopes up, he really did, but he’d kinda failed and his hopes were already way up there. Yeah, as much as Bucky put up barriers for everyone, he seemed pretty slack at letting cute guys slip past his defences. Like Steve, Steve was well in there now, after all that flirty chat over messenger last night.

Now Bucky was grinning into his coffee mug like a huge dork.

Oh well.

Natasha would be pleased.

Bucky had even gone and blocked Rumlow on Facebook too. He wasn’t sorry for it, he’d just had this urge late last night to delete the guy from his life, especially from his social media. Who needed him anyway? Bucky had felt paranoid about Brock posting some shit on his wall, or sending him a weird message, or something. He didn’t want to risk Steve seeing anything suspicious.

For all Bucky used to be talented at juggling his casual dates, he really didn’t want to do that to Steve. If this thing between them could really be something good, Bucky didn’t want to jeopardise that. He wanted that home cooked dinner Steve had mentioned again last night, when they’d ended up chatting about the foods they liked.

Bucky couldn’t wait.

For lunch, he ate leftover pizza. The meds he’d taken didn’t seem to be doing much yet, so Bucky made more coffee and went back to his makeshift bed on the couch. He sat there with his box of tissues, one currently jammed up his nostrils to stem the flow of gunk.

Colds sucked. This was no way to spend a Sunday.

He watched some action movie remake on Netflix that Steve had recommended to him ---seriously, the guy was obsessed with action flicks--- and drank his coffee.

What he really needed was more food; something spicy, sweat the germs out. Maybe he’d order some take-out later. Highlight of his day.

Bucky knew he spent a lot on take-out, but aside from his apartment and medical bills, he didn’t have much else to spend his money on. Work usually took care of his tech upgrades, which would’ve been a huge cost otherwise. So, take-out was his thing, especially as he spent so much time at home.

Movie watched, Bucky made a few mental notes of what to report to Steve. The guy had been eager to know what Bucky thought of it. Bucky suspected that Steve was more interested in the aesthetics of the movie rather than the plot, but that was cool. He’d happily talk about design set ups all day, he loved that shit.

The fact that Steve was into it too was pretty cool. They’d had an intense discussion on the classic Alien films. Giger was one of Bucky’s favorite artists, and when they’d talked about it last night Steve had dug out an old sketchbook and sent candid snaps of his own art during college. He’d done a whole project on Giger, which was awesome.

Steve had said he didn’t often show people his work, but Bucky had no idea why. The guy was good. His pen and ink drawings were so fine and detailed. Bucky wasn’t normally one for dishing out praise, but he’d been honest with Steve and told him his work was amazing.

Steve, the huge goofball, had been a bit deflective with the praise, and said something about needing room for improvement. Then he’d changed the subject.

Bucky’s impression was that Steve actually was shy. Maybe the guy hadn’t been praised enough growing up. It kinda made Bucky want to pin him down and praise him hard until Steve gave in and accepted it.

Mmm.

Bucky was grinning again. Dork, he told himself.

 

~ ~ ~

 

Bucky napped through a couple episodes of Community, woke up feeling groggy and took more medicine. If he kept up the medicine, he was pretty sure he could kick this cold in a day or so.

He was just sifting through his selection of take-out menu’s when his phone started to ring. Bucky looked at it warily, but he’d already blocked Rumlow so it couldn’t be him.

It definitely wasn’t Rumlow.

It was Steve.

Bucky’s eyes flew wide. What was Steve calling for?

Bucky debated ignoring the call, but he found himself rushing to answer it anyway. He picked up the phone and cleared his throat before swiping the screen to accept.

“Hey,” he said, hoping he didn’t sound too full of cold.

“Hey!” Steve said brightly, with a lot of background noise. Sounded like he was on the street. “How’s it going?”

“Um, yeah, okay,” Bucky forced himself to sound normal. “You good?”

“I’m great!” came the cheery reply, making Bucky smile. “Listen, uh… I’m kinda at this amazing Thai place, it’s only three blocks down from you. I wondered… um, if you’re free… I thought I’d see if you wanted to come eat with me?” He paused, then continued in a rush, “I know I said I’d cook, but Sharon’s got friends over today, and I found myself starving so I wandered here, and… I’ll shut up now.”

Bucky’s grin had been growing wider, and now he chuckled. “Starving, huh?”

“Like you wouldn’t believe!” Steve laughed, although it sounded a little nervous. “It’s okay if you’re busy, though, I just thought I’d ask.”

“Uh…” Shit. Wasn’t that just typical? “Look, Steve, I’d really like to, I would, but I’ve actually got a cold…” Bucky felt he didn’t need to elaborate, as the more he spoke the more nasal he sounded.

Evidently Steve could hear it too. “Yeah,” he agreed. “You don’t sound great. Um, I’m really sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Bucky said, and yeah, now his voice was going croaky. He hoped it came off as sexy instead of just ill and gross.

Steve was quiet for a moment, then said, “How about I bring food to you?”

Bucky blinked slowly. He must have heard wrong. “Huh?”

“I can bring you dinner,” Steve repeated. “Well, early dinner. Late lunch? Whatever you want. Can I pick you up anything else?”

“Uh…” Bucky couldn’t believe he was hearing this.

“If you didn’t mind company,” Steve went on, “we could watch a movie? Or I’ll just drop by with food for you and leave again. I don’t mind.”

Bucky laughed weakly. This guy was too good to be true. What the hell, even?

“I wanna watch a movie,” he admitted, “but I’m ill, Steve. You’ll catch it if you’re near me.”

“I don’t think I would,” Steve countered, “I haven’t had anything in like… hmm, four years or so? I’m pretty impenetrable now.”

Bucky burst out laughing, then had to stop because of his sore throat. “Shit,” he grouched, “yeah, but odds are this’ll be the one you catch, right? Then you’ll be mad at me.”

“I wouldn’t be mad, Buck,” Steve said quietly, and Bucky’s heart began to thud.

“You sure?”

“I’m sure,” Steve said. “Let me come check you over, I did first aid training.”

Bucky had to stop himself from laughing. “Sure, nurse. If you insist. Don’t blame me if you catch this.”

“I take full responsibility for my reckless behavior,” Steve assured him. “Now tell me what you want for dinner.”

“Um, well… I love Thai. I’ll eat anything, the hotter the better. But just… y’know, I can’t eat some of those noodle dishes ‘cause… it’s difficult.”

Wow, this never got easier, Bucky thought, trying to explain to someone what he could and couldn’t eat because he could only hold one utensil at a time.

He didn’t want to make a mess of himself if Steve was going to be there either.

“I understand,” Steve told him. “Leave it to me. Text me your apartment number and I’ll be there in half an hour, okay?”

“Okay,” Bucky agreed. “Thanks.”

“My pleasure, Buck.”

When Steve had hung up, Bucky stared around at his mess of a couch and general living area. Shit, he thought, what had he gotten himself into?

 

~ ~ ~

 

Bucky had approximately thirty minutes to make himself and his apartment look presentable.

All while he had a thumping headache, and his nose was running.

First, he texted Steve his full address. Then, he tackled his living area, scrabbling to tidy up the mess of coffee mugs, old tissues, cereal bowls and other crap. The comforter probably had his germs on it too, so Bucky dragged that ---and a stray sock that appeared--- off to his room and shoved it into the hamper.

Then he attempted to make his bed, because even if nothing happened later Bucky wanted his room to look vaguely nice, and not a total bomb site. He’d have to find a clean comforter for the couch too, just in case.

All of this took far longer than he’d anticipated, and he sniffed his perpetually runny nose. Bucky didn’t have time for a shower, which sucked. He didn’t have the energy for it anyway, so oh well. He tore his clothes off and threw them in the hamper too.

Then he put on fresh deodorant, and a clean t-shirt with sleeves long enough that it covered his stump, and a pair of his nicer sweats. He sat down to pull on a clean pair of thick black socks, then as he stood up again he caught sight of himself in his mirror.

Bucky wanted to howl.

This was a terrible idea. He looked terrible, and full of cold. And Steve would come marching in, all glorious and magnificent and good looking, take one look at him and…

Bucky spied one of his scarves hanging from a chair, thought aha, and snatched it up.

All Bucky’s scarves ---the thin, hipster ones, anyway--- were pre-tied. Because trying to fiddle around with a scarf one handed was one of the most annoying things on this planet. So Bucky pulled the blue and grey patterned scarf over his head and around his neck.

Then he arranged the scarf so it covered the lower half of his face, resting on his nose.

Perfect.

Not only would this keep the germs at bay, but also save Steve the horror of seeing Bucky’s red, runny nose, and sallow complexion.

He hoped.

Bucky’s eyes looked droopy and bloodshot, and his hair was a rumpled mess. At least the latter was relatively normal for him. Bucky sighed, then jumped in fright as his door buzzer sounded.

“Jeez, Steve,” he muttered, taking one last chance to smooth down his hair, “give a guy a heart attack.” His words heated the scarf around his face, but at least it warmed up his nose.

Well, this was as good as he was gonna get today, he thought. Bucky spun on his heel and hurried to his door. Then he slowed down and worried he was being too eager. His heart had started thudding, hard.

“You’re being ridiculous,” he told himself quietly. “Come on, Barnes.”

Taking a deep breath, he calmly walked the rest of the way to his door, only to jerk once more in alarm as the buzzer sounded again. “That you, Steve?” he said, as he pressed the button to let the guy into the building.

“Whether I am or not, you let me in now!” Steve’s chuckle came through the com. “I’m comin’ up!”

Bucky chuckled back, muttering, “Dork,” under his breath. He waited by his door, tapping his fingers against the wood. Would Steve take the elevator, or the stairs? Steve would run up the stairs, two at a time, perhaps, barely breaking a sweat.

Speaking of sweat, Bucky was starting to feel a little hot with his face all wrapped up like some sort of mummy.

Do it for Steve, he told himself.

He heard footsteps along the hall, and thought perhaps Steve had taken the elevator after all. With a soft rap against the wood, a grin formed on Bucky’s face, and he opened the door.

Steve stood there, eyes falling on Bucky with a big smile… that quickly fell off his face as his blue eyes widened in surprise. He stared at Bucky, and Bucky stared back at Steve, eyes on the multiple bags Steve was carrying.

“Shit, Steve,” Bucky said, voice slightly muffled, “how much food did you get?”

The smile was back on Steve’s face. “Enough,” he said, still staring at Bucky. Then he shook his head and chuckled. “Did you just get done robbing a bank?”

“If you’re referring to my scarf,” Bucky said, nonplussed, “it’s for your benefit.” He stood aside and beckoned Steve in.

“Ah.” Steve stepped past him, turning to Bucky and still watching him as Bucky shut the door, then faced Steve.

“Shut up,” Bucky huffed.

Steve grinned. “I didn’t say anything.”

“But you’re thinking it,” Bucky accused, trying for all his life to not laugh. Something about Steve brought out the playful side in him.

True to form, Steve teased back, “Oh, yeah? What am I thinking?”

“That I look dumb.” Bucky turned away and gestured for Steve to follow him, instead of standing there holding all that steaming food.

Steve trailed after him to the kitchen area, and carefully placed the bags on the counter top. It smelled so good, and Bucky was starving.

“I wasn’t thinking that at all,” Steve said calmly, looking at Bucky. There was a twinkle in his eyes that meant mischief.

Bucky hummed in reply, and opened a cupboard looking for clean plates. While flirting with Steve was normally top of his list, Bucky had to admit he did feel a little silly right now, and hungry, and mostly just kinda woozy.

While looking for the plates, he spotted bowls and brought two of those out instead, holding them stacked in his hand. Steve reached for them, and Bucky handed them over, too tired to get into a tussle over lifting crockery.

Steve set the bowls down, then took off his light jacket, and draped it over the back of a chair. “What I was thinking was pretty corny, actually…” He busied himself opening one of the takeaway bags, lifting out containers, and spoke so softly Bucky almost didn’t hear him. “You can probably guess what I was thinking.”

Bucky huffed a laugh, then sniffed, because his nose was running, dammit. “Yeah? You were thinking I look like a dork, that’s what.” His pulse raced, making him feel hot.

Or maybe that was Steve.

Steve in his tight white t-shirt that hugged his upper body, his gorgeous muscled arms on display as he organised the food. He looked like a dream come to life, standing here in Bucky’s kitchen.

Bucky shifted away slightly, aware he’d been standing too close. He yanked open the cutlery drawer and pretended to find its contents really interesting.

“Nope.” Steve glanced at him, and Bucky could feel Steve’s gaze hit him, feel his skin tingle from it.

Bucky wished he’d put on more clothes. He hadn’t realised he was only wearing a t-shirt, and suddenly felt a little too exposed. Even if his stump was hidden from sight, Bucky couldn’t tamp down the normal urge to hide himself, to cover up in more layers. But it wasn’t like he could run out the room to change right now, he’d have to play it cool.

“D-Do you want forks, or…?” He couldn’t look at Steve. He was far too nervous.

Steve was quiet a moment, then said easily, “How about a selection? I got lots of different things to try, so we might need forks and spoons.”

“Okay,” Bucky mumbled, fishing out cutlery.

Steve finished unpacking the food containers, then opened them one by one, explaining what he’d bought.

“I, um…” Bucky stared at the sheer amount of food in a daze. Steve had bought the whole store, apparently. Bucky just needed something easy, something he wouldn’t make a mess out of. “I’ll go with chicken and the sticky rice.”

“Good choice,” Steve praised. “Where did you want to eat?”

“I’m gonna eat at the table,” Bucky said steadily, “and you go eat on the couch.”

“Huh?” Steve blinked at him. “Why’s that?”

“Because…” Bucky started, but once he’d glanced at Steve’s expression, he knew he wasn’t going to win. He sighed. “Steve, you’ll have to like, turn away or something.”

Now Steve looked baffled. “Why?” he asked. “Are you actually going to run off with all the food?”

“No! Although,” Bucky eyed the spread in front of him, “it’s tempting.”

“We can eat here, right?” Steve pulled out one of the chairs and, before Bucky could protest, sat down. “C’mon, it’s fine. Take off the scarf and eat with me.”

“Steve--”

“Unless there’s more scarves involved and you planned on dancing the seven veils before dinner?” Steve raised an eyebrow at him.

Bucky laughed, even though his throat kinda hurt. “I’ll save that for the bedroom,” he quipped back, because apparently he could still flirt with Steve even when he was ill. Go figure.

Steve smiled back at him. “Good to know.” He pulled out the second chair for Bucky, but Bucky was too interested in watching Steve’s beautiful arm muscles ripple with the movement. He almost sighed with want. “C’mon, Buck,” Steve ordered. “Lose the scarf, sit down, and eat.”

Bucky relented. Admittedly, he hadn’t really thought the eating-while-wearing-a-scarf thing through, and his stomach was rumbling.

However, he sat half-turned away from Steve, still trying to hide, but telling himself he was protecting Steve from his germs. He pulled the scarf down, breathing ---or rather, snuffling--- in relief, and grabbed a carton of chicken. Bucky positioned the carton in front of him, picked up a fork, and planned to eat his food facing away from Steve, hoping the guy wouldn’t comment on it.

But this was Steve.

And just as Bucky put the first forkful into his mouth, Steve said, “What I thought was… when you opened the door, that is… I thought you looked real cute, even though I had no idea why someone would wear a scarf indoors.”

Bucky grinned down into his food as he chewed and swallowed. Then he had to put down his fork and grab a paper napkin instead, because his nose was running. He sighed as he held the napkin to his nose. “Sorry for being ill on you.”

Steve didn’t acknowledge that, saying instead, “That scarf brings out your eyes.”

Bucky shot Steve an amused look. “Okay, pal,” he said, sounding nasal, “flattery will get you everywhere, except maybe not tonight. I have a headache.”

Steve laughed in good humor, and pushed a smaller carton to Bucky. “Try this dip, if you like it spicy.”

“Thanks.” Bucky settled in properly at the counter, wiped his nose one last time and disposed of the tissue, letting his red nose be on full display. “Try not to remember me like this,” he muttered, frowning at his food as he speared a piece of chicken and dipped it into the hot sauce. “And if you catch this cold, remember I tried to save you from it.”

“Relax, Buck,” Steve said, watching Bucky put the chicken in his mouth. “Anyway,” he added, “you still look cute.”

Bucky hmmed with his mouth full, trying to act cool but managing to blush all the same. He’d blame that on the hot sauce. When he’d swallowed, he muttered, “Dork,” for Steve’s benefit.

“Yeah, I know.” Steve poked his fork at his own food, then asked, “Is that okay?”

“Huh?” Bucky glanced at him, confused. “Is what okay?”

“That I’m a dork?”

This felt kinda serious all of a sudden, and Bucky’s cheeks heated even more. He swallowed, and pretended to go back to his food as he said, “Yeah, it’s okay.”

And, he realised, it really was.

Chapter Text

After they’d finished eating, Steve insisted on doing the clear up while Bucky half-heartedly made an effort. Now he was full of food, he felt really sleepy, so he let himself be fussed over.

Steve had brought some sachets of herbal infused tea with him, and made them both a cup.

“Smells weird,” Bucky informed him, just to be an ass about it. He trailed after Steve as the guy carried two steaming cups through to the lounge area, headed straight for the couch.

Bucky froze, unsure what to do. Steve didn’t want to snuggle on the couch, did he?

Oh god, he so wanted to snuggle Steve on the damn couch.

Steve smiled at Bucky over his shoulder. “If you don’t like the taste, you can just inhale it instead. The heat should help loosen up those blocked nasal passages.”

“Oh, yeah?” Bucky drawled back, unable to resist, “bet you say that to all the boys, Rogers.”

“Very funny.” Steve’s smile turned wicked. “Let it be noted your rapier sharp wit remains intact, even when ill.”

“Yup.” Bucky couldn’t help smiling, mostly because it was fun to see how far he could push. So far Steve gave back as good as he got, and if Bucky didn’t have a cold right now he’d be executing more serious moves on the guy.

But he seriously didn’t want to pass on his germs.

Bucky shuffled around to the couch and watched as Steve sat himself down on the right side, setting their cups of tea on the coffee table. “Um…” Bucky cast about for something else to say, because tired as he was, he did want to hang out with Steve. “You, er… wanna watch a movie?”

Steve looked up at him, beaming. “Alien?”

Bucky laughed. They’d already had lots of discussion on the Alien films, so this seemed a logical choice. “Sure,” he agreed. “First one?”

“Of course.”

Bucky produced his limited edition box set, which Steve examined in detail. It had a pull-out booklet, which he wanted to compare to the one he owned. Bucky didn’t mind, in fact it was kind of exciting to share this with someone.

He did know other geeks, a couple of the guys that worked in his office, but it wasn’t the same as actually getting to watch a movie with someone, being that close to someone else’s level of geeky enthusiasm.

Plus, Steve was Steve, and super-hot.

Bucky almost put it down to a flu-induced dream or something, but having Steve here like it was a normal occurrence, something they did regularly, was… exactly that. Normal. Relaxed. Easy. Like they’d done this a million times before.

Either this was déjà vu, or Bucky had really lucked out with this guy.

When they finally got around to starting the film, the opening sequence was so quiet and soothing, it was enough to make Bucky’s eyes started to droop.

Steve must’ve noticed. “Hey,” he said gently, “if you lay down you could nap. Pretty sure you know what happens anyway.”

Bucky smiled. “Yeah, wake me up for Kane’s last meal.” He’d already wrapped a comforter round his shoulders, like a real dork, so all he’d have to do is lean over and fall asleep.

Bucky side eyed Steve’s lap. It looked so inviting, all he’d have to do is faceplant into it.

Oh god, he thought, feeling hot. He couldn’t do that, wouldn’t that be…

Kinda nice?

Bucky had a flash image of himself snuggled against Steve, dozing happily while Steve stroked his hair.

Wouldn’t that be amazing.

Bucky’s dick certainly seemed to think so.

Damn. No way he could do this right now. Also, Bucky wasn’t totally confident about his left side being so close to Steve. What if he went to put his hand on Bucky’s shoulder, and freaked out if he touched the stump of his left arm?

Bucky didn’t think Steve would totally freak out about that, but he didn’t want to risk it. Aware he’d been deliberating a long time, Bucky shifted and flopped himself to the left, away from Steve. He laid his head on the arm rest and pulled the comforter around him.

Steve didn’t say anything, just smiled again when Bucky snuck a glance over.

“Don’t forget,” Bucky told him, closing his eyes, “nudge me…”

“For the chest burster scene,” Steve said. “You got it.”

Bucky slept longer than that, right up until the Nostromo exploded near the end. And when he woke up enough to realise that, staring at the TV screen and then at Steve, he realised he’d stretched out on the couch and had his feet resting in Steve’s lap.

Bucky flushed with embarrassment. Steve didn’t seem too bothered, and began chatting about the alien while Bucky carefully extracted his feet ---uh, wow, Steve’s legs were so warm--- and sat himself up.

“How about some more tea?” Steve offered.

Bucky scrunched his nose. “Um… Would you make me a coffee?”

Steve made a big show of checking his watch. “Buck, it’s nearly six. Are you sure caffeine is a good idea?”

“Yes, Mom, I want coffee.” He mock-glared at Steve, then added a feeble, “Please?” when Steve just stared back at him.

To his relief, Steve laughed and agreed. He also fetched Bucky’s medicine and a glass of water.

“Wow, you’re the best nurse ever,” Bucky told him, not even joking.

“So if you’re having a coffee, does this mean we can watch Aliens next?” Steve asked.

Bucky was quietly thrilled, and ducked his head as he smiled. “Shouldn’t we watch all four?”

“Ooooh…” Steve sucked in a breath, being all over dramatic as he pulled a face. “Gee, I dunno. First two really are the best.”

“You gonna ignore two entire movies in my boxset?” Bucky teased. Truthfully, the last two weren’t his favorites either.

“Yes, I am,” Steve said, adamant. “I’ve been ignoring those ones for years, I’m not stopping now.”

“Skip to Predator then?” Bucky suggested.

“Ooh.” Steve shot him a pleased look. “Careful, I might not leave.”

Bucky shrugged, smiling back at him. “I won’t charge you rent.”

“Can I have that in writing?”

Bucky laughed. “Dork.”

 

~ ~ ~

 

Five days later, Bucky sent Natasha a text.

I think I have a boyfriend?! :p

When she replied, he grinned at her message: I take it you mean Steve?

Yes, he sent back. Why? Did he say anything?

No, Steve never gossips, she replied. But we’ve all noticed the OTT Facebook flirting you two have indulged in this week.

Hey, we both work from home, Bucky defended, Facebook is a guilty pleasure.

He bit his lip as he thought about writing more, but then a reply from Natasha came through: We’re pleased for you, James. Clint will make a special cocktail in your honor ;)

Bucky wrote, Dare I ask what it is?

Try it next time you come in, she replied. Bring Steve too.

You already know him!! Bucky wrote, but he was fantasising about waltzing in with Steve looking hot on his arm. Why not? It’d be nice to take him out, show him off.

We want to see the happy couple in all their glory, Natasha sent back.

Bucky snorted, then replied: We’ll need a ton of alcohol for you to see anything like that! ;)

Ha ha, James. Seriously, come in soon. We miss you. X

Cute, he thought.

Miss you too. And we’ll visit soon, promise! :)

Okay, now he just had to suggest it to Steve. He was seeing the guy tomorrow, so… Yeah. He’d ask Steve then.

They hadn’t discussed anything boyfriend related ---yet--- but for once, Bucky didn’t feel the burning desire to discuss it, or slap a label on it. Things with Steve were… good. He just had a sense that things were going to be okay.

The guy had wanted to be with Bucky when he was ill, that surely showed dedication. Bucky didn’t even have friends who wanted to be around him when he was ill and groggy, let alone someone who may want to be his next boyfriend.

Bucky got a dopey little grin on his face thinking about Steve. He was a bigger sap than he’d realised. Steve had stayed with him last Sunday watching movies, generally being adorable and amazing, making Bucky coffee and cleaning up the kitchen.

Even the terrible jokes he made were kinda funny.

And at the end of the evening, he’d given Bucky a quick hug and kissed him on the cheek, even though Bucky tried to warn him about the germs.

Steve told him he wouldn’t get ill. He even dropped in again with a Japanese takeaway dinner on the Tuesday night, and Bucky was more or less recovered by then.

He didn’t open his door wearing a scarf around his face, at any rate.

Now it was Friday night, no germs in sight, and Bucky was all set to see Steve tomorrow. Tonight was a no-go, Bucky had too much work to catch up on, and didn’t want to risk a late night out just yet.

They’d agreed to meet in Central Park tomorrow, before lunchtime. Bucky was finally going to see Steve doing his thing.

 

~ ~ ~

 

Central Park, a helluva lot earlier than Bucky usually got out on a Saturday morning, with a crisp breeze in the air, and there Steve was. Doing his thing.

Seeing pictures from Facebook was one thing, but seeing this up close, well. Bucky was kinda in awe. Even if he was hanging back some, hiding out in the shade of some trees while he watched Steve lead his tai chi group over on a clear patch of grass.

He wasn’t lurking. Steve knew he was there. In fact, Steve had spotted him earlier and given him this cute little wave, which set Bucky blushing hard and, hell, he was pleased no one else he knew was around to see him being so coy.

This was all getting a bit cute and romantic in his book. Butterflies in his belly, and all that. Bucky was thrilled at seeing Steve, and nervous at the same time. It was weird. And… nice?

Yeah, it was nice.

Catching Steve looking over every so often, like he was checking Bucky was still there, brought a smile to Bucky’s face and, yeah, he felt like a complete sap over this, but oh well.

This nervous, excited, floating feeling was kinda addictive.

Bucky settled himself on a bench, carefully placing his takeaway cup of tea next to him. It was for Steve; he’d give it to him later. There was probably another half hour of the session to go, and Bucky was in no hurry.

He had the best view of the park right here, watching Steve in his tight workout clothes, holding all those stances perfectly and showing off his body.

Just… nngh.

It was a good thing Bucky was sat in the shade, he was feeling so hot already.

To distract himself from how amazingly gorgeous Steve was, Bucky scanned the class. It was a fair mix of people, all of them quietly following Steve’s poses. Occasionally smiling wide at him and giggling at his comments.

Steve definitely had a few fangirls in this group, Bucky thought.

That was fine. He could deal with that.

Bucky eyed the competition carefully, feeling a curl of worry even as he tried to tamp it down. He told himself not to be stupid. Steve would hardly invite him down here if he already had a thing going with someone from the class.

Besides, Steve didn’t seem the type of guy to mess around. Bucky knew that deep down, it was just his habitual distrust of people rearing its ugly head. Steve had been nothing but sweet and gentlemanly so far, acting like a boyfriend when they weren’t even going out.

Bucky liked that. He wanted that. He wanted that with Steve, and he’d just have to smother his insecurities over this, dammit. For once, Bucky was determined not to ruin a good thing before it started.

The tai chi class ended, with people disbanding to pick up bags and sweats left on the grass nearby. Some of them lingered to speak to Steve. He chatted with a few of them, politely maintaining a distance from two flirty women who kept him talking.

Bucky watched Steve glance over to him, and they shared a smile.

Finally, Steve excused himself from the ladies, grabbed his own sweater and hurried over to where Bucky was sitting.

Bucky was so pleased to see him he stood up, a huge grin on his face before he could think about looking too eager.

It didn’t seem to matter. Steve was beaming at him too, and time just sorta stood still for a moment as Bucky gazed into his blue eyes, and he didn’t even care there were other people around.

“Hey,” Steve greeted, his cheeks flushed a little pink. “Glad you made it.”

Bucky grinned back. “Me too.”

“You look good,” Steve said, then hurriedly added, “I mean, y’know. You look better, after, um… Yeah.”

“Well, I had this real hot nurse takin’ care of me,” Bucky teased, even as he ducked his head shyly.

This was hilarious, really. Couple grown men acting like blushing teenagers.

Bucky cleared his throat in order to pull himself together. “Hey, I got you something,” he said, willing his voice to sound steady.

“Oh?”

Bucky grabbed the sealed cup of tea from the bench, and held it out to Steve. He grinned slyly. “Here. Especially for you.”

Steve smiled as he took the cup, raising an eyebrow. “Let me guess. Chai tea?”

“Aw!” Bucky pouted. “I’ve been saving that joke for like, a week.”

He was rewarded with one of Steve’s full body laughs. “Sorry. This isn’t the first time someone’s presented me with chai tea in relation to my class ‘cause they think they’re a wiseguy.”

“Well, damn.”

“But I do like chai tea,” Steve said.

“Oh.” Bucky smirked at him. “Good.”

Steve smiled, then gestured down the path. “Want to take a walk with me?”

“Sure, Rogers. But make it more of a stroll. I got the tight pants on today.”

This time Steve’s laugh was a little lower as he said, “Yes, I had noticed.”

It was on the tip of Bucky’s tongue to say something back, but shyness got the better of him and he bit his lip instead, ducking his head.

They walked along together, Steve on Bucky’s left, and it felt really good. Steve’s presence was both calming and exciting all at once.

“Seem like a nice bunch,” Bucky said, wondering how he could compliment Steve on his class without sounding like a total perv; like, you look totally hot, all in charge like that, in your cute workout clothes.

Okay, maybe a moderate perv.

“Yeah, they’re great,” Steve said easily. “Sometimes I share the weekend sessions with another instructor and we take turns. It’s great for fitting around my freelance work.”

They talked a little more about Steve’s classes, all the while stealing glances at each other as they walked along. Bucky was having a hard time not grinning. Who’d have thought a simple walk through the park would get his pulse racing so hard?

He almost couldn’t believe Steve was here with him. Bucky couldn’t help notice the looks Steve drew from passers-by. Bucky couldn’t blame them either; Steve looked amazing today, all casual chic yet perfect at the same time, carrying the tea Bucky had brought him.

And here was Bucky next to him in nearly all black, definitely not workout clothes, his long hair lifting in the breeze. Did they look like a couple? Were people looking at the two of them together and thinking, yeah, they’re a couple, or were they thinking, wow, what’s the blond Adonis doing with that shaggy guy with one arm?

Ugh, stop it, Bucky told himself.

He focussed in on what Steve was saying. Something about dinner with Phil and Sharon tonight.

Bucky blinked at him, not entirely sure how he felt about a group dinner, but definitely sure he wanted to hang out with Steve. “Yeah, cool,” he agreed.

“Yeah?” Steve glanced at him. “Sorry. They really want to. It took some persuading to make them stay home when they found out you were ill. They wanted to come over and help.”

Bucky laughed, because really, this was nuts. They’d actually wanted to visit him when he was ill? Wow. Bucky felt like he’d been adopted by Steve’s friends, and he’d barely spent any time with them yet.

“Oh, man,” he chuckled, “really? I don’t even know what to say. Thanks, I guess.”

“Thanks for them wanting to see you?” Steve smiled at him. “Or thanks for keeping them at bay?”

Bucky laughed again. “Both?”

Steve nodded. “Yeah, I thought it’d be a bit much. They are glad you’re feeling better, by the way.”

“Me, too,” Bucky said. “And they already sent me messages on Facebook saying get well and stuff. They seem like cool people.”

“They are.” Steve nodded over at a free bench just off the path, basking in the sunlight. “Wanna sit?”

“Um…” Bucky pulled a face. It was getting warmer now, close to lunch time. “In the shade? Hazard of wearing black, y’know.”

Steve laughed at this, but led them along to another bench, this one in the shadow of a big tree.

“How’s this one?” Steve gestured grandly at the empty bench.

Bucky tried not to smirk. “It’ll do.” He plopped onto it, a little unsure how to arrange himself until Steve sat down too. He didn’t know what to expect, not after having shared his couch at home with Steve those two times. Even if he had been ill.

When Steve sat down next to him, but leaving a little space between them, Bucky felt somewhat disappointed. He tried to push that feeling aside. Some guys weren’t into PDA, he knew that. And besides, they were still feeling each other out.

With Steve sitting comfortably, Bucky made himself relax too. This was okay, he told himself. Everything’s going to be fine.

“You want some tea?” Steve offered, holding the cup out.

“Er… isn’t it cold by now?”

Steve shrugged. “I like cold tea.”

“You’re weird.” Bucky grinned at him.

Nodding his head, Steve went to sip from his cup. “That has been said.”

They chuckled at that, and Steve set his cup aside. He gazed out across the park, a contented smile on his face. Bucky was happy to do the same, and maybe steal glances at Steve when he could.

After a few moments of companionable silence, Steve spoke up.

“This is nice. I mean… I like spending time with you, Buck.” Steve shot him a quick smile before looking down at his hands. “I, um… I just hope it’s not boring for you. If you want to go do something else, I mean, we can totally do that. I don’t mind.”

Bucky blinked at him. Was Steve nervous? Seriously? Bucky shifted along the bench. “I’m good here.” He gathered all his courage and moved his hand, sliding it over to Steve’s.

It took Steve barely a moment to react, then his hand was touching Bucky’s, their fingers twining together. The warm brush of skin sent sparks along Bucky’s arm.

Steve was looking down at this, watching their hands as Bucky took a firmer hold, then he finally looked up. Bucky smiled at him, hoping that things were good between them. His heart was hammering, and he wanted to lean across and plant his mouth on Steve’s plump lips, but he didn’t dare.

Not out in the park like this, not when he wasn’t sure how Steve would react.

And really, he was good with this right now; he’d meant that. Just being here with Steve, just holding hands, Bucky was really good with that.

A small smile curved Steve’s lips. “Can I tell you something?”

“Sure.”

“Y’know at the party?” Steve said quietly. “When you were in my room?”

Bucky felt his skin growing hot. Thinking about Steve and his bedroom right now was not going to help him maintain a casual composure. But he nodded his head calmly and tried to make a joke, “You mean, when you gave me the full run-down of your computer software?”

Steve burst out laughing, effectively relieving the tension. “Oh, God,” he chuckled, “I really did, didn’t I? I’m so sorry.” He squeezed Bucky’s hand gently.

Bucky grinned at him. “Why sorry? It was interesting, if a little unexpected.”

“Oh, shut up.” Steve was still smiling, shaking his head at himself. “I’m such a moron. All I wanted was to kiss you, and I panicked.”

“Ah,” Bucky said quietly, even as he felt his stomach flip and his heart thud harder. His hindbrain was starting to chant, kiss him, kiss him, all while Bucky fought to remain in control. “Well,” he ventured, aiming for levity, “computers do it for me too, Rogers. Any time you wanna talk about your software, I’m your guy.”

“I kinda hope you’re being serious,” Steve quipped back. “A man who’ll indulge my software fetish is a dream come true.”

Bucky laughed. “Then, buddy, this is your lucky day.”

“Yeah, it really is.” Steve looked at him, smiling and gorgeous, his eyes bright and happy. Bucky felt his world bottom out suddenly, like staring at Steve right now made him realise this was all he needed right here, and he could have it.

He could have it.

Bucky tugged on Steve’s hand, eyes locked with Steve’s blue ones. “Just for the record,” he said softly, “you can kiss me anytime you want.”

“Yeah?”

 

Yes… please.” Bucky tilted his chin up as Steve leaned into him. He pressed his lips to Bucky’s and kissed him once, the touch slow and lingering. Bucky’s eyes fluttered closed, his heart racing.

“Like this?” Steve murmured against his lips.

“Mmm,” Bucky hummed in reply, “more.” He kissed Steve back, opening his mouth and licking his tongue over Steve’s plump bottom lip.

That was all it took for Steve to surge in and kiss him for real, open mouthed and hungry for it. The hand that wasn’t squeezing on Bucky’s came up to cradle his face, thumb smoothing across his jaw.

Yeah, Bucky had shaved today. As Steve kissed him, their tongues duelling and their lips slick and hot from friction, Bucky wondered if Steve’s pale skin was the kind to get red from kissing.

Bucky really wanted to find out, smooth skin or no, but they only kissed for a moment longer before Steve was pulling away.

“Sorry,” Steve breathed out, his hand leaving Bucky’s neck as he pulled away. “I, um… I gotta slow down.”

“Oh.” Bucky absently licked his wet lips, noticed Steve doing the same. He was suddenly aware of how turned on he was. Steve’s taste was on his lips, Steve’s scent was close and hitting his brain, only muddling his thoughts more.

“Um… yeah,” Bucky agreed, albeit reluctantly. “We should. Um, slow. Yeah.” He cleared his throat, and pulled back slightly from Steve. He needed some air between them or he was just gonna kiss the guy again.

Steve smiled at him, and held onto Bucky’s hand. “Thanks,” he told him, sounding relieved. “It’s just… um, you’re really great, Buck. I like you a lot, but y’know, these workout clothes are kinda tight…”

Bucky grinned in response.

“…and, I don’t know how to tell you this, but…” Steve’s gaze slid off to the side, “there’s a couple old ladies watching us over there.”

“What?” Bucky snapped his head round and, sure enough, out there across the path, two older women had stopped to gawk at them, grinning broadly. “Oh, my God,” Bucky muttered, as one of them waved.

Steve moved his hand and went to wave back, just as Bucky stared at him incredulously. “Steve! Don’t wave. Jeez.”

“Why not?” Steve smirked as he waved, and the ladies giggled then eventually ambled on their way. “See? They were cool.”

“God, Steve.” Bucky sank back against the bench, trying to pull his hand out of Steve’s grasp. “Lemme go,” he ordered, “I need to facepalm and you’re holding my only hand.”

Steve laughed, then tried to stop himself, like he wasn’t sure if he should be laughing or not. Bucky raised an eyebrow at him, challenging.

“Oh…kay,” Steve said, trying to keep his face neutral. “Letting go now, see?”

As soon as he was free, Bucky swatted Steve on the shoulder ---wow, so hard and muscly, damn--- and smiled at him. “C’mon, Rogers. What time are we due for dinner?”

Steve smiled back. “Well, if you’re cool with it, we can head home now. I mean, back to mine. Sharon wanted to watch a movie, and Phil’s already started the marinating.”

“Oh, yeah? What’s he cooking exactly?”

“I think it’s a curry?” Steve shrugged. “It’ll be an early dinner. He said if we were free we could come help. But only if you want to.”

“Yeah, that’s cool,” Bucky agreed. “Don’t think I’m not noticing you said Phil is making dinner, not you.”

“Uh… he offered?” Steve said, unsure.

“You still owe me a dinner, Rogers.”

“Oh.” Steve chuckled. “Don’t worry, I hadn’t forgotten. But Phil’s curry is way better than anything I could cook, so. Best of both worlds?”

“Works for me.” Bucky couldn’t believe his good luck, actually. “How about we walk the long way round then head out?”

Steve nodded, and they stood up together.

“Just, maybe in the opposite direction those women went,” Bucky said, making Steve laugh.

Chapter Text

Steve’s apartment was lively and buzzing when they got in an hour or so later. Phil was in the kitchen, organising simmering pots and chopping herbs, which smelled spicy and amazing, and those were only the sauces. He was making everything from scratch.

Bucky’s stomach was rumbling already.

“It’ll be like a late lunch,” Phil said, as he joined them in the living room. Steve had gone upstairs to shower and change, so Sharon had been keeping Bucky company while they went through Netflix to choose a film.

“I actually can’t wait,” Bucky told him honestly. “It smells all kinds of incredible.”

“It’ll taste all kinds of incredible,” Sharon assured him. But she was opening a pack of Doritos and shaking them out into a bowl. “How many hours till we eat?” she asked.

Phil checked his watch. “Two and a half? Maybe three?” he said, eyeing the bowl of Doritos. “Don’t fill up.”

“These are purely décor to annoy Steve,” Sharon replied, even as she ate a handful.

Bucky couldn’t help a chuckle.

He was also caught red handed eating a Dorito when Steve returned. He glanced at the bowl, then Bucky, and shook his head dramatically.

“I’m sorry!” Bucky whined. “I’m hungry. And I do actually like Doritos.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Steve said, as Sharon laughed.

When the meal was served it was delicious, and Phil must have planned it with Bucky in mind, as they all had one fork to eat the curry with, no spoon needed, and the side dishes were all in smaller pieces ---even the bread--- which could easily be speared with a fork, one handed.

Bucky didn’t want to bring attention to it, but he appreciated the thoughtfulness.

There was some spy series playing on TV while they ate, sat around on the various couches and seats, and chatted about which film to watch later.

Bucky mentioned about Natasha telling him to come down to the bar sometime, hoping it’d plant the seed in Steve’s head and they could go together. Then Steve suggested they could go out later tonight.

“Huh?” Bucky was surprised. “Tonight tonight?”

“Yeah, why not?” Steve smiled at him. “Unless you gotta run home and put on an even tighter pair of pants?”

Bucky guffawed at that. And he wouldn’t tell Steve that, yes, he did indeed own even tighter pants at home. But these would do fine. “Okay, sure. Tonight is good. ‘Tasha said she wanted to… er, to say hi.”

“We could all go?” Sharon suggested. “I didn’t get much chance to see Clint or Sam at my birthday, as they were working downstairs.”

“Share the cab?” Phil said. “I wouldn’t mind a drink. That is, if you guys don’t mind us tagging along?”

Bucky didn’t mind at all. In fact, it was kinda exciting, to think he was part of a crew again. “Let’s do it.”

“Awesome,” Sharon grinned, shooting a look at Steve, “things are about to get funky.”

Steve stared back at her, a flat expression on his face, until she started giggling. Bucky raised an eyebrow, but that was only the start of what he assumed were digs at Steve. Another hour of hanging out and hearing the random quips, then it clicked in Bucky’s head.

“So, just out of interest,” he asked, when Steve had disappeared to the bathroom, “what’s with the Uptown Funk thing?”

Phil and Sharon had been slipping quotes from the song into conversation all evening, until Steve would notice and roll his eyes at them. Bucky wanted to know why. He wanted in on the joke.

“Oh, it was amazing,” Sharon said, fighting a smile. “We had a party here a while back. Steve got drunk. There was dancing.”

“Was that the night Bruce broke the couch?” Phil frowned thoughtfully. “But, yes, aside from that, Steve slapping Tony in the face was the highlight of the party.”

“He what?” Bucky asked, as Sharon laughed quietly.

“He slapped Tony,” she concurred.

“By accident,” Phil said. “Steve was trying to do the dance to Uptown Funk. It was barely the start of the song, he waves his hand and Tony, who happened to be standing behind him, got a slap in the face.”

“Steve pretty much laid him out right here on the floor,” Sharon laughed, then put a finger to her lips. “But shh! Don’t tell him we told you.”

“Why are my ears burning?” Steve’s voice carried into the room, as Bucky fought his own giggles.

“What?” Sharon called back, trying for innocent as Steve stomped back into the room, mock glaring at them.

“What’re you guys telling him?” Steve demanded. “Bucky, whatever they said, ignore them.”

“It’s okay.” Bucky grinned slyly. “Nothing to see here.”

Steve raised an eyebrow. “I don’t believe you, but that’s fine.” He went to sit on another chair by himself, crossing his arms and pretending to be offended. “You wanna play that way, fine by me.”

“Oh, Steve, come on.” Bucky laughed. “No secrets spilled. Promise.” Then, he turned to Sharon with a smirk. “So, we heading out? After all, it is Saturday night…”

Phil snorted in amusement. Sharon didn’t miss a beat, “And we’re in the spot…”

They all looked to Steve, who grunted in exasperation. “Wow, I hate you all.”

“No, that’s not the line!” Sharon picked up a Dorito from the bowl, and flicked it at Steve. It didn’t reach him, it landed on the floor near his foot.

Steve grinned smugly at her, pointing his finger at the lone Dorito on the floor. “Okay, that? That was pathetic. You need to work on your aim.”

“Can we not?” Phil said with a chuckle. “I don’t think we’re drunk enough for food fights.”

Bucky laughed too. He liked this, hanging out with Steve’s friends. It was kinda spooky, how easy it was to hang out with this group. How easily he felt he could slot into Steve’s life, and theirs.

Could it really be that simple? Bucky never would’ve thought nice people like them would even bother with him, let alone absorb him into their group so seamlessly.

And they even let him in on their in-jokes.

Bucky watched Steve and Sharon bicker over who should pick up the Dorito from the floor. They were just too cute. Phil turned to Bucky and shared a smile. “Don’t let this put you off,” he said dryly, “most of the time… Well, some of the time, we do behave like adults.”

“Now, Phil,” Bucky grinned back at him, “don’t disappoint me.”

 

~ ~ ~

 

“You picked the absolute worst night to come,” Natasha said as soon as she saw them, raising her voice over the general noise of the bar.

That wasn’t quite the welcome Bucky had expected.

“There’s like, two or three separate birthday groups or something,” Natasha explained. “Not regular customers, they’re all really loud and annoying.” She rolled her eyes. “If one more drunk, obnoxious frat boy calls me baby, he’ll be wearing his next drink.”

“As long as he pays for it first?” Phil said, which made Natasha smile.

“Of course.” She looked between the four of them, assessing. Her gaze rested on Steve, her smile remaining carefully neutral. “It’s good to see my friends, so thank you for coming down. How about you guys wait here, and I’ll send Clint over as soon as he gets a minute? He’s been dying to make Barnes another cocktail.”

“Yeah,” Bucky said, “he loves to torment my liver.”

Natasha smiled at him, then slipped away to her line of thirsty customers across the bar.

“Is that why you were drunk when I had my party here?” Sharon asked, as Steve burst out laughing.

“Um…” Bucky stalled, which they clearly took as a yes as they laughed more. “Hey, it’s not my fault,” Bucky defended. “Clint’s cocktails are lethal. He was always mixing things up in college and saying, like, just one more drink, dude! It won’t hurt! Every damn weekend.”

“And did it hurt?” Phil asked.

Bucky snorted. “All the mornings after, yeah. It’s a miracle we even graduated.”

“I hear Clint was quite the party monster in college?” Sharon asked.

“Weren’t we all,” Bucky said, trying to evade the question. The problem was, any embarrassing college stories featuring Clint usually featured him too. There was no escaping it.

“Hey!” Clint appeared in front of them, hands on hips and a big grin on his face. “Well ain’t this a treat, I got all my favourite people under one roof tonight. I hope you’re going to drink to celebrate this?”

“Not shots,” Bucky insisted right away. “Please, Clint.”

Clint rolled his eyes. “Alright, alright. No shots for Grandpa, here. Don’t worry,” he grabbed his shakers, “I’ve got just the drink for you, Barnes.”

“He gets a special drink, huh?” Steve said.

“Now, now, Rogers,” Clint smiled as he began mixing up a cocktail, “don’t be like that. You’ll all get special drinks. But this one is extra special.”

“I’m honored,” Bucky said, bracing himself. He knew Clint’s sense of humor.

Clint was busy showing off his barman tricks, twirling shakers, catching glasses. Sharon cooed and clapped her hands. Phil commented, “I hope your liability insurance is good.”

“Hah!” Clint barked. “Funnily enough, I did check that. I even checked it before we put flaming shots on the menu.” He finished shaking the cocktail, grabbed a fresh glass and filled it with ice, then poured the drink into it.

“And this special drink is…!” Clint paused for dramatic effect, grinning wide. “The leg spreader!” He placed the glass in front of Bucky.

Bucky frowned. Clint just smirked back at him. “Ha, ha,” Bucky remarked. “And what, pray tell, goes into a leg spreader?”

Beside him, Steve and Sharon snickered.

Clint kept a poker face. “Well, it’s your old favorites, Barnes. Tequila, vodka, gin, and rum.”

“Clint, no way.” Bucky shook his head. “I can’t drink all that. You got me too drunk the last time I had your cocktails.”

You got you drunk,” Clint countered. “But okay, if someone else wants the leg spreader---”

“On it,” Sharon picked up the glass. “I’m not afraid of a cocktail.”

Clint laughed. “Atta girl! Okay, then it’s just a drink for the gents?”

“Scotch for me, Clint,” Phil told him. “I’ll open a tab, too.”

“Scotch for the gentleman!” Clint poured whiskey into a glass, and slid it over to Phil.

“Can we get beer?” Steve asked, as Clint frowned at him.

“Steve Rogers, I am disappointed in you.”

“But I’m not a big drinker.”

“Then I’ll make a small drink,” Clint teased, grabbing a couple glasses. “I got just the drink for you and Barnes here.”

“No tequila,” Bucky said. “I mean it, Clint.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Clint grinned, pouring Jägermeister into two glasses. “I hear you, man. I hear you grew up and got boring, that is.”

“Pretty sure you made a mess of me back in college before I grew up,” Bucky said.

“And high school,” Clint reminded him.

“That, too.”

Clint winked at the others. “It’s all good. He forgave me every time.” He snapped open a Redbull can and topped off the drinks before sliding them across to Steve and Bucky. “Here we go. Liquid Viagra!”

Bucky tried not to die on the spot. At least the bar was kinda dark, so no one would see him blush. Hopefully.

“You’re a pain in my ass,” Bucky told him, but he picked up the drink and knocked it back in one, as Clint cheered him on. “Happy now?”

“Always, Barnes.” Clint smiled at him. Then he turned to Steve. “C’mon, Steve. Down the hatch!”

“Er…” Steve eyed his drink. “This is just Jäger, right?”

“I didn’t roofie your drink, man,” Clint said. “Don’t sweat it.”

“Okay.” Steve took a breath and knocked his back too, only coughing a little. “Now can I have a beer, please?”

“A beer for the good sport!” Clint declared. “Here ya go, guys.” He opened a couple bottles and placed them on the counter. “Glass with ice? Curly straws?”

“Clint, knock it off.” Bucky took his beer and tried to nudge Steve into leaving. “Thanks, Clint. I’m sure you’ve got other customers to go serve now.”

Clint laughed at him. “But you’re my favorites.”

“We’ll be back.” Bucky led Steve away.

Sharon complimented Clint on her cocktail, but then Clint really did have to go serve other customers.

It was pretty busy in the bar, not a lot of space to stand, but they managed to find somewhere not too far from where Clint was. It wasn’t like Bucky was suddenly okay with crowded spaces, but at least being here with the others didn’t make him feel as anxious.

He could see Sam working the other side of the bar, with Natasha. They’d have to go say hi to them later, maybe when things quietened down.

“This is pretty good,” Sharon joined them, sipping her drink. “If I only take the smallest sips over… oh, the entire evening, perhaps? Then I won’t end up totally drunk.”

“Peanuts,” Phil advised. “If you stock up on salty foods, it’ll counteract the alcohol.”

“Shall I go get a pint of peanuts?” Steve laughed.

Sharon sipped her drink again, then nodded her head. “I think that might be wise. This is going down way too quickly.”

“Careful,” Bucky said, “that’s how he usually gets me. Last time it was Long Island Iced Teas.”

“Oh, I love those too.”

“I’ll get the peanuts,” Steve said, making to move away.

“Or pistachios?” Phil said, following Steve. “Let’s see what they got.”

“Back in a moment,” Steve said over his shoulder.

“Yeah,” Sharon said quietly so only Bucky would hear, “go check out Clint’s nuts.”

Bucky was so taken aback by the comment that a beat passed before he burst out laughing. “No! Sharon, why would you say that?”

“Sorry,” Sharon laughed, “I might be tipsy already!”

“Oh, my God.”

Steve and Phil hadn’t heard, thankfully. Bucky watched them leave, a smile still on his face as he tracked him through the bar.

Sharon said something about the music playing, and Bucky turned his attention back to her. He began to reply when a new body slid into his personal space, and a hot hand slapped onto his ass, startling him to stillness.

This had to be a mistake, Bucky thought, as he registered the firm chest in a tight black top pressed up against him; a man of stocky build with muscled arms and a stubbly jawline.

The guy must have mistaken him for someone else and not realised it yet, even as his hand dipped possessively low on Bucky’s ass, fingers groping his crack and causing him to buck into the guy’s groin so their junk rubbed together.

“Hey…!” Bucky started, elbowing the guy and hoping he’d get the message. He looked at his face and did a double take. “Brock?” he spluttered, as Brock leered back at him, hand still on Bucky’s ass to pull him close.

“Hey, you.” Brock’s breath smelled of alcohol, and his eyes were half lidded and as he fixed Bucky with a hungry gaze. “How you doin’?”

Great, Brock was drunk.

“Friend of yours?” Sharon asked warily.

Bucky glanced at her, seeing she’d had to step back slightly after Brock had pushed his way in. Maybe she couldn’t see how Brock was groping Bucky from behind, or maybe she’d guessed something was up.

Bucky felt panicked at being embarrassed in front of Steve’s friend like this, and he turned his attention back to Brock. “Get off,” he gritted out, jabbing Brock with his elbow again and trying to keep his beer upright.

If there was one thing he didn’t need right now, it was this meathead grinding up against him while Steve and his friends were here. Brock picked the absolute worst time to do this.

Thankfully, he seemed to get the message, and his hand fell away from Bucky’s ass. Bucky had to ignore the electricity zinging through his body at being felt up like that. He wasn’t into Brock, he told himself.

He definitely wasn’t into gropes in a damn bar. Maybe he had been, back when he’d met Brock, but not anymore.

Not since Steve.

Brock was still up in his space, and Bucky made to step away, still glaring at him. Brock just chuckled. “Wha’s that look for, baby?” He crowded into Bucky in that clumsy way drunks do, spilling some of Bucky’s beer in the process. “You still mad at me?”

“Brock!” There was cold beer all down Bucky’s leg now, and probably more of it on Brock. “The fuck is wrong with---”

“I wanna talk wit’ you.” Brock took the beer from Bucky, and snagged Bucky’s wrist with his free hand.

“Hey,” Sharon pushed in, a frown on her face. “What’s going on?”

But Brock wasn’t listening, he was staring at the label on the beer bottle. “The fuck you drinkin’?” he muttered.

Bucky used that moment of distraction to glance at Sharon, and in doing he noticed most of the people nearby watching them too.

Fuck, how mortifying.

He just hoped Steve wasn’t seeing this. Bucky focussed back on Sharon, because he knew he had to act fast. “Sharon, step back, now.”

She blinked at him, but caught on quick to his tone and made to step back. She reached out and snatched the beer bottle from Brock’s hands as she did, backing away quickly.

“Oh, she wants your shit beer,” Brock said, seeming to find this funny.

Now Sharon was safely clear, Bucky turned to Brock, locking eyes with him. There was something about the way Brock held his wrist that reminded Bucky of an uneasy feeling he’d had once or twice back when they’d fucked. Brock had liked holding his arm down, seemed to get off on the fact that Bucky only had one.

And okay, sure, Bucky liked it rough now and then, but that uneasy feeling was coming back tenfold right now, screaming at him to get away from Brock.

Bucky took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I’m only gonna say this once. Take your fucking hand off me.”

The leery smile dropped from Brock’s face, and now he looked pissed. “You’re a lil’ shit tonight,” he slurred out, tightening his grip on Bucky’s wrist. “I only came over to say hello. What’s your problem?”

“Right now, you’re my problem.” Bucky shifted, gently twisting his arm, testing the grip Brock had on it. The guy may have been drunk, but his grip was solid. Bucky steeled himself for this to hurt. Dammit, Brock.

Brock kept a hold of him, seeming to enjoy the fact that Bucky was apparently squirming in his grip. Bucky hoped Brock didn’t notice the change in his stance, the way Bucky planted his feet and prepared to move.

“There’s been some stick up your---” Brock started to say, but Bucky decided he’d had enough and pulled his move, twisting his arm up and using the force to pull Brock’s arm around at a painful angle, judging by the man’s surprised squawk.

Bucky definitely wasn’t as strong as Brock, not in upper body, but catching Brock off guard enabled him to yank his own arm free as he twisted Brock’s up behind his back, then place a well-aimed kick to the back of Brock’s knee.

The guy went down like a sack of potatoes, sprawling on his hands and knees on the floor.

Bucky felt the adrenalin rush through him, unsure what the fuck he should do next. His wrist was sore, his skin felt hot where Brock had held him. Bucky wanted to kick Brock’s sorry ass, but he didn’t exactly want to start a brawl in his best friend’s bar.

Luckily, people surged in between them, led by Clint who planted himself in front of Brock as he staggered to his feet. “Okay, buddy!” he placated, holding up his hands. “This is my bar, and that’s enough of that. Let’s settle things down.”

Sam was there too, another calming presence. Sharon was at Bucky’s side, and Phil next to her. “Nice moves,” Phil muttered, as they gently herded Bucky away.

Bucky was still thrumming with the fight or flight rush, and wary of the people around him, everyone in the noisy bar watching. It wasn’t until he noticed Steve at his other side that he calmed a little, the fight draining out of him.

“Shit,” Bucky muttered, leaning close to Steve, too afraid to look at him. “Did I totally just overreact?”

“No way,” Sharon said firmly.

“We didn’t see what was happening until you were karate chopping that guy to the floor,” Phil offered.

Bucky winced. “Shit.”

“Are you okay?” Steve asked, voice calm. Bucky dared a glance at him, but the only thing he saw on Steve’s lovely face was concern.

“I… um… I’m sorry,” Bucky stuttered, “he… he surprised me, he… Shit. I have to apologise to Clint and ‘Tasha.”

“You don’t need to apologise,” Sharon said, offering Bucky back his beer. Bucky shook his head. If he drank more now he was worried something else would happen.

“He was being a total creep,” Sharon went on, explaining to Phil and Steve. “Who was he?”

Shit.

Bucky glanced warily at Steve, not sure the bar was the best place for this conversation. “I… I think I’ll go home. Sorry I ruined the night.”

“Buck, it’s not your fault,” Steve said, with Phil and Sharon chiming in.

“Sorry, guys. I’m gonna head home all the same.” Bucky just had to get out of there. His face was heating up with the embarrassment of it all. But as he started to walk away, Steve fell into step beside him.

“It’s okay,” Steve told him. “I’ll come with you if you want?”

Bucky nodded furiously. Yes, he really needed someone calm with him now.

 

~ ~ ~

 

Bucky was a bundle of nerves in the cab ride back to his place. They’d been lucky there was no sign of Rumlow outside the bar. He wasn’t sure what Clint had done with the guy, but hopefully things hadn’t been too disrupted for them.

Steve mentioned it wasn’t the first brawl he’d seen in a bar, but Bucky just groaned and avoided the subject. If they were gonna talk about it, fine, but not in the cab.

Bucky insisted on paying the fare, even though he had to struggle getting his wallet out, and then the subsequent cash, making him more irritable. He told the guy to keep the change because he couldn’t be bothered dealing with coins.

Pulling out his keys, Bucky tried to muster a smile for Steve. “You comin’ up?” he asked.

“Sure,” Steve said easily, smiling back at him as they stepped up to the door. “Gotta try this amazing coffee I’ve heard about.”

Bucky snorted. “Careful, Rogers. Coffee at this hour? We’ll be up all night.”

Steve’s laugh was a low chuckle, and it put Bucky on edge for entirely different reasons. Oh boy, he thought. Did Steve have any idea how jumped up he was right now?

He eyed Steve carefully as they went up in the elevator. Bucky wasn’t sure what to do, so he thought he’d let Steve lead.

When he let them into his apartment and turned on some lights, he looked to Steve. “Were you serious about the coffee?”

Steve shut the door softly, a smile on his lips, and for a moment Bucky thought he might say yes, but then Steve said, “I think something without caffeine would be good.”

“Right.” Bucky nodded. Of course. He stalked over to his kitchen, thinking about what he had to offer. “There’s a beer or two in the fridge. There might be decaffeinated tea somewhere.”

“Yeah?” Steve raised his eyebrows, looking pleased. “Now you’re talkin’.”

Bucky snorted. “You’re weird.”

“Indulge me.” Steve searched for mugs, asking Bucky which ones he wanted. He seemed like he wanted to be helpful, so Bucky let him.

They made the tea together, and carried the mugs over to the couch to sit down. Steve sat on one end, but he shifted more into the middle once Bucky sat down too.

“Want to just hang out and watch some TV?” Steve suggested.

“Sure. If you want to.”

“I want to.”

“Okay.”

The watching of TV lasted a few minutes, with Bucky staring hard at the screen, and Steve casting nervous glances at him.

“Um, Buck… do you want to talk about it?”

Bucky winced. “That I acted like a jerk in front of a whole bar? Oh, sure, let’s talk about that.”

Steve shrugged. “Sharon didn’t think you were out of line. Sounded like this other guy was.”

“Yeah…” Bucky had to wince again, because Goddammit. “…about that.”

“You know him?”

Bucky rolled his eyes. “I did. Or,” he added with a snort, “I thought I did.”

Steve was quiet, and Bucky could feel the weight of this confession pressing down on them already.

May as well get it all out there.

“Okay,” he started, hoping this didn’t sound as bad out loud as it had in his head. “So I guess I was… kinda seeing him… that guy. But, like, a while ago. And it’s over, but that’s the first time I’ve seen him since, and I dunno where that all came from, he’s not a bad guy usually. I guess he was just wasted or something.”

“What happened?” Steve asked quietly.

“Well, he just appeared out of nowhere and grabbed me, and---” Bucky glanced at Steve, then stuttered. “Uh… did you mean what happened tonight, or before?”

“I meant before, yeah.” Steve fidgeted a little. “I’m sorry for asking, it’s just…”

Steve frowned as he chose his words. He took a little too long, so Bucky prompted, “Just what?” because he worried that Steve was about to ditch him.

He couldn’t lose Steve now.

“Uh, well…” Steve began, as Bucky vibrated in his skin, “I guess I wanted to ask if you were… y’know, like, seeing other people, but…” He fidgeted more, clearly uncomfortable. “Sorry, I don’t want to pry. I don’t think I’ve really dated enough to know when is too soon to ask these questions, but… I guess I wanted to ask you about that. About other people.”

“I’m not seeing anyone else,” Bucky blurted out, because apparently all his smooth had taken a hike tonight.

Get it together, Barnes.

He took a deep breath, and said in a steady voice, “Cards on the table, Rogers. I’m not seeing anyone else. The last person I saw was that douchebag you guys met tonight, but it wasn’t anything much, and he stood me up the last time we were supposed to meet. The night I met you, actually. I haven’t seen him since. I did talk to him briefly on the phone but… uh, I thought he was being a jerk, so I didn’t want to speak to him. And that’s it,” he added with a rueful laugh, “that’s everything.”

Steve was blinking at him, his face neutral. Bucky raised his eyebrows in challenge.

“Your turn, Rogers.”

This got a smile, and Bucky felt relief at that.

“I’m not seeing anyone,” Steve admitted quietly. “I mean, just this one guy. He’s real hot, and apparently a kickass cage fighter or something, so I think I’d better watch my ass around him.”

Bucky laughed loud, relief coursing through him. “No, watching your ass is my job.”

“Oh, you want the job?”

They looked at each other for a long moment, almost like they were both realising something profound at the same time.

Bucky’s grin spread slowly, taking over his whole face. “Yeah, Rogers. I want that job.”

He watched Steve’s smile grow too. “Yeah?” he said, like he couldn’t quite believe it. “So… I’m gonna be introducing you to people as my ass watcher, or…?”

“You’re such a punk.”

“Or I could introduce you as…?” Steve pressed.

“How about your boyfriend, wiseguy.” Bucky took Steve’s hand and tugged, reeling him in.

Steve was still smiling, right up until Bucky kissed him. “Boyfriend is good,” he breathed against Bucky’s lips. He kissed him softly, and it was honestly the best moment of Bucky’s life.

It wasn’t a heavy make-out session, but it didn’t need to be. Not right now. This was just perfect.

They pulled back at the same time, staring at each other and smiling. “No take backs,” Bucky murmured, hand squeezing Steve’s.

“No take backs,” Steve agreed.

They kissed once more, like it was sealing the deal.

Then Bucky couldn’t help but add in, “Oh, and I know kick-boxing, karate, and some jujitsu. All the trophies and shit are at my parent’s house.”

Steve blinked at him. “Wow,” he said. “Um. Yeah, remind me to keep you sweet, Buck.”

“Be my pleasure, Steve.” They grinned over that, then Bucky noted grimly, “Kinda out of practise, though, and you know what? I think I’ve pulled something.”

“Huh?” Steve lost his grin, eyes roving over Bucky instantly. “What? Where?”

Bucky leaned back on the couch and carefully hooked his leg over both of Steve’s. “Hamstring, doc. Shoulda warmed up before I kicked that asshole.”

Steve laughed, looking at Bucky’s leg before placing one hand on his thigh. “Does it hurt?”

“Eh.” Bucky shrugged a shoulder. “It’ll be fine.”

“I could massage it for you?”

“You could what now?”

“Massage?” Steve repeated, his gaze lingering on Bucky’s leg. “I, uh… did a massage course, couple years back. I was interested in becoming a massage therapist, but with my wrists already being weak with the arthritis I decided against it.”

“Oh.” Bucky blinked at him. “Right. Wow.”

“But I still know how to do it,” Steve said earnestly, looking at Bucky now. “I mean, if you want.”

Bucky smiled fondly. “Thanks, Stevie. It’s okay.” He very carefully moved his leg out of Steve’s lap, and sat himself up. “There should be heat packs in my bathroom cabinet. Would you mind?”

“Yeah, sure.” Steve jumped up and headed for the bathroom.

Bucky couldn’t help another smile. Steve was the most awesome guy. Like, ever. And he deserved a lot better than Bucky’s cheesy hook-up moves, especially after tonight’s fiasco.

If they were really going to go there, it shouldn’t be tonight. Steve deserved more than that.

Could Bucky really be the good guy here? Give Steve what he deserved?

He wanted to. Damn, did he want to.

By the time Steve returned, Bucky had second guessed himself into a panic. He didn’t say much as Steve opened the heat pack for him, peeling off the backing and handing it over. He mumbled a thank you, and busied himself sticking it onto the back of his leg.

It wasn’t a big deal; back in his hiking days he’d often pull a muscle or two.

No, the big deal here was… what if Steve changed his mind about them? Would he wake up tomorrow and realise he’d made a mistake?

“You okay, Buck?”

“Um… yeah.” Bucky sighed. “Steve, I’m sorry for being an ass and ruining tonight.”

“You didn’t ruin anything.”

“I made a fool of myself by overreacting.”

“Bucky, you didn’t.”

“Yeah, well. I’m sorry anyway. I promise nothing that dramatic usually happens with me. I swear to God, my life is really boring and… I mean, not that it’s boring, I mean… um, that’s not what I meant. Shit.”

Steve laughed then, and Bucky frowned at him. “Sorry,” Steve said. “Um, actually, I guess I’m a little shaken from it. I wasn’t sure if…” He smiled ruefully. “When I saw that guy… And don’t get me wrong, he’s good looking and everything. But when I saw him pawing you, I wasn’t sure if he was about to whisk you away for good, or if I had any right to get over there and beat him off.”

Bucky opened his mouth to respond, then Steve’s words caught up to him… and he grinned. “And do what now?”

Steve seemed to realise his choice of words, and winced. “Up. I mean, beat him up.”

Bucky laughed, the tension thankfully draining out of him. “Don’t go beating off other guys on me now, Rogers. You just said we were exclusive.”

Steve grinned at him. “Right. Yes, you said no take backs. So… does this mean we’re both required to beat off other guys who hit on the other, or…?”

Bucky laughed so hard he snorted, which made Steve laugh too.

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

Chapter Text

“Just sleep in the bed,” Bucky suggested, like it wasn’t a big deal. Like his heart wasn’t pounding out of his chest or anything.

“Buck, I thought we said…y’know…” Steve was blushing so hard Bucky could see the pink staining his cheeks. “That we’d take it slow.”

“Yeah. We will.” Bucky rolled his eyes. He had agreed to that, more than willingly, during their so-what-next? discussion during Predator, which Steve had wanted to watch, and which Steve kept interrupting because he wanted to ask Bucky questions about them. Like he needed the reassurance or something.

Which was reassuring to Bucky because he realised he wasn’t the only hopeless dork in this new relationship after all.

And Bucky was fine with waiting, he really was. But he also really wanted Steve to spend the night. It was late, it’d been a weird night all in all, and he was still riding the high of realising that he had an actual boyfriend, like right here in his apartment.

And he wasn’t gonna let him leave anytime soon.

“Steve. It’s fine,” Bucky said calmly, using that tone of voice he’d grown up using on his siblings to get them to agree with whatever he wanted. “We won’t do anything, it’s cool. Look,” he grabbed a pillow and stuffed it dead centre of the bed, “I’ll stay on one side, you stay on the other. It’s plenty big enough. This is a queen sized bed, y’know.”

Steve chuckled quietly, and Bucky sensed victory. Steve had already followed him into his bedroom after all. It was late, they were both sleepy, and Bucky was determined.

“Steve,” he wheedled, “c’mon. Steve. It’ll be fine. Steve. C’mon. Please.”

“Buck…”

Steve.”

“All right, all right.”

And that was how Bucky got Steve to spend the night, and even though they started out with the pillow placed chastely between them, Bucky was pleased when he woke later to find Steve’s warm, solid body spooning him, and a strong arm slung over his waist.

Bucky grinned to himself ---happy, happy, so fucking happy--- then drifted back to sleep.

He awoke to the gentle touch of Steve’s hand on his shoulder, and the smell of coffee. Bucky was far too groggy to realise that Steve was touching his left shoulder, and he didn’t particularly care right now.

“Uh… coffee?” Bucky mumbled, glancing briefly at Steve. “Why’re you all dressed?”

Steve waited until Bucky had shuffled upright in the bed before handing him his coffee. “Buck, it’s your phone, it’s been ringing. It’s probably Natasha, she messaged me as well.”

“Mmf,” Bucky responded, more interested in his coffee. “Needs sugar.”

Steve smiled at him, reaching out to smooth down an errant lock of Bucky’s hair. Bucky allowed it, because he wasn’t entirely convinced this was real right now. He could still be dreaming.

“They’re meeting for lunch,” Steve said. “Phil and Sharon are going too. How about it?”

“Um…” Bucky sipped his coffee, feeling slightly more awake. “Okay,” he croaked. He was never the best morning person. Or, well ---he glanced at his clock on the nightstand--- almost-lunchtime person. “Shit. How long you been up? You shoulda… shoulda woke me.”

“I slept in too,” Steve told him, “your bed is like, real comfy.”

Bucky’s laugh was low and dirty. “Oh, I know.”

Steve smiled. Then he leaned in close and pressed his lips to Bucky’s, which Bucky was totally not expecting; he went still with surprise, and made sure he kept his mouth closed to save Steve from coffee breath.

“Come on,” Steve said gently as he pulled back. “If we hurry, we can make it over to this diner and meet the others before they start without us.”

“Um… yeah.” Bucky was not blushing. He wasn’t, dammit. His adorable new boyfriend hadn’t just kissed him and made him blush, this was… this was some amazing dream, or something.

Bucky cleared his throat. “Okay, okay, I’m getting up. Can you… er, can you answer Natasha for me, or…?”

Steve nodded, and stood to leave. “No problem. You get ready and we’ll head out. I think they’re eager to see you.”

“Man.” Bucky winced. Eager to give him a hard time, sure.

 

~ ~ ~

 

“There he is!” Clint got to his feet as soon as they entered the diner, arms spread wide. “The karate kid himself!”

“Shut up,” Bucky told him, but he moved in to give his friend a hug. “And I’m sorry for causing a scene last night,” he mumbled.

Clint started laughing, stepping back to hold Bucky’s shoulders and shake him with excitement. “Are you kidding?” he shouted, as Bucky swatted him off. “That was the best shut down I’ve seen in ages!”

“Clint.” Natasha tugged on his shirt. “Settle down.”

“Yes, boss.” Clint grinned, then turned to greet Steve. “Hey, dude. Good to see you again,” he said, shaking his hand.

“Yeah, sorry we, er… left early last night,” Steve explained. “Hope everything was all right?”

“Ah, no problems.” Clint sank back into his chair. “C’mon, you two, sit down. We saved you spaces.”

Natasha eyed Bucky and Steve with a smile as they settled in seats opposite her and Clint. Sam was at the table end, and there were a couple spaces left for when Phil and Sharon arrived. The table already had plates of half eaten breakfast, and the coffee smelt amazing.

“Have to say, man,” Sam said to Bucky, shaking his head with a chuckle, “when shit went down, I was about to come over there. Clint’s like, nah man, give it a second. Just watch. My boy will take care of it.”

“Karate kid!” Clint chimed in.

Bucky winced. Steve started laughing next to him, until Bucky shot him a look.

Steve bit his lip to stop from laughing. “Sorry, Buck. It was pretty amazing, though.”

Bucky snorted. “If I’d known you guys would find it so entertaining, I woulda come down more often and beat on your customers.”

“Not sure we have the space for organised fighting,” Natasha smiled, “but we’ll bear in it mind. Remember that time in college---”

“No!” Bucky tried to interrupt.

Clint burst out, “The custard wrestling!”

“Oh, God,” Bucky groaned, holding a menu over his face so Steve couldn’t see him blush.

“The what?” Steve and Sam said at the same time.

Just then the waitress appeared to take their order. Bucky tried to focus on her as he ordered coffee and resolutely ignored his friends spilling his deepest, darkest secrets.

Wrestling?” Steve prodded him.

“Shut up.” Bucky elbowed him back. “And the pancakes, please,” he said to the waitress, who had raised her eyebrows at their exchange.

“This is pure gold,” Clint said. “So, we were in college---”

“Clint, shut up,” Bucky snapped. “Steve, order.”

“Uh…” Steve quickly glanced at a menu. “I’ll just go for the same, thank you.” He smiled at the waitress, who seemed as though she wanted to linger for the rest of the conversation, but reluctantly left.

“We had this, like, inflatable pool. Y’know the small ones you get for kids,” Clint explained, as Bucky slunk down in his chair. “We wanted to get some sexy mud wrestling going in the back yard. Senior year, wasn’t it?”

“I vetoed the mud,” Natasha put in.

“She vetoed the mud,” Clint agreed, smirking at her. “Then she vetoed the wrestling when we had the party. Barnes had already gone out to get the custard---”

“Custard?” Sam raised an eyebrow. “What, now?”

“Fresh custard in tubs,” Clint explained. “Y’know, for dessert and stuff. For some reason, Barnes bought custard. I told him to get ice cream, or jelly or something. He comes back with custard.”

“It worked fine,” Bucky grouched, which made Clint chortle.

“So, after Natasha backed out, the other girls wouldn’t play either,” Clint said. “We were having a party anyway. We got a little drunk, one thing led to another…”

Everyone looked at Bucky, who sighed deeply. “I was drunk.”

“He and Clint ended up wrestling in this inflatable pool filled with custard,” Natasha said. “Stripped down to their jockeys, and I’m pretty sure I’ve still got the pictures somewhere on my Facebook.”

“What?” Bucky spluttered. “You said you’d deleted those!”

Steve whipped out his cell phone. “I just got to see this,” he said with a grin.

“Steve, no.” Bucky made to grab for his phone, as Steve twisted away to hold it out of Bucky’s reach. “Steve! No!”

“Aw, c’mon!” Steve laughed gleefully. “This sounds amazing.”

“No!” Bucky resorted to fighting dirty and tickled Steve on his ribs, making the guy yelp and laugh.

Natasha and Clint watched with interest, then shared a knowing smile between them.

“I am all over this,” Sam announced, already scrolling on his phone. “Nat, where are these pictures?”

“No!” Bucky insisted, ceasing his tickling of Steve as he made to stand up and stop Sam. But Steve grabbed him round the waist and pulled Bucky into his lap.

“Go on, Sam!” Steve instructed, as he wrapped his strong arms around Bucky, the hold firm but careful. Bucky felt himself go still and pliant, something inside him settling, calming. Like just being held by Steve made him feel safe and secure.

It was a strange experience to have right in front of all their friends, but…

Bucky found he didn’t mind so much. There was this warm, floaty feeling in his chest, and before he started blushing or anything, Bucky grinned down at his boyfriend and muttered, “You’re a dork.”

Steve smiled back at him, eyes sparkling with mischief. Bucky really wanted to lean in and press his mouth to Steve’s, but then he heard Natasha coo, “Aw, you guys are cute.”

Bucky snapped his head up to look at her and saw she’d been holding her phone aimed at them. His eyes went wide. “Did you just take a---”

“I found ‘em!” Sam announced triumphantly, waving his phone.

“No, don’t look,” Bucky protested weakly, as Sam studied his screen then burst out laughing. “We were drunk,” Bucky defended. “It was college, okay?”

Clint peered over to look at Sam’s phone, and dissolved into giggles himself.

“I wanna see.” Steve held out a hand, and Sam passed his phone over.

“Man oh man,” Sam shook his head, “am I ever sorry I missed that event.”

“We should hold another one,” Natasha suggested. Clint’s face lit up, which made her laugh. “Like that idea, huh?”

Steve meanwhile was already looking at Sam’s phone, using his thumb to scroll through the pictures, and still holding Bucky in his lap with an arm around him.

Bucky clung to Steve, feeling a little embarrassed, but also excited. He dared a look at the phone in Steve’s hand. He couldn’t really remember pictures being taken. It was a long time ago.

Seeing them now brought it all back, and he squirmed on Steve’s lap.

“Is that you with Clint?” Steve asked, tilting the screen to Bucky. “All I can see is like, a bundle of limbs here.”

The others laughed at that. Bucky cleared his throat. “Yeah, I’m the one on top. I had shorter hair then.”

“Ah, right.”

“Keep scrolling,” Natasha instructed Steve. “Those are probably all close ups. It wasn’t so much wrestling as more… full on frottage.”

“Hey!” Bucky cut in, as Clint barked a laugh. “You were the perv taking the photos, Romanoff.”

“Who wouldn’t take photos of naked guys wrestling in their back yard?” she shot back, just as Phil and Sharon approached the table.

“Who’s naked?” Sharon asked.

“We were not naked,” Bucky clarified, “we had our underwear on, dammit.”

Steve shook with laughter. And across the table, Sam slid down in his seat from laughing, completely silent until he breathed in deep and let it out in a dramatic burst, which got everyone else laughing too.

“I don’t know what we missed,” Sharon said, taking out her phone, “but this needs a picture.” She stood back to get them all in shot, everyone laughing or grinning except Phil, who shrugged.

“Guess we missed the joke,” he said, pulling out the empty seats for him and Sharon to sit down.

“Hey! I found one of you!” Steve jolted Bucky in his excitement. “Here you are. Wow.”

“Oh, God.” Bucky glanced at the photo onscreen. A shot of him standing in Natasha’s back yard holding a beer, looking happy and drunk, naked but for a pair of black briefs, and covered in sticky yellow globs of custard.

And, of course, with two arms, because it’d been way before his accident.

Bucky flushed, embarrassed at the reminder that he’d once been a whole person; younger and fitter, less baggage, and surely way more attractive than he was now.

Steve studied the photo for a moment, then he moved to say quietly in Bucky’s ear, “That is so your smile right there.” He pressed his lips to the soft skin under Bucky’s jaw, a brief kiss.

Bucky blushed hard, and ducked his head shyly. “My drunk smile?”

Steve shook with laughter again, and held Bucky tighter. “No, no. It’s that here comes trouble smile of yours. That’s your smile.”

Bucky laughed too. “That is my drunk smile.” He held onto Steve, so solid and big, and would’ve flirted some more, but Natasha cleared her throat.

“Boys, your food’s arriving.”

“Yeah, break it up over there,” Sam teased. “Rogers, give me back my phone. I didn’t intend to instigate any brunch foreplay here.”

“Says the man who was so eager to see pictures of Clint and Buck naked.” Steve let Bucky up, and handed the phone back to Sam.

“Steve!” Bucky nudged him. “We were not naked! You literally just saw it.”

“I’m sure Steve’s seen plenty,” Natasha said, eyeing them.

Even the waitress smirked as she placed the coffees and pancakes in front of Steve and Bucky.

“Do you serve custard?” Clint asked her, deadpan, making the others laugh.

Bucky groaned. “Really, you guys. Please shut up now.”

Steve turned to him with a shit-eating grin. “Now I know what to bring up to get these guys off my back about the Doritos thing.”

“Oh, no,” Bucky argued. “No, it doesn’t work like that, Rogers.”

“Just have them both together,” Sam said. “Do Doritos go with custard?”

Bucky looked at Steve. Steve looked back at him. Bucky felt a slow smile bloom across his face. “Well, Dorito?”

Steve rolled his eyes, but he was smiling. “You’re trying to goad me into calling you custard? Seriously?”

“Yeah, you guys need to work on your pet names,” Natasha said fondly.

Clint picked up his menu. “This conversation’s making me hungry.”

 

~ ~ ~

 

Later that day, Natasha sent Bucky the photo she’d taken of him sitting in Steve’s lap at the diner.

Cute, she’d texted with it. Mind if I share?

Bucky actually liked the picture. Natasha had been clever angling the shot, and from the way he’d been sat on Steve, it wasn’t immediately obvious that Bucky only had one arm.

In fact, he looked pretty normal. He looked happy.

And Steve looked gorgeous, of course. It was a good picture.

Yeah, Bucky texted back. Thank you. x

Natasha shared it on Facebook a moment later, tagging him and Steve.

There were other photos from the brunch session, mostly taken by Sharon or Sam; quite a lot of their food ---which Bucky had never understood the obsession with--- and a hilarious one of Clint holding his full tummy and looking defeated by a half eaten stack of pancakes.

After the pictures had all gone up, Bucky was pleasantly surprised when the one of him and Steve started getting a lot of likes.

The first comment was from Tony, and made Bucky snort a laugh:

What’s this I hear about custard Doritos???