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Between Their Names

Chapter Text

Unfortunately, Bucky was a terrible friend. The kind of friend who would lie about going to an art class, and then hide because he knew he’d be checked up on.

He was able to admit, to himself but no one else, that he should probably try to get back into the world, which was exactly what Clint was trying to help him with. Admitting that he should wasn’t the same as actually making the effort to do it, though.

Which is how he ended up sitting in a tree in the parking lot of the crappy little VA center in this stupid little suburb with its horrible old ladies and their evil fucking cats.

“Find your own tree, asshole,” Bucky snarled quietly at the fluffy orange demon shimmying toward him.

“Peepers, no!” said the old lady. And seriously, it was bad enough she was going to see him and call the cops, but she had to go and name her cat Peepers? No wonder it ran away from her.

She didn’t pull out a phone, though. Instead, she tapped on the VA window and waved her arms at someone inside.

A moment later, the world’s most perfect human being walked out the door to talk to her. The sightlines from the tree weren’t the best, but the tantalizing glimpses of the guy’s long legs, slim hips, and breathtaking expanse of chest all combined to make Bucky almost grateful to Peepers, who was smugly sitting beside him now.

Until, that was, Mr. Glorious started walking toward Bucky’s tree, saying, “Come on, Peepers, we can’t do this every week.”

The old lady looked at the guy in a way that made Bucky wonder if she had planned all this, and he hated her just a little more, either for her plan, or for the view she was enjoying from that angle.

By then, the guy had already noticed Bucky, as evidenced by the little hesitation in his steps as he came nearer. Bucky intended to play it cool to the bitter end, though. So when the guy got close, Bucky scooped up Peepers in his left hand (and the little squeals of claws on metal confirmed that to be a good choice) and casually held the cat out to Mr. Hot Legs.

“Uh, thanks,” the guy said quietly, and of course his voice was lovely too, because Bucky’s life was just hellish that way. “You need any help or anything?”

“No,” Bucky said, probably too casually, but whatever. At least they couldn’t see each other’s faces. This was embarrassing enough.

“Okay, well, thanks again,” he said, taking the cat. “You saved me a climb.” And then he just walked away. The view was magnificent, and the fact that he hadn’t called the police was also pretty nice. Bucky took a moment to enjoy both of those things while the old lady got her cat back and Legs went inside.

Then he sighed and settled against a branch, waiting for the hour to finally be over so he could lie to Clint about art class on the way home and then lock himself in his shitty apartment for as long as possible.

* * *

Clint dropped him off again the next week, and Bucky went through the same routine of going inside the VA, sitting in the empty reception area until he was sure Clint had actually left, and then climbing his tree.

At least this time the impending rainstorm would probably keep the local cat population at bay.

Bucky sighed at the thought that being rained on for an hour was somehow the best case scenario for him. He pulled his hood low over his eyes.

The relative calm didn’t last, of course. A few minutes later, Legs came out with an umbrella in one hand and a paper coffee cup in the other. He made straight for Bucky’s tree.

As he came close, he pulled the lid off the cup, and the warm rich scents of coffee, cinnamon, and cream wafted enticingly up to Bucky.

“Hey, I brought you something,” said Legs. “Here.”

Bucky could resist many things, but apparently a perfectly built man with a cappuccino was not one of them. He reached down almost automatically and greedily wrapped his hand around --

The umbrella handle.

To Bucky’s even greater annoyance, the word “But,” actually escaped his own lips before he could stop it.

“Oh, sorry,” said Legs. “The coffee is for me. Although there’s another one just like it. Inside.”

“You seriously think I’d go in there just for a cappuccino?”

“No. I think you’ll go in there because if you don’t, then I win,” said Legs. And he sauntered away, drinking the coffee with far more flourish than needed.

Bucky spent the entire walk to the building trying to imagine what horrible thing must be wrong with that guy’s face. Nobody works out that much unless they’re compensating for something. Bucky would know, he worked out quite a lot. (Bucky also knew his own face was damn fine, but that was irrelevant.) The guy probably had a nose like Voldemort. And a Hitler mustache. Eyes the color of rancid piss.

Cheerful thoughts like these carried him past the reception desk, around the corner, and into the makeshift classroom, where Legs was setting out papers on the tables.

He looked up when Bucky stood in the doorway.

There was definitely nothing wrong with his face.

A second after Bucky realized that he was stunningly gorgeous, Bucky realized that he was also stunningly familiar.

It was the eyes, a pure crystal blue that somehow managed to be warm and soft, framed by long, dark lashes. Those eyes hadn’t changed a bit. In the decade and a half since high school, Bucky had never seen a pair like them.

And he had looked.

The front door jingled as it opened, and Bucky covered a flinch by stepping over sideways, which had the added advantage of keeping his back from being exposed.

This was all Clint’s fault. There was no question that he would have run his own background check when he signed Bucky up for this class. And what would a background check have turned up about Steven Grant Rogers?

Hopefully not the fact that Bucky could still remember the guy’s middle name. But certainly the fact that Steve and Bucky (and Jesus how their names still flowed together in his head) had spent three years living on the same street, going to the same school. He even had a vague memory of a yearbook picture of the two of them grinning at each other.

The two of them. Steve and Bucky. Bucky and Steve, if they’d gotten caught at something, which wasn’t often.

And now they were strangers. Bucky over here with his back against the wall, Steve over there in the middle of the room. No ‘and’ between their names.

While Steve greeted the old man who had come in, Bucky spotted a beanbag chair and decided to claim it. As he made his way to it, he pulled out his phone. Flopping down, he sent a text to Clint. It read, Fuck you.

Steve had gotten the old man to sit down, (and the man was maybe not so old after all, just grizzled as hell, with a bald head and an eye-patch) and he walked over to Bucky with a coffee cup in one hand and a white paper bag in the other.

Bucky took the coffee in his real hand and gave Steve the umbrella back with the fake one. The metal one, he corrected himself. Then he noticed that the bag had ‘Barnes’ written on it, and Steve was silently holding it out to him, so he took it. In his metal hand. If it turned out to be a pastry, Bucky might kiss him.

The bell on the front door jingled again, and Steve left as quietly as he’d come, going to see the new arrivals.

Bucky opened the bag. Not a pastry. Just pointy metal sticks, a ball of blue yarn, and a flyer for a Fiber Art Class, with Captain Steven Rogers, United States Army, Retired. Tuesdays at 6PM.

Which was now.

Then his phone buzzed. A text from Clint. LOL, did you finally meet the instructor for that art class you’ve supposedly been going to all month?

Bucky texted back, Fuck you twice. He included a picture, holding up the middle finger on his fake fucking hand.

Usually he was able to admit that his prosthetic was a marvel of modern engineering, because it was. The thing was beyond top of the line, responsive in ways that had been impossible a few years ago. He almost never actively resented it anymore. Except for times like right now.

Barton wasn’t cruel. He wouldn’t have signed Bucky up if he’d thought he couldn’t do it. But Clint didn’t know everything, because Bucky didn’t tell him everything. Didn’t tell him about broken toothbrushes, or dented door knobs, or that time he’d absentmindedly rubbed his lip and come away looking like he’d been in a bar fight. Which is exactly what he’d told Clint had happened.

It was reassuring, in a way, that at times like these Bucky could always count on things being his own damned fault.

* * *

Bucky debated about the earbuds. More accurately, Bucky debated over which excuse he was going to give himself for wearing them. Because of the flickers of lightning outside the window, and the noise they were going to bring? Because the voice of the first boy he’d ever wanted to kiss had hardly changed at all, when everything about Bucky had changed too much?

Maybe he’d just wear them to be an asshole. That was a good reason. It was his favorite reason, really. So he put in the earbuds and cranked up some Fall Out Boy.

Steve’s lips hadn’t changed much, either, Bucky thought. It was hard to be sure, because back then he hadn’t known what lips like that could do. Now he did, and it was oh so easy to imagine them doing it.

He forced himself to look away and focus instead on all the other strangers in the room.

There was a short guy whose ridiculous facial hair worked surprisingly well on him. He was fairly hot, though he was significantly older than Steve, and not as perfectly kissable.

(Seriously brain, can we not make Steve the standard by which all hotness is now measured? Jesus.)

There was a woman who moved like a dancer. A very lethal dancer, with shiny red hair and a crooked smile. There was another woman beside her, starched and sturdy with her dark hair pulled back tight. And the bald guy.

Steve didn’t attempt any sort of introductions, for which Bucky was very grateful. He just let Bucky sit in the back, undisturbed, while he taught about whatever he taught. Something to do with using more than one color of yarn, with lots of emphasis on twisting, it seemed. Bucky used to be able to read Steve from anywhere he could see him, and he had always made an effort to see him, but not anymore.

The yarn in the bag was blue. Bucky spent an unfortunate amount of time wondering if that was a coincidence, or if Steve remembered it was his favorite color, or if Steve remembered him at all, before it was finally time to go. He bolted out the door without a word, throwing himself into Clint’s car and glaring through the windshield.

“How’d it go?” Clint asked, backing out of his parking space.

Bucky just frowned.

“Aww, really?” said Clint, as if Bucky had answered. “What exactly is the problem?”

“He’s so fucking pretty,” Bucky whined.

“Yeah? I mean, I guess so, but --”

Bucky glared at him. “No. Not you guess so. Water is wet, sugar is sweet, and Steve Rogers is beautiful. These are fundamental truths that even a stupid straight boy like you ought to know.”

Clint chuckled. “Okay. So?”

“So, I used to think about him when I jerked off, and that was before he became Captain Tight Shirt,” snarled Bucky.

“Uh, there are things I really don’t need to know, Barnes.”

“Yeah, and you wouldn’t have known if you hadn’t signed me up for a god damn knitting class with him.”

Clint hesitated, taking a right turn. “You sure this has to be a problem? It kinda sounds like the opposite.”

Jesus. Bucky sighed. “You know, I once tried to fight the entire football team, during a game, because the running back called Steve ‘Twiggy’. That’s how stupid I was for him. And I lied to him about it, too. Made up some story so his feelings wouldn’t get hurt.”

Clint snorted. “How’d you manage to survive the fight?”

“This girl ran down from the bleachers and came in on my side,” Bucky said. “Prettiest girl I’ve ever met, and it turned out she also had one hell of a right hook. The quarterback took one look at her and switched sides mid-swing, which, we didn’t call him Dum Dum for nothing, but still, half the team switched with him. For Peggy fucking Carter.”

“Why all the hostility, if this Carter girl saved your life?”

Bucky pressed his head against the window, watching the rain. “Because after we all got dragged down to Colonel Phillips’ office, Steve saw Peggy, with her nose all bloody and her hair messed up, and he asked her why she’d gotten involved. She told him she never could stand a bully, and Steve asked her on a date right then and there. I hardly got to see him again after that. He was always out with her. A few months later his mom died and he got shipped off to live with relatives in Alaska. Or Montana. Somewhere cold and awful and too far away.” He turned around to look at Clint again. “So, yeah, I definitely have a problem, because last time I saw him he was dating a gorgeous girl, and I was still in the closet. Shit. I guess I still am, to him. And wouldn’t that be a fun conversation.”

“You might want to leave out the part about jerking off to him,” said Clint.

“Fuck you, Clint.”

Chapter Text

Bucky had just settled into his couch when his phone rang. Rang, not buzzed with a text, and since it wasn’t Clint calling with some kind of emergency, that meant Bucky got to annoy the hell out of some telemarketer.

Yes, he knew he was an asshole. And to be honest, he liked to think they enjoyed it. It wasn’t as if he was actually rude or anything, just sillier than he would ever be in the real world.

So he grinned and answered with a too familiar, “Hey there.”

“Bucky?” said Steve, and of course it was Steve. Of course it fucking was.

Bucky cringed. “Yeah. Speaking.”

“It’s Steve. Rogers. From the knitting class.”

“And from Dwight Eisenhower Academy,” Bucky added, desperate to know if Steve remembered him.

“Yes,” said Steve, not sounding at all surprised, but relieved, or possibly disappointed. Maybe both? “From Dweisnhower. I wasn’t sure if you didn’t remember me, or if . . . If you did and it wasn’t in a good way?”

“No, no,” said Bucky. “Nothing like that. My, um, a friend of mine signed me up for your class. I didn’t know that you were teaching it until I saw you today. I didn’t even know it was a knitting class. Clint just said it was . . . art.”

“Oh.” There was a long pause that Bucky didn’t know how to fill before Steve went on. “So, about the class. You missed some important lessons, but if you wanted, I could meet you somewhere and get you caught up.”

Even making a determined effort not to read anything into that, the idea of being alone with Steve sounded really nice. He found himself saying, “Sure,” before he had time to chicken out.

“Yeah?” said Steve, and the little pleased note in his voice was probably the best part of Bucky’s entire week.

Bucky cast about for ideas on where to meet. Not here, he thought, looking around at his shitty apartment. He spotted the corner of a dvd case under a pile of dirty clothes. He should have returned it last week, but maybe the inspiration would be worth the late fee. “You know the library at Maple and 3rd? I can meet you there whenever you’re free.”

“Maple and 3rd,” Steve repeated slowly, and Bucky could picture him writing it down. It was inexplicably adorable. “Does tomorrow at 5:30 work?”

“Absolutely. I’m looking forward to it,” Bucky said just as eagerly as he felt, which was embarrassing.

“Okay, great,” said Steve, making Bucky’s stomach flip. “I’ll see you then.”

“Yeah. See ya.” (Very smooth Barnes. Christ.)

“Goodbye, Bucky.”

“Goodbye, Steve.”

* * *

An early morning fantasy that started with the phrase ‘Let’s go back to my place’ prompted Bucky to gather up a couple of bags of trash and run a few loads of laundry, making his apartment seem slightly less shitty. Then he shaved and showered and put on nicer clothes, black jeans and a blue dress shirt, making himself seem slightly less shitty.

He pulled his hair back. Let it down again. Pulled it back lower this time, at the nape of his neck.

He looked pretty fantastic, actually. Best he’d looked in a long time, although even at his worst he looked good and he knew it. This, though. This was significantly better than his worst.

The walk to the library was nice, as long as he ignored the new construction signs and focused on the way the sun was shining through the trees. It was shady enough that he didn’t even need to wear his sunglasses.

He got there a few minutes early, taking time to breathe in that library smell. He returned the dvd and a stack of books and then paid his fine.

As he got his change back from the librarian, he caught sight of Steve through the glass doors, propped against the wall outside with a loose-limbed confidence that was breathtakingly hot. Bucky was glad he had a chance to goggle at him without being seen, because damn.

After he regained his composure Bucky went out, pausing to hold the door for a cute family with two toddlers.

Steve turned as he approached, blinked his eyes and said, “Wow.” Bucky wondered what the hell that meant, and it must have showed on his face, because Steve followed it up by saying “You, uh, you look great.” And holy shit was he blushing? It had to be a trick of the light.

Bucky curved his best crooked smile at him anyway, because smiling at Steve just fundamentally made sense. “Well, you’re the one whose transformation puts Neville Longbottom to shame.”

“What?”

“You’ve seen the Harry Potter movies, right?” Bucky asked, digging out his phone to pull up the pictures.

“I’ve read the books,” Steve answered. Good lord.

“Well, you know how at the beginning, Neville was kind of, um, not so much the badass hero type?”

Steve raised an eyebrow. “Like in the first one, when Dumbledore says he’s just as brave as Harry?”

Bucky grinned at him. He knew he looked dorky when he grinned, but he couldn’t help it. “That’s a really good point, but, look.” He held out his phone so Steve could see the pictures. “Here’s the before.” He swiped to the next one. “And here’s the after.”

The look on Steve’s face as he studied the after picture made a little flicker of hope kindle in Bucky’s chest, because he was pretty sure Clint wouldn’t look quite so appreciatively at a hot guy.

“I don’t exactly look like that, though,” said Steve, frowning.

“No, you look much better,” said Bucky, taking his phone back and not looking up. Fuck. Thankfully his pocket contained a handy diversionary tactic. He pulled out the bag Steve had given him last night, with the yarn and the knitting needles. “Should we go in and get started?”

“Um, yeah. Sure,” said Steve, probably embarrassed on Bucky’s behalf.

Steve was still warm and friendly when they got inside, even if the conversation did keep strictly to knitting. He got Bucky started with what he called a ‘knitted on cast-on’, telling him that he didn’t prefer it for hats or socks, but it was good for scarves. Then he set Bucky to work doing two-by-two ribbing, which was just alternating pairs of the two kinds of stitches, knits and purls.

It went surprisingly well. The hand usually behaved as long as Bucky was careful enough, and Steve was a good teacher. It was quiet, meticulous work, steady and satisfying.

At the end, there was a very nice moment as he watched Steve climb onto his motorcycle. Because of course he had a motorcycle. He turned to Bucky and said, “I wish I could offer you a ride, but I only brought one helmet. I’ll make sure I have my spare next time.” Then he flipped down his visor and drove away, before Bucky had time to wonder what ‘next time’ meant.

* * *

Two days later, after some internet research and some practice, Bucky felt like he was really getting the hang of knitting.

Until he snapped a needle with his fake hand.

* * *

Clint said he at least owed Steve an explanation as to why he was ditching the class, and he threatened to go in and watch him do it unless Bucky gave his word that he’d go through with it.

So on Tuesday, Bucky showed up to knitting class and waited at a table for Steve to finish greeting the pretty women, trying not to pout while acid churned in his stomach.

Bucky already missed him. He missed being able to make him laugh, missed seeing him every day, missed they way they could talk about everything (well, almost everything). Bucky was used to missing Steve, so leaving the class would just be more of the same.

It was going to suck.

The guy with the facial hair leaned against Bucky’s table and looked him over. “You joining the class?” he asked, somehow managing to make it sound flirty.

“Dropping. It’s, uh, not going to work out.” Bucky waggled the metal hand at him, which tended to convince people to leave him the fuck alone.

Didn’t work. “Why not?” the guy demanded, and he reached out for the hand.

“What the hell?!” Bucky said, stepping back.

The guy hesitated. “You don’t know who I am,” he said with a laugh in his voice.

“Should I?”

“Well yeah, since you’re wearing my work,” he said smugly, gesturing at Bucky’s arm.

Then it clicked. “You’re Tony Stark. As in, Stark Air Force Base. Senator Stark’s son.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “Jesus, I thought we were going to have a conversation, not recap my Wikipedia entry. Can I see your arm now?”

There was no good reason not to, since it was a Stark Industries arm and this was the Tony Stark. Bucky held it out.

“Here, squeeze,” Tony said, putting two fingers on Bucky’s palm. “Gently, though. Save the rough stuff for a second date.”

Bucky raised an eyebrow and carefully applied pressure. Tony studied the metal fingers, and threw a ball of yarn at Bucky’s face, hitting him below the left eye.

Bucky flinched and almost didn’t believe that had happened, but yep, the ball of yarn was still rolling around on the table from where it had bounced off of his cheekbone.

Tony ignored Bucky’s glare, nodding to himself as he took his fingers back. “Thought so. The techs are always too damned polite. A couple of your bands were overtightened, and you’re compensating without realizing it. Smacking you in the face is a handy way of distracting you. Also, it’s funny.” He pulled a phone from his pocket and dialed. “Hogan. I need a truck out here at the VA center on Whitney. Friend of mine needs an adjustment. -- Yes, now. -- Not my problem. And make sure the techs do the distraction test next time. -- I don’t care, it works. Now get out here.” And he hung up. “By the way, who are you?”

“James Barnes. But I guess if we’re friends, you can call me Bucky.”

“Nice to meet you, Bucky. You can call me Tony. The black guy is Nick. The brunette is Maria. Our fearless leader is Steve, and the redhead hogging all his attention is Natasha.”

Natasha didn’t turn, but she held her middle finger up over her head, still talking to Steve. Steve was smiling fondly at her. Bucky tried not to be annoyed at that.

“Hey folks,” Tony called. “This is Bucky. I got to meet him before you did.”

There was a general chorus of “Hi Bucky”.

“Actually, I got to meet him first,” Steve said, and Bucky enjoyed imagining that there was tiny hint of possessiveness in his voice.

“You don’t count,” Tony said, waving Steve away.

Bucky tried to telepathically communicate to Steve that he sure as hell did count, but Steve was turned away, walking to the front of the room, where he picked up a paper coffee cup. He brought the cup over and set it on the table in front of Bucky, making him blink up in astonished gratitude.

“What do the rest of us have to do to get coffee?” Tony asked.

“Be my best friend through all of high school,” said Steve, who maybe had gotten that telepathic message after all. Bucky grinned at him anyway, just in case he hadn’t.

“Well, I’m not wasting a time machine on that,” grumbled Tony.

* * *

Later, after Steve had casually replaced Bucky’s broken knitting needle, after a guy called Happy had adjusted Bucky’s arm, after Steve had waved while Clint drove Bucky away, Bucky turned to Clint and said, “It’s really creepy how you arrange these things.”

“Yeah, bite me. I’m awesome,” said Clint.

“Seriously, though,” said Bucky. “Tony Stark?”

“I can’t take full credit for that. Although I did make sure you were in his class instead of one of the others.”

“Like I said. Creepy.” They rode in silence for a while, then Bucky added, “Thank you.”

Chapter Text

Bucky would be the first to admit that the list of things he hated was unreasonably long. But riding on buses had to be in the top five.

He’d been telling himself it would be fine ever since he’d gotten the text from Clint.

Going out of town for a few weeks. Won’t be able to drive you to the VA. Can you ride with someone else?

Bucky had texted back, No problem, even though there wasn’t anyone else. Not really. But it would be fine. He’d look up the schedules and make a plan.

That had been on Thursday.

Now it was Tuesday, and there were all these strangers, and erratic reflections of light everywhere, and a deep rumbling under his feet, and he really wasn’t fine, and there was nothing he could do about it.

He was ready to climb out of his skin by the time his stop came, and the only reason he could handle walking the two blocks to the VA center was because he burrowed into his leather jacket and refused to let himself think about the ride home. In the dark.

Fuck.

He ran his hands under the cold water in the bathroom sink, with no clear memory of walking through the reception area, or even into the building at all.

The cold. The cold was important. He put icy hands on his face, blocking out everything else, trying to relish the shock of it, the way it bit into him.

It wasn’t enough. It was never enough. But it gave him a little ledge of sanity that his mind could cling to. The cold was real, it was true, it was now. His hands, even if he wasn’t born with both of them. His chilled hands on his eyelids, on his forehead, on his cheeks. It was real.

He eased back into himself, realizing along the way that he was glad that the bus schedule had forced him to show up so early. He didn’t want to be seen like this.

As he was picking his way back toward the reception area, a voice behind him said, “Bucky?” Because of course one of the half-dozen people who knew his name would be here.

He turned. It was the woman from class. The dancer. “Natasha, right?” he asked, his voice only faltering a little.

“You look terrible,” she said. “Come get a doughnut.” And she took hold of his sleeve.

He went with her. He wasn’t sure why. When they came to a doorway he damn near bolted, because there were too many people, but her hand was still on his sleeve and he let himself be tugged inside, to a quiet corner.

She left him there for a minute, and came back with a doughnut in each hand. She gave him one and leaned against the wall beside him, not saying another word.

The meeting started when a man stepped behind the lectern at the front of the room. His eyes were dark and kind and he was strikingly handsome.

(But not as handsome as --) (Shut up, brain.)

He introduced himself simply as Sam Wilson, not giving his rank or even what branch he’d served in. Bucky recognized the patch on his jacket, though. He couldn’t read it from here, but he knew it had “THAT OTHERS MAY LIVE” stitched across the bottom, the pararescue motto, which automatically made Sam a big damn hero.

Sam, of course, didn’t talk about all the lives he must have saved. He talked about what he’d lost. He talked about helplessness and hopelessness and how to carry on.

Bucky was almost disappointed when, as the meeting was about to wrap up, Natasha nudged his elbow and tapped her wrist. Time to go.

He followed her out of the room, feeling much lighter than he had when they’d entered.

Steve was already in the classroom, looking magnificent in a slate blue t-shirt. “Hey, I didn’t see you pull up,” he said when he saw them, which implied that he’d been watching for Bucky. Bucky thought so, anyway.

Maybe.

“He went to Sam’s meeting with me,” said Natasha.

“There were doughnuts,” Bucky added.

“Oh,” said Steve. “And all I brought was coffee.”

“I -- Coffee is good,” Bucky said. (Smooth as ever. Christ.) But Steve sort of chuckled, sounding exactly like he used to when he was short and skinny, when Bucky had first wanted to kiss him. And he gave Bucky a cappuccino, so that was all right.

“Sam’s meetings are great, though,” Steve said. “He used to be my roommate, before Natasha scooped him up.”

“I did not scoop,” Natasha said. “I crooked my finger and he wisely obeyed.”

Steve laughed. “I’m pretty sure he’d say exactly the same thing.”

“Hey, I’m going to need to leave early today,” Bucky blurted out, wanting to get it over with.

“Yeah?” said Steve, not looking happy.

“Yeah. The buses don’t run late enough, so . . .” God, it was humiliating.

“I could give you a ride,” Steve said, looking hesitant. Which must mean that Steve remembered how much Bucky had always hated asking for rides. He’d been stranded more than once when his parents had forgotten to come and get him, back before he’d given up on any activities that he couldn’t walk home from.

“Don’t worry,” said Natasha, smirking, when Bucky let the silence drag on too long. “Steve’s not that bad of a driver.”

“Uh, sure,” Bucky said, because he wasn’t a teenager anymore, “A ride would be great.” Steve, perfect as he was, looked relieved.

“Who’s riding who now?” called Tony from the doorway. Then he laughed and said, “If they ever make synchronized eye-rolling a sport, you guys will totally storm the Olympics.”

* * *

After an hour of learning about different increases and decreases and whether they left holes and which way they leaned and why it would matter, knitting class finally ended and everyone slowly filtered out.

As they set about pushing in chairs and clearing off tables, Steve turned to Bucky and said, “So, I’ve got this burning unanswered question from back in the old days.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Did you keep watching Buffy, all the way to the end?”

Bucky laughed and decided he’d better go ahead and answer the question he’d expected Steve to ask, too. “I did. Although for a while there I was only tuning in because Spike kept taking his shirt off.” He bit his lip in what he hoped was a dirty little grin, trying to keep things light. Spike was thin and blond and sarcastic, but otherwise entirely unlike a certain someone that Bucky missed horribly at the time.

“Spike, huh?” Steve said, blinking. “Um. He was a bit much for me. I prefered Wesley.”

Bucky felt like maybe his heart rate had tripled, so it took him a second to place the name, other than that it was definitely male. “Wait, that tweedy Watcher guy?”

“Oh, you didn’t watch Angel? He was much better in that. Black leather and . . .” Steve gestured at nothing, looking at the floor. “It was very nice.”

Bucky giggled, which, he hated giggling, but it was Steve, so it was okay.

“Are you seriously mocking my taste in men right now?” Steve said, but he smiled.

“No, not at all. It’s just, it’s usually not this easy,” Bucky said, sitting on a table.

Steve nodded. “I always kind of thought that at some point I’d be done coming out, you know? Then people would just know I’m bi, and I could stop telling them.”

(Ohh, bi. Of course.) “Does everyone assume that you’re flirting when you tell them?” Bucky asked.

“Eighty percent or so,” said Steve. “You?”

“I’m gay, so, most of the men, but some of the women, too. I guess they think I’m playing hard to get.” Bucky shrugged.

“Yeah, no one thinks I’m playing hard to get,” said Steve, and he blushed, and it was adorable. But he’d pretty much just said he didn’t want to be flirted with, so Bucky flailed around for something to say.

“Well. I was going to ask what Hogwarts house you’d be in, but I bet I already know,” Bucky said, grinning.

“Please don’t call me a Hufflepuff,” Steve groaned, dropping into a chair.

“What? No, idiot, you’re clearly a Gryffindor.”

“Thanks?” said Steve, and maybe flirting would be better than calling him names. Christ.

“It’s okay. I like you anyway.” Bucky nudged Steve’s chair with his foot.

“Oh God, you think you’re a Slytherin.” Steve rolled his eyes.

“Hey, there’s nothing wrong with being a Slytherin,” said Bucky, and the skeptical look Steve gave him was all the encouragement he needed to keep going, because this was an argument he could win. “The only reason people think Slytherin House is evil is because Voldemort was in it. Otherwise, Slytherins are just cunning and ambitious. With a description like that, Lincoln would be a Slytherin. So would Churchill. And if Voldemort had ended up in Gryffindor, everyone would have said they were evil, and we’d call them heartless instead of brave.”

Steve shook his head and chuckled.

“What?” Bucky asked, leaning back on the table with a smug smile, because he knew he’d won.

Steve looked weirdly earnest and said, “You just gave this big analysis of the public perception of Slytherin House, complete with references to historical figures, and it never occurred to you that you might be a Ravenclaw?”

Bucky’s mind sort of blanked for a second. His first thought was Buddy, you don’t even know me, except that wasn’t exactly true. Steve had managed to coax Bucky out of a tree, so he had at least some idea how wrecked and broken he was. Knew that Bucky broke knitting needles and needed to bum rides. Why would he think Bucky was anything other than a Slytherin?

Not that there was anything wrong with being a Slytherin.

Steve was still looking at him, just waiting, and Bucky had no fucking clue what to say. Giving a detailed explanation of why he couldn’t be a Ravenclaw seemed counterproductive. Finally he shrugged and said, “Doesn’t matter. I never did get my letter, so I guess I’m just a muggle after all.”

“Yeah, you and me both,” said Steve. “Anyway, I guess we ought to get going. The building is supposed to be closed by now.”

* * *

Whoever had designed motorcycles so that a passenger had to sit in tight with their hands on the driver’s hips was a god damned genius.

* * *

Bucky did not google ‘how to ask someone on a date when you don’t have a car,’ because Bucky was not a damned Ravenclaw.

Also, the results all seemed to be aimed at teenaged straight boys, which was not much help to him.

On Friday, he tried casually texting, Hey, thanks again for the ride, even though the ride in question had been days ago.

Half an hour later, he got back the reply, Any time.

That really gave Bucky nothing at all to work with, and he couldn’t help wondering if that was on purpose, so he ended up not texting back.

On Monday, a lack of food forced Bucky to actually leave his apartment.

He wandered the aisles of the grocery store, telling himself it was good to have something else to think about.

Maybe he should just invite Steve to his place for dinner.

Right. Because his apartment was so nice, and he could provide great food on his budget, and ‘come over to my place’ didn’t sound at all like he was just trying to hook up.

He was supposed to be thinking about something else, anyway.

Maybe Steve really liked grilled cheese and tomato soup.

Bucky sighed and grabbed a box of Fruity Pebbles. He’d been making almost all of his own meals since elementary school, and cereal was always a good fallback position.

Hadn’t Steve’s mom made grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for them?

He was not going to invite Steve over for peanut butter and jelly, grilled or otherwise. Christ.

He was going to use the self-checkout, though, because the self-checkout was one of the greatest inventions in the history of humankind. No one should be forced to interact with strangers just to buy food.

When he got outside, he blinked at the sunlight and juggled his bags so he could put on his sunglasses. It was finally cool enough to be comfortable in his leather jacket. It didn’t provide much armor, but it was --

That could not have been machine gun fire. Not here. It could not. Bucky froze, fighting hard against the instinct to drop to the ground.

The sound repeated itself, and Bucky recognized it as a jackhammer, and it didn’t seem to matter at all because adrenaline was already flooding his brain and he was on the move. He managed to hold it to a walk, not really caring where he was going, until some bulldozer or something kicked on and the ground rumbled underfoot.

Chapter Text

Bucky was hunched over an open freezer unit, looking blindly at the sherbet display. He wasn’t bruised or bleeding. No one was even looking at him strangely.

He got his phone out before he remembered that Clint was still out of town. He only had one other contact in it.

Maybe he could bluff his way through. Keep Steve on the line until he was okay enough to walk home.

He hit the call button before any of the huge, obvious flaws in his plan could stop him.

It rang twice before Steve said, “Hello?”

“Hey,” said Bucky, his voice breaking. Shit.

“Bucky? Are you okay?”

He could lie, but there wouldn’t be much point in it. Not if his voice was going to give everything away. So instead he said, “Fuck,” and hung up the phone.

* * *

When Steve called back the third time, Bucky finally worked up enough nerve to answer. He punched the button and said, “Sorry. ‘M sorry.”

“Bucky, tell me where you are,” Steve said, and it sounded a lot like a command.

“Freezer section,” Bucky answered, hating how the words dragged in his mouth. He was charming, damn it. He was supposed to be charming.

“Are you hurt?”

“No. Nobody’s hurt. Everything’s . . . I’m wasting your time.”

“Do not hang up,” Steve said, and Bucky put the phone back to his ear. “Are you there?”

“Yeah.”

“Good. Please don’t hang up.”

“Look, you don’t have to -- I got sorta spooked, is all. Not a big deal.”

“Well, I’m already in it, now. You’re stuck with me.”

“Oh, am I?” Bucky said. He should have known better than to try for bright and flirty, because what came out was pitifully hopeful and far too close to the truth.

“Yeah. You are,” said Steve. “So, tell me about the freezer section. Anything good there?”

Bucky blinked and looked around. He was still in front of the sherbet, but he hated sherbet and Steve had asked for something good. “Uh, there’s ice cream.”

“You remember the kind we used to get, with the peanut butter stuff that was shaped like bones?”

“They were supposed to be Scooby snacks,” Bucky said. “And there were little chocolate balls in it and we called them Scooby Doodies.”

Steve chuckled. “Because we were classy and mature. I don’t suppose they started making that kind again.”

“Nope, ‘fraid not. There’s peanut butter pie, though. It’s got a chocolate crust.”

Bucky didn’t know how long they talked like that, him inanely describing random frozen foods, Steve listening patiently and prompting him to keep going.

“What’s the advantage to frozen cookie dough?” Steve asked. They’d already gone over the relative merits of frozen chicken sandwiches (okay baked, but they turned gooey and horrible in the microwave) and frozen biscuits (much better than the kind from a tube, unless you were making pigs-in-blankets).

“Maybe it lasts longer?”

“Only because you can’t eat it straight from the package,” Steve grumbled.

Bucky laughed. “The label expressly forbids eating raw cookie dough.”

“What can I say, I’m a rebel,” Steve said, and Bucky could hear the smile in his voice.

“Wow, do you also drink milk right out of the jug?”

“It has been known to happen,” Steve said. “And, um, well . . .”

Bucky looked up because someone was coming too close to him.

Someone tall and blond and beautiful.

* * *

“Are you pissed at me?” Steve asked, rubbing the back of his neck and looking up at Bucky through his eyelashes.

Bucky closed his eyes and muttered, “Jesus,” because the eyelash thing was unfair.

“I thought maybe . . . I wanted to be here for you,” Steve said. “And you did call me.”

“Yeah, sorry. Clint’s out of town,” said Bucky, wishing more than anything that he didn’t need saving. Being humiliated in front of Clint was one thing, but this . . .

“Oh,” said Steve. “Can I just walk you home, though? Or give you a lift?”

Bucky hesitated, knowing the construction would still be there. But Steve gently put a hand on his elbow and said, “C’mon.”

* * *

Bucky did his best to distract himself on the ride to his building, focusing on the feel of Steve’s hips under his hands. It was, in fact, wildly successful, because when the jackhammer started again he barely flinched, only about as much as Steve did.

Steve parked his bike, then yanked his helmet off and turned around. A pair of harsh lines had formed between his eyebrows, and his lips were pressed so firmly together they’d nearly gone white.

Battle mode, Bucky realized, reaching for a sidearm that wasn’t there. Shit. Still, wherever the fight was, he’d follow Rogers into it.

Steve’s eyes quickly scanned the bulldozers and the jackhammers and the rubble that used to be a sidewalk. Then he turned to Bucky. “Come stay at my place,” he said, sounding every bit the Captain.

Bucky blinked in surprise.

“Sorry,” Steve said before Bucky even gathered his thoughts. “That wasn’t supposed to be a command. Damn it. I just -- Please? At least for today?”

Some perverse part of Bucky’s brain figured that if he wanted to say yes this badly then it must be the wrong answer, but he ignored it. “Yeah. Sure,” he said, much more calmly than he felt.

Steve breathed what seemed to be a sigh of relief as he pulled his helmet back on, and Bucky didn’t even fight the desire to lock his arms around Steve’s waist as they drove away.

* * *

They got to Steve’s house (because of course Steve had an entire damned house) and unloaded the groceries Bucky had nearly forgotten that he’d bought, and Steve might have raised an eyebrow at the Fruity Pebbles but Bucky didn’t really care. Steve had already seen most of the worst of Bucky, and his response had been to bring him here, so poor choices in breakfast cereals shouldn’t be a problem.

Because here? Here was a really nice place to be. Instead of the standard issue black leather recliners, Steve had a blue plaid couch with red accent pillows. It was weird and old-fashioned and so very comfortable. There was a wall full of electronics, dominated by a huge television, but there was also an old phonograph in the corner, the mellow brass bell of it gleaming in the sunlight.

Best of all, of course, there was Steve, who had flopped beside him on the couch and tossed over the remote as if Bucky belonged there.

Bucky hadn’t found anything to watch yet, but he was enjoying the mindless quiet of flipping channels while Steve dealt with some text messages.

A few channels later, Steve turned to him and said, “Do you mind if I send this out?” holding up his phone so Bucky could read it.

It was a message addressed to the entire knitting class. Hey guys, text Bucky so he can have your info. Bucky’s number was at the bottom.

Steve shrugged at him. “I know I said you were stuck with me, but I didn’t want you to feel like you’d been kidnapped or anything.”

It was sort of overwhelmingly considerate, and Bucky . . . He could love this guy. That was way too much to deal with right now, though, so he tried to act normal. By flirting like an asshole. “If I’d thought it was a kidnapping, I’d have gotten you to tie me up,” he said, and he bit his bottom lip.

Steve froze for a second. Then he said briskly, “I will keep that in mind. Is it okay if I send this?”

“Yeah,” Bucky said, not at all sure how the flirting had gone, which meant it must not have gone well. “Thanks. It was really thoughtful.”

“You say that now, but wait until Tony gets bored and starts texting you at 3AM,” Steve said.

“That sounds like the voice of experience.” Bucky pulled off his shoes and tucked his feet up beside him.

Steve aimed a funny little smile at Bucky’s feet, but it might have been about Tony, because Steve said, ”I was doing a lot of work for him at the time.”

“You worked for Tony?” Bucky asked, startled to realize he had no idea what Steve did for a living. He couldn’t afford this house on his pension alone.

Steve nodded and tucked his own feet up. “I did the redesign on their logo a few years back.”

Bucky grinned. “So you got to be an artist after all. Did you call up Coach Schmidt and tell him to screw himself?”

Steve laughed. “Well, you’d already done that for me, so no.”

“Do you admit that he deserved it now, at least?”

“I always thought that he deserved it. But you shouldn’t have done it, because you didn’t deserve to get detention again.”

“That one was worth it,” said Bucky. “You don’t go shitting on kids career choices, especially when you’re just a stupid gym teacher.”

Steve suppressed a smile, not especially well, and said, “The world needs gym teachers, too.”

“Not stupid ones. We need --” Bucky was interrupted by a buzzing in his pocket. “We need the good kind,” he said, stretching out his leg so he could reach his phone.

There was a text from an unknown number. This is Hill. Welcome to the contacts list.

“Who’s Hill?” Bucky asked, showing Steve the text.

“Maria.”

“Oh. I’ve never really talked to her.”

“Now’s your big chance then,” said Steve. “Better make it good.”

Bucky rolled his eyes at Steve and typed in, Thanks.

Steve leaned over to read his reply. “It has a certain understated elegance,” he said.

“Brevity is the soul of wit, after all,” said Bucky, thoroughly distracted by the way their shoulders were nearly touching.

“Ravenclaw,” Steve said, low and soft and right by Bucky’s ear.

Christ, he’d be anything Steve wanted if it meant he’d talk to him like that again. But he said, “Nah, I just read a lot of Snapple caps.”

“Hmm,” Steve answered, still next to his ear, still close enough to kiss.

Bucky slowly turned his head, and Steve was looking at him, steadily, so close.

Then Steve looked away and pick up the remote control. “You mind if I change the channel? Or did you plan to buy a Slap Chop?”

Bucky had pretty much forgotten the TV existed, so he shrugged and said, “No, go ahead.” Then he sat back, appalled that he’d misread the situation so badly. It had been a long time since he’d dated, a really, really long time, but --

His phone buzzed, loud against his metal hand, making him jump.

The text he got was a picture, the entire frame of it filled with dark strands of red hair. He nudged Steve and showed it to him, handing over the phone so Steve could keep his distance.

“You want me to take a picture of your hair to send back to her?” Steve asked.

“Mine is boring. Take one of the arm,” Bucky said, holding it out.

Steve leaned in to find an angle he liked. “Here, tilt your hand toward the light.” Bucky did, and Steve’s mouth dropped open. “I can hear it,” he said breathlessly. “That is so cool.”

Bucky grinned and wiggled his fingers while Steve watched, fascinated.

“So cool,” Steve said again.

“It is pretty amazing,” Bucky admitted. “And it’s actually convenient sometimes. I can pick up broken glass, or reach into a pot of boiling water. Rescue spiders.”

“Oh, next time I find a spider I am bringing you over, then,” Steve said, snapping pictures.

“You still scared of them?”

“I am not scared. I just have a healthy aversion.”

“Well, now you’ve got me to keep you safe,” Bucky said.

Steve shook his head, but he also smiled, so Bucky counted it as a win.

After sorting through the photos, Steve handed the phone back, saying, “I think that one’s the best.”

The image was filled with gleaming bands of metal, intricately patterned to form the joint at his wrist. It was harsh and cold
and . . . strangely lovely.

He was almost used to the way Steve did that. The way he looked at Bucky and saw something good.

He sent a copy of the picture as a reply to Natasha.

He was never going to get used to the way Steve did that.

* * *

They made pasta for dinner, and Steve laughed and cheered at Bucky’s boiling water trick, and Bucky decided to just accidentally start living here until Steve said otherwise.

It wasn’t the worst plan he’d ever had.

Chapter Text

Bucky settled on the couch, and so did Steve, each of them curling up on their respective ends of it with their feet in the middle.

The idea of tangling his legs together with Steve’s made Star Trek: The Next Generation much more interesting, but not as easy to follow.

Bucky’s phone buzzed during the second episode. Or maybe the third. He twisted around to get it out of his pocket, ending up closer to Steve by pure coincidence.

The text he’d gotten read, Fury.

“What the hell?” Bucky said, shoving the phone at Steve.

Steve looked at it and said, “Nick. Nick Fury? The guy with the eyepatch.”

“Jesus Christ.” Bucky sagged back against the arm of the couch and wrote back, That’s the most terrifying text I’ve ever gotten, even after Steve told me it was your name.

After he sent it, he handed his phone over to show Steve.

“He will love that,” Steve said, grinning.

It was embarrassing how exciting it was that their fingers brushed when he took his phone back.

Bucky tried to focus on the show, but he didn’t even know which season they were watching. Had Data always had a cat?

His phone buzzed again, a text with an audio file attached. He pushed play, and a deep foreboding chuckle spilled from the speaker.

“Holy fuck,” said Bucky, and he typed out a reply.

“What’d you write back?” Steve asked, nudging Bucky’s ankle with his foot.

“I said, ‘I stand corrected’.”

Steve, laughing under the flickering light of the television, was more beautiful than ever.

* * *

The episode ended, and Steve stopped it before the next one started. He looked at Bucky for a moment, then looked down at his hands. “I guess I should take you home now. Probably should have done it a few hours ago, really. But, uh, you could stay here instead. If you want to. Not . . . I just mean, like we used to.”

“Like a sleepover? Stay up all night eating cookies and talking about girls?” Bucky winced a little at that last part.

“You actually did like the cookies though, right?” Steve asked with a sad little smile.

“Sorry about that. I was pretty aggressively closeted back then.” Bucky looked at where their legs were very carefully not touching in the middle of the couch.

“You don’t have to apologize. I remember what it was like,” Steve said. “I’d never even heard of being bi. I knew I liked girls, so I thought that made me straight. Plus, the idea of being even a little bit gay was terrifying. Hell, we had to play Smear the Queer in gym class every week.”

“Never had the guts to yell at Coach Schmidt for that, though. I mean, detention was one thing, but . . .”

“Matthew Shepard,” said Steve, softly.

“I remember when my dad heard about that. He just shrugged and said he didn’t see why it should be news.”

“Shit,” said Steve, clenching his jaw.

Bucky cupped his hands around his elbows. “So yeah, Matthew Shepard, and all the ones who didn’t make the news, or who were lucky enough to end up in the hospital instead of the morgue.”

“But we had Ellen,” said Steve. “All that happened when she came out was, you know, death threats, boycotts, losing her career for the next five years. It was very inspiring.” He bumped his knee against Bucky’s and Bucky chuckled more at the contact than at the attempted humor.

“You sure you want me to stay the night?” Bucky asked. “At this rate we’re gonna end up talking about puppy mills and world hunger, so if you want to change your mind, I’d understand.” (Shut up, shut up, shut up. Fuck.)

Steve frowned. Fuck. “I’m not changing my mind, Buck. I can take you home if you want, though.”

“I don’t. I’m just --” He clamped his mouth shut before he could say ‘not good at this,’ or ‘not used to having friends,’ or ‘not worth your time,’ because the look Steve was giving him was already bad enough. Bucky shook his head as if he could ward off all that sympathy.

Steve reached out and put his hand on Bucky’s ankle, just idly resting it there as if touching was a normal thing. Like the way it used to be. “Were you worried I was going to eat all your cookies? Because that was definitely my plan,” Steve said, effortlessly dispelling the gloom.

“Wow, first you kidnap me, then you steal my cookies. And to think, everyone said I was going to be a bad influence on you,” Bucky smirked.

“You are,” Steve said. “Before I found you again I didn’t even try to kidnap anybody. The cookies were just a bonus.”

It was hard to tell by the light of the TV, but Steve might have been blushing. And his hand was still on Bucky’s ankle. Bucky pressed into it a little, and Steve moved his thumb in a small arc, back and forth, so gently Bucky could barely feel it through the denim. Steve was so perfect, the soft light catching on his hair, on his lashes, on his --

Bucky’s phone buzzed, making them both jump, and Steve yanked his hand away like he’d been caught at something. Fuck.

Bucky opened the message, trying not to scowl.

I’m much too busy and important for texting.

Steve got up and went to the kitchen. Bucky sighed and reminded himself that even if he could get away with murdering Tony Stark, Steve wouldn’t approve.

Finally, he texted back, Tony. It was probably his favorite word anyway, and much nicer than ‘Go die in a fire, you made Steve stop touching me.’ Less embarrassing, too.

“You mind if I open these?” Steve asked, coming back in with the package of chocolate chip cookies Bucky had brought.

Bucky grinned at him. “At least I turned you into a polite criminal. Yeah, go ahead.”

Steve smiled back at him and sat down at the other end of the couch. He kept his feet on the floor though, and after he opened the cookies, he set the package in the middle of the couch.

Bucky got another text. While he read it, Steve turned Star Trek back on.

Why so frosty? Did I interrupt something good? If I did, send pics.

Bucky was annoyed enough that he didn’t think twice about sending Tony a picture of his metal hand, middle finger extended. He also put his feet on the floor, away from the cookies. Stupid cookies. He ate two of them out of spite.

He was reaching for a third when he got another text. Just you and your hand, huh? Tell you what, I’ll send a car for you.

What?

The phone buzzed again. VA says you’re at 403 Maple St.

“Jesus,” Bucky muttered. As quickly as he could, he typed, No thx. At a friend’s.

On the TV, Worf was hitting someone, and Bucky had no idea why. His phone buzzed.

So, this friend: tall, blond hair, great assets?

Bucky snorted, despite a trickle of unease. I’m not talking about this.

Steve looked pretty engrossed in the show, but Bucky still felt like an asshole for ignoring him.

He was tense, trying to figure out how to start a new conversation, when the phone buzzed again.

I’ll have a car at Steve’s in 15 minutes.

“Oh, fuck!” Bucky snapped.

“Everything okay?” Steve asked.

Bucky hesitated, but Steve was already involved, or would be in 15 minutes, so he moved the cookies out of the way and sat beside him, making Steve raise his eyebrows. Bucky flipped through and showed all the texts to him.

“He’s worse than usual,” said Steve. “He must really like you.”

Bucky shrugged, not at all comfortable with the way things were heading.

“I can fix this,” Steve said, clearly noticing the anxiousness. He got out his own phone and started typing.

Bucky stalked off to the kitchen, annoyed that he needed rescuing. Again. He yanked open the refrigerator and grabbed a water bottle off the shelf, pressing it against his forehead before the door even swung shut. He wasn’t close to a panic attack, but he didn’t want to get any closer to one, either.

“All right, I . . .” Steve’s voice trailed off as he caught sight of Bucky, who hadn’t managed to snatch the water bottle off his face in time to avoid being noticed.

“I’m just not used to people,” Bucky said before Steve could ask.

“Oh. I can go back in the other room, if --”

“No,” Bucky interrupted. “You’re not people, You’re -- You’re Steve.”

It felt like a stupid thing to have said, but it made Steve smile the way he used to when they first met, back when happiness always seemed to come as a surprise to him.

“I don’t think anyone is used to Tony. Especially when he’s doing his full court press,” Steve said. “Pepper will take care of it, though. He listens to her. I’ll make sure you have her number for next time.”

“Thanks.” Bucky didn’t try to be casual about it, because Steve deserved better than that.

“You’re welcome.” Steve hesitated, then said, “I guess I’ll make this a proper kidnapping and force you to watch Angel with me. Come on.” He wrapped his arm around Bucky’s shoulders and led him into the living room.

They’d walked like this before, when Steve was little and Bucky was whole. He didn’t remember feeling quite this giddy about it at the time, though. Or maybe he’d just been used to it back then.

“I heard that Angel was really bad,” Bucky said as they flopped on the couch, both of them putting their feet in the middle again.

“That’s because it was,” Steve said, grinning. “But I watched every miserable episode, and now so will you.”

Chapter Text

The first episodes of Angel had been pretty good, although Steve gleefully assured Bucky it was all downhill from there.

At some point Bucky must have dozed off, because the TV was all blue now. Steve was asleep beside him on the couch, both of them with their feet against each other’s chests. It was sort of awkward, and also sort of wonderful, being pressed against him like this, warm and cozy and safe.

He waited as long as he could before he got up to go to the bathroom.

When he came back, the couch was empty.

Bucky laid back down, putting his head at the other end this time and pretending it wasn’t so he could smell Steve’s shampoo. That would be pathetic.

It made sense for Steve to go to bed. That’s what beds were for, even if Bucky never used his own. His couch was just uncomfortable enough to make him fall asleep slowly and avoid that horrible falling feeling that sometimes happened in his bed.

There was a flush somewhere, and soft footsteps, and then Steve shuffled back into the room. He blinked for a second, then climbed onto the couch again, nestling his back against Bucky’s legs.

Bucky sighed and drifted easily back to sleep.

* * *

He didn’t remember moving after that, but he must have. He woke up with Steve’s chest pressed to his back, Steve’s arm around his waist, Steve’s breath against his hair.

Bucky was impressed with his sleep-self’s boldness, though not so impressed with his conscience, asleep or otherwise, because he had no intention of moving. Ever.

The same pale morning light that had woken him also shone on Steve, of course. Bucky could feel the slow change in the rhythm of his breathing, and he prepared himself for what would come next, the way Steve would politely pull his hand away and pretend this hadn’t happened. It would suck, but Steve would make it okay.

The soft touch of lips against his neck came as an absolute shock. Bucky turned on instinct, seeking out Steve’s mouth.

He didn’t find it.

Steve jerked back as far as the confines of the couch would allow. “Oh shit, I’m so sorry,” he said.

“I’m not,” said Bucky, rolling over the rest of the way to face him. “Why would you be sorry?”

Steve frowned. “Because of Clint,” he said, as if that made some sort of sense.

Bucky frowned back at him. Clint? What did he have to do with anything? He’d signed Bucky up for Steve’s class. He picked him up from Steve’s class. Hell, he was probably listed as his emergency contact . . .

“Not my boyfriend!” said Bucky. “I don’t even know if he dates at all, but definitely not me. I’m very single.”

“Oh.” Steve blinked, looking frankly adorable with his sleepy eyes and rumpled hair.

“Wow. You thought I was cheating on Clint?” Bucky asked, fundamentally unable to resist teasing Steve.

“No, I . . . sort of hoped, but --” Steve closed his eyes, his whole face glowing pink. God, it was glorious.

“Guess I really am a bad influence,” Bucky smirked. “Next you’ll be making out with Slytherins.”

(please, please, please)

Steve sighed and looked into his eyes. “I would, but there’s this Ravenclaw I’m really interested in, and it turns out he’s single, so ... You think I should ask him on a date?”

Jesus. “Maybe you should just kiss him,” Bucky said, leaning closer.

“I don’t know,” Steve said carefully. “Sometimes he over-thinks things. I don’t want him wondering if I only like him for his lips.”

“Oh,” Bucky said, heart hammering. “So ask him out, and then kiss him. If he says yes.”

“Damn, I hope he says yes,” Steve breathed.

“I bet he will. You’re kind of irresistible.” Bucky gave his best crooked smile and bit his bottom lip, knowing he wasn’t playing it cool and not caring at all.

“Hey Bucky,” Steve said. “You want to go out on a date with me sometime?” And he actually looked a little nervous.

“Yes,” Bucky said immediately, because teasing Steve was one thing, but he’d never risk hurting him.

Also, he really hoped there’d be kissing.

Steve moved closer, slowly, slowly, giving Bucky time to enjoy the perfect blue of those eyes, the sweep of the lashes, the crinkles at the corners because he was smiling just for Bucky, the best possible smile.

Their lips brushed each other’s in a kiss so chaste it was almost non-existent, and it still left Bucky breathless.

Then there was a horrible beeping sound that made Steve pull back with an exasperated sigh. “I have to get ready for work,” he said, shifting around so he could reach his phone and shut off the alarm.

The shifting was . . . The shifting was nice. But Steve sat up, looking every bit as frustrated by it as Bucky felt, and said, “Should I drop you off at your place when I go?”

Bucky recognized that tone, although it had been a lot of years since he’d heard it. That was the sound of Steve being reluctantly noble. It gave Bucky the chance to answer honestly. “I’d rather stay, if it’s okay with you.”

“Yeah, it’s --” Steve broke off as he turned to him. “Please stay. I want you to stay. I just didn’t want to pressure you.”

“I know.” Bucky grinned. “Thanks.” He bumped their shoulders together rather than lunging for his mouth like he wanted, because Steve had to go to work, so Bucky had to let him.

The beeping started again, and Steve groaned and stood up.

It occurred to Bucky how incredibly unfair it was that the only time he got to see that amazingly perfect ass was when Steve was walking away from him.

* * *

At breakfast they taunted each other until they both ended up eating yogurt with Fruity Pebbles stirred in. It tasted about as awful as Bucky expected, but it was worth it to see the faces Steve made. Then Steve left, saying that he’d be back by three, that they’d go pick up Bucky’s things after that, and that Bucky should make himself at home.

So Bucky took a shower (and all he did was wash off, because he wasn’t quite that at home here), changed into the sweats and t-shirt he found stacked on the counter, and curled up on the couch, wrapped in all the glorious scents of Steve.

He pulled out his phone and double checked that he’d added all the new numbers to his contacts.

By the light of day, Tony’s texts seemed much less assholish. He just seemed lonely, and no better at dealing with it than Bucky was. How the hell was Tony Stark supposed to go about making friends, anyway?

He sent him a picture of Steve’s couch as a weird sort of peace offering.

A few minutes later, he got back the reply, Your couch is sad, man. Are you kidding me with the plaid?

Bucky smiled. Wrong on all counts. Not mine, not sad, not kidding. Very happy couch.

You had dirty hot sex with Steve on his couch? Go you.

No dirty hot sex. Just sleeping. And the one kiss, Bucky added to himself, because that really did happen.

When his phone rang, he picked up and said, “Hi Tony.”

“I’m going to need the story here,” Tony said without preamble.

There was a banging sound in the background. “What are you doing?” Bucky asked.

“Making a prototype for a jet pack. Tell me the stooooory.”

“It’s not much of a story,” Bucky answered, surprised at how glad he was to talk about it. “I called him because I sort of had a panic attack when I was walking home from the store, and he came and found me and let me stay here. We watched old TV shows and fell asleep on the couch.”

“Why were you walking?” said Tony.

“Seriously, that’s what you got out of this?”

“If your arm is malfunctioning and you didn’t tell me, I swear I will fucking --”

“No,” Bucky interrupted. “The arm is great now. Really. I even had Steve take pictures of it. Want me to send you one?”

“Yeah, sure,” said Tony. “Why were you walking?”

Bucky sighed. “Because I don’t have a job, so I can’t afford a car.” He left out the part about how his only marketable skill was shooting people from far away, and that he didn’t want to do that anymore.

Tony seemed to follow at least some of his train of thought. He said, “How do you feel about hitting amputees in the face for fun and profit?”

“I feel like you need a better test, because somebody is going to get triggered, and somebody is going to get hurt.”

“People say shit like, ‘You need a better test,’ all the time, but until we actually have one, I’m going to use what works. Does that mean you don’t want the job?”

“I don’t know. I’ll think about it.” Bucky pondered for a second. “You should have them do something really ordinary. I was always breaking toothbrushes, because I’d zone out and not pay attention.”

“Nothing really seems ordinary when you’re getting your robot arm checked out at the lab, though,” said Tony.

“True.” Bucky pondered again. “If I wanted to zone out on purpose, I’d play video games.”

Tony sighed. “Sure, but not everybody plays video games, and the ones who do are all used to different games and different controllers. Anyway, you were supposed to tell me about all the making out you did with Steve last night, and why are you still at his house?”

“There was no making out, and I’m here because . . .” Fuck, why was he here? Why did he want to be, if Steve wasn’t even with him? Yes, there was the construction, but it would end, and he still wouldn’t --

“Long pause,” said Tony. “You in love with him?”

Bucky said, “Fuck,” and hung up the phone.

* * *

He rolled his eyes at himself and called Tony back.

“Yes?” Tony said, all smugly amused.

“Since about two minutes after I first talked to him. Both times. And stop laughing. Jesus.”

“Both times? Like since high school? Ha ha ha! That’s adorable.”

“Why did I call you back?” said Bucky.

“Because I’m charming and delightful. Just ask my fan club.”

“They’ve never actually met you, have they?”

Tony laughed. “Okay, so what’s your move?”

“Hell if I know. I was going to just never mention my apartment again and hope that he forgot that I have one. But eventually he’d notice that I don’t even have my own clothes,” Bucky said.

“Good god, why don’t you have clothes? Please tell me it’s some kinky punishment game.”

Bucky snorted. “Stop. No. Staying here was a spur of the moment thing, that’s all. And I am wearing clothes, just, they’re Steve’s.”

“If you tell me they smell like him, I will hang up on you. But hey, if you’ve got him so flustered he forgot to have you pack a bag, then you’re probably doing all right.”

“Yeah?” Bucky asked, pathetically hopeful.

“As organized as he is? He doesn’t blow his nose without a strategy. It’s why I put him in charge of our rebranding. He’s always got a plan. But until he gets his shit together, we’ll work yours.”

“Mine?” said Bucky.

“Yeah. If you’re going to secretly move in with him, you’ll need your stuff. I’ll send a car over.”

* * *

Tony sent a car over. The driver was the same guy who’d done the adjustments on Bucky’s arm, which was nice.

“Happy, right?” Bucky said, going out to meet him.

“Right,” said Happy. “Good to see you again, Barnes. Now, Boss One said to let you drive,” he dangled the keys, jingling them a bit, “but Boss the Other says I gotta see your license first.” He held out his empty hand expectantly.

Bucky dug it out of his wallet and handed it to Happy, who inspected it with an insulting level of care before handing it back, along with the keys.

Happy held out his hand again and said, “Phone. Always in the tray, never in the pocket. Company policy.”

Bucky considered protesting that no one ever called him, but Happy was clearly a ‘letter of the law’ type, and Bucky had been on the phone all morning, so he handed it over.

It had been a long time, but he easily fell back into the rhythm of driving. He’d almost forgotten how much he liked it, watching the road unspool in front of him, knowing he had limitless options, mapping out different routes in his head. That feeling of being relaxed and in control had become so rare for him lately.

He actually jumped a little when Happy said, “So where are we headed?”

“Um, my apartment. It’s on Maple. Hey, I need you to call Tony for me,” said Bucky.

“Right now?”

“Yes, right now.”

Happy probably thought he was hiding that eye roll he gave, but he did make the call, putting it on speaker.

“What?” said Tony when he picked up.

“Driving, Tony. Everybody drives,” said Bucky, changing lanes because his exit was coming up.

“Is this about verifying your license, because Pepper --”

“No, the test,” said Bucky. “Set up a driving simulator, hell, make it from an actual car, the closer to reality the better. They drive until they relax, then you, I don’t know, have a clown jump out at them.”

“A clown? Jesus, that’s mean,” said Tony, sounding distracted.

“You were hitting them in the face!”

“Yeah, but a clown?” Tony said. “No, that’s . . . Happy, you there?”

“Yes Boss.”

“I’m sending you some paperwork. Have Barnes sign it, soon as he can. Bucky, you’re officially hired as a consultant, you’ll get a check when you sign. Direct deposit okay?”

“Sure, why not?” said Bucky.

“All right, that’s a verbal contract, so don’t try selling ideas to anybody else, or I get to sue you.”

Bucky laughed. “I’m sure there will be loads of offers in the next three blocks.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” said Tony.

“Would for me,” said Bucky. “What exactly are you hiring me to do?”

“The same thing you just did. Work out the wrinkles in my otherwise perfect designs. No office hours, just keep your phone on. Pepper will make sure you get a good deal.”

It was a little nerve-wracking, until Bucky remembered that Steve had trusted Tony enough to work for him. He couldn’t get a better character reference than that. “All right,” he said. “I’ll sign.”

* * *

Packing was fast. Mostly just dumping the contents of a laundry basket into his duffel and topping that with his computer and his knitting. He was shoving all his bathroom stuff into ziptop bags when his phone buzzed.

It was a text from Steve, saying, I can’t believe I get to come home to you.

When the room finished swooping around, Bucky forwarded the text to his email. That way if his phone got lost or stolen or abducted by aliens, he would never, ever lose that message. He was considering tattoo options when he realized he should definitely text back. With what he had no idea.

Really looking forward to that. I miss you.

It seemed woefully inadequate, so he included the picture Steve had taken of his arm, hoping that wasn’t too weird.

Then he went to his closet to gather his nicer clothes, because he had a date he wanted to look good for.

* * *

It wasn’t even fucking noon yet.

Bucky was back at Steve’s house, sitting on his couch (god he loved this couch). He’d already shaved and pulled his hair back and put on the shirt he’d been wearing at the library that time when Steve had said, ‘You look great’.

Now he had more than three hours to get increasingly nervous while he pretended to be interested in his laptop or his knitting or anything that wasn’t Steve.

Chapter Text

When he finally heard a key rattling in the front door, Bucky dropped his knitting and sprang to his feet. He also might possibly have vaulted over the back of the couch, because the part of him that longed to be cool couldn’t begin to compete with how the rest of him was internally babbling about ‘touching’ and ‘STEVE’. He was just glad he managed to stay back far enough for the door to swing open.

Steve’s tie was a loose and his hair was a little messy and Jesus they’d never even actually kissed yet.

(Yet.)

Steve set down his briefcase and shut the door, then he stepped closer to Bucky, smiling shyly.

It felt like they stood there for all of eternity, so close they could feel each other’s warmth, but not touching in any way. At some point though, one of them must have moved, or maybe both of them had, because their faces tilted closer, and . . .

Everything about Steve was perfect and sweet, and his lips were certainly no exception. Kissing him was just soft and quiet and right in a way that nothing ever had been before.

Steve pulled back a little and said, “Hi.”

Bucky bit his lip to keep from laughing, because it seemed like an understatement, somehow. He said it back though, “Hi,” because he didn’t know what else to say.

He glanced down when he felt Steve tug gently at his sleeve, rubbing the fabric between his thumb and forefinger. Steve didn’t even ask the question, he just raised an eyebrow.

Bucky grinned. He’d always loved it when he felt like they could read each other’s thoughts, had loved it even back when it came with a healthy dose of fear. But now Steve could know how he felt, did know at least some of it, and everything was that much better.

So Bucky grinned at the unasked question and said “Yeah, Tony sent a car over so I could go pick up some of my things.” Steve blinked in surprise, but didn’t say anything. Bucky filled the silence by asking, “How bad of an idea was it that I accepted a job offer from him today?”

Steve’s smile faltered a little, and he turned away, drifting toward the couch as he talked. “Well, he’s pushy and obnoxious and he really likes you. I can’t say I’m happy to have the competition, but, working for him is probably really good for you, so . . . Um, what kind of job is it?”

“I just have to answer his phone calls, basically,” Bucky said, sitting beside him on the couch. “And you don’t have any competition.”

“Right. He probably never noticed how hot you are,” Steve muttered.

Bucky chuckled. “He noticed. But you still don’t have any competition.”

Steve didn’t look convinced.

Fuck it. Bucky let himself climb into Steve’s lap, the way he wanted. He kissed the corner of his mouth, chaste as everything else they’d done, until he felt Steve’s hands sliding over his back. Then he laced his fingers in Steve’s hair, his soft honey gold hair, and they leaned into each other, lips parting oh so slightly, just a hint of wetness between them.

Bucky slid his hands around to cup the back of Steve’s head, holding him gently in place, and he could feel Steve smile against his lips.

He wanted to see that.

Steve with his cheeks flushed and his lips curved and his eyes fluttering open. He was like a fucking dream.

He looked up at Bucky, silently asking if this was all okay. Bucky gave his best crooked smile, because it was so much better than okay. He loosened the knot on Steve’s tie and pulled it off.

“Your hair isn’t boring,” Steve said abruptly.

Bucky blinked at him. “What?”

“When Natasha texted you, you said . . . “ He smoothed a hand over Bucky’s hair. “Nothing about you is boring.”

Bucky laughed. He thought about explaining that he was too broken to be boring, but Steve was smiling at him, all warm and bright.

Too bad there wasn’t a way to see him and kiss him at the same time.

Bucky gently brushed a finger against that full pink lower lip, and the look that came over Steve’s face was one that Bucky knew very well. It was the look Steve got when he volunteered to do his speech first (which he had done every time, in every class), and the look he’d had when he asked a bloody-nosed Peggy Carter on a date. It was Steve being brave, and Bucky had seen it countless times in the few years he’d known him.

He was still surprised when Steve flicked out the tip of his tongue and took Bucky’s finger into his mouth.

Bucky gasped. He couldn’t help it. Didn’t want to help it. Watching Steve draw his mouth up and down the length of Bucky’s finger, feeling his hot wet tongue wrap around and tug . . . God, and Steve was smiling. Nothing that was done fully clothed and sitting on a couch could possibly be so spectacularly hot.

But it was Steve.

Bucky rocked his hips forward, and Steve made a soft little noise in response, and it was the best possible noise. Leaning in, Bucky replaced his finger with his tongue, licking into that lush, perfect mouth. Everything was want and need and love, oh yes love, loving Steve was the easiest thing in the world, the best thing he’d ever done.

He raked his fingers through Steve’s hair, lost in the taste of him, desperate for more.

That was when his phone rang.

Because of course it did.

Bucky ignored it and went searching for the buttons of Steve’s shirt, going by feel for all kinds of reasons.

At the second ring, Steve gently pushed him away and said, “That’s probably Tony.”

“Don’t care,” said Bucky. Steve’s voice had been husky and breathless. Nothing else mattered at all, except for those buttons he’d finally found.

At the third ring, Steve frowned. “You signed a contract, Buck.”

“Ugh.” Bucky levered himself high up on his knees so he could get his stupid phone out of his pocket. He answered on speaker. “Hi Tony.”

“Okay, that took forever,” said Tony. “What could possibly be more important than me? Were you and Steve finally making out? I want details.”

He’d said it as a joke, but Steve smirked and raised an eyebrow at Bucky, and Bucky grinned back and nodded.

“Well,” said Steve, “there was some kissing, and we were about to take each other’s shirts off, but then the phone rang.”

“Yes!” said Tony. “Bucky, call me after. Feel free to send pics.” There was the sound of Tony’s maniacal laughter, cut off by a click and a dial tone.

True to his word, Steve immediately started tugging at the hem of Bucky’s shirt.

Shit.

If they hadn’t been interrupted, if it had just happened in the heat of the moment, maybe Bucky wouldn’t have frozen. Wouldn’t have thought about his scars. But he didn’t even show them to doctors, unless they could convince him it was necessary.

Steve went still and looked up at him.

“I, uh . . . There was this mountain, and I got knocked off it,” Bucky said, gesturing at his arm. It was the flippant explanation that he had practiced for times when people wouldn’t stop asking what had happened to him, but Bucky didn’t know how else to talk about it.

“Don’t,” said Steve, looking a little hurt. “You don’t have to tell me about it, but don’t pretend that it was nothing.”

God, he didn’t want Steve to look at him like that. But he didn’t want him to see, either. Didn’t want him to know.

Steve sat back, taking his hands away. He reached up to his own shirt and pulled it open, just enough to reveal a slightly jagged scar, high on the left of his chest.

Bucky was a sniper. He recognized a perfect shot when he saw one. He knew that scar should have been fatal, and the knowledge was like frost through his bones.

“Friendly fire,” Steve said quietly. “So it messed up the guy at the other end of the rifle, too. He’s been missing ever since, probably doesn’t even know that I survived. And I don’t know if he did, either. He was a good kid who made a dumb mistake, that’s all. But it wasn’t nothing, for him or for me.”

Bucky wasn’t brave enough to look at Steve. He studied his own mismatched hands, instead. “I remember putting on the tourniquet,” he said, quietly. “Sort of wish I could forget. Things were pretty busy up above, and I had fallen a long way down. It took a while for them to get to me. So I put my belt on it. Nothing was very clear after that. I know it was really cold at night. I hated that part. And there was a lot of shelling going on. I could feel the ground shake. By the second or third day out, I was delirious. The sun was shining, all bright and warm, and from where I was, it seemed like . . . Like it was the only thing in the world that wasn’t falling apart on me. I just looked up at it, for a long time, as long as I could, because it was beautiful and real. The cold was real, too, but . . . Well, like I said, I was delirious. Anyway, they got me out on the fourth day, Clint and his team.”

He finally risked a glance at Steve. He looked so sad. Bucky hated it.

“Are your eyes okay?” Steve asked, and his voice was steady, so Bucky didn’t fall apart on him.

“It took a couple of months before I could see right again, and I’m supposed to wear sunglasses whenever I go out now, but yeah, they’re okay.”

Steve caught Bucky’s metal wrist and gently drew it up close to his ear. Bucky wiggled his fingers so Steve could hear it, and Steve smiled a little.

Necessary, Bucky thought. He tugged his hand away and grabbed for the hem of his shirt. He tried not to brace himself against Steve’s reaction as he pulled it off, because he really did trust Steve. With everything.

Steve’s reaction was to nuzzle his nose into Bucky’s ribcage.

Bucky heard himself squeak in surprise, and Steve huffed a laugh across his bare skin, and yes, definitely necessary. Jesus.

Softly, Steve kissed his way up and across Bucky’s chest, paying no particular attention to the twisted scars that the fall and the infections that followed it had etched into Bucky’s flesh.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Steve whispered between kisses on Bucky’s neck and jaw, and Bucky didn’t know if he meant here in his lap, or here among the living.

“No place I’d rather be,” Bucky said, and it was true either way.

Steve’s shirt was still on, with at least one button still fastened. Bucky needed to fix that.

He trailed his fingertips lightly down the exposed strip of Steve’s chest, his touch eliciting a sharp little intake of breath that was marvelous to hear.

There was a beeping sound from the couch cushion where he’d dropped his phone. Bucky couldn’t remember whose ringtone it was, since he’d assigned all of them while distracted by thoughts of, well, pretty much what he was doing right now. “Just a text,” he told Steve. “Not Tony.”

The last two buttons finally defeated, he peeled open Steve’s shirt and pushed him back against the couch for a better view.

Steve was -- God, Steve was better than perfect. Perfect wouldn’t have included that starburst scar, or the nervous shift of his shoulders. Perfect wasn’t Steve.

Figuring that he should stop staring, though really he could stare forever, Bucky swayed forward and pressed a soft kiss to Steve’s temple.

“You’re not boring, either,” he whispered, nosing into Steve’s hair.

Steve chuckled and settled his hands on Bucky’s waist, his thumbs tracing circles on bare skin.

Bucky’s phone chimed. He didn’t have time to wonder whose tone it was before Steve’s went off, too, making them both jump a little as it vibrated in his pocket, pressed between their thighs.

Very reluctantly, Bucky squirmed off of Steve’s lap, and they both reached for their phones.

Bucky’s first text had been from Clint. You need a ride tonight?

Shit, was today Tuesday?

The second was from Natasha. It was a picture of a man, framed so low that only his dress shirt was really showing, with one brown wrist barely visible in the corner.

“Is that Sam?” Bucky asked, scooting close beside Steve on the couch and showing him the picture.

Steve nodded, showing the same picture on his own phone. “Natasha’s texts are always like this. She says obscurity is the closest you can get to privacy.”

“His support group is tonight,” Bucky said, because he had already checked, and it was indeed Tuesday.

“Right.” Steve laughed a little and shook his head. “I had a plan, you know.”

“A plan for what?”

“For you. For . . . “ He waved his hand between them. “I was going to take you to the Art Museum and find out what you thought about Rothko. Show you their Bernini. It’s really beautiful.” His eyes traced along Bucky’s bared chest as he said it, then flicked back up to meet his gaze. “Um. Then for our second date, I was going to take you to this farm so we could pick apples.”

“Why apples?” Bucky asked, still a little caught up in Steve looking at him and saying ‘beautiful’. “Why not just go to the movies?”

“Because I didn’t want to spend two hours not talking to you,” said Steve.

Bucky was so thoroughly charmed that for a second all he could do was grin. “Okay, what about our third date?” He touched their shoulders together, just to have some contact again.

“Well, I didn’t want to get ahead of myself,” said Steve, and the self-deprecation in his voice made Bucky laugh. “But I was thinking about inviting you to my place for that one. For dinner. Nothing too forward.” He put his arm around Bucky and pulled him close, back to chest, skin to skin. So warm. “I thought it was a pretty good plan, except, as soon as I was near you again I started sucking on your fingers. Jesus, I’ve never even thought about doing that before.”

“It was pretty phenomenal, though,” Bucky said, twisting around to see Steve’s face, hoping . . . Oh yes. Blushing and smiling. Bucky’s new favorite thing. “We should probably text Natasha and tell her whether we’re going to Sam’s meeting,” he said, wanting it to be Steve’s choice.

Steve looked up from where he’d been staring at Bucky’s lips, meeting his eyes again. “Right. We ought to go, I guess. Since she asked.”

“Yeah,” said Bucky.

Neither of them moved.

Bucky didn’t want to always fuck up Steve’s plans, though. He sighed and turned away. Steve wanted to go slow, he wanted museums and apples, and Bucky would back him up. “What should we send back to her?” Bucky asked. His shirt had ended up on the floor. He snagged it and pulled it back on.

“I was going to say ‘See you there’,” Steve said, frowning a little.

“But that’s so straightforward.” Steve’s shirt was still unbuttoned, making Bucky’s resolve crumble. Pretty soon he was going to lean in and lick his way down . . . “You could send her a picture of your bike.”

Steve started doing up his buttons. Damn. “You should send her a picture of my bike. Then she’ll know it’s both of us.”

Bucky smiled at the word ‘us’.

Chapter Text

Before they left, Bucky texted Clint and Tony. Then they got on Steve’s bike. Bucky put his hands on Steve’s hips, trying not to push things, but Steve moved them up around his waist. Bucky absolutely approved of that, and gave a little squeeze to show it.

The ride was nice.

At the VA center, Bucky found that he was extremely glad that Sam had a girlfriend, since he was even better looking up close than he had been from across the room, and he was currently hugging Steve.

“Sam, this is Bucky,” Steve said, pulling out of the hug to put a possessive hand on Bucky’s shoulder. It only lasted a second, but it was a good second.

“Nice to meet you,” said Bucky, shaking Sam’s hand.

“I’ve heard a lot about you,” said Sam, “But apparently I’m not supposed to mention that,” he added, noticing something on Steve’s face.

Bucky laughed. “Well, if you heard it from Steve, then it’s probably true, unfortunately.”

“Oh, none of it was unfortunate,” said Sam with a grin. “You guys were friends in high school, right? What was our Captain Rogers like back then?”

“The same as he is now, but smaller,” said Bucky.

Steve chuckled. “That’s an understatement, Sam. I was tiny.”

Bucky shrugged.

“People called me Twiggy,” said Steve.

“Not around me, they didn’t,” Bucky said darkly.

“Nobody picked on anyone around you,” Steve said. “Not after what you did to the football team.”

Sam widened his eyes.

“He fought the whole team at once, because the wide receiver was teasing some girl Bucky didn’t even know,” Steve said.

Bucky froze for a second, then casually looked away.

Not casually enough, though. “Wait, so what really happened?” asked Sam, scrutinizing Bucky. Fucking mind reader.

“Uh, it was actually the running back,” said Bucky. “And there was no girl.” He worried at his bottom lip and watched Steve’s reaction.

Steve managed to look confused, irritated, and turned on, all at once. “What? Bucky, no, not for me. You could’ve been hurt.”

Bucky laughed. “I’m pretty sure all of us were hurt, but it was worth it. You were worth it.”

Bucky reached out and took his hand, and Steve ducked his head down and looked up at him through his eyelashes.

“I’m just going to go alphabetize the doughnuts,” said Sam, turning away.

Rocking up on his toes, Bucky kissed Steve, light and dry, determined to maintain the whole ‘going slow’ thing.

Steve did not help. He wrapped his arms around Bucky and parted his lips. Jesus. Bucky curled their tongues together. He couldn’t help it. All that glorious heat and coiled strength blanked out any coherent thoughts he might have had.

“Well, that answers that,” said a dry voice from somewhere.

Steve pulled away just enough to say, “Hello, Natasha,” before kissing Bucky again.

“Hello, Steve and Bucky. Anything new going on in your lives?” said Natasha.

Bucky didn’t even try to answer. He was never taking his lips off of Steve again.

Sam said, “Apparently Bucky got into a fight with somebody once, and this is Steve’s way of showing his disapproval.”

“I don’t think that’s going to work,” said Natasha.

“Yeah, I guess he doesn’t have a firm grasp on positive reinforcement.”

“Seems like he’s ready to have a firm grasp on something else, though.”

Bucky had to break away so he could laugh. He turned around, careful to stay inside Steve’s arms, and said, “Hi Natasha.”

He was surprised to see a sling on her arm. She always seemed so graceful, it was hard to imagine her getting hurt.

“What happened?” Steve asked her from over Bucky’s shoulder.

“I sprained it while I was beating up an old man. Want to make out?” she said, smirking.

“Hey!” said Sam.

“Sam held the guy down for me,” she added. “ You should make out with both of us.”

“Ooo, yes,” said Sam.

“No, no touching,” laughed Bucky. “Steve’s mine.”

He hadn’t meant to say it like that, and the room went very still. But he really wanted it to be true.

Steve’s arms tightened around him. “Yeah, sorry, that only works for Bucky,” he said, his voice a little rougher than usual.

Bucky’s eyes fell closed as he replayed the words ‘only’ and Bucky’ in Steve’s voice. When he opened them again, Sam and Natasha were giving him matching looks, both of them clearly appraising him.

“I, uh, got a job today,” said Bucky. He felt like he should be standing at attention or something.

“As a tonsil inspector?” asked Natasha.

Sam nudged her with his elbow and gave her a look.

“Sorry,” said Natasha. “Painkillers make me think I’m funny.”

Bucky didn’t have to wonder if Steve only liked him for his lips, though. “I’m consulting with Stark’s Prosthetics Division. I have first hand experience.” He wiggled his metal fingers for emphasis.

He could feel Steve trying not to laugh at the sheer awfulness of the pun.

Sam groaned.

“Wow,” said Natasha, “Are you on painkillers, too?”

Bucky laughed.

“Is Tony paying you and arm and a leg?” Steve asked innocently.

“Please stop,” said Sam.

“Yeah, or he’ll give you the finger,” said Natasha.

“Ugh, you are all awful.” Sam turned his back on them and started arranging chairs.

Bucky said, “Hey Sam, can I give you -- “

“Aww, man, don’t,” said Sam.

“-- a little help?” Bucky finished, grinning.

* * *

Sam’s meeting went well. He gave an impromptu talk about using humor as a coping mechanism, with careful instructions that puns were never appropriate. Natasha stayed in the back with Steve and Bucky, who did an admirable job of not touching each other. Mostly. Holding hands didn’t count, Bucky reasoned. Not compared to the way they’d been kissing.

He knew he should be doing a better job of taking things slow, but he kept getting caught up in how incredible it felt.

They left the meeting early to get ready for their knitting class. Natasha put herself between them in the hallway, slinging her good arm around Steve’s waist and leaning her head on Bucky’s shoulder.

At the door to the classroom, they all stopped, because they couldn’t possibly fit through it together. Then Steve turned, pulling them with him, and they went through sideways, all three of them laughing. It was nice, feeling silly and whole and free.

Steve led them to the window, and they looked out at the grassy little lot where Bucky’s tree lived.

Something fluffy and orange was sneaking through the grass.

“Yep. Here comes Peepers,” said Natasha. “Must be Tuesday.”

“I knew that old lady was doing it on purpose,” said Bucky. “She just wants to see Steve’s ass.”

“That’s -- Nobody would do that,” said Steve.

Bucky and Natasha snorted simultaneously, then both laughed at the sound.

Carefully, Bucky disentangled himself from Natasha, trying not to let Steve notice. Then he bolted for the door. He might possibly have giggled when he heard Steve’s footsteps behind him.

Bucky got to the door first, but only barely, because Steve was fucking fast. Luckily, once they got outside the advantage was all Bucky’s. Steve slowed down, trying to look like a responsible adult in front of the old lady, while Bucky couldn’t care less. He easily reached the tree first, and there was Peepers, smugly sitting just out of reach and licking a paw.

“How is this an improvement?” Steve whispered from behind him as Bucky grabbed a branch and hauled himself up. “Now she’ll be checking out your ass.”

“Yeah, probably. It is pretty nice,” Bucky said as he climbed.

“Yeah, it . . . Yeah.”

Bucky looked over his shoulder to see Steve staring at his backside, which was now conveniently at his eye level. The cat wasn’t going anywhere, so Bucky took a moment to roll his hips in a slow, enticing circle, just to watch Steve’s reaction.

Steve huffed out a breath and turned around, folding his arms resolutely across his chest. The tips of his ears had gone pink. “Hey, I’m taking tomorrow off. Would you like to go to the Art Museum with me?”

“So formal,” Bucky teased, very interested to note that Steve was maybe trying to accelerate their timetable. “Yes, Steven Grant Rogers, I would be honored to accompany you to the Art Museum.”

“The honor is all mine, James Buchanan Barnes,” Steve said in a voice that was equal parts exasperated and amused.

Bucky scooped up Peepers and carefully turned around.

“Here,” said Steve, holding out his hands. Bucky plunked the cat into them, and Steve tucked it into a one-armed hold before stretching up on his toes and brushing a kiss against Bucky’s cheek.

“Just because I can,” Steve said in answer to Bucky’s unasked question.

* * *

The class was about knitting cables. At first glance they looked like separate parts twined around each other, but they were actually stitched together at every row, inseparable pieces of one whole.

Bucky wondered if it should concern him that he was seeing romantic metaphors hidden in sticks and string, but it didn’t really worry him at all.

* * *

After they got back to the house, Steve said guiltily that he needed to sort out the notes from his meetings, adding something about having been distracted all day, so Bucky left him to it and went poking around in the kitchen.

He found a big electric griddle and set it up. Then he assembled some sandwiches to grill, four cheese and, on a whim, two peanut butter and jelly. He opened a can of tomato soup, too, and poured it into a pot.

As he waited for the sandwiches to start to brown and the soup to heat up, he used his phone to look up Rothko, even though it made him feel like a Ravenclaw.

The paintings he found turned out to just be rectangles. Dark rectangles with blurred edges, hanging like open wounds sliced into the face of reality.

He put his phone away, reminding himself that Steve had never said he liked Rothko. It was the other one he’d called beautiful.

“You’re making food?” Steve asked behind him. Bucky turned, and found Steve grinning at him, wearing a threadbare t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants, with nothing on his feet. He looked fucking fantastic, which was nothing new, but there was something almost intimate about how casually he was dressed. Like he had just tumbled out of bed. Or was ready to tumble into it.

Steve noticed him noticing, and said, “If you want, I can take over so you can change, too.”

Bucky handed him the spatula and went to find his duffle bag.

When he got back, dressed in his own sweats and t-shirt, Steve was stirring the soup, and the sandwiches were all on a tray.

Bucky set aside the peanut butter ones, not wanting to accidentally dip one in his soup. Steve raised an eyebrow, so Bucky said, “Those are for later. Where are the bowls and plates?”

Steve pointed. “In the cabinet by the table. Silverware is in that drawer.”

Bucky set the table, which was so tiny it could barely hold the sandwich tray and the two bowls. Steve brought over the soup and they dished up.

About two bites into dinner, Steve looked more closely at the peanut butter sandwiches on the tray. “Are those -- My mom used to make those.”

“Yeah, I know,” said Bucky. “We had them one time when I stayed over. I think it was the same night she taught us that card game.”

“Euchre,” Steve said, and Bucky couldn’t quite interpret the look on his face.

“I’m pretty sure she cheated at euchre, though,” Bucky said. “Nobody loses that consistently on accident.”

Steve frowned wistfully. “That does sound like her.”

“She was pretty terrific.”

“Yeah,” Steve said. He ate a few more bites. “Usually I feel like I’m the only one who remembers her,” he said, staring into his soup bowl.

“No, I loved your mom,” said Bucky. “She’d hug me goodnight when I slept over, and she made me brush my teeth and stuff. Nobody else ever . . .” He drifted off, because Steve already knew how things had been, and Bucky didn’t want to talk about making his own meals and finding his own rides and being utterly ignored unless he’d gotten into serious trouble. Unless someone would notice that he wasn’t being cared for.

“Are your parents still around?” Steve asked, carefully neutral.

“I don’t know,” said Bucky. “They, uh, when I came out -- It was bad. I stopped trying after that. Haven’t been in touch in years.”

“Good.”

Bucky blinked at him. Nobody ever reacted that way.

“You deserved so much better,” said Steve. “You still do. So fuck them.”

Bucky tried to laugh, because it beat the alternative. “Well thanks.”

“Yeah,” said Steve. He nudged their knees together, and a moment later he wrapped his ankles around one of Bucky’s.

“What’s your plan for tonight?” Bucky asked. He casually put his good hand on his own knee, letting his fingertips barely brush against Steve’s leg.

Steve smiled and shook his head. “My plans don’t work around you. I was going to order pizza, and then I’d have missed out on this.”

“Oh yes, this magnificent feast,” Bucky grinned.

“Exactly. So I give up. No more plans.”

That was . . . hmm. “It was your idea to change clothes, though,” Bucky said.

“That’s true,” said Steve. “Okay, my plan is that we always eat dinner in our sweatpants.”

“Okay,” said Bucky. (always, always, always) “But what if we invite Natasha and Sam over? Do they have to wear sweatpants, too?”

“I guess they could wear shorts, instead,” said Steve. “As long as they’re the stretchy kind. No buttons.”

“Yes. Buttons are the harbingers of discomfort. No buttons allowed at the dinner table.” Bucky smiled widely, because it was funny, and because when Bucky had sort of referred to them both living here, Steve had smiled about it.

“Now that we have that settled,” Steve said with a laugh in his voice, “we need to decide whether to put syrup or powdered sugar on our grilled peanut butter and jelly.”

“Oh my god,” said Bucky, imagining the sugar rush. “Uh, syrup, because they’re probably too cold for powdered sugar.”

Steve got up and opened the cabinet over the stove. “See, this is why I need you,” he said with his back turned, taking down the syrup.

When Bucky remembered how to breathe again, he said, “Yeah, I -- no problem.”

(Thanks brain. That was inspired. Jesus.)

Steve plunked the syrup on the table and sat down. He promptly tangled their legs together again, and even shifted one knee up under Bucky’s fingers.

There wasn’t much that would get Bucky to try to use a fork with his metal hand, but that would do it. “Should we watch more Angel tonight, or have I seen enough?” Bucky asked, pouring on syrup and settling his hand more firmly on Steve’s knee.

“You haven’t even met half the characters yet,” Steve said, reaching under the table and putting his hand on top of Bucky’s. “But we can quit if you want.”

“No, no. You kidnapped me fair and square, so you get to decide how many we watch.”

“If it’s up to me then we’ll never stop,” Steve said, almost like a warning.

“Then it’s definitely up to you,” said Bucky with a crooked smile.

Chapter Text

Bucky pondered all through the next episode of Angel, even though it was genuinely difficult to think with Steve lying on the couch behind him, the entire length of their bodies pressed together and Steve’s arm slung over Bucky’s waist.

He thought about Steve saying, ‘You’re stuck with me’. About Steve saying, ‘That only works for Bucky’. Steve saying, ‘I give up. No more plans’.

Steve’s lips against Bucky’s lips. Steve’s legs around Bucky’s ankles. Steve’s mouth around Bucky’s finger.

So when Steve said, “Be right back,” as he headed toward the bathroom, Bucky got up too.

There was a bowl full of apples in the kitchen, the flawless, tasteless, grocery store kind. Bucky picked out a big green one, and grabbed a marker from a nearby pencil cup.

In bold blocky letters, Bucky wrote on the side of the apple, “I HATE ROTHKO”.

He put away the marker and went back into the living room. Steve came back at almost the same time, giving Bucky a curious look as they sat on the couch.

Bucky handed Steve the apple. Everything he’d come up with to say flew right out of his head as Steve read the note and looked up at him.

“I know you had a plan,” Bucky said nervously. “And I still want to go to the Art Museum with you, And to go pick apples. I just -- We can take things slow, but we don’t have to. Not for me. I mean, I guess I’d understand if you’re not sure about me.” Jesus Christ, why did he think of that now? And why did he go and say it? Bucky covered his face with his hands. “Is going slow what you want?”

“Bucky, I couldn’t be more sure about you,” said Steve. He put his arm around Bucky’s shoulders, and Bucky dropped his hands and let Steve pull him close. He ended up with his back pressed tight against Steve’s chest. God, he was warm.

Steve took a deep breath. “What I want is to go exactly the right speed. Fast enough that I don’t miss my chance with you, and slow enough that you’ll believe me when I tell you . . . I love you, Bucky. I’ve loved you for so long. It’s not rose-tinted memories or wishful thinking. It’s you. And you don’t have to --”

“I loved you first,” Bucky interrupted, having finally gotten his brain back online.

(I love you, I love you, I love you)

“What? You --”

“I did. You can’t win this one.” Bucky wrapped his arms around Steve’s in a sort of backwards hug. “It was my first day at Dwiesenhower, and I was supposed to go meet Colonel Phillips. But I had to wait, because this guy was in his office lecturing him about how teachers who punish the whole class for the actions of one or two students are just trying to get bullies to do their dirty work for them. It was a great speech, and I was half in love already, but then you walked out and I finally got to see you, and you were --”

“Scrawny?” said Steve.

Bucky twisted around to frown at him. “Beautiful. Your eyes, your skin, your hair. Oh god, and your hands. I used to -- I thought about your hands all the time.” Fuck, he could feel himself blushing. Steve gave him a wicked little smile that made it clear he knew exactly what Bucky had imagined his hands doing, and that was -- That was not a bad thing. “You’re fucking gorgeous, Steve. You always have been. Looking at you is like looking into the damned sun. Only without the retinal burns, which is a big plus. And when you’re ninety, you’ll still be beautiful. And I want to be there to see it.”

That was it. Everything he’d been afraid to tell him. Jesus, it felt amazing.

“I still think I loved you first,” said Steve. He caught a strand of Bucky’s hair that had fallen loose from his ponytail and ran it through his fingers. “I think I was born loving you, and I just didn’t know it until we met.”

“Yeah, well I’m older than you, so --”

“Exactly. So I’ve loved you my whole life, and you could only have loved me for most of yours.”

“That’s bullshit, Steve. But I’m willing to call it a tie, because I love you.” Bucky grinned and batted his eyelashes.

Steve made a sound that was more like a sigh than a laugh. “You could live here,” he said. “If you wanted. I have an extra room, or . . . Do you want to move in? Sometime?”

“Fuck yes. Right now.” Bucky arched in and kissed those perfect pink lips.

“Okay,” said Steve, looking a little dazed. “What do you mean, now?”

Bucky shrugged. “A lot of my stuff is here already. I’m here. Consider me moved in.”

“And what about . . . “ Steve blushed and looked ready to be brave, and Bucky tingled all over. “Will you share a bed with me? Please?”

“Yes,” Bucky said immediately. “God, yes, please, yes.”

They both leaned in too fast, so it was more of a lip-smash than a kiss, but they recovered quickly, finding each other’s tongues and twining them together.

Bucky caught the end of Steve’s shirt and ran his hands up under it, sliding over that vast expanse of smooth hot skin on Steve’s back, hoping his metal fingers weren’t too cold.

It was glorious, licking into Steve’s mouth, feeling Steve’s hands on his hips. But they were both twisted awkwardly sideways, and Bucky couldn’t seem to find friction in any of the right places.

Lust and frustration finally drove him to blurt out, “Bet I can be naked in bed before you.”

He was pretty sure he remembered where the bedroom was, and ‘Steve, naked, in bed’ was an absolute win, no matter who got there first.

Which didn’t stop Bucky from shoving Steve against the couch as he took off toward the hall, leaving his shirt on the floor somewhere along the way.

There was a crashing sound and a quiet, “Damn it.” Bucky figured it was probably that basket of yarn he’d dodged in the living room. He spared a quick thought for Steve’s knitting, hoping there weren’t too many dropped stitches, but at least he had a chance at winning now.

He took a half second to find the bedroom light switch, shucked off his pants, and dove onto the bed just as Steve entered the room.

Seeing Steve with his shirt unbuttoned had in no way prepared Bucky for the sight of Steve with no clothes on.

The light switch had definitely been a good idea.

“I was wrong,” Bucky said. “The sun’s got nothing on you.” It was true. Steve damn near glowed in the lamplight. He looked just as achingly hard as Bucky felt, and every one of his muscles was exquisitely toned, but it was Steve’s face that held Bucky’s attention. It had an expression Bucky had never seen on it before. There was a hint of annoyance that was rapidly fading, leaving a mix of surprise and . . . and adoration. And maybe it was new, but Bucky understood that look completely. It was Steve in love. In love with Bucky, and he would never get enough of that look.

Steve climbed into bed, not hurrying at all. He brushed a hand over Bucky’s hair, reaching around and inexpertly tugging off the elastic hair tie. He handed it to Bucky and said, “You get second place.”

It took a moment to process, and even then the only response Bucky could come up with was, “Oh. So, what do you get for winning?”

“I get to do this,” Steve said. He slid his hand down Bucky’s chest, down to his waist, down . . . Oh god yes.

Bucky might possibly have made a sound that was like a whimper, and in response Steve moaned, “oh Bucky,” and it was everything. Everything.

He wrapped his legs around Steve’s and moved to pull him closer, but -- “Wait, I can’t --”

Steve took his hand away completely, looking concerned. It was faster to kiss him than to explain, so that’s what Bucky did, nudging him so that they rolled together, until Steve was on his back and Bucky was sprawled on top of him.

Now that his good hand was finally free, Bucky propped himself up and ran it over Steve’s chest. “Wanted to be able to feel you,” he explained.

Steve smiled at him with his eyes half-closed, looking so incredibly sexy that Bucky rolled his hips in a slow circle, sliding their erections against each other. Steve arched his back, increasing the pressure, making them both moan into each other, and Bucky damn near lost it just from the sound of their voices blending together.

But he hadn’t even gotten to touch Steve yet, and he wasn’t going to wait until next time for that. So he hooked his leg around Steve’s and pulled them over the rest of the way, until they were lying on their sides, breathing each other’s air, Bucky smiling dopily at the idea of there being a next time.

He trailed his fingers over Steve’s ribs, down and around to that impossibly perfect ass, lingering there for a blissful moment before slipping over his thigh and up again, finally, finally wrapping his fingers around the long hard length of his cock.

Steve’s hand had followed a similar path along Bucky’s body, and together they started a slow, mind-bending rhythm, stroking and gasping and moaning. Bucky tried to stay quiet, wanting to hear every little sound Steve made, but he couldn’t. Especially when Steve did something, twisting with his artist’s fingers and curving his thumb up and around and Bucky couldn’t hold back anything anymore, groaning and coming all over Steve’s hand. A few strokes later, Steve followed him, burying a moan against Bucky’s neck.

Steve kissed Bucky’s shoulder, then stretched over him to grab some tissues from the box on the nightstand. He dropped a few of them in front of Bucky and kept a few for himself.

Bucky cleaned off his hand. His wrist. His stomach. A spot on Steve’s hipbone that maybe didn’t actually need cleaning. He dropped the tissue and used his thumb, instead.

Bucky didn’t see any reason not to bend down and kiss him just there. So he did. One soft kiss. Bucky didn’t even lick him. Well, okay, just once. And then another kiss. But after that he straightened and rested his head on Steve’s chest.

Steve started to turn away, but it was only so he could grab the edge of the comforter and pull it around to envelop them together. He used the same motion to wrap his arm snugly around Bucky’s shoulders, muttering sleepily, “You’re the best thing that ever happened.”

Bucky gave a little laugh, and oh good god he could feel Steve blushing. It sort of seemed unfair to let him be embarrassed by himself, though. “Natasha called us ‘Steve and Bucky’ today. ‘S all I ever want, is to be Steve and Bucky.”

Steve sighed. “What I remember was you saying ‘Steve’s mine’. Everything else was a blur.”

Bucky nestled in closer, hardly able to believe how well they fit together. He laid there, listening to the steady beat of Steve’s heart, feeling the rise and fall of his breath. The lamp was still on, hell, the TV was still on, but nothing mattered. Just Steve and the comfort of being wrapped up in him, as much of their skin touching as possible.

“I am, though,” Steve murmured.

“Hmm?” Bucky asked, nearly asleep.

“Yours.”

Bucky tightened his arms around him. “‘M yours, too.”

“Steve and Bucky.”

“Steve and Bucky.”

* * *

It was the middle of the night, and as so often happened, Bucky was awake again.

The lamp was still on. The TV was still on. And Steve had rolled over at some point, taking all the warm with him.

They hadn’t brushed their teeth, either. It wouldn’t have mattered to him, except he felt like it would bother Steve, if Steve was awake to be bothered about a lack of proper oral hygiene.

Before he could talk himself out of it, Bucky said, “Steve.”

Nothing happened, though.

“Hey Steve, wake up.”

A bunch more nothing.

“Jesus, how did you survive the Army long enough to make Captain if --”

Steve sat bolt upright, dragging the tiny remaining bit of blanket off of Bucky as he went.

He looked around all bleary-eyed, with a set of wrinkles between his eyebrows.

“Hey,” said Bucky, sitting up and draping his arm around Steve’s shoulders. “It’s okay. We just forgot to brush our teeth.”

Steve looked Bucky over for a moment, his expression softening completely. “If this is a dream, I don’t want to wake up.”

“If this was a dream, our breath would smell better, and you wouldn’t have stolen all the covers.”

“Oh, I might have,” Steve whispered, and he brushed his fingers lightly across Buck’s thigh. “And that’s exactly the kind of thing my dream Bucky would say.”

Bucky chuckled. “Well then, I’m disappointed in myself.”

“Oh yeah?” Steve skimmed his nose along Bucky’s shoulder, to his neck. “Why, what do you think you would say, in my dreams?”

He shivered a little at the soft press of kisses against his collarbone. “Not much at all. I figured my mouth would be full,” Bucky said with a smirk.

Steve froze for a second, then laughed, low and rough and hot against Bucky’s neck. “Just as likely my mouth would be full. And damn, the things you’d say then. Like you were trying to make me blush.”

“Yeah, that’s exactly what I’d be trying to do.” Bucky tilted his head out of the way as Steve went back to kissing along his throat.

Unfortunately, that meant he could see the blue glow from down the hall, where the TV was still (still) turned on.

And they hadn’t brushed their teeth, either.

Steve didn’t seem to care though, and Steve was the responsible one. Bucky got so tired of trying to be responsible, it was nice to --

He wondered if Steve ever got tired of it.

No, he knew Steve got tired of it. Needed to be taken care of. Needed to be loved.

“C’mon,” said Bucky. “Gotta brush our teeth first.”

Steve sighed and let Bucky pull him to the bathroom.

They brushed their teeth. They even turned off the TV.

But they left the bedroom light on for a long time.

* * *

“Hey, wake up.”

Bucky blinked his eyes open. Sunlight was streaming in through the window, and Steve was standing beside the bed, holding a tray.

He was wearing boxer shorts that had drawings of paint brushes and palettes all over them, just to be extra adorable.

“You made breakfast?” Bucky asked, not all the way awake yet.

“Well, you made dinner, so it was only fair,” said Steve, handing Bucky the tray.

Bucky looked it over while Steve climbed into bed beside him.

There was a big plate full of warm biscuits, two kinds of jelly, a dish of butter, a squeezy bear full of honey, and two cups of coffee, which, from the smell, and been made with cinnamon.

There was also a folded piece of paper with ‘Bucky’ written on it.

He reached for that first.

Inside was a drawing of two trees, side by side, leaning into each other. Their branches were thoroughly entwined, so there was no way of telling where one ended and the other began. At the bottom was written ‘Steve and Bucky’.

Bucky carefully set the paper aside, then looked at Steve, who was spreading butter on a biscuit and pretending that he wasn’t watching Bucky’s reaction.

It was objectively impossible to be a better boyfriend than Steve.

“I love you,” Bucky said.

Steve grinned. “I love you, too.”

Okay, maybe it was impossible.

But for the rest of his life, Bucky was sure as hell going to try.