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Fan the Flame

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Bucky sits in his local Starbucks, sipping on his latte and flipping through his phone. He's got time to kill until his students get out of school and meet him at the park for what will prove to be a rousing game of baseball.

 

With the advent of the warmer weather, he can move the activities of the children that attend his youth outreach program out of the local school gym and into the sunshine. He always sees a marked change in attitude and behaviour in the outdoors, which is nice.

 

But that's not for an hour, and Bucky is early. He needs something to occupy his time.

 

Tinder generally turns out to be either hilarious or horrifying, and in some very special cases, both at the same time.

 

Bucky swipes through quite a few profiles, discarding many on the first image alone. Of those he looks into, there are some baseline standard things he wants and doesn't want.

 

If the photos are unclear or pixelated and he can't make out a general face, swipe left.

 

If there is more than one shirtless mirror, gratuitous cleavage, upside-down bed or gym selfie, swipe left.

 

Due to Bucky's dad's tenuous relationship with alcohol leaving him with distinct feelings about excessive drinking, if most photos include alcohol of some kind, swipe left.

 

If the profile is left blank, swipe left.

 

If the profile is extremely short, or is just an attempt at a comedic routine without giving any information about the subject, swipe left.

 

If there's an excess of tattoos, especially on the neck or face, swipe left.

 

If they're flipping off the camera, swipe left.

 

Photos of cars, swipe left.

 

Allowing for a random typo, if the spelling and grammar are too bad, swipe left.

 

If there's enough fake tan to turn hands visibly orange, for the love of all that is holy, swipe fucking left.

 

He's looking to find at the best, a boyfriend or girlfriend, at the worst, someone new to maybe hang out with. This leaves him weeding out a lot of people most of the time. He's learnt to pick out the purely hook up profiles pretty quickly and tends to tap out if people get overly familiar too quickly after they've matched. It's quite an arduous process, but he expected as much, and is content to just keep plugging away.

 

Bucky opened his Tinder account as a bit of a lark. He'd like to meet someone, but feels too old for the club scene. Bars tend to be a bit of a waste of time when you don't drink all that much. His workplace is small, and he's a big believer in not shitting where you eat, which is also one of the reasons he never got together with any of his fellow soldiers during his time in the army.

 

He thinks he's put together a pretty decent profile:

 

James, 31

 

5'11". Born and bred in Brooklyn, now back after a stint in the Army. I work with disadvantaged kids now, which is less hard and more rewarding than you might think.

 

Mornings don't start until after the sun comes up. Animals are usually more compassionate than people. Cat and dog lover, but I only own the former. Bilingual. (Conversational Russian. Also curse words)

 

Things that mean the world to me: Coffee, Baseball, family and friends. (Not in that order. Probably)

 

I'm athletic but don't live at the gym. I like a good party but I don't really drink. I love food but I don't like making it.

 

Would like to find someone who compliments me at best, friends as a middle point, or at the very least, some horror stories to share with friends.

 

He doesn't have a gym selfie on there, but there is a photo of him playing Ultimate Disc in the park with some friends in a tank top. It's a pretty good photo and -- without being overly shallow -- shows him to be pretty fit.

 

There's an older photo of him in uniform from his deployment, feeding one of the stray dogs he found in Kabul. There's a snap of him with his calico kitten Babushka, who is one year old going on ninety-nine, and one from two winters ago in a knitted hat, cradling a cup of coffee. That was when he'd grown his hair out a little after the Army and it nearly touched his shoulders. Now it just grazes his jawline.

 

Tinder has proven very hit and miss for him. He's ended up on a few dates. Only a couple of people warranted more than one, but it just ended up either fizzling out, or established them more as friends. There's been a spectacular amount of one date wonders, each as either painfully awkward or lacking in chemistry as the last.

 

But, it's something. It's getting him out and meeting people when he probably wouldn't be, and that's better than nothing, he supposes.

 

He feels like he's going to get RSI in his fingers from the constant swiping left, though.

 

Bucky puts his phone flat on the table and sips his coffee, continuing to swipe, consoling himself that he's not that picky.

 

Okay, he is, but there are things that'll get him through.

 

He's looking for someone he finds attractive. A great smile will get him to swipe right, as will a really gorgeous set of eyes.

 

He likes a variety of different body shapes in men and women, but does have a particular lean towards the more athletic, like him.

 

He's not ashamed to admit that a cute pet photo will automatically glean more consideration, too.

 

He goes for the profiles that range from open-hearted honesty, to cheeky but still giving out at least some information on their subject.

 

Bucky's a fan of people with artistic hobbies, because he doesn't lean that way at all and has always been fascinated by them. So anyone who writes, or makes art, or plays a musical instrument piques his interest automatically.

 

All in all, he doesn't think he's asking for the world. And with the amount of people registered on the site in Brooklyn alone, he doesn't necessarily have to feel too bad about his tough screening process.

 

A little alert pops up then, with the familiar flame logo.

 

You have been Super Liked!, it proclaims. Keep swiping to find out who.

 

So someone has really liked his profile, then. If Bucky keeps swiping through, odds are he'll hit a thumbnail surrounded by blue, and he'll know who it is. It's the only time he finds out if someone's wanted to match with him ahead of time.

 

Bucky keeps flicking through images, discarding after only a few moments, until he sees the telltale edge of a blue profile making its way to the top of the pile.

 

It pops up and Bucky studies the photo of Steve, 30 critically. There's a silhouette of a guy, completely backlit by an orange, setting sun. It's a lovely photo, but he can see zero firm details about the person in it. If Bucky were looking at it without the Super Like, he might've swiped past purely on the principle that he can't see the person's face.

 

He always makes it a point to at least get past the first image and to the profile for a Super Like, though. It's only polite.

 

Clicking on the photo, Bucky is relieved to find there's at least some text.

 

6'2". Back in Brooklyn after many years, and looking to make a connection. My job keeps me busy so I find it hard to get time to meet new people.

 

Non-smoker, rare drinker (except for coffee), I stay fit where I can, but would rather spend time drawing than going to the gym. Sorry for the gym selfie though :-)

 

If you'd like to know more, please just ask!

 

Bucky makes a non-committal sound. Not too much information in the profile, but it's passable.

 

He begins flicking through the photos, and oh my. There's the gym selfie. Bucky's not sure about what Steve says about rather doing other things than going to the gym, because the dude is ripped. And not in the scary steroid-bulging-veins way, more in the sculpted-like-a-classical-statue way. Steve's not shirtless, he's wearing a tight, sweat-soaked shirt and a pair of pretty tiny workout shorts. The image is cut from the chin down, so Bucky can't see a face, but he can see the clean lines of his arms as he holds the phone up, how the fabric molds to Steve's pectorals, the breadth of his shoulders tapering into a ridiculously narrow waist. It's enough to make Bucky's mouth a little dry.

 

The next image is of the man sitting astride a motorcycle. His long legs are encased in jeans, brown leather jacket over his shoulders, a helmet with a funky stylised wing painted on the side of it on his head. Bucky thinks he recognises the wing from an advertisement or something, but can't quite place it. That's not as important as how effortlessly cool the photo looks, however.

 

The fourth photo looks like it has been taken candidly. Steve is stretched out on a sofa, one arm dangling down as though he's asleep. Bucky takes a moment to admire Steve's body in jeans and a t shirt that rides up just slightly to show a pale strip of skin right across his lower stomach. What makes the photo amusing -- and frustrating, again -- is that a book is lying open over his face. The book is War and Peace. Bucky grunts. Is he really reading it, or is it just a fun photo where someone decided to stick a heavy book on his face while he slept? If Steve were actually reading Tolstoy, that would make him marginally more interesting.

 

The fifth photo gives Bucky pause, as it's Steve with a golden retriever mushed to his face, smiling. It's a bit blurry, obviously taken on the fly, but very cute. Due to the positioning of both the dog and Steve's hands holding said dog, however, he barely gets a look at the man's profile.

 

The final photo is of a pair of well-shaped hands on a sketchbook. It seems to be a crop of a larger photo, and the drawing itself seems to be of the Brooklyn Bridge, looking into the Financial District of Manhattan. It's an extremely good likeness, and Bucky is impressed.

 

It takes Bucky another good flip through the photos to fully comprehend the fact that he can't get a decent look at Steve's face in any photo. He frowns and sits back.

 

What's the deal with this dude not showing his face? Is he shy? Ugly? Famous? Under witness protection? Unfortunate adult acne?

 

Bucky's not sure. While the profile isn't the worst he's ever seen, it does leave a lot to the imagination. He's clearly built well, but without seeing a face, Bucky's a bit nonplussed. There are a few other nibbles there, but by and large, he doesn't think he's missing out on a whole lot if he swipes past Steve.

 

Bucky goes to take a sip of his drink, at the same time as making contact with the surface of his phone. A lone drip of coffee runs down his cup and splashes on the screen. Automatically, Bucky goes to wipe it off quickly and --

 

Shit.

 

He accidentally swiped right and matched with Steve.

 

Bucky wipes the liquid his screen off quickly and puts his coffee down. No matter, he can quickly unmatch himself before Steve even realises and--

 

Steve has sent you a new message

 

Well, fuck. Steve must be on Tinder right now.

 

Bucky sighs and glares at the alert, and grudgingly flicks to the message screen. Whatever he is, he's not a total asshole. If the guy has already messaged him, he can at least engage. Preferably briefly. And then unmatch later.

 

Clicking on the link, Bucky opens his message.

 

Steve: Hi, James! I was really hoping you would match with me!

 

Bucky mulls over his prospects and decides on a response.

 

James: Thanks for the super like, it's very flattering :-)

 

His reply is immediate.

 

Steve: No problems. I liked what you had to say, and you look great.

 

Steve: Look like someone I would like to know better.

 

Steve: It's not all about looks, but you do look really nice.

 

Steve: I'm trying to get out of this hole, it's not working.

 

Bucky lets out a surprised chuckle. Well, it was a bit dorky, and kind of cute. Maybe Steve isn't a meat head gymbro after all.

 

James: No, it's okay. Dig up, stupid!

 

Steve: Wow, you're kind of a jerk :p

 

James: It's a Simpsons reference. Don't tell me you haven't seen it.

 

Steve: Was it on recently?

 

James: Dude, the Simpsons has been on for 20 yrs. This was one of the earlier seasons.

 

Steve: Oh. I'll have to try and see it.

 

James: Didn't you watch it on tv when you were a kid?

 

Steve: My family didn't have a tv when I was growing up.

 

Bucky snorts derisively and continues typing unthinkingly.

 

James: Did you live in the dark ages? What, were you poor or something?

 

Steve: Yes.

 

Bucky stops. Well, fuck, that kind of went somewhere bad super quick, and it's his fault. He tries to soften his words.

 

James: I'm sorry, that was pretty rude of me. I didn't mean to insult.

 

James: Do you have a tv now? I figure if you have a smartphone it's a good bet.

 

Steve: I do.

 

James: You don't have that much to catch up on. Focus on seasons 7-11. Nothing is as good as those.

 

Steve: I'll be sure to write that down.

 

Steve: on my papyrus.

 

Steve: with my quill

 

Steve: by candlelight.

 

Bucky barks out a laugh. Clearly the muscles are hiding a mind that is deeply sarcastic, and that's something Bucky can relate to. Steve seems comfortable sassing Bucky already, Bucky automatically gives it straight back to him, safe polite responses be damned.

 

James: Who's the jerk now, you punk??

 

Steve: haha, now we're even.

 

Bucky finds himself unwittingly smiling. He takes another swig of coffee, while Steve sends another message.

 

Steve: So you have a kitten?

 

James: Yeah, a little calico. She's too sassy for her own good.

 

James: That lab yours? Looks cute.

 

Steve: I wish! Lucky belongs to a friend. I'm away for work a bit, and my schedule can be pretty sporadic... I wouldn't want to be an irresponsible pet owner. But I love animals.

 

James: That's a shame. Pets are awesome. Sure, it's annoying when I wake up and Babushka's asleep on my face and I'm nearly suffocating... but she's good company otherwise.

 

Steve: That sounds nice.

 

Steve: The company part, not the suffocating part.

 

Bucky wonders what kind of job Steve has that is so erratic he can't keep a pet. Babushka drives him crazy some days, but he wouldn't have it any other way.

 

James: So what did you say you did again?

 

There's a pause before the answer comes through.

 

Steve: I didn't. I work for the government? It can be pretty hectic.

 

Bucky chews on his bottom lip a little, intrigued.

 

James: I'm guessing you're not a pencil pusher? Don't think desk jockeys have to be that buff :p

 

He stops for a moment. Bucky meant to unmatch from Steve, not keep the conversation going, and getting borderline flirty. But he's starting to find him stimulating, not in the least because it seems the guy has a little more to him than being a slab of unthinking muscle. Bucky's done hot-but-dumb before; it gets tiresome.

 

Steve: Sometimes I think a desk job would be a nice break, but I like what I do.

 

Steve: You know about active, right? How long did you serve?

 

James: '08 to '14. Iraq and Afghanistan mostly, but also trained on bases in Dubai and Saudi Arabia. Spent a lot of time around sand. Not a fan.

 

Steve: I know the feeling. Was in the Army before my current job.

 

Bucky's eyebrows go up, but he can't say he's fully surprised. The information is kind of welcome. As trite as it sounds, there's some things he's been through in his life that only other soldiers can even begin to comprehend.

 

James: What regiment? Maybe we've actually met before :)

 

There's a little pause before Steve answers.

 

Steve: I don't think so, I feel like I definitely would've remembered you!

 

Steve: As to my record, I was in a Special Ops team? There's still a lot of information that is classified, and it does relate a little to my current job.

 

Classified Army and now government work? It's possible he works for an internal agency like the FBI or CIA. Maybe even an undercover field operative. It would explain an erratic work schedule and quite potentially why none of his photos show his face.

 

James: Ahh, it's an 'If I told you, I'd have to kill you' scenario, right?

 

Steve: I'm sorry.

 

James: if it makes you feel any better, I was with the 75th, so most of my record is sealed, so we're even.

 

There's a bit of a pause in the communication, and Bucky takes another sip of his coffee. With all the typing he's doing it's getting cold.

 

When he does get a reply, he's glad he's swallowed the coffee, otherwise he might've accidentally spat some out.

 

Steve: ... You mean you got to wear those little Ranger panties? I've heard of these.

 

James: First of all, they're SHORTS.

 

James: Secondly, they're comfortable. I mean, seriously super fucking comfortable.

 

James: Thirdly

 

There is a long pause in which Bucky doesn't type anything. It is enough to prompt a response from Steve.

 

Steve: Thirdly?

 

James: I don't have a thirdly, I just thought it'd sound better if I had three points instead of two.

 

Steve: Haha

 

Steve: it feels like I won that one.

 

James: Anyone ever told you you're a competitive son of a bitch?

 

Steve: It's been mentioned in passing, yes.

 

So help him, Bucky is starting to like him.

 

Casually looking at the time, Bucky sits up straight in his chair. It's nearly time to meet the kids. With mild surprise he realises he's been trading messages with Steve for half the time he's been waiting.

 

James: Sorry to do this, but I've got to run to work. Playing baseball with kids is serious business.

 

Steve: That actually sounds like great fun.

 

James: Equal parts fun and hard work, actually :)

 

Steve: I've really enjoyed talking to you, James. Can I write you later?

 

Bucky chuckles at the slightly endearing antiquated turn of phrase. He gives it a quick think, but the answer has been obvious for at least the last fifteen minutes.

 

James: Yeah, sure. I'll let you know who wins.

 

Steve: Yankees or bust! Dodgers are filthy traitors.

 

Bucky smiles as he closes the app, only to be distracted by a few familiar faces squished against the window of the coffee shop. Apparently his group has decided to meet him along the way instead of waiting at the school.

 

He gets up and pockets his phone, before throwing his empty coffee cup in the trash on the way out.

 

"All right, all right, no faces on the glass or you're cleaning it up," he grumbles. The kids just laugh at him, Felicia throwing a catcher's mitt at his face, which he grabs deftly. "Funny. Okay, march!" Bucky herds the kids forward on the sidewalk and promptly forgets about his messages with Steve.

 

***

Steve doesn't forget about him, though. Later on in the evening, after Bucky's made some dinner and is kicking back watching tv, his phone chimes.

 

Steve: So I found that episode of the Simpsons you were talking about? It was in season 5.

 

Steve: It was pretty funny.

 

Bucky grins and puts down his plate on the couch next to him.

 

James: The cat burglar one, right? I haven't seen it in years. But it's a good one.

 

Steve: Do you have any other recommendations? Simpsons or otherwise?

 

James: TV? Movies? Gimme a frame of reference.

 

Steve: All of the above. Sometimes I have heaps of free time, sometimes I have none at all. I tend to miss out on a lot of things due to that... I'd happily take suggestions on board.

 

Steve: To narrow parameters slightly, I like drama, comedy, action -- but not necessarily war -- movies. With TV I generally stay away from reality shows, as they make me want to punch people. Other than that, the field is pretty open.

 

Bucky understands the subtle distinction between action and war movies. He loves Die Hard but he couldn't sit through the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan even if you paid him. And you can forget about American Sniper.

 

Some things just ping him in a bad way, even though he'd like to think, as far as circumstances allow, he's a moderately well-adjusted individual.

 

James: Settle in, Steve. Got your quill and papyrus ready, or do you need to go find a candlestick first?

 

James: That is, if you've got time this evening? Work, etc?

 

Steve: I've got time.

 

Steve: To sit in the dark with no electricity and, I don't know, ponder the Great Depression.

 

Bucky, who has taken another mouthful of his pasta in the meantime, nearly accidentally spits his mouthful out.

 

James: Gotta say, Steve, when I was looking at your gym selfie, I didn't realise the muscles hid such an unrepentant smartass.

 

Steve: How hard did you look, James?

 

Pretty damned hard, Bucky thinks to himself, but holds back from typing that in response.

 

James: Also, if you're going to sass me this righteously, you should probably start calling me Bucky.

 

Steve: Okay, but why Bucky?

 

James: Nickname I prefer to my given one.

 

Steve: I feel like there's a story behind this, Bucky :)

 

James: For another time, maybe :)

 

James: Quill at the ready?

 

Steve: I'll try not to drip from my inkwell :p

They exchange messages most of the evening. Bucky's pasta goes cold and he scolds Babushka for sticking her nose in it, but she ignores him. Steve seemed to miss out on some of the best and most fundamental cartoon shows of the 80s and 90s, and Bucky tells him so. He tentatively asks that if maybe he didn't have a tv, perhaps a friend from school had one and he could've watched there?

 

Steve explains -- not unkindly, but matter-of-factly -- that when he was little he was sick a lot. Consequently he missed out on a lot of school and didn't really have too many friends. He goes on to explain he's physically a lot better now.

 

Steve: I don't want to make excuses, but sometimes if I come across a bit awkward, please remember my lack of social interaction with peers as a child and take pity on me.

 

James: Oh, like your very first messages to me?

 

Steve: Shut up :p

 

Some hours later, Steve mentions he has to get some sleep, and makes an offer.

 

Steve: I'd like to give you my phone number. You're completely not obligated to use it at all if you don't wish, but if you ever wanted to text me, or even have a phone conversation, I'd like that a lot.

 

Steve gives him his number, and Bucky doesn't even hesitate in programming it into his phone.

 

He waits for a moment, before scooping up Babushka and taking a quick selfie of her pushing her tiny paws belligerently against his face. Bucky sends it, along with the text:

 

Just because I can't see your face, doesn't mean you get to escape from mine :P Goodnight, Steve.

 

Steve replies back immediately.

 

Haha, I really wish I didn't have to go. Don't upset your cat just to send me great selfies. Have a lovely evening. Goodnight, Bucky.

 

Immediately followed by:

 

Can I write you tomorrow?

 

Bucky shakes his head almost fondly.

 

Sure you can.

 

Excellent, Steve replies, I'll speak to you tomorrow. P.S. You look very handsome in your picture.

 

Bucky doesn't know what to reply to that, so he just lets it go. He spends the rest of the night toying with his phone, and accidentally allows Babushka to eat the rest of his penne.

 

***

Over the next few weeks, contact with Steve is almost a daily occurrence. Sometimes, depending on either of their schedules, it's only a handful of texts, other times, there's a chain of them going from early morning until late at night.

 

Two things stay consistent, though. Steve always texts a 'Good morning, Bucky' first thing, and his last text of the evening is, without fail, is 'Goodnight, Bucky. Can I write you tomorrow?'

 

Steve starts posting pictures to him. As expected, they never contain anything that will identify him, but that's not to say he's not in them at all; they just never include his face.

 

Sometimes they're photos from his travels around New York, pictures of sketches he's currently working on, his coffee pot as he impatiently waits for it to brew. Steve's obsession with coffee is close to Bucky's heart. There have been a few from a high rise building looking down on Midtown, leading Bucky to believe that Steve might be based somewhere in Manhattan for work, even if he lives in Brooklyn.

 

If Bucky really wanted to he could start researching and trying to figure out what Steve does, and where he's based, but he doesn't want to do that. He's enjoying Steve letting him in with baby steps. It's like being given a little piece of a puzzle each day, that Bucky studies and figures out where it fits in the overall scheme of things. He's always been fond of a good brain-teaser.

 

Their texts sometimes take on a flirty tone, and Bucky's finding it harder and harder to resist flirting back. In actual fact, he's wondering why he's resisting at all, but it comes down to that initial (misplaced) reticence about matching with Steve's profile in the first place. He is starting to become more interested in Steve, maybe it's time he began showing it more obviously.

 

One morning Steve sends a picture message from his run of the pre-dawn light in Prospect Park.

 

Good morning, Bucky, rise and shine! He says, knowing very well that Bucky despises getting up before the sun.

 

Bucky has forgotten to mute his message tone and it wakes him up. He scrubs a hand across his face tiredly. Now he's up, he won't be able to go back to sleep. The words are so bright and chipper Bucky just knows they're drenched in sarcasm.

 

God-fucking-damnit Steve why are you so cheerful, he texts back. With a yawn, he flicks on the tv straight away, happy that cartoons are on. The quiet can be oppressive sometimes.

 

It's the start of a beautiful day, comes the reply, and another photo of the park, presumably from a bench because there are a pair of long legs encased in pretty tight sweats at the bottom of the frame. Steve's ankles are crossed casually, but Bucky spends longer than he should following the line of muscle under the fabric.

 

Parts of him, early-morning-still-half-asleep parts, twitch with interest.

 

Looking down, Bucky's lips curve in a bit of a grin at a remembered conversation between him and Steve. After a moment's hesitation, Bucky engages the camera on his phone, holds it up and takes a photo. After inspecting it, he attaches it with the message: Can't be as good as still being in bed watching Spongebob. You are doing life wrong.

 

Ostensibly it's a photo of what he's watching on tv, but two-thirds of the bottom of the frame are taken up by Bucky's body. He sleeps shirtless in summer, and the only thing he's wearing is...

 

Are they the Ranger panties? Comes Steve's immediate response.

 

Ranger SHORTS, Bucky corrects. And yes. I sleep in them sometimes. Like I said; comfortable.

 

There's a bit of a pause, wherein Bucky second-guesses what he's done. The flirting has been kind of gentle and up to this point hasn't included any even slightly risqué photos. Steve comes across as a little old-fashioned, which is really endearing. Maybe he's overstepped.

 

Wow. Absolutely amazing.

 

There's a pause before a second message comes through: Your sheets are incredible.

 

Bucky grins. He hasn't overstepped.

 

May I point out that you have woken me up -- on a Saturday, no less -- purely to be an asshole to me? I'm not sure why I'm still talking to you right now.

 

Babushka jumps up on Bucky's bed and he runs his fingers repeatedly over the soft fur from her nose to her forehead. She curls up next to him and starts purring.

 

He takes another photo of her curled in the crook of his arm.

 

At least someone respects me and my philosophy that mornings are for sleep.

 

And if there happens to be a good deal of bare skin in that photo as well, well that's just coincidence.

 

That's gorgeous, comes the reply. Also Babushka is pretty cute, too.

 

Bucky gives a shit-eating grin that no one else can see. Not even Babushka, she's sound asleep already.

 

***

It doesn't happen really often, but Bucky will have a bad night from time to time. They're not a daily or even a weekly occurrence, but he's never gone more than a month without having at least one.

 

When he does, if it's after 2am and before 7am -- despite what his VA counsellor says about no time being a bad time -- he'll sit at the bottom of his shower and decompress for a while before calling. If it's past 7am, he'll call Benjamin straight away and they'll have a talk. That's usually enough to calm him down, but if it's not, they'll get together and have a very strong coffee and a chat.

 

It's 5.23am, and Bucky is lying in sweat-soaked sheets. It's too early to call Benjamin and he just doesn't want to have a shower right now. He doesn't want to leave the relative comfort and safety of his bed.

 

Bucky reaches out blindly for his phone. The message alert is blinking in the corner. The time stamp is from 5.12am.

 

Good morning, Bucky! Steve's text proclaims cheerfully. A bird nearly shat on me when I stopped for a water break on my run this morning. I'm wondering if that means something about the day ahead.

 

Bucky lets out a little laugh that comes out bearing more of a resemblance to a choked off sob.

 

His fingers start typing automatically. You busy? Can I call?

 

The reply is fairly quick. Of course.

 

Bucky sags in relief. He doesn't know why he wants to talk to Steve, when he's not calling Benjamin, or even any of his other friends. But it's five in the morning and he needs some human contact.

 

He sits and swings his legs off the mattress, feet hovering over the floor anxiously. Even the sensation of putting his toes on the carpet is setting Bucky's teeth on edge, so he pulls his legs back up, tucking them into his chest to lean back against the headboard.

 

Bucky hits the green phone icon and puts the device up to his ear. It rings approximately twice before the call is connected.

 

"Hey, Bucky. Is everything okay?"

 

The unfamiliar voice in his ear is somewhat deep, and it's soothing, full to the brim with what sounds like genuine concern. And bless him for realising this isn't a regular request straight away. Bucky's shoulders drop almost immediately, some of the tension seeping out. Why, when he's never heard Steve before, he doesn't know. But there it is.

 

"What makes you say that?" Bucky croaks out, voice embarrassingly rusty from disuse.

 

"Well, I know how you hate mornings," Steve says conversationally, and that pulls a small laugh from Bucky's chest.

 

"One of many things I don't miss about the Army is getting up at the ass-crack of dawn," Bucky says.

 

"I'm surprised you could train yourself out of the habit. I haven't been able to do it yet."

 

"Takes dedication and a willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty. Feel like I should get decorated for that shit. Might be nice to have a spangly accolade to my name."

 

"You'd think the big medals look really nice... and they do, from a distance. But up close they're really not all that good. Plus all you do when you get it is put them in a drawer, you know?"

 

"So you don't wear your Medal of Honor out clubbing on the weekend?" Bucky asks facetiously.

 

"Like I said; in a drawer," Steve responds, and while Bucky knows he was joking, it feels as though Steve is not.

 

He pauses, fingers rubbing over his mouth. "Uh..."

 

"Bucky?" Steve asks tentatively.

 

"You really have a Medal of Honor?" Bucky asks, his voice going slightly higher pitched than he would like.

 

"Uh, yes?" Steve answers. He sounds embarrassed now.

 

Well, shit. The Medal of Honor. The Medal of Honor. The highest military award (non-posthumous) for bravery. That Medal of Honor.

 

Fuck his life. He's not just calling a fellow soldier or a friend with his head-noise, he's calling a Medal of fucking Honor recipient. For fuck's sake, these things are presented by Presidents for the most courageous acts, and here Bucky is whining about having shitty night terrors. Suddenly the desire to talk about his problems to Steve fades.

 

"What'd you get it for? Or is it classified, too?" It seems to be a good deflection at the time.

 

There's a longer pause on the end of the line. "It's not classified, but I don't really feel like talking about it now, if it's all the same to you." Steve's voice is quiet, a little pained.

 

And the deflection crashes and burns. Bucky feels like a fucking heel.

 

"Sorry. I'm sorry. Look, it's early, I'll ah.. yeah. I'll get my foot out of my mouth and I'm gonna--"

 

"Did you have a bad night?" Steve asks gently. They've touched a little on PTSD in their texts, but nothing major. They've used the terms 'bad night' or 'bad day' as polite code for anything ranging from anxiety and panic attacks, to nightmares. Bucky is completely unsurprised that Steve cuts to the heart of the matter immediately.

 

"Yeah," Bucky says with a sigh. Suddenly, he can't sit still anymore. Sliding off the bed, he begins an aimless pacing in his bedroom.

 

"Anything specific? Anything you want to talk about?" Steve prods gently.

 

Bucky cards the fingers of one hand repeatedly through his hair, ending each stroke with a little tug on the end of the strands. The pull at his scalp keeps bringing him back into the room. "Nothing specific. I can't even remember what the dream was about, or who was in it... I just woke up feeling sick, and scared."

 

"I'm sorry, Bucky," Steve says. If anyone else told him they were sorry for how he's feeling, he'd probably tell them to cram it. But Steve knows, as much as any other human can know, and that's okay, he supposes.

 

"I'm sorry for calling, Steve, I'm not thinking straight. And Numero Uno on the 'Not Thinking Straight' list is phone the guy I've been texting to speak for the first time when I'm feeling my absolute shittiest."

 

"I don't know," Steve says, "It's actually a little flattering."

 

His tone is really kind, but there's also a low burr in that voice that's on the edge of sexy, which also sounds completely unintentional on his part.

 

Which only makes it sexier to Bucky.

 

"Only you would think that, Steve," Bucky says, stopping his pacing for a moment to scrub a hand across his face. "You sound all smooth and entirely too awake for this time of morning, and I sound like I've been gargling sand."

 

"You don't sound bad, don't be so hard on yourself."

 

Bucky sighs and they lapse into silence. He's not sure what to say, but Steve does it for him.

 

"I've been wondering for a little while what your voice sound like."

 

"Oh?" Bucky queries, taking a shuffling step forward. "Have I lived up to your lofty expectations?"

 

"Met and exceeded them all," Steve answers with confidence, and Bucky shakes his head. This guy might actually be too good to be true, and that makes him inherently suspicious.

 

Steve gives a warm chuckle. "Do I sound like you thought I would? I'm curious."

 

"Your voice is--" Better "--deeper than I thought it'd be. I didn't think you'd speak like David Beckham, but still. Deeper." Bucky clears his throat.

 

"You sound a little better, your breathing's evened out," Steve comments, and Bucky starts. Without really noticing, the tension in his muscles has been easing over the last minute or two, the ants running under his skin slowing their ceaseless march.

 

He's almost forgotten why he called Steve in the first place.

 

"And please don't mistake this for complaining, but why did you call me and not your counsellor? Benjamin, right?"

 

"Too early. I didn't want to be a bother."

 

"But you called me?" Steve doesn't sound annoyed. If anything, he sounds like a cross between amused and pleased.

 

"Yeah well... You were already up, weren't you? Ass crack of dawn, and all that," Bucky mumbles.

 

"I'm glad you did," he says, before there's a pause. "Okay, so I'm going to ask something, and I hope you don't think it's too much. If you do, that's fine, you're under no obligation to do anything, really, I just thought, well. I just thought..." he trails off for a moment.

 

"Getting awkward there, Steve," Bucky teases gently, and for some reason, knowing that a recipient of the Medal of Goddamn Honor can be so fucking awkward makes his chest feel lighter.

 

"Shut up," Steve says slightly breathlessly. "I was wondering if you wanted to meet up and get a coffee today?"

 

Bucky freezes for a moment, and everything in the room is vaguely charged with static electricity. He's been thinking about this for a while, and he knows more than anything what the answer should be today.

 

"No," he replies.

 

"No?" Steve says, and while he tries to hide it, the disappointment is a palpable entity.

 

"Not never, Steve. Just... not today. It's not a good day."

 

"Oh."

 

"You wouldn't be meeting the real me if we caught up today. And... I like you enough that I'd rather you meet Bucky Barnes, well-rested and deeply sarcastic, not the exhausted, bitter human functioning on two hours of truly crappy sleep."

 

There's a pause at the end, and when Steve answers, some of that disappointment is gone from his tone. "I understand. I really do want to meet Deeply Sarcastic Bucky."

 

"Pal, at this stage it's a bit of a foregone conclusion."

 

Steve chuckles, and there's a pause that's not awkward, just calm.

 

"Thanks for letting me call you," Bucky says quietly.

 

"Anytime. You doing any better?"

 

Bucky takes stock of his hands that aren't trembling, his steadier heart rate -- now only slightly elevated. "I am," he replies. "I don't work until later this afternoon, so I've got time to... level off."

 

"Do me a favour?" Steve asks, then continues before Bucky can answer. "Call Benjamin? Be a stubborn ass and wait until after seven if you have to, but call him?"

 

Bucky had planned to do that anyway, but doesn't get argumentative at the suggestion. "I will," he says.

 

"Well, I'll let you rest, and give you a bit of space for the rest of the day, if you like," Steve says.

 

While Bucky wouldn't be averse to hearing from Steve more today, he also knows he needs to work on calming and focusing techniques with Benjamin, catching up on sleep, and being prepared for his job later in the day. A day to himself won't kill him.

 

"That would be much appreciated, thank you."

 

"Two quick things, though. One, now that we've spoken on the phone, do you think maybe we could do it again at some stage? If you wanted to."

 

"I am definitely okay with that."

 

"Great," Steve says, and Bucky can practically feel the relieved grin in his voice. "Secondly... can I write you tomorrow?"

 

Bucky really can't help the helpless smile that graces his exhausted features. He suspects that Steve does know the answer is 'yes' every day, but it's still nice to be asked. Bucky likes it. "Of course."

 

True to his word, Bucky has radio silence from Steve for the rest of the day, save for one message in the early evening after he's finished with his kids, wishing him goodnight.

 

***

The first phone call seems to open up even more avenues of communication for Bucky and Steve. They still text most days, and they talk on the phone several times a week. The phone calls get longer.

 

Steve is pleasant to talk to. He's got a world view unique and quite unlike anyone else Bucky has ever met. He has old-fashioned values, but he's not close-minded. He's the sort of guy that would hold a door open for a woman, not because he thinks she's incapable or shouldn't do it herself, but because it's the polite thing to do.

 

The coffee date is an ever-present subject, and a definite date is made. Unfortunately, the night before their proposed meet, Steve calls apologetically and says he's getting sent out of state for a week for work.

 

"Should I be reading into this at all, Steve?" Bucky jokes. "We make a time to meet up and you suddenly have to go away for work?"

 

"Well, you are a terrible conversationalist. I mean, really. No redeeming qualities whatsoever," Steve says dryly, though he can't hide the tease in his voice. "To tell you the truth, I was in it purely for the coffee."

 

"Your priorities are spot on," Bucky notes.

 

"But I am sorry," Steve says, and the genuine apology is back in his voice. "I'll likely be gone for a week, if it's longer, I'll find a way to get a message to you. Hopefully it won't be."

 

"It's okay, if you go full comm blackout, I understand," Bucky says. "Go off and save the world, or whatever it is you do."

 

There's a slight pause on the end of the line before Steve speaks again. "Can I write you when I get back?"

 

Bucky knows he should probably be getting tired of the question, but he's not. He's really not.

 

"I'll allow it," Bucky answers, as though he's doing Steve a favour.

 

"Great," Steve answers, and Bucky's fairly sure he can hear the smile on the other end of the line. He's not seen Steve's face, but he sounds like the kind of guy that would smile a lot. "Goodnight, Bucky."

 

"Goodnight, Steve. Stay safe."

 

***

Bucky doesn't realise how much he just foregoes general interaction outside of work until Steve's gone, because he realises quite quickly that in the last six weeks, communicating with Steve has filled in those gaps.

 

He still gets the odd notification from Tinder where there's been a match, and some of the connections he's made still talk to him, but Bucky has found the desire to continue swiping through -- and the subsequent follow-through conversations -- has dwindled somewhat.

 

Someone he'd matched with before talking to Steve starts chatting to him, and given he's not doing anything else, Bucky returns conversation. It's not the same, though. The guy is a bit of a dick; too full of himself to do much more than talk about himself all the time, never asking anything about Bucky save for wanting to know when they can meet. As if, Bucky thinks, and unmatches them after declining.

'

Without Steve to talk to, it turns out to be a pretty boring-ass week. Bucky's not moping, he's not, but he can't even be bothered to do much more of an evening than park himself on the couch, watch tv and stroke Babushka.

 

He doesn't even get much solace there, when the movie he's watching (along with a lot of other channels) crosses over to a live feed of some of the Avengers clearing out some terrorist base in Mexico, or Brazil or something. He falls asleep on the sofa waiting for his movie to come back on.

 

***

Eight days later -- not that Bucky's really been counting -- Bucky wakes mid-morning to find his phone flashing a message. He yawns and scratches his stubble; maybe it's work calling him in earlier than his 12pm session with the group of kids from the local high school. He's organised with the science teacher to take a small group of troubled kids in their afternoon period to the New York Aquarium. They have specialised projects to work on, and the setting gives them a chance to digress from school work and talk about issues they might be having, without it feeling like they're in trouble or in some kind of counsellor's meeting.

 

Plus, the sea lion show is awesome.

 

Bucky blinks at the screen blearily, to find a message most certainly not from work. He swipes it open quickly and wills his eyes to focus on the text:

 

Good morning, Bucky! I hope you're keeping well. Back home and stuck in wall-to-wall briefings all day, but I could definitely use a coffee tomorrow morning. Maybe you'd like to join me?

 

Bucky swiftly texts a reply in the affirmative, and he definitely gains a spring in his step as they hash out the details of where and when over the course of the day; presumably in between Steve's briefings.

 

The thought that Bucky is finally going to meet Steve after about six weeks of talking back and forth has him equal parts excited and nervous. He knows he likes the guy, but he's liked people he's met before sight-unseen, only to meet them and really have no spark of attraction.

 

Maybe if all else fails and there's no romantic chemistry between them, Steve will end up turning into a friend he can catch up with. They've definitely gotten on well enough for that to be a possibility.

 

Bucky can't help hoping that there's some little spark there, though.

 

His afternoon with the kids goes well; Jonathan, a kid whose teachers say is nothing but disruptive and trouble in class, opens up to Bucky about his challenging home life while they're studying starfish at the touch pool. He also seems to do brilliantly in his set project when lots of visual aids are involved. Bucky suspects home problems coupled with a potential learning difficulty might be contributing to his behaviour. He makes some notes for the school and his own personal files.

 

He gets a few texts from Steve during the afternoon, which makes him smile. Bucky responds with photos of the sea creatures he encounters, and also a quick selfie of him in front of the groper tank when the kids aren't looking.

 

Is that meant to be suggestive? Steve jokes, and Bucky sends him another photo flipping the bird.

 

***

On Saturday morning, Bucky wakes up earlier than usual. He has a shower and shaves off three day's worth of growth around his jaw, and makes sure is hair is neat. The wardrobe situation is interesting; he wants to look nice, but not like he's trying too hard. Even though it's still a little warm, he goes for a burgundy and light grey striped sweater, which he can push the sleeves up on, and a pair of black boot-cut jeans. Sure, there are tighter jeans in his wardrobe, but he wants to be comfortable. Casual attractiveness is what he's after.

 

Bucky has the option to walk or catch the subway a couple of stops to the coffee shop they've decided upon. He ends up taking the subway and getting there early to eliminate the risk of getting sweaty on the journey. Bucky arrives about twenty minutes before ten o'clock. He stalks the outside nervously for a while before deciding to get into the air conditioning and order something to eat, having been a little too preoccupied to do so before he left home.

 

He orders an Americano and a ham and cheese croissant, and finds a booth along the back wall. Sitting so he has a clear view of the door and front windows of the coffee shop, Bucky needs something to do with his hands while he waits for his coffee and food; the anticipation is a killer. With a flick he unlocks his phone and types out a message to Steve:

 

At the coffee shop, booth in the back. Look kinda like Waldo without the beanie...

 

Bucky's a bit nervous, but he always is on first dates. And let's not kid around, this is a first date. Whether it's a good or bad or mediocre one remains to be seen.

 

His phone chimes with Steve's message: ETA 5 mins. I'll find you, Waldo :)

 

The tiny part of him that was wondering if Steve might cancel again is silenced. Steve's really on his way, and Bucky can't decide whether he's excited or terrified. A waitress arrives with his coffee in a large cup and saucer, his croissant on a matching plate.

 

Bucky absently bites a corner off the croissant and goes into the folder of photos Steve's sent him, created shortly after they traded numbers. It includes the pictures from his Tinder profile, but also all the pics that Steve has sent through since they've been in contact. There's photos of his travels, art work in progress shots -- there's a beautiful study of the face of the angel statue in Central Park -- and one time, a selfie in a suit asking for advice on its cut. Bucky pores over the photos, trying to divine any extra information from them that he might've missed.

 

He's trying not to expect too much, even though said expectations have been built up pretty high based on their interactions. There's always the possibility that Steve isn't as great as he seems; God knows that's happened before and Bucky's been disappointed.

 

If nothing else, he's enjoyed talking to Steve over the past six weeks, and the man has been a breath of fresh air. Their contact has convinced him he needs to make a little more of an effort to reach out to people; he does it to the kids in his program all the time, but he could do so much more in his personal life.

 

The bell on the door chimes and Bucky looks up absently. A large man nearly fills the doorframe. Broad shoulders wear a plain white shirt, with a black lightweight jacket thrown over them. Semi-fitted boot-cut jeans encase long legs that end in fancy running sneakers.

 

Bucky's mouth goes a little dry. He's certainly the right shape, but as usual, Bucky can't see his face; he's wearing a peaked cap pulled down low, with large aviator sunglasses peeking out from underneath the brim's shadow.

 

Any question of it being the right person is summarily banished when the man in question quickly scans the interior of the coffee shop. He stops when facing in Bucky's direction. The lower part of his face gives a little grin, and he walks directly over to the booth.

 

Bucky slides out of the booth to greet him standing, but he's waved back down. "Bucky?" the query comes out in a voice that Bucky is eminently familiar with now, although hearing its timbre in person is a whole new ballgame. Bucky nods and the lower half of Steve's face opens up into a wider grin.

 

Steve holds out his hand and Bucky takes it. The skin is warm and calloused. "It's so nice to finally meet you," he says.

 

Steve sits opposite Bucky, sliding into the booth. He takes his glasses off and hangs them on the yoke of his t shirt and the cap comes off to perch on the table next to him. Steve runs a hand through his hair, trying to smooth it a little from where the hat has messed up the style.

 

Bucky looks.

 

And looks.

 

And looks.

 

"Steve," he says dumbly.

 

"Yeah?" Steve asks, a little grin creasing the corner of his lips.

 

"Steve," Bucky repeats, stupidly.

 

The grin begins to fade. "Bucky? Are you all right?" he asks with concern.

 

"Steve," Bucky repeats a third time. "Steve Rogers?"

 

The penny drops for Steve, and he looks a little embarrassed. "That's me?"

 

Bucky places both hands flat on the table in front of him to steady himself.

 

Because sitting across from him is Captain fucking America.

 

There's the strong jaw, pink lips, slightly crooked nose, crystal blue eyes and long dark eyelashes, dark golden hair he's seen on tv from time to time, or an occasional newspaper photo.

 

"So... just to clarify... Steve Rogers from Brooklyn who fought in World War II. You're that Steve?"

 

"When I said I was poor and sitting in the dark contemplating the Great Depression, I wasn't actually lying," Steve says in that ridiculously familiar deadpan, and Bucky lets out a slightly hysterical peal of laughter.

 

Oh yeah, it's the Steve he's been talking to this whole time. Nobody else is that goddamn snarky. Except maybe him.

 

Everything makes sense. His manners, the gaps in his pop culture knowledge, the nature of his job and Army service and--

 

"You just came back from Mexico. You were hunting terrorists."

 

"Venezuela, actually," he corrects. "Did you see it on the news?"

 

"A little, but I don't like to watch the news. Too depressing."

 

Bucky shakes his head and gives another laugh that is just a shade too close to manic for comfort. His eyes search Steve's face, before noticing a laceration on his left cheekbone, the centre is red and purple but the edges are turning that sickly shade of healing yellow.

 

"You're hurt," Bucky reaches out automatically, going to cup the side of Steve's face. The edges of his fingers brush the bruise and Steve's eye twitches. "I'm sorry," Bucky says, drawing back, but Steve reaches up to catch his hand and keep it there.

 

"It's okay. Yesterday it was a fractured cheekbone. Today it's just a tender bruise."

 

"Wow," Bucky breathes out, only half in fascination at the story. The other half is probably definitely because Steve is still holding Bucky's hand to his face.

 

After a few moments, Steve lets his hand go and Bucky drops it clasp his fingers together in front of him.

 

Bucky needs to take a moment. So far, nothing has happened that he has anticipated for. At all. He needs to regroup.

 

Taking up his coffee in both hands, and proud there's no tremor, Bucky sips all the while watching Steve carefully over the rim of his cup.

 

With great effort, he puts it down and laces his fingers in front of him calmly.

 

"I know you might not get this, but Lucy, you got some 'splainin' to do," Bucky says.

 

Steve gives a little smile. "I understood that reference," he tells Bucky. "But before I go into any explanations, do you mind if I order a coffee? That's really what I'm here for, after all," he says.

 

Bucky waves him off with a dismissive hand gesture. "Go. Take your sassy ways to the counter, and let me think for a minute."

 

Steve nods and walks to the counter to order. If Bucky's being honest he spends less time thinking about what's actually happening and more time staring at Steve's behind as he's buying coffee.

 

But he does spend a little time thinking about his situation. Most of it being combinations of Steve fucking Rogers and Captain fucking America, swirling around in his head.

 

Steve returns and slides back into the booth gracefully. Bucky returns to sipping his coffee as a coping mechanism and trying not to stare, but it really is quite difficult.

 

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you earlier," Steve says immediately. "It's not really something I find easy to just come out with. Plus there's a chance you'dve thought I was crazy and stopped talking to me."

 

"Well, you could've always sent me a photo of you in uniform," Bucky blurts out without thinking, and Steve laughs.

 

"There's that," he said, "but then I would've missed your face in person."

 

"Oh it wasn't that bad," Bucky scoffs.

 

"You went a little white. I thought you were going to pass out," Steve says.

 

"In that case, you might've needed to give me mouth-to-mouth." The flirt just pours out of his mouth automatically, but he doesn't wish to call it back when he sees Steve's grave nod.

 

"It would've been un-American not to."

 

Bucky laughs again, and Steve grins as well. He reaches over to pick up Bucky's croissant, tears it in half, drops some back onto the plate and starts chewing on the half he stole.

 

"Hey! Speaking of un-American," Bucky says with a wounded expression. "What kind of hero does that?"

 

"The kind that has already ordered a replacement?" Steve suggests. The waitress chooses that moment to bring over Steve's cup of coffee, as well as a replacement ham and cheese croissant, a blueberry muffin already cut in half, and a little container of fruit salad.

 

Steve thanks the waitress until she blushes, and gestures to the wares in front of him. "Help yourself," he says.

 

Bucky looks at the nice spread before them, and takes a strawberry from the fruit salad.

 

"So, I gotta ask the most obvious question," he says around chewing on the fruit, "how does Captain America find himself on Tinder? What's more, why the hell did Captain America contact me?"

 

"Well, like I said in my profile, my job is hectic and I do have difficulty meeting new people. Whilst the dating pool at work is pretty diverse, I really want something separate from that part of my life, something I can just call my own. But... maybe, someone who can at least understand what I have to do."

 

"And that's me because...?"

 

"Well, you've served in the military, which goes a long way to understanding what I do and why I do it. You work with under-privileged kids in the neighbourhood, which is important work that I respect." Steve gives him a little grin. "You're kind of sarcastic without being obnoxious, you're active, and a bit of a looker, to boot."

 

Bucky's sure his cheeks are going a little hot. He is not flushing in front of Captain America, damnit.

 

Bucky's hands curl around his coffee cup, just for something to do. "And you couldn't show your face on there because of--" He drops his voice to a whisper, "of SHIELD?"

 

"You can say their name at a regular volume," Steve grins before nodding a little. "There's the security aspect, yes. But there was also an element of wanting to meet someone without them knowing what they think they know about Captain America. I tried to include as much about me as I possibly could, just without mentioning that."

 

"You didn't want anyone to treat you differently because of who you are," Bucky finishes the thought. It makes perfect sense. Someone like Steve must find it hard to get treated just like a regular person. Hell, Bucky probably would've acted differently without meaning to, had he known he was talking to the Steve Rogers. He's suddenly very glad he didn't know.

 

"I didn't want to lie, but there were certain things I couldn't say. Do you know how annoying it was to have to put my birth year as 1987 so the profile showed my correct chronological age?"

 

Bucky hides a smirk behind his coffee cup. "I never thought of that," he admits. "It must've been terrible for you, you Boy Scout."

 

"Exactly." Steve cocks his head to the side. "What did you think when you saw me on there?"

 

"I thought..." Bucky considers. Does he tell the truth or make up some bullshit story?

 

That's not even a question.

 

He puts his cup down on the saucer. "I thought you were a bit of a meat-head gym bro who wouldn't be able to string two words together even if they were your own name," Bucky answers.

 

Steve freezes for a moment, and Bucky thinks he's definitely fucked up by telling the truth.

 

Then Steve tilts his head back and laughs. And it's possibly the best sound that Bucky's ever had the privilege of hearing.

 

***

 

And so, the best first date of Bucky's life continues. Steve is just as charming and cheeky in person as he has been on the phone or through texts, except now Bucky gets to note the hand gestures and the micro expressions and sees how his words affect Steve's behaviour.

 

Any doubts he'd previously entertained about perhaps not having any chemistry with Steve in person are summarily dashed. Steve leans forward when they speak, eyes glittering. His knees brush against Bucky's from time to time, until somehow they find their feet touching under the table. Bucky lays his left hand on the surface of their table, and as Steve's making a point about something, he lays his right hand over the top of it. And never quite takes it away.

 

They talk enough that their waitress comes over and asks if they want to order anything else. Bucky orders a regular coffee with milk this time, Steve gets a pot of tea.

 

"Traitor," Bucky says without too much heat, and Steve's fingers squeeze his briefly.

 

Bucky feels like they could continue forever until Steve's phone makes an insistent buzzing sound. He looks as though he wants to ignore it, but grabs it reluctantly anyway.

 

It's a call, not a text message. "I'm sorry, this will just take a second," he apologises before answering the phone. "Rogers, go," he says in a clipped tone.

 

The one-sided conversation is fairly short, but obviously doesn't have any news that Steve likes in it.

 

"Yes... all day yesterday... they want what? But I'm just repeating myself and-- No, no. I understand... okay. I'll be there in thirty minutes-- you don’t have to do that. Look, you don't even know where I am and-- Well yes, but... please don't tell me you bugged my clothes again--"

 

The door to the coffee shop opens and a deadly-looking black-clad figure with blood-red hair enters. She has a phone up to her ear. "Come on, Rogers, let's go," she orders. Steve looks over his shoulder and sighs.

 

Bucky's breath catches. The Black fucking Widow just walked in and is ordering Steve around. Steve heaves himself reluctantly out of the booth, and Bucky stands as well.

 

"I apparently have to do a thing. They're not quite finished with me from yesterday," Steve says with obvious chagrin.

 

"That's okay," Bucky says, scratching the back of his neck. "Duty calls, right?"

 

"Sometimes I wish Duty lost my number," Steve jokes and Bucky laughs. There's a loud clearing of a throat, and the distinct sound of a heel tapping impatiently against the floor, which Steve summarily ignores.

 

"I have to go," he says sadly.

 

Bucky nods. "I had a really good time," he says, and he means it sincerely. It's not every day you get to go on a date with one of the best soldiers in American war history and all-round living legend. "I think we should do this again. You know, if you wanted to."

 

"Me, too," Steve says with a beaming smile. They stare at each other for a moment, only to have it broken again by the Widow's impatience.

 

"If I have to get over there and drag you away..." she lets the threat dangle.

 

"You'd better go," Bucky says, giving Steve a little push in the bicep.

 

"Yeah. This could take a while." Steve says, reluctantly retrieving his cap from the table.

 

Bucky bites his bottom lip a little. "Well, bye, I guess."

 

Steve starts to back away before suddenly changing his mind. Instead of moving away, he leans in close, a hand resting lightly on Bucky's hip. Steve's hair brushes Bucky's cheek, and lips ghost over the skin there before pressing down, lighting up Bucky's nerve endings like fireworks.

 

"Can I write you later?" he pulls back to ask, but still close enough that Bucky can smell his cologne mixing with the scent of coffee on his breath.

 

Bucky grins. "Of course. Now will you leave before she kills you?"

 

Steve smiles brightly once again, skating a thumb gently over Bucky's cheek. "Bye!" he says before turning towards the door.

 

When he gets there, the Widow is watching him. Her expression isn't as severe as her words, however. In fact, the corner of her mouth twitches decidedly with amusement. "Come on, Romeo," she says, pushing Steve out the door.

 

Bucky watches them both move past the large open windows of the of the coffee shop, and sees the redhead flick him a quick, speculative glance just before she leaves his sightline.

 

When they're gone, Bucky falls back down into the booth like a marionette with its strings cut. He sits, staring at the remnants of their brunch. It's been about ninety minutes since he walked into the coffee shop, and a little over sixty-five since his world definitely became a helluva lot more interesting.

 

Bucky's picking at the leftover crumbs of the muffin he and Steve shared when their waitress comes back over.

 

"I don't mean to be rude, but... were you just having a brunch date with Captain America?" She asks with wonder.

 

Bucky huffs out a laugh. "I... I guess I was." He looks up at her with a questioning glance. "Say... you wouldn't know how to uninstall Tinder, would you?"

Chapter Text

The One With The Nickname

(Location: Bucky's Apartment)

 

Steve is sitting on the edge of the sofa at Bucky's apartment, while Bucky gets them both a cold drink. Bucky wouldn't ordinarily be inviting a date to his home so early, but Steve's a special case. Sometimes out in public he tends to cause a stir, so Bucky thinks maybe this might be a nice way to get to know one another better without the added pressure of watching out for paparazzi cameras, or well-meaning (but intruding) members of the public.

 

It's strange looking to his sofa and seeing Steve there, but it's also really, really nice.

 

"Bucky," Steve says, and Bucky looks up.

 

"Mhm?"

 

"You never did tell me why you go by 'Bucky' for a nickname."

 

"You didn't ask," Bucky replies, moving to the sofa to hand Steve a glass of cold water, before sitting next to him.

 

"I did ask," Steve corrects, "and you told me it was a story for another time."

 

"Oh, right." Bucky takes a sip of his water, and puts it on the coaster on the coffee table. "It's not really terribly exciting. My little sister Becca hated calling me 'James' when she was small, so she went straight for the middle name and butchered that instead."

 

"Your middle name being...?"

 

"Buchanan."

 

Steve freezes, and Bucky is momentarily panicked. "What? What is it?"

 

He quickly swallows his water. "Your name is James Buchanan?"

 

"Yeeess?" Bucky says, arching an eyebrow. "So?"

 

Steve shakes his head. "Wow. It's just... yeah. Coincidence."

 

"What is?"

 

Steve puts down his water and sits forward on the sofa, leaning towards Bucky. "Okay, so see the Nazi science division--"

 

"HYDRA, yeah, you've mentioned them once or twice," Bucky says wryly. "What about them?"

 

"HYDRA had this blue glowing cube. The Tesseract, they called it. It was from Asgard."

 

"Where Thor's from?"

 

"The very same."

 

Bucky is a little confused. "What does this have to do with my name?"

 

Steve shrugs a little. "Not so much your name, but your namesake. See, last time I touched the Tesseract, it sent me back in time. To 1856."

 

Bucky's eyes widen. "Shit, really?"

 

"Yeah," Steve nods, clasping his hands together. "It so happens I ended up helping one James Buchanan secure the Democratic nomination for the 1857 election."

 

Bucky's eyes nearly bug out of his head. "That's insane!"

 

"I know," Steve says. "What are the odds, huh?"

 

"Weirdly astronomical, I think," Bucky says.

 

"Who knows?" Steve shrugs. "Without me being there, your name could've been something completely different. Your name could've been John Fremont instead, and I could be calling you 'Monty'."

 

"That's kind of ridiculous and--" Bucky catches Steve's shoulders shake. "--what are you laughing at?"

 

Steve begins to chuckle out loud, and Bucky frowns. "Steve, are you having me on?"

 

Steve looks at him for one moment longer, before tipping his head back and braying laughter, clutching at his chest with one hand.

 

"You are such a lying little shit!" Bucky howls, punching Steve in the arm. It only ends up hurting his fist, but he takes mild satisfaction in the fact that Steve at least pretends to feel it.

 

***

The One With The Tinder Notifications

(Location: Bucky's Apartment)


Steve is on the floor playing with Babushka and a ribbon, when his phone on the breakfast bar vibrates.

 

"You've got a notification," Bucky says from the refrigerator, where he's rifling around. "Meanwhile, I might have to go to the store, you eat more than I thought."

 

"Can you check it out for me?" Steve asks, unable to tear his eyes from Babushka's playful gambolling. "And sorry about that, we can go now if you want? I'm buying."

 

Bucky grunts in approval, and checks Steve's phone. He sees a familiar little flame logo on the screen. He holds up the screen to Steve. "You still getting Tinder notifications?" Bucky asks, and does his best to sound as non-judgmental as possible. Even though he's still getting to know Steve, he trusts him a fair bit already.

 

Steve glances up with a slightly adorable frown. "Yeah. I'm pretty good with tech but I couldn't quite figure out how to get rid of the program," he says, admonishing Babushka gently when she sinks her claws into his hand at his inattention. "Could you help me?"

 

Bucky's grin takes over slower than molasses. "Sure. In a minute."

 

"What do you mea-- ow, Babushka, no," Steve mumbles out, trying to dislodge Babushka's needle-like teeth from his palm. She looks up at him innocently, blinking big, green eyes, and Steve immediately smiles and pats her again. Once Babushka is appeased, he gets up and dusts his knees off. "What are you doing?"

 

Bucky hushes Steve and taps the flame icon. "You've matched with Liam," he says. "28... loves art museums and-- oh. Steve," Bucky clicks his tongue in disapproval. "You're into pot smokers?"

 

"What?" Steve looks over Bucky's shoulder. "I swear it didn't say that."

 

"That's what '420 friendly' means."

 

"Oh..." Steve says slowly, brow furrowing. "I didn't know. I was going to look it up, but I didn't get around to it and it sounded harmless."

 

Bucky grins like a lunatic. "Captain Healthy-Living matched with a pot smoker."

 

"Shut up," Steve rolls his eyes and makes a grab for the phone. Startlingly, he misses.

 

"Noo... I must send him a message detailing all the doobies you wish to smoke with him."

 

"'Doobies'?" Steve scoffs, folding his arms across his chest. "Now I know you're having me on."

 

Bucky grins and goes back to Steve's matches page. He goes to click on another before stopping himself, and looking up. "The polite thing for me to do would be to ask if I could look at this stuff. Everyone else I know would freak out if someone grabbed their phone."

 

"Unlike everyone else you know, I don't need to have this on me."

 

Bucky pauses expectantly. "...But you do need it."

 

Steve's lips purse. "Well, yes, for emergencies. But if I left my phone at home and went out somewhere, I wouldn't miss it. Would you miss yours?"

 

"Desperately. I might actually have to, y'know, talk to people I don't know."

 

"Horrifying," Steve deadpans.

 

"Or talk to people I do know."

 

"Right."

 

"Or just... people. In general."

 

"Uh-huh."

 

"Also if I don't play Temple Run at least once every twenty-four hours, all my bonuses reset to zero."

 

"I feel pity for you, you know."

 

Bucky grins and hands Steve back his phone. Steve takes it and spares Bucky a brazen light slap on one buttcheek before he sits down on the sofa. "If you don't want to help, that's fine. I'm sure I can figure out how to de-install it by myself." He side-eyes Bucky as Bucky flops down next to him on the sofa, giving a large and overblown sigh. "I'd have thought it'd be in your best interests to help me."

 

Bucky puts a hand over his heart and hitches a breath. "Wow... my first guilt trip from Captain America. This is a day for the history books."

 

Steve gives him a little smile. "Actually, that was pure Sarah Rogers, that one. It was all about the big sigh."

 

Bucky notices that Steve doesn't talk about his mother too much, even though they were obviously very close. The subject had come up in their previous text messages, but it never went too in-depth, and that was long before he knew who Steve was.

 

It doesn't matter that she died 11 years ago (for Steve) or a few lifetimes ago (for the world), he thinks it's still a painful topic.

 

"Baby Steve sometimes needed a guilt-trip, huh?" Bucky asks tentatively.

 

Steve stares at the screen of his phone without really seeing it. "Mostly when I got into too many fights. All she ever really had to do was sit in her chair, wrap her hands in her apron and sigh, and I was grovelling on the floor for forgiveness."

 

Bucky grins. "Well-played, Mrs Rogers, well-played."

 

Steve stares at his lap, a small, sad smile on his face, and Bucky doesn't want to see Steve upset. He nudges Steve's thigh with his knee.

 

"I'll help you uninstall, on one condition."

 

Steve looks up and arches a brow. "What?"

 

"We have a little peek at your matches first, see who else you were looking at."

 

Steve ponders the deal for a moment before agreeing. They sit together, shoulder-to-shoulder as Bucky holds the phone between them, poking and swiping at the screen.

 

He pauses for a moment, finger hovering over the glass. "I should say as well, that if there's anything on here you don't want me to see, just tell me. I won't ask any questions."

 

"It's fine," Steve says. "You can look at whatever you want."

 

Bucky gives Steve an exaggeratedly shrewd glance. "You realise that this is the nightmare of most humans between the ages of fourteen and sixty-four, right? Someone else having carte-blanche on their phone?"

 

"Maybe in your century. Mine was not having enough to eat."

 

Bucky facepalms. "Oh god, here we go again."

 

"With the Great Depression and all."

 

It's Steve's absolutely favourite argument, and one he loves to bring up even when it's not relevant. Bucky's pretty sure Steve's only doing it because he knows it makes Bucky roll his eyes back into his head so far he can see his own optic nerves.

 

Bucky taps the phone deliberately, and the both take a look at the screen. He swipes to the page with all of the people Steve's matched with. There are a bunch of half-finished conversations, and a row of people along the top that he hasn't contacted yet.

 

The first thing Bucky notices is, like his own matches, there's a mixture of men and women.

 

"So how long had you been on Tinder, anyway?" Bucky asks as he touches one of the people to look at. "Or rather, how long were you on before you saw my profile?"

 

"A little over two weeks," Steve answers, shuffling a little closer to Bucky. "It was... an interesting couple of weeks."

 

Bucky chuckles ruefully. "I'll bet. And how did you find the whole 'dating by app' phenomenon?"

 

"Pretty weird. Some of the profiles are rather..." Steve searches for the right word. "Provocative," he settles on.

 

"Very diplomatic," Bucky commends.

 

"Maybe I should be 'Captain Diplomacy'," he jokes.

 

Bucky snorts. "Then you'd have a massive 'D' on your helmet, and I don't think I could ever take you seriously again."

 

"You don't take me seriously now," Steve gives Bucky a gentle elbow to his side.

 

"And you like that," Bucky returns confidently. He gives Steve a sidelong glance, who is smiling back at him.

 

"I do."

 

Steve has a way of imbuing his answers with simple honesty that Bucky often finds in short supply in the modern dating pool. It's refreshing, to say the least.

 

He clears his throat. "So... provocative, huh?" Bucky gets back on track.

 

Steve looks down at his phone screen and gives a little frown. "Yeah. I mean, it's not like I don't know what sex is, or that some people are just interested in it. There were people like that back when I was growing up."

 

"Shocking," Bucky gasps in mock horror.

 

"It's just that more people seemed to want to find stability, too. The person they didn't just have sex with, but the one they wanted to partner up with."

 

Bucky can't resist. "Even during the Great Depression?"

 

Without missing a beat, Steve nods. "Save on hot water. Take a bath with a friend."

 

Bucky laughs delightedly. "Okay so... Provocative profiles. I'm guessing you could pick the purely 'hook up' bios straight up?"

 

"Definitely. I think most people were fairly honest to the point of being brutal if they're using it purely for liasons."

 

"The gratuitous cleavage and mesh underwear shots gave it away, huh?" Bucky grins.

 

"I could see right through them," Steve nods gravely, and Bucky starts laughing so hard he wheezes. Steve has to pat him on the back, a small, amused smile on his face.

 

Eventually, Bucky regains control of his lungs and goes back to the phone. "May I?" he asks, finger hovering over some of Steve's matches.

 

"Go ahead," Steve says.

 

Bucky scrolls through the men and women listed. It's an interesting mix of people, all different ethnicities, varying in age from approximately twenty-four to thirty-five. Even though Steve said it was okay, when he chooses people to look at, he quickly swipes past the screen where Steve might've been having a conversation with them, to go to their profile and pictures.

 

"So what are your deal breakers, Steve. What's something that'll absolutely get you to swipe left?"

 

Steve looks thoughtful. "Well, if I thought they were a hook up profile, I tended to bypass automatically. Also anyone who left their bio blank. Or just filled it with emojis."

 

Bucky gives a tiny, self-satisfied smirk. "Go on."

 

"If they didn't smile once in any of their pictures, or did that stupid duck-face thing..."

 

"Good call," Bucky encourages.

 

"I found it really odd to be talking to so many people at once. And the knowledge that everyone I was talking to was probably talking to other people as well? It was a little tough to wrap my head around."

 

"I know the feeling."

 

Steve gives him a quizzical look. "Did you keep talking to other people after you started talking to me?" Bucky's face freezes and Steve pats his leg. "It's okay, I know how it works. I'm just curious."

 

Bucky presses his lips together. "I did for the first day or two? But seeing as we traded numbers really early and then moved to texting, I sort of... forgot to keep opening the app up."

 

Steve gives him a little grin that he reads as super-pleased.

 

Bucky goes back to Steve's phone and keeps scrolling through before he notices something. "Steve..."

 

"Yes?"

 

"There's a hell of a lot of brunets in your matches..."

 

Steve sits up a bit straighter on the couch. "I happen to think dark hair is very striking," he says, mock-defensively. Bucky holds up his hand in surrender, before combing his hand through his hair in an exaggerated movement. Steve rolls his eyes.

 

Bucky goes back to some of Steve's matches. They're... well, they're a good-looking crop of people. Bucky knows he's easy on the eyes and isn't necessarily insecure about his appearance, but can't help feeling a little lucky that Steve chose him.

 

An odd thought occurs. "Hey, did you ever meet up with anyone? You know, besides me?"

 

Steve shakes his head. "No. With some people the conversation dwindled, or it took a turn that I didn't care for. With others, they tended to want to meet up really quickly and... for obvious reasons, I had to vet people pretty thoroughly before I got to the stage of meeting them. I don't think I went longer than three or four days before someone wanted to meet up, so when I would put them off they tended to lose interest and stop talking to me."

 

"I can imagine," Bucky says. "Probably would've remembered seeing a TMZ report on 'I met Captain America on Tinder!'"

 

"Yeah. But in a way, that's part of why I kept talking to you? Not just because I enjoyed it, but you were just happy to chat without bringing up the meeting thing, and I ended up getting to know you... and I got to be the one to ask you to meet."

 

"And I totally turned you down, too" Bucky shakes his head. "Wow, ain't I a dope."

 

"Yes," Steve agrees gravely, "but I'll keep seeing you, anyway."

 

As they speak, Steve's phone chimes and the little flame logo appears on the top status bar.

 

"Ainsleigh has sent you a message, Steve," Bucky says expressively, his eyebrow cocking up rakishly.

 

Steve visibly cringes, and Bucky leaps on this immediately. "Ooohhh, who's Ainsleigh? What's her deal?"

 

Babushka jumps up on Steve's lap and begins pawing at his jeans. He takes to patting her absently. "Did you ever swipe right on someone accidentally and get stuck talking to them?"

 

Bucky tries desperately not to laugh. "Um, maybe once or twice."

 

"I sort of did it with this woman before I got the chance to read her whole profile thoroughly, and now she keeps sending me messages. I've not really replied, but she's not getting the hint."

 

Curiosity getting the better of him, Bucky swipes on Ainsleigh's profile. He scans the text, eyes widening with each sentence.

 

Ainsleigh, 33

 

Let's be clear about this, I'm not looking for a hook-up or a casual date, I'm looking for marriage. No one under 6' or over 190lbs, please.

 

I want a professional, career-orientated man, university educated. No tradesmen, or frivolous occupations. If we match I really do expect us to strike up a conversation and not sit there. No gameplayers.

 

I'm very dedicated to my job as an investment banker, and am looking for a like-minded, driven individual. Match with me and you won't regret it.

 

Bucky gives Steve a gleeful look. "Oh. Oh Steve. You have to talk to this woman."

 

Steve puts his face in his hands. "I don't want to. She sounds like a praying mantis."

 

"What, you mean eat your head and lay eggs in your body to hatch?"

 

Steve nods mutely.

 

"Dude, you're Captain America."

 

Steve doesn't look convinced.

 

Bucky chuckles as he flicks to her messages, where there's a very one-sided conversation going on. Steve's contributions are occasional, polite and succinct.

 

"You should tell her you're two-hundred pounds and a carpenter. Or an artist! See what she does."

 

"Isn't that kind of mean?"

 

Bucky makes a 'so-so' motion with his hand. "Maybe, but..." Bucky scans the messages where she's hunting for Steve's attention and sending him flirtatious gifs, "I dunno, she's giving me 'bunny-boiler' vibes. I'd '86' her."

 

"'Bunny boiler'?"

 

"Yeah, don't ever watch Fatal Attraction," Bucky advises. "Not if you like rabbits."

 

Steve points to his phone and stabs at the screen. "This is exactly why I want to uninstall Tinder," he says with a frustrated sigh, "I don't want to focus on anyone else right now." He retrieves his phone gently from Bucky's hands and types out a quick message to Ainsleigh.

 

Steve: I'm very sorry, Ainsleigh, but I'm deactivating my profile as I've met someone. All the best to you finding your future husband. I hope he's tall!

 

"Now will you help me uninstall?" he asks, holding his phone out to Bucky. Bucky reads the message and makes a solid effort to keep the grin from overtaking his entire face. It's pretty hard, though.

 

"Sure," Bucky says, taking the device and heading straight to Steve's phone settings.

 

Steve watches quietly, before he pipes up. "I don't see you offering to show me any of your matches, you know. Think I'll get jealous?"

 

"Oh, I know you would," Bucky replies. "Had some serious contenders there, and I'd love to show you, but..." he bites his lip and looks up at Steve through his eyelashes. "I deactivated my profile last week. Seems I met someone."

***

The One With The Cat Bribery

(Location: Bucky's Apartment)

 

The doorbell rings, and Bucky opens the door to see 6'2" of actual studly superhero waiting to be let inside.

 

"Hey," Bucky grins.

 

Steve grins right back, and leans in to kiss him on the cheek. "Hey," he says back, toeing his shoes off at the door, eyes slipping to the inside of the apartment.

 

Bucky lets him in and shuts the door, watching as Steve cases the place. He rolls his eyes.

 

"She's in the bathroom," he says, and Steve flushes a little red.

 

Sure enough, after finishing her ablutions in the kitty litter tray on the tiled floor, Babushka struts out like she owns the place -- which she kinda does. As soon as she lays eyes on Steve, however, she turns into the biggest dork-cat of all time. Gambolling up to him, and already purring like an outboard motor, she rubs her cheeks against his jeans-clad legs.

 

"Hello, Bushka," Steve coos, adopting the nickname Bucky uses for her. Babushka looks up at him with big, green eyes and meows pitifully. Steve sits and picks her up, placing her gently on his lap.

 

"Coffee?" Bucky asks.

 

"Please." Steve reaches into his pocket and pulls out a tiny mouse toy he bought especially for her. Babushka instantly turns into a miniature hunter; crouching low and stalking up to Steve's hands.

 

Bucky and Steve chat about their day, but Bucky sometimes has to repeat questions when Steve gets too intense into the literal game of cat-and-mouse he has going on with Babushka.

 

Bucky sets the coffee down on the table in front of Steve. "Should I really be jealous as to who you're here to see, anyway?" he grumbles.

 

"You, of course, Buck," Steve replies. "Babushka can't work the coffee maker."

 

"If she knew that's all it'd take to keep you visiting, she'd learn." Bucky tries to sound surly, but it's really hard when his favourite little non-human is turning Captain America into a massive pile of candyfloss.

 

Anytime Steve gets up to get a refill of a drink, or a snack, or use the bathroom, he comes back to find Babushka curled up in his spot, one eye open watching him. The big softie can't bear to shift her out of the way, so he ends up squishing closer to Bucky. Bucky doesn't mind, and Babushka ends up climbing over them both at intervals whilst they talk, even falling asleep in the centre of Steve's chest when he lies back on the sofa a little. Steve barely dares to breath, he's so happy.

 

When Steve leaves later, he finds one of Babushka's tinkly balls in the toe of his shoe. The smile he gives Bucky lights him up like a firecracker inside.

Chapter Text

The One With The Surprise Interrogation (pt 1)

(Location: Avengers Tower)

 

Steve and Bucky are hanging around Central Park, eating hot dogs and casting silly sidelong glances at one another, when Steve gets a call on his phone. He looks at the caller ID, frowns and promptly ignores it, only for the phone to continue ringing every two minutes for the next ten. With each successive ring, Steve's shoulders edge closer to his ears.

 

Bucky arches a brow after the fifth call. "You going to get that?" he says, taking the last bite of his hot dog and lobbing the foil and paper into a nearby trash can.

 

"I should," Steve mutters, "or I'll never hear the end of it." However, he still hesitates.

 

Bucky laughs. "You're not being rude to me; answer it."

 

Steve smiles at him, and next time the phone rings, he connects the call. It's a mostly one-sided conversation where Steve doesn't address the caller by name, and doesn't seem to be able to get a word in edge-wise. He does, however, agree to do something.

 

"Date cancelled on account of national emergency?" Bucky asks deliberately casually.

 

"Not by a long shot," Steve replies, "but while we're in Manhattan, would you mind if we took a side-trip somewhere?"

 

"Not at all. We're just kind of futzing around today, anyway."

 

And it's true; their day today has no structure apart from 'meet up' and 'flirt outrageously'.

 

Steve gives him the grin that melts a significant portion of Bucky's brain, and they make their way to the closest subway station. The southbound B train takes them most of the way, and Bucky enjoys the ride. Not because of the actual subway -- it's too noisy and smells like ammonia -- but because they find a seat in the corner and Steve's leg is pressed up against the length of Bucky's thigh, their shoulders brushing each time the train moves. They chat a little, but mostly just seem to both enjoy the fact that they're sitting together.

 

If all subway rides were like this, Bucky would never drive anywhere ever again.

 

When they get to street level, Steve makes a quick phonecall, informing the recipient that he'll be turning up with a friend, who will be required to pass security clearance. Bucky hasn't really bothered to ask what the destination is, but it becomes evidently clear after that conversation, and their subsequent direction of travel.

 

Avengers Tower stands tall and bright and slightly obnoxious and basically everything Bucky has come to expect from anything Stark's had a hand in building. Bucky gives a glance of trepidation up to the metal and glass as they cross the threshold and enter the foyer.

 

There's bustling activity, as Avengers Tower is still, in essence Stark Tower, too, and still the home base of Stark Industries. Steve nods to some security guys behind a desk, but keeps walking towards the elevators in the back. Bucky follows at Steve's shoulder, looking puzzled.

 

"I thought I needed to go through some security clearance...?" he asks with confusion.

 

The lift doors shut behind them. Steve gives him a kind smile. "You're about to. JARVIS?" he addresses the room.

 

"Good afternoon, Captain Rogers," a sharp, posh-sounding voice with an English accent pipes through the elevator's speakers, and Bucky jumps. "Your companion is authorised for access to the laboratory level upon passing standard security checks."

 

"Of course," Steve says.

 

"Who the hell's JARVIS?" Bucky asks. He's looking in the corners of the elevator but hasn't detected any obvious security cameras. Hell, he's really good at spotting hidden cameras, and he can't see a thing. A frisson of anxiety shoots down Bucky's spine.

 

"JARVIS is Tony's AI. He's built into the Tower and pretty much runs the place." At Bucky's arched eyebrow, Steve brushes the back of his hand against Bucky's. The touch is grounding. "He's actually pretty amazing."

 

"Thank you, Captain, I do try," JARVIS responds primly. The AI clearly turns its attention to Bucky. "Please state your full name and date of birth for voiceprint analysis and identification."

 

Flicking a glance to Steve, who nods encouragingly, Bucky eventually answers. "James Buchanan Barnes, 10th March, 1985."

 

There's a moment where in Bucky's mind's eye, the little circular 'thinking' colour wheel is spinning.

 

"Identity confirmed. Thank you, Sergeant Barnes," JARVIS responds.

 

Bucky starts uncomfortably. "I haven't been called that in a while."

 

"If you would prefer another title, I would be quite pleased to oblige," JARVIS offers.

 

"Just my name will be fine," Bucky says. His time in the Army has always been a source of pride, but that part of his life is over. The rank belongs to who he was, not who he is now.

 

"As you wish, Mr Barnes," the AI replies.

 

"How does it know about my rank?" Bucky asks Steve, sotto voce.

 

"JARVIS has access to government and military personnel databases, he would've been able to access your record."

 

"Oh." Well, that makes sense. Anything Stark invented would probably be able to do that. "What about a security check? I would've thought someone would be waving a wand or a metal detector?"

 

"Unnecessary, sir," JARVIS responds. "I have already completed my physical scans. You are unarmed."

 

"What if I had a metal arm? Or a plate in my ass?"

 

"I would be able to detect those, as well. Also, I am pleased to see that your left scapula has healed well from its break approximately five years ago."

 

Bucky sputters and looks at Steve. "How does it know about that?"

 

"My scans have detected a slight calcification where the superior notch has re-knit."

 

Bucky opens his mouth to say something, but finds his voice has gone. Steve gives him a concerned look.

 

"Thanks, JARVIS, maybe that'll be enough for now," Steve cuts in.

 

"Of course, Captain. Mr Stark is waiting for you in Laboratory Three."

 

The elevator goes blissfully silent.

 

"I know it's a bit to take in, I'm sorry I didn't think to warn you about JARVIS." Steve shrugs helplessly, moving a little closer so that their arms are pressed together. The tiny bit of contact once again helps Bucky feel more grounded. "It took me a while to get used to, but now he just feels like another person."

 

"Just omnipresent and watching your every move," Bucky answers.

 

"Something like that, yeah." Steve gives Bucky another one of his patented, encouraging smiles. "While you won't see his name on any tee shirts, JARVIS is as much an Avenger as I am. He's an invaluable part of the team."

 

"Thank you, Sir," JARVIS responds, and Bucky laughs because they both jump that time.

 

"Also, he's nosey," Steve grins.

 

The elevator opens on floor sixty-four, and Steve takes a moment to re-orient himself before turning right. Steve makes sure to keep up the casual contact as they walk the corridor to a large glass-panelled room.

 

There's a woman standing in the corridor wearing a tailored dove-grey suit and holding a clipboard. She must be important; anyone holding a clipboard usually is.

 

"Ms Potts," Steve greets, with a large, warm smile.

 

She looks up, and the little frown creasing her brow immediately disappears. "Steve. How many times do I have to tell you to call me 'Pepper'?" she scolds lightly, and tilts her face up as he leans down to peck her cheek.

 

"I guess one more time should do it," he grins.

 

The vague inkling that Bucky should know who she is coalesces. Sure, Pepper Potts, CEO of Stark Industries, and responsible for putting out more of Stark's professional and personal fires than the FDNY.

 

Pepper's gaze shifts politely to Bucky. He can see her eyes immediately take in his proximity to Steve, how Steve's body is angled in towards his, like the overprotective asshole he is.

 

"You must be the recipient of additional security clearance," Pepper says, though there's no malice in her words. She extends her hand, and Bucky takes hold of it gingerly.

 

"I'm sorry for the intrusion. You must be the woman who helped Steve decorate his apartment. I knew it couldnt've been all him," Bucky smiles charmingly and gives her hand a gentle squeeze. It definitely works.

 

"That I am. You too must have impeccable taste to have noticed."

 

"Bucky Barnes, ma'am," Bucky introduces himself.

 

Pepper rolls her eyes and shakes his hand firmly in return. "Pepper, please," she insists.

 

"Unlike this guy," Bucky chucks his thumb towards Steve, "I only need to be told once. Lovely to meet you, Pepper."

 

Steve frowns and makes a show of touching his chest. "Wow, Buck. If I had a heart, that'd really sting."

 

Bucky points at him. "Y'see what I have to put up with?"

 

Pepper nods in commiseration. "I know, trust me." Pepper cocks her head to the side. "'Bucky' is an unusual name."

 

"Nickname, really," Bucky answers. "I much prefer it to being called 'James'."

 

Pepper laughs lightly. "I can relate! Only my parents ever call me 'Virginia' now, and that's because they gave me life." They share a little chuckle together. "So Bucky, how do you know Steve?"

 

Bucky pauses for a moment, and gives a glance in Steve's direction. They've had a chat or two about this in the last couple of weeks. Of course some of Steve's friends already know about Bucky, but Bucky's happy to leave it to Steve as to who he choses to tell, and when.

 

Steve quirks his eyebrows at Bucky, and Bucky responds with a shrug which he hopes reads 'it's up to you."

 

It must be transmitted effectively. Steve turns to Pepper and ever so gently rests his hand on the small of Bucky's back. Bucky watches Pepper track the movement carefully. "Bucky's my date," Steve says with quiet confidence, then gives Bucky what he's coming to recognise as Steve Rogers 101 for 'smug bastard'.

 

Bucky huffs out a laugh and turns to Pepper. "I'm his date," he confirms with a winning smile.

 

"Oh, that's lovely!--" The attractive smile on Pepper's face at Steve's news morphs quickly into horror. "Oh. Oh no. You're on a date right now. And Tony's--" Pepper shakes her head and grips the clipboard tighter. "I told him not to bother you on your day off, and that his work could wait, but as usual, he didn't listen to me..." She turns to both men, sincere apology on her face and in her voice. "I'm so sorry you've been interrupted."

 

Bucky shrugs. "It's okay, we were just in Central Park playing a rousing game of 'Top-knots and Man-buns'."

 

"I was winning," Steve puts in helpfully.

 

"Because he's cheating. A lot," Bucky retaliates.

 

Pepper raises an eyebrow, and links her arm in the crook of Bucky's elbow. "Clearly, you need to explain this game to me," she says, walking him down the hall.

 

"Did you ever play Punch-Buggy as a kid?" Bucky asks.

 

"Sure, didn't everyone?"

 

Steve raises his hand. "Beetles weren't released until 1938 because Hitler stole the design from a Jewish engineer. So no, I didn't really play when I was a kid."

 

Bucky rolls his eyes. "Don't be unbearable, Captain Great Depression," he says, before turning back to Pepper, without missing a beat. "So it's like Punch-Buggy, save for we're looking for men wearing their hair in buns, or women with their hair pulled right up on top of their heads. There's more of them than you think."

 

They enter the large laboratory, Pepper on Bucky's right arm, Steve flanking at his left. "And how was that working out for you?"

 

"Well, Steve is really good at being distracting, and I've probably got a bruise on my arm the size of Minnesota."

 

Pepper laughs lightly, and it's only when the background tinkering of the room stops that Bucky realises where he is. Across the other side of the room, a dark-haired man with a sharp beard is eyeing their entrance critically. In his hands, he's holding one of Steve's helmets, with its wings and white stencilled 'A'.

 

Bucky's only ever seen Tony Stark on television and never in person, so he'd never realised how the man has a presence that fills up more than his actual physical space, but there it is.

 

"Hey, Cap. Pepper." He eyes Bucky analytically. "Man whom I've never met before, walking with Pepper." Bucky rears back a little. He wasn't sure what kind of greeting he might receive, but that definitely wasn't it.

 

Stark then promptly proceeds to ignore Bucky. "Steve-o. I've re-jigged your comms that were hitting interference in Venezuela. HYDRA were using some pretty intense jamming signals to isolate your frequency, but all that should be fine now. We'll be able to warn you next time you're about to run into a wall. Literally."

 

Bucky gives Steve a sidelong glance. "You crashed into a wall... Did you make a hole?"

 

"Only a little one," Steve says, and Bucky shakes his head.

 

"Stealthy," Bucky comments, and Steve pokes him with his elbow.

 

Pepper clears her throat. "Tony, this is Bucky Barnes."

 

Tony's eyebrows quirk, and he turns his body fully towards the three of them, focusing on Bucky. "'Bucky', huh?" he says, and Bucky already hates how his name sounds coming out of Stark's mouth. "Sounds like a pet jackrabbit."

 

Pepper looks embarrassed, and Steve shakes his head. Bucky simply folds his arms across his chest.

 

"So what do you do, Buckster? Let me guess..." Stark play-acts thinking carefully. "Underwear model? Sexy bartender? Male host at a strip joint?"

 

"You trying to say you find me sexy?" Bucky says without really thinking.

 

Tony isn't flustered at all. "Only in that overly-obvious way. With no subtlety."

 

"You'd know about subtlety, right Tony?" Steve puts in wryly.

 

"Hand on my heart," he says, adopting a long-suffering expression that wouldn't look out of place on an icon of a Saint.

 

"Well, too bad for you," Steve looks to Bucky and gives him a little grin, which Bucky can't help but return. "Bucky's my date, find your own."

 

Bucky internally winces as the words hit home for Stark. "Ohhhhh?" he says, pushing himself up from the lab bench he's leaning on, perking up. "Capsicle. You getting some?"

 

Steve doesn't get the chance to answer before Bucky cuts in. "Not really any of your business."

 

"I feel like it kinda is," Tony answers. "So where does one find a Bachelorette contestant like yourself?"

 

"Why, you in the market?" Bucky snipes.

 

"Gentlemen," Pepper tries to intercede, focusing a rather impressive glare on Tony. Of course, he ignores it.

 

"Tetchy," Stark clicks his tongue. "It's just that we've been wondering about Captain America's social skills for quite a while now. Dear old Dad always said he went down like a lead balloon with the ladies."

 

"I don't know about Captain America's social skills," Bucky says slowly, "but Steve Rogers makes do just fine. And last time I checked; not a lady."

 

"Not even when you and he--"

 

"Tony," Pepper cuts him off harshly, and Stark just sits back with a shrug.

 

"Whatever. So, you and Steve, huh?" Stark drops his tools and walks casually towards Bucky. "You know, as far as the ol' Star Spangled Man With A Plan went, I figured his gosh-darned morals would go for more... substance over surface."

 

Bucky's hands, resting on his biceps, tighten. "Really." He feels Steve just behind his left shoulder as a solid presence, but he doesn't cut in. Which he's thankful for, in all honesty. He doesn't need Steve to butt in and fight his battles for him, not when it comes to mouthy runts the likes of Tony Stark. Bucky doesn't care how much money the guy has.

 

Stark nods enthusiastically. "Yeah. So what do you do?

 

"Why don't you just ask your AI?" Bucky suggests. "It's done all the background checks."

 

"That's entirely no fun at all. So what is it? Secretary? Starbucks barista in one of those uptown stores? Lifeguard? Daytime TV actor trying to break into Broadway?"

 

 

Bucky gives Steve an incredulous glance, who seems to be stifling a smile. The little shit is enjoying this. Bucky's had to listen to his share of complaints about one of Steve's 'unnamed coworkers' -- before Bucky knew who he was talking to, of course -- so he's probably amused as hell at this little exchange. Unfortunately, not everyone is.

 

"Tony, you're being obnoxious," Pepper shakes her head irritably.

 

"I'm being the exact right amount of 'noxious', thanks Pep," he puts in. "If Rogers wants to bring a random into the Tower, I should be able to question him all I want."

 

Stark clearly has quite ridiculously low standards of self-preservation if the burning fire in Pepper's eyes is anything to go by. Bucky feels his temperature go up by a few degrees. He's tempted to really let Stark have it, but Steve's presence right behind him channels his reaction somewhere else.

 

Bucky shrugs, palms open and facing up. He decides instead to drop a couple of truth bombs on Tony Stark.

 

"You got me. I work with a bunch of child therapists, and run a youth outreach program for troubled and disadvantaged children over a few Brooklyn school districts."

 

Pepper's annoyance at Stark is immediately replaced with piqued interest. "Really, Bucky? That sounds wonderful."

 

Stark blinks once, looking vaguely like he's temporarily forgotten how to process the English language. "Uh..." Obviously not the vapid answer he expected.

 

Bucky continues, wanting to go for (hopeful) full devastation. "Before that, I was career Army. Rangers, in fact. That was a while ago, though."

 

"How long?" Stark asks.

 

"Long enough to be in it when you were producing weapons. Sometimes even for the other side," Bucky says, before cheerfully adding; "You were still getting called the 'Merchant of Death'!"

 

There is a very pregnant pause in which the only sound that can be heard in the laboratory is the gentle hum of an air conditioning unit.

 

"Oh." Stark actually stops speaking, which is something of a relief, as Bucky is sick and tired of hearing his voice. His grin stays frozen on his face, long enough for Stark to actually start to squirm a little. Bucky's never lost a stare-off in his life, he's not about to start now.

 

Steve, who's been silent up until this point, places a hand on Bucky's shoulder, but talks to Stark. "I think you've interrogated him enough, Tony. Thanks for looking at my comms, though. Maybe I can give it a thorough test when I'm in next, in a more official capacity?"

 

The question shocks Tony out of his sudden brain-hiccup, and he breaks eye contact with Bucky. "Sure thing, Cap."

 

Steve's fingers squeeze Bucky's shoulder slightly. "Let's head out," he says in a low voice.

 

Bucky spares Steve a bright grin. "Let's."

 

He turns to Pepper. "Really lovely to meet you, Pepper." Bucky takes her hand and squeezes it gently, before turning to Stark. "Nice to meet you, Tony. You're a lot shorter in person, though." Bucky manages to squeeze one last jibe in before Steve hustles him out of the lab.

 

Steve yanks on Bucky's hand until they reach a little further down the corridor. One look at Steve's face tells Bucky he can't decide whether to scold or congratulate him. If it were Bucky's choice, he'd go for the latter.

 

"I can't believe you said that to him," Steve says, voice husky with laughter.

 

Bucky shrugs. "He was purposefully being a dick to the both of us."

 

"That's Tony for you," Steve replies. "But as much as he is a dick, I work with him and he's not totally... abhorrent. You might've let cooler heads prevail."

 

Bucky steps back from Steve with an incredulous look. "You're telling me I should've backed off? You? The world's leading -- historical, I might add -- authority on not backing off and being a hothead?"

 

"Marvel at the source," Steve says with a tiny smile. Bucky rolls his eyes and relaxes his stance a little. His words are firm, but their delivery lacks the heat he'd give real argument. That and Steve reaches out to touch his bicep, before running his hand down the length of Bucky's arm to tangle their fingers together.

 

Steve's phone chimes twice in succession. He digs the cell out of his pocket with his free hand, and flips open the messages. A grin forms at the first, getting larger at the second.

 

Bucky raises an eyebrow, and Steve wordlessly shows his phone screen, flicking between the two messages.

 

Tony: Jesus, Cap, assholes recognize their own kind. If you wanted to date one of us, you should've just said. I could've made an exception for you. Workplace romance, schworkplace romance.

 

Pepper: I like him. [thumbs up]

 

Bucky unsuccessfully stifles a grin. "I'm surprisingly okay with both of those messages. But did Stark actually just type schworkplace?"

 

Steve grins back at him, before leaning in and pressing a kiss to his lips. It's probably pretty vanilla as far as kisses go, but it lasts longer than a peck, and while there's no deep tongue involved, Steve does clamp Bucky's lower lip with his and tug oh so gently as they part. Bucky's insides do a rather magnificent flip.

 

Steve's hand not holding his rests at the crook of his shoulder, gently cradling the base of his skull, and it doesn't seem as though he's going to move it anytime soon. "Want to get out of here?" he asks.

 

"Please," Bucky answers. "My snark has burnt off the hotdogs and I'm hungry again. Also, I intend to win round two of 'Top-knots and Man-buns'. You know, despite your cheating."

 

Steve's hand slides to his shoulder, letting the bulk of his arm fall in a comfortable weight across the breadth of his back. They walk down the corridor and back to the elevator. "Disgusting how you accuse a National Treasure of cheating. Practically un-American."

 

"Gee thanks, Senator McCarthy. You think I have a Red under my bed, too?" Bucky rolls his eyes.

 

Steve makes a show of thinking, tapping his finger against his lips obnoxiously. "You have a box spring, right? I don't think Natasha could fit."

 

Bucky whistles. "First of all, that's a terrible joke. Secondly, oh damn. If she heard you say that, she'd probably kick your ass, Rogers."

 

"You're right. You may have to protect me."

 

Bucky shakes his head. "Ohhh no. Leave me out of feuds you start with your highly trained combat-ready teammates. There's only one Avenger I'm interested in engaging."

 

Steve affects a pout that looks rather ridiculous on him as they enter the elevator. "I thought you were going to have my back."

 

"I do. Just not in superhero conflicts. Look, you want to date a heroic asshole? Take Stark up on his offer. Me? I'm just a regular, run-of-the-mill asshole. No frills."

 

Bucky gives Steve a look out of the corner of his eye. Steve is watching him intently, almost to the point of making him squirm. A beatific smile graces his lips. "I'll take 'regular, run-of-the-mill asshole' for $200, thanks Alex."

 

Bucky laughs as they re-enter the foyer. "You're never allowed to watch Jeopardy. Ever again."

 

Steve's hand once again goes to the small of Bucky's back. "Noted."

 

***

The One Where Size Does Matter

(Location: Steve's Apartment)


In the interests of not eating Bucky out of house and home, Steve invites him around to his apartment to eat and watch movies.

 

Bucky's not sure whether he expects some ultra-modern Stark-style palatial apartment, or whether he's going to be walking into some kind of weird 1940's time capsule.

 

Turns out it's neither. It's a decent-sized brownstone in Brooklyn Heights with a great view. It's bigger than Bucky's, but it's not as luxurious as Steve could probably afford. It is, however, very Steve.

 

There are big windows to let a lot of light in, and one corner of the living room acts as a makeshift studio. A draftsman's desk and an easel are tucked into the wall near the window. There's two bedrooms, one slightly smaller than the other. While the décor isn't cutting edge, it isn't terribly old-fashioned, either. Steve tells him that the infamous Pepper Potts of Stark Industries helped him with the interior.

 

There are clean lines, but there's an older charm to it as well, with the bookcases lining the walls, stacked with reading material, and the record player in the corner. There's a dock for an iPod as well, but it's nice to see those old touches. Steve says he misses the static crackle when the needle touches the vinyl, so he likes to play older music on the record player sometimes.

 

On the walls -- some framed and some unframed -- are pieces of art, ranging from old pieces on yellowed paper, to some that looks fairly recent. Bucky is drawn to a three-quarter pencil portrait of a woman, looking to be somewhere in her forties. She shares some very significant features with Steve, the shape of the eyes, turn of her mouth. Steve comes to stand behind him. "Your mom?" he queries. Steve just nods. "She's beautiful," Bucky murmurs. He doesn't get a verbal answer, only a light squeeze on his shoulder.

 

There are a few others of buildings and street scenes on the walls, which Bucky admires as well. Also on the walls there are some old photographs and memorabilia that Steve says was his from the 30's and 40's that the Smithsonian gave back to him from their exhibit.

 

There is a photo of Steve from his original SSR file. Bucky looks at it with a raised eyebrow. Like all American kids -- especially those from Brooklyn -- he learnt about Steve in school and did the requisite projects on him. But he'd never visited the DC exhibit nor done anything since Steve was defrosted. It's been a while since he's seen the picture of skinny Steve.

 

"I remember this one," Bucky says, pointing to the photograph. "It was in one of my text books in school."

 

Steve's cheeks colour slightly. "Wow, that's embarrassing to know."

 

"What, that I was looking at your picture when I was fourteen?" Bucky grins.

 

"You just had to make it weird, didn't you?" Steve bumps into his shoulder gently. The smile falls away to be replaced with a thoughtful expression. "I like to keep it around, actually."

 

"Why is that?" Bucky asks.

 

"So I remember where I came from," Steve replies simply. Bucky senses there's more to it and waits it out. "If you think about it, I've only spent about six years looking like... well, like this," Steve says, eyes on the picture. "Most people forget that I spent twenty-five years being pretty small.

 

"The serum changed the outside, but it didn't change the inside, not really. Sometimes I still feel small, and get confused when people treat me like a big guy."

 

He looks at Bucky, abashed. "Sorry, that's kind of weird."

 

"Not at all," Bucky says. It makes sense, really. Steve's never inelegant when he moves, generally graceful and steady to a fault. But there are times when Bucky will catch him standing or sitting in a certain way -- usually when he's alone -- that speaks of someone curling up to make themselves a lot smaller. Shoulders curve forward, knees get drawn in. As soon as someone joins him, Steve extends out, almost unwittingly. But in those brief moments, Bucky catches a glimpse of a much younger, smaller Steve Rogers.

 

Steve chooses a movie to watch from Netflix based on one of Bucky's many recommendations, while Bucky sits himself on Steve's plush sofa. When Steve joins him, he sits close, but not too close.

 

Bucky's arms are around the back of the sofa, his legs stretched out towards Steve.

 

And he has an idea.

 

"Hey, c'mere," Bucky says.

 

Steve shuffles a little closer. "Not good enough," Bucky gripes, pulling him over further until Steve's head is resting on his chest. With a tentative gesture, Steve curls one arm around Bucky's back between him and the sofa cushions, stretching his legs out behind him.

 

When his head is comfortably in the centre of Bucky's chest, Steve lets out a little sigh.

 

"Everything okay?" Bucky asks in a low voice.

 

"I feel small again," Steve replies.

 

"That a good thing?"

 

Steve gives him a little chuckle and moves in what Bucky would suspiciously class as a nuzzling manner. "Oh yeah."

 

Bucky grins and drops one arm down to curve around Steve's shoulder. They stay like that for a long time.

 

***

The One With The Surprise Interrogation (pt 2)

(Location: Neighbourhood café)

 

It's a beautiful morning, and Steve and Bucky walk to a favourite café of Steve's for some brunch. Bucky has to work in the afternoon, and Steve's got to test some field equipment at Avengers Tower just after lunch. To be a shit, Steve asks Bucky if he'd like to head to the Tower again, and Bucky politely declines (by flipping him off).

 

Steve's still laughing about that, and let it be said that while Bucky appreciates Steve's friends and co-workers, he's not necessarily in a great rush to meet them just yet.

 

Which is why when they arrive at the café and Steve immediately walks to a booth already occupied, Bucky tenses slightly.

 

The black man sitting at the booth is tall, and handsome, and smiles easily. He pulls Steve into a hug and slaps him on the back a few times. Bucky stays back a few conservative paces and observes.

 

"Good to see you, man," the stranger enthuses warmly, and Steve grins in reply. Both pairs of eyes then drift to Bucky. Steve beckons him forward, sliding a hand to his elbow.

 

"Sam, this is Bucky," Steve says, and Bucky notes the tentative cadence. Steve's slightly nervous, that doesn't bode well. Bucky suddenly feels the weight of expectation upon him, and it makes his neck itch.

 

Sam gives him a once-over, open and friendly smile in place. "You're the famous Bucky Barnes, eh?" Sam offers his hand and is polite enough to wait patiently while Bucky slowly makes the decision to take it.

 

"I'm Bucky, don't know anything about being famous, though," Bucky responds, shaking Sam's hand slowly.

 

"Oh, to hear this one talk, you hung the moon," Sam says, and releases Bucky's hand, gesturing back to the booth he'd been sitting at. Steve looks at Bucky, but Bucky insists Steve to sit first, so he can be on the outside.

 

He's (mostly) well-adjusted, but he still doesn't like being boxed in.

 

Bucky gets settled in the booth and watches Sam catalogue each one of his movements in minute detail. He knows it, because he's doing it right back to Sam, taking in his bearing (military, definitely), how he observes Steve (good friend, cares about him), and his beverage of choice (tea, he must be stopped).

 

It takes a few moments, but a miniature lightbulb goes off in Bucky's head. "Sam..." he says, quite before he realises he's speaking, "Sam Wilson? You're an Avenger, yeah?"

 

"Newly minted," Sam says proudly.

 

He turns to Steve and gives him epic side-eye. "So you don't actually have any normal friends, do you?" he asks, and it comes out a touch sharper than he intended, and Steve meets his eyes with some level of confusion.

 

His brow creases as he goes to answer, but Sam interrupts. "Hey, on the normalcy scale of zero to Thor, I'm practically negative-three."

 

"Except you're a superhero," Bucky hits back.

 

"I do have normal friends, but Sam's my best friend," Steve tells Bucky, and he really does sound perplexed now. "I wanted you to meet him."

 

"And I'm happy to, I just--" Bucky stops and blows air sharply from between his lips. He doesn't know how to explain himself.

 

Bucky's eyes slide to Sam and he bites his lip. He really doesn't want to be having a conversation like this with Steve in front of Steve's bestie. It's not a fight, or even an argument, it's just--

 

"Oh, I see," Sam says, and it's in a tone that is so self-assured, Bucky's almost worried. Almost.

 

"Well, could you draw me a picture?" Steve says, a pinch of frustration leaking into his tone.

 

Sam fixes Steve with an unwavering gaze. "You didn't tell Bucky I was coming, did you?"

 

"Thank you!" Bucky blurts out, only to clam up immediately.

 

Steve, bless him, still looks confused. "But Sam's great! I didn't really think it was that important."

 

"And that's really flattering, Steve," Sam says kindly, "but how many soldiers -- or ex-soldiers, for that matter -- do you know that actually like surprises?"

 

And when the penny drops, it's not so much a penny as it is a ten-tonne weight.

 

"Oh shit," Steve says and Bucky internally punches the air that Steve swore. Because it's never not funny when Steve swears. He gives Bucky the most horrified, hang-dog look. "I'm sorry. Sam asked to meet the same time we were going out, and I thought it'd be great to introduce you." His shoulders slump dramatically. "I thought you might get nervous after the Tony thing, and--"

 

"Wait wait wait," Sam cuts in, "he met Tony already? You met Tony?" Sam directs the second question to Bucky, and Bucky nods.

 

"I had to stop by the Tower earlier in the week to check some things out, and Bucky came with me," Steve explains.

 

"And he got subjected to Stark? Before me? Man, that's just cruel." Sam leans back in the seat, shaking his head in a mystified fashion.

 

Steve shuffles closer, and his shoulder brushes Bucky's. "He actually handled himself really well. Went toe-to-toe with Tony."

 

Sam's face lights up. "Yeah? Tony can be hard work. I mean, I love the guy, but sometimes I just don't like him, y'know?"

 

Under the combined weight of Steve's flattery and Sam's understanding, Bucky finally starts to loosen up, the faint coil of tension around his spine easing.

 

"Well, in between the know-it-all AI and Stark pegging me alternately for a host at a strip joint or a barista, it was an interesting twenty minutes."

 

"I'll bet. What did you come back at him with? From what I've heard from Steve, you've got a pretty smart mouth on you."

 

Bucky gives Steve another sideways glance, though this one is a lot kinder than the first. "You talkin' about me, Rogers?" he asks with a small smile.

 

Steve gestures to Sam dramatically. "Best friend, Buck."

 

Bucky rolls his eyes. "Right, right."

 

Sam rests one elbow on the back of the seat behind him. "I know Tony in full flight can be pretty intimidating. How'd you knock him down a peg?"

 

"Bucky told him he looked shorter in person!" Steve blurts out, what Bucky would describe as a ridiculously shit-eating grin on his face.

 

Sam's eyes bug out, his mouth falls open. Then he starts laughing, and it's a full-body laugh that is completely, one hundred percent infectious. Bucky feels Steve jerking beside him as he starts his own round of guffaws, and in the face of such laughter, Bucky really can't keep a straight face, either.

 

"Oh man, can we get JARVIS to playback the security feed? It would've been amazing. What did he do?"

 

"I don't know," Steve wheezes, "we didn't stay long enough to find out!"

 

Sam starts laughing again, which sets Bucky and Steve off. Bucky puts his hand up to his face, elbow leaning on the table, laughing helplessly, and Steve ends up pressing his face into Bucky's bicep, hand on his thigh. He can actually feel Steve's laughter-tears wet the fabric on his shirt.

 

They laugh together for a few moments, and it's good, really good. Sam catches Bucky's eye and it sets off another bout of snickering.

 

The dam finally breaks on any remaining apprehension that Bucky had when he realised Steve was springing a friend on him. A waiter comes over to take their order, which seems to be enough to feed a small army.

 

Bucky takes it upon himself to get to know Sam; the guy is obviously an important part of Steve's life, it would be a smart thing to give him the time of day. But he quickly finds out that having time for Sam and listening to him are the easiest things in the world.

 

Sam is an absolute delight; he's amiable and level-headed, but in no way boring. In fact, his 'regular guy' insights on the craziness that surrounds Steve's life are downright hilarious. He asks Bucky about attending his local VA, but not in a guilt-tripping way like others have done in the past. Bucky tells him outright he only goes semi-regularly to meetings, but he's in regular contact with his counsellor and calls when he has issues.

 

"I have a shitty night or a shitty day from time to time. It's not great, but I'm not too stubborn to call Benjamin. I mean, what's pride going to get me? A fucking nervous breakdown, probably."

 

Sam nods in approval. "That's a real healthy attitude to have. We all need help sometimes, there's no shame in that." And Bucky definitely doesn't miss the very pointed look he shoots Steve.

 

It turns out Steve has talked about him to Sam, but there's still plenty of things Sam doesn't know, and that's good. It's nice to know that Steve doesn't relay the details of every single conversation they've ever had to his friend.

 

Their food and coffee -- dear, sweet giver of life -- arrives, and the three men attack it with gusto.

 

"I don't know how he can be using his Sunday-dinner manners and still manage to shove that amount of food in his face," Sam marvels.

 

"I'm a miracle of modern science," Steve says, ruining the illusion by saying it with his mouth full.

 

"I don't know how we're seen in public together," Bucky shakes his head. "That was truly shameful."

 

Steve swallows before he answers. "I'm a national treasure," he says.

 

"You keep saying that like it means something," Bucky counters, "when really, you using it as an excuse to chew with your mouth ope-- Steve, you're spitting croissant on me."

 

Sam watches their back and forth with a bemused expression before turning to Bucky, busily wiping flakes of pastry off his shirt. "History books and the news reels just didn't do him justice, did they? They were pretty silent on the fact that Captain America is wildly sarcastic and has terrible table etiquette."

 

"They also said that I had a torrid affair with Simone Simon while in France, and that never happened," Steve put in.

 

"Who's Simone Simon?" Sam asked.

 

"French movie actress."

 

Bucky whips out his phone and looks her up in Google image search, and whistles. "Shame. You could've done a helluvalot worse."

 

"I like the brunettes," Steve gives Bucky a private smile, a hand coming to rest on Bucky's thigh, "and she was gorgeous, but I never had the good fortune to meet her. Too busy spooning Dum Dum in a draughty barn somewhere on the way to a HYDRA base. Also, he snored."

 

Steve's frank admission gets Sam and Bucky laughing again, which leads into a fun Q & A with Steve about working with the Howling Commandos.

 

Bucky enjoys the line of chatter. In the few weeks he's known Steve, this particular subject had yet to come up. Of course it was war, but Steve focuses less on that and more on stories of friendship and camaraderie about the first racially integrated unit in American antiquity. One look at Sam's enraptured face tells Bucky he's not alone in being fascinated at listening to amazing historical accounts from a first-hand source.

 

He doesn't realise he's doing it at first, but Bucky leans into Steve, who hasn't taken his hand away from Bucky's thigh since he put it there. Now they have points of contact on his leg, hip, arm and shoulder. He likes feeling the muscles of Steve's arm flex as he moves, the twitch of his fingers just barely squeeze his leg in response to Bucky laughing at something.

 

It feels right for Bucky to move his hand to sit on top of Steve's, which is still on his thigh, and so he does it. He does, however, still flick a glance to the side to try and gauge his actions. Steve doesn't stop telling his story about Gabe Jones to Sam.

 

But he does turn his hand over to be able to hold Bucky's hand and interlace their fingers together.

 

A warmth settles somewhere near Bucky's solar plexus. It's a pretty fantastic feeling.

 

They're having such a good time, that when Bucky looks up at the oversized clock on the wall, he makes a displeased face. "Steve, it's nearly one."

 

Steve frowns. "I have to get going," he says sadly, even though he makes absolutely no move to get up.

 

"You do," Sam confirms, "or Tony's gonna have JARVIS redial your cell every minute until you arrive."

 

They slide out of the booth, groaning atrophied leg muscles cramp. They settle the bill and walk to the door of the café. Sam gives Steve one of those huge hugs again, and this time when he holds his hand out to Bucky, Bucky doesn't hesitate in shaking it.

 

"Hope it didn't end up being too bad, meeting me without any warning," Sam says, and Bucky shrugs.

 

"It ended up being okay, I'll admit."

 

Sam leans in conspiratorially. "If he wants to introduce you to someone else, get him to work up to the big ones. You've already met Pepper, so I'd suggest Barton or Banner next. Start off easier, work your way up." He turns to Steve. "And maybe warn a guy ahead of time, too." Sam winks, and Steve rolls his eyes, but nods all the same.

 

With another farewell, Sam leaves Bucky and Steve alone. Steve gives him a gentle smile and takes a step closer. "So it was okay? You didn't mind?"

 

"I liked Sam, if that's what you mean," Bucky responds, "I did mind being surprised by his presence."

 

Steve does sad puppy face like nobody's business. "I'm sorry about that, I really did think you'd be nervous. It was a bad move on my part."

 

"Yeah, some tactical genius you are," Bucky scoffs, and starts laughing when Steve gives his shoulder a little push, hard enough that he steps back a pace to keep his balance.

 

Steve gently puts his arms on Bucky's biceps to move them both out of the way of the door when some other patrons get up to leave. They end up standing off to the side, and Steve doesn't take his hands away.

 

"But we're all good, though?" he asks in a low voice, and Bucky detects the underlying real concern.

 

"Yeah, we're all good," Bucky confirms, moving forward to bump deliberately into the wall of Steve's body. The answering grin is nearly blinding, but the shrill ringing of Steve's phone completely spoils the moment.

 

"Shit," he curses under his breath as he digs the device out of his pocket looks at the number. "It's started."

 

Bucky grins. "Better get a move on, champ," he says, slapping the side of Steve's hip, perilously close to his butt.

 

Steve pulls Bucky towards him so they're almost toe-to-toe. His hands slide up to cup Bucky's face, and he presses a sweet, and entirely too-brief kiss against Bucky's lips. "Call you tonight?"

 

"After seven," Bucky says, wishing the kiss could've gone on one or two or twenty seconds longer.

 

Steve slides his hands down to Bucky's biceps before giving them a squeeze.

 

"Just one more thing, though?" Bucky says, and he can feel Steve's breath still hot on his face.

 

"Mhm?"

 

"If my next scheduled play-date involves the Widow, and you don't warn me? I'm fucking killing you and dumping your body in Jersey."

 

Steve gives him a beatific smile. "I'll keep that in mind."

 

Chapter Text

The One With The Smartass Carnie

(Location: Coney Island)

 

It's something of a cliché to do, but it's cliché for a reason; if you're from Brooklyn, and dating someone, at least one of those dates should be at Coney Island.

 

It's been maybe three years since Bucky's visited, on leave at home before shipping out for his last tour. He was with his sister, Rebecca, and was a little hit-and-miss at handling crowds and loud noises at the time. But now he does fairly well; even better when he's with someone.

 

The last time he was here on a date, however, he was in high school.

 

It's Steve's idea to go, but Bucky lets him hang before he agrees, mainly because it's so much fun to hear Steve's increasingly elaborate reasons for wanting to go.

 

"It's been a long time since I've been there. Literally. A generation has passed."

 

"I don't know, Steve..." Bucky shakes his head slowly and deliberately.

 

"There are rides my pre-microprocessor brain has yet to even comprehend!"

 

"But it's so kitschy." He drawls the word, unsure if it's too much and Steve's cottoned on to the fact he's getting totally had.

 

"I will buy you hot dogs until you are sick."

 

Bucky gives Steve a languid smile. "You've got yourself a deal, Cap."

 

And so Friday night finds Bucky and Steve at Coney Island.

 

It's like he remembers, really. Loud, smelling of sugar and popcorn and salt air mixing with a few less-than-aromatic odours... But Steve's face under the black peaked cap pulled low as they enter, is the picture of happiness. Bucky's quickly finding that Steve's happiness is more contagious than the flu.

 

Steve slips his hand into Bucky's and interlaces their fingers together as they walk, and Bucky finds it far more interesting than the last time he was there.

 

True to his word, Steve buys Bucky as many hot dogs as he can comfortably eat -- two and a half -- before he starts to feel weird, with Steve finishing off his own three and Bucky's leftovers.

 

He then offers Bucky some hot buttered popcorn, but Bucky has to decline. He really is going to hurl if he eats anymore. However, the popcorn is decidedly better when he tastes the salt on Steve's lips as they trade soft kisses under the brim of his hat in the line for the Fun Wheel. A lady behind them clears her throat very loudly at their PDA, and Steve and Bucky break apart, snickering like teenagers.

 

And, much like teenagers, they spend a good deal of time on the ride appreciating each other instead of their beautiful surroundings.

 

They exit the Fun Wheel and Bucky waves cheerfully to the lady who made her displeasure known, deliberately wiping his lips with the back of his hand.

 

"You're a menace," Steve says with a guffaw.

 

"Pot, meet kettle," Bucky replies.

 

Still hand-in-hand, they make their way to the sideshows and games. The carnies and show-folk love yelling out over the blaring music, trying to tempt people to spend money to play, often using flattery, guilt, shame or a combination of all three to try and score a buck.

 

Steve leans down close to Bucky, lips brushing his left ear. "Not much about this has changed, except inflation," Steve remarks, hot breath ghosting Bucky's skin.

 

Bucky points to a very elderly man with a set of lungs on him that would put a foghorn to shame. "I think that guy was here last time you were, too."

 

Steve laughs, before something else distracts him. "C'mere," he says determinedly, tugging Bucky's hand until they veer off to the side.

 

"Where are we-- oh," Bucky says as Steve pulls him over to the shooting gallery. Bucky shakes his head at Steve's stupid, grinning face.

 

"Want to give it a try?" he asks.

 

"Eh, you know these things are rigged, right?" Bucky answers, bumping shoulders with Steve. "The rifles are always weighted incorrectly, and the sights are crooked."

 

Undeterred, Steve squeezes his hand. "This is the part where you show me how good you are and beat the odds." He nudges Bucky forward, even as Bucky digs his heels in. Bucky likes showing off to someone he's interested in as much as the next guy, but the game is stupidly expensive, the guy behind the counter looks skeezy, the prizes are awful, and it's usually rigged.

 

"Step up, Boss," the skinny man behind the shooting gallery counter gestures towards Bucky. Sharp eyes take in their joined hands, and a smile that's large, but slightly disparaging -- and definitely doesn't meet his eyes -- gets plastered on his face. "Don't be shy! Wanna win something for your girlfriend, Chief?" He nods towards Steve, and Steve's brow creases immediately. "Prove you've got what it takes! Be a real man."

 

The hawker clearly has no idea who he's speaking to. Bucky almost feels sorry for him.

 

Almost.

 

Steve steps forward with a grim expression and looking as though he's about to say something, when Bucky stops him with a hand to the centre of his chest. "Want I should win something for you, cutie?" he asks, turning away from the game to face Steve.

 

Steve looks down at him, and Bucky makes a very deliberate move with his eyes back towards the carnie, mouth curving in a wicked smile. He'll always take getting even over getting mad.

 

Catching the smile, the frown on Steve's face eases. He squeezes the hand that Bucky's placed on his chest, and gently strokes the back. "Do you think you can?" he asks, just loud enough for the carnie to catch it.

 

Bucky affects a casual shrug and turns so that Steve's arm is wrapped around him. Most of their PDAs, even if in public, are still sort of private affairs. Bucky makes a point of wrapping Steve's arm around himself deliberately, watching the man track their movements with badly-hidden disapproval. "Sure thing, dollface. What d'you want?" He makes an expansive gesture towards the stall full of crappy merchandise.

 

Steve rests his chin on Bucky's shoulder as he peruses the toys, definitely in on the game now -- though Bucky knows he's probably not one hundred percent clear on what the game actually entails. "That one," he points suddenly, gesturing to an oversized foam cowboy hat hanging right next to the target wall. It has a huge brim, a spotted cow print black and white hatband, and a plastic sheriff's star on the front.

 

Bucky inwardly cringes. It's so very, very ugly, but he keeps up appearances. "It's yours," he promises, before forking out the eight dollars -- eight fucking dollars -- to the greasy individual. The man spirits the money away into one of the many pockets in the ratty utility vest he wears. Without further ado, he picks up one of the rifles, breaks the barrel, and begins loading pellets.

 

"You've got five shots, Sport. All five bullseyes wins you pick of the stall. Three gets you anything from the centre wall, one and you can pick from the sides."

 

He snaps the barrel back into place and hands it to Bucky.

 

Bucky gets an odd sense of déjà vu when he holds the rifle, uneven wood surface itching in his hand. He studies the instrument in his hands. It was probably a good piece once upon a time, but it's not been looked after very well. Even though the barrel seems well oiled, the stock is badly battered, and showing signs of wear. His eyes don't miss some tiny scrape marks on the metal where it's been tampered with, presumably for game purposes. He runs his thumb gently across the indentation.

 

"Are you gonna shoot with it, or kiss it, Slugger? Five shots makes you a winner."

 

Bucky snaps back into the room. He gives a quick glance behind him to know Steve is standing at his shoulder -- close, but not too close -- and he exhales. The weight of the rifle is slightly off; not evenly balanced like it should be. Bucky adjusts his stance to compensate, and looks through the sight.

 

Sure enough, everything's marginally off. He could find out how much by popping off a random shot, but he doesn't want to waste it. Bucky looks at the wall of targets. They vary in shape and bullseye size, some of them are even moving.

 

It's been a while since he's done this, but he plays up any hesitation purely for his audience. He rolls his shoulders, squints his eyes at the targets, and takes note of the location of each one he's going for.

 

Decisions made and trajectories calculated, Bucky exhales slowly, squeezing off the trigger just at the moment where he completely runs out of breath.

 

There's a distinct lack of a metal 'ping'. Bucky looks at where he hit, and it was slightly off from his intended target. "Damn," he breathes disappointedly, and the carnie gives him a melodramatically sympathetic smile.

 

"Not to worry, tough guy, you've still got four to go." The constant stream of condescending nicknames is also meant to unnerve him, but Bucky's not phased, even if they are slightly annoying.

 

Instead he nods, and over the next minute, squeezes off another four shots.

 

All the targets remain intact and in place.

 

Bucky lowers the rifle, and the carnie can barely contain his glee. "What a shame, Slick. I really thought you had it in you. Most people hit at least one of the targets," he gestures behind him. "Still, you can win a consolation prize."

 

The man points to the front of his booth where there's an array of cheap, plastic toys and pencils. There's an eraser painted up like Steve's shield that catches Bucky's eye, but he's making a point, and the point requires him to be awesome and devastatingly cool.

 

"What do you mean?" Bucky asks. "I hit every target." He points to the hat hanging by the wall. Tall, Dark and Skeezy gives him an odd look and moves closer to the hat to check it out. When he does, an unintended swear falls from his lips, and he takes it off its hook.

 

There are five pellet-sized holes in the hat, each going through a different black spot on the hatband.

 

"I was meant to shoot at what I wanted to win, right, fella?" Bucky says earnestly, cocking his head to the side. He feels Steve step close enough now that he's making contact with Bucky's body from shoulder to hip, right down his left side. The contact makes him stand up that little bit straighter, even as he presses into it.

 

"No, but--" The guy readjusts his grimy cap on his head. "What the hell?"

 

The carnie looks at them, then, properly takes them in this time. Bucky notes the way his eyes skate over the breadth of both Bucky's and Steve's shoulders, the relaxed-but-ready stance and the utterly ridiculous size of Steve's arms.

 

He also notes that Bucky's still gripping the rifle in his right hand. Bucky's fingers tighten on the forestock and he shifts his arm just enough to make the muscles of his bicep flex.

 

The man's eyes flick to Bucky's face, and he subtly quirks an eyebrow up. It's a very low-key dare to challenge, but one the carnie reads without fail.

 

His fake public smile falls away, and for the first time the hawker looks annoyed, uncomfortable, and slightly concerned.

 

Bucky looks up at Steve, who is grinning so hard back at him. "Nice shooting, Sergeant," he says, squeezing Bucky's shoulder.

 

Bucky's lips twitch at the nickname. "Thanks, Captain. Hope I did you proud!"

 

The carnie stands up stiffer and blows an exasperated jet of air from between his lips. "Take it, just take it. I can't give it away now," he mutters, thrusting the hat at the two of them. Steve grabs it, and Bucky hands the rifle back with a sweet smile, where it's snatched back with a lot of unintelligible muttering.

 

They move from the stall to find a place to stand out of the way of the thoroughfare. Steve studies the hat carefully, taking in the perfect holes.

 

"You're good," he comments, and Bucky gives a little shrug.

 

"Not bad for absolutely no prep. The rifle was beyond shitty, too. So tricked out it wasn't even funny."

 

"You know," Steve says slowly, "if you were ever interested in stepping into the SHIELD rifle range for an afternoon, I could see what I could do."

 

Bucky smiles, but shakes his head. "If I want to, I can hit up a civilian rifle range. I don't need to go to SHIELD to do that. But thanks for the thought."

 

"You're really good, though," Steve insists. "Why did you even say 'damn' at the beginning, anyway? You hit every one," he asks.

 

Bucky turns the hat over to show one hole that's on the border of the black spot, instead of punching through the dead centre. "First shot," he explains. "It was a test. Had to figure out how far the sight pulled to the left."

 

Steve starts laughing, and he's having trouble stopping. Bucky can't find it in himself to complain, until Steve tears off his cap puts the foam hat on.

 

It's huge, even on him, and it looks absolutely fucking ridiculous.

 

"Steve, no."

 

"Steve, yes," he insists, pulling it down further. "I'm going to wear this for the rest of our date."

 

"You look like Woody from Toy Story. Only more... what's the word..."

 

"Handsome?" Steve asks.

 

"Dorky," Bucky corrects.

 

"Somebody's poisoned the waterhole!" Steve proclaims, and Bucky loses it. He starts laughing so hard his eyes water.

 

Somehow, he finds himself leaning into Steve, face tucked into his chest, laughing until his throat hurts and his eyes sting. It's a really good feeling, even better when Steve's hands come to rest on his hips. Steve's laughing too, but he's not thrown quite into the disarray that Bucky is.

 

Bucky's laughter tapers off, but it takes a while. He pushes up from Steve's chest but makes absolutely no movement any further away from him. They've seen each other a number of times over the last month since they met in person, but most are somewhere a little more secluded, a little more private.

 

Somehow this feels like it's a turning point, like it's their first proper date. He knows it's not, but it's so clichéd it's hitting scarily close to rom-com territory. Bucky doesn't know if he's ever been on a perfect date, but this'd probably be the nearest he's gotten in his adult life, at least.

 

Nothing's felt like a hardship, or strange and awkward. They've been able to enjoy each other's company without worrying about any outside influences, even if sometimes the politically correct and/or slightly homophobic crowd made an appearance. It wasn't anything they couldn't handle, and they didn't dampen the mood.

 

In fact, looking up into Steve's smiling face only a few inches away from his, Bucky's hard-pressed thinking about anyone else at the moment.

 

The brim of the hat is so huge it shades both Steve and Bucky when they're standing so close together. "You know what the hat is good for?" Steve asks, breath tickling Bucky's cheek.

 

"You're going to tell me," Bucky says, grinning.

 

"Mhm," Steve responds in a quiet voice. "Camouflage."

 

He then leans in, taking one hand away from Bucky's waist to cup his face, and kisses him.

 

And it's true; the hat completely shields their faces from the outside world. It's like they're in their own private bubble, and the noises of Coney Island and the people around them fade into the background. Bucky curls his arms underneath Steve's to curve around his shoulder blades, bringing their chests together.

 

Instead of the series of shorter kisses, it's one long one. And as kisses go, it's a doozy. Steve's lips are soft, but they slot firmly against Bucky's mouth, tongue brushing at his lower lip and making his nerve endings tingle. And yeah, Bucky's had deeper kisses, but this one doesn't have to be deep to be awesome.

 

Which it most certainly is.

 

Steve's nose nudges against his cheek when he breaks the kiss, exhaling heavily. "There's a snake in my boot," he breathes against Bucky's face, and that terrible line shouldn't be sexy, or cute.

 

But there you have it.

 

"Is that a euphemism for anything?" Bucky laughs, trying to get his breath back.

 

"Sure, if you're dirty," Steve responds, before brushing his thumb across Bucky's cheekbone. "But I'm Captain America," he finishes.

 

"Paragon of virtue, huh?"

 

Steve smirks, and Bucky knows exactly what's coming. "Ever since--"

 

"--The Great Depression. Yes, Steve, of course." Bucky looks heavenwards, but can't quite keep the fond smile off his face. He leans forward and presses a short, but very sweet kiss, against Steve's lips.

 

"Come on," Bucky says, pulling on Steve's hand, "I want to see if you can keep that hat on while we ride the Ghost Train."

 

"Is that a euphemism for something?" he asks guilelessly. Bucky might entertain that Steve's being sincere, save for tiny quirk of his eyebrow that speaks volumes.

 

The biggest volume being titled 'Steve Rogers is Fucking With Me'.

 

"Oh, for shit's sake, Steve." Bucky shakes his head. "Paragon of virtue my ass."

 

 

The One With The Medal

(Location: Steve's Apartment)

 

"Have you found it yet?" Steve calls from the bedroom.

 

"Nope," Bucky replies from the living room. He opens the drawer again and sifts through it. Nothing.

 

"Try looking in the coffee table drawers."

 

"Steve, if you ever treated your shield like you treat your remote control, the world would be in serious trouble."

 

Steve pokes his head out of his bedroom. "Never happen. My shield is by the door."

 

Bucky straightens up and points to the side of the sofa, where Steve's shield is actually resting. "You were saying?" he deadpans.

 

Steve pauses, the little muscle underneath his jaw working, before he disappears back into the bedroom. "You moved it!"

 

"Sore loser," Bucky mutters, knowing there's a decent chance that Steve's heard him anyway.

 

He moves to the far side of the coffee table and opens the other drawer. There are assorted papers, what looks like a birthday card, some old copies of TV Guide and Time Magazine, the remote control, and a blue velvet box with battered corners.

 

Bucky retrieves the remote control before getting side-tracked by the box. It looks old, with the brass edges taking on tarnish, and doesn't seem to fit in with the other contents of the drawer.

 

Putting the remote on the table, Bucky picks up the box and runs his fingers across the velvety top. He bites his lip, knowing he shouldn't pry, but also knowing Steve just doesn't seem to mind him prodding about. That shouldn't make it okay, but before he knows it, curiosity is getting the best of him.

 

Bucky walks absently to the other side of the coffee table and flops on the sofa, before opening the box.

 

Its hinges squeak as it opens to reveal a gold five-pointed star topped with an eagle, surrounded by a wreath and hanging from a blue ribbon. Bucky's eyes widen involuntarily, and he swallows audibly.

 

It doesn't matter that he's never seen one of these in person before; he knows exactly what it is.

 

The Medal of Honor sits unassumingly in his palms... the highest award for bravery in the United States. Bucky never expected to be in a position where he's holding one.

 

He hears Steve's footsteps exiting the bedroom. Even if he could get it back in the drawer and shut before Steve entered, he wouldn't. "It's awfully quiet out there and I can't hear any gloating, so I assume you haven't found--"

 

Steve stops speaking abruptly when he sees what Bucky has in his hands. Bucky looks up to apologise, but Steve doesn't seem angry. If anything, he looks... troubled.

 

"I found the remote," Bucky says quietly.

 

Steve doesn't answer straight away, all he does is sit next to Bucky and look down at the medal.

 

"Not the only thing you found," he says eventually. It's not a harsh comment, despite Bucky thinking maybe he deserves it.

 

Bucky turns towards him, holding out the medal dumbly. "Steve, I didn't mean to--"

 

"It's okay, Buck. It's okay." He punctuates the words by placing a large, warm hand on Bucky's shoulder. The rigid tension that had begun to build when Steve entered the room ebbs.

 

Bucky lowers his hands and continues to stare at the five gold points, the embossed word 'VALOR'. It's so tempting to run his fingers across the letters, but he can't bring himself to physically touch the metal. Steve moves from where he's in contact with Bucky's shoulder, resting one closed fist in the palm of the other hand.

 

It is silent for a long moment.

 

Bucky doesn't know what to do, he feels like the box is burning a hole through the flesh of his palms. He's not sure if Steve picks up on this, or whether he just wants to take back his property, but he holds his hand out for the box. Bucky hands it to him immediately, but can't quite tear his eyes away from the dull shine of the gold.

 

Steve, too, seems hypnotised by its contents.

 

"The Army awarded it to me posthumously -- or so they thought -- after I crashed the Valkyrie," Steve says presently.

 

For some reason, as Steve looks down at the medal, Bucky gets the impression that the medal is much larger than the man. "Normally they're presented to next of kin, but I didn't have anyone left, so the Smithsonian took it for their archives." Steve lowers his voice towards the end, almost as though he's speaking to himself, rather than anyone else.

 

Bucky's not sure what so say, so he doesn't say anything. Instead, he shuffles a little closer and places his hand on Steve's thigh. Steve reaches down and grips his fingers painfully tight, but Bucky doesn't flinch or otherwise give any indication of discomfort.

 

"When I was found and revived, some historical society started up a petition to have the medal re-presented and given back to me. They made enough noise that the Smithsonian and some White House representative got in touch with me about a ceremony."

 

Bucky's brow furrows. "Okay, it's not like I was the biggest Captain America fanboy or anything but... I don't remember seeing you get the medal awarded by the President. I mean... the networks usually report that stuff. Even Fox."

 

Steve huffs out a laugh, before he grows serious again. Large shoulders are hunched around his ears, and Bucky gets the distinct feeling that Steve's unconsciously trying to make himself small again. He shrugs and, noticing the posture, Steve deliberately tries to loosen up. He presses his lips together in a firm line, tongue darting out to moisten them. "I declined the official ceremony. Even told the Smithsonian they could keep the Medal for the exhibit, but they insisted I take it. Apparently the Historical Society wasn't going to let them off the hook until I had it, so it was just easier to give it to me. They still have plenty of mementos for the displays."

 

"So you didn't meet the President?" Bucky asks. He doesn't know anyone who'd turned down an award from the Commander-in-Chief. He knows, if given the opportunity, he'd definitely meet him.

 

"Not for that. I went to an unrelated function about six months later, and he met with me privately for a few minutes. The whole medal thing came up then."

 

Bucky looks at the medal in Steve's hands, and then back to Steve. "You are completely free to not answer the question, but... why did you turn down the ceremony?

 

Steve heaves a sigh. It takes him a few moments to gather his words before he can answer. He hasn't looked at Bucky since he took possession of the medal, and even now, seems unable to tear his gaze away.

 

When he finally does speak, the words are slow and deliberate. Steve's had a lot of time to ponder the answer, even if he's never said it aloud, as Bucky suspects.

 

"So much of my life is public record, or written into books. When I woke up again, everything's on Youtube or TV or Facebook to be replayed over and over.

 

"I didn't want to relive the worst day of my life in front of the President and all those television cameras."

 

Bucky's fingers twitch in Steve's palm and suddenly, he feels so stupid for not thinking of that.

 

He remembers from school, from when Steve was defrosted... Captain America fearlessly jumped on a Nazi plane loaded with bombs and heading for American soil. He couldn't change its course, so he crashed it.

 

But that's not exactly the whole story.

 

Steve -- his Steve -- crashed a fucking plane into the ice and never thought he'd be around to hear people talk about it like it was brilliant, or stupid, or pick apart his reasons and strategy.

 

So of course, if Steve went to a ceremony like that, he'd be forced to listen to the story once again, being retold by people giving second and third accounts according to records, coloured by layers of patriotic heroism that would only seem bigger and more outrageous after time... then afterwards subjected to the endless amount of people dissecting his actions, his expressions -- from news networks to entertainment shows, they'd all do it -- hell, whole websites would probably crop up with screen captures of each little moment.

 

He'd become a propaganda tool all over again. An exploitable image macro. A fucking meme.

 

"It was the worst day of my life to date," Steve reiterates with quiet resolve, pulling Bucky out of his thoughts, "I've spent enough nights thinking about it to give it time of day in front of TV cameras."

 

Bucky squeezes Steve's hand in return. Steve snaps the box shut, leans forward and tosses it the short distance to the coffee table. He flops back on the sofa and finally looks at Bucky, giving his hand a gentle tug.

 

No further encouragement needed, Bucky leans forward and rests his head on Steve's shoulder. Steve pulls their joined hands to the centre of his chest, pressing his cheek to the top of Bucky's head. They stay like that for a while, not speaking, just holding one another.

 

Bucky often forgets that so much of Steve's life was lived before he was even born. He wasn't birthed into the information cesspool that is the modern era.

 

Because Steve ends up just being so... well, so Steve. So comfortingly ordinary and delightfully extraordinary.

 

It makes Bucky appreciate... well... everything. He huffs out a sigh and shifts in Steve's embrace, rubbing his cheek against Steve's cloth-covered chest in a move that he may've unconsciously adopted from Babushka.

 

"What are you thinking?" Steve asks softly, fingers curling around Bucky's a little tighter.

 

"I'm thinking we're going to watch Milo & Otis instead of Watership Down now," Bucky remarks with rueful grin.

 

"Okay... anything else?" he prods.

 

"Nothing much," Bucky muses, "I just keep on forgetting I'm dating a real-life hero."

 

Steve cringes at the statement. "About the Valkyrie--"

 

Bucky pushes himself up off Steve's chest. "Who said anything about the Valkyrie? You're a hero because you do brave things, sure, but you also admit that some shit sucks, and is hard to deal with."

 

"That doesn't feel brave."

 

"Trust me, it's one of the bravest things anyone can do."

 

"Huh," Steve says.

 

Bucky reaches over Steve's body to grab the remote control. When he settles back down, he manoeuvres Steve to the front end of the sofa cushions and slots behind, draping his right arm over Steve's narrow waist. He begins pressing buttons idly, getting Netflix working.

 

Steve lays his arm over the top of Bucky's. "So if you don't think of me as a hero when we're dating... who do you think of me as?"

 

Bucky nearly wants to laugh and the sheer trepidation of Steve's tone, as though after everything, he is still unsure about who Bucky sees. He affects a shrug. That's the easiest answer in the world.

 

"Just Steve," he says.

 

One thing Bucky has learnt about Steve is when he really smiles, he smiles with his whole body. So even though he's staring at the back of Steve's head, he can feel the glow of happiness begin to radiate out of the blond's very pores. It's confirmed when Steve half-rolls on his back to look up at Bucky.

 

The half-cocked eyebrow is an invitation, and Bucky plans on accepting. He leans down to press his lips against Steve's in a lingering kiss.

 

"That might be the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me," Steve says when they separate, lips parted, face betraying guileless surprise.

 

"I don't know," Bucky says, "What if I told you you've got the greatest ass I've ever seen?"

 

The corner of Steve's mouth curls in a smile that lights up his eyes. "Okay, second nicest."

 

 

 

The One With The Best-Laid Plans

(Location: Bucky's work)

 

 

Bucky shuts his computer monitor off with a world-weary sigh. The day that wouldn't end finally has.

 

It's been a tough week. Another outreach centre in an adjacent district has closed, and Bucky's branch has -- or at least, tried to -- pick up the slack in their absence. It's meant long hours and new case files and meeting dozens of new kids, all the while still making time for his current roster. And they're understaffed, as it is. The past five days has seen him reading case files, conducting interviews, and doing his best to fit new kids into his current groups. It's meant a hell of a lot of short lunch breaks taken at his desk.

 

With Steve in multiple briefings for some big international summit thing he's attending, they've pretty much been relegated back to phone and text chat. While communicating like that is a normal part of their routine, their dating has been progressing steadily forward, so to take a step back like this is a little frustrating.

 

Not tonight, though.

 

Steve leaves for Geneva early tomorrow morning, and he has a few hours free this evening. Considering the Geneva gig is going to last at least five to seven days, not including travel time, he's really looking forward to having a nice, early dinner with him, then spending a bit of quality time watching a movie together.

 

And if that quality time also includes plenty of making out, so be it. The thought makes Bucky smile.

 

Bucky checks his desk once again: Inbox empty, outbox full, files stacked neatly, data entry done. He's still got his kids from the local school for a Saturday afternoon but there's nothing resembling office work to worry about until Monday morning.

 

It was worth the hard slog to get all of those tedious jobs out of the way.

 

Grabbing his keys, Bucky turns his table lamp off and slings his messenger bag across his shoulder. "Dee? I'm ready to lock up," he calls out.

 

Denise doesn't answer straight away, and Bucky finds it odd because she was only in the next room not even a minute ago. "Dee," he calls again.

 

The mystery is soon revealed as Denise returns to the back offices, a young man with her. His dirty blond hair is mussed, jacket spotted with the rain that's been falling for the last half hour, and a duffel bag over his shoulder. His mouth is set in a grim line, brows drawn together.

 

"Tyler?" Bucky blurts out, gesturing for them both to enter quickly. Tyler stumbles forward and Bucky grips his shoulders to inspect him. The boy's eyes meet his for a moment before they settle straight ahead. "What are you doing here?" The fifteen year old doesn't seem to be hurt physically, just looks a bit bedraggled and miserable. Bucky runs a hand through Tyler's hair, scruffing it up.

 

"Came home," he says with a sniff, fingers tightening in the strap of his bag.

 

"But you moved to Jersey with your mom a month ago!"

 

"I hate Jersey," Tyler says with vehemence, and Bucky, being the professional that he is, successfully stifles a snort of humour. Now is not the time to laugh.

 

"I hear ya, buddy, but you seem like you're a man on a mission." Bucky eyes the duffel deliberately. "Going on a trip?"

 

Tyler pauses before he speaks, grinding his teeth. "I'm moving back to Brooklyn with my dad."

 

"And does he know this?" Bucky asks pointedly.

 

Silence. Tyler looking him squarely in the chest, not in the eyes.

 

Bucky lets a jet of air out of his lips and catches Denise's eye. She nods. They both know they're not getting out of the office now. Bucky shucks off his messenger bag and leaves it on his desk chair.

 

"Come with me, pal," Bucky says, laying a gentle hand between his shoulder blades and leading him into one of their meeting rooms. They're bright and cheerful, and are full of comfy furniture.

 

Bucky ushers him inside, staying at the door to speak to Denise in a quiet voice. "He's in my inactive files, under 'Tyler O'Neal'. Parents are going through a divorce and he's moved to Jersey with his mom while everything goes through the courts. Dad is still here in Brooklyn. Her updated contact details should be there, can you try getting hold of her first?" Denise nods, and Bucky smiles. "Thanks, Dee."

 

"You owe me," she tells him.

 

"I always owe you," he replies with a grin.

 

Tyler is sitting on one of the couches, duffel clutched on his lap. Bucky drags a dining chair from the little table off to the side and sits it in front of Tyler backwards. He slings his legs over it, propping elbows on the back rest.

 

They're both quiet for a moment, before Tyler breaks the silence.

 

"You calling my mom?" he asks despondently, still not making eye contact with Bucky.

 

"You know I have to," Bucky replies. "She's probably worried sick about you."

 

"I want my dad to come pick me up," Tyler says.

 

"How come you came here instead of going straight to your dad's?" Bucky asks, redirecting.

 

"I dropped my Metro Card," Tyler whispers dejectedly. "Couldn't take the subway anymore and I was closer to here."

 

"How 'close' are we talking?"

 

"Maybe twelve blocks?"

 

Bucky sighs and rubs his eye. "T, that's a really long way to go by yourself."

 

Tyler's chin juts out defiantly, even as his bottom lip trembles. "I just want to go home," Tyler reiterates, only this time, his voice is a lot less sure than it was.

 

Bucky gets up immediately from the chair and sits on the sofa next to him. As precocious and grown-up he's always appeared, the kid drops his duffel to the floor and wraps his arms around Bucky's chest. "Hey, hey, it's okay, Tyler," Bucky murmurs in a soothing voice, "I'll get you home. I promise."

 

"But not to Brooklyn," Tyler sniffles. Bucky doesn't directly reply.

 

Bucky pats him on the back and can't help but compare this Tyler to the one that attended his programs.

 

The only reason he entered the outreach in the first place was his home life got strained due to Mr and Mrs O'Neal's impending divorce, and his grades took a sharp nosedive. He'd started off a little combative and argumentative, but soon began enjoying the challenges set, and was making some great inroads.

 

Bucky's been helping where he could, and scholastically there was a gradual upswing reported from his school, but then the divorce started to really hit into high gear. Mrs O'Neal moved out of the family home and in with her sister in New Jersey, taking Tyler with her.

 

Tyler's dad is a good guy, and still in Brooklyn, but an erratic work schedule with lots of afternoon and evening work prevents him from consistently being able to care for Tyler after school. They see each other on weekends, but weekdays he's in Jersey with his mom at the new school.

 

Through sniffles and gasps of breath, Tyler tells Bucky that he hates his new school and doesn't have any friends. He misses his old school, his neighbourhood. He even misses the other kids he used to do Bucky's program with.

 

Bucky just holds him and listens to him until the sniffles, complaints, and hitched breaths even out. He pushes away from Bucky eventually, wiping his nose with the back of one wrist.

 

"Feel better?" Bucky asks, and he receives a little nod.

 

There's a gentle knock at the doorframe. Bucky looks up to see Denise waiting.

 

"Your phone's been buzzing away in your bag, and there's a call from a Steve on line two for you. Shall I tell him you're busy?"

 

Steve. Shit.

 

Bucky looks at Tyler, catching his eyes. "You mind if I take this call? I'll only be two minutes, but it's okay to say 'no'."

 

Tyler sits up a little straighter. "I'm okay," he says, and his voice no longer has the waver in it.

 

"Okay," Bucky smiles at him and ruffles his hair. "I'll be right back. Oh," and he leans in conspiratorially. "I have it on good authority Dee has a packet of hidden RingDings in this room that she thinks I don't know about. Want to see if you can find 'em before I get back?"

 

Denise gasps. "I heard that, Barnes!"

 

"You were meant to," he smiles sweetly.

 

Tyler perks up a little and stands. Satisfied he's not abandoning his charge, Bucky exits the room.

 

"You owe me," Denise says yet again, and Bucky really, really does.

 

"Put it on my tab, I'm good for it," Bucky replies. He exits the room and walks to his desk. "Any word from his mom?"

 

"I got through. She'd just realised he was missing and was going a little nuts. Very glad he's safe and is on her way, but it could be a while. Rush hour plus rain," Denise says, and Bucky cringes.

 

"Okay. Try the number for his dad. Hopefully he can get to one of his parents' homes tonight." Denise nods and heads back to her own desk, while Bucky slings his bag onto the desk and sits down.

 

There's a blinking light on his phone, and Bucky picks up the receiver. "Steve?" he says.

 

"Bucky, hi," Steve replies immediately, and he's not imagining the relief in his voice. "You wouldn't happen to have forgotten anything by any chance, would you?"

 

Bucky takes a quick look at the time and winces. It's just after six, and he'd told Steve he'd be at the apartment at five-thirty. "I'm so sorry, Steve," he apologises, "I've had one of my former kids run away from home and kind of turn up on the doorstep."

 

"Oh no," Steve responds, and Bucky can't help but think it's helplessly cute that he goes from ribbing him to instant concern. "Are they okay?"

 

"I think so. Trying to get in contact with his parents now, but one's stuck in Jersey--"

 

"Ugh."

 

"I know. The other's in Brooklyn, we're trying now."

 

"Good, good." He pauses for a moment. "Is it entirely selfish if I ask how long do you think it's going to take? I'd still really like to see you tonight."

 

Bucky tries to stop the goofy grin, but it's hard. He's grateful no one can see him. "Not at all. Look, I don't know how long Tyler might need me, but I'll keep you updated and let you know the second I get out. I really want to see you tonight, too."

 

"Okay," Steve says, and he sounds happy. "Just... maybe ignore the three or four text messages I sent beforehand. If you haven't already seen them."

 

"Are they embarrassing?" Bucky asks.

 

"More like... vaguely insulting and derogatory about your time management skills," he replies.

 

Bucky shakes his head. "How are you even a role model. You're awful."

 

"I ask myself the same question all the time," Steve replies. "Let me know how you fare, okay?"

 

"Of course," Bucky promises. "See you soon."

 

Bucky takes out his phone and quickly scans Steve's ridiculous text messages with a grin, before pocketing it.

 

Denise is still trying to get hold of Tyler's dad -- no answer -- or his aunt -- voicemail full -- when Bucky finishes the call with Steve. He leaves that with her, and heads back to the meeting room.

 

It's in slightly more disarray than when he left, but Tyler sits cross-legged on the couch, a packet of RingDings in his lap. He looks decidedly happier than when Bucky left, but sugar will always do that.

 

Bucky sits with Tyler and eats a RingDing, who has calmed down enough to talk some more. Apparently his living situation in Jersey isn't ideal; his cousins are older and don't want to share, he struggles to be heard, and feels alone. So he took matters into his own hands.

 

Eventually Denise pokes her head in the room. "Can I talk to you for a second, Bucky?"

 

"Sure." He looks over at Tyler, who waves him off imperiously.

 

They convene outside the door. "I finally got in touch with Tyler's dad," Denise informs him, "He's working his crappy hours but has begged off the job early to come pick him up. All that construction in the south is going to delay him, though."

 

"Shit," Bucky mutters.

 

"And..." Denise trails off, chewing her bottom lip. "I'm wondering if you really need me here."

 

"Trying to get outta work, Dee? That's very unlike you," Bucky gives a little smile. "What if I had plans tonight?"

 

"Unless your plans were your tenth wedding anniversary, I win."

 

Bucky's eyes widen. "Oh, fuck. Why didn't you say so?"

 

She gives a one-shouldered shrug. "Tyler needed help."

 

And as much as it is personally sucky... "Okay, both parents are on their way. I've got a psyche degree and am also a highly trained former Army operative. I think I can handle this."

 

"Are you sure?" Denise asks. "I really will stay if you think I need to."

 

"Na, I'll be okay. Go." He nudges her towards to door. "Have a happy anniversary. Your husband's a lucky man."

 

"Oh, I know," she says with a grin, before leaning in to kiss Bucky on the cheek. "Thank you."

 

Denise collects her bag and heads for the door. Just as her hand hits the knob, Bucky calls out. "Hey, Dee?" He grins when she turns around. "Think we're even now?"

 

She gives him the sweetest smile in return. "Replace my RingDings and it's tabula rasa."

 

Bucky's still chuckling when he re-enters the room. The time is now seven-thirty.

 

He watches Tyler polish off the last of the packet of Ringdings, licking his fingers clean, and his stomach gurgles loudly.

 

"Hey T," he says, and Tyler looks up, "Have you had dinner?"

 

Bucky ends up taking Tyler to the little diner a block and a half away, but not before they write a note and stick it to the door. Just in case either of Tyler's parents show up while they're out, Bucky's number is on the paper so they can call.

 

The diner does all-day breakfasts, and Tyler chooses waffles. Bucky's not one to judge on food choices. He orders a side of bacon to tide him over until he has dinner with Steve.

 

Because he is having dinner with Steve tonight, damnit.

 

Steve texts Bucky intermittently through dinner, and Bucky keeps him updated. Tyler appreciates the meal and thanks Bucky for it, earning him a few more gold stars in his mental file. He also doesn't seem to mind Bucky taking a few moments to answer messages from time to time. It's not necessarily rude, but he doesn't want Tyler to think that he's not being attentive.

 

The conversation is entertaining, to say the least.

 

Steve: Somehow the channel got stuck on Kitchen Nightmares, and god help me, it's kind of interesting.

 

Bucky: The censored or non censored version?

 

Steve: Non censored. His swearing takes me back to the army

 

The text conversation plays background to Tyler eating waffles and telling Bucky about all the ways that New Jersey is inferior to New York. While Bucky privately agrees with much of Tyler's reasoning, his spoken words betray a less emotional response.

 

"Everything's different," Tyler complains, "I can't do the same subjects I like, the teachers are all new and they don't like me. I was meant to be in Mr Stockard's class this year back in my old school, and we were going to do that essay on World War II. Now I'm in someone else's class and it's not the same. It's some stupid thing about the Civil War."

 

"I get it, you were prepared for one thing, now it's something totally new."

 

"I hate it there." He takes a vicious bite out of his waffle.

 

Bucky leans his elbow on the table and looks at Tyler. "Did you tell your mom that?"

 

"Yes, she didn't listen to me."

 

Bucky pauses. "Did you give her good reasons, or just yelled 'I hate it here'?"

 

Tyler doesn't answer, and Bucky presses on. "Ever thought about making a list about all the things that are really hard, and sit down with her and have a talk about it? You've got some good reasons, but I bet she doesn't know them."

 

Tyler slips into silence, chewing thoughtfully on his waffle. Bucky can see the gears in his head turning. He lets Tyler have his thinking time, and glances back down at his messages.

 

Steve: I think we've missed out on time for a movie.

 

Bucky: I'm sorry! We can do it when you get back?

 

Steve: bring me food and I'll forgive you. Also we can just watch tv and hang out on the sofa.

 

Bucky: Steve... did you just ask me to Neflix and chill?

 

Steve: [photo of glass of water with icecubes in it]

 

Bucky: NO MORE INTERNET FOR YOU. YOU'RE BANNED.

 

And that's the thing. Tyler really is a good kid. He's otherwise a polite, well-spoken and thoughtful boy, who generally really applies himself to tasks. In fact, his dropping grade was the only reason he was attending the program, he had no other emotional or behavioural issues to speak of.

 

Bucky had been pondering asking Tyler and his parents about getting his help in a 'big brother' type role for the junior high group he has. Tyler's responsible, and they'd look up to him being in high school. He's also not a flake, and Bucky could easily entrust him with tasks.

 

But then the soon-to-be-ex Mrs O'Neal moved him to Jersey, and that plan got shot to shit.

 

Bucky: I'll pick up the family dinner thing from my Thai place. Because you have hollow legs.

 

Steve: Not my fault I'm a growing boy.

 

Steve: Can you make sure you get lots of coconut rice?

 

Bucky: There is no such thing as a Thai feast without coconut rice.

 

Tyler finishes most of his waffles, and Bucky eats all of his bacon. They've not had a call from either parent, and the note is still intact when they get back to the office, so nobody's been through yet. Tyler gets increasingly anxious the longer he's waiting, even though Bucky's explained about the delays due to distance, traffic, and weather. To get his mind off it, Bucky finds the board games stashed at the top of the bookshelf.

 

While they play, Bucky brings up the subject of what's going to happen when his parents arrive.

 

"They're not just going to take you and go, something serious happened tonight; we're going to have to talk about it."

 

"They don't believe me when I say it's hard," Tyler sighs. "I don't mean to be doing badly, but I can't-- I don't have--" He stops speaking, frustrated. "When I try to explain, my words get all mushy in my mouth. I can't say them properly."

 

If they're having trouble listening, or you're having trouble speaking... would it be okay if I stepped in to help out? You've been pretty articulate with me, I think I might be able to help them understand what you mean."

 

Tyler nods, and Bucky starts mentally putting all his soldiers in a row.

 

Steve: I did a bad thing.

 

Bucky: ??

 

Steve: I may've... ordered a pizza.

 

Bucky: You are a bottomless pit.

 

Steve: I'm still happy for you to bring Thai. I will have room! But are you going to have time?

 

Bucky: Stand by :/

 

Bucky: Maybe save me some pizza

 

Steve: I make no promises.

 

Thirty minutes into an increasingly competitive game of Monopoly, there's a frantic knock at the door. As luck would have it, Tyler's parents show up within minutes of one another. They both pull him into separate, individual hugs. There's some scolding and a few raised voices, but by and large not much animosity between the parents; they're just relieved to find that their son is safe and well.

 

Bucky doesn't let them off the hook so easily, though. He gets them to sit on the sofa, with Tyler in the middle, and returns to the dining chair to face all parties.

 

He might as well start. "Mr and Mrs O'Neal, thanks for coming. While you're both here, Tyler would like to talk to you about a few things." Bucky turns to the boy. "Tyler?"

 

He squirms in his seat, unable to look his parents in the eye. Bucky almost thinks he's not going to say anything at all, when a soft voice breaks the silence.

 

"I'm sorry I went away without telling you, Mom," he begins. "But I just wanted to come back to Brooklyn. I miss my school and my friends. I don't like staying with Aunt Janice--"

 

"But I thought you loved Aunt Janice!" his mother exclaims.

 

"I do, but I like visiting her, not living with her. There's cat hair everywhere that makes me sneeze, and a weird smell in the bathroom. Also Todd and Phil don't want me there."

 

"Your cousins are older than you, and it's their house--"

 

Tyler turns to face her. "That's it. It's their house. Not our house. I have to sleep in Phil's bedroom and he doesn't want to share. He's always playing music when I'm trying to do my homework and I can't concentrate."

 

His mom looks surprised. "You never told me that."

 

Tyler huffs. "I did. You said to work on the kitchen table. But Todd is always in the living room playing Xbox."

 

"That's still no excuse to jump on the subway and run away, young man," Tyler's dad cuts in, and Bucky can nearly feel the hair stand up on the back of the kid's neck when he hears young man. Tyler clams up; his complaint of not being listened to appearing very genuine as his dad unwittingly shuts him down.

 

"Hey, Tyler," Bucky interrupts smoothly, "do you remember where the kitchen is?"

 

All three O'Neals snap their heads towards Bucky. Good thing Bucky doesn't warp under scrutiny.

 

"Yeah," Tyler answers.

 

"Good. You're not going senile yet," he grins. "Remember how to make those hot chocolates in the machine?" Tyler nods in the affirmative. "Great. How about you make your folks some hot chocolates, and bring them through? There's a tray under the sink, and I think you'll find some cookies in a barrel on the bench."

 

Tyler gets up and exits immediately, and Bucky watches him go. When he's out of the room, Bucky chucks his thumb towards the door.

 

"That's what I love about this kid; he takes direction really well. He's smart and responsible." Bucky rests his elbows on his knees. "So you've got to know him acting out like this is serious. He's struggling, and he's doing his best to ask for help the only way he knows how.

 

"He was only ever coming to me because is GPA dropped from 3.8 to somewhere in the high 2's." Bucky turns to Mrs O'Neal. "Things aren't going to get any better if he's not comfortable in his environment and unable to study."

 

"He'd seemed a little moody on the weekends," Tyler's dad offers, "but I put it down to the move and being a teenager." He turns slightly, directing his statement to his wife. "You didn't tell me he didn't have his own room."

 

"It's just temporary, until I find a new place I can afford."

 

"Are you even looking in Brooklyn?" he demands.

 

"I am, not that it's any concern of yours," she replies waspishly.

 

Tyler's dad makes an annoyed sound. "Do you even know how hard it was to leave my job early today to get here?"

 

"And that's exactly why he's with me!"

 

"With all due respect," Bucky buts in, voice firm, "the stress that these conversations are putting on your son is what's causing his trouble at school. He needs stability and consistency, and he's not getting any of that."

 

Both parents stop biting at each other, as if remembering Bucky is in the room. With their undivided attention, Bucky softens his voice. "You have to realise he's a good kid. Put yourself in his shoes for a minute. His entire world has been turned upside down. He says he's tried talking to you, but it hasn't gotten him very far. For whatever reason, he felt his only choice was to take matters into his own hands. He couldn't get all the way home, so he came here. Even though he's only fifteen, his executive functioning skills are high. That is, analytical thinking and making subsequent choices."

 

"That's why he does so great at school," his mom says, and Bucky hears the pride in her voice.

 

"Did well at school," Bucky corrects. "Past tense. It's because everything that was familiar to him has changed. New school, new home, new classes, new teachers. He's in a tailspin and doesn't know where to go for support or encouragement. It's going to take a hell of a lot of work to raise his GPA back up to anywhere near what it was, and without a few changes, I can't see it happening at this stage."

 

"What do you suggest?" his dad asks quietly, looking suitably concerned. "Trish and I talked about him staying with me during the week to go back to his old school while she gets on her feet with her sister, but I can't be there to get him home from school, or get him studying. I don't get home until after six most days. We can't leave him alone that late, that's no good either."

 

Bucky presses his lips together. He won't berate them for not doing research, he won't. "I'm not sure if you know, but the local Brooklyn libraries have what they call a 'Teen Zone'. It's a supervised area where kids can go to study, get tutored, and it specifically works outside of school hours.

 

"Add to that... I wasn't kidding when I said Tyler was smart. I have been looking for someone his age to help mentor my junior high group a couple of times a week, and I think your son's perfect for that role."

As if on cue, Tyler re-enters the room, carefully carrying a tray. On it are four mugs with little whisps of steam coming out of them, and a selection of cookies on a plate. His parents each take a mug, and then Tyler offers one to Bucky. Bucky gives him a large smile. "Thanks, buddy. That's really thoughtful of you."

 

Tyler smiles at him, and it's the first proper one he's had all evening. The O'Neals exchange looks that clearly mark them as impressed at their son's behaviour. He sits back down with his parents, and they sip their beverages.

 

Bucky rises and stretches his legs. "I'll have to ask you to excuse me for a moment. Maybe you can tell Tyler what I was just talking about."

 

They nod and Bucky ducks out, letting out a sigh of relief. Once again, he's glad he never made the leap to work as any form of marriage counsellor. He quickly texts Denise to let her know that yes, the O'Neals have arrived, and he's handling the situation.

 

There are also a bunch of messages waiting for him from Steve.

 

Steve: Pizza is here, it's amazing.

 

Steve: I'm saving you less than you think.

 

Steve: Hypothetically speaking, what would you say if I told you I ate a whole pizza? Would you be impressed, or hate me?

 

Steve: You're not going to make it, are you?

 

Bucky cringes at the last one, and types out a response.

 

Bucky: I don't think so. His parents are here, but I can't let him go with them until they've at least sorted out some of the shit that led the kid to cut and run in the first place.

 

Bucky: If it's any consolation, I'm starving.

 

Bucky: I'll call you when I'm done, though? Shouldn't be too much longer, but I know you have to get up early.

 

Without waiting for a reply, Bucky heads back into the meeting room.

 

He spends the next half an hour hashing out some ideas. Tyler begins speaking for himself a little more, telling them he's more than capable of getting to the libraries to study, and get home. Bucky can see that his parents are at least trying to factor his wishes into the plans that also suit themselves.

 

The good news is, it looks as though Tyler's mom has agreed to reverse their current arrangement and take him on weekends -- until she moves back to Brooklyn, of which Tyler is ecstatic about -- and let his dad do the weekday thing.

 

Provided that a) his old school will be willing to accept him as a transfer back mid-term, b) he makes use of the Teen Zone program and c) he works with Bucky (if he wants to) on the days he's not going to the library, to which Tyler agrees. They're willing to give it a trial, starting the week after next to allow time for the school paperwork to clear.

 

By the time they're finished, nearly all the adults are slightly hysterical from exhaustion, and Tyler's passed out, curled on the sofa. He held out so well, really impressing Bucky with his moxie, and actually got somewhere with his parents. Bucky's not wrong about him at all.

 

When all is said and done, Bucky receives a firm handshake from Tyler's dad, and a kiss on the cheek from his mom.

 

The first thing Bucky does as he does a final sweep to make sure everything's locked for the weekend is to send a final message to Denise.

 

Bucky: Finally all done! Multiple crises averted, heading home. Will fill you in on Monday.

 

Denise: Fill me in at the lunch I am going to treat you to, because you've gone above and beyond tonight. Go home and get some rest! x

 

It's not until he's actually outside the centre, having locked it up, that he gets around to checking Steve's unopened messages.

 

Steve: Sure, you can call. I'll sleep on the quinjet, anyway.

 

Steve: our operators are standing by

 

Bucky dials his number as he walks to his car. It doesn't take long for the call to be answered.

 

"H'lo?" Steve says, sounding tired.

 

"Did I wake you?" Bucky asks, feeling rather wretched as he hops into his car. The call immediately connects through his Bluetooth, and Steve's voice comes piping out of his speakers. Bucky can't help but smile.

 

"Na, just dozed in front of the TV."

 

"Food coma. That's what you get for eating an entire pizza, you glutton."

 

"Did you get everything sorted?" he asks, and Bucky notes the genuine concern.

 

"I think so. Details will still need to be ironed out, but Tyler's on his way home to his Dad's for the weekend. There's a possible solution in the works, but it's kind of above my pay grade. I've done all I can right now, but it looks promising."

 

Bucky looks at the clock on the LCD. "Fuck, how is it nearly ten?"

 

"That's what you get when you're awesome at your job," Steve replies, and Bucky doesn't think he's imagining the naked admiration in Steve's voice. "You get to do it more, and outside of hours, for no additional pay."

 

Bucky smirks. "Let me guess, you do this all the time?"

 

"Welcome to my life," Steve says, and Bucky can just picture the expansive gesture that goes with it. Stupid adorable bastard.

 

Bucky and Steve chat for the fifteen minutes it takes for Bucky to drive home. While he's a bit annoyed he didn't get to see Steve tonight, it wasn't for nothing; it was for a very worthy cause.

 

Walking up the stairs to his apartment, Bucky sighs into the receiver. "I guess I should let you go," he says in a slightly disappointed voice.

 

"Not until you're home. I'm going to walk you to your door," Steve replies immediately.

 

"That's either extremely chivalrous, or you're in league with my service provider and trying to push my phone bill up this month."

 

"Captain America has no company affiliations, thank you," Steve says imperiously.

 

Bucky's about to scoff, until he reaches his apartment. Directly outside his door, there's a pizza box. Someone's drawn a replica of Steve's shield on the top, and written the note 'Can I write you next week?'

 

"Steve..." Bucky's tone gives away the fact he's found the food.

 

"You said you were hungry, and sounded like you'd had a long day."

 

Bucky opens the box to see it's his favourite; pepperoni. "You really are a superhero." Bucky unlocks the door, and pushes into his apartment. He has a slice of pie in his mouth before the door's even shut.

 

"Sometimes," he says gently.

 

Bucky makes supremely unattractive eating sounds into the phone, but he really can't help it. "I'm glad you didn't hear me do this before. You never would've agreed to date me," Bucky says when he finishes chewing.

 

"Somehow, loud eating isn't a deal-breaker for me," Steve responds, the grin evident in his voice. Regret soon takes over, however. "On that note, though, I really do have to go."

 

Bucky hastily swallows. "I am really sorry our night got messed up. That's actually a pretty rare occurrence."

 

"It's okay, I'm glad you were there to help. Also, it was a nice surprise. I thought if anyone's occupation was going to throw a spanner in the works, it was going to be mine."

 

Bucky laughs. "You know, that's kind of funny."

 

"I'm a funny guy," Steve deadpans, and Bucky laughs one more.

 

"Well, I'd better let you go," Bucky says reluctantly, flopping on the sofa with his pizza. "I have to make sweet, sweet love to this pizza."

 

"Delightful," Steve says.

 

"Be safe, hope it all goes well. And you can write me when you get back."

 

Steve chuckles. "That's my line."

 

"Deal with it."

Chapter Text

The One With Captain America

 

(Location: Bucky's work / apartment)

 

Bucky's week without Steve progresses as it ordinarily would, save for two significant things. They're pretty different, like comparing apples and oranges, but each end up relating in some way to one another.

 

By and large, it's business as usual. He goes to work, he comes home. He goes to the gym a few times, he spends most nights working through his Netflix queue. His phone is set up for Google alerts about the Geneva conference, so every once in a while, he'll get a pop up about how things are travelling.

 

Sometimes there's a photo of the few Avengers in attendance, overseeing security and generally acting as a deterrent to the assholes of the world. The photos are never posed affairs; they're always of Steve standing off to the side, getting his thousand-yard stare on, being totally professional. Sometimes he catches a glimpse of Sam and the Black Widow there, too (He's not met her properly to feel comfortable referring to her as 'Natasha', even in his own head). There's also the occasional update on the news with some footage, often referring to the Avengers' presence as though they're celebrity guests, not soldiers there to do a job.

 

But if he's being honest, the footage and photos makes his boyfriend look really hot.

 

The first significant thing that happens, is that for the first time, Bucky thinks of Steve in no uncertain terms as his boyfriend.

 

That in itself is pretty big, but Bucky does his best to downplay it. Hell, he hasn't even talked to Steve about this yet, but it feels natural; as though their weeks of texting, then subsequently further weeks dating have been leading to this realisation. He's definitely felt as though he's grown closer to Steve, and has started to develop a really solid relationship with him.

 

Bucky's also pretty sure that feeling is entirely mutual.

 

So, yeah. Bucky's boyfriend is off being a total professional badass in Geneva.

 

The second significant thing that happens, is that the Geneva conference turns into an absolute shitshow when a terrorist group with known links to HYDRA shows up, guns blazing, and kidnaps some of the high-profile attendees.

 

Bucky's at the office, sitting at his desk drinking coffee when Denise runs in and bodily drags him into the meeting room with the TV. The rest of the staff are already there, watching as CNN shows some shaky mobile phone footage of people fleeing a building.

 

The news ticker down the bottom spews forth information and Bucky does his best to read at the same time as listen to the news anchors talking, narrating the video footage.

 

... EXPLOSIONS AND GUNFIRE ROCK GENEVA CONFERENCE ... HYDRA SUSPECTED BUT NOT CONFIRMED ... 2 DEAD AND 11 INJURED ...

 

"... can clearly see the Swiss Federal Police in their riot gear being driven back by a hail of gunfire. They're doing their best to get civilians and delegates out of the building..."

 

... AVENGERS WORKING WITH POLICE TO RESCUE HOSTAGES ... 16 DELEGATES FROM 7 COUNTRIES AS YET UNACCOUNTED FOR ... CAPTAIN AMERICA, FALCON, BLACK WIDOW ON THE GROUND ... IRON MAN EN ROUTE DIRECTLY FROM NYC ...

 

All work in the office has ground to a halt. Bucky's transfixed by the television. He keeps his breathing steady, inhaling and counting to three before exhaling.

 

There's lots of shaky video from a variety of sources, with news anchors talking over one another to try and explain what's going on. All reports are prefaced with words like 'unconfirmed' or 'allegedly' or 'suspected'. There's no real solid information apart from the fact that bad guys are there, and the good guys are amassing to deal with the situation.

 

Which is fine, because the best guy Bucky knows is there to take care of it.

 

And steady breathing and counting keeps him from hyperventilating with that knowledge. It's working fine as a calmative until someone spots Steve on TV.

 

"There's Captain America!" Rory announces unnecessarily loudly, pointing to the screen. Bucky takes a tiny step closer, squinting at the screen.

 

The footage isn't close, it's from media cameras that have been moved back past the police barricades, zoomed in as far as they'll go. The vision is grainy, but Steve is unmistakeable in his uniform. He seems to be with a bunch of the police officers, and they're making their way into one of the buildings.

 

This isn't the first time he's seen Steve on TV, but it's the first time since Bucky's been dating him, and his stomach does a little flip. It definitely makes a difference to his perception. He frowns, finding himself studying the blurry image of Steve in profile, trying to see if he can recognise the expression.

 

"Why isn't he wearing something more subdued? He makes a pretty good target in that red, white and blue getup."

 

Bucky flinches, but nobody notices.

 

Denise slaps Rory's arm. "That's a terrible thing to say!"

 

"But am I wrong?" Rory counters. "At least Widow's wearing black... the guy is like a beacon."

 

And Bucky is okay with not hearing the rest of this conversation. He breathes out sharply, and turns around to head back to his desk.

 

"Everything okay, Bucky?" Denise asks, and the rest of his co-workers turn around to look at him.

 

"Yeah, fine, Dee," he says, pretty pleased that his voice remains level. "I just have a lot of work to do. And let's face it, this is gonna be on TV for a while."

 

"But what if something happens right now? What if Cap gets shot on live tv, or something?" Rory comments.

 

Bucky goes very still. "Then I'm sure we'll be seeing it on repeat for the next six months. Don't you have your troubled teen group from Midwood High due in an hour?"

 

Rory nods and Bucky returns to his desk. He takes a moment to stare blankly at the screen, before slowly taking a sip of his lukewarm coffee and going back to his files.

 

The thing of it is, Bucky knows what Steve does. He knows it's a dangerous job, one that one day he might not walk away from.

 

But that's part of being a soldier. He understands that on an instinctive level. Sometimes there were jobs he hated, sometimes he went somewhere not knowing if he would survive, but that never stopped him doing them in the first place.

 

Not if there was a job to be done.

 

Of course he's worried. He's not a fucking robot. Steve might get hurt... or worse.

 

But Bucky worrying about it, or staying glued to the TV to watch the same bits of footage over and over again, hear 'experts' dredged up from any field to commentate and speculate on what the terrorists might've had for breakfast that morning... is not going to help. It's going to drive him crazy.

 

And, like Steve, Bucky has a job to do. He has kids that are relying on him to not lose his fucking shit.

 

The rest of the day is challenging, but he gets through it. Bucky takes himself to the diner close by for dinner after work, blatantly ignoring the TV in the corner with live feeds from Geneva, and blocks out the spirited debate about exactly what the Avengers should be doing that the neighbouring table is having.

 

At home, he has a long, hot shower and stays in his routine; Netflix with Babushka.

 

He changes the alert in his phone only to ping at mentions of 'Captain America', and it, thankfully, cuts out a lot of unnecessary notifications.

 

Not since 9/11 has Bucky loathed rolling coverage more, because the next day, it's still going full force. Someone in the office decides it's a great idea to have the radio on all day, where there are long talk-back segments devoted to the crisis in Geneva, along with citizens phoning in their own opinions on the topic, however ill-informed.

 

There's been two big cancellations in his schedule, and Denise -- bless her for noticing -- upon realising Bucky'd been a little off since the situation began, and isn't getting any better, suggested he go home early and work from there for the rest of the week. Considering that's only two days, it's not too much of a hardship from his employer's point of view. He knows she thinks it's possibly a PTSD reaction to seeing all the activity on TV, and as much as he feels a little like a heel for it, Bucky's not going to correct her.

 

He takes the opportunity to stay at home, reviewing school counsellor reports on his new intake of kids, listening to music, and occasionally, just sitting with Babushka and stroking her fur. He limits himself to five minutes of news about Geneva, once in the morning and once at night, and along with the Google alerts on Steve, that's more than enough information. Turning off the TV is easy; having to block out or ignore the office chatter where his co-workers are discussing the situation for what seems like all day, was much harder.

 

The gist of it is this; the bad guys have rigged up the room they're holding the hostages in with quite a few explosives, and the authorities have to either talk them out, or get in there without tripping something bad that'll cause explosions.

 

Bucky trusts Steve not to run in there guns a-blazin' if there are people's lives on the line, and he's right. They seem to be taking their time negotiating, while the Avengers in attendance try to figure out how to get in and save everyone.

 

Well, that's what he assumes. Even the networks aren't dumb enough to broadcast that plan on the news, and thank Heaven for small favours. Terrorists still have access to information and could find things out to jeopardise the safety of the rescuers.

 

He has another quiet night reading and playing with Babushka. Bucky only watches five minutes of news coverage where the weary-looking anchors are postulating as to how long the terrorists are going to hold out, and whether there's going to be some sort of rescue attempt soon.

 

Having been in situations where the reality was starkly different to what was being reported, Bucky takes everything that's said on TV with a grain of salt. He won't believe it until the facts are triple-checked, or he hears from a more direct source.

 

Bucky doubts any of the Avengers are putting him on the high priority call list, so he's just going to have to stay calm, and be patient. Panicking and worrying are not going to help Steve, and it's not going to help him, either.

 

The last thing he sees on the screen are some images taken by a professional photographer at an event a while back of Steve, Sam, Stark and Widow -- still not calling her 'Natasha' -- before he flicks the TV off.

 

Bucky trusts Steve's training and his intelligence. He'll do everything he can to get the hostages out, but safely.

 

After all, he's got someone to come back to. Even if he doesn't know it yet.

Chapter Text

The One With The First 24 Hours

(Location: Steve's Apartment)

 

 

Bucky wakes from a pretty shitty night's sleep to his phone sounding like it's having an apoplectic fit. He gently pushes Babushka off his chest, and rubs one eye as he picks up the phone.

 

Google is losing its shit on his device. Sixteen separate alerts with regards to 'Captain America'. Bucky breathes deeply and goes through them in chronological order. His heart rate doesn't improve as he goes through and reads them.

 

Captain America leads Avengers and Swiss Police into secured building.

 

Explosion 'rattles window frames' as authorities attempt to take back hostages.

 

Avenger down! Unconfirmed reports Captain America taken to hospital suffering injuries.

 

Geneva General Hospital admits Captain America; extent of injuries unknown.

 

All hostages freed as Avengers and Swiss Police storm building.

 

Bucky's got the remote control in his hand even before he realises, and flicks on the TV. He immediately turns it to sketchy footage of people being loaded into ambulances amidst a bit of debris. The voice-over is saying they are hostages and police who need medical treatment over the rescue. Time stamps for Geneva say that whatever happened, happened at least six hours ago, NYC time.

 

"Fuck," Bucky breathes. The news is old. The networks are only cycling the same scant intel over and over again. Bucky takes the news with a grain of salt, and knows how unreliable first reports can be in the chaos of an op. He's not sure that Steve has been injured, but he's not entirely sure that he hasn't.

 

There's not really anyone he can call and ask. He doubts there's anyone at Avengers Tower that'll take an enquiry from a near-stranger as to the classified welfare and whereabouts of Captain America. There was that one-off meeting with Pepper Potts, but on the off chance she remembers him, the likelihood he can make contact with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company with such a tenuous link is doubtful.

 

There are no other options open to him, so he resolves to remain as calm as possible, and try to get on with his routine.

 

Bucky's phone chooses this moment to go off, making him jump. He gropes for it where it sits on the sheets next to him.

 

The caller is unknown. Bucky answers it straight away.

 

"James Barnes," he says, voice still rusty from sleep.

 

There's a slight pause on the end of the phone. "Bucky?" a familiar voice asks hesitantly.

 

"Yeah?" Bucky says, his still slightly fuzzy brain trying desperately to place the other person on the end of the phone.

 

"Oh, great. I thought I'd gotten the wrong number. It's Sam Wilson."

 

Bucky's heart lodges somewhere in his throat. This is either very good news, or very bad news. He fumbles for the remote control to hit the 'mute' button.

 

"Is he okay?" There's no point in beating about the bush here, and he hopes Sam will forgive the directness. But if he's learnt anything about Steve's best friend in their short acquaintance, it's that he will probably understand.

 

"Yes. He did have to go to hospital to get treated, but everything's fine."

 

Bucky exhales, sagging forward. "Good. Good."

 

"I'm guessing you saw the news?" Sam queries.

 

"I just woke up and heard about the resolution? Haven't really processed too much mentally right now, don't even know how it happened."

 

"Oh, the time difference," Sam acknowledges, "I completely forgot. It would've all happened in the middle of the night for you. Sufficed to say, the media's probably not all that accurate. Let your boy fill you in later."

 

Sam's reference to Steve as 'his boy' makes his heart do the two-step in his chest for a brief moment. It distracts him, but Bucky quickly gets back on track, clearing his throat. He's not sure where Sam and Steve are, how secure their line is, how long it might hold out. Bucky needs the important info, and he needs it now.

 

"What's the extent of Steve's injuries? How bad are we talking?" His eyes get drawn back to the silent TV, still displaying pictures of emergency services, and Armed Forces running about with rifles drawn.

 

The fingernails of his right hand come to dig into his knee.

 

Sam only realistically takes a moment to answer him, but that moment feels interminable. "In supersoldier terms, barely a scratch. The building was wired with explosives, but we got in and out without any dramas... except that one of the bad guys got to trigger a bomb during the evac before we could stop him. Steve was the last one out, and got caught in the edge of the concussive blast."

 

Bucky winces. "Shrapnel?"

 

"Actually, not. He pretty much got blown through the doors of an elevator and fell down the shaft."

 

"Shit."

 

"Steve broke his ankle and got a mild concussion when he landed badly at the bottom. It's a bad break, but it could've been a lot worse. He got taken to the GGH where they've re-set the bone and put it in a cast. His particular gifts should get him healed up a lot faster than a regular person, but he still needs rest."

 

Bucky inhales deeply, holds for a second, then exhales, loosening the grip on his knee. "I'm glad it's not too serious." The thought occurs that he has no idea where they are right now. "Where are you even calling from?"

 

"Quinjet satellite phone," Sam answers, "Natasha and Tony stayed back for debriefing and clean-up, I have the dubious honour of escorting Steve home. We're probably about two hours out of New York."

 

"'Dubious honour'?" Bucky asks.

 

"Yeah." Sam gives that infectious laugh down the line. "So they needed elephant tranquilisers to knock Steve out while they were messing with his ankle, then he woke up yelling at everyone."

 

"What for?"

 

"The noise of the explosion also perforated both ear drums, so he subsequently thinks everyone else is deaf."

 

A chuckle escapes Bucky's lips, and oh God that's a good feeling. "Aw man."

 

"That's the reason I'm making the call, and not him, but not for lack of trying." Bucky's mouth quirks up involuntarily, as Sam continues. "He'll contact you personally when we land."

 

Closing his eyes, Bucky exhales. "Excellent. Thanks a lot, Sam," he says sincerely.

 

"Oh, don't thank me yet. You've never seen Steve when he's less than one hundred percent."

 

They say their goodbyes, and hang up. Bucky immediately turns off the television and flops down on his bed, musing over Sam's last comment and wondering exactly what he means.

 

Babushka leaps back up onto the mattress and snuggles into his side. He stays like that for a while, staring at the ceiling, before jumping in the shower.

 

It's still business as usual, Bucky tells himself, he's still got work to do until Steve calls.

 

Feeling more at ease after the phone call, Bucky manages to have a shower, shave, get dressed in clean clothes and hit the paperwork again, but concentration is hard to come by. He finds himself side-eyeing his phone more than once, making sure the ringtone is definitely turned up, or calculating how long it might take for the quinjet to land, Steve to get out and get to wherever he's meant to be before calling.

 

With effort, Bucky keeps plugging away, and reviews another sixteen child profiles when his phone finally trills. Cool dissolving in nanoseconds, he grabs for the device.

 

It's not a call, but it is a text message.

 

Steve: Hey, Buck. Sam said he spoke to you like I asked, which is great. My hearing's still a little patchy so I don't think I'd be able to hear you over the phone, but I was wondering if you weren't busy with work... did you want to come visit me?

 

Bucky: Of course I do! Where are you?

 

Bucky: And it's great to hear from you :)

 

Steve: Home sweet home. Got dropped off about five minutes ago, Sam had to go to the Tower. I'd say it's great to hear from you, too... but we both know I'm not doing a whole lot of that right now :)

 

Bucky grins. It's just like Steve to joke about something ridiculous like this.

 

Bucky: They just don't make eardrums like they used to. Shoddy Great Depression workmanship.

 

Bucky: Also I'll be right over.

 

Steve: Is that an age joke?

 

Steve: Sam put my spare key under the doormat so you can let yourself in. Otherwise you might be knocking on the door for a while.

 

Bucky: Sam's a smart guy. You owe him.

 

Steve: Don't I know it. See you soon!

 

Bucky grabs his car keys and wallet, and power-walks downstairs. He could take the subway, but doesn't want to deal with people right now. Plus, his car will be faster.

 

There's not a lot of traffic around on a Friday close to lunchtime, and it takes Bucky barely over fifteen minutes to reach Steve's apartment, which is a vast improvement on the regular commute.

 

Also, he may've exceeded the speed limit a touch.

 

He takes the steps in Steve's apartment block stairwell two at a time, far too impatient to wait for the elevator, and hotfoots it to his door. Sure enough, there's a key under the doormat.

 

Bucky puts the key in the door, and with a sharp exhale of carefully-controlled excitement, turns the lock.

 

"Steve? I'm here... Ste-- Jesus-fuck, what do you think you're doing?" Bucky's voice enters a very specific incredulous range when he sees Steve balancing precariously on one foot as he vacuums.

 

Speaking to Sam had alleviated anxiety about Steve being injured. He knows the guy wouldn't blow smoke up his ass, so Bucky's aware he's not walking in to Steve's apartment expecting Captain Deathbed.

 

But nor is he expecting Steve to be on one leg in clothes he's clearly worn at the hospital, doing domestic chores.

 

"Vacuuming, Steve?"

 

Steve looks up, slightly startled. A smile blooms on his face to become hesitant at the dark expression Bucky wears.

 

"Hey, Bucky," he says, just a touch louder than normal. "You got here fast." He pauses, and all Bucky does in the silence is arch one eyebrow. Steve gestures to the floor around him. "The carpet was pretty dirty and--"

 

Bucky, having dropped his keys on Steve's kitchen island, crosses the room to pry the vacuum cleaner out of his bandaged hands, dropping it to the floor. He ushers Steve to the large sofa and tips him so Steve's butt hits the cushions with a soft 'oof'.

 

Steve looks wary and hesitantly at Bucky, as though trying to figure out the reason for Bucky's demeanour. Bucky stays silent as he pulls the coffee table forward, and helps guide the cast-encased foot to rest elevated.

 

Steve looks sheepish. He's wearing what appears to be scrub pants and a classic rock tee shirt. Judging by the way it stretches across his chest, it might've come from a spare clothes stash of Stark's on the quinjet. His left foot is in plaster, toes poking out the top, hands are both wrapped thickly with bandages around his palms, leaving fingers and thumb free. There's a bunch of surface lacerations over his exposed skin, and a butterfly bandage on one eyebrow. He rests his hands, palms up, in his lap expectantly and waits for Bucky to make the first move.

 

Bucky's never seen anything quite so wonderful in his life.

 

He flicks a leg over Steve's lap to straddle his waist, kneeling on the cushions of the sofa. Making sure as to not put any undue weight on Steve at all, Bucky cradles the blond's face very gently in his hands and kisses him. It's equal parts passionate and gentle, given Steve's injuries. Steve, for his part, responds immediately. He rests his ruined hands ever so gently on Bucky's waist, but pushes up into the kiss. Bucky comes down to meet him further, not wanting Steve to strain himself unnecessarily to deepen their contact.

 

Eventually Bucky has to come up for air. He reluctantly pulls his lips away from Steve's before resting their foreheads together.

 

"I missed you." Bucky's murmur is barely even a whisper, so he's not actually sure it's been heard. Steve's eyes are still closed, but a ghost of a smile playing on his lips after that.

 

"Ditto," Steve responds, rubbing his stubbled cheek against Bucky's smooth one.

 

It's nice, but there's a burning question Bucky has to ask. "Why the hell were you cleaning your carpet?"

 

He feels Steve's large shoulders shrug. "Was feeling restless, and I didn't do it before I left," he says softly.

 

It's kind of a strange answer from Steve. Maybe it's some kind of weird adrenalin thing. He sometimes used to have strange responses after coming off an op, like there was a build-up of energy that had nowhere else to go.

 

"Well, forget it," Bucky hits back instead. "Doctor gave you orders to rest, right? Put your foot up?"

 

"Mhm."

 

The 'Mhm' sounds totally insincere, and he would pull Steve up on it, save for that it's accompanied by another nuzzle.

 

"Resting doesn't include vacuuming," Bucky continues valiantly. "Hell, if you're deadset on getting the carpet clean, I'll do it. Just... just don't be an idiot."

 

Steve affects that kicked puppy look, and Bucky rolls his eyes. "It doesn't work, don't even try that shit on me. You follow doctor's orders or else."

 

"Yes, Sergeant," Steve responds, subdued but not serious.

 

Bucky presses a short, hard kiss to Steve's lips before moving to sit next to him instead. They both stare at the black TV for a few moments, before Bucky can bring himself to speak. He makes sure to talk a little louder, and face Steve, so if nothing else, Steve can read his lips.

 

"Sam said you weren't seriously injured, but I thought you might at least be taken to a hospital when you got back to New York."

 

Steve makes a face. "The Swiss doctors did a great job, but I didn't want to see the inside of anymore wards," he explains, hooking a pinky finger around Bucky's with a sigh, resting his cheek against the sofa cushions as he faces Bucky. "I just wanted to come home."

 

Bucky curls his finger around Steve's, both his words and the contact making him feel light-headed. He mirrors Steve's pose, also resting his cheek against the sofa pillow. As he looks at Steve, a small smile grows exponentially bigger, only to be reflected in Steve's face. "Yeah, but if you're concussed, don't you need to be observed for a few hours after to make sure you don't fall unconscious, or something?" Bucky queries.

 

Steve gives a slight smile. "I was hoping you might want the job?"

 

Bucky shakes his head. "I see what this is. It's an elaborate ploy to trick me into being your nursemaid. Sam did warn me."

 

"Is it working?"

 

Bucky pauses. "You're fucking lucky you're cute, is all I'm saying." He groans and pushes himself up from the sofa. "I'll put some coffee on, and then we're going to discuss what this 'nursemaiding' of you is going to entail."

 

Steve moves to get up as well, and Bucky flips switches instantly from 'amiable' to 'murderous'. "Don't even attempt it, Rogers." Steve puts his hands up in surrender, and relaxes back down. "Come to think of it, did Sam leave you with crutches? You have to be slightly mobile, within reason, of course..."

 

"No, but I have some in the closet of the spare bedroom from when I broke my leg a few years back."

 

"Right." Bucky charges into the bedroom and, after a little searching, finds a pair in the back behind a few coats. He returns to the living room to rest them on the arm of the sofa, before moving to the kitchen to make coffee. He gets the pot working, but a quick search of the cupboards and refrigerator find next to no food. Bucky pokes his head out of the kitchen.

 

"Steve, your kitchen's barer than Old Mother Hubbard's. Just what the hell were you planning on eating?"

 

Steve screws up his face and shrugs. "Uh, not sure?"

 

Bucky folds his arms. "'Not sure'."

 

"I have a concussion?" Steve hedges.

 

"Try again, hotshot." Bucky shakes his head and goes back out to Steve. "Well, seeing as I'm on 'Concussion Watch 2016', and you're on 'Sit On Your Ass' Duty... is there anything you need? Anything I can help you with?"

 

"Well, I--" Steve starts, then clams up. Bucky quirks an eyebrow.

 

"What? If it's food, I can order in. Tell me what you want."

 

"Well, given we missed out on Thai last week, that'd be great, but, er... that's not what I was thinking of right this second."

 

"Okay," Bucky says slowly, re-taking his seat on the couch and touching gently touching Steve's arm encouragingly. "So what do you need?"

 

Steve rubs the back of his neck with one hand uncomfortably. "I haven't actually had a shower since the day before the siege..."

 

Oh... oh. "That was about four days ago," Bucky states.

 

"I know. And I feel kind of yuck."

 

He nods in return. Another thing Bucky doesn't miss from his deployment days would definitely be not getting to shower regularly. "Okay, well... I can help you with that. As long as you've got some kind of trash bag to cover the plaster, we should be able to figure something out."

 

"Under the kitchen sink," Steve says, looking monumentally relieved.

 

Bucky heads back into the kitchen, and is bending down to open the cabinet when it hits him.

 

Bathing Steve requires that Bucky undress him.

 

Oh sweet mother of fuck. He's not sure he's ready for this, but Steve needs him to help, and not be a child. He finds the trashbag, takes a moment to compose himself, then heads back into the living room.

 

"Okay, Hopalong, let's go." Bucky helps Steve to his feet and hands him a crutch, then supports his weight on one side as they slowly make their way to the main bathroom. Steve has an ensuite that's connected to his bedroom, but Steve explains it only has a shower. Standing on one leg on tile isn't an option Bucky wants Steve to deal with, so bath it is.

 

"The way I figure, if I lower you into the bath and you dangle one leg out, you can at least get most of your body submerged and get rid of that ripe smell."

 

"Hey!" Steve protests.

 

"Sorry, pal. You stink a little. I was way too busy yelling at you to tell you sooner."

 

"Didn't stop you kissing me," Steve mutters in return, grimacing as he accidentally puts a bit of weight on his cast.

 

"What can I say? I have low standards," Bucky shoots back as they enter the bathroom.

 

It's actually one of Bucky's favourite places in Steve's apartment. Nearly twice the size of Bucky's bathroom, the tiles are sea green and white, with a wave pattern feature at random intervals. The shower is one of those expensive ones with the huge head and the multiple functions and different ways for the water to flow out, and the bath has a couple of handy bars that Steve can use to get in and out of the tub.

 

"These are useful," Bucky comments, gesturing to the bars.

 

"Tony got them installed last time I broke my leg. At least I could bathe myself then," he jokes.

 

Bucky helps Steve sit down on the toilet. "Well, it's a good thing you've got me around, then," Bucky says, gesturing to Steve's bandaged hands.

 

"I always think that's a good thing," Steve says, before he looks at his hands. "I might need a little help this first time? But they're healing well, I should be able to do it myself next time."

 

"What did you do to them, anyway?"

 

Steve tugs at the bottom of the t-shirt he wears, toying with the idea of removing it. "Did Sam tell you how I fell?"

 

"Yeah. Bungee jumping down an elevator shaft without a bungee. Very dangerous." Bucky smirks.

 

Steve holds up his hands. "After I went through the doors, halfway down, I managed to grab hold of the cable to slow my descent. But it was sliding through my hands at great speed..."

 

"Holy shit, Steve," Bucky cringes. He knows exactly where Steve's going with this. The friction would've just ripped into him.

 

"My gloves bore the brunt of it," Steve continues, "but they wore through the middle and I lost a few layers of skin for my troubles."

 

Bucky pauses. "Looks like I'm helping you in and out of the bath today, then."

 

"Looks like." He gives a little smile, running the fingers of one hand through his hair. They both lapse into silence, for the time for beating about the bush is over. "Well, best get started, I suppose?" Steve drums his fingers against his belly, looking up to Bucky for confirmation.

 

Bucky nods. "Yep, go for it."

 

Steve lifts the edge of the t-shirt up and begins pulling. He does well, until the fabric gets caught around his neck. While he doesn't seem to be injured around the shoulders, Steve is definitely a little stiff and can't quite get the collar of the shirt off his head with limited movement. He struggles for a few seconds, before giving up.

 

"Uh, little help?" he asks, and Bucky can't help but bark out a laugh. It's not the easiest job, but he gently helps unhook the fabric from Steve's jaw, getting the sleeves stretched over his biceps.

 

"I thought if this were Stark's shirt, the collar would be much more stretched out," Bucky grunts, folding the shirt and turning away to hang it over the towel rack, "you know, to get over his massive head."

 

Steve starts chuckling. It's a sound he's missed over the last week, so he turns to comment on that and holy shit.

 

Bucky's caught glimpses of Steve's bare skin, flashes during movement, or walking past an ajar door, but this is Steve, in the flesh, sitting bare from the waist-up in front of him.

 

Bucky would like to amend his previous thought to 'holy fucking shit'.

 

He really is all kinds of perfect.

 

Steve catches his eye and gives him a shy smile. Bucky chokes on nothing but air, as his body throws him suddenly into a coughing fit. He braces a hand on the counter, and Steve gives him a gentle thump between the shoulder blades.

 

"Y'okay there, Buck?" he asks with concern.

 

"Fine," Bucky croaks out. For shit's sake, it's not like he hasn't seen a shirtless dude before. He's seen racier images on the sides of buses.

 

None of those dudes happen to be sitting right in front of him, though.

 

He grabs the glass that sits to the side of the sink and fills it up with water, chugging it down to soothe his wrecked throat.

 

Placing the glass down and breathing deeply, Bucky calms himself. He needs to be an adult about this. He looks to Steve, who's sitting there with his big shoulders curved in, hands gently resting between his thighs, looking kind of shy, and--

 

And Bucky finally takes note of the cuts and the bruises on that -- frankly, magnificent -- torso. Seeing the ugly colours on Steve's skin sobers his attitude significantly

 

There is a particularly nasty bruise across Steve's clavicle that's still purple. Bucky points to it. "Does it hurt?"

 

"Only when I pee," Steve quips, and the awkwardness is broken irreparably. Bucky doubles over laughing, arms wrapped around his stomach. Steve joins in the laughter, resting one of his hands very lightly against Bucky's shoulder.

 

"You asshole," he gasps out, "you trying to make me cough again?"

 

"I like it when you laugh so hard you can't breathe," Steve grins.

 

"Then you're the one stuck giving me mouth-to-mouth, you realise."

 

"I'm finding it hard to see a downside to this plan, Bucky."

 

"One thing at a time," Bucky says. "Bath first, CPR later."

 

"Okay, okay," Steve agrees mildly.

 

Bucky turns to kneel next to the tub. He leans into the porcelain and turns the faucets on, congratulating himself for not having a brain aneurysm at taking Steve's shirt off. Yay, he's a grown-up, he can undress his boyfriend who doesn't actually know he's his boyfriend yet.

 

"How hot do you want the water?" he asks Steve, running one hand under the spigot idly.

 

"What?" Steve asks.

 

Shit. Bucky forgot that Steve's hearing still isn't one hundred percent, and the water is pretty loud.

 

"How hot do you want the water?" Bucky repeats, a little louder as he turns to address Steve over his shoulder.

 

"Pretty hot," Steve answers, his eyes quickly meeting Bucky's from where they'd been looking at his ass, "my muscles are a little sore, it'll help me feel better."

 

"Gotcha." Bucky turns back to the tub with a barely-repressed grin -- it's nice to know he can get as good as he's giving -- and twists the hot water knob further. "Have any Epsom salts?"

 

"Under the basin," Steve says. Bucky hoists himself off the ground and goes digging in the cabinet beneath the sink. He finds a box of Epsom salts and a little scoop. Sitting on the edge of the tub, he liberally shovels some into the water. "That should help with your muscles, too." Bucky also finds some kind of nice-smelling bath liquid that he pours in. "Because everyone needs bubbles, Steve," he says matter-of-factly, and Steve laughs.

 

It doesn't take long at all for the bath to fill halfway. Bucky reaches out to the faucets and turns them off.

 

He scratches the back of his head. "Now, d'you want help to take the scrub pants off, or leave them on, or...?" Bucky doesn't really know what 'or' entails. Because he's not sure he's ready to see Steve naked.

 

Thankfully, Steve is decisive on the matter. He balances his hands on the toilet seat to stand up. Bucky gets up with him, holding his arms out, just in case Steve topples. "I'll take them off. Wet fabric like that always feels... heavy and wrong. But I'll ah... I'll keep my shorts on," he says, giving Bucky a small smile. "Gotta keep some mystery, right?" Steve gives a cute little shrug, and Bucky thinks his nervousness is probably the world's worst-kept secret right now.

 

Bucky wants to sigh in relief and simultaneously die a little inside. It's not as though seeing Steve naked has never crossed his mind, he just never thought the first potential time might be when he's injured. So... boxer briefs on? Probably for the best.

 

"Sounds like a plan," Bucky says, voice deceptively even.

 

Steve nods once and hooks his thumbs in the waistband of the scrubs. "I'll probably need your help getting the cuff around my cast, though?" he says.

 

"No problem," Bucky confirms. Sure, he can do that.

 

"Right." Steve pulls the scrubs down over his hips quickly, bending at the waist, before sitting back down on the toilet seat. He gets the material off his unencumbered foot, but predictably, it snags around the other ankle.

 

Bucky, who'd been steadfastly watching the cast to avoid getting an eyeful of anything else, kneels down to help. He unhooks the fabric from the plaster, as Steve lifts his foot off the ground, but they're still not quite wide enough to get his foot through.

 

"You weren't particularly attached to these pants, were you?" Bucky asks.

 

"Nope," Steve replies.

 

"Good." Finding the seam, Bucky pokes his fingers into it until it begins to rip. As gently as he can, he tears the seam until the pantleg is big enough and can fit over the cast comfortably. It's much easier to remove the scrubs now, so he does. Bucky then reaches for the trash bag and gets Steve's foot into it, gently tucking the ends around the rim of the cast. Finally finished, Bucky stands and folds the scrubs, placing them over the railing with the shirt.

 

Bucky can't help a quick glance to Steve's underwear because -- because well he just can't -- and chokes down a laugh.

 

Steve rolls his eyes as Bucky helps him stand. "Go ahead, they were a gift."

 

Bucky chortles as they shuffle over to the tub. "Strawberry underwear?" He asks, gesturing to the boxer briefs with a realistic strawberry print all over them.

 

"Clint got them for me for my birthday? I told him I liked strawberries. This was the result."

 

"Say no more," Bucky says, biting his lip. "I only laugh because I'm picturing you wearing them while dealing with a hostage scenario."

 

"You would," Steve replies derisively as Bucky grips his forearms and backs him up to the tub. Anchoring his feet against the tile, Bucky slowly starts to lower him down.

 

Steve winces as his injured hands grip Bucky's forearms, but he lowers himself anyway. "You think that's funny... shoulda seen the looks I copped... from the Swiss nurses..." Steve bites out.

 

His butt hits the water with a splash, and he sighs gratefully, even as Bucky laughs.

 

"Oh man. They totally had to cut you out of your tac suit and see the strawberries, didn't they?"

 

"They were far too professional to comment on it," Steve says, swivelling his bottom on the porcelain to lie lengthways. His left foot dangles outside the rim of the tub, and his head rests against the back. Steve closes his eyes, and lets out low groan of pleasure.

 

Bucky bites his lip. "Everything okay?"

 

Steve doesn't even crack open an eye. "Mhm." The bubbles have frothed up and cover up most of him in the tub. Bucky can't decide whether he's disappointed or not.

 

He lets Steve settle into the tub, wriggling down to bring as much of his body under the water level as he possibly can.

 

"I'll be right back," Bucky says, having an idea. He heads out of the bathroom and goes into the kitchen. He grabs a couple of bottles of spring water from the fridge, cracks one open and has a long pull. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he takes that and the other bottle back into the bathroom.

 

Opening the lid of the new bottle, he hands it to Steve. "Don't want you dehydrating in there," he says.

 

Steve takes the bottle gratefully and gulps half of it down.

 

Bucky stands there a little awkwardly as Steve watches him. "So uh... I can give you some privacy if you want--" Bucky starts, but Steve sits up a little straighter in the tub.

 

"Stay. Please. Talk to me?" Steve asks, his brow furrowed, and Bucky's head cocks to the side a little in unexpected pleasure.

 

"Okay," Bucky says, and sits down on the toilet seat. "Well, we've already covered the important topics like strawberry underpants... what else is there to talk about?"

 

Steve flicks some water at him and Bucky chuckles. "Tell me about your week? Pretty sure you know how mine went." Steve looks far more invested in stories of Bucky's week than he probably has any right to be. Maybe... just maybe... Steve missed him a little, too.

 

Now that's a nice thought.

 

Bucky starts to tell him about everything Steve missed while he was gone. He goes over cases he's been working on, activities he's been doing with certain groups, field trips, and is pleased to note Steve relaxing into their conversation. He interacts at different points, asking questions or making cheerful comments, as he uses a washcloth to absently scrub his skin.

 

Then the news changed about the situation in Geneva, and Steve's lips grow tight. Bucky tells him about how his co-workers and strangers talked about what was going on... how the information was everywhere, seeping into every conversation, and he didn't really care for the coverage that came with it. Throughout this part of the conversation, Steve appears shuttered and brooding. He no longer offers up comments, instead he drags his fingers over the surface of the water, watching it ripple.

 

Bucky could sugar-coat his feelings, or coddle Steve, but especially since he's returned from active service, Bucky feels very strongly about being open and transparent about things that bother him. He's found his mental health is a far kinder place for it, and that includes telling Steve what he really thinks about witnessing the horribly invasive news coverage 24/7.

 

Bucky gets to the point where Sam called him, and Steve knows everything that happened after that, when Steve finally breaks his silence.

 

"I'm sorry," he apologises, biting his lip.

 

"What for? You don't put the cameras on you."

 

"Not that. I'm sorry for..." Steve stops, and Bucky can see him attempting to find the right words for his apology, only to ultimately wave one hand impotently, "everything," he decides on instead.

 

Bucky cocks his head to the side. "Why?"

 

Steve looks minorly pained. "I had to go away, and it was dangerous, and then I got hurt, and you had no way to contact anyone for information. Then you were mad when you came in, and--"

 

"Steve, stop."

 

"But I--"

 

"Please," Bucky implores holding up his palm. The strong gesture makes Steve clam up.

 

Bucky waits until Steve loses the expression that says he might butt in at any moment, before he asks a question. "Is being sent away part of your job, yes or no?"

 

"Yes, but--"

 

"While away, did you do your job to the best of your ability? Yes or no?"

 

"Well, yes--"

 

"Did you take any risks that jeopardised your life or the lives of your teammates and/or civilians?"

 

"I tried not to."

 

"Was there anything you could've done to prevent getting hurt?"

 

"No."

 

"Did you come back in one piece?"

 

Steve gives a little smile. "More or less."

 

Bucky sighs. "Then you did all you could to fulfil your mission. Steve, this is your job. I get it, God do I get it. It's not easy, and it's not pleasant, but it has to be done. And you're... you're a fucking champion at it. The only reason I was angry when I arrived was that you weren't following doctor's orders."

 

"Oh," Steve says. "I thought you might've... been upset that I got hurt." Bucky lets out a quiet snort and shakes his head. Steve looks adorably confused. "...Then you're not mad that I got hurt...?" he hedges.

 

"Of course I'm not mad. Shit happens. Unpreventable shit. As long as you're doing your absolute best... I believe in you." Bucky pauses. "Provided you're taking reasonable precautions at all times." He looks to Steve for confirmation, and the blond nods gravely. Satisfied, Bucky continues.

 

"Granted I don't know them very well, but you seem to have a pretty amazing team backing you up. As long as you don't go thinking you can handle serious shit on your own without them..." he sighs again. "I'm not saying I'm not gonna worry, otherwise I wouldn't be a very caring boyfriend if I didn't, but I believe that you're going to do the very best that you can to get out of each situation safely.

 

"Because if you don't, I'll kill you myself."

 

Steve is staring at him, gobsmacked. Bucky winces, maybe it was too much.

 

"What did you say?" Steve asks, voice weirdly calm. Bucky starts. He just said a whole heap of stuff, Steve's going to have to be a little more specific.

 

"Oh shit. Did you hear any of that? I forgot about your ears. Um." Bucky curses, thinking back to all the touchstones in his little monologue... team back-up, worry, stay safe... "Well it was a really good fucking speech, I don't know if I can do it agai--"

 

"I heard the speech," Steve waves his hand dismissively. "What did you say about 'boyfriends'?"

 

Bucky freezes. Because yeah he'd been meaning to say something but no that is definitely not how he was imagining. He's wondering if a quick backpedal is in order, until he takes a good look at Steve's face. His eyes are boring holes into Bucky's, a suddenly sweet and hopeful smile on his lips. It's enough to loosen his tongue.

 

"Yeah, well... if you didn't mind?" Bucky says, scratching the back of his head. "Kinda feels like we were heading there..."

 

"I think so, too," Steve says, and the accompanying grin is nearly blinding, and that's as good a response as any. Bucky stands to take two steps over to the bath, dropping to his knees on the mat. He cups Steve's face in his hands and, mindful of the bruises, kisses him tenderly once again.

 

Bucky's heart flutters in his chest as he feels Steve smile against his lips. It's the dumbest and somehow most perfect way for this particular information to come to light. He knew it was something he wanted to address with Steve, but thought it might've come out in slightly more adult-conversation clinical terms. The absent blurt wasn't expected, but now that it's done, it was perfect.

 

Everything feels like it happened in just the right way.

 

Steve breaks the kiss and touches his fingers ever so slightly to the side of Bucky's face. "This is a pretty timely revelation," he says against Bucky's lips.

 

"Why is that?" Bucky asks, one hand drifting down to encircle the back of Steve's neck.

 

"Because I'd feel kind of weird asking anyone other than my boyfriend if they'd mind washing my hair."

 

Bucky laughs, pressing a kiss against the corner of Steve's mouth. "I can do that," he says, hauling himself back onto his feet. "Where's your shampoo?"

 

Steve looks lazy and a little kiss-dazed. Bucky could quite easily get used to this. "There's some under this basin," he directs again, tracking every single one of Bucky's movements unabashedly now.

 

Bucky grabs some shampoo and conditioner, and also gets the glass from the sink. The edge of the bath was uncomfortable, so he also grabs a folded towel from the cupboard, and puts it over the porcelain rim.

 

Taking the glass and filling it with the hot water from around Steve, he looks critically at the blond. "Can you lean back a little, but still support yourself?"

 

Steve obliges. He looks up at Bucky with those big, blue eyes and it takes his breath away for a moment.

 

He's sure everything is written plainly across his face, but Steve doesn't mock him for it, instead smiling in a soft, guileless way.

 

"Close your eyes," Bucky instructs gently, and Steve immediately obeys. He can't help himself, he leans down and presses a soft kiss to Steve's lips before pouring the water onto Steve's hair. One hand does that, while the other shields Steve's eyes from the water.

 

"Do you have any injuries on your scalp I should know about? Soreness anywhere?" Bucky asks.

 

"Nope, was wearing my helmet," Steve confirms, creaking his eyes open when the water stops, and moves to sit straight once again.

 

"Safety first," Bucky praises, and Steve's lips quirk. Bucky pours a moderate amount of shampoo into one palm, and coats his fingers. Steve's hair has gone a dark golden honey with the water, and he's itching to touch it, to separate the strands.

 

"Your hair's pretty dirty. Might have to 'lather, rinse, repeat' before it's actually clean."

 

"Whatever you've got to do, Bucky," Steve agrees mildly, nodding in encouragement.

 

Bucky grins. The first touch of his hands produces a muffled exhale from Steve, his eyes fluttering shut. As he works his fingers through the strands, gently pressing into his scalp, Steve lets out a moan that sounds on the edge of painful.

 

Bucky's hands freeze and release some of the pressure. Maybe it's a little too much for him, he'd better--

 

"Don't stop, Bucky, please," Steve nearly whines, eyelids only showing slivers of blue. "Feels real good."

 

Oh... oh. It's good. Like, really good. Bucky bites his lip. While he wants Steve to feel good and relax, he's pretty clear on the fact that this is all it's meant to be. He briefly considers stopping, but that wouldn't be terribly fair, either. Bucky exhales. He needs to stop getting ahead of himself, and just focus on what will be most beneficial to Steve right now. "Tell me if anything hurts, okay?"

 

"I will," Steve promises fervently, pushing his head up into Bucky's hands. He's adopting way too many of Babushka's mannerisms to be healthy.

 

Bucky goes back to the task at hand. It's entirely gratifying to watch Steve nearly dissolve under his touch. He's by no means an expert, but Bucky is a skilled amateur masseuse. Ever so gently, he washes Steve's hair and gives him a pretty damned fine scalp massage in the process. Once the shampoo's lather starts to look a little grey rather than white, Bucky asks Steve to lie back so he can rinse, and start again.

 

It takes two shampoos to one conditioner treatment to get Steve's hair looking clean and smelling better. Steve is a malleable, happily groaning lump through this entire process, allowing his head to move however Bucky wants it to. He even lolls it forward when Bucky supports his forehead with one hand, gently squeezing some tense muscles in the back of Steve's neck. The groans he produces are embarrassingly satisfying, and sometimes kind of sexy.

 

More than anything, it's gratifying to see Steve really relax. It's definitely been happening more and more over the weeks they've been getting to know one another, but at this moment, this is the most vulnerable and the most human he has ever appeared.

 

Bucky can even forget that he's nearly naked, because this is about helping Steve's healing process by making him feel good.

 

Judging by the response, it's working.

 

If he's being honest, Bucky unexpectedly enjoys the sweet intimacy and domestic feel to the act of washing Steve's hair. It's just nice to be able to take care of someone who spends so much time taking care of just about everyone else. And to do so with something as simple as washing his hair... it's not just making Steve feel good.

 

After the final condition and rinse, Steve opens his eyes. He looks like he's just woken up from the most glorious nap.

 

"You're amazing," he mumbles, and Bucky successfully doesn't flush. Because that's his super power, apparently.

 

"Are you ready to come out yet, or do you wanna turn into a prune?"

 

Steve's eyelids flutter, his eyes opening just a little wider. "Think I'm ready to come out," he says, voice deep and lazy.

 

"Okay." Bucky drums his fingers against his lips, figuring out how he's going to accomplish this. "First, I'm going to grab you some clothes from your bedroom, if that's okay. Then I'll help you out of the tub, and we can move from there."

 

"Sounds like a plan, Sergeant," Steve says.

 

"Enough of that," Bucky scolds. "So, do I have permission to dig around in Captain America's underwear drawer, or not?"

 

Steve waves him off. "Go for it. Just know half the stuff is gag gifts from my colleagues."

 

"Sure. The whole 'Hawkeye bought me strawberry briefs' is really a big, fat lie, isn't it?" he asks as he backs out of the bathroom.

 

"You've got me," Steve deadpans, before flicking bubbles in Bucky's direction. Bucky shakes a disapproving finger and heads towards Steve's bedroom.

 

It occurs to Bucky as he pushes open the ajar door that he's never actually set foot in Steve's bedroom before. Their time together has always been spent out in his spacious living area, or in the kitchen.

 

Steve's bedroom is neat, but not so neat that it appears clinical. His bed is made, presumably from before he left for Geneva. The room is dark due to the black-out curtains in front of the window being drawn.

 

The first thing Bucky does is move straight to the window and open them up, letting in a stream of bright, white light.

 

It opens up the room to his gaze, and Bucky studies the detail. A pale green and white bedspread on a Queen bed makes it look fresh and inviting. There's a bedside table on the right with a lamp, a digital clock, a StarkPad and a dog-eared paperback on it. Two shallow closets are separated by a framed sepia-toned photograph. Bucky squints at it, recognising New York City, but it's definitely not modern. It's Old New York, as Steve must've been eminently familiar with back in the thirties and forties. A blue and white Brooklyn Dodgers pennant hangs proudly underneath it.

 

Bucky peruses the rest of the room, stopping to laugh when he sees that ridiculously ugly foam Sheriff's hat he won for Steve at Coney Island taking apparent pride of place on top of his dresser.

 

"You idiot," he mutters fondly, but that does lead him to where he needs to be. Bucky opens a couple of drawers and finds various items of clothing before he hits the underwear drawer. Sure enough, there are plain items that he can see Steve purchasing for himself, as well as ridiculous shit that could only be his friends buying him gag gifts.

 

Bucky needs clothes that are going to be able to go over the cast without too much trouble. That rules out a lot of those delightfully conservative underwear choices. He picks up a pair of boxer shorts with wide legs that should fit over the plaster, and digs around for something else to go over the top of them, finding a pair of grey boardshorts. They too have the advantage of wide legs and a drawstring waist. Further digging finds a stash of tee shirts, of which Bucky picks one at random.

 

With enough clothes to have Steve comfortable and not-naked, Bucky takes a last detour to the living room and retrieves Steve's remaining crutch. He enters the bathroom once again to find the blond waiting expectantly for him.

 

"Have fun poking around my stuff?" Steve asks.

 

Bucky sets the clothes down on the bench, and stands in front of the tub. "Yep. Jumped on your bed and rearranged your sock drawer. Ready to get out?"

 

Steve nods, swivelling his body in the bath to face the middle of the room. Bucky anchors his feet against the tub, taking a monkey grip to Steve's arms again. He counts to three, before using a considerable amount of effort to haul Steve up onto his right foot. Steve gives him a funny look when he's standing with one foot in and one foot out of the tub, and Bucky knows he's not going to be able to support Steve's full weight to get him to step out. Instead, he gets Steve to sit on the edge of the tub and swing both feet out to plant them on the mat. He stands, and Bucky immediately puts a large towel around Steve's shoulders, who wraps it around himself snugly. Steve smiles at him gratefully, and Bucky grins back.

 

Bucky helps Steve to sit back down on the toilet seat. Steve murmurs a thank you and stretches his injured foot out in front. There's a pause where Bucky decides if he even dares to question how Steve's going to remove his soaked strawberry briefs, when Steve saves him.

 

"I'll be okay to get dressed if you want to finish the coffee you promised?" Steve says, reaching out to squeeze Bucky's hand with his fingertips.

 

"You sure?" Bucky queries.

 

"I'm sitting down. How much trouble could I get into?" He says, reaching for the pile of clothes.

 

Bucky smirks. "Have you met you?"

 

Steve smiles winningly, until he sees the boxer shorts Bucky's brought in. They have a very nice drawing of Thor's hammer on them, but that's not the funny part.

 

"I haven't really worn these ones before... I'm not sure about the placement of Mjolnir," Steve says, frowning.

 

Bucky does his best to stifle a grin. "Not a fan of telling people the hammer is your penis?"

 

Steve cocks his head to the side. "I don't get it."

 

"You will," Bucky promises. "Call out if you get stuck, yeah?"

 

Steve shoos him out, and Bucky allows himself to be sent away.

 

He heads to the kitchen where Steve's overly-complicated coffee machine has been percolating away happily. By the time he's got enough coffee for two mugs, Steve is out of the bathroom. He looks as though he's headed to the kitchen on his crutches, but Bucky points to the sofa without even looking up.

 

"Okay, okay," Steve says. Picking his battles, he about-faces, and redirects towards the couch.

 

"Smart man," Bucky comments he adds some creamer to his coffee.

 

Steve eases himself down onto the sofa, and props his foot automatically onto the coffee table. "I know when I'm licked," he says, burrowing into the sofa cushions a little.

 

Bucky joins him, holding two mugs in one hand, and a box in the other. He puts one mug down on the table and hands Steve the other, handle facing out. Steve's large fingers gingerly go through, and he takes a sip. His eyes close again, and he smiles.

 

"Think you can do that one-handed?" Bucky asks, sitting down next to him.

 

"Mhm. Why?"

 

Bucky flips open the lid of Steve's amply-stocked first aid kit and rifles through it, finding a pair of rubber gloves to put on. "Your hand bandages are dirty. I'm going to redress them."

 

Steve's back is straight, and he holds out his left hand without any coaxing needed. "Good boy," Bucky teases, and Steve huffs out a chuckle in response.

 

The bandages are now off-white and torn from travel and the bath, and need to be changed. Even with Steve's accelerated ability to heal, his body still needs a hygienic environment to do so. Clean bandages are a must.

 

Also, it gives Bucky a little chance to check out Steve's injuries.

 

Steve is uncharacteristically passive as Bucky unwinds the bandage carefully. Beneath the length of material, there's a sterile pad covering his palm. Removing the soiled pad carefully, Bucky doesn't cringe or offer sympathy, just studies the injury carefully. It's ugly, with a deep groove going through his palm and large blisters up to his second knuckle. But it's not as bad as he expected it to be. In fact there's already much evidence of healing, with the edges of the abrasion already rounding off, not being as torn and jagged as they should be on an injury maybe eight hours old.

 

"How sore is it?" Bucky asks, turning to dig in the kit for some antiseptic cream.

 

"Steady throb, and the joints are stiff. Mostly..." Steve pauses, choosing his words, "The healing is often more uncomfortable than the injury. If I'm too still or my brain's unoccupied, I can... I can feel the muscles re-knit or my skin growing." Steve gets quiet, his eye twitching minutely. "I hate that part."

 

Bucky nods, and thinks maybe he understands why he walked in on Steve hopping around vacuuming.

 

"I'm guessing it's been irrigated thoroughly by cute Swiss nurses?"

 

Steve nods. "The redhead did the clean-up, and the blonde bandaged me."

 

Bucky shakes his head. "Oh, Steve. And here I was thinking you preferred brunettes."

 

"Well, there is this cute brunet doing the follow-up treatment," Steve drawls slowly, the smile evident in his voice, "Maybe you know who he is."

 

Bucky applies antiseptic cream to the lacerations. "Ugh, that guy? Bad attitude and real grumpy before eleven a.m. Stupid name, too. What is it... Bentley? Barkley?"

 

Steve bumps their knees together as Bucky begins carefully wrapping Steve's hand in fresh gauze. "We can't be talking about the same guy. Tall, broad, the most amazing smile. Always making me laugh, especially at myself, and the second-best medical treatment I've ever received in my life."

 

Bucky -- who'd been smiling steadily through the description -- cocks a brow. "Only second-best?"

 

Steve gives him a little smile. "Come on, you don't expect me to tell you you're better than my ma, do you?"

 

"Of course not!"

 

Steve grows quiet for a moment. Bucky hopes he's not getting despondent at the thought of his mother, but while there's a touch of melancholy in his expression, it's not strong enough to counteract a sweetness suddenly found there.

 

"But it's a very close second." Steve takes a deep breath. "She never coddled or babied me while patching me up. Never treated me like spun glass even though I think sometimes a stiff wind woulda knocked me over. She just... looked after me. You-- you're treating me like she would've."

 

Bucky is startled and surprisingly humbled at the comparison. He clears his throat and beckons Steve to switch. Steve puts down his coffee mug and offers his right hand.

 

"If I have to be ranked, I'm pleased to occupy the ranking between your esteemed mother, and some hot, Swiss nurses." He looks up at Steve. "They were hot, right?"

 

"Indubitably," Steve concurs.

 

Bucky finishes redressing Steve's right hand, as the subject changes to what they're going to eat. Their favourite Thai place is a little restaurant close to Bucky's place, but they won't deliver quite as far as Steve's apartment.

 

"Well, seeing as you don't have any actual food in this place, we could order and I could do a grocery shop before picking up the Thai," Bucky suggests, finally taking a sip of the coffee he brought over for himself.

 

"That's... not a bad idea," Steve says slowly, brow slightly furrowed.

 

"Don't go jumping for joy or anything," Bucky snarks, "I'm just trying to feed you."

 

Steve forcibly gets rid of the frown and points to his foot. "Jumping for joy; against doctor's orders," he replies with a small smile.

 

"Damn right," Bucky says. "I could pick up anything else you need while I'm out, too. You only have a mild concussion, right?" Steve nods, and Bucky continues. "Round trip would probably be about an hour, give or take. Ninety minutes at the most. I think you'd be okay for that length of time."

 

"Yeah, I should be," Steve replies, but the frown is back.

 

Bucky arches a brow, pushing up off the sofa with his elbow to look at Steve intently. "Steve? What's wrong?"

 

Steve scratches the side of his neck. "You'd pick up anything else I need?"

 

"Of course," Bucky says immediately. "Thinking of something in particular?"

 

"Some clothes? Maybe a toothbrush?"

 

"Mmm, easy enough." He begins to lever himself off the sofa. "What sort of clothes are you aft-- hey!" Bucky lets out a little exclamation, when Steve catches his hand and tugs him down to the seat again.

 

"Sorry," Steve grins a little sheepishly. "But you're misunderstanding me."

 

"Okay... Care to explain?" Bucky squeezes his fingertips gently.

 

Steve takes a deep breath. His chin drops down, but eyes don't leave Bucky's face. "The clothes and the toothbrush are for you," he says. "I... I thought maybe you could stay the night?"

 

Bucky's eyes widen, exhalations becoming a little shallow at the unexpected invitation. Steve's watching his face searchingly, still gently holding Bucky's hand. Before Bucky can gather sounds to form coherent sentences, Steve pre-empts him, continuing in a rush of words.

 

"I have the spare bedroom, and the bed's really quite comfortable. You can bring your work with you, or anything else you need? I won't get in the way of that if you're busy... and I'm not suggesting we-- that is..." Steve exhales sharply, fingers twitching in Bucky's grip. "I've missed you, and I'd really like your company."

 

It takes a few moments for Bucky to really process what Steve's asking. Steve looks a little stricken at the lack of reply, and objectively Bucky's sorry for that, but he's currently struck a little dumb, mouth moving but no real sound coming out.

 

"What do you think?" Steve asks hesitantly. "You don't have to if you don't want to, but--"

 

"This apartment's cat-proof, right?" Bucky interrupts. Steve's face turns almost instantly joyful, a smile tugging at his lips. "Nevermind," Bucky says wryly, a smile beginning to curve one corner of his mouth, "you're about to find out."

 

"You'll stay?" Steve probes uncertainly, and damn the man's need for clear, verbal reassurance.

 

"Not without my best girl, I'm not." He pokes Steve in the thigh gently.

 

"I'd never presume to think that," Steve says with a solemn nod. The serious expression in no way masks the twinkle in his blue eyes, however.

 

Twinkle? Ugh. Bucky's turning into a soft-touch.

 

Bucky clears his throat. "Okay, so... I'm starving. If you want to call the Thai place, I'll head off. Because the sooner I leave, the sooner I can come back."

 

Steve nods effusively, but when Bucky goes to stand again, he gets pulled down for a second time. "What gives, Rogers?" Bucky asks grumpily.

 

"You're not going to leave without a kiss, are you?" Steve asks, one hand coming up to thread itself in Bucky's hair.

 

He allows Steve to bring their lips together, melting almost immediately into the kiss, both arms hooking around Steve's shoulders. So far today they've shared a myriad small kisses and two incredibly significant ones; this kiss firmly makes it into the latter category.

 

Steve tastes like strong coffee, lips slightly dry but still so very soft. Bucky's eyelids flutter, making sure their mouths slot together just right, and pressing his tongue just that little bit deeper. With a muffled groan, Steve's fingers clench in his hair, before he pulls off Bucky's mouth with a hiss.

 

"Ow," he murmurs, wiggling the fingers of his injured hand.

 

"Serves you right, hair-puller," Bucky says, pressing his own kiss-bruised lips together and tracing random patterns on Steve's bicep. "Just you wait until I cut it."

 

"Not too short," Steve prompts, before looking embarrassed. "Your hair's real nice as it is."

 

Bucky presses a quick, firm kiss to Steve's lips. "We can discuss my style choices when we're eating pad thai and coconut rice." Taking Steve's phone from the coffee table, he presses it into the blond's hand, before rising. "Call. Order. I'll be back soon."

 

Steve looks up at him fondly. "My wallet's on the kitchen bench. Take some money out, yeah?"

 

Bucky looks offended. "Think I'm a scab, Rogers?"

 

"I plan on ordering a lot of Thai food. Also, groceries," he adds, and Bucky grudgingly admits, he's got a point. He wants to decently stock Steve's kitchen, and the guy eats a lot. A little extra money won't hurt."

 

Nodding in agreement, Bucky flicks a supremely lazy salute in Steve's direction. Moving to the kitchen, he lifts a few bills from Steve's wallet, before collecting his phone, car keys, and the spare that let him into the apartment in the first place. "Call me if you think of anything specific you want. Or if you start to feel unwell." Bucky squares his shoulders to Steve and fixes him with his most serious gaze. "If you move your ass off that sofa for any reason other than bathroom breaks, and if you fail to utilise crutches at any stage -- and don't be fooled; I will find out, so help me -- that's a paddlin'."

 

Steve grins and returns a sloppy salute. "I understood that reference."

 

"And yet you somehow forget to not salute NCOs." Bucky shakes his head fondly. He opens the door and begins backing out of it. "Your homework is to find and watch the space coyote episode of the Simpsons. Go!"

 

"You got it!" is the last thing he hears Steve say before he shuts the door.

 

Bucky takes a moment to lean back against Steve's door wearing the biggest fucking grin he's possibly ever had on his face, before pushing away from the wood.

 

He has a job to do.

 

Bucky's compiling mental lists as he heads in the direction of home. The traffic gods are somehow smiling on him once again; each time he pulls up at the lights they turn green. It takes him less than twenty minutes to get to his first stop.

 

At the grocery store, he grabs a cart and whips around the aisles like a pro. Because it's his local one, he knows exactly where everything is that he wants, and is able to cut down on a lot of time. Bucky doesn't care for cooking much. It's not that he can't do it, it's that he doesn't want to a lot of the time. But perhaps for Steve, he can make a bit of an exception.

 

Remembering what Steve had in his refrigerator and pantry, Bucky grabs a lot of staples, and throws them into the cart: bread, meat, pastry, milk, cheese, vegetables, flour and sugar... he's got a few ideas already about what he can make. Anything else can probably be Googled. Bucky also makes sure to pick up a roll of baking paper as some cookie dough. Because cookies are awesome.

 

He grabs a few comfort and snack foods too, as well as a box of Babushka's favourite treats and some kitty litter. Bucky has her trained well enough that she'll go wherever her litter box is, but it won't hurt to bribe her with treats in a new environment.

 

The last aisle he goes down has medical supplies. He doubts there's an over the counter painkiller that will provide any relief to Steve's souped-up body, but he does grab more antiseptic and fresh dressings. Finally, a colourful box catches his eye just before he leaves, and Bucky's laughing too much at it to leave it on the shelves. It definitely goes into the cart.

 

Bucky heads to the check-out with a half-full cart; anything he's forgotten can be picked up at a later stage, he just really wants to move on to his second destination asap.

 

His phone chimes just as he gets in his car.

 

Steve: The space coyote had a really cool voice.

 

Bucky: Look up Johnny Cash on Youtube.

 

Steve: Will do. After I watch the episode about Frank Grimes.

 

Bucky chuckles as he throws his phone on the passenger seat.

 

He makes excellent time to his apartment. Mindful he has perishables in the car, Bucky gives himself ten minutes to grab everything he might need for an overnight stay.

 

Opening his apartment door, Bucky immediately heads to his bedroom. He pulls a sports bag out of the bottom of his closet and throws some comfortable clothes to wear and some worn pajamas.

 

It occurs to him then, that Steve didn't necessarily specify how long he wanted Bucky to stay. That is, he only mentioned one night, but the guy is going to stay injured for more than twenty-four hours...

 

Bucky's happy to let Steve set the terms of how many nights he's inviting Bucky to stay at his home, but just in case, throws in a few extra pairs of underwear, socks, and more than one change of clothes. Toothbrush and some basic toiletries follow. His laptop and current files get thrown into an all-purpose hand trolley that he sometimes carts equipment to and from his sessions with.

 

Throughout the extremely fast packing process, Babushka follows Bucky around, weaving between his legs and sometimes almost tripping him up. Once she sights the bag on the bed, however, she leaps up and makes a fabric nest out of his clothes.

 

"Really?" Bucky says, "You gonna put hair all over my clothes, Bushka?" Babushka meows at him. He grins and shakes his head.

 

Last, but not least, he grabs Babushka's sleeping basket, her spare, clean litter tray, and a pet pack. She perks her ears up cutely and is just about to get up when Bucky swoops in and scoops her up.

 

The struggle is real, trying to get an obstinate kitten into a pet pack. She starts to worm around in his hands, flopping and pushing her stubborn little paws against his chest, yowling as though she's suffering the greatest betrayal and indignity at his hands.

 

He murmurs encouragement and ultimately gets her into the pack. Once there, she settles down immediately, blinking big green eyes. "I don't even know why you fight me," he mutters, "all you're going to do is fall asleep in there." Babushka just meows once at him.

 

"Stubborn. It's why you get along with Steve so much," he says as he secures the pack's fastenings. Once in safely, Bucky loads himself up with belongings, locks up, and heads to his car for the third and final stop.

 

Sitting down in the driver's seat once again, Bucky takes the opportunity to check in with Steve.

 

Bucky: How are you doing?

 

Steve: I've found more episodes of Kitchen Nightmares. Gordon Ramsay is teaching me new swear words.

 

Bucky: I'll bet. You ordered from Baan Thai, right? I'm heading there now.

 

Steve: Yes. I may've gone overboard on the samosas.

 

Bucky grins as he kicks over the engine. It takes just under fifteen minutes to the restaurant. He leaves a mewling Babushka in her pet pack in the back seat. "I'll be right back, Bushka," he consoles.

 

The owner's daughter is sitting at the front desk, doing what looks like homework. She looks up when he enters and smiles.

 

"Hello, Mister Bucky," she greets, standing up.

 

"Hi, Joan," Bucky smiles, "I'm here to pick up my order."

 

She takes a slip of paper from the front counter, and heads to the kitchen. Joan's gone for a minute, before she re-enters carrying an extremely full box.

 

Bucky steps forward to help so she doesn't over-balance, and looks inside. It is absolutely packed to the brim with food. Steve wasn't kidding when he said he'd order big, and Bucky's suddenly glad he wasn't too insistent not to take some extra money from him.

 

"You didn't call and order this time, Mister Bucky," Joan says conversationally.

 

Bucky sets the box down on the counter and grabs his wallet, handing over a lot of money. "No, my friend did."

 

"Mister Steve has a very nice voice," she says as she hands him change, and Bucky's not imagining the dusky rose tint to her cheeks. Because of course, Steve introduced himself by name over the phone.

 

Bucky gives her a little smile. "I think so too," he agrees. "He's not feeling so great right now, so I decided to pick up his favourite Thai food. He loves your dad's coconut rice."

 

"Oh. Oh!" Joan perks up. "I'll be right back."

 

"Joan--" Bucky starts, but she's already disappeared into the kitchen. A few moments pass before she returns, another container of the rice in her hands. "For Mister Steve," she says, the blush darkening as she adds it to his order.

 

Bucky knows her family, knows how giving gifts is a source of tremendous pride, and how insulted Joan -- and by extension, her father -- will be if it's knocked back. So instead of protesting, he thanks her profusely. There's not much change left from the money he handed over for the food, but enough to leave her a generous tip in the jar by the register before he exits.

 

Finally back in the car, Bucky digs out his phone.

 

Steve: God help me, but I think Gordon Ramsay is brilliant.

 

Bucky: What happened to the guy who says reality shows make him want to punch people?

 

Bucky: ETA 25 mins w/ food.

 

Steve: that guy's stuck on the sofa with a cast on his foot, waiting for his boyfriend to bring food home.

 

Bucky can't stop laughing as he peals away from the curb.

 

There are a few traffic snarls on the way back to Steve's, as it's creeping closer to rush hour, but he still makes decent time. By the time he's back at Steve's apartment, roughly eighty-two minutes has passed.

 

Not bad for a ninety minute estimate.

 

Bucky unloads Babushka's pet pack and the food, using the elevator this time to head straight to Steve's apartment.

 

When he opens the door, Steve is exactly where Bucky left him. Steve looks up to find Bucky scrutinising him carefully. Bucky's eyes drift to the bottle of water that wasn't there when he left, and he arches one brow in question. Immediately, Steve holds his hands up in surrender. "I used the crutches!" he exclaims.

 

Bucky harrumphs, but inside his head he's laughing his ass off. He thinks he just scared Captain America.

 

Mouth twitching in amusement, Bucky walks further into the apartment. He places the food on the coffee table, but still holds the pet pack. Steve puts his arms out to take Babushka straight away, but Bucky holds off. "She has to adjust to being in a new environment first," he explains.

 

Steve nods slowly. "What do you need to do?"

 

"Leave her in the spare room alone for about an hour, with her litter tray. She'll get used to the smells and the sounds of the place, and then she can come out and explore."

 

Bucky's done this before. He's introduced Babushka to his home, the office, and even the VA like this. Babushka is startlingly adaptable, so he doesn't envision any problems with introducing her to Steve's place as well.

 

If all goes well, she might spend more time here in the future.

 

Bucky sets her to the side until he can get the rest of her things from the car. Heading back out to the living room, he finds Steve rooting around in the box of Thai food, a samosa hanging out of his mouth. Caught, Steve looks up guiltily, and tries to chew the samosa as quickly as possible. Bucky waves away any half-formed apologies. "Eat. I'm going to go get the groceries."

 

"I can help--" Steve starts.

 

"How?" Bucky counters, and that shuts the guy up.

 

"I can hold the elevator button?" he suggests.

 

Bucky chuckles. "Don't worry, I've planned ahead," he says. "Eat your samosas, I'll be back in five."

 

With a spring in his step, Bucky heads back to his car. He loads up the groceries and Babushka's things into the wheeled trolley, slinging his sports bag across his body. Slowly but surely, he gets everything perfectly balanced enough to make one trip.

 

The first thing Bucky does when he gets back to Steve's apartment is get a kitty litter tray ready for Babushka. He places it in the corner of the spare bedroom, and scatters some treats around, talking to her the whole while in soothing tones. He opens up the pet pack, but doesn't try to grab her out. Instead, he leaves it to her to get out and explore on her own, quietly closing the door behind him.

 

"Babushka okay?" Steve asks as soon as Bucky returns to the living room.

 

"Yeah. She'll poke around in her own time and get comfortable," Bucky responds as he makes his way to his trolley packed with food, "When I hear her meow at the door, she's ready to come out."

 

Bucky goes to unpack the groceries.

 

"Aren't you coming to eat?" Steve asks with his mouth full, brows adorably going up in the middle.

 

"I will," Bucky says as he unpacks the groceries. "Just gotta put the perishables in the fridge. Don't want to be smelling spoiled meat later." He grins, and Steve nods.

 

It doesn't take long to get the refrigerator and freezer items packed away. He leaves the rest of the groceries, grabs some napkins, silverware, and a couple of plates. Bucky heads back out to sit next to Steve, passing over a plate and fork.

 

Steve grins and takes the items with greasy fingers, leaning over to kiss Bucky on the mouth.

 

"You taste like samosas," Bucky teases, wiping his lips with the back of his hand.

 

"In other words; delicious," Steve answers with a grin, as he digs through the box for food. "Traditionally, a kiss tasting of samosa means 'I missed you'," he adds, giving Bucky a sidelong glance.

 

Bucky rolls his eyes, but he really can't help the spark of warmth that unfurls somewhere deep in his chest. Instead, he too goes digging for Thai food.

 

The meal is tasty, the company pleasant. Bucky hasn't eaten since just after Sam woke him up, and Steve apparently hasn't eaten since he got discharged from hospital, hence the disgusting amounts of food needed.

 

Bucky doesn't think he'll get tired of the happy noises Steve makes when he eats coconut rice. Steve catches him looking a few times, but never seems self-conscious. He just quirks his eyebrows and licks away the grains of rice stuck to his lips.

 

Steve nods towards Bucky's pile of things after he's made a major dent into the boxed take-out. "What did you bring with you?" he asks between mouthfuls.

 

"Cat bed for Babushka and some food and treats -- though I expect her to join me and go through with her nightly attempt on my life by asphyxiation at some stage -- some clothes, and a little bit of work from the office.

 

Steve stops eating. "I didn't really think about me interrupting your work time. I'm sorry."

 

Bucky waves away the concern. "I've been working from home the last few days, and already done a lot. It's a 'just in case' move. Besides, I've earned a break, don't you think?"

 

Steve nods effusively, shovelling some more pad thai into his mouth.

 

It shouldn't be cute, it should be disgusting.

 

But here we are.

 

Bucky turns the TV back on as they finish eating. Somehow, between the pad thai and the penang curry, Bucky's kicked off his shoes and stretched his legs out on the sofa until his feet end up in Steve's lap.

 

Steve doesn't seem to mind.

 

And that's something that Bucky finds himself thinking about as he chews slowly. He can't remember the last time he felt so at ease with one person. Of course he likes most of his co-workers, and relaxes around his friends, but the extent to which he has come to unwind when in Steve's presence is quite huge. Bucky definitely hasn't felt like this since before his time with the Rangers.

 

It's daunting, but also nice.

 

Bucky keeps his ear angled to the spare room. Sure enough, a little while after they finish eating, there's a soft, scuffling sound at the door. Bucky gets up from the sofa and pads over to the bedroom. He crouches down and gently opens the door.

 

Babushka is on the other side, looking slightly miffed, but otherwise quite normal.

 

Steve's head pokes up off the back of the couch and observes, just eyes and scruffy blond hair.

 

Babushka squeezes her lithe little body next to Bucky, who puts his hand on her back.

 

"You'd make him really happy if you went over there, you know," Bucky comments in a soft voice. He's fairly certain Steve's hearing isn't fully healed enough to make out his words.

 

Babushka, being the miniature queen she is, does a circuit of the living room first, checking out any good hidey holes and eyeing up the curtains as potential enemies until she rounds the sofa to see Steve.

 

Bucky has to keep from laughing when her cool, aloof cat-ness suddenly disappears and she once again turns into the biggest dork of all time.

 

"Bushka!" Steve exclaims happily as she bounds forward, leaping up on to the cushion next to him.

 

She strains to reach into his large hands to be petted, and Bucky knows he's now lost her for the rest of the afternoon. Because if there's one thing about Steve, it's that he's devoted to petting Babushka as much as she deems necessary.

 

She always deems it necessary.

 

Bucky observes them for a few moments, trying in vain to keep a grumpy expression, and failing miserably.

 

"Stupid loveable boyfriend," he mutters.

 

"What was that?" Steve asks, unable to tear his gaze away from the small calico.

 

"I said 'do you want more coffee'?" Bucky raises his voice.

 

"Please," Steve says.

 

Bucky collects their mugs for a caffeine refill, and Steve puts forth his desire to watch something light and uncomplicated. Bucky knows just the thing.

 

"I got croup when I was nine, and missed a week of school," Bucky tells Steve. "Uncommon to get it at that age, but my ma was terrified I'd give it to my baby sisters, so I spent the week at my gran's apartment. She loved old musicals, and I kinda like them, too. She put Singin' in the Rain on for me on the first day, and I made her put it on every day for the rest of the week. You shoulda heard me try and sing along with the little seal bark I had going on."

 

Steve laughs softly at Bucky's admission. "You think I'll like it?"

 

"I really do," Bucky answers. He finds Singin' in the Rain and plays it. Steve is instantly drawn in, even moreso when they both realise that, while made in 1952, it's set in the 20's when Steve was only a little boy.

 

"I remember the marquee at the local theatre when The Jazz Singer was released," Steve murmurs at one point, and Bucky finds that fascinating.

 

Bucky likes to cast sidelong glances at Steve as they watch, seeing him light up at being presented with a world that seems a little more familiar to him than the one he lives in.

 

They both get engrossed in the movie. Bucky kicks his feet up and crosses his ankles on the coffee table, and Steve compulsively pets Babushka, eyes glued to the screen. Over the course of the movie, Steve sinks back into the cushions, then slips down to the side to lean against Bucky's arm. His legs go up to rest along the sofa, cast on the armrest. In this position, Steve ends up resting his head on a pillow, against Bucky's thigh. Bucky finds himself sometimes absently running his fingers through his boyfriend's hair.

 

Eventually, as the music swells and the credits begin to roll, Bucky stretches. He looks down to Steve to ask if he needs anything, and has to bite his lip savagely.

 

Steve is asleep on the pillow in his lap, lips parted as he breathes. His arm is curled loosely in front of him, and Babushka has nestled herself in the crook of his elbow.

 

Bucky leans forward towards the coffee table ever so carefully to pick up his phone. Babushka opens one eye at the movement, but she's feeling far too content and comfortable to be bothered moving from her position.

 

He snaps a quick photo, and grins at the result, before taking a look at the time.

 

With care, he gently extricates himself out from underneath Steve's head, who barely stirs. Bucky brushes a hand gently over Steve's forehead, smiling as the crease there smooths out, before heading over to the belongings he brought from home.

 

Bucky quietly takes his duffel, files and computer into the spare room and puts them on the pale blue comforter, before sitting on the bed. He bounces a little on the mattress. It's comfortable, and he should sleep the night. Bucky's never been particularly fussy about where he sleeps, but depending on the mattress, how he sleeps can range from comfortably for nine hours, to wretchedly for three.

 

With a sigh, he flops back to lie on the mattress, interlacing his fingers across his belly. It's the first time he's really been alone to consider the situation he's found himself in. When running errands, his brain was only focused on the tasks at hand in the shortest time possible.

 

Now with the quiet, he has leave to think about what's happened since he woke up. From text alerts sending him into a blind panic, to becoming Steve's caregiver while he heals, and defining their current relationship as 'boyfriends'... it's been a very eventful day.

 

And it's not over yet.

 

He takes himself back out to the living room. The non-perishable groceries and left-over Thai join the rest in the kitchen, and Bucky ponders something to eat. He's not particularly hungry after their enormous lunch, but Steve probably will be when he wakes.

 

Bucky looks over at Steve still sleeping on the couch, and gets derailed by food thoughts at the distracting image.

Babushka has left the crook of Steve's arm to nestle between his shoulderblades, the tiny calico only emphasising the broadness of Steve's shoulders. For his part, Steve's eyes are closed, dark crescents on pale skin, and his breathing is even. He deserves a relaxing nap. He deserves a lot more than that, Bucky thinks, but a relaxing nap is what Bucky can give him now, so he'll do it.

 

He shakes himself out of Steve-watching, and goes back to the food predicament.

 

Left-overs are okay, but they're still good for another day, and two meals of Thai might be a little much.

 

A sudden thought occurs, and Bucky lights up, knowing already he got the right ingredients. He raids the bought groceries -- as well as Steve's cupboards -- before playing a game of 'where's the saucepan' in the kitchen drawers.

 

He must be horribly in like with Steve to cook voluntarily.

 

Bucky glances up to take in the sight of the flattened tuft of blond hair resting on the couch cushion.

 

Yeah, terribly, horribly in like with him.

 

And for that reason and that reason alone, Bucky's decided to make his grandma's mac and cheese.

 

Bucky generally finds cooking a chore. He does enough to keep his body alive, but it's usually pretty simple fare, with the occasional cooking or baking experiment. He loves eating, don't get him wrong, but time spent cooking is time he'd rather spend doing almost anything else.

 

Here at Steve's place, however, doing it for someone else rather than for himself, Bucky finds the activity oddly soothing.

 

While the pasta is boiling and after the flour mixture is prepared, Bucky finds himself over at Steve's record player. He puts on an album of the Count Basie Orchestra nice and low for some white noise in the background.

 

Steve stirs, but doesn't wake.

 

Nodding his head in time with the music, Bucky goes back to the kitchen. The pasta is ready to come off the stove, and it's time for the cheese sauce to go on.

 

Stirring the mixture with a wooden spoon, Bucky pokes at the cheese as it melts. A delightful smell starts to fill the kitchen, and despite his thoughts to the contrary, his mouth starts to water a little. It's been ages since he's made this, mainly because it's a comfort food and he never wants it to lose its inherent powers of awesome when he eats it. He smiles, hoping Steve will like it as much as he does.

 

He's just getting to the point where the sauce is done and it's ready to go over when he feels someone approaching him from behind. He starts to tense automatically, but a subtle clearing of the throat gives him instant recognition of the approaching presence as Steve. Bucky's not quite sure how he knows exactly... even if Steve hadn'tve cleared his throat, it's a combination of the smell of the shampoo Bucky used in his hair, and the weight of his tread -- slightly off due to his injury -- also the fact that he hears Babuska meow at his feet and rub against his leg. She wouldn't be walking beside just anyone...

 

A chin rests on his shoulder, one arm going around his waist. "You're cooking things," Steve marvels. "You're in my kitchen and you're cooking things."

 

"I'd be more offended at the surprise in your voice, except that it's totally warranted," Bucky replies, inclining his head a few degrees to the left so it touches Steve's. Steve turns to kiss his cheek.

 

"But it's so weird. You barely cook for yourself, and yet here you are. It's like I'm having a wonderful dream, except I'm awake," Steve mumbles against his skin.

 

"Aaaand now I'm starting to get insulted," Bucky returns with a smirk.

 

"Don't be insulted," Steve nuzzles, "no matter what it ends up tasting like, I'll still eat it."

 

If Steve weren't balancing on one foot, a crutch perched under his left arm, Bucky would give him such a shove. "Gee thanks, pal. I'll have you know many people have eaten my cooking and gone on to live healthy, normal lives."

 

"Many people?" Steve queries.

 

"Okay, four. Four people have lived. I don't just cook for anyone, you know," Bucky grouses, playing up imaginary hurt feelings.

 

"And I feel very honoured," Steve reassures, managing to dial his sarcasm down somewhat. He kisses Bucky on the cheek again and stands up straight. "What are you making?"

 

"My grandma's mac and cheese," Bucky answers. "It's pretty awesome. I know you ate not that long ago, but I figured you'd still probably be hungry when you woke up."

 

In response to that, Steve's stomach gurgles. He gives Bucky an almost bashful smile. "You thought right."

 

Bucky finishes up the mac and cheese and dishes it out, while Steve grabs some water bottles from the fridge. He hobbles back to the couch with one crutch under his arm.

 

Before rejoining Steve on the couch, Bucky takes a minute to make sure Babushka has her dinner, putting out a little bowl of kibble and tinned food for her, which she takes to immediately.

 

He also turns up the sound on the record player; it makes for pleasant background noise while they eat. Steve looks to Bucky and gives him a smile that lights a spark in Bucky's chest all the way across the room.

 

The rest of the evening passes in quiet, comfortable fashion. They have dinner together on the couch, Bucky's legs crossed on the cushions, one knee pressing into the meat of Steve's thigh. Steve pauses from time to time to give him macaroni and cheese flavoured kisses, which aren't as disgusting as he might've imagined.

 

Steve wants to take a break from movies and TV, and mentions to Bucky he has a box of games that were given to him after he was revived. Bucky goes rooting around in the spare bedroom closet for them. His searching turns up a cardboard box that has a pretty familiar-looking selection of card and board games. There's a regular deck of cards, as well as UNO deck, Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit... all pretty common household games. He takes the box back into the living room, sitting on the sofa.

 

Bucky snorts as he holds up a familiar colourful box. "Twister is definitely going to have to wait," he says before putting it to the side.

 

Retrieving a regular deck of cards and making sure their plates are safely put to the side, Bucky and Steve play a few rousing hands of Gin Rummy. It's fun and relaxing, and it gets Steve laughing, and that's never not a good thing.

 

The laughter quickly changes to disbelieving curses when Steve gets violently introduced to the cruelty of the 'draw 4' card in UNO. He ends up casting dispersions upon Bucky's parentage while Bucky laughs his head off.

 

"This is shit. I'm not sure why we're dating in this particular moment," Steve mutters as he picks up four cards from the deck.

 

Bucky gives him a saccharine-sweet grin. "Watch your fucking language, Cap," he says, which only makes Steve lose the little composure he had, and start laughing once again.

 

When Bucky catches Steve muffle his third yawn in the middle of a game of Go Fish, he puts his cards face-down on the coffee table. "Hey," he says softly, "You've earned an early night if you want to take it."

 

Steve looks as though he's set to put up a token protest, but another huge yawn overtakes his face. "Okay," he says sleepily, rubbing his eye.

 

Bucky stands up and collects their dinner bowls; he really should've rinsed them immediately, the cheese has congealed down the bottom and now they're going to have to be scrubbed. But that's a problem for Future-Bucky. Present-Bucky puts them in the sink with a bit of water to soak, resolving to look at them tomorrow.

 

"Would you mind if I had a quick shower?" Bucky asks. "Feeling a little funky from running around doing all those errands."

 

"Of course not, Buck. You know where everything is," Steve says.

 

"Thanks. I won't be long." Bucky trusts Steve to be able to stay out of trouble for ten minutes in his own apartment.

 

The hot shower is soothing. In fact, the only bad part about it is letting his mind stray to remember that Steve was bathing exactly where he's standing mere hours ago. These are not relaxing thoughts conducive to winding down. Bucky deliberately shelves those thoughts, and goes back to the process of bathing.

 

Bucky gives his hair a quick wash with the same shampoo and conditioner he used on Steve, and dries off, changing into a pair of sweats and a comfortably worn-in college tee.

 

He leaves the bathroom, drying his hair, to find the living room deserted, all lights off. It's still early, not even nine p.m, but Bucky's suddenly aware of how tired he is. After the pressure of the last few days, combined with running errands and looking after Steve, not to mention the physical and emotional peaks and troughs of the day, Bucky's pretty wiped out.

 

He walks to Steve's bedroom door and stops. His boyfriend -- and ain't that a thought that makes him smile -- is lying on his mattress. The comforter is folded down, but the sheet is still pulled up. He's propped up with some pillows, his StarkPad and Babushka cradled in his lap. Bucky continues to dry his hair and watches Steve quietly, taking in the cute moment with a small smile.

 

Bucky eventually knocks on the doorframe softly, and either Steve's too engrossed in what he's doing, or maybe Bucky didn't knock loud enough, because there's no response. Using a closed fist rather than a knuckle, Bucky knocks a bit louder. When Steve looks up with a big smile, Bucky's breath catches in his throat a little.

 

"Hey," Steve says, tapering down to a little grin. "I'm tired but I'm not ready to sleep yet."

 

Bucky leans against the doorframe. "That's okay. Getting into bed is at least a step in the right direction."

 

Steve stares at him for a beat. "So... you want to hang out with me for a bit longer? You know, if you're not too tired, that is."

 

Bucky only hesitates a moment before he pushes himself away from the doorframe. He hangs his damp towel on the door handle and heads in. Steve shuffles to one side to allow Bucky comfortable room next to him. Crawling onto Steve's bed is a little daunting, but no less daunting than having to bathe him, so Bucky can pony up and deal.

 

Babushka seems happy to see her human and immediately shifts her allegiances to Bucky, nestling in his lap. Steve looks wounded, but Bucky rolls his eyes. "You start feeding her and changing her litter tray, and she'll prefer you more, too."

 

He notices that Steve's ditched the shorts for a pair of soft-looking pajama pants. "Hey, you got changed," Bucky remarks.

 

"I've been dressing myself for a few years now, Buck," Steve replies.

 

Bucky's suddenly reminded of Steve's Mjolnir boxer shorts. "You watching anything in particular?" he asks.

 

"Not really. Have something in mind?"

 

Bucky grins. "Yeah. I'm about to enlighten you to my comments about your boxer shorts from before," he says as pulls up Doctor Horrible's Sing-along Blog on the StarkPad. They settle back and begin to watch.

 

Steve's engrossed in the story, fingers clenching around the tablet at key moments. As the show progresses, their heads draw closer and closer together, and their bodies slide down from sitting upright against the bedhead, to lie prone on the mattress.

 

Bucky's starting to nod off at the end, jolted awake by Steve's little gasp at the end. "Y'okay, buddy?" Bucky asks, speech a touch slurred with sleep.

 

"I... uh. I'm not sure I'm meant to feel that much for the villain," Steve says, sounding eminently conflicted.

 

Bucky relaxes back down onto the pillow. "The hero was a big blowhard, though. So. Y'know. Forgiven."

 

"I think I need to see something happy now," Steve says. He chooses another video and they keep watching. After being startled a little more awake, Bucky watches Steve's Youtube selections with detached interest. One of Steve's hands holds up the StarkPad, the other traces patterns over the back of Bucky's right hand where it lies between them on the mattress.

 

Bucky feels the gentle rub of Steve's bandages tickling the back of his hand. The contact is soothing, and he starts to crash hardcore from his very tiring day. Steve's even breathing combined with Babushka's purring both conspire against him to make his eyelids heavy. He tries to fight it, but it's ridiculously difficult.

 

Bucky hits the point where he's self-aware enough to know he's becoming too tired to move. He should get up and go to the spare room, and he should do it now. But he tells himself he'll still be okay to go in five minutes. He's just going to rest his eyes and listen to the murmur of the StarkPad for a tiny bit longer. It'll be fine.

 

The last thing he remembers is Steve's hand brushing lightly across his shoulder, and his body is too heavy to move.

 

***

Bucky wakes to the sound of a muffled choking. His eyes snap open, and he pushes off the mattress in a vague panic. Nothing looks familiar, the bed feels wrong, there's too much light--

 

The idea that he is somewhere familiar -- even if total recall is tough upon just waking up -- and that it's somewhere safe, occurs to him, and Bucky latches onto that feeling and tries to get his eyes to work.

 

Eventually, the room comes into focus, and Bucky recognises his surroundings.

 

Steve's bedroom. He's in Steve's bedroom and it's daylight. He has a vague recollection of watching things and feeling tired, but doesn't remember much past that point.

 

The choking noise is still going on. Bucky flicks his eyes towards Steve and finds him struggling with Babushka lying across his face. A tiny kitten shouldn't be causing Captain America so much trouble, but Steve's movements are sloppy and most likely, sleep-addled as well.

 

Bucky should help. He really should. But he's exhausted and it's funny, so does the only other available option. He starts chuckling.

 

Steve finally pushes Babushka off his face at the sound, spitting out a little hair as he does. Babushka, mortally offended, dashes off to go sulk in her cat basket.

 

The 'sucked lemon' expression Steve has going makes Bucky laugh more, throat husky from sleep. Now that his location and situation have been sorted, Bucky settles back down on the mattress, facing Steve. He's still tired as fuck and not about to go anywhere.

 

"Not so cute now, is it," he mumbles, words slightly muffled into the sheet.

 

"Go back to sleep, smart-ass," Steve comments, still wearing a comically indignant expression, hair completely flat on one side.

 

"Yessir," Bucky slurs, falling back into slumber, the soft trace of fingers against the back of his hand ushering him there faster.

Chapter Text

The One As The Caregiver

(Location: Steve's Apartment)

 

Bucky sleeps for another hour or so before he fully wakes up. After removing Babushka's little body from his face, Steve drifts off again and is still sleeping when Bucky slips off the bed. Giving one last glance towards his sleeping boyfriend, Bucky backs out of the room and half-closes the door.

 

He walks out rubbing his face, only to be stopped by Babushka giving him a death glare from her basket just outside the spare bedroom door.

 

"Don't look at me like that," Bucky chides, "if you hadn't tried to suffocate him, you'd still be in there."

 

He detours to the main bathroom to relieve himself, wash his face, and brush his teeth. After a jaw-splitting yawn, he shuffles into the kitchen. Bucky looks into the sink and sees mac and cheese congealed in bowls and instantly regrets the laziness of Past-Bucky. He scours out the dishes, before ferreting around for breakfast.

 

It's where Steve finds him half an hour later, when the smell of bacon and pancakes wafts through his apartment. Steve hobbles out with his crutches, hair sticking up in every direction, eyes heavily-lidded and looking stupidly attractive.

 

"Mornin'," Bucky says, flipping a pancake onto the finished pile.

 

"G'morning," Steve yawns widely. "Am I still dreaming? You're in the kitchen again."

 

"Ha-fucking-ha," Bucky says. "Starting the salty talk early this morning, are you?"

 

Steve grins. "Need any help?"

 

"Na, just finishing. Park on the sofa, I'll be there in a minute." Steve nods and takes himself to the sofa. Babushka follows him, and he spends the remainder of Bucky's breakfast prep time telling her she's a very pretty cat, and stroking her ears back.

 

"Keep that up and her head'll get big," Bucky mutters under his breath as he juggles plates, "she already doesn't want you to treat her any differently than you would the Queen."

 

"She is a queen," Steve responds from the sofa, and it takes Bucky a moment to grasp the significance. He pauses midway through pouring some coffee, and turns around.

 

"You heard me. I wasn't even speaking loud," Bucky states.

 

Steve gives him a little smile. "Eardrums all good. No more talking about me under your breath anymore."

 

Bucky picks up two mugs and walks into the living room, placing them on the coffee table. "Well that takes the fun out of everything," he says with fake annoyance, stealing a swift kiss before going back to retrieve the rest of breakfast.

 

Or it would be a swift kiss, if Steve didn't catch him by the shoulders and make it longer. Babushka mewls, upset at losing Steve's attention.

 

Bucky sets out plates onto the coffee table in a deliberate fashion, and he and Steve enjoy breakfast and watch Cartoon Network. It's relaxing, until Steve goes for the bacon.

 

He stretches out, fingertips not quite making the plate.

 

"Can't... reach... bacon," he grunts, looking at Bucky helplessly.

 

"Oh Steve, honey, I can't understand you," Bucky says in commiseration as he chews on his own strip of bacon. "Sam didn't say the blast affected your speech, too."

 

Steve glares at him and reaches out again, just missing. "Pass me the bacon, Bucky, or so help me, God, I will get up and get it myself."

 

Bucky arches one eyebrow and points at Steve's crutches, laying down beside his side of the couch. "You move your patriotic ass off that couch without a crutch and so help me, God, I will end you."

 

Steve narrows his eyes, and Bucky can see him calculating. It's times like this he remembers Steve is a brilliant tactician, and he starts to worry. Instead of reaching for either the bacon or the crutches, Steve crowds in on Bucky, looming over him.

 

"End me in your Ranger panties, and we'll talk," he says, voice dipping into a gravelly register.

 

"First of all," Bucky says as Steve's lips graze his mouth, smeared in bacon grease, "they're Ranger shorts--"

 

Steve interrupts him with a series of lingering kisses, which continue until he moves awkwardly and his cast catches on the edge of the sofa. His unexpected hiss of pain into Bucky's mouth kind of spoils the moment.

 

Bucky pushes him gently away, helping to rearrange Steve into a sitting position, and depositing the plate of bacon in his lap. "Stupid sexy Steve," he mutters in disgust.

 

"I understood that reference," Steve sing-songs, using a fork to stab at the crispy bacon.

 

After breakfast, with the knowledge that Steve's eardrums have healed, Bucky turns his attention to the blond's hands, unravelling the slightly soiled bandages.

 

True to Steve's word, whilst still injured, they are a damned sight better than even yesterday. New pink layers of skin stretch across his palms, with the blisters having all but disappeared. Bucky runs a careful finger close to the injury and Steve's fingers twitch, though it seems more a ticklish reaction than a painful one.

 

"How do they feel?" he asks quietly.

 

"Itchy," Steve murmurs, flexing his fingers.

 

"Joints?"

 

"Dull ache, not as sore."

 

Bucky murmurs in approval. "I'll dress them again, but this might be the last time. Until that skin is fully healed, however, you should probably keep them in a sterile environment."

 

"I await my nurse's pleasure," Steve answers. Bucky grins and shakes his head a little. His attitude is a marked return to a happier and healthier Steve, in Bucky's limited experience.

 

Even if he is use this new upswing to sass Bucky incessantly.

 

Bucky reaches to the side of the coffee table where the first aid kit was stowed yesterday, muttering under his breath, knowing full well Steve can make out every single word. He throws in some really good swears for effect.

 

"I didn't know that was a cuss word nowadays, Buck," Steve says with surprise.

 

"I aim to amaze," Bucky says dryly, wrapping Steve's right hand carefully. "What's your usual rate of healing, anyway?"

 

Steve shrugs. "It varies dependant on the injury? Cuts and bruises go the fastest, then sprains. Minor breaks and fractures take longer, major bone-breaks and organs the most time."

 

Bucky sits back on his haunches. "Cuts heal the quickest? That's a shame."

 

Steve raises an eyebrow. "Odd statement. Why?"

 

"I may've wanted to put some very special band aids on you, but if you're going to heal so fast--"

 

"I still have cuts," Steve butts in quickly, and it's all Bucky can do not to start laughing at the huge dork. Steve pulls down the collar of his shirt. The nasty bruise with a cut at the centre of it from his collarbone yesterday, while fading to an ugly yellow, is still there.

 

Bucky smiles slower than molasses. "Okay. You wait there." He unfurls from the sofa and stacks their plates up to take away, partly to be tidy, partly to build anticipation. Dishes in the sink, Bucky heads into the spare bedroom and grabs the little blue box he bought yesterday.

 

Steve is waiting impatiently when Bucky comes back, hands folded in front of him. "You should probably take your shirt off," Bucky suggests. Oddly enough, that very scenario had Bucky hacking up a lung yesterday. Today, he can deal with it. Provided Steve keeps the rest of his clothes on.

 

He's far from a prude, they're just not there yet. The operative word here being 'yet'.

 

Steve pulls his tee off from the back, straight off his head. Unable to turn properly to face Bucky properly with his cast, Bucky makes the decision to brace himself over Steve's lap, straddling his thighs. Bucky makes sure to rest his weight at the far end, closer to Steve's knees.

 

Exhaling sharply, Steve looks up at him with his own brand of shy anticipation, resting his hands gently on the sides of Bucky's thighs. "The injury inspection isn't over yet, Nurse Barnes says so," Bucky announces, and Steve's eyes glitter at the 'nurse' comment.

 

This is gonna be good.

 

He proceeds to run his fingers through Steve's hair, even though there's no injuries there. It causes Steve's eyes to flutter shut. From there, his hands gently make their way to Steve's face. While there's still a little bruising, all cuts seem to have at least sealed. He gently peels the now unneeded butterfly bandage from Steve's brow.

 

Finally, he gets to the abrasions still littering Steve's torso. There are still some there, enough to warrant a few of his band aids. Grinning, Bucky opens the packet and chooses one.

 

Before he has the chance to put the band aid on, Steve stops the progress of his hands. "Aren't you supposed to kiss it better, first?" Steve asks, and his tone drips with innocence.

 

Bucky arches one brow. Without tearing his eyes away from Steve, he kisses his index and middle finger, before pressing both digits deliberately to the skin of Steve's collarbone. Steve chuckles huskily, and Bucky sticks the band aid in place.

 

He continues the kiss-and-stick method over the worst scrapes left on Steve's torso. Bucky doesn't want Steve catching a glimpse of the band aids before he's finished, but that doesn't seem to be a problem, as Steve's eyes never leave Bucky's face.

 

Once he's deposited no less than five band aids around Steve's torso and arms, Bucky dusts his hands off and sits back. "You gonna check them out, or what?" Bucky prompts encouragingly.

 

Steve finally takes the opportunity to look down, and makes an incredulous noise. Bucky starts laughing and he won't stop.

 

A band aid with a cartoon version of Hulk is stuck to his arm. Black Widow is high up on his rib cage, Hawkeye on the side of his pectoral. And on the collar bone...

 

"... Is that Tony?" Steve asks, and Bucky doubles over.

 

Steve pushes Bucky off his lap, who falls to the side on the cushions, still laughing.

 

"Too bad you don't have scrapes... on your ass... he'd be perfect there..." Bucky bites out through laughing wheezes.

 

"Why do you say that, wiseguy?" Steve asks as he pulls his t-shirt back on.

 

"He's always on it, isn't he?" Bucky queries.

 

Bucky gets Steve's first eyeroll of the day. He's quite proud of that.

 

The morning continues in relaxing fashion. Bucky does the dishes and pulls out his files in preparation for the group he's taking out in the afternoon. Steve retrieves the book from his nightstand and does some reading. There are long stretches where neither of them speak to one another, the quiet is companionable and they find themselves orbiting the same space.

 

After having spent a fair bit of time on his own, Bucky is objectively surprised it takes so little effort to be around someone else and not feel claustrophobic. Steve doesn't make any demands on him, doesn't interrupt while Bucky's working. Bucky feels comfortable being in Steve's apartment, almost like he'd feel in his own.

 

Working intensely with people as he does, Bucky values his alone time as well. He gets a happy feeling in the quiet. He still has that feeling, even though Steve's in the room, too.

 

Mid-morning they come together again to have a drink and a snack, and something occurs to Bucky that he really should mention.

 

"Hey, about last night," he begins, and instantly has Steve's attention. "I'm sorry I crashed out on your bed, I left it a little too late to go to the spare room."

 

Steve cradles his coffee cup in his hands. "It wasn't a problem at all, Buck," he responds, before dropping his eyes. "In actual fact, you helped me out."

 

"Oh?" Bucky pushes himself up off the lounge in interest. "Howso?"

 

"Well, I told you how the healing process is uncomfortable, right?" Bucky nods, and Steve continues. "There were a few times I woke up last night with my foot hurting or hands aching. Usually I can't get back to sleep, but seeing you there distracted me. Sometimes I touched the back of your hand, or Bushka moved closer... and I had something-- someone else to focus on." He shrugs. "I was able to get back to sleep."

 

Bucky stifles a smile at the news. It's pretty cool to know that he can help Steve even if he's not actively doing anything.

 

"I'm guessing I don't get any extra pay if I'm working even while asleep?" Bucky queries with a smirk.

 

"A case could be made for over-time," Steve says gravely, "provided you're available for another shift or two?"

 

Bucky cocks his head to the side seriously, a small line forming between his brows. "You want me to stay again tonight?"

 

"If it's not impacting your schedule, or you don't have anywhere else to be." He shuffles towards Bucky on the couch and takes one hand in his own. "I know Sam told you I'm a terrible patient, and I am ordinarily. I can never find enough distractions to let my body relax and heal... but your company here is welcome without being intrusive, I'm resting a lot, and I like having you around." Steve gives him a little grin. "Plus your cat is really cute."

 

"And here I was thinking you were about to say I'm a fantastic kisser," Bucky snarks, not quite unable to hide his pleasure at Steve's words.

 

"There's that, too," Steve murmurs, leaning forward so Bucky can prove the statement. "So what do you say?" he asks, nuzzling against Bucky's cheek.

 

Bucky presses a kiss to the corner of Steve's mouth. "Lucky I brought more clothes just in case."

 

***

 

Steve's mood takes a definitive upswing after Bucky agrees to stay on, even though it was never really down. When Bucky is ready to leave for his kids in the early afternoon, Babushka starts to circle his legs.

 

He bends down to talk to her. "It's okay, Bushka. You keep Steve company and I'll be back soon." Scooping her up, Bucky deposits her in Steve's lap and bends down to give him a kiss. "Should be back around five or so. Might pick up something for dinner while I'm out."

 

"Sound good," Steve responds, cradling Babushka in his lap. "Take my spare key again? It'll make it easier."

 

Bucky gives a little grin. "Good idea." He ruffles Steve's hair. "Look after my best girl for me!"

 

Steve grins at him, and that's the last thing that Bucky sees before he slips through the door.

 

His group is one with some of his more interactive and fun young people. Not all of the kids he works with have major issues; some just need a bit of an escape from home and school to do something different, have a peer group to socialise with outside of that, have an adult to talk about things to that isn't necessarily a parent or a teacher.

 

Sometimes, some of his groups are just for fun.

 

But before the fun, he stops in at the office. Denise is there, doing some filing. When he walks in, she brightens and pulls him into a hug immediately.

 

"How are you doing, Bucky?" she asks sincerely, studying his face. Probably part of the trouble of working with a group of people specifically trained to read body language, it's hard to conceal things. Thankfully, however, Bucky has nothing to conceal.

 

"I'm a lot better, thanks," he gives her a little smile, her hand a squeeze.

 

"I wasn't sure if you were going to take your group today, but figured you'd have called if you weren't going to show up."

 

"Yeah, I'm ready. Just left some paperwork here I should take--" To Steve's place "--home."

 

He knows Denise heard his slight hesitation. She raises one eyebrow. "You not at home right now?"

 

Denise can sniff out a lie at thirty paces. On the flip side, Bucky is very good at lying, when it suits him. Trouble is, he doesn't want to lie to her.

 

"Not right now?" he says, squeezing the back of his neck. "Friend of mine got injured, needs a little help while he's recuperating. You know, changing bandages, cooking, that sort of thing."

 

"Cooking? You? Must be some friend."

 

"I'm going to start getting really shitty at the low opinion all my friends have of my food-making capability," Bucky snarks.

 

"Oh, I know you can do it, otherwise you wouldn't be alive. I just figured you'd prefer to... you know... do anything else rather than that."

 

"With that ability to read people," Bucky starts, deliberately playing up the awe, "you should be some kind of therapist, or counsellor, or something."

 

One thing about Denise Bucky likes so much, is that she takes exactly zero forms of bullshit. She slaps his arm. "You're not as funny as you think you are."

 

"I'm totally as funny as I think I am," Bucky grins back. "But getting back to the subject at hand--"

 

"Your cooking?" Denise queries.

 

"--My not being at home, Dee," he corrects pointedly. "I'm wondering how far my personal days right now are stretching?"

 

Denise raises an eyebrow. "You need more time to look after your friend?" Bucky nods, and his co-worker looks at him over her glasses. "He in the army, too?"

 

"He served, yeah," Bucky says, because it's not a lie. "Look, I've got all my files up to date, and I can still do my group sessions, I'm just wondering if I can beg off doing the office grind for another day or two?"

 

He knows Steve's healing well, and much faster than a regular person, but it'd be nice to have that bit of a buffer just in case he's needed.

 

Denise stays silent for a moment. "You've been pulling far longer hours than normal with the shut-down of the other district facility, and you went above and beyond for the O'Neal boy the other week..." She smiles, and Bucky gives her a hopeful eyebrow raise in return. "I think we can manage for a few more days without you."

 

Bucky breathes out a sigh of relief. "Thanks a lot, Dee. This is why you're my favourite." He gives her a hug, and she squeezes his ribs so hard they hurt.

 

"You give me a call if your situation changes, and I'll expect your email responses during business hours still. If you've got the time, maybe you can get a head start on your Fall/Winter program? Don't need to be in the office for that."

 

"No problem." He chucks his thumb towards the door. "I'd better head off, I don't want to be late."

 

"Tragedy. Have fun!"

 

Bucky heads out of the office with a spring in his step.

 

His group are meeting at the local park. Bucky finds a space on the street, and gets the soccer ball out of his trunk, as well as four brightly-coloured cones to act as the goal posts.

 

Most of his charges are already there, with Felicia's mom having stayed around until Bucky arrived. Bucky does a quick headcount, and finds his numbers are uneven because Dion is away visiting his sick grandma. It means Bucky will have to join one of the teams so nobody gets left out.

 

Both teams fight for Bucky, but he's got news for them; soccer's not actually one of his chosen sports. He's probably not going to be much benefit to the team that gets lumped with him.

 

It doesn't really matter, however, because it's fun, and that's the whole point. Sondra accidentally trips him at one stage, and you never quite know embarrassment until fifteen teenagers are laughing at you with your face in the dirt. It's a good thing that Bucky's quite adept at laughing at himself.

 

In the break, they sit in a rough circle and have a drink and something to eat. Felicia's mom left them with a cooler of cookies and fruit. Predictably, all the cookies go first, and Bucky's stuck with a banana.

 

"Mmm, potassium," he says as he eats it, making Jean snort cola through his nose.

 

Around four-thirty, various convoys of vehicles arrive with parents to pick up their kids. Those who don't get picked up are walking home, as they don't live far. There's a flurry of goodbyes, and a hug from Roberto, who, despite having a rough week, laughed a lot during the match. Bucky ruffles his hair and pats him on the back, promising to see him next week.

 

It's a good afternoon. The session leaves him energised, and the idea that he's going to spend a bit more time with Steve is even better. He stops off on the way back to Steve's apartment to pick up schwarma for them for dinner, feeling one big stint in the kitchen each day is more than enough.

 

The elevator just doesn't seem to ever want to take him up to Steve's floor fast enough, but it does eventually get him there. Bucky juggles his satchel and the food, digging out Steve's apartment key. He opens the door slowly, knowing sometimes his cat is a sneaky shit that likes to wait by doors to bolt out of them.

 

He finds Steve at his easel working furiously, crutches resting against the window. He appears to be devoting his energy to watching Babushka on the floor, rolling around with one of her tiny balls with bells in it. The sound of the door shutting, however, makes both man and cat look up. Steve gives him a beaming smile, Babushka meows and goes back to her ball.

 

"At least someone in this apartment is happy to see me," Bucky grumbles good-naturedly, dropping the food on the bench, and his satchel on the coat hook by the door.

 

"Have an eventful afternoon?" Steve asks, gesturing to Bucky's shirt. There's a grass stain on the front, and when Bucky runs his hands through his hair, he pulls out some twigs.

 

"Something like that," he smiles back. "I brought schwarma." He wanders further into the living room. "What have you been up to?"

 

"Just some character studies," Steve says, sitting back from the butcher's paper clamped to a large board. He beckons Bucky over, leaning back into him as Bucky moves to stand behind Steve, chin resting on his shoulder.

 

Bucky looks at his work and whistles appreciatively. He squeezes the blond's biceps "Steve, this is... wow."

 

Covering the page are character sketches of Babushka. He captures her personality perfectly in whatever pose she happens to be doing; lounging on the back of the sofa, chewing her paws, stalking a piece of string across the carpet... They're cute and funny and so very her.

 

They're also so very Steve.

 

"They've kept me occupied a lot during the afternoon. She sure as hell knows how to keep herself amused."

 

"I have chewed curtains that will attest to that fact," Bucky confirms. "Wanna eat?"

 

"Always," Steve says, grabbing his crutches.

 

Steve and Bucky eat their dinner while Bucky tells him stories of how spectacularly crappy he is at soccer. Steve informs him that Sam called to check on his well-being while Bucky was out.

 

When they're done with food, Bucky excuses himself to have a shower. Changing into comfortable clothes for the night, Bucky finally notices Steve's not wearing the same clothes he had on last night.

 

"I took myself to the bath while you were out," he says, showing Bucky his unbandaged hands. That pink new skin that had stood out so much in relief this morning, has faded and nearly blended into the skin around it now. Bucky examines both palms carefully, running one finger experimentally across the new flesh. Steve doesn't even flinch. "Speedy Gonzales," he murmurs in appreciation.

 

Saturday draws to a close sometime after reruns of I Love Lucy. They retreat to Steve's bedroom to hang out once again. Bucky chooses a movie to watch on the StarkPad and holds it, Steve alternately draws in a sketchbook and strokes Babushka, who lies between them.

 

When Bucky's eyes start to droop, he makes a clumsy move to relocate to the spare room again, but Steve stops him.

 

"If I wake up uncomfortable again..." he lets the phrase dangle, running one hand over the back of Bucky's. Bucky's reminded of what Steve said about resting more efficiently with him right there.

 

Bucky nods once. He's agreeable to any course of action where he a) makes Steve comfortable, and b) gets to sleep. "Okay," he says around a large yawn, "but if we've decided on this in advance, perhaps we can at least get under the covers this time? We're not heathens, Steve."

 

Steve gives a surprised laugh. "Deal," he says.

 

Bucky ends up falling asleep with his back to Steve to the sound of a pencil scratching on paper and the Starkpad, knuckles gently and rhythmically stroking his spine through his tee.

 

 

The One With The Surprise Interrogation (pt 3)

 

(Location: Steve's Apartment / Brooklyn café)

 

Sunday dawns with Bucky waking alone in Steve's bed, sheet tangled around his legs, the smell of coffee drifting through the apartment, and a noticeable absence of a certain face-loving kitten.

 

He woke up a few times during the night when Steve was restless, but they both seemed to fall back asleep fairly quickly with a murmured word and a few reassuring touches.

 

Bucky stretches out and scratches his ribcage. Steve's probably feeling better again to be up already, more like his usual wake-up time. But unfortunately, his usual wake-up time is Too Fucking Early O'Clock according to Bucky. One glance at the bedside lcd confirms this. Offering a muffled curse, he rolls over to mash his face into the pillow for a little longer.

 

He perseveres until the smell of coffee becomes entirely too alluring.

 

Bucky shuffles out of the bedroom, yawning and scrubbing a hand through his hair. Steve's in the kitchen, crutches leaning against the counter as he waits by the machine.

 

He looks up when Bucky enters, smiling. "Coffee?"

 

"Giver of life," Bucky croaks, making grabby hands.

 

As soon as the coffee finishes percolating, Steve hands him a mug. Silence is observed as each of them take the first sip of the day. As the caffeine begins making its way through his system, Bucky's thoughts sharpen and turn towards the day.

 

He decides Steve's been cooped up for long enough, and that they should head out for breakfast. Steve agrees wholeheartedly.

 

After raiding Steve's wardrobe to find pants he can wear that aren't sweat pants, Bucky throws on some jeans and a wrinkled t-shirt. He's glad he's got his car, because there's no way he's putting Steve on a subway with his bung foot. As it is, Steve has to push the passenger seat right back so he can stretch his legs out nicely.

 

Bucky drives them to a nice little breakfast nook they've walked past a few times, where Steve postulates that the only reason Bucky suggested they go out is that he didn't want to cook again.

 

Bucky sweetly tells him to 'Cram it, wise-ass'.

 

Breakfast is nice. It's good to be out and about together once again. The staff at the cafe recognise Steve but do their best to be cool about it, and give him extra hash browns. There's a point where another patron tries to take a sneaky photo of Steve from another booth, because Steve forgot his hat and sunglasses, but Bucky stares them down so hard they end up chickening out.

 

As they finish up, nearly the whole staff from the cafe assemble next to Steve and Bucky's table, the owner clearing his throat. They ask if they can have a photo with Steve to put up on Facebook.

 

Steve hesitates for a moment, and while he doesn't drop the polite smile he's wearing, there's something in the pull of the skin around his mouth, and a flicker in his eyes, that tells Bucky something vastly different. It must be unfair to get put on the spot like this all the time.

 

"Can you give us a second?" Bucky asks the group as Steve opens his mouth, presumably to say 'yes'. The employees mumble and shuffle and back away a conservative distance.

 

Steve looks at him quizzically. "What's up?"

 

"Do you mind having your photo taken with them?" Bucky asks, leaning forward in his seat and dropping his voice a little. "Because it's okay to say 'no'. You don't actually owe them anything."

 

A little crease appears on Steve's brow, and he pauses before he answers. "It's not the photo I mind so much," Steve says, "it's just where it goes that concerns me more."

 

Bucky nods. He is also eminently aware of how social media works. But he knows that Steve doesn't want to disappoint by denying them. Maybe Bucky can teach him something about setting terms for himself.

 

"Got it. I can handle this."

 

"Bucky--" Steve starts.

 

"Steve, let me be the bad guy for you. And by 'bad', I mean 'less good than you'. I have an idea."

 

Steve sits back silently. "Okay," he says, after a moment.

 

Bucky turns and gestures to the staff, who all shuffle over quickly.

 

"You guys can all have a photo together, but if it goes up on Facebook, he's not going to come back," Bucky states.

 

"What?" The boss -- Martin, his namebadge says -- asks, confused, looking towards Steve. "Was the food not good?"

 

"It's wonderful," Steve assures, "and I really like the service and the atmosphere here, too."

 

"Which would change significantly if people realise that Captain Rogers has come here," Bucky finishes.

 

Martin looks a little puzzled, but soon catches up. "You don't want to be bothered while you're out...?" He says slowly, and some of his staff murmur with realisation.

 

Steve nods and hitches one shoulder up, giving that 'aww shucks' All American boy routine a go, and it plays perfectly.

 

"It's great that you want a photo with him," Bucky interjects, and subsequently draws all the attention to himself, "and just the photo would be fine to display here somewhere. But if you put it on social media where anyone can see it, superfans and photographers will come and look for him here, and that nice atmosphere's gonna change pretty quick."

 

Bucky can see the cogs turn in Martin's head. "So you're not saying we can't put it up," he clarifies.

 

"Nope. Hell, I'll even take it for you. But you'd best shake his hand and say farewell now, if you're gonna."

 

"What are you, his agent or something?" Martin asks wryly.

 

With a perfectly straight face, Bucky answers gravely. "I have a vested interest in Captain Rogers not getting harassed when he goes out for something as simple as a meal."

 

Their waitress, a young woman by the name of Penelope, speaks up. "I don't care about it not going on Facebook," she says, "I'd much rather Captain Rogers comes back here if he likes it."

 

That seems to be the general consensus from the staff. The boss takes it all in, before agreeing. "What you're asking isn't unreasonable. I'd be honoured to have you frequent my establishment in peace if you like it here."

 

Steve's answering smile makes some of the staffs' knees go a little weak. "Well all right, then," Bucky replies cheerfully, slipping out of the booth and commandeering someone's phone. "You're gonna have to crowd around, he's not standing for this photo."

 

Just to be stubborn, Steve does, and is propped up under the arms by some of the staff. "I can stand," he says, and Bucky rolls his eyes.

 

Everyone grins huge, and Bucky takes a few photos. In true New York fashion, they're ignored by the other early morning patrons. Nobody seems to care about some guy with a busted foot getting photos with a bunch of kitchen staff and waiters.

 

Steve signs some autographs on napkins and menus afterwards, and shakes a few hands. When it's all done, he slips back into the booth, opposite a grinning Bucky.

 

"You were just kind of a badass then," Steve says admiringly.

 

"I'm used to giving people options and then acting like it was their idea when they choose the one I want."

 

"I'll have to keep that in mind," Steve smirks.

 

When it's time to pay, Bucky tells him to sit and heads to the register, where the owner is currently stationed. He flips open his wallet and starts to count bills out. "Just so you know," Bucky says conversationally, "I'll be watching your Facebook page. If you have a change of heart and put it up, I'll find out."

 

The man scrutinises Bucky warily. "You're not his PR agent, are you?"

 

"Nope."

 

"You Secret Service? Marine? SHIELD?"

 

"US Army," Bucky replies firmly, handing over money.

 

"Oh." The boss chews on his lip. "It won't go up, I promise." He pauses. "We'd like to thank you both for your service."

 

Bucky nods, and leaves a generous tip in the tip jar. Steve has seen that something nice is left for Penelope.

 

"Come on, Steve," Bucky says as he hands Steve his crutches. "Let's get outta here."

 

Steve isn't quite ready to go home just yet, so they end up finding one of the cinemas that has the big recliners to put your feet up in. With Bucky buying breakfast, Steve buys copious treats, and they pick a movie at random to watch.

 

It's really nice to do something super normal and date-like. Mindful that Steve's not wearing anything that conceals his identity, they have an unspoken agreement to keep public displays of affection down to a minimum, though Steve does take his hand in the darkness of the theatre.

 

After the movie, Bucky insists on taking Steve home to rest after a suitably eventful morning. To catch up on his work, Bucky spends the afternoon working on his Fall and Winter programs, while Steve draws in his sketchbook.

 

Bucky watches Steve draw out of the corner of his eye, and has a few ideas. He scribbles down some notes, to return to them at a later date.

 

Later on in the evening, when he's lying next to Steve on his bed, he catches Steve looking at him.

 

"What? Do I have toothpaste on my face?" Bucky asks.

 

"Nope," Steve smiles sleepily. "Just thinking. You were my nurse and PR man and bodyguard all rolled into one today. Is there anything you can't do?"

 

Bucky slides down so he's directly opposite Steve on the pillow. "I can't ride a unicycle," he offers around a yawn.

 

Steve's still chuckling as he nods off.

 

***

 

Monday dawns with Steve hopping -- literally -- out of bed early and Bucky cursing his name. It seems even Babushka doesn't care for Steve's early morning routine, choosing to curl up in the small of Bucky's back until he's finally ready to stir much later.

 

After coffee and breakfast and Steve spending a bit of time at his easel, Bucky decides to see how well he can remember how to make pirozhkis.

 

That's when the shit hits the fan.

 

Steve's sitting on the stool at the kitchen bench, chatting as Bucky folds pastry from his second batch -- the first being nearly done in the oven -- when there's a fierce thumping at his front door. Bucky looks immediately to Steve, who frowns.

 

"Expecting anyone violent?" Bucky asks in a whisper.

 

Steve shrugs. "HYDRA don't usually knock, so..."

 

"Rogers! If you don't answer this door in ten seconds, I'm breaking your lock." A firm female voice sounds through the wood.

 

Steve's face shows recognition, but not necessarily relief. "It's Natasha," he supplies, almost concerned.

 

"Wanna pretend you're not here?" Bucky jokes.

 

Steve shrugs, but the unmistakeable sound of a lock being picked draws both of their attention.

 

"Shit," Bucky mutters.

 

The door swings open and the Black Widow storms into Steve's apartment. For all her blowing in like a whirlwind, she makes sure to shut the door quietly behind her.

 

She makes eye contact with both Steve and Bucky before quickly casing the place.

 

"What are you doing here?" she asks Steve bluntly.

 

"I live here. Hi, Nat," Steve says with a little smile.

 

"Don't 'Hi, Nat' me. What's that still doing on your foot?" She points to the cast.

 

"Some medical professionals are saying now that's how you treat broken ankles," Bucky says sardonically. Almost immediately, he wishes he hadn't, because the Widow's piercing gaze affixes to him.

 

She stays silent for a moment. "You're the coffee date," she announces with confidence.

 

"You're the Black Widow," Bucky replies, holding his ground.

 

Bucky's scrutinised again, and it's scathing. She then promptly ignores him, turning back to Steve. "I was expecting you back at HQ yesterday, but nobody had seen you since you entered the country again."

 

"I talked to Sam on Saturday. And I'm taking a few extra days," Steve says, chin jutting out.

 

Even Bucky can tell Steve's not quite on the up-and-up. If he can tell, she certainly can.

 

"That's very unlike you, Rogers. You should've been at the hospital first thing yesterday getting the plaster removed."

 

Bucky can't believe what he's hearing. To him, it's pretty obvious. "Lady, he's got a broken ankle, not a stubbed toe. He kind of needs that."

 

All of a sudden, Bucky doesn't like the way the Widow is smirking at him. "Really." She throws her thumb towards Steve, who seems to be curving in on himself in the stool. Bucky blinks slowly at his posture. "Do you know how fast this one can heal broken bones?"

 

Bucky's jaw works, and he thinks back to when he asked Steve the question. "He said they take the longest to heal," Bucky responds, though his voice isn't as confident as it was a few moments ago. His eyes flick to Steve, who is staring at the redhead.

 

"Mhm. 'Longest'. Very vague." She flicks her hand dismissively in his direction, before turning to Steve. "Your last bad break took about sixty hours to heal, right?"

 

"Maybe? I don't remember," Steve mutters, "But this break was worse." Bucky still arches his eyebrows incredulously.

 

Bucky places a pirozhki onto the baking paper, wipes his hands off on a dishtowel and folds his arms. "So we're, what, ninety-six hours into your recovery?"

 

The Widow somehow disappears from his peripheral vision, because all Bucky is focused on is Steve. "I'm not certain I'm healed? But... probably, yeah."

 

Bucky tightens his jaw. On the one hand, Steve clearly wasn't into full-disclosure about his healing, and that's not cool. On the other hand, he's not a doctor and if the cast is still on, how is he to know whether it's healed or not?

 

Plus, they've gotten to spend some real quality time together over the last four days, and Bucky's felt it has been an important time in the development of their new relationship.

 

Steve looks towards the Widow. "Can you give us a minute, please?"

 

She shrugs and heads further into Steve's apartment.

 

Steve exhales, fingers interlaced in his lap. "I'm sorry I was vague on the healing time. I knew I was feeling better, but... Sam's always telling me that I'm never taking enough time to rest after I'm injured. And when you came over to help and stayed..." he sighs. "It felt so normal. I love spending time with you. I wasn't quite ready to let go of that just yet."

 

Bucky finds it really incredibly difficult to be mad at Steve for just wanting to be normal, and spend time with him.

 

They've talked a little about Geneva in the last few days. From what Steve has told him, it was as mentally exhausting as it was physically. Perhaps the extra healing time was moreso for that than anything else.

 

If anyone understands sometimes just putting your foot down and needing a mental heath day, it's Bucky.

 

He rubs his stubbled face and sighs. "For the record? You coulda come clean and still spent time with me. I wouldn't've been such an asshole about your crutches."

 

"I kind of liked when you were an asshole about the crutches," Steve grins, and Bucky shakes his head.

 

He walks around the bench to stand next to Steve, snagging the pinky of one hand with his fingers. "Anyone ever told you you're a glutton for punishment?"

 

"All the time," Steve responds.

 

Bucky runs a thumb across Steve's knuckles. "So you can really get the cast off?"

 

"Probably."

 

"We should probably look at doing that, then."

 

Their conversation is interrupted by the reappearance of the Widow.

 

"Who is this?" she asks, cradling Babushka in her arms. For her part, Babushka bats playfully at her fingers.

 

"A traitor," Bucky deadpans.

 

"That's Bucky's kitten, Babushka," Steve says, taking her out of the redhead's arms when she comes close enough.

 

She watches Steve coo at the little calico with a wary expression. "Cute name," she offers, and falls silent.

 

The oven timer goes off and Bucky spins around. He grabs the dishtowel and uses it to remove a tray of finished pirozhkis from the oven. Widow's eyes go wide when she catches sight of them. She stars at Bucky. "Are they what I think they are?"

 

Bucky looks down at them with a frown. "Depends. They're meant to be pirozhkis, but I don't know if I remembered them right." He sighs. "I really don't care for baking."

 

The Widow creeps closer to the bench and reaches out for the tray, giving Bucky a questioning glance. Bucky makes a 'go ahead' gesture with his hand. "They're hot," he warns.

 

She picks one up, tossing it from one hand to another, blowing on the little pastry as she does, before taking a bite off the edge. It's still hot to chew, and Bucky can tell, but she swallows anyway.

 

There's something that changes in her eyes, then. He doesn't know how the green can go from icy to thawed, but there you go.

 

"<They are very traditional>," she murmurs, and it takes Bucky a few moments for his brain to catch up to the fact that she spoke in Russian. His Russian is incredibly rusty, but it's there.

 

"<Thank you, lady>," he replies in turn, and the Widow's gaze snaps to him once again.

 

Steve watches their back and forth with fascination.

 

"You speak Russian," she asks, though it comes out more as a statement.

 

"Just conversational stuff," Bucky says. "The woman who taught me to make these also taught me a bit of Russian, too."

 

"Huh," she says, chewing on the rest of the pirozhki. Something in the stiff way she's been carrying herself in the apartment relaxes then. Bucky tentatively chalks that up to being a good thing.

 

"Nat," Steve begins, "I'm sorry I haven't been in, but I wasn't officially scheduled for anything for the next few days anyway."

 

"It's never stopped you before," she responds. "We're normally forcibly giving you time off."

 

Steve sits up straighter in his chair. "This time, you didn't have to."

 

Widow glances at Bucky before giving Steve a tiny Mona Lisa-esque smile. "I see."

 

Bucky finds a paper towel and wraps up a few of the pirozhkis as the redhead exchanges a few more words with Steve. When she turns to face him, he holds out the pastries.

 

She takes them slowly, as though she wouldn't be surprised if they exploded.

 

Sizing Bucky up once again with her eyes, she holds out her right hand. "Natasha Romanov," she says.

 

Bucky takes her hand with the same care she took the pirozhkis; as though it might explode. "James Barnes."

 

"I know," she gives him a ghost of a smile. "<Your baking is better than your accent>," she remarks.

 

"Rude, but okay," Bucky responds, surprising a little laugh out of Natasha.

 

She turns to Steve. "Well, I'll get going. I'm assuming you're in good hands to get to the hospital for the removal of your cast later today?"

 

"The best," Steve responds, and Bucky successfully stifles a grin.

 

"That is, if you're not too busy playing with kittens." Natasha looks into Steve's arms and strokes the soft fur between Babushka's ears. She purrs at the attention.

 

With a final farewell, Natasha heads towards the door. Once she goes, Bucky thinks he can start breathing again.

 

She reaches the door, hand on the knob and everything, but doesn't go. Instead, she turns around and points to Steve. Specifically, points to the band aid still stuck on him.

 

Her voice enters a very specific register of amusement. "Is that my face on your arm, Rogers?"

Chapter Text

The One With The Relationship Status

(Location: Brooklyn bar)

 

 

Bucky's decompressing after another big week of work out and about with some friends. Denise is there with her husband, Doug, and also Jarrod from his current office. But there are two extra people who make the get-together especially nice: Wendy and George. Wendy used to work with them in Brooklyn, but ended up transferring to a sister outreach up in the Bronx. George moved to the west coast and is back for a week visiting family. It's a little meet-up of their original team, and up until this point Bucky forgets how much he missed this particular mix of people.

 

They're the ones who first welcomed him back to gainful employment as a civilian, who didn't mind he could only work a few days a week, and not even full ones at that, while he was getting used to daily life without sand and Kevlar and automatic weapons.

 

These are the people -- along with his family -- who helped him feel like a man again, instead of just a soldier. They are very important to him, and never fail to make him smile. It's not often now that they all get the chance to catch up together, so they're making the most of their time.

 

Dinner at a nice restaurant was relaxing and so much fun they weren't quite ready to call it quits afterwards. So now they've hit a little bar for some drinks. Doug and George are having an intense side-conversation about real estate in Brooklyn, while Wendy regales the rest of them with the comedy of errors that was her boyfriend trying to surprise her with a birthday party last month.

 

Bucky grins at the story, and he can't help but think of Steve. His boyfriend.

 

It shouldn't still feel like a novelty, but it does. In the very best of ways.

 

Bucky hasn't gotten the chance to see Steve much since he got the cast off earlier in the week and they both went back to work -- Steve to the Tower, Bucky back to his office. They have, however, still been in constant contact.

 

And after the worry of the Geneva Incident with the intense caregiving period, it's nice to take a step back into his own space and be take time for himself, too. He had a crappy moment on Wednesday, but a call to Benjamin put him at ease, and he righted himself pretty quickly, all things considered.

 

Steve asked if Bucky wanted to go out tonight, but Bucky made an apology and explained the significance of the get-together tonight for him. Steve, ever the gentleman, was completely understanding and texted 'can I write you tomorrow?' He says it just to be ironic now, as more often than not, his texts end with 'I will call you tomorrow'. Like it's a promise -- or a threat.

 

The thing of it is, even if the gathering hadn't been an entirely significant one, he's pretty sure Steve would've been just as gracious.

 

Bucky wants to have a life outside his boyfriend's sphere of influence, and what's more, Steve wants him to have that, too. He doesn't horn in on every scrap of free time Steve has, either.

 

The feeling of independence is important to both of them, apparently.

 

Unexpectedly, a beer is placed in front of Bucky without him ordering it. Bucky sits back in surprise and looks up at the waiter. "I didn't order this." It's especially strange as he's been alternating between water and Coke all night.

 

The waiter gives a little grin and points out a pair of women sitting at a table not far away. One is decidedly more pink with embarrassment than the other and very determinedly not looking in Bucky's direction. "It's from over there."

 

A collective --but thankfully soft -- 'oooohh' goes up from Bucky's table and he wants to sink into the floorboards a little.

 

Jarrod pokes Bucky in the arm. "Still got it, Barnes," he says wistfully. "This never happens to me when I go out."

 

"That's because you dress like a hobo," Wendy puts in, and the table erupts in laughter.

 

Bucky looks at the beer and back to the girls, thinking fast. He doesn't want to send it back because that kind of rejection is really cruel, and it takes guts to be the brave one first up. However, he also knows if he accepts, he's giving the wrong impression about interest he is definitely not feeling.

 

It's a tightrope, but he thinks he knows what to do.

 

Bucky stands and dusts off his jeans. Picking up the beer, he tries not to make too much eye contact around the table. "I'll be back," he tells them firmly.

 

"Don't rush!" George says with a grin. The chorus of 'ooooohh' is a little louder when he walks to the table with the girls.

 

There is a flurry of heated whispering between the two women as he approaches, to drop into silence when he gets to the table. Bucky gives them a little smile. "Do I have you to thank for the drink?"

 

"Jennifer bought it for you," the less-embarrassed-looking blonde says immediately, shoving her brunette friend in the arm. Bucky looks her over. She's quite attractive, with medium length brown hair and brown eyes, long lashes and a creamy olive tone to her skin.

 

"You can sit if you want...?" Jennifer says, making eye contact with Bucky.

 

Bucky slides into the chair and puts his drink on the table. "Thanks for the beer," he says sincerely, tapping the glass. "I know this is sort of an awkward topic, but I wanted to let you know that I'm already seeing someone, if it's not too presumptuous to assume you bought it for me to get my number." He keeps his tone gentle. It's his work-voice, and he's glad that his current and former co-workers can't hear it, because they know it all too well.

 

Both women flag significantly at the knowledge, and Bucky does feel a little bad, but the truth is better than false hope. "But I'm really flattered by the drink, and don't want you to be out of pocket. Can I return the favour anyway?" He looks between the two women. "To you both?"

 

The blonde looks to her friend, who shrugs before nodding. "Why not," Jennifer says with a shrug, "I'll break even that way."

 

Bucky gives her a friendly smile and gestures for the waiter. He lets the girls order, and sips at the beer, waiting for the drinks to arrive. He's not overly fond of the taste of it, but he is known to have the very occasional alcoholic beverage.

 

They chat in the meantime. Jennifer works at a doctor's office, and her friend, Elyse, as a PA at a law firm. Jennifer is sweet, and once she gets over her nerves talking to Bucky and starts to relax, he converses with her very pleasantly.

 

Once the drinks arrive, Bucky chats for a few more minutes, before he makes to excuse himself.

 

Before he goes, Jennifer and Elyse both thank him for being so upfront and polite about his situation. Jennifer scribbles her number down on a cocktail napkin and gives it to him.

 

"I fully appreciate what you've said. But you seem really nice, and if you ever find yourself single again, maybe we could have dinner?"

 

Bucky takes the napkin and pockets it because it would be rude not to, but knows better than to actually confirm any kind of action on his part.

 

He might find himself single again, but he really doesn't want to be considering that prospect right now. Bucky knows he and Steve haven't been together long, and they might not stay together, but thinking of an end point right this second is a bit of a downer.

 

Also, he's not about to verbally make any indication that he will call this woman. Hope like that tends to screw up a person. Best to be honest.

 

Instead, he smiles and bids them farewell, walking back to his friends with a half-empty beer glass.

 

None of them hide the fact that they've been unabashedly watching him this entire time.

 

"And just what do you think you're doing back so soon?" Denise asks disapprovingly.

 

"I'm here to spend time with you guys, not pick up," Bucky says matter of factly.

 

"Bucky, we love you, but that's stupid. If you wanted to spend more time with those, frankly, hot women, nobody would mind," Wendy says.

 

"Except for me, because I'd probably ask you if her friend's single, and do you wanna double-date," Jarrod puts in.

 

"I am not doubling with you, Jarrod. Not until you stop wearing frayed denim cut offs." Bucky toys with his glass before picking it up. He pauses, and on the spur of the moment, decides to share with his friends. "Besides, I'm uh, seeing someone." Bucky gets the sentence out and swallows the last of his beer before the surprised gasps hit.

 

Sure enough, he's belted in the face, both barrels, with a flurry of questions from everyone, including the normally reticent Doug. He winces at the onslaught.

 

"Who are you dating?"

 

"How long has this been going on?"

 

"Is she-- I mean, are they hot?"

 

"How did you meet?"

 

"Why didn't you say so?"

 

Bucky holds his hands and the barrage slows to a halt. "It's pretty new. The opportunity to mention didn't really come up beforehand... so..."

 

"How new is 'new'?" Jarrod asks.

 

Bucky shrugs. "Couple of months, give or take?" The Greek chorus of voices starts up again, only to die down when Bucky blocks his ears with his fingers at the commotion. Once they've settled down, Bucky unblocks his ears. "Can we ask questions like adults now?"

 

"Okay... is this someone you just met, or someone you've known for a while?" Jarrod presses.

 

"I've known him for about..." Bucky counts backwards quickly, "maybe four months?"

 

The excited murmur changes tone with the extra information. He can see their faces burning with curiosity. These are people who care about him, who want happiness and good things to happen to him. And Bucky, in turn, wants to share his happiness with them.

 

But only to a point.

 

He leans forward at the table, and everyone automatically does the same. "I know you're not going to let me off the hook, so here's the deal," Bucky says, "next person to buy me a beer--" he winces and amends his words "--a better-tasting beer than that one, gets to ask the questions. However, the interrogation will last only as long as it takes me to drink said beer, and I can refuse to answer if it's too personal."

 

There's a flurry of activity and arguing, but ultimately Wendy comes out on top. She crows triumph and orders some kind of weird, hipster microbrew. He'll take her word for it, he knows shit-all about them. Bucky barely drinks on a regular day, but tonight is a special occasion, and he's a responsible adult, surrounded by friends he trusts.

 

There's nothing scarier than an interrogation by psyche majors, but Bucky can handle himself. He knows his body and his tells extremely well, and he's also comfortable enough with these people to tell them to get lost if they go somewhere he doesn't like. But he's reasonably sure it's not going to come to that.

 

Wendy, as it turns out, is a benevolent interrogator.

 

"I prefer the term 'interview', thank you," she corrects primly.

 

He knows her well -- Hell, contemplated asking her out once upon a time -- and she asks questions that Bucky can choose to expound upon if he likes. Also some left-of-centre stuff that's designed to startle answers out of him. Mostly it just makes him laugh.

 

"I'm wise to your tricks, Wendy. I have a psyche degree too, y'know."

 

"Can't blame a girl for trying."

 

Bucky gives them decent tidbits. He doesn't lie about anything, only omits details of a private or identity-confirming nature.

 

According to Bucky, his boyfriend is former Army now working for the government. They met on Tinder, and didn't actually meet in person for nearly two months. He keeps really fit, but he's not a gymbro-- despite Bucky mistaking him for one at the beginning. He initially comes across as sweet, but he's got a sarcastic streak a mile wide, and a wicked sense of humour. He's also a massive dork. As each tidbit of information is revealed, his friends smile and nod in approval. Bucky tries not to give too much away in his body language.

 

Jarrod demands to know if Bucky's mystery man is hotter than him.

 

"Yes, he is. Next question? I'm almost out of beer," Bucky threatens good-naturedly. He feels a warmth to his cheeks, perhaps coming from the fact he's been drinking it a little fast to shorten the question time.

 

Wendy asks if she can see a picture, and Bucky thinks on it. He shows them one of the very early pictures Steve sent to him from his early-morning runs. The group whistles at the long, muscular legs in sweats. George makes a joke of fanning himself. "Wow, I think I'm a little turned on."

 

Bucky grins and shrugs. He's got one mouthful of beer left. "Last one, friends. Make it good."

 

"Oh!" Wendy exclaims. "I didn't even think to ask... What's his name?"

 

Bucky blinks slowly, the smile on his face soft and happy. "Steve," he answers.

 

Denise's eyes light up. "Steve," she repeats. Bucky gives her a long look, quirking his brows. Denise doesn't say anything else, merely smiles and leans into her husband.

 

This is why Denise is his favourite.

 

Bucky drains the last of his beer and sets the glass on the table. "And the buzzer has sounded. The Q & A portion of the evening has ended."

 

A chorus of disappointment meets Bucky. "Cry more," he jeers, "your tears and recrimination only make me stronger and more powerful."

 

"Well, it's been very enlightening, but I'm rather disappointed you resorted to telling us in person the old-fashioned way. I get most of my news from Facebook," Jarrod remarks.

 

Bucky rolls his eyes. "You know I don't use Facebook very much."

 

"Facebook-official, or it didn't really happen," Wendy intones, and Jarrod hi-fives her.

 

"Come on, that's not even a real thing."

 

"It's on Urban Dictionary," Doug contributes.

 

"Et tu, Doug?" Bucky asks. "Why does anyone give a shit whether I'm single or not?"

 

"I'll admit, that there's a certain voyeuristic curiosity that comes with it," George starts, "and you'll always get the people who don't know you very well just being nosey. And you'll get your asshole friends -- and we all have a few -- making stupid comments. But you also get to let in your good friends and family on what's going on in your life, and they get to be happy for you."

 

"But there's always lots of problems if there's a breakup," Denise reminds, "because suddenly everyone on your feed knows. The algorithms don't allow you to filter that information. I can understand why people don't do it, it can be really intrusive and potentially damaging if you go through a traumatic breakup."

 

Bucky points to Denise. "Yes. That one. That's the bit I don't like."

 

"What does Steve think?" Wendy asks. "Maybe he's secretly pining about not being listed as your boyfie."

 

"I can't help but notice I have run out of beer, and you're still asking questions..." Bucky says, and George places his untouched glass in front of Bucky. Bucky looks at the new glass and feels a little dizzy. The fact that he rarely drinks is making what he has go straight to his head. He thanks George, but pushes the bottle away. Two is more than enough.

 

Denise wordlessly fills an empty glass with water and he gratefully takes that instead.

 

Denise. Still favourite.

 

"I'll give you a freebie and answer, just because I like you," Bucky says. "I highly doubt it. Steve actually hates Facebook passionately." He plays with a damp coaster, ripping the soggy edges off. "Doesn't even have an account."

 

There is a collective gasp from the table. "I think I'm gonna faint," Jarrod says.

 

"I ain't giving you CPR," Bucky tells him. "It's to do with his job. For security reasons he doesn't show his face in pictures where he can be identified. Also? He really hates how intrusive it is, and how people just feel the need to talk about everything they happen to be doing on it."

 

"That's good old Face-Stalk for you," Jarrod says. "My go-to platform when I want to find out when Rory last visited Walgreens for antacid."

 

They all burst out laughing after that, and the subject of Steve and Bucky and Facebook is dropped. It does, however, start a rollicking debate on social media and how it influences people's lives.

 

The rest of the evening is pleasant, filled with lots of laughs. When it's inching towards midnight, their conversation slowly starts drawing to a natural close. Jarrod wants to hit another nightspot, but he's summarily booed by his friends.

 

Bucky says his goodbyes to everyone with copious hugs and handshakes, and splits a cab with Denise and Doug. He's got a little bit of a headache from the beer, and doesn't feel like taking the subway.

 

But tomorrow is Saturday, and because one of the schools is having their annual carnival, the group has been postponed so all students can attend.

 

This means he has a Saturday free. Bliss.

 

Bucky and Denise keep chatting while the cab makes its way to Bucky's place first. Doug sits in the front seat and talks to the driver, because... that's what Doug does.

 

Denise pokes Bucky in the deltoid. "So... correct me if I'm wrong... but I spoke to Steve on the phone, right? The night of my anniversary?"

 

"Yeah," Bucky confirms, "that was him."

 

"He has a great voice," she says with a little smile.

 

Bucky chews on his bottom lip. "He does at that."

 

"So polite, though. I honestly thought he might've stopped himself from calling me 'ma'am'."

 

Bucky barks out a laugh. "That's... that definitely sounds like him. But then you get to know him and it's all stealing my cat's affections and ragging on my cooking."

 

He realises what he's said the moment it's out of his mouth -- stupid beer making him feel fuzzy -- and there's no chance that Denise didn't make the connection. It's so rare that Bucky cooks, it's an easy leap for someone like her to make.

 

Bucky stops offering information and sits quietly. He wonders if Denise will be annoyed at him for omitting that information.

 

"He that army buddy of yours that was laid up last week?" she queries.

 

"Yeah," Bucky admits. "Workplace injury, but he's all good now."

 

There's another pause, in which Bucky chews on his lower lip.

 

Eventually, Denise begins talking. "Since it's probably highly classified--" she starts.

 

"Level eighty-nine clearance required," Bucky informs her, tapping the side of his nose.

 

"--I'm going to imagine that he did himself this injury by slamming a photocopier lid on his hand, or being stabbed by a ballpoint pen."

 

Bucky laughs. "I'll have to tell him you said that."

 

Anyone else he didn't know as well might've made some sort of crack about playing hooky off work to visit the boyfriend for a dirty weekend, or other such nonsense -- and as much Bucky likes Jarrod, he'd definitely do that -- but Denise knows him better than that.

 

There's some very compelling reasons as to why Dee is his favourite work-human.

 

Bucky finds it's nice to be able to talk about Steve to someone else, and have his friend be happy for him.

 

The cab arrives at Bucky's apartment and he gets out. He passes some money to the driver as Denise sticks her head out of the window. "Well, this character must be okay if Babushka likes him." She pauses. "Maybe sometime when you're ready, I could meet him."

 

Bucky smiles softly and kisses Denise on the cheek. "Sounds like a plan."

 

He bids farewell to Doug, and heads inside.

 

Babushka is sleeping on her cat bed when he lets himself in, but soon gets up to circle around Bucky's legs as he enters the apartment.

 

Bucky is suddenly exhausted. Big week plus being social is hard. He's not a twenty-year-old idiot anymore.

 

Stripping off, Bucky does the bare minimum he needs to get ready for bed. His brain starts functioning on autopilot as he goes through his night-time routine. One of the last things he does is to pull up Facebook on his phone and really wonder what all the fuss is about.

 

Sometime after that, Bucky flicks a quick message to Steve, saying he's home and will call tomorrow, and passes out in an exhausted lump facedown on his pillow.

 

 

 

The One With The Surprise Interrogation (pt 4)

(Location: Bucky's apartment)

 

 

Bucky wakes up with a furry mouth and a furry face. "Bushka, no," he groans, pushing the kitten off his chest. He looks across to the clock, which is showing a little after ten a.m.

 

He stretches out and runs lazy hands through his hair. The taste in his mouth is pretty foul, and Bucky is reminded of one of reasons as to why he doesn't normally drink.

 

Bucky spends ten blissful minutes just lying in bed, slowly working himself awake before eventually rolling over and reaching for his phone.

 

Facebook has exploded with notifications. Bucky raises an eyebrow, and wonders if perhaps Wendy's uploaded and tagged him in some photos they took last night, and everyone's commenting on them.

 

"Stupid Facebook," he mutters, and decides to open the app to check out the damage.

 

It's worse than he thinks.

 

Yes, there are a few photos up, but the majority of the notifications seem to be coming from a post. Bucky taps the notification to read the text in question. He's still kind of sleepy, and so doesn't understand why he's seeing all sorts of congratulations and people asking questions, until he scrolls back up to the top.

 

"Oh, seriously," Bucky says, eyes growing wide.

 

Apparently, his 1am, slightly dizzy and overtired self took to Facebook.

 

James Barnes
9 hrs

 

Not going to change my relationship status or anything, because it's stupid. But I'm dating a really great guy and I'm happy. Consider yourself duly informed.

 

 

"Holy shit," Bucky breathes, rubbing his eyes. Nope, the status is still there.

 

As are the multitude of comments. He scans them briefly. They are a pretty usual mix of smartassery from his friends, congratulations, and people wanting to know who the lucky guy is.

 

As if I'm gonna answer anything, Bucky thinks. He pulls up the status to delete it, but hesitates. He sits on the 'are you sure you want to delete this post?' screen for a long while. Sure, it was a fucking dumb thing to do, but the fact of it is, he's not adverse to having people know he's taken, and the well wishes from his friends are nice.

 

In the end, he changes the privacy setting to just him, with a view to perhaps delete later. He also takes a screen shot of the post from his phone and sends it to Steve. Because Steve deserves to know Bucky's been an idiot.

 

Bucky: So I may've done something kind of stupid while incredibly overtired and under the influence of my friends. [attached image]

 

While he's in his messages, it occurs to Bucky he's got at least six unread messages between two of his three sisters.

 

Oh, shit.

 

Becca: Bucky wtf???? When did you get a boyfriend? Why do I have to find out through facebook?

 

Becca: you need to text me with photos and details immediately.

 

Becca: BUCKY WAKE UP. I COMMAND YOU.

 

Becca: That's it, I'm on my way over. You were warned.

 

Abi: Becca texted me that you have a boyfriend. I'm shocked and disgusted to find out from her. I thought I was your favourite.

 

Abi: Also congratulations, big brother :)

 

Bucky throws his phone to the side and begins a long and guttural sentence of inventive curse words. The unique situation he finds himself in with Steve has mucked up the natural order in which he'd normally break the news to his nearest and dearest.

 

Bucky sighs. This is not how he pictured his morning going.

 

His phone starts ringing and Bucky flicks it a pensive glance, checking the caller ID. It's Steve.

 

Bucky pauses for a microsecond before he connects the call. "Hey, Steve," he says cheerfully, "I'm an idiot."

 

"Sometimes," Steve confirms with amusement. "So I'm a 'great guy', huh?"

 

"If you were really a great guy, you wouldn't have agreed so quickly that I was an idiot."

 

"I don't lie, Bucky," Steve says in his Captain America tone of voice.

 

"You embellish the shit outta stuff, though," Bucky counters. "Like when you told me about the time you punched a tank during WWII."

 

The line goes very quiet. "I uh... did punch a tank," he says softly.

 

Bucky rolls over to lie face down on his bed, mashing it against the mattress. "I think we should properly revisit the definition of 'idiot', and which one of us is one," Bucky says, voice muffled by his bed.

 

Steve chuckles. "Not my finest moment, but I got the tank to stop, at least."

 

Bucky shifts his face to the side so he's no longer muffled, and taps the button that puts the phone on speaker. He chuckles, but the laugh devolves into a deep, world-weary sigh.

 

"I'm gathering you had a good night with your friends, anyway?" Steve queries.

 

Bucky gives a little smile. "Yeah, nice catching up and lots of laughs. Food was great, I had a couple of drinks but stopped when they made me feel a little shitty. Caught a cab home."

 

"Nice," Steve says, and he sounds a little wistful. "Anything interesting happen?"

 

Bucky rolls onto his back, drumming his fingers on his stomach. "Hmmm... Jarrod laughed so hard at one of Wendy's stories he nearly choked on a peanut?"

 

Steve's warm chuckle down the phone makes Bucky smile. "Nice," he repeats.

 

"Oh, and a girl tried to pick me up by buying me a beer. I didn't want to embarrass her by rejecting, so I bought her a drink in return, and told her I was taken. That's sort of what started the boyfriend talk with my friends, which has led to social media regret." He pauses. "It goes without saying that the Facebook thing was an accident, and I didn't mean to type it. If it makes any difference, I've hidden the post now."

 

There's a pause on the other end of the line. Bucky's about to ask Steve if he's still there -- maybe the line dropped out -- when he speaks. "When you say you didn't mean it, do you mean the sentiment, or the posting?"

 

Steve's question is quite carefully worded, and Bucky takes a moment to muddle out what he's being asked. Ohhh.

 

"I meant the sentiment -- you make me very happy -- I just didn't mean to broadcast it to my friends and family via social media at 1am. Also, I know how you feel about Facebook."

 

Steve pauses before he answers, and when he does, Bucky can hear the sunshine grin in his voice. "Well, that's good. And it's okay, it's not like you mentioned me by name or anything."

 

"Still, I didn't mean to announce it quite like that," Bucky apologises. "And speaking of family, I'm fielding angry texts from my sisters about not knowing about you."

"Oh, I'm sorry," Steve says.

 

"It's no big deal. I think Becks is just mad I haven't mentioned anything about you to her."

 

"Would you normally have by this stage?" he queries.

 

Bucky rubs one eye tiredly. "Yeah... me and my sisters have a good relationship. We usually share this stuff. One-off dates, not so much, but anything remotely consistent and we usually share. So I can go overprotective brother on them, or they can hassle me about 'not forgetting the romance' or some shit."

 

Steve is silent once again on the other end of the phone for a few moments. He knows everything they've been doing so far has kept their relationship low-key. Not 'dirty little secret' low-key, more 'away from harsh scrutiny'. As much as he loves his family, scrutiny is something they excel at, especially when it involves Bucky or his sisters.

 

"Steve?" Bucky asks. "It's... it's okay. I can deflect them for a while longer, even though they are all masters of guilt and harassment. I blame myself; I taught them too well."

 

"The thing of it is..." Steve starts hesitantly, "if you would ordinarily be talking about me to them... I want you to. I want us to be normal, you know? That includes being introduced to your family at some stage. That is, if. If you wanted me to meet them."

 

Bucky spends Steve's stuttering sentence allowing a smile to grow exponentially on his face. "Are you kidding, of course I want to talk about you, and of course I want you to meet them. I just--" he breathes out a jet of air sharply, "They mean well, but they might come on a little strong. I don't want to spook you."

 

"I can safely say I think I can handle it," Steve promises.

 

"I'm just not sure I can," Bucky jokes half-heartedly. "We've not really talked about the privacy issue in explicit terms, but I know not having strangers in our business is important to you." He exhales slowly. "Okay so... family introductions TBA, but let me break the news to them before a first meeting. I don't want Abi posting about you on Twitter before I have time to mention about discretion."

 

"Sounds like a plan," Steve says.

 

Bucky's doorbell rings, and he levers himself off the bed with a groan. "Someone's at my door, is it you?" he asks as he flicks his legs off the side of the mattress.

 

"Sadly not! I'm finishing that painting I was telling you about while the light is nice."

 

"Damn, I'd better put on some pants, then."

 

"... You wearing Ranger panties again?"

 

"Shorts, they're sh-- ah, forget it." Bucky keeps the phone in the crook of his shoulder as he pulls some sweats on. "We still on for later?"

 

"Mhm!" Steve answers cheerfully. "Don't indecently expose anyone!

 

"Bye, you incredible dweeb," Bucky says, before hanging up the phone. He heads out to his living room, Babushka circling at his feet as he checks the peephole.

 

"Shit," he mutters, before unlocking the deadbolt and turning the key to open the door. "I thought you were kidding!"

 

Rebecca Barnes-Proctor is outside his door, her nine-month old daughter Isobel tucked in under her chin. "Bucky, you got some 'splainin' to do," she tells him before entering his apartment.

"Come in, Rebecca, lovely to see you," he says sarcastically.

 

"I'm going to need coffee and for you to take Isobel for a minute," she says, thrusting the little blonde girl at him before disappearing into the bathroom.

 

Bucky rolls his eyes and looks down at the baby in his arms. "Hi, Izzy, how are you?" he asks softly, and receives some excitable baby gibberish in return. "That's what I thought."

 

He puts her over his shoulder and walks into the kitchen. The coffee maker starts up and he finds a packet of rusk sticks in his pantry. "You still teething, cutie? Doesn't even matter if you aren't, rusks are awesome, aren't they?"

 

Isobel certainly agrees, because she starts making grabby hands for them as soon as she spies the packet.

 

Rebecca comes out of the bathroom and heads straight to the kitchen. "Coffee?" she asks.

 

"Percolating," Bucky replies, gently bouncing Isobel.

 

"I'll finish it, you go sit down and think up a decent excuse as to why you didn't tell me anything."

 

Bucky sighs deeply and trudges to the sofa. He loves his family, he loves his sisters especially, but that doesn't mean they don't sometimes drive him up the goddamn wall. Closeness sometimes breeds incredible invasiveness.

 

He gently shoos Babushka away from the sofa, who stalks off in a huff. "I just did you a favour, Bushka," Bucky says as he sits down. Isobel isn't that happy at not being able to grab the kitten and nearly drops her rusk in an attempt anyway. Isobel looks on the verge of tears that the kitten has escaped her grasp, but Bucky bundles her up and starts bouncing her on his knee.

 

Rebecca enters the living room with two mugs, and places one on the coffee table. "There's cat hair on the sofa. It's not good for Isobel," she says.

 

"I love Isobel, but she doesn't live here. Babushka does. If I'd had more warning, maybe I could've gotten the lint brush out," Bucky replies. He tries to keep the pissiness out of his voice, but Bucky won't have his younger sister turn up with very little warning and tell him what to do in his own apartment.

 

Rebecca gives him a scathing look like she might snap back, but then backs down. "So, tell me about the guy you're dating," she says evenly, changing the subject in lieu of an apology.

 

"What do you want to know?" Bucky asks, helping Isobel with her rusk.

 

"Anything at this point," she fires back. "What's his name? How old is he? What does he do? Where did you meet? How long have you known him? How long have you been dating?"

 

Bucky exhales slowly. "His name is Steve. He's thirty-one, and works for the government."

 

"What, like a public servant? Or the FBI or something?"

 

"Yeah, the second one."

 

"Huh," Rebecca says, taking a sip of her coffee. "Secret stuff?"

 

"A lot of what he does is classified," Bucky hedges, "he doesn't talk about it a lot."

 

"Bucky..." Rebecca gets that annoying warning tone, "How do you know he's not just making it up? Where did you meet him, anyway?"

 

"Tinder," Bucky responds to a further groan.

 

"Buck! I thought you got off that!"

 

"Well, I'm off it now," Bucky snaps back.

 

"I reiterate -- how do you know he's telling the truth? People lie through their teeth on that all the time, and most people only use it for hook-ups."

 

"That's a pretty big generalisation. I wasn't using it for hook-ups."

 

"Ah, but you did sometimes just hook up with people on it, right?"

 

Bucky is silent for a while before looking down at Isobel. She stares up at him with big, sleepy eyes. "I don't feel comfortable having this conversation in front of Izzy."

 

Rebecca rolls her eyes at him. "Fine. I'm putting her down for a nap on your bed. That okay?"

 

"Of course." Because it doesn't matter how snippy they are at one another, they love each other and he loves Isobel. Rebecca disappears for a couple of minutes and Bucky sips his coffee. He needs his sister to lay off the combative streak, and then he can actually talk to her about Steve.

 

When Rebecca comes back, mostly closing the door behind her so Babushka doesn't go and stir Isobel up, she seems a little calmer.

 

They drink coffee silently for a few moments, a little tension in the air.

 

"So you did use it to hook up sometimes," she continues, and Bucky rolls his eyes. Because of course that's the first thing she comes out with again.

 

"I sometimes got together with people that I never called again, but that was by our mutual agreement at the time, and I never went into a date with the intention of that happening. For fuck's sake, Becca, if I wanted a hook-up I could just walk into a bar; I don't need an app to help me."

 

She pauses for a while, scrutinising him deeply. "So how secret is his job, anyway? Do you get to know anything at all?"

 

Bucky counts it as a win she's dropped the one night stand angle. He could tell her that he and Steve haven't actually... well... but Bucky's not going to talk to his little sister about his sex life unless one of them is under threat of death for him to do so. Because gross.

 

"In a way, yes? He gets actively deployed to some pretty serious incidents, but he's got a lot of training and experience, and a really good team." He pauses. "In some ways, it's similar to what I used to do with the Rangers. Remember you would know vaguely what I did but I couldn't give you details."

 

"It sounds like he's in the military."

 

Bucky shrugs. "He used to be an officer in the Army. This isn't Army work, but it is..." he tries to think of the right words, "definitely a tactical position."

 

"It sounds fishy," Rebecca says, screwing up her nose, and Bucky's had enough.

 

"Why are you busting my balls about this so much? I thought you'd be happy for me! You normally are, or at least pretend to be until you meet my partner and make judgments."

 

A flicker of hurt crosses Rebecca's face. "I'm busting your balls because I thought we were close," she says.

 

"We are close," Bucky argues, "why the hell are you getting upset?"

 

"Because I've never had to find out something so personal about you over the internet first," she says, and Bucky winces.

 

Because, ow.

 

Her shitty attitude and sniping makes so much sense, and Bucky feels bad deep down in the pit of his stomach.

 

He and his sisters are close. Despite the three, five and six year age gaps between him and his siblings, they've always had a warm rapport. Bucky missed them terribly when he was overseas, and they were the best thing about coming home. One of the reasons he finally decided to quit the Army was Rebecca was pregnant with her first child, and he wanted to be there for his baby sister, and his unborn niece or nephew (Turns out it was a nephew: Robert, Isobel's older brother).

 

He didn't want to be 'that man' who showed up every nine months or so for a few weeks to give presents, and who the kids had to be coaxed to give a hug to because they didn't know him.

 

He's always shared with the girls, and they with him. Bucky's worked out many a problem with people he's seeing while having a deep and meaningful chat with Rebecca, or had to play protective big brother and provide tissues and ice cream for his sisters' during break ups. He's given the shovel talk to more than one suitor over the years.

 

And yeah, if it had been anyone else, after the first couple of weeks he probably would've taken Rebecca out to lunch and casually dropped the info about dating someone to her. They would've looked at photos, she would've asked her questions, and that would've been it.

 

It's just this situation is so... unique. He's never dated anyone remotely noteworthy before. And Steve really just wants to be normal.

 

But... as Rebecca's made a point out of... telling her is normal.

 

Bucky sighs, shoulders slumping, and puts his coffee mug down.

 

"I didn't mean to put that on Facebook, I got home from going out with the work crew -- Wendy and George are in town, by the way -- and it got me thinking about telling people, and..." Bucky shakes his head. "I don't even remember doing it, I was that tired, but I was thinking it was time to share my news."

 

Rebecca is set to look hurt again, but Bucky takes her shoulders in his hands gently. "But you -- you and Abi and Gracie -- you're the first people I ever want to share good stuff with. I was already planning on telling you. Hell, we only really decided on the 'boyfriend' title last week, and we've been dating for about two months.

 

"The Facebook thing came out of two beers and being way overtired. I didn't think you'd appreciate texts at one a.m. telling you I'm happy dating someone."

 

His sister gives him a penetrating look, and while he's an accomplished liar when needs be, Rebecca has become annoyingly adept at sniffing out a rat.

 

Rebecca eventually sighs. "Okay, I believe you. But... why have you waited so long, anyway? Two months is more time than you would normally wait to tell me something like this."

 

Bucky scratches the back of his neck. "I know, I know... I haven't had a proper girlfriend or boyfriend since I left the Army, and I just wanted to wait a bit and feel it out. Also... Steve's job makes it a little hard to share. It even took two months from the time we started talking to the time we met. It can keep him really busy."

 

"Did he ask you not to tell us?" she queries suspiciously.

 

"No! No, nothing like that. Apart from me being an exhausted dick on Facebook last night, I haven't mentioned him to anyone, really. Last night was the first time. I talked to him earlier today, and he wants to meet you in the future. It's just that... Shit," Bucky shifts on the sofa cushion, tapping his closed fist against his lips, "I don't know how to say it without sounding weird and secretive." Bucky stops and takes a breath to collect his thoughts. "His job can be dangerous, and sometimes high profile. I trust you but I needed to make sure you'd be able to be discreet, for his sake."

 

Rebecca pauses for a long moment. "Is he in Special Forces where his face gets blurred out of photographs, or something? How the hell was he on Tinder, then? If you posted a picture of him on Facebook, the terrorists would know where to find him?"

Bucky snorts out a laugh. "Firstly, he didn't have his face in any of the Tinder pics, I didn't see him properly until I met him in person. And it's a little melodramatic, but in a way, yeah, he has to maintain some privacy."

 

His sister fixes him with a piercing glance. "Are you safe, Bucky?"

 

"Now that's a dumb question to ask a Ranger."

 

"You forever like to remind me you're an ex-Ranger. My question still stands."

 

"Yeah, I'm safe," Bucky promises, reaching out to touch her knee. "And he's one of the best people I've ever met."

 

Rebecca's eyebrows climb. "Really? High praise, seeing as you know me."

 

"I'm so sorry I ever taught you sass," Bucky bemoans, a smile twitching the corner of his lips.

 

Appeased that she hasn't been deliberately shunned from the loop, Rebecca sits back a little. "So... tell me about him. Not what he does, him. What's his deal? You got a picture?"

 

Bucky sidesteps the picture query for the moment. "He's tall and really fit, but loves junk food and eats like a horse. He's talented at art -- so talented, Becks -- but he joined the Army when he was young and got deployed." Bucky taps his finger against his lips. "He's addicted to coffee, treats Babushka like a mini-queen, is inherently sarcastic, but never cruel, so dedicated to his job and puts himself on the line for others all the time..."

 

"Stop talking about yourself, you narcissist, and start discussing Steve," Rebecca smirks, and Bucky pokes her in the arm.

 

"Don't be a brat."

 

"Excuse me, I am a twenty-nine year old mother of two--"

 

"--And my little sister, and a goddamn brat," Bucky finishes cheerfully.

 

"Also that," Rebecca admits. "So, to recap, known Steve for four months, dating for two, boyfriends for a week... that about sum it up?"

 

Bucky picks his coffee mug back up. "That's it," he confirms. "He's been away a few times for work in that time, so there have been some gaps."

 

"And how's that going?" Rebecca asks curiously. "I know you'd be exclusive, but is he?"

 

"Yeah he is, and... it's really good," Bucky admits. "We've spent a lot of time just kicking back in each other's company, but also gone out and done the clichéd date thing, too. It's not like we live in each other's pockets, either. I still like my alone time, and he needs it, too. Also, our schedules don't always match up."

 

"How do you go with his job?" she asks gently. "I mean, if what you say is true, and it's dangerous... how are you coping with that? Do you ever find it triggering?"

 

Bucky exhales slowly. "It's not been an issue a whole lot yet. But when I say he's highly skilled, the situations he's dealing with... nobody else is better qualified to deal with it than he is. If he weren't... a lot of people would die, Becks."

 

Babushka appears out of nowhere at Bucky's ankle and he picks her up with one hand. She settles in his lap, keeping one eye open on Rebecca, purring like a little outboard motor.

 

"He's that good, huh?" she asks.

 

"He really is," Bucky responds quietly. "And I'm doing okay. There was a thing recently... he got sent away and ended up getting a little hurt. He's fine now, but I couldn't speak to him at the time and didn't know what had happened. He's since given me a number I can call, and I'm on a special list so I can always get information about him if he's away." Rebecca nods in what Bucky thinks is approval, so he continues.

 

"Plus, I haven't found anything triggering so far. Even if... I still keep in touch with Benjamin, anyway."

 

Rebecca continues to take in the information. "Okay," she says. "Seems like Steve is pretty great. What's his family like?"

 

Bucky's lips pull tight. "He's an only child, and his parents have both passed. No other relatives, so it's just him."

 

Rebecca frowns. "Oh, that sounds lonely."

 

"Yeah, but..." Bucky can't help the smile that blooms on his face. "I swear he's the biggest dork, you'd really like him."

 

"You still haven't shown me a picture," she reminds him. "Is he cute?"

 

Bucky exhales slowly. Now is as good a time as any. "You have no idea how cute he actually is," Bucky says, reaching for his phone on the coffee table.

 

He pulls up his phone's gallery, and one of the first pictures he comes across is Steve asleep on the sofa with Babushka sitting on him. It's quite ridiculously adorable.

 

"You're nervous," Rebecca observes.

 

"A little," Bucky admits, handing her his phone.

 

She takes it, but doesn't drop her eye contact with Bucky immediately. "So... this Steve have a last name?"

 

"Yeah," Bucky says as Rebecca looks down at the screen. "Rogers."

 

Rebecca half-smiles as she studies the photo. "What, his parents WWII buffs or something? Steve Rogers is--"

 

She snaps her head towards him so quickly, Bucky's afraid she's got whiplash. "Steve Rogers," Rebecca hisses, eyes wide. She looks back down at the photo and then up at Bucky.

 

"This. This. This is Captain America."

 

"Yeah," Bucky says simply. Rebecca's breathing heavily. "You're... you're not gonna hyperventilate or something, are you?"

 

"It's Photoshopped. It has to be. Or you got it off the internet or something."

 

Bucky points down to the kitten in his lap. "It's her, Becca."

 

"But. But that's not your sofa," she reasons. Bucky can see she's really having trouble with this.

 

"It was taken at his place."

 

"How have you been to Captain America's apartment?" she asks.

 

He arches one eyebrow sardonically. "You heard the part about me dating him, right?" Despite the smarmy answer, Bucky understands Rebecca's histrionics. Hell, he had a moment of vertigo the first time he met Steve, too.

 

"Bucky. Bucky." Rebecca starts smacking him on the arm, the smacks getting harder the more she does it. "Bucky."

 

Babushka gets upset with Bucky getting jostled and leaps of his lap, hissing. "Please don't upset my cat, Becca. Steve likes her."

 

Rebecca stares at him incredulously. "I'm calling bullshit on this, Bucky. You can't be dating Captain America."

 

Bucky gives a little sigh. "You're right, I'm not." He takes his phone back and flicks a few photos back, showing her again. The picture on screen is Steve stuffing a hot dog in his face in Central park.

 

He swipes again. The next photo is of Steve at his easel, backlit by the window his apartment, looking thoughtful. His left leg with the cast is straight out to the side and Babushka bats at it playfully.

 

He swipes one more time. It's a selfie of Bucky and Steve after the Coney Island date. Bucky is facepalming while Steve is next to him wearing that god-awful cowboy hat, laughing. "I'm not dating Captain America, Becca," he reiterates softly, "I'm dating Steve Rogers."

 

Rebecca stares down at the photo quietly, before looking up at Bucky. He's not sure whether she's about to laugh or burst into tears, or start pummelling him again. "Steve Rogers is your boyfriend?" she asks in a surprisingly small voice.

 

"Apparently he's not put off by my late starts and my binge-watching tv habits."

 

"It's a miracle... oh my God, Bucky." She punches him once again in the arm for good measure, a solid hit. Bucky regrets ever showing her how to punch. It fucking hurts.

 

"Becca will you stop hitting me."

 

"This is why you didn't tell me."

 

Bucky rubs his arm. He might even bruise. Stupid strong sister. "Yeah. It wasn't because I didn't want to... it's not like he's a random, y'know? When was the last time you heard anything about Captain America on TV that wasn't related to the Avengers?"

 

"I-- huh. I can't remember," Rebecca says.

 

"That's because he tries to keep his nose out of the press, but it's not easy. We go to a cafe and the wait staff wants to put his photo on Facebook to draw in customers, or people are trying to take sneaky pics of him for Twitter. He's a public figure, but... if our faces are going to be splashed all over social media -- and let's be honest, it's only a matter of time -- I don't want it to be because one of my sisters--"

 

"Abi," Rebecca supplies.

 

"Yeah, Abi... because she posted something which brings a whole lot of media scrutiny down not only on him, but on us, too."

 

"I see," Rebecca says slowly.

 

Bucky sighs again. "I want to do right by the both of you. I want my family to know, but I also don't want to expose this to the press prematurely. Or you, for that matter."

 

"Speak for yourself, I've always fancied appearing on TMZ," she says, brushing her hair dramatically off her shoulder.

 

Bucky grins a little and shakes his head, before it fades to a more serious expression. "You're the first person I've told that it's Steve. Even if you hadn't come barging over here like a crazy person, I still would've told you first."

 

Rebecca's face softens a little. "So Capt-- I mean... Steve wants to meet me, huh?" she gives Bucky a shit-eating grin, and he rolls his eyes heavenwards.

 

"Apparently you're important to me, or some bullshit like that," Bucky replies.

 

Rebecca sits back in the sofa. "We should probably do something that gets Steve meeting everyone at once, so nobody can cry foul that they met him first."

 

"Okay, but wait a second, he said wants to meet but I don't think he meant straight awa--"

 

"Dinner at Mom and Dad's," Rebecca interrupts as though she doesn't even hear him. "It's perfect."

 

Bucky sighs. It's a lost cause already. "Immediate family only," he amends quickly, and Rebecca nods. "Aunt Joyce has a mouth on her, everyone from Brooklyn to Queens'll know it's Steve if she's invited. And I don't want anyone to get a shock, I'm gonna break the news beforehand."

 

"Is that a good idea? You know Abi is terrible at keeping secrets... It might just be better to confiscate her phone and spring it on her."

 

Bucky rubs his face vigorously for a second. "I-- I don't know. Gimme a chance to make up my mind?" He runs his hands through his hair, giving a tug when he gets to the ends. "Maybe I can just tell them that I'm dating someone well-known so that's why it's been hush-hush, and introduce them at dinner?"

 

"That might work." Rebecca perks up. "Can I be around when you tell Gracie, though? She'll be back from Chicago next week, and is just going to die."

 

"I feel like Gracie only did Modern History in high school so she could moon over pictures of Steve in her text books... am I remembering that right?"

 

"Yes!" Rebecca answers gleefully.

 

Bucky shakes his head. "How could I have forgotten that... she's gonna kill me."

 

"For defiling her teenage crush? Yes, yes she is."

 

"She's going to take back the award for 'Bestest Big Brother' she made for me in the fourth grade, isn't she?"

 

"Yes, yes she is."

 

"Well, shit."

 

Bucky's not really worried. Gracie will get over it, and provided Abi's phone is confiscated before any meeting takes place, photos won't end up on the internet. Rebecca's husband, Nick, is like a brother, and Bobby's too young to know what's going on. Provided Bucky can just prep everybody... it might all turn out okay.

 

The thought that he might get to take his and Steve's relationship to a new place where they can be a couple in front of his family, where he gets to show those he loves that he's pretty damned happy with his life choices so far... he's excited.

 

Nervous as hell, too, but still excited.

 

His family can be hard work, but when it comes down to it, he wouldn't trade them for anyone else's.

 

Quite suddenly, he reaches forward and wraps Rebecca in a hug. "Thanks, Becks. You're the best little sister ever."

 

Rebecca's arms go around him to squeeze him tight, her face pressed against his neck. "I'd be more flattered, save that I know you tell Abi and Gracie the exact same thing."

 

"Can't help it if all my little sisters are the best, can I? Good genes."

 

Rebecca laughs and Bucky lets her go, a little reluctantly. "Promise you'll go easy on him? He's never had siblings, he's in for a rude shock."

 

"I will try... but it might be hard. If nothing else, I have to share embarrassing stories about you from our childhood."

 

"Becca..." Bucky warns.

 

Bucky's phone starts ringing again, and he arches one eyebrow. When he looks at the caller ID, he bites his lip.

 

"It's Mom," he says in a hushed whisper. "Why would she be calling me? She never does at this time of day."

 

Rebecca pauses. "You have Aunt Joyce on Facebook, right?"

 

Bucky looks down at the phone with dawning horror. "Oh, shit. I wasn't ready."

 

Rebecca pats him on the shoulder, commiserating. "Get ready, big bro."

 

Bucky winces and connects the call. "Hey, Ma," he says, bracing for impact."

 

"Hello, James, I've just had the most interesting phone call from your father's sister--"

 

Bucky sighs softly, and throws a pillow at Rebecca's laughing face.

 

He hates Facebook.

Chapter Text

The One With The Many Firsts

(Location: Bucky's Apartment)

 

 

Bucky only gets to catch up with Steve a couple of times early in the week before Captain America's presence is requested in DC at the Swiss Embassy. For 'exemplary and heroic actions in Geneva, serving the UN and the Swiss people', according to the official paperwork. Bucky can't stop grinning at Steve's vaguely embarrassed face as Steve told him.

 

There will be an official ceremony, where Steve and Sam -- acting as representatives of SHIELD -- will be presented with commendations for the team. Not to mention the charity gala ball, meeting with the Swiss Ambassador to the USA one-on-one, as well as some other international dignitaries whose delegates were saved by the Avengers.

 

Somehow Tony and Natasha manage to be busy enough to avoid the pomp and circumstance, and Steve's ire is quietly hilarious.

 

So Steve and Sam travel to DC to be acclaimed internationally for their courageous efforts, and Bucky stays at home and takes stupid videos of his cat.

 

Oh, and he works.

 

Bucky catches the ceremony highlights and the occasional news report on TV or web article about the various events. He can't help a big grin when he sees Steve and Sam in uniform being presented with awards by the Swiss Ambassador. Sam is absolutely beaming, Steve is wearing his 'serious polite interest' face, and Bucky finds it absolutely hilarious that he knows exactly how to recognise that.

 

Steve also looks incredibly hot in his uniform.

 

The good thing about this particular trip is that while it's mostly work for Steve, it's not a mission. The risk of being shot at is minimal, however, the risk of Steve being driven to extreme boredom by some of the official functions is high, if the texts Bucky gets are anything to go by.

 

Steve: The Romanian Ambassador is falling asleep during the speeches. His aide is trying to wake him up on the sly.

 

Steve: I want to be the Romanian Ambassador.

 

Bucky: Fucking rude to be texting under the table, Steve.

 

Bucky: Pay attention, there'll be a quiz later.

 

Steve: Quill at the ready.

 

Steve gives a brilliant speech, and Bucky's glad Steve isn't there to see how much he grins at the TV, because it's rather embarrassing.

 

The charity gala also gets a bit of play on the networks, but most of Bucky's information about that comes from Steve's firsthand accounts.

 

Steve: I feel like I should've taken up Pepper on her offer to teach me how to dance.

 

Bucky: Shit, Steve. What if you have to dance and seduce the French Ambassador's daughter in the name of World Peace and maintaining healthy international relations?

 

Steve: Then we're all going to Hell in a handbasket.

 

Bucky does get a text from an unknown number with an attached image. It turns out to be a selfie of Sam, Steve in the background on the dance floor. He's dancing with some dignitary, and even from the tiny image, Bucky can make out the redness of Steve's cheeks.

 

Bucky: Thank you, Sam-ta, that's all I wanted for Christmas!

 

Sam: He is beauty, he is grace.

 

Bucky: He punches Hitler in the face.

 

A short time later, texts from Steve resume.

 

Steve: What did he send you. I need to know how badly to ruin his chances with one of the attractive Secret Service Agents.

 

Bucky: Quit being paranoid and get your ass back out on that floor.

 

Steve: Oh God, he sent you dancing photos?

 

Steve: I am going to devise a suitably embarrassing punishment for him.

 

Steve: I wish you were here.

 

Bucky pauses, shaking his head a little. It takes him a moment to compose his thoughts.

 

Bucky: I do look pretty dashing in a tux, not gonna lie :)

 

Steve: Of that I have absolutely no doubt.

 

After the official things, Steve and Sam spend the rest of the week in DC. Sam visits his old VA and some friends he left behind, Steve spends a bit of time at the SHIELD DC headquarters running some training exercises with groups of new agents. They stay in contact via text and phonecalls, and it reminds Bucky a lot of their first weeks getting to know one another.

 

Back in Brooklyn, Bucky's week plods along. He completely finishes his Fall and Winter program schedules and sends them to the office. Technically, whatever he organises is fine, but they have a practice in the office to have at least one other colleague look over it just as personal insurance that nothing's been missed.

 

Of course, Bucky's chosen colleague is Denise.

 

With everything squared away, and his Saturday group session done and dusted, Bucky drives home whistling a peppy tune. Not only is he finished for a couple of days, but Steve's due back from DC sometime today.

 

Bucky's phone chimes, and he opens a text from his mom.

 

Mom: What does your friend like to eat? I'm thinking of a lamb roast and vegetables, potato bake etc. Would that do?

 

Bucky: Sounds great. And it wouldn't be the worse idea if we had a second roast, or something? He eats a lot :)

 

Mom: Okay, I'll pick up some beef as well. Love you xo

 

Bucky's also spent a lot of the week messaging back and forth with his sisters -- mostly Rebecca -- and his mom. With Grace coming back from her Chicago trip, he got around to telling the rest of the involved parties about his news, using the words 'well-known person' to describe Steve and the reasons why nothing had been mentioned previously.

 

Bucky is the one to bring the idea of dinner to the rest of his family, which is a good move. Coming from him and not Rebecca, it sounds more pro-active on his part. Meanwhile Rebecca is happy to sit back and not take credit for the idea, so it doesn't sound like Bucky was crow-barred into the meeting.

 

It allays any suspicious feelings about him not sharing prior to this, while upping the curiosity factor. Many guesses had been made as to who Bucky's boyfriend might be; none correct.

 

And provided Steve keeps to schedule and does arrive back from DC today, family dinner is scheduled for early Sunday evening.

 

The low-level butterflies return to his stomach as he thinks about the dinner. Bucky licks his dry lips and does his best to be zen. It's going to happen sooner or later, he'd rather rip it off like a Band-Aid and get it over and done with now.

 

The parking angels are on Bucky's side, as he gets a spot on the curb only a few doors down from his building. He hasn't heard from Steve in a few hours, which means the man in question is probably on the way back already. Bucky checks his phone. There are no new messages updating him on Steve's ETA, but the last one was a selfie of Steve on the way to the airport, thumbs up. He takes a moment to look at it, and it makes him grin like an idiot.

 

Bucky takes the elevator to his apartment, willing the numbers to speed up. As he unlocks the door, he's thinking about all the things he might be able to get done before Steve contacts him and--

 

The door opens to reveal Steve Rogers sitting on his couch, eating a bowl of cereal.

 

Steve looks up and beams a smile at him, immediately putting the bowl down on Bucky's coffee table.

 

He rises straight away, running his hands absently over jeansclad thighs. "Hey, Buck," Steve greets and a spark of warmth unfurls deep in Bucky's chest.

 

"Hey," Bucky greets, closing the door behind him.

 

Babushka mewls but Bucky's more interested in the way Steve closes the gap between them and folds him up in a huge hug. Bucky hasn't even gotten his messenger bag off his body, but he doesn't even care. Steve's hugs are the best. He wraps his arms in kind around the blond's massive shoulders.

 

Bucky rubs his cheek against Steve's, bringing their mouths closer together until they're kissing.

 

It's a great kiss. Really great. Bucky wonders if his body is actually made of memory foam, because it does this ridiculous thing where it molds itself to Steve, and Steve just wraps around him. He rubs Steve's back, but ends up moving his hands to cradle Steve's face. This causes the blond to make little happy noises into Bucky's mouth, which is frankly a huge turn-on.

 

Large hands wrap around his waist and bring them closer together, and Steve steps one foot out slightly so Bucky's thighs slot next to his and they're pressed very close together from lips to knees. One of Bucky's hands slips down to cup the side of Steve's neck as those damned fucking beautiful lips keep pressing at his mouth and--

 

Bucky feels Babushka's claws through his pantleg. He hisses and breaks the kiss, glaring down at her. Large, green eyes look up at him innocently. For all that he loves her, she has succeeded in breaking the very nice moment they were having.

 

"I think she missed you, too," Steve says, hiding a breathless smile in the crook of Bucky's neck.

 

"Yeah, the difference being I saw her four hours ago," Bucky grumbles, breathing a little heavier than normal.

 

Steve presses a feather-light kiss to the juncture of Bucky's neck and shoulder before standing straight again. "I hope you don't mind, I used your key. The flight left earlier than scheduled."

 

"Of course not. You know you can make yourself at home," Bucky says, finding Steve's hands before gently encouraging his boyfriend to let him go. Once free, Bucky puts down his bag and removes his shoes, kicking them to the side.

 

They exchanged apartment keys after Steve got his cast off. Well aware that he hasn't been dating Steve long, it was an interesting decision for them to make. Bucky fully acknowledges that in another relationship he would definitely consider their short acquaintance and dating history to be far too early to exchange keys... but Steve's sort of a special case, and they've made an exception.

 

If you can't trust Captain America not to abuse the privilege, who can you trust?

 

On the flip side, Bucky can only guess at the digging Natasha has done into his record, so he knows should he use the key for anything nefarious, he's bound to be paid a visit by a very scary redhead. Given being out in public is sometimes touch-and-go, the keys seemed to make sense, allowing them to enjoy convenient privacy.

 

Steve takes Bucky's hand and leads him back to the sofa, where they sit together. "Have you been waiting long?" Bucky asks.

 

"Twenty minutes? I came here straight from the tower."

 

"Oh. Sam drop you off?" Bucky folds one leg on the couch cushion underneath his other.

 

"Rode my bike over," Steve says, and Bucky admits to glazing over a little. It certainly explains his boots-jeans-tee-leather jacket ensemble. Bucky has an inherent love for the idea of Steve riding a motorcycle and the subsequent fashion choices it leads to.

 

"Nice. Are you doing anything for the rest of the night?"

 

"Whatever you want to do," Steve replies, making an expansive gesture, and Bucky grins.

 

"Good answer." He rubs his thumb absently over Steve's knuckles. "Well, if you're still on for the family dinner tomorrow--" he looks to Steve, who confirms with a nod, "--maybe we can do something low key and relaxing tonight? Takeout and watching TV or something."

 

Steve exhales happily. "Sounds great."

 

Bucky chews on his lip as he contemplates his next words. Because he knows he wants to spend time with Steve over the next little bit, partly out of necessity. He's going to have to prep Steve a little on his family first, but he's also going to have to not have mild anxiety about his loved ones meeting Steve (and subsequently losing their minds).

 

"So uh, the movies might run late," Bucky starts, and Steve watches him with patient, blue eyes.

 

"They might," he confirms.

 

"If they do. And if you're too tired to go home, you could always crash here. If you felt like it." Bucky arches his eyebrows curiously, unsure of what Steve's response might be.

 

"Sounds excellent," he says. "On the sofa, or...?"

 

"Pffft, sofa. I'll have you know that despite rumours to the contrary I don't hog the covers, I just believe that your side doesn't need them as much as mine does. The mattress gets cold, Steve. Have some compassion."

 

"I will watch for cold mattresses and distribute quilt accordingly," he says. "Also, thank you. I'd love to stay." He leans in and gives Bucky a sweet kiss on the lips, which turns into another series of lingering kisses.

 

Steve eventually breaks the kiss, but doesn't move his mouth away from Bucky's lips. He stays in direct proximity, sensitive skin still touching. Bucky flicks his eyes open for a moment to see that Steve still has his shut.

 

After a moment, Steve nuzzles the side of Bucky's face, making a noise deep in his throat that Bucky reads as happy. "If that's going to happen, do you mind if I duck home and grab a few things? I haven't been there since Monday, and I wanted to come here first."

 

"If you need to," Bucky murmurs back, voice oddly rough. "You know you can borrow stuff from me, though."

 

"I know," Steve responds. "But I should check the place out. Also I'll need clothes to wear to dinner."

 

Bucky kisses Steve again, because damn he's right there, before pushing his shoulders away reluctantly. "Think you'll be long?"

 

Steve drops his chin but doesn't break eye contact with him. The result is an oddly endearing but profoundly suspicious expression. "What?" Bucky asks, raising a brow.

 

"I actually thought... maybe you want to come with me? On my bike."

 

Bucky wets his lips and presses them together. He's never been on a motorcycle before, and has never really had the desire to, either.

 

Until Steve made it look so damned alluring.

 

He squeezes the back of his neck and bites his lip nervously, and Steve frowns. "You don't have to if you don't want to? I just thought it might be fun, and we could spend more time together. We can take your car if you'd prefer, or you can just relax here while I make the trip, I know you only just got home."

 

"Man, if you backpedalled any harder you'd probably reverse the rotation of the Earth," Bucky comments in amusement and Steve pulls a face at him. "Truth is... I'd like to. But I've never driven on a motorbike before."

 

"Technically I'd be the one driving--" Steve begins with a faint smile, and Bucky slaps his shoulder.

 

"Such a fucking punk, you know what I mean" he bites, before becoming a little serious. "Is it safe?"

 

"It's as safe as any mode of transportation," Steve says, which doesn't fill Bucky with a whole lot of confidence, "but trust me when I say I've been riding for a while. I'm pretty good."

 

"Wouldn't I need a helmet or something?"

 

"You can wear mine there. I have a spare at home we can bring back."

 

And what's life without a little risk, he supposes. "Okay," he says. "Take me on your sexy death-trap."

 

"Sexy, huh?" Steve says with a shit-eating grin, rising from the sofa. He holds out a hand to Bucky to help him up.

 

"Shut it," Bucky says, picking up his keys.

 

"Wait, you're not dressed for a bike," Steve says, and Bucky stops.

 

"I can't wear this?" he gestures down to his cargos, t shirt and sneakers, and Steve shakes his head.

 

"You're not surrounded by metal, so you have to wear clothes that are safer." He gestures to Bucky's bedroom. "May I?"

 

Bucky shrugs. "Sure," he says, and Steve disappears into it. Bucky follows at a leisurely pace. "If you pull out the suit I wore for my senior prom, that's pretty safe. Lord knows I didn't get laid in it."

 

He finds Steve rifling through his wardrobe, on a mission. "You're a little bit of an asshole," he says, pushing through the coat hangers of clothes.

 

"I think you'll find you like me anyway," Bucky says with a reasonable amount of confidence.

 

Steve pulls out a pair of heavier jeans, one of Bucky's leather jackets, and after a poke at the bottom of the wardrobe, a pair of leather boots.

A little crease appears between Bucky's brows. "I know it's starting to cool down a bit, but isn't that going to be a little hot?"

 

"It will be warm," Steve admits, "but just in case something happens, you need to be protected."

 

Bucky looks at Steve's outfit, and realises Steve has picked out something incredibly similar to what he's currently wearing. Well, that makes him feel a little better. "Okay, expert," he says. "I'll get changed."

 

Steve grins and kisses him on the cheek as he leaves the bedroom to allow Bucky privacy to change. It is a little warm to get into the thicker clothes, but it's still not as uncomfortable as wearing ninety pounds of body armour and weapons in the middle of summer in the desert; he thinks he'll be okay.

 

When he steps out of his bedroom, he finds Steve hanging out by the door, absently brushing some dust from his helmet.

 

"If I don't look hot, I'm not going," Bucky says, drawing Steve's attention.

 

The blond looks up, and Bucky nearly cracks at the way Steve's eyes widen with pleasure, then carefully look him up and down. He walks over to Bucky slowly and takes the zip of the jacket, which is currently only fastened at the bottom. He very deliberately pulls it up, sealing the jacket to the base of Bucky's throat.

 

He then bridges the gap between them and kisses Bucky soundly on the mouth.

 

If Steve doesn't stop kissing him like this, he's not going to want to go anywhere.

 

Steve's hands travel, one to cup his jaw, the other around his waist. "Definitely not your prom suit," he says, and Bucky's insides get lit on fire. Bucky lays one hand over the top of the one Steve has spread over his cheek, then turns and kisses Steve's slightly rough palm. Steve hitches a little breath as he does so.

 

"We should probably get moving," Bucky croaks, shifting his legs so he's not pressed entirely against Steve. Because Steve's tone is not in any way conducive to getting anything done ever.

 

Steve gives him the gentlest peck on the lips and passes him the helmet. Bucky makes sure Babushka doesn't try and sneak out while they leave, and they head down to Steve's bike.

 

Apparently neighbours haven't complained about the old but incredibly well-reconditioned cruiser that occasionally gets stowed in the alley a few doors up from Bucky.

 

Steve flips up the kickstand and turns it around to wheel it out onto the curb. Bucky stands and looks at the vehicle with a frown.

 

How the fucking hell is he meant to balance on this thing?

 

Not being shy, he asks Steve that in those exact terms.

 

Steve gives him a little smile, and pops out two little pegs on either side of the back wheels. "These are your footpegs, you rest your feet on there. The easiest way to get on is to lift your right leg up and over and slide onto the seat, then put your feet up." Steve demonstrates. "When you get off you do the same thing, just in reverse, and make sure you don't touch the tailpipe, it'll be hot."

 

He pats the seat at the front. "I'll be here, so once you're sitting, put your hands around my hips."

 

"Okay," Bucky's brow furrows as he listens, trying to take it all in.

 

Steve zips up his own jacket as he talks. "When you're on, we turn by leaning. Just keep an eye on our direction of travel; if we're going to be turning right, look over my right shoulder. If we go left, look over my left. Basically, just keep your body in line with mine at all times.

 

"If you ever need me to stop, or are having trouble with something, tap me on the centre of my back and I'll find somewhere to pull over."

 

He dismounts smoothly and runs his thumb over the frown lines on Bucky's forehead. "We'll go around the block first. If you don't like it, I'll drive your car. Is that okay?"

 

Bucky exhales and nods. "Yeah, it's okay."

 

He takes the helmet from Bucky's hands and secures it to his head properly, making sure the visor is down. "Gotta protect that pretty head," he says. Bucky rolls his eyes only to realise Steve can't see him with the visor down.

 

"I'll get on first, you slide behind me." Steve mounts the bike before looking over his left shoulder at Bucky. "Come on up," he says with a little grin, and the whole scene is far too sexy. It at least takes the sting out of Bucky's worry about the bike. Now he's just worried it's going to be awkward if he finds the trip too interesting.

 

Bucky mounts the back seat and grips Steve's hips. He looks down to make sure both feet are placed correctly on the foot pegs.

 

"You ready to go?" Steve asks, and one hand comes up to give Steve the thumbs up. Steve brushes that hand and then presses it back down to his waist. "Let's give it a try."

 

Bucky's unprepared for the unique feeling of the bike's engine starting up between his legs. He startles for a moment, thighs gripping the chassis and fingers clenching in Steve's jacket. Steve pats his hand, checks his mirrors, and slowly edges out into the street.

 

Bucky finds himself plastered to Steve's back. Even though they're not in the grasp of Fall yet, when travelling at speed with no metal box around them, it gets decidedly chilly.

 

It's completely bizarre to be travelling out of the safety of a car, but Bucky definitely finds it exhilarating. He remembers what Steve says about the turns, and is on the lookout for each one.

 

They do a full circuit around the block and get back to the set of traffic lights that will take them beyond Bucky's block. Steve stops and balances against the ground, giving a little look over his shoulder. "Want to keep going?"

 

Bucky nods, gives a thumbs up. Steve returns the gesture with a bright smile, the light goes green, and they head off.

 

Bucky knows Steve told him to hold around the hips, but it just doesn't quite feel safe enough. He ends up wrapping his arms entirely around Steve's waist, trusting that if that's more than he should be doing, Steve will correct.

 

It's fine, though. Bucky feels a little safer pressed closer to Steve. He can see why people find motorcycles exhilarating, but can also definitely see why they're a bit daunting.

 

Sometimes when they stop at traffic lights, Steve will trace the back of his hand, and Bucky's not sure how he knows, but it seems to be a questioning touch. Bucky responds with a squeeze, and all is well.

 

Also when they stop, sometimes someone walking down the street will recognise Steve -- obviously without his helmet -- and either do a double-take or wave excitedly to him. The best one is pulling up next to a station wagon to see a couple of little kids in the back seat. They see Steve and kind of lose it, shouting to their parents and waving manically at him. Both Steve and Bucky wave until the light turns green and they have to head off. Bucky can feel Steve chuckle through his jacket at the encounter.

 

It takes about twenty minutes to get to Steve's apartment block. It's just fancy enough that it has an underground parking lot in the basement, which is handy for Steve. They drive down the ramp and Steve uses his security keycard to open the door.

 

Finally, they make it to his parking space and Steve pulls in. He settles his feet on the ground and kills the engine. Then and only then do Bucky's boots slip off the footpegs and onto the concrete.

 

He reluctantly lets go of Steve and reaches up to unbuckle the helmet. Bucky pulls it off and ruffles his flattened hair. But all he has to do is look up and give a chuckle at Steve's windswept style.

 

Steve has turned a little to give him a look that is unmistakeably fond. "What?" Bucky says. "My helmet hair doing it for you?"

 

"Is it ever," Steve replies immediately, twisting his torso and bringing up a hand to cup the side of Bucky's face. Bucky leans into the kiss automatically and damned if it isn't stupid-hot and stupid-romantic. If someone took a photo of them right now, it'd probably do really well as the cover to a queer Harlequin romance-type novel.

 

Steve breaks the kiss, but doesn't move away. "You have to slide off first so I can. And remember to watch the tailpipe," he instructs softly.

 

"You got it, Cap," Bucky grins. He slides to the left, right leg going up and over like he's dismounting a horse. Steve also dismounts and puts down the kickstand. Slipping his hand into Bucky's, they make their way to the elevator and up to Steve's floor.

 

The apartment has a staleness to the air, seeing as it hasn't been opened in a good five days, so Bucky opens a window to let some fresh air in while Steve makes himself busy in the bedroom, packing some clothes.

 

He checks the fridge to see if there are any perishable items in there. There's a few tomatoes in a bowl that are on the turn, so Bucky throws them away. He putters around for a long while, longer than what he'd expect to have to, before curiosity gets the better of him and he approaches Steve's bedroom.

 

Bucky knocks on the doorframe politely. "Hey, you need a hand with something?"

 

Steve has multiple sets of clothes in piles on his bed, and he's poring over them. There are the makings of at least four different outfits there.

 

"I need to choose what I'm going to wear to dinner," he says without looking away from the bed.

 

There's a note of strain in Steve's voice, and Bucky chuckles. "You don't have to stress about it. Honestly, jeans and a nice shirt would probably do it."

 

Steve is aghast. "Not on the first meeting! I have to make a good impression." He gravitates towards the most formal outfit on the bed, a charcoal suit and tie.

 

Bucky rolls his eyes because only Steve would think that Captain America wouldn't make a good enough first impression.

 

But as he has so fondly been reminding Becca of this week, Captain America is always Steve Rogers, but Steve Rogers isn't always Captain America.

 

And Steve Rogers is currently having perfectly normal anxiety about what to wear to meet his boyfriend's parents. It's actually pretty cute, seeing the concern written on his face. He cares about making a good impression on Bucky's loved ones, and it's terribly endearing.

 

Bucky pushes himself away from the doorframe and enters Steve's bedroom properly. "Suit and tie the sort of thing you'd 'meet the parents' in in the Great Depression?" he gently teases.

 

Steve pauses, chewing on his bottom lip. "I ah... I wouldn't know."

 

They're quiet as Bucky considers Steve's answer. If he's never had the whole 'meet the parents' experience before, that adds a whole new layer of pressure on him. It's got to be hard to do something for the first time when all of his purely theoretical experience is giving him information that's seventy-odd years out of date.

 

"Can I help, then?" Bucky asks.

 

Steve lifts an arm up in response and Bucky automatically goes to stand under it. The arm curls around his shoulders, and Steve rests his cheek against the side of Bucky's head, sighing.

 

Poor guy is genuinely bothered by this. Bucky rubs his palm absently against Steve's back.

 

He points to one outfit. "Okay, first? Nix the suit. It's dinner at my folks' house."

 

"But-"

 

"If it were a nice restaurant or a formal occasion, sure. Important event? Yeah. But this is just a home dinner."

 

Steve shakes his head. "Your generation has a skewed perspective as what counts as important," he gives a little sass back, but capitulates immediately.

 

Bucky points to another, a very nice but well-worn in leather jacket, with a plain t shirt and pressed jeans, similar to what he currently wears. "This is a great outfit, but that combination is probably one for another time? Not the first meeting." He gives Steve a gentle pinch on the side. "Also jeans don't have creases."

 

Steve nudges Bucky with his nose. "So noted."

 

"This one," Bucky points to a jacket where the arms are a slightly different colour to the main body. "Ditch it. You'll look like a college frat-bro. Maybe even burn it."

 

"You have strong feelings about that jacket," Steve observes.

 

"Maybe I do," Bucky counters, turning his attention to the last outfit.

 

Black tapered trousers with a black belt, a blue and white small-checked shirt and a blue sweater over the top. Smart-looking, but not too formal.

 

"This one, I think," Bucky says. Looks good, comfortable, nice without being too stiff."

 

Steve sighs. "I don't know. It still didn't feel like 'enough'. Don't I need a jacket?"

 

Bucky arches a brow. "Want a second opinion?"

 

Steve pauses only a moment. "Sure. Who'd you have in mind?"

 

Bucky retrieves his phone from his pocket and takes a photo. He attaches it to a message and types furiously.

 

Bucky: Steve stressed over what to wear to dinner, worried it's not formal enough. What do you think? [attached image]

 

"Who'd you text?" Steve asks.

 

Bucky holds one finger up. "Wait for it." Steve's frown doesn't leave his brow until Bucky gives him a crooked, charming smile.

 

His phone chimes a few moments later. Opening the message up, he grins.

 

Becca: Good choice! If he's worried about not being formal, add a tie and it's still fine!

 

Becca: also, how is he real. OMG, Bucky.

 

"Becca says add a tie if you're worried about it not being formal enough," he says.

 

Steve steps over to the bed and pulls the tie from the suit, placing it with his shirt. Those huge shoulders relax and he breathes a sigh of relief. "Okay. Okay, that's good."

 

Bucky: Thanks li'l sis. Meanwhile, I have no friggin' clue.

 

Steve gathers the rest of his things and puts them in a bag. He laments that his clothes are going to get crushed, but Bucky tells him they can make use of the iron at his apartment.

 

Making sure the door is locked and secure as they exit, they make their way back down to the basement parking lot.

 

Steve finds his spare helmet to let Bucky use, which is a black shiny thing with three vertical red stripes painted right down the centre. He also straps the bag securely to the back of his cycle with bungee cord.

 

Now Bucky knows what to expect from the ride, he's able to enjoy it a little more. He's still hyper-aware of everything around him, but less nervous. Maybe because of that, it seems as though the journey takes a much shorter time, much to Bucky's disappointment. And although he feels a little more confident second time around, it still doesn't stop him from pressing flush against Steve for the return journey.

 

Steve parks his motorcycle back in the alley, and they take the two helmets and Steve's bag up to Bucky's apartment.

 

Babushka ignores them when they arrive, so put out by being left alone. This lasts about as long as it takes for Steve to sit on the sofa. She gets over her snobbery fairly quickly and leaps onto his lap to be petted and doted upon.

 

It's nice to be home again, and it's nice to have Steve in that space as well. They take turns in the shower and get into comfortable clothes. Bucky introduces Steve to the TV series Black Books. He regrets it once Steve starts drawing similarities to Bucky and the main character on their similar reactions to being woken up. But it's fun to see Steve laugh, and he keeps watching episode after episode well into the afternoon.

 

Somehow, as they're lounging on the sofa at opposite ends, Bucky's legs make it up onto the cushions, feet practically in his boyfriend's lap. Steve rests his hand on Bucky's calf through his flannel pants and absently begins massaging it. Bucky sinks a little further into the cushions with a satisfied sigh.

 

When he looks up, however, Steve has a little frown. Bucky digs his toes into Steve's thigh. "You're either worried the pizza isn't going to get here in time before your stomach implodes, or you're thinking about tomorrow."

 

Steve gives him a little smile and squeezes his calf muscle. "Can't it be both?"

 

Bucky looks at the time on his phone. "Well, the pizza should be here any minute, and I can give you a little background on my family so you know who's who and not stepping in there blind. Sound okay?"

 

Steve cocks an eyebrow. "What, like a mission briefing?"

 

"I don't want you to think you're having to do work, but... would that association make it easier for you to process the info?"

 

Steve thinks on it as the doorbell rings. Bucky levers himself up off the sofa and walks to the door, grabbing his wallet along the way. The pizza delivery kid is looking bored outside the door, which Bucky only opens part of the way. It's wide enough to not look intentionally blocked, but narrow enough to not allow a view of the sofa.

 

Bucky has a brief chat with the kid who delivers four pizzas in exchange for some cash and a decent tip for his timely arrival. Bucky takes the pizza in his arms and shuts the door with his foot.

 

"I think so," Steve says, answering the question when the apartment is closed once again. "And it won't feel like work. First of all, I never get to attend briefings in my pajamas and bare feet, they're normally a little more formal," Steve begins. Bucky smirks as he hands the pizzas over to Steve, before going to the kitchen and getting some plates and napkins. "Secondly, you're way cuter than the people who usually brief me. So there's that."

 

Bucky flops down on the sofa next to Steve and hands him a plate, although Steve has already opened a box and started biting into one of the slices. "I'm glad you think so."

 

"It's true," Steve insists around a mouthful of pizza. "I've never fantasised about kissing the Director."

 

Bucky takes a bite out of his slice of pizza to cover the fact that Steve just admitted to fantasising about him and he wants to grin like a dope. Totally not a bad thing.

 

So they sit and informally discuss the dynamics of Bucky's family, running over any points that would be good to know.

 

George Barnes: Engineer, dry sense of humour, getting his fifteen year AA chip in November. Has strange fascination with The History Channel and -- much to Bucky's disgust -- Ancient Aliens.

 

Winifred Barnes: Middle school teacher going on twenty-two years. There's not a line from a kid she hasn't heard and debunked (likely where Bucky gets his excellent kid bedside-manner from). Avid contributor to school community and neighbourhood, usually in the form of baking. Proud mother, ecstatic grandmother.

 

Rebecca Barnes Proctor: Loud, sweet, honest, well-read. Copy editor for a publishing company on maternity leave, but just starting at work again part-time. Married to Nick Proctor for five years. Mother of two; Robert (3) and Isobel (9 mths). Wins award for 'Most Likely to Play Devil's Advocate'.

 

Nick Proctor: A year older than Bucky. Used to be pretty quiet, but joining the Barnes clan changed that somewhat. General Manager of Sales at the publishing company Rebecca works at, which is where they met. Football fan, doting dad, kind of like the brother Bucky never had. Made Bucky a groomsman at the wedding, and also planned it especially during one of his furloughs so he wouldn't miss out on his sister getting married.

 

Abigail Barnes: Stylish, well-spoken, tech-head. Very media-savvy, goes well with her job as social media guru for a clothing company. Always has her phone attached, but also always makes a concerted effort to ditch it at family gatherings. Amateur photographer in her spare time, has a strange affinity for hair metal bands of the 80's. Wins award for 'Most Likely to Quote You on Twitter'.

 

Grace Barnes: Passionate, educated. Walks off the beaten track, prefers flattering clothing styles from the 40s, 50s and 60s. Doing her PhD in History with a focus on twentieth century women's contributions. Wins the award for 'Most Likely to Bring Out Bucky's Protective Streak'.

 

Steve listens to everything as he eats his pizza, taking each scrap of information in, storing it away carefully. Bucky goes to a shelf and brings over a photo frame of them all from just under two years ago. Isobel wasn't born, Robert was only a baby, and Bucky's hair was longer. Steve takes the frame carefully and studies the picture.

 

When he looks at Grace his eyes widen a little. He wears a complicated expression for a moment before it smooths away. Steve looks to Bucky and knows Bucky saw his face. It's a testament to how well they know each other. Bucky can tell if Steve's holding something back, so often, Steve doesn't bother.

 

"Grace... she's wearing her hair like Peg-- like Agent Carter used to."

 

"I know who Peggy Carter is," Bucky smiles kindly as he looks down at the photo.

 

It's true. Gracie's whole style evolved from her teen crush on Steve from the newsreels, and her ninth grade history class. Her feelings about him led her to delving into research about Steve, and all those associated with him, which included one Peggy Carter, as she was the only woman who had any sort of less-than-vague link to him.

 

"Oh," Steve says, and the frown is back.

 

Bucky sits down on the sofa closer to Steve, but doesn't reach out to touch him. "Gracie ended up doing a fair bit of research into Peggy Carter, her life and her impact over time... It led her to wanting to do a doctorate on more influential twentieth century women, particularly those making inroads in more male-dominated fields. There's apparently this whole unit on Peggy Carter but it still has a lot of research gaps and wow, I'm just realising how weird this must sound to you right now."

 

Steve gives him a faint smile. "A little bit, yeah."

 

Bucky chews on his bottom lip. "Look, I'm going to level with you. Gracie's going to ask you stuff, or at least try, especially considering her PhD. I love her, but I don't want her putting you in an awkward position, or making you feel like you have to answer questions you really don't want to."

 

Steve exhales audibly. "I can answer questions."

 

Bucky shakes his head emphatically. "This isn't a Captain America interview, this my family meeting my boyfriend, Steve. I kinda wouldn't expect my boyfriend to have to field questions from said family about a--" Bucky pauses, unsure of how to describe Peggy Carter, before settling on something that seems accurate to his limited knowledge on the facts, "--a prior sweetheart. It's a bit tacky, and I certainly wouldn't be doing it if our positions were reversed."

 

Steve's eyes drop, but the frown turns speculative, as though he's considering Bucky's words. "That's... that's a good point, actually," he admits.

 

"I'm full of them," Bucky confides. He takes the opportunity to put his hand over Steve's, curling fingers gently around his knuckles. "Look, I'm not going to tell you to not answer questions, because you're a grown-ass man and can do what you want. All I'm saying is that you don't have to. If you're asked something that you think is more a Captain America question than a Steve Rogers question, don't feel obligated to reply. I will back your play one hundred per cent."

 

"Do you think if I answered questions I'd be helping her with her doctorate?"

 

Bucky bites his bottom lip. Grace would flip out at the chance to interview Steve and get information directly from him. But there's a catch, there always is.  

 

"I'm not going to lie," Bucky says slowly, "you probably would be. But that's not the take-away from this meeting. She's not here because she's doing a PhD, she's here because she's my baby sister and I want her to meet my boyfriend, Steve." Bucky squeezes Steve's hand, only to have the gesture returned immediately.

 

"I don't know much, but it's clear to me that Peggy Carter is a subject of... some sensitivity to you. If -- and it is an if -- you agree to help her at some future stage, it'll be because you want to, and you've set down guidelines with her as a researcher first. Not just getting railroaded with questions in front of everyone because you think you have to, and that it's just part of the whole experience. It's not."

 

Steve gives him a tremulous smile, and Bucky is encouraged to continue. "I know my family. If you set your boundaries early, there's no room for misunderstanding. They will respect them, and it'll happen from day one."

 

Steve sits back a little, without dropping Bucky's hand. It takes a moment for him to digest the information. He nods his head shallowly, the gears still clearly turning. Eventually, he looks up to meet Bucky's eyes.

 

"Was that your work voice, Buck?" he asks.

 

"Damnit, you know I think it was," Bucky sighs.

 

Steve gives a little grin and impulsively leans forward to pull Bucky into a hug over the plates and pizza boxes. Bucky wraps his arms tightly around Steve.

 

"Thank you." His voice is muffled against Bucky's shoulder. "I already feel better with you on my six."

 

"I won't be the only one. Becca is going to help, too. I've been discussing various scenarios with her during the week."

 

Steve pulls back a little. "Oh?" he queries with a curious smile.

 

Bucky nods gravely. "I am prepared to distract them and have her smuggle you out the back door if it gets too intense."

 

"Are you expecting the need for an evac?" Steve asks, arching one brow.

 

"Not unless they start showing you my baby pictures. But it doesn't hurt to be prepared."

 

Steve grins. "But maybe I want them to show me your baby pi--" and is cut off when a pillow flies at his face. After a brief commotion, they settle back down to eat more pizza. The rest of dinner passes by comfortably as they continue to watch Black Books.

In between, Steve keeps Bucky entertained with amusing anecdotes from the DC trip. He talks a little about how the SHIELD offices are different in DC than they are in New York, how the attitude and dress code are slightly altered given the proximity to Capitol Hill. He tells them that the recruits he met for training are pretty green, but they're a good bunch. He talks about how he and Sam both stopped by Sam's old VA branch and met some returned veterans.

 

Bucky nods, and pokes his feet into Steve's lap, having slipped down the cushions once again.

"I visited my former counsellor," he remarks, wiping greasy fingers on a napkin. "After the Battle of New York, I needed to do something -- be somewhere -- different from New York and just... take everything in."

 

"Yeah, space aliens, huh? Who knew?"

 

"Your dad, apparently," Steve quips gently, and Bucky rolls his eyes.

 

Bucky can blithely say it now, but he has to admit, it was pretty fucking unbelievable to be deployed in the Middle East and hear intel about portals opening up above Midtown and spewing out an alien army. He -- along with quite a few other Rangers -- were ready to demand to be shipped home immediately to help. Turns out further reports came through about a group of heroes, including a recently found Captain America, formed up to send the aliens packing.

 

"I couldn't believe it at first," Bucky admits. "I was in Iraq, and wanted to come home straight away."

 

Steve nods. "I was only a month out of World War II, as well," he adds gravely.

 

Bucky winces. The culture shock and mental and emotional whiplash would've been off the scale. Steve isn't perfect, Bucky knows that objectively. His counsellor-brain tells him there are issues there, but he tries his best to not view Steve with his work-goggles. It's just a little amazing to Bucky how well-adjusted Steve is, all things considered, and how honest he's trying to be.

 

"So I moved to DC," Steve continues, "and the new scenery was helpful. So much had changed in New York since I'd been gone... it was nice to be somewhere I wasn't expecting to have stayed the same."

 

"And you met Sam there, right?" Bucky asks.

 

"Yeah," Steve answers, and he gives a little grin. "It was still something of a novelty to meet new people and not feel like a fish out of water, but when we started getting friendly, Sam suggested a counsellor other than him so I could keep things separate."

 

"That's good," Bucky nods. "You don't have a conflict of interests, then."

 

"That's what he said. I can have a friend and not feel like he's psychoanalysing me, or something. So he introduced me to Lauren, and she was pretty great."

 

"Do you keep in touch with her, or anyone else from DC?"

 

Steve's lips purse. "A few people... I try and get here to visit on the regular." He pauses, but it's a strange silence this time. Bucky watches him carefully. It's very much like Steve is having an internal debate as to whether to continue or not.

 

"Peggy--" Steve stops, wetting his lips. "Peggy Carter lives there. In an... what do they call them now? Aged care facility?" Bucky nods wordlessly. "I visit her when I can. Dropped in this time, too."

 

Bucky has to school the surprise away from his face. As a counsellor -- or a boyfriend -- he has really no idea what to ask first. "How is she doing?" is the first thing that pops to mind.

 

"She's okay. Very frail. Has--" Steve blinks rapidly, but gets himself under control, "has trouble remembering things. But she knows who I am." That final part is said with such frail triumph, Bucky wants to enfold Steve in a hug.

 

Bucky can't even imagine what it must be like to go from saying goodbye to someone at the age of twenty-four, and seeing them again as an elderly woman, only barely any time has passed for you. For someone who cares as deeply as Bucky has come to know that Steve does, it would be so difficult to try and comprehend.

 

He shifts around so he's lying the same way as Steve, half-on his chest. Bucky can feel the steady thump of Steve's heart beneath his shirt. "I didn't know she lived in DC," Bucky admits. He doesn't want to make the more stark admission that he didn't know she was still alive. She'd have to be in her nineties now.

 

"Her great-niece works for the SHIELD offices in DC. I think she likes to be near Sharon, they're very close."

 

Bucky lays his head down against Steve's shoulder, his face nearly pressing against the soft skin of Steve's neck, breath ghosting across his collarbones. "It's good she has family close by," Bucky murmurs, and Steve grunts in agreement.

Steve has Bucky's hand in a grip that is just north of tight, but Bucky will be damned if he's going to show any sign of discomfort.

 

"I'm sorry if it's weird," Steve apologises, only to squirm when Bucky snorts right next to his neck.

 

"Why the fuck are you apologising, Steve? You haven't done anything wrong."

 

"I know that, objectively. But the... situation, can sometimes get me a little down, and then with the information about your sister, I--

 

Bucky's eyes are drawn immediately to his family photo, to Grace in her pincurled waves. He pushes himself up off Steve's chest immediately. "Oh, shit. Steve. The thing with Gracie--"

 

Steve grips his shoulders. "--is fine," he finishes firmly. "I'm going to be fine. Visits with Peggy always... they leave me a little melancholy, but it's okay. Your sister looking like someone out of the forties or asking me a question about her isn't going to send me flying over the cuckoo's nest or whatever you might be thinking."

 

Bucky looks at Steve seriously. "I know it's a cosmetic thing only, but I can ask Grace not to dress like that if it's a problem. It's not like she does it all the time, anyway. And she would do it, if I asked."

 

Steve laughs softly, and cards his fingers through Bucky's hair. "I'm not going to get your sister to change her clothes because it might offend my 'delicate sensibilities'."

 

Bucky tucks his face against Steve's neck again, and Steve wraps big arms around him. "It's not about offending you, per se, it's about making sure you're not uncomfortable when meeting my family. I know you're anxious about it, I am, too."

 

"Really? You're being remarkably calm about it all."

 

"Ahh, but that's because I know one thing they don't."

 

Bucky can feel Steve's expression change. "And what's that?"

 

"I already know Steve Rogers is fantastic. Them actually liking you is pretty much a foregone conclusion."

 

Steve huffs out a chuckle that Bucky can feel right through his enormous chest. "I'm glad I inspire that level of confidence."

 

Bucky wants to say something vaguely smartass-y to that ludicrous line, but doesn't. Instead, he presses a series of tender kisses down the line of Steve's jaw.

 

Steve holds Bucky and stays very still under Bucky's ministrations. Bucky actually thinks Steve might be dozing under the attention until he hears his name.

 

"Buck?" Steve asks quietly.

 

"Mhm?" Bucky answers, his nose brushing the beautiful angle of Steve's jaw. Steve's muscles contract under his body for a moment, giving away tension.

 

"I'm going to talk to you about Peggy. At some stage, but not now. It's not really the right time."

 

Bucky stops his kisses, and curls one arm up and around to cradle the back of Steve's neck. "Whenever you're ready, I will be, too."

 

Bucky hopes he's ready, when that time comes. He thinks he will be.

 

They trade soft kisses for a while, turning Black Books back on for some background noise. It's nice and grounding, and Bucky feels his own subtly buried tension about tomorrow begin to bleed out.

 

His phone chimes plaintively, and Bucky reaches across Steve to his coffee table and checks it out.

 

Becca: Wardrobe crisis averted, hopefully! Everyone will be ready for five, although there's a chance Abi could be slightly late as she's got a work thing on early afternoon. I have also been seeing Steve on the news all week because of DC, which is so weird. How are you doing?

 

Bucky looks to Steve, who is half-watching the TV, half-playing with Babushka as he dangles his fingers off the edge of the sofa. The last thing he feels like doing right now is typing, so he answers in the form of a photograph.

 

He holds the phone up and away from them both and flips the screen. The frame includes his head and shoulders, longer lengths of his hair splayed out over Steve's t shirt-clad chest. That chest is in pretty full view, as well as his shoulders and one bicep. Steve's visible in profile at the top of frame, but the image is pretty dark as the sun's gone down but Bucky hasn't turned on any additional lights. It makes for a dark and gritty picture.

 

Bucky: Doing ok [attached image]

 

Almost immediately he sends the message, his phone buzzes to life, Rebecca's name on the caller ID. Steve looks at it before his eyes go to Bucky.

 

Bucky studies the screen before swiping the red phone icon, ignoring the call. He immediately opens up his messages again, muttering curses that he has to use both hands, and types out a message.

 

Bucky: Not a good time for a call. Will see you tomorrow, Becs.

 

Becca: Okay, Bucky. See you tomorrow xo

 

Bucky: xo

 

"Didn't answer?" Steve asks softly.

 

Bucky drops his phone back onto the coffee table. "We've been speaking non-stop all week, and I'm seeing her tomorrow. Short of a medical emergency or international incident, conversation can wait."

 

"Not in the mood for talking?" Steve asks, and there is a little tease in his voice.

 

Bucky props himself up a little on Steve's chest, fingers going into Steve's hair. "Not with my sister," he says with conviction, before kissing him decisively.

 

Eventually, Babushka trying to steal bits of pepperoni stuck to the pizza boxes disturbs Bucky enough to get him to get up off the couch. He and Steve both clean up the dishes and the empty pizza boxes before meandering into Bucky's bedroom.

 

Unlike Steve, Bucky has a TV in his bedroom, so it adds some nice distraction to changing locations. Bucky makes sure Babushka has water and some kibble overnight while Steve uses the bathroom. When it's Bucky's turn, he comes back to find Steve sitting on one side of his bed, propped back against the headboard. He has his sketchbook in his hand and seems to be doodling the actors off the movie he's watching.

 

Bucky putters around, putting his phone on charge and turning the main light off in favour of his bedside lamp. He grabs the remote and flicks on the timer, because waking up with the TV blaring at 4am tends to set him on edge.

 

Steve flicks him a quick glance as he sits down and pulls the sheet and thin blanket away to slip underneath it. "No Ranger panties tonight?" he asks bemusedly.

 

"I don't wear shorts to bed in Fall, Steve."

 

"Pity," is all Steve offers, subtly shuffling closer to the centre of the bed once Bucky's in.

 

Bucky runs a hand through his hair and yawns. "You going to get under the covers, or is this some kind of weird 'eternal vigilance' thing?"

 

Steve rolls his eyes, but takes the cue. He drops his sketchbook and pencil to the floor beside the bed and does a complicated move where he lifts up the covers while still technically being on them, and burrows into them.

 

Steve looks unsure as to what to do next, but Bucky moves closer and nuzzles his cheek. Cheek nuzzling leads to lip nuzzling which leads to kissing and Steve rolling on his side and slowly hitching one leg up over Bucky's knees.

 

It's warm and it's tingly and Bucky has Steve's face cradled in his palms and they are just about flush against one another.

 

Steve rolls Bucky onto his back, pressing into his hip. Bucky stifles a noise when Steve's slightly stubbly chin brushes against the sensitive skin of his neck.

 

"I like this," he murmurs into the hollow of Bucky's throat.

 

"Me too," Bucky says, linking the fingers on one hand with Steve's. There are some higher brain functions still working, the ones that aren't getting completely snowballed by the feeling of Steve's body pressed against his, and they're furiously mentally cataloguing the contents of Bucky's bedside drawer, and his medicine cabinet. He's not completely unprepared should things escalate, but nor does he really have much in the way of supplies that are close by.

 

The bathroom. The bathroom is the closest reserve and that is too far away to be convenient.

 

Bucky shifts his hips, pushing them against Steve's leg and the accompanying jolt of friction gets him gasping. Steve takes Bucky's open mouth, breathing into it almost, kissing long and deep.

 

One of Steve's hands comes to rest on his hip, at the waistband of his flannel pants where it stops, and Bucky's brain -- in between flashes of pleasure -- remembers all the things that can be done with very little preparation. Bucky's hand moves around Steve's hip to rest on the swell of his ass. He's just about to move it lower when Steve goes completely still, lips freezing at the corner of his mouth.

 

"Steve?" Bucky asks, not a fan of how gravelly his voice sounds.

 

Steve pulls away enough so Bucky can see him. "What if your father doesn't like me?"

 

It's like someone dumping an ice-cold bucket of water in his lap. Bucky goes very still for a moment, before giving a rueful little chuckle and pressing a close-mouthed kiss to Steve's lips. He very gently pushes Steve from on top of him to the side, but not breaking physical contact.

 

Tonight is not the night for progression if Steve can interrupt their extremely hot makeout session with worries about meeting the family. The little frown is back on Steve's forehead, accompanied by an upturn of both brows. Bucky runs a hand through Steve's hair, fingers skating over the shell of his ear softly.

 

Bucky arranges Steve so they're holding hands facing one another, legs tangled. Other more excitable parts of their bodies are observing a conservative distance away from each other right now. Bucky sighs a little.

 

"Be yourself, and my dad is going to think you're great," Bucky assures him.

 

Steve's eyes close. "I've done more nerve-wracking things, but this is getting to me a little for some reason."

 

"It's understandable. New territory, unfamiliar grounds. But trust me when I say that my family are old hands at meeting the kids' partners. There can be a bit of a hazing ritual but... it comes from love. And a twisted sense of humour. You'll be okay."

 

Steve traces patterns on the back of one of Bucky's hands. "I know how important your family is, and I feel like maybe keeping the information from them will put them off-side? Like when Rebecca found out you hadn't told her when you normally would've."

 

Bucky shakes his head emphatically. "If there's any blowback from that at all, it'll be directed at me, not you. And when they meet you, I think they'll understand. It's nothing to be overly concerned about.

 

"If anything, some of our most memorable and fun dinners as a family have come from the 'meet the parents' situation. You got nothing to worry about. If anything, I'm the tough nut in the family to break, and you did okay with me."

 

Steve's eyebrows arch. "Tell me?"

 

Bucky thinks for a minute before he starts smiling wickedly. He tucks himself into Steve a little more thoroughly. "Okay, so back when Nick and Becca were first dating... they had this stupid fight. Nick was a bonehead, and he makes Becca cry. She comes to me a mess, and we spend a lot of time talking about it. He was an idiot, but it wasn't all his fault, y'know?

 

"They did end up sorting it out, but what Becca doesn't know is that I turned up at his apartment while she was sleeping on my bed. I was on my first furlough away from the Army, and was going to be deployed again. He answers his door and the very first words I ever speak to him are telling him that if he ever makes my sister cry like that again, I will break both of his legs. Had just the right amount of crazy to be believable.

 

"Short time after that was the official 'meet the parents' dinner. Keep in mind, this is meant to be our very first meeting. I sit across from him and spend most of dinner deliberately snapping breadsticks in half and making scary, unblinking eye contact. He was weirded out at first, but then he starts grabbing them and snapping them, too. My mom gets annoyed for us breaking and not eating half of them, but it soon escalates into a competition of who can snap more at once."

 

Steve's grin has been increasing in size as the story continues. "We still do it, every dinner, in fact. Mom hates it but she never tries to stop us. She just calls it 'that Bucky and Nick thing', and has plenty of breadsticks on hand."

 

"And who's broken the most at once?"

 

"I hold the record with four. My mom makes a mean breadstick. Nick did five a while back, but turns out he cheated by pre-notching some of them with his knife. Didn't count."

 

"Does anyone know why you do it?" Steve asks.

 

"Not unless Nick's told them. Which I kinda doubt, given the origins. It's now in Barnes family folklore as this weird ritual Nick and I have, and the rest of the family are still trying to figure out why." Bucky turns serious eyes onto Steve. "Now that I've told you, you are sworn to secrecy. If Becca finds out I threatened Nick with bodily harm, she's likely to want payback. Despite circumstances. You're now in the circle of trust."

 

"I doubt she'll be able to break my legs," Steve says as he tucks his cheek next to Bucky's. It's intimate, but innocent compared to ten minutes ago.

 

"Says you. All she needs is an open elevator shaft and you're being cut out of your clothes to flash nurses your strawberry jockeys."

 

Steve's laugh reverberates through the bedroom warmly. "Tell me another?" he asks.

 

Bucky grins and tells Steve more stories about ridiculous family dinners until they're both too tired to keep their eyes open anymore.

Chapter Text

The One Where Steve Meets The Family

(Location: Bucky's Apartment / Barnes family residence)

 

 

The morning of the Sunday Steve is set to meet Bucky's family starts with Bucky cursing when Steve stirs before eight.

 

Bucky blinks his eyes open blearily to find him the bigger spoon, an arm thrown across Steve's waist haphazardly. Babushka has inserted herself between Steve's shoulder blades and Bucky's face. One green eye is open, staring at him like it's his fault one of her bookends is moving.

 

"Steve," Bucky mumbles, "what are you doing." It's not a question, it's a statement. A statement to someone clearly insane.

 

Steve turns over to face Bucky, and he looks so bright-eyed, Bucky squints. It's actually insulting how awake he looks. "How are you fucking awake right now."

 

Laughing softly, Steve pushes a lock of hair from Bucky's forehead. "Good morning to you, too."

 

"That's definitely not what I said," Bucky grumbles, letting his eyes slip shut again, fingers flexing in Steve's shirt around his waist.

 

"My life is enriched for seeing how grumpy you are in the mornings. You're like a little kid. It makes me feel better about everything," Steve comments jovially, hand resting on Bucky's bicep gently.

 

"I'm a fucking badass," Bucky yawns, which kind of ruins the effect, making Steve chuckle.

 

Bucky opens his eyes just as Steve goes to lean across and give him a kiss, but Babushka is still between them, and she takes offence at any and all affection not meant for her. She stands, effectively putting her skinny body right between their faces. Steve's nose hits her fur with surprise, and Bucky starts laughing helplessly.

 

"That was unexpected," Steve remarks, running a large hand over Babushka, who slinks under his touch triumphantly.

 

"The competition for your affection is real," Bucky says, rubbing his eyes, "it's one I'm not sure I'm gonna win."

 

Steve gets out from underneath the covers, but crawls over to Bucky's other side, lying just about on top of him.

 

"You're heavy," Bucky complains, pushing at Steve fitfully. There's a smile in his voice, however, and Steve bridges the gap between their mouths for a sweet kiss.

 

"I think you have an edge. You're a better kisser, but don't tell Bushka."

 

Bucky cranes up to touch their lips again, before he pulls away, nose scrunched up. "Your morning breath tastes like freedom."

 

Steve snorts rudely, before pushing himself up and off the bed. "Asshole."

 

Bucky grins and burrows into the covers more. "And bald eagles."

 

"I haven't eaten one of those in weeks," he responds. Steve touches Bucky's arm, switching subjects. "Can I make us some breakfast?"

 

"Knock yourself out. I have... uh..." he waves his hand vaguely, "food. In fridge. And pantry."

 

Steve laughs again softly. "I'll make do. You sleep for a while longer."

 

Bucky's eyes flutter shut. "That is an excellent idea, Steven. I think I will."

 

He feels a soft press of lips to his forehead, which is quite nice, but Bucky really is too tired to respond.

 

He ends up dozing for another twenty minutes or so, but it's a little futile. Still, it's nice to not have to get up straight away.

 

Eventually, Bucky rolls out of bed giving a jaw-creaking yawn and a large stretch. Babushka looks at him lazily from the centre of the bed.

 

"If I gotta do it, you gotta do it," Bucky says, and scoops her up. She mewls, and squirms around a little until she finds a comfortable position in the crook of his elbow.

 

Bucky shuffles out to his living room before heading towards the kitchen.

 

Steve is at his stove, stirring a wooden spoon in a saucepan, and Bucky sometimes forgets that Steve is more attractive than most actors he sees on the screen nowadays.

 

And he's here, in Bucky's kitchen. Barefoot, bed hair, soft, slept-in clothes, cooking.

 

Jesus fucking Christ.

 

Steve looks up from the stove and gives him a sweet smile. Bucky swallows the lump in his throat.

 

"What're you making?" he asks, scratching Babushka behind the ears.

 

"Porridge," Steve answers. "I found oats in the pantry."

 

Bucky wanders over and looks in the saucepan. "And yet, here in America, we call that 'oatmeal'."

 

"Hush, you. My mom was born in Ireland, we ate 'porridge'."

 

Bucky puts Babushka down on the floor and sidles up to Steve, slipping an arm around his waist. "Gonna trade the star for a shamrock and become 'Captain Ireland'?"

 

Steve chuckles and leans into Bucky a little. "It's a great idea, but I just can't pull off green, and my Gaelic accent is terrible."

 

Bucky watches Steve stir for a little longer, before heading to the cupboard and grabbing a few bowls. Steve turns the heat down on the stove and beckons Bucky over, and scoops out a nice amount into each one. "Do you have any brown sugar?" he asks.

 

Placing the bowls on his counter, Bucky frowns. "Actually... I think I do." He moves to the pantry and starts rifling around. "Becca came over and made this thing a while back and-- well, it was a disaster, but some of the ingredients are still here and-- yes!" He crows triumphantly, and pulls out a half-folded bag.

 

Steve takes a spoon out of the drawer and opens up the bag, wearing a content little smile. He sprinkles a few heaped teaspoons of sugar on the oatmeal, then gives it a splash of milk before mixing it up.

 

Bucky looks at the bowl. It certainly appears nice enough, but pretty plain all things considered. "You don't add any fruit or honey or anything?"

 

"Nope," Steve says. "If you want some, I saw some blueberries in your icebox?"

 

Bucky does the same as Steve, and sprinkles sugar on his oatmeal. They move to the couch, where Steve actually sits crosslegged on the cushion. The first bite has him closing his eyes and smiling.

 

Bucky gives a little shrug and takes a bite as well. It's not bad at all. Not fancy, by any means, but tasty. It's a decent breakfast.

 

The best part about it is how much Steve seems to enjoy it. He savours each and every spoonful.

 

"I wouldn'tve picked you for an oatmeal kind of guy," Bucky says, drawing Steve out of his blissful little bubble.

 

Steve stays quiet for a few moments, looking down into the bowl. "When I was growing up," he begins, "we didn't have a lot of money. Living hand to mouth most of the time. Oats were cheap and filling. Sometimes, it was the only meal we had apart from dinner."

 

Bucky pauses. "So what you're saying is you don't recommend the Great Depression diet plan."

 

Steve quirks a little smile. "The caloric intake is shitty, but mom always made sure I had enough." They spend the rest of the meal in companionable silence, eating and occasionally glancing up at one another, trading smiles. Steve scrapes his bowl clean.

 

Bucky clears the empty bowls away once they finish eating, insisting because Steve made breakfast. Bucky would happily stay in pajamas all day, but decides to get dressed to encourage productivity.

 

Around mid-morning, Steve puts on his cap and sunglasses. Bucky finds something similar, and they head out. Walking Steve to a local little market, they pick up some groceries for Bucky's apartment, as well as some things to take to the Barnes' house.

 

They discuss that while a bottle of wine might be a traditional gift, given Bucky's dad's situation, a more appropriate choice would be dessert. So Bucky picks out a mixed tray of freshly-baked muffins and donuts, while Steve gets talking to a lovely elderly vendor and decides to buy a beautiful bouquet for Bucky's mom. Because he's Steve, and of course Steve would take flowers. Winifred's going to expire from happiness.

 

Bucky has to pull him away, the vendor is so taken by the blond's charm, but that's hardly a surprise... she even adds some additional blooms to the mix, making it extra large. He gives her a beaming 'thank you' smile, then turns it on Bucky. Bucky's knees may wobble for a second, but that's purely speculation. It could be uneven pavement.

 

Oh, he's sooooo in like with Steve.

 

They buy some coffee on the way back. Their arms are full of bags and cups, so it's not like they can hold hands, but their shoulders brush together every second or third step, and the contact is nice.

 

Back at Bucky's apartment, Steve irons his clothes and has a shower, while Bucky digs in his closet for an appropriate outfit. He's not quite as stressed as Steve, but it does bear some thinking about; he wants to wear something that will not make Steve feel like he's under or overdressed.

 

He ends up choosing a plain, white tee underneath a dark blue cardigan, with white jeans and black worn-in boots to round out the ensemble. It complements Steve's clothes without being identical.

 

When the afternoon starts wearing on, it's Bucky turn to have a shower and get dressed. Steve's full of nervous energy, and Bucky does his best to find ways to keep him calm. Whether it's unleashing upon him the power of a Babushka who is ready to do just about anything for catnip, or giving him an impromptu neck massage for tense muscles. Focusing on Steve has the added side effect of giving him something to channel his own nervousness into.

 

Steve knows what he's doing, and he seems to appreciate it. Gradually the slightly manic energy he's giving off dissipates. When he sees Bucky dressed up, the anxiety nearly fully melts away to be replaced by pleasure. He strides to Bucky straight away and envelops him in a warm hug.

 

"You look amazing," he says, muffled against Bucky's shoulder.

 

Bucky snorts a laugh. "Like anyone's going to be paying any attention to me tonight," he jokes and chases a kiss. Steve's shaved, but Bucky's left his weekend stubble in place, and he rubs it against Steve's cheek.

 

"I like it," Steve rumbles his agreement, running a thumb down the rough surface of Bucky's cheek. He pulls back from Bucky to hold him by the shoulders at arm's length.

 

"You should definitely dress up more often," he says.

 

"I would if you ever took me anywhere nice," Bucky grins facetiously.

 

"Maybe we should," Steve ponders quietly, thoughtfulness taking over his face.

 

Bucky pauses before pressing a kiss to Steve's lips. "Don't have to think about that now." He rests his forehead against Steve's. "We should to get going."

 

"Okay," Steve agrees, taking Bucky's hands in his.

 

Making sure Babushka is set for food and water for the evening, they gather up the flowers and baked goods and make for Bucky's car.

 

The Barnes' don't live too far away, maybe half an hour with traffic. Steve goes over some facts aloud about each member of the family to make sure he remembers who's who and who does what, and Bucky does his best to be supportive. Secretly he's dying inside because it's ridiculously cute that Steve's on this memorisation kick.

 

Bucky points out the house as they drive by, looking for a place to park. Bucky finds that his sisters have left him a space by the side of the house, and they've parked on the street. That is probably Rebecca's doing, and he smiles and inwardly thanks his sister's practicality.

 

He pulls up on the asphalt next to the home, behind his parents' car and puts the brake on. Steve is looking up at the house warily. Slapping his thigh reassuringly, Bucky opens the door. "Come on, Rogers," he says with a little more enthusiasm than he's feeling. Steve's renewed nerves are bleeding out onto him.

 

It's really fine, though. He's brought people home to meet his parents before and felt the same kind of jitters. It's just Steve's identity that has added the curious element to this, and the desire for normality over treating him like a celebrity.

 

Bucky sits up straight, shoulders back, confident just of his jaw, and looks to Steve.

 

Steve huffs out a breath. "Yeah, okay," he says, flicking a glance to Bucky. Bucky's not sure if it's subconscious or intentional, but when Steve sees Bucky's more self-assured posture, he moves to mimic it immediately, straightening his back, and giving a little smile.

 

Bucky touches Steve's hand and pulls out his phone before he actually exits the car.

 

Bucky: We parked next to the house, about to come up if someone doesn't get cold feet.

 

Becca: Nick and I are right by the door, everyone else is in the sitting room. Tell Steve I'll protect him.

 

Bucky: lol

 

"What are you smiling about?" Steve asks, the corner of his lip curving up.

 

Bucky shows him the phone, and Steve lets out a little chuckle. "I don't have cold feet, by the way," he insists.

 

"So get out of my car."

 

Just to be stubborn, Steve exits. They gather up the dessert box in its bag and the flowers and head to the front of the house.

 

It's nice being back in his childhood home again; Bucky's parents bought it when he was a toddler, before Rebecca was born. A colonial style house with a circular foyer and bay windows up to the second level. It was cosy as the Barnes clan moved from three to six, and back down to three: but Bucky was deployed on and off for eight years, Rebecca went and got married, and Abigail found her own place... Now it's back to George, Winifred and Grace, with Grace probably set to find her own apartment in the next twelve months.

 

Steve has the flowers and Bucky has the bag of donuts. He slips his left hand into Steve's right as they climb the stairs of the stoop to get to the front door. Bucky knocks gently and gives Steve's hand a reassuring squeeze. Steve glances at him with a faint smile and squeezes back.

 

The door opens carefully to reveal Rebecca. She looks from Steve to Bucky, then back to Steve. Her face goes from a carefully-schooled surprise to wide-eyed and grinning. She doesn't miss their clasped hands, but Bucky wouldn't expect her to.

 

"Come on in," she says as she opens the door wider, the glee barely contained in her voice.

 

"Hey, Becs," Bucky says as he lets Steve's hand go so he can lean in and give her a hug. She returns the embrace but her eyes are clearly still on the tall blond. They part and Bucky comes back to Steve's side, pressing against the length of his arm.

 

Rebecca looks at Steve and pauses a second, a large grin on her face. "Well, I'll be damned. After everything I still had a bit of a question mark but... here you are."

 

Steve drops Bucky's hand and holds it out to her. "Nice to meet you, Rebecca. I've heard a lot about you."

 

"Oh, no. I'm a hugger," Rebecca says, sounding more like a threat than a statement.

 

"She is, you know," another voice pipes in. Nick is standing behind Rebecca with a wry smile, as Rebecca pulls Steve's huge shoulders down into a hug. Steve looks surprised, but not uncomfortable. Yet. Bucky places his free hand on the small of Steve's back as he's subjected to the focused attention from his sister.

 

"Hey, Nick," Bucky greets. Nick moves past Rebecca to take the bag of desserts, and pull Bucky into a light one-armed hug.

 

Nick doesn't look surprised to see Steve, so Rebecca probably at least forewarned him. But truth be told, he's so laid-back that if he hadn't been warned, Steve wouldn'tve probably warranted more than an eyebrow raise.

 

Nick introduces himself to Steve and shakes his hand, before retreating to put the food in the kitchen. Bucky breathes out a sigh of relief. First round of introductions, and so far so good.

 

"Everyone's here," Rebecca tells them. "Abi wasn't late, she got in about ten minutes ago."

 

"Good, that's good," Bucky says. He wants everyone to meet Steve at the same time; it'll just be easier in the long run.

 

"Rebecca? Was that the door?" Winifred Barnes' voice drifts into the entry.

 

Rebecca exchanges a look with Bucky before she answers. "Yes, mom. Bucky and Steve are here."

 

"Oh, good! Come into the sitting room, we're having some finger food."

 

Bucky looks to Steve and takes his hand again. "Come on. They won't bite." Steve interlaces their fingers and is the first one to step forward. Out of the entry and down the hall a short way, to turn left into the sitting room.

 

There's quiet conversation going on between his parents and sisters, mostly centred around fussing over his niece and nephew, but everything stops when they round the corner, Rebecca and Nick on their flanks.

 

Everyone turns to look as they enter, but it takes a few seconds for Steve's presence to sink in.

 

"Hi everyone," Bucky decides to lead off. "This is Steve."

 

Steve smiles. "Hello," he says almost shyly, his hands occupied with Bucky's hand and the large bunch of flowers.

 

There's silence, before one of Bucky's sisters breaks it.

 

"Holy shit," says Abigail.

 

"Language, Abigail Louise," Winifred Barnes scolds, pointing to Robert, who is playing with his favourite truck.

 

"Sorry, sorry. But..." she looks to Steve and flails her arm in his general direction, an incredulous look on her face. "I stand by my statement."

 

His mom is the first one to break out of the stupor. She rises and smooths her skirt down in the front, bypassing the coffee table on her journey to stand in front of them. Her smile is wide, hands warm.

 

"James, so good to see you," she says, leaning in to kiss Bucky's cheek. She looks to Steve expectantly.

 

"These are for you, Mrs Barnes," he says, holding out the beautiful bouquet to her.

 

She fusses over them. "Oh, they're lovely." Reaching forward, she touches her lips to Steve's cheek, and he has to bend over a considerable way to make the contact. "Thank you, Steve, but please, call me Winnie."

 

A slight blush touches Steve's cheeks and Bucky has to bite his lip savagely. Nobody has ever gotten the 'call me Winnie' treatment within seconds of being met. Nobody. Not even golden boy Nick.

 

Nick obviously notices this, and pokes Bucky sharply in the back. Bucky subtly flips him off.

 

"I don't think I'm quite ready for that yet, Mrs Barnes," Steve answers.

 

"Quite right, Winnie. Let the man be respectful," Bucky's dad says, coming to stand in front of them. "George Barnes."

 

Steve looks as nervous as Bucky's ever seen him as he sticks out his hand. "Mr Barnes."

 

"Captain Rogers," Mr Barnes replies with a firm handshake, and it's like the collective breath that the room has been holding is exhaled sharply. Bucky observes Grace take a step closer to Abigail and puts her hand on the inside of Abigail's elbow, before he looks to Steve.

 

An awkward expression flits across Steve's face briefly before he answers. "Please, it's just 'Steve'," he insists.

 

Bucky's dad's lips twitch in amusement. "All right, Steve."

 

Steve smiles in appreciation, but he hears a little squeak, presumably from Grace's direction. Bucky watches Grace tug on Abigail's arm roughly, whispering heatedly into her ear.

 

Bucky was hoping not to address it like this, but it seems it's probably better coming sooner rather than later. He takes Steve's hand and addresses everyone.

 

"So... elephant in the room... Steve's Captain America." He feels four pairs of eyes trained upon him, and runs his free hand through his hair. "But he's also Steve Rogers, and Steve happens to be my boyfriend.

 

"We haven't been shy about dating, but we're not exactly broadcasting it on all frequencies, either. Makes it a little tough getting to know someone when you have media dogs breathing down your neck... We've not been seeing each other for a real long time, but I wanted to share with you all, and for some stupid reason he expressed interest in meeting the lunatics I'm fortunate enough to call my family." Steve squeezes Bucky's hand, and Bucky looks to him and gives a little smile.

 

He sighs before continuing. "I know it's big news to be told, and it might take a little while to sink in, but we'd both really appreciate you tryi--"

 

"Buckeeeeeeeeeee--oooff!" a tiny body propels into Bucky's legs, interrupting him, and he looks down. It's Robert, face pressed into his knees.

 

Bucky leans down to pick him up automatically. "Heeyy, champion. What're you doing?"

 

"Bucky truck," he tells Bucky seriously, waving his red and blue truck in Bucky's face, nearly taking out his nose.

 

"That's awesome, Bobby. I'm going to play trucks with you real soon, okay?"

 

"Bucky truck now," Bobby insists. Bucky laughs and tickles his belly, while Steve looks on, fascinated. He catches Steve's eye, and taps Bobby on the shoulder.

 

"Hey, Bobby. This is my friend, Steve. Wanna say hello?"

 

Bobby looks him up and down, before going a little shy and putting his head on Bucky's shoulder. "H'lo," he says.

 

Steve gives a little wave of his hand. "Hi, Bobby," he says softly.

 

Rebecca takes him from Bucky's arms. "Hey cutie, let's get you some crackers." She looks to Steve. "He'll be crawling all over you in no time."

 

"I don't know if that's a good thing or not," Steve responds warily.

 

"Well, it's great for him, you're built like a jungle gym," Nick puts in. He's scooped up Isobel from somewhere. Bucky grabs her straight away and she reacts by wrapping tiny chubby arms around his neck and planting a drooling kiss on his cheek.

 

And in an instant Bucky remembers that this is exactly why he finished his tours in the army.

 

Bucky laughs and Steve watches, his eyes wide and face a little dorky.

 

"Steve, this is Isobel. Unfortunate people would give her the nickname of 'Bella', but cool ones would call her 'Izzy'."

 

"Why not Bella?" Steve asks curiously.

 

"Because Bucky thinks it's gauche to have so many 'B' nicknames in the family," Abigail comments, stepping forward, numbering things off on her fingers. "Bucky, Becca, Bobby and Bella? It's just too much for him. He's breaking the streak."

 

Steve gives a little smile. "Sounds just like him to be contrary like that." Bucky rolls his eyes and Abigail laughs delightedly and puts out her hand.

 

"Abigail Barnes, and I can't believe I'm meeting you."

 

"I can't believe I'm meeting the famous Abi," Steve counters. "Your photographs are really beautiful, and your taste in music is... interesting." Abigail blushes and Bucky can see her just folding to Steve's charms effortlessly. Any tension Bucky was feeling at their first interaction dissipates immediately.

 

"Oh, Poison and Bon Jovi are where it's at, Steve, make no mistake," she says brightly, taking his elbow and leading him further into the room. Steve looks to Bucky for help but Bucky's hands are full with Isobel. Bucky gives a little shrug and mouths 'you're fine' as Steve gets kindly manhandled.

 

Nick takes Isobel back so he can face his parents. George and Winifred both look at him, surprised.

 

"James," his mom begins in an impressed voice, "I'm-- I don't know what to say."

 

"I know it's a bit of a surprise--" Bucky begins.

 

"I can see why you've not been as... forthcoming," his father interrupts. "He's not a regular person."

 

And something in the way that his dad says that rubs him the wrong way.

 

"That's just it, dad, he is. He's not a soldier all the time, you know? He's also a pretty ordinary guy underneath it." Bucky squeezes the back of his neck. "Steve's not here to be treated like a hero, he's here to be treated like my boyfriend." He pauses, looking from one parent to another. "I'm not saying it's not a little weird, but do you think maybe you could try and treat him normally? We'd both really appreciate it."

 

George looks at him shrewdly. "So that means I get to give him the shovel talk, right?" he asks and Bucky rolls his eyes.

 

"Must you?"

 

"You're my only son," George says with mock seriousness. "It is my duty and privilege."

 

"If you scare him off I'm not going to be happy. He's kinda nice."

 

"Your father will do no such thing," Winifred scolds, and she isn't kidding around, so George puts his hands up in surrender.

 

"Speaking of which..." Bucky looks past his parents to where Abigail is still standing with Steve locked in her arm, talking to Grace. "I might have to go rescue him."

 

"Leave that to me," Winifred says, turning to the girls. "We're going to sit down to dinner, now. Abigail, Grace, James, please come help me in the kitchen."

 

"Why doesn't Becca have to help?" Bucky grouses in mock-seriousness.

 

"She has tiny children to get into high chairs, would you rather do that?"

 

"Yes," Bucky says immediately.

 

"Too bad," his mom counters, pushing him towards the kitchen. "Go."

 

He looks to Steve with an apologetic shrug, leaving him to be ushered to the dining room by his brother-in-law and father.

 

His mom has prepared a feast, and seems to have taken his suggestion of a second roast to heart. There is plenty of roast meat, vegetables, and he thinks he even sees a pumpkin pie in the oven.

 

Abigail comes up beside him as he's getting a tray of roast sweet potato. "Oh my god, Bucky," she says.

 

"Surprise?" he says with a shrug.

 

"I can't believe... you... Steve Rogers. Captain America. He's only in the Top 5 Bachelors in the USA."

 

"Really? Top 5?"

 

"According to People Magazine. And Buzzfeed."

 

"Pfft, Buzzfeed."

 

She turns to Grace, who is staring down at a tray of roast chicken. "Can you believe it, Gracie?"

 

Grace looks up and gives Bucky a complicated expression. "I'm still taking it in," she says, her voice a forced calm. Bucky internally winces. Big brother klaxons are going off in his head that something's wrong.

 

Winifred and Abigail exit the kitchen with plates and trays laden with food, leaving him and Grace alone in the kitchen.

 

Just as he's about to ask her if anything's wrong, she looks up at him with dark brows in a frown. "Can I talk to you?" she asks, wiping her hands on a dishtowel.

 

"Of course," he says. They go back into the sitting room, where Grace takes up the spot she was in when he and Steve entered the room.

 

Her back is to him. She cuts a beautiful figure in the blue and black fifties style A-line dress, her hair gently curled. It's not too Peggy Carter-esque, of which he's mildly relieved, but it definitely hearkens back to a mid-century style.

 

"He told me I looked very pretty, and that he liked my dress," Grace offers first, and Bucky can't help but smile.

 

"That sounds like Steve," Bucky says. "All complimentary and shit."

 

"I'm struggling to process why you didn't tell me." She turns to face him suddenly, her expression aggrieved.

 

"I didn't actually tell anyone. It was a bit of an unbelievable thing, y'know? Also... early days... I didn't want to jump the gun."

 

"You know what I've been working on, and you didn't tell me you knew Captain America," she says, her cheeks flushed.

 

Bucky rears back a fraction. In a way, he was expecting something like this, but it's still hard to see his sister upset. "So... you're not in fact upset I didn't tell you I had a boyfriend, but that I didn't tell you who he was?" he clarifies, and Grace nods sharply. Bucky stands up a little straighter. "To be fair, half the time I've known him, I didn't know he was Captain America. We met online and I didn't find out until I met him in person."

 

Grace pushes on. "And when you found out you didn't say anything."

 

"No, I didn't. And I stand by that decision."

 

"Bucky, for crying out loud. I've been researching him since I was fourteen and been studying Peggy Carter since I was sixteen. You know my doctorate hinges on her. So many of her peers are either gone or unavailable for firsthand comment, and I've tried to get in touch with them. Hell, there's no way I can speak to the real Peggy Carter, and Steve Rogers is one of the only current first-hand sources out there. About six months ago I put in a request to interview him along with another thirteen academics and I got a nice letter back saying my request was denied. Now you just breeze in here with him and I- I--"

 

Grace seems to run out of breath, and she slumps forward, hair covering her face.

 

Bucky hears her laboured breathing. She's worked herself up into quite the frenzy.

 

"Gracie," he asks softly, "why are you mad at me?"

 

"Because you could've helped. You could've... I don't know, asked him or something." She sounds betrayed, and as much as Bucky feels guilt from his brotherly nature, her anger is still misplaced.

 

Bucky exhales a sharp breath. "If you can believe it, I forgot a little when I first met him that your PhD was partially tied up in him." Grace shifts from one foot to the other, arms wrapped around her body. "Once I did remember..." Bucky runs a hand through his hair. "Our relationship is still pretty new. How do you think it'd make me sound if I asked him to be interviewed by my sister a couple of weeks into knowing him?"

 

Grace gives him a pinched look. "Pretty bad, I guess," she admits.

 

"And not necessarily engendering trust," he says. "Captain America happens to be a guy by the name of Steve Rogers. He is... an incredible spaz. Relentlessly funny, hugely sarcastic, intensely private. I think..." and Bucky wonders if he's overstepping slightly, but he has to make Grace understand, "I think he has trouble rehashing some of his memories from WWII. If you've been in combat, no matter the period of time, or how long ago, you have issues. Lord knows I do."

 

"You mean PTSD," she guesses, more subdued than before. He can see the gears turn in her head. She's familiar with Steve's history, any claims of such a diagnosis have never been confirmed, but then again, Steve doesn't really give any interviews or talk about this stuff. Bucky wouldn't share his speculations at all if he didn't think Grace could show discretion.

 

"For the record, I'm his boyfriend, not his counsellor," Bucky says, but pauses deliberately, "but given that he doesn't do many interviews, it's not right for me to use my relationship to push one on him. He might do it out of some sort of obligation to me, and that's taking advantage."

 

"You're using your work-voice on me," Grace says, a waver in her voice.

 

"Maybe I need to for a second." He moves forward to hold her by the shoulders. "I love you so much, Gracie, but it's not fair of you to have expected me to do this."

 

Once Gracie starts sniffling in earnest, he pulls her in for a hug. "I know he's important to you, but he's important to me, too. It might not have escaped your notice but... I kinda like him."

 

"I noticed," she assures, muffled into his shoulder, and then sighs. "I'm sorry, Buck," she hiccups, "my research has been stressful and I've been applying for this new grant, and looking for an apartment closer to the University and--"

 

"It's okay, honey, I understand." Bucky kisses the top of her head. "If Captain America is part of your stress at the moment, you're in luck, because he's not here. Steve my boyfriend is, and I'd love for you to get to know him. I have it on good authority he's partial to cute, dark-haired Barneses."

 

Grace snorts out a laugh and pushes away from him. "You're making my makeup run," she tells him.

 

"You're smearing mascara on my cardigan and I'm gonna tell mom," he counters.

 

"Suck it up, princess," she says, dabbing her eyes with a tissue.

 

There's a gentle knock on the doorframe, and Bucky and Grace both look up to see Steve standing there, one hand awkwardly in his pocket. "Your mom sent me to ask if everything was okay," he says, taking a small step into the room.

 

Gracie dabs her eye again and gives Steve a tremulous smile. "We're fine." She turns to Bucky. I'm going to touch up my makeup and I'll see you at the table in a few minutes, okay?"

 

Bucky nods and kisses her cheek. She exits the room and nods shyly to Steve on the way through. Steve's eyes snap from Grace to Bucky straight away, and he walks over. Bucky sighs.

 

Steve slips his arms around Bucky's waist and pulls him close. Bucky rests against Steve's chest.

 

"Are you all right?" he asks sincerely.

 

"Yeah... Gracie is under a lot of stress at the moment and it kind of boiled over with you as the catalyst--" Bucky is quick to continue as Steve stiffens "--but I think everything's going to be okay. She... she's overwhelmed that you're here."

 

"Her PhD?" Steve queries.

 

"Yeah, but don't worry. She's not going to start grilling you."

 

Steve exhales softly. "You know I'd like to help. But... it's a daunting prospect."

 

"I know. But maybe concentrate on being Steve around her, and she'll understand that what she's doing and why you're here are two separate things. I think she's halfway there."

 

"I'd like to think I'm Steve most of the time, but I know what you mean. And I'll try," Steve promises.

 

Bucky kisses him sweetly. Because he's Steve and because he's awesome. "Don't even worry about that now. All you have to do in this instant is eat my mom's cooking and make your yummy food faces. She'll love that shit."

 

A voice calls out from the dining room. "James! Steve! Are you ready to eat?"

 

Steve's stomach grumbles and Bucky laughs softly. He takes Steve's hand. "Coming, mom!"

 

***

The evening progresses thusly:

 

The breadsticks make an appearance during the appetisers, and suddenly the air is charged with tension. Nick and Bucky always sit directly opposite one another for maximum intimidation. Winifred has long since given up fighting the boys' strange rituals and places a large basket of breadsticks between them and walks away, refusing to acknowledge the part she is playing in their shenanigans.

 

As casual conversation continues, Nick squints at Bucky and snaps three sticks nominally easily. Bucky snorts his disdain and with a little effort, breaks four at once.

 

Steve, in his own, unassuming way, scoops up six and effortlessly snaps them in his large hands. He draws instant scorn.

 

"Unfair!" Nick utters with disgust.

 

"Disqualified," Bucky decrees, snatching one of the broken breadsticks and sticking it in his mouth mutinously. "You can't play with us."

 

"Wow, Mean Girls much, Bucky?" Abigail remarks. The rest of the table gives them the same looks of long-suffering confusion, only amplified because Steve has somehow, in one visit, joined the madness.

 

Steve just grins and chews on the other half of Bucky's breadstick. Bucky squeezes Steve's thigh under the table.

 

Robert, having already been served a little bowl of spaghetti, becomes agitated that he's not currently the centre of attention at dinner. With a flourish, he flips his bowl onto the table, giggling as everyone gasps when tomato sauce splatters.

 

It's not too bad, all things considered. Steve gets a few droplets on his sweater, but it's a little watered down and wipes off easily. The hardest part is not laughing as Rebecca scolds Robert for being silly.

 

Unfortunately, the mission is a failure. Bucky has to turn away and press his face into Steve's arm so his chuckles are muffled. Rebecca glares at him and Nick gives him a decent kick under the table. Steve pats his arm and says 'There, there,' in a deadpan voice which only makes him laugh more.

 

Winifred and Rebecca bring the dishes out for dinner, and Bucky doesn't think he's ever seen Steve's eyes go so wide. It's hearty stick-to-your-ribs food and there's a lot of it, which is just as well, because Steve begins packing it away in earnest. George is suitably impressed and Winifred practically glows every time Steve gives her that hopeful look and asks if he can have some more.

 

The yummy faces are a definite hit.

 

Before the meal is even finished, Steve has a standing invitation to come over and eat anytime with or without Bucky -- Bucky's not sure how to feel about that one -- and he's practically been ordered to attend Thanksgiving. That holiday would be a wholly different experience with way more family, but by the way Steve's eyes light up, Bucky thinks it might be on the cards.

 

Complimenting Mrs Barnes' cooking turns into everyone having a good-natured rag on Bucky about preparing food for himself, and he ends up having to defend his own ability to feed and keep himself -- and Steve -- alive.

 

"Well, James, if you're not making sure Steve has enough to eat, he'll simply have to come around more often," Winifred proclaims.

 

"You've got a little something on your face there, Buck," Rebecca says, pointing to Bucky's face, and he wipes it.

 

"Oh? What is it?"

 

"It's red, and white, and kind of looks like a bullseye," she grins.

 

Bucky stops wiping immediately and rolls his eyes while the rest of his family titters. Steve's taken to eating his sweet potato mash with his fork in one hand, so the other ends up finding one of Bucky's hands under the table and squeezing it. He looks over to Steve, who is giving him a warm smile.

 

It's Rebecca's turn to cringe. "Oh, that's so disgustingly cute I want to look away."

 

Bucky shrugs. "Not the first time we've made someone look like they've drunk sour milk, probably won't be the last."

 

Bucky's comment prompts demands for elaboration, which leads Steve excitedly telling the story of the rude carnie at Coney Island to the family on one of their first fully-public dates.

 

"--so he's standing there, holding the rifle and says 'I was meant to shoot at what I wanted to win, right, fella?'". The enthusiasm in which Steve relays the story, coupled with Bucky's fairly accurate impersonations of the carnie, have his family in stitches. Even Isobel lets out a peal of laughter, though she has absolutely no idea what's so funny. They take to alternating in their delight, which only seems to spur on the good humour."

 

"--And nearly every single spot on the hatband had a perfect hole through the centre--"

 

"--Well, one didn't, but the sight was bent as shi-- er, anything--"

 

"--But it was amazing though. They were maybe a bit over the size of a quarter, and he nailed every one--"

 

"--the look on his face when you called me 'Sergeant', though. I thought he was going to wet himself."

 

Bucky's dad starts wheezing he's laughing so hard, and Winifred actually thumps him on the back a few times. "My boy doesn't miss," George states, wiping at his eyes, and Bucky is simultaneously pleased and embarrassed at the naked pride in his father's voice.

 

The feeling only intensifies when Steve looks at him admiringly like he's the best fucking thing since sliced bread and responds immediately with a "No, sir, he certainly does not." Bucky kind of wants to sink underneath the table. He also wants to kiss Steve senseless, but not in front of his family.

 

His tension is broken suitably when Abigail stands to clear her plate away. "It's officially getting too mushy in here. I need pie."

 

A chorus demanding pie goes up, and Bucky's mom and Grace head to the kitchen, returning momentarily with a freshly-baked pie. The eight adults and two children make short work of it, and Winifred laments that she only made the one, until Bucky reminds her that he and Steve brought muffins and donuts.

 

The family decide to move their socialising back into the sitting room, but not before the many dirty plates are collected. Steve offers to wash up, but is summarily shooed away from the kitchen by every single Barnes.

 

Somehow, Bucky gets roped into it, his protests about dishpan hands falling on deaf ears. In reality, he doesn't want to necessarily abandon Steve completely to his family. Rebecca volunteers to give him a hand, and alleviates his worries when they're alone in the kitchen.

 

"I wouldn't worry, Nick's out there. He'll help Steve if needs be," she assures, turning on the coffee maker before moving to the basin. Bucky arches a curious brow. Rebecca gives a little smile. "I may've discussed this with him. I know it's probably not easy for him to do the 'meet the family' thing in the twenty-first century."

 

Bucky bumps shoulders with her at the sink. "Thanks, Becca. Truth be told... he's never done it before."

 

Rebecca's eyes widen. "Really? Not even--?" Bucky shakes his head. "Wow," she comments, "you wouldn't know it. He has everyone eating out of his hand."

 

"That's Steve for you. Could charm the birds out of the trees with his 'aww shucks' routine," Bucky grins. He concentrates on scrubbing one particular plate. "How do you think it's going so far?"

 

"Really good, Buck. I wasn't sure what it would be like to meet him, but he's just so... nice," Rebecca responds. "And I don't mean like a twenty-first century 'nice' guy... He's got a really sincere quality about him, like he's not trying to be charming on purpose, he just is."

 

"That's... pretty much it in a nutshell," Bucky says. "And when he doesn't want to be nice, he's this sarcastic little shit that is absolutely hilarious." The comment prompts a laugh out of Rebecca.

 

"I never would've thought... I can't wait to meet that Steve," she says.

 

Bucky blinks slowly at that. It's silly, but he'd not considered that this might be the start of Steve interacting more often with his family. He can't say he minds. "It's entertaining, not gonna lie," Bucky says, remembering to answer Rebecca.

 

"I look forward to it." She pauses for a moment. "You two look really good together," she observes, looking at Bucky askance.

 

Bucky stares into the dishwater, the beginnings of a cheeky smile on his face. "Yeah, he scrubs up okay for an older guy, I guess."

 

"So... have you saluted the little Captain yet?" she asks innocently.

 

Bucky inexplicably starts coughing. "I can't stress to you enough," he chokes out when he can breathe, "how much I'm not having this conversation with you."

 

"Such a prude," Rebecca says, throwing the dish towel at his face, which he catches deftly. Thankfully, Rebecca only brings up that topic to get a rise out of him. That done, they can change the subject back to safer topics and chatter on casually until the dishes are done. Rebecca's still drying, but she sends Bucky out to check on everything.

 

He finds Steve sitting on the floor with Robert and Nick, where Bobby is teaching him how to play 'trucks'. 'Trucks' is an incredibly cerebral game, in which the protagonists wheel the truck around and make driving sounds, with the occasional skid or horn effect. Sufficed to say, Steve picks it up fairly quickly.

 

Steve looks up when Bucky re-enters the room, and his face lights up. Bucky can't help but return the smile. It gets broader when Robert tugs on Steve's pantleg and demands his attention. "Steeb play truck," he insists. Steve apologises profusely and refocuses on the game.

 

"The coffee maker is done," Bucky announces, "who wants what?"

 

Various family members call out their requests, but Winifred ushers Bucky to sit down. He's apparently done his quota of jobs for the evening and has earned a free pass for the rest of the night.

Instead of joining Steve, however, he goes to sit with his dad by the hearth. While he and Rebecca were doing the dishes, Abigail brought out the muffins and donuts. George sits with a little plate, making short work of a very tasty-looking chocolate chip muffin.

 

Bucky sits opposite his dad, stretching his legs a little out in front of him. The box of donuts is on the sidetable, and he picks out one, taking a large bite out of it. Winifred appears out of nowhere and thrusts a plate underneath the food, gently scolding him.

 

George chuckles. "I could've told you that would happen."

 

"She's got sonar for food being eaten without a plate, I swear," Bucky says as he licks the glaze off his fingers.

 

"You get these from the markets near you?" George asks.

 

"Yeah. Steve and I went this morning to pick up some stuff." Bucky can't help a grin at the memory. "The little old lady florist there added at least an extra six big roses to mom's bouquet because he gave her the time of day."

 

"Did she recognise him, or...?"

 

Bucky chews on his donut. "I'm not sure... I don't think so? He was just being sweet to her and asking questions. She gave him extra flowers."

 

George nods absently. "So you met him online?"

 

"Yeah, pretty ridiculous, huh?" Bucky's dad goes on the internet, but it's mostly to look up second hand stuff on Craigslist, or watch old movies on Youtube. He wouldn't know the details of Tinder, and Bucky's not about to fill him in. George knows it's the internet, and that's enough.

 

"Quite. I watch reports on Sixty Minutes all the time about people being duped out of their savings by people they meet on dating websites."

 

Bucky laughs. "I'm not a fifty-year old divorcee with a Nigerian prince offering to marry her."

 

"Not that you've told me," George responds dryly.

 

"Well, I feel like you'd know by now," Bucky replies.

 

Winifred chooses that moment to bring both her husband and son a mug full of steaming coffee each. Both Barnes men pause their conversation to take a sip. It slightly burns the roof of Bucky's mouth, but he doesn't care. It's good.

 

"How does one break the news that you're a National Icon?" George muses.

 

"If he'd told me before we met... I honestly probably would've written him off as a crackpot. But I met him after we'd been in touch for two months. You know, texting, phone calls, talking about life stuff, so by the time I did meet him..." Bucky shrugs. "Yeah, I was thrown off for a bit, but the man 'Steve' I'd been talking to was already more real than this guy from the Avengers and that I only know from the media and history books."

 

"That's all well and good," George continues, "but there must've been some haziness with his job. He clearly wasn't truthful."

 

Bucky cocks his head to the side, capitulating. "I admit, there were some things omitted from our conversations, but he said straight up his job was confidential and there were security issues. I get that, y'know? The details were sketchy but there's not been one shred of an actual lie that I can determine."

 

George sips at his coffee, nodding slowly. "So the operation in Geneva," he begins again, and Bucky sits to attention, "did he actually get hurt?"

 

Bucky clears his throat. "Yeah. Not bad for him, but still needed a little time to recuperate."

 

"How did you handle it?" his dad asks softly.

 

He shifts awkwardly in the chair for a moment. "I get it now. Why you and mom hated watching the news while I was deployed." He rubs a thumb over the rim of his mug. "It's a pretty dreadful feeling of helplessness."

 

"I wish you didn't know what that was like, son."

 

Bucky takes a sip from his coffee, and looks over to where Steve is standing up and dusting off his slacks. Steve turns and looks at him, a smile blossoming over his features. "So far, it's worth it," Bucky says, shifting minutely over on the loveseat.

 

Steve strides over to stand by the sofa. "May I join you?" he asks politely, gesturing to the empty space next to Bucky.

 

"Don't think my other boyfriend is coming, so... sure, why not?" Bucky replies.

 

The loveseat isn't overly large, so when Steve sits, his thigh is pressed flush against Bucky's, and Bucky has to stifle the laugh at Steve's little glance towards George. It's as though he's gauging whether their level of proximity is appropriate. George merely smiles.

 

"Your other boyfriend didn't even call and apologise for not showing up? Atrocious manners. You should dump him," Steve replies.

 

Bucky grins and puts one hand on Steve's thigh, leaning in. "Maybe I will."

 

He plants a fleeting kiss on Steve's lips, to watch his boyfriend's cheeks turn a ridiculous shade of pink. "Oh God, Steve, you'd think I just felt you up, or something," Bucky grins.

 

"Let the man alone, James," George lightly scolds, "I know what he means." George turns to Steve. "When I was courting James' mother, we used to say 'goodnight' to each other on her front porch. We were young and it would sometimes get a little..." he pauses, and Bucky prays he doesn't go into too much detail. "Involved," he decides.

 

"Dad--" Bucky warns.

 

George ignores his son. "One night we took too long, and Winnie's father comes out to find us necking by the mailbox. He nearly ran me off with a shotgun."

 

"What does that have to do with anything?" Bucky wonders aloud, and Steve bumps their shoulders together.

 

"It means that I'm not going to have a meltdown if you kiss my son in front of me, Steve," George says.

 

Steve looks poleaxed for a second, before a small, infinitely sweet smile graces his features. "Thank you, sir. It's... well, it is still taking a little to get used to."

 

Winifred appears out of nowhere with a mug of coffee for Steve. He beams up at her and takes the mug in both hands. "Thank you, Mrs Barnes."

 

She glows, and Bucky wants to roll his eyes except he doesn't because his mother looks ecstatic.

 

"So, Steve," George says, bringing both Bucky and Steve's attention back to him, "How is SHIELD different from the Army?"

 

Steve's face does the frowny thing where he's considering his answer thoroughly. "In some ways, they're quite similar. There's still ranks and a chain of command, and all the different divisions... but in other ways, it's quite different. SHIELD tends to work a lot more covertly than anything I was used to previously." He drums his fingers against the mug. "There was a certain... simplicity to the Army with regards to mission objectives, wins and losses, that I don't find in great supply nowadays."

 

George looks taken aback and a little impressed at the answer. Bucky knows what that feels like; Steve is usually honest in a way that comes as quite a surprise to twenty-first century folk, himself included.

 

George starts asking Steve questions about SHIELD, and to his credit, he asks things that aren't requiring Steve to answer with classified information.

 

It's interesting from Bucky's perspective, as he gets to hear Steve talk about things that he personally hasn't gotten around to finding out yet; Steve discusses how many countries he's seen, how much down time he gets, whether he prefers being stationed in New York or DC, what prompted him to join SHIELD.

 

This leads to Steve asking questions about George's profession, and they get into quite an intense discussion about engineering and what the vocation means to him.

 

He's heard a lot of his dad's stories before, and he needs to go to the bathroom, so Bucky excuses himself with a squeeze of Steve's shoulder and a nod to his dad. Steve gives a cursory glance up, but otherwise seems embroiled in the conversation.

 

When Bucky comes back from the bathroom, he's waylaid by Abigail.

 

"Hey, Abi. How's your weekend been?" He asks, slinging an arm around her shoulders. Abigail pulls it around her more firmly, tugging on his hand.

 

"It's been nice... I went to the Park and took some shots with my new macro lens and-- I can't believe you just sidetracked me. Bucky."

 

Bucky laughs. "What? Sidetracked you from what?"

 

Abigail nods her head towards Steve, who's still listening intently to their dad. She shakes her head. "I don't know how you did it. How did you snag that specimen?"

 

"By being my normal, charming self, of course."

 

"Bullshit," she counters, "you're kind of an asshole."

 

"I've got a secret to tell you," Bucky says, leaning in close to Abigail's ear, "so is he." He gestures to Steve.

 

Abigail shakes her head profusely. "I refuse to believe it. He is sunshine and goodwill and America."

 

"And a smartass. You know on one of our first dates he tried to convince me he'd gone back in time?"

 

Abigail snorts out a laugh. "He did not."

 

"He did. And it's not like dating someone where you know they're bullshitting. He can be a goddamn superhero. I didn't know if he was joking or not."

 

She laughs again, slinging an arm around his waist. They both watch Steve and George chat, who've now been joined by Winifred. She sits on the loveseat next to Steve, and he turns his body a little so he's facing them both.

 

Bucky tears his eyes away to find Grace, who seems to be helping Rebecca and Nick pack up the kids' toys. "Is Gracie doing okay, d'you think?" Bucky asks quietly.

 

"She's had a tough week, this came as a bit of a surprise," Abigail says in a similarly quiet voice. "Becca is talking to her, though. I think she'll come good."

 

"I hope so," Bucky mutters.

 

"Bucky," Rebecca calls out, and Bucky raises his eyebrows, "can you put Izzy's stroller in the trunk? We have to get the kids home soon."

 

Bucky sighs dramatically and Abigail gives him a push towards their sister. "I feel like this is the exact reason you have a husband," he says.

 

Nick's expression is bland. "In the uncle handbook. Not my problem if you didn't read it."

 

Bucky collapses Isobel's stroller expertly and both he and Nick take out a large diaper bag, a box of toys, the stroller and a container or two of leftovers.

 

He catches Nick giving him a sideways glance as they load things into his car on the street.

 

"What?" Bucky asks.

 

Nick smirks. "Nothing. Just--" he chuckles and slaps Bucky on the back. "Not bad, bro."

 

Bucky grins. "Thanks, man."

 

It's as much as Nick would ever say, so it's nice some things are just normal.

 

When Bucky re-enters the house, he finds Rebecca giving Steve a one-armed hug as she holds a sleeping Isobel. They exchange a few quiet words, before she does the rounds of saying goodbye to everyone else. Nick shakes Steve's hand, saying goodbye to all the in-laws before picking up a fidgety, almost-asleep Robert from the couch.

 

Bucky goes to see them off at the door. Rebecca gives him a kiss on the cheek.

 

"All things considered, I think that went remarkably well," she grins.

 

"Well, nobody crash-tackled him or fainted? I count it as a win."

 

Rebecca laughs lightly, before squeezing his hand. "Way to go, big brother. I like him."

 

"As if you wouldn't," he teases.

 

Rebecca gets an oddly serious look to her face. "Hey, he could be Captain America or a substitute gym teacher from Queens. As long as he keeps making you smile like that; I like him."

 

He can't see it, but he can feel the blood rushing to his cheeks. "Wow, that's embarrassing," he admits.

 

"It's the truth," she says brightly, spinning on her heels. Winifred comes out as Bucky is waving them off.

 

"Are you and Steve going to stay for a little longer?" she asks, linking her arm with his.

 

"I think so. But we're both working tomorrow so maybe no more than an hour."

 

They re-enter the house and Winifred closes the door behind them. Making their way back into the sitting room, she clears her throat dramatically. It's amazing how five sets of eyes snap to her immediately.

 

"Would anyone else like another round of coffee and donuts?"

 

The affirmative consensus is vocal, and so Winifred heads back into the kitchen, this time with Abigail as her assistant. George excuses himself, so Steve's left in the room with Bucky and Grace.

 

Grace stands awkwardly, unsure of what to do with herself, and Bucky hates seeing that indecision in his normally confident sister, in her own home, no less.

 

And then Bucky has a brainstorm.

 

"Hey, Gracie," he says with a smile. Grace looks up with trepidation. Bucky strolls back over to the hearth, gesturing to the seat across from Steve that was recently vacated by his father. She moves to take it, crossing her ankles and folding her hands in her lap. "Did you know Steve's favourite ride at Coney is the Fun Wheel?"

 

And that's all it takes for that nervous edge around his youngest sister to disappear. In fact, she lights up for a second, before tamping it down. "Really?" her smile gets larger as Steve nods. "It's mine, too. Ever since I was little."

 

"I'm a more recent convert," Steve admits. "I used to be more of a fan of the Cyclone, even though it made me a bit sick. Loved the thrill of it. Now I find I enjoy the Fun Wheel more."

 

"Why do you think that is?" Grace asks, and Bucky can see her genuine curiosity, even if she asks the question like she's interviewing him.

 

Steve gives a cute, bashful shrug. "When I was younger, I think I needed the adrenalin rush. Now..." he gives a little smile, "not so much." Steve sits back a little and interlaces his fingers with Bucky's. "When I went back there with your brother a few months ago, it was my first time riding it. The view of Brooklyn was so nice, especially at night."

 

"I have a very different memory of that ride... I didn't know you were paying that much attention to Brooklyn, Steve," Bucky states.

 

He's not sure he's seen Steve's neck turn so red so fast. Grace's eyes go wide and she covers her mouth with her hand.

 

Steve bumps him none-too-gently in the shoulder, but Bucky was already tipping to the side in laughter. "Way to embarrass me in front of your sister, Buck," Steve gripes, still looking mildly mortified.

 

Grace's shoulders shake a little with laughter. "Oh, you should've seen him when I was in high school. He walked to the gym between me and my date at my junior prom, and the whole school was watching."

 

Bucky shrugs. "I was just doing what I was told. I regret nothing."

 

Grace points a finger at him. "Mom's exact words were 'Drive Grace to the prom', not 'escort her to the door and then hang around for the first ten minutes like a big freak to make sure I wasn't getting felt up'."

 

Steve gives Bucky a wide-eyed look, before turning to Grace. "He didn't."

 

"He did," Grace counters. "The things Bucky did to embarrass me when I was in school were innumerable."

 

"Me, too," Abigail pipes up, holding a tray. They take coffees, and she pops the tray on the nearby side table before dragging over a dining chair to sit with them.

 

"Clearly, you have to tell me everything," Steve says, nodding gravely.

 

Grace smiles, and Bucky notes the awkward, nervous edge to it is gone. "Okay, so one time he was helping chaperone a field trip to the museum?"

 

"Mom asked me to help," Bucky explains, "the girls went to the same school she teaches at, I'd already graduated and they were short some adults."

 

"Oh, we were still short adults, even with you there, Buck."

 

"Ha ha."

 

"Anyway," Grace continues, "there were these kids in my class who kept jumping into the dioramas and pushing each other around. Bucky took them aside and told them that if they messed up and disturbed our class one more time, he'd turn them inside-out and hang them in the Neanderthal exhibit."

 

Steve and Abigail laugh, and Bucky doesn't mind being the butt of their jokes if it gets them loosened up. For his part, Steve is completely enraptured listening to Abigail and Grace completely assassinate Bucky's cool.

 

"I have a good one," Abigail says, crossing her legs and leaning forward. Steve leans towards her imperceptibly. "So my best friend in middle school -- Kristy -- had a mad crush on Bucky. Whenever she would come over, she'd get so tongue-tied she couldn't even speak around him. She also used to slide notes under his bedroom door from a 'secret admirer'."

 

Bucky puts his face in his hands. "Oh, I'd forgotten about that. They always smelled of fruit lipgloss, and every 'I' was dotted with a heart."

 

"What did they say?" Steve asks, the grin on his face ridiculous.

 

"Uhmm... they talked about my eyes a lot? How the were penetrating and she felt they could see right through her and... something. Damn, I forget. One said I had a 'cute butt' when I bent over."

 

Steve laughs, and pulls Bucky closer to his side. He leans in and presses his nose cutely against Bucky's cheek. "I agree," Steve murmurs in a voice pitched low enough he wouldn't be heard by the girls.

 

The girls regale Steve with stories of Bucky from when he was growing up... Abigail loads Facebook and starts showing Steve some truly woeful photos from high school that he's been tagged in.

 

"Buck, is that... is that eyeliner?" Steve asks, pointing to the screen of Abigail's phone, and Bucky suddenly thinks that maybe this isn't such a good idea.

 

"I plead the fifth. Also, it was 2005."

 

"What does that even mean?" Steve wonders.

 

"It means shut up, is what it means," Bucky bites back, trying to stifle a smirk.

 

Steve rolls his eyes. "Nice comeback, Oscar Wilde."

 

Steve's retort shocks a laugh out of Abigail and Grace.

 

"If it was good enough for Bowie, it was good enough for me," Bucky replies.

 

"Charlie Chaplin, too," Steve puts in.

 

The girls look wide-eyed to Steve and then Bucky. "You see what I have to put up with?" Bucky gripes, and Steve slips an arm around his waist. "Unrepentant smart-ass," he says, but his tone can't even mask the fondness even a little bit. Steve grins at him, eyes twinkling, and leans in for a gentle kiss.

 

Abigail shakes her head. "It's killing me not to take photos of you being cute as shit, you know," she says.

 

Bucky smiles a little, and Steve interlaces their fingers. He's about to answer when Steve does it for him.

 

"Not tonight. But maybe... maybe in the future sometime. Proper photos, not just snaps."

 

Bucky looks at Steve with an arched brow. "Yeah?" he asks.

 

"Really?" Abigail says, sitting forward in her seat. "Like a photoshoot?" Bucky looks to Steve, who is just as curious as Abigail is about where this is going.

 

"Yes," he turns to Bucky. "It would be nice to have a photo or two that's not a selfie on a phone. And Abi's really talented, from what I've seen, and she's trustworthy..." Steve shrugs. "I don't know, it's an idea I just had." Steve turns back to Abigail. "I'd pay you, of course."

 

"Oh my god, you will not. I would love to do this for you!"

 

"I don't want to take advantage."

 

"Just. Just shut up. I'm doing photos for you," Abigail answers. "Don't argue with me."

 

Steve blinks deliberately, and then gives a little smile. "You're definitely related to Bucky."

 

"You're welcome," Bucky adds, and they all laugh. Abigail shakes her head, and Grace smooths the skirt out on her lap, expression bemused.

 

Steve turns towards Grace and looks at her guilelessly, and Bucky knows the effect those baby blues have.

 

"I hope you don't mind, Gracie, I-- am I permitted to call you 'Gracie'?"

 

She nods her head effusively, eyes glowing. Because Steve's old-world politeness could sink a thousand ships. Steve gives her a sweet, warm smile. "I know that your fashion and aesthetic sense is a little different, but... you sit differently, too."

 

Grace sits up a little straighter and she gives him an enigmatic smile. "What do you mean?"

 

"You sit with shoulders back, hands in your lap, ankles crossed and to the side... it's uncommon nowadays. At least to my observations."

 

Her cheeks colour even as her smile grows. Grace pushes a curl of dark hair past her ear. "I suppose Bucky's told you a little of what I'm working on at the university?"

 

Steve nods. "He's given me a bit of an outline, but I'd like to hear more about it from you, if you don't mind."

 

Grace looks taken aback for a moment, and glances at Bucky. Bucky shrugs, inclining his head towards Steve. She had been schooling herself not to ask Steve questions about the past, but obviously wasn't expecting Steve to start asking her things. Grace looks to Steve again, who is exercising his premier ability to appear warm and non-threatening. It seems she sees something in his face that loosens her tongue.

 

She clears her throat. "I do a lot of work on women in the twentieth century and," she swallows nervously, "Peggy Carter." Grace pauses and watches Steve, gauging as to whether to continue. Steve doesn't flinch or look uncomfortable. He nods and waits patiently for her to continue, so she does. "When I first started researching, back when I was in high school, I wanted to understand a little more what it meant to be a woman growing up in the thirties or forties, and what was expected of them... so I begged my mom to sign me up for a deportment class."

 

Steve's eyebrows rise in surprise. Grace gives a little smile at the reaction. "I went into it with a research mindset, thinking it was just going to be useless information about about balancing books on your head and how to sit and what fork to use, but it covered a lot more than I expected: Grooming, social etiquette, speech and conversation... It actually helped me out a lot. I used to dread public speaking at school, now I've given multiple presentations in front of full lecture halls at university without really worrying about it too much. And some of the styling and grooming choices just really appealed to me, and I kept them.

 

"Based on what my grandma talked about, I had the idea that it was going to be really old-fashioned and out of date, but after seeing what passes for civilised behaviour these days, I think it should be mandatory in schools."

 

"Amen," says Abigail.

 

Steve gives a wry grin. "So you're the hard-line Barnes. I'd wondered who was."

 

Bucky makes an incredulous noise. For fuck's sake, he was in the Army. "Hey, I'm sitting right here," he protests.

 

"You let a kitten sleep on your face," Steve counters matter-of-factly.

 

"I'm not the only one," Bucky returns. "Don't try and use love of Babushka against me, for I have photographic proof, and you will lose." He reaches into his back pocket for his phone.

 

Steve's eyes shift to it immediately. "I want to hear more about Gracie's field of study," he backpedals quickly.

 

Grace holds up her hand, palm out. "Actually, I want to see the proof," she says, sitting forward in her seat. Bucky grins, because now she's acting like his sister and not a researcher.

 

"Do not leave me out of this," Abigail says, making grabby hands for Bucky's phone.

 

Crossing his arms over his chest, Steve sits back. "I will not be shamed. Do your worst."

 

"You asked for it," Bucky says. He flicks to a particular photo and shows his sisters. They both gasp. Grace's hands fly to her mouth to cover it, and Abigail snatches his phone.

 

It's a photo of Steve having a nap on his sofa while recovering from his broken ankle. It's pretty average, save for Babushka, who is quite literally spooning Steve's blond head.

 

"Oh my God," Abigail wheezes. "That's amazing."

 

"That is unfairly adorable," Grace sighs.

 

Bucky shows Steve the photo and despite his 'no shame' comment, his cheeks go a little pink. "I haven't seen this picture."

 

"Pal, if my phone ever fell into the hands of the press, they'd be calling you 'Captain Kitten-Face' in no time."

 

Abigail sits up straighter at that comment. "Steve, d'you mind if I ask you a question about social media? It's kind of my thing."

 

Steve partitions his embarrassment away and drapes his arm around Bucky's shoulders. "Go ahead," he says.

 

"Lots of celebrities or people of note have a Facebook or a Twitter account... have you ever considered it?"

 

Steve screws up his nose a little in distaste. "I've done a little investigating, but I'm just not sure it's for me."

 

"Why is that?"

 

He pauses to consider his answer, and Bucky rests a hand on his thigh, rubbing absently. "It's less about what I put up there and more about what other people put up. It seems nearly impossible to be out in your daily life and go about your business without someone pointing a phone at you to take a photo and post it later."

 

Abigail nods. "I understand that... but to present a counter-point, if you had your own account, you have control over content. You could put out things that you want the public to see. And who knows, maybe they'd prefer that?" She gestures to the phone in her hand. "This is social media gold. I mean, I completely understand why you might not necessarily want to put this specific image up, as it's quite private," she adds quickly, "but even something similar of you playing with Babushka would be so great for you fans."

 

"Why do you think that?" Steve asks seriously.

 

Abigail places her coffee mug down on the side table. "I gather from the limited information I've seen about you since you emerged on the scene again, that you're pretty private. There's nothing wrong with that at all, but in a way, privacy breeds mystery. The more you keep hidden, the more people want to dig. I think a lot of celebrities have Twitter so they can talk about things -- even release statements -- on their own terms. It allows them to control to some extent how they're seen.

 

"And putting up a cute photo of you doing something very ordinary like playing with a kitten could show that you're also a person as well as a symbol. It could breed empathy with your fanbase. If you outright stated to them you're not fond of having photos taken while you're heading to the market, they might listen to you and take your wishes into account."

 

"There is such a thing as 'online etiquette' in this day and age," Grace adds, looking to Abigail for confirmation, who nods. "So many people are removed from the concept that anyone famous is a 'real person' as well, especially if they don't have any contact with their fans." She flicks a glance to Bucky as she says this, and Bucky smiles encouragingly at her, because it sounds as though their discussion before dinner has struck a chord. "But you do have a loyal following of fans here and around the world, Grace continues, "if your wishes came directly from you, it's entirely likely that they'd hold a lot more weight."

 

Steve's frown slowly melts away. "I hadn't considered that," he admits.

 

"It's something to think about, at least," Abigail says, handing back Bucky's phone. "If you had any questions, or ever decided to set something up, I'd be happy to help."

 

"Thank you," Steve says sincerely, "you've given me a few more things to think about."

 

"No problem," Abigail says with a bright smile.

 

"James, honey," Winifred pokes her head into the room, "would you like some more coffee?"

 

Bucky thinks about it, before answering in the negative. "I have work tomorrow, so I probably need to sleep at some stage."

 

Steve looks to him. "Do you need to do anything to prepare for tomorrow?"

 

"Not really. Most of my files are at the office. What about you?"

 

"I'm heading into the Tower first thing."

 

It occurs to Bucky that it's just been him and Steve and his sisters for a while. "Hey, where have you and dad been, anyway?"

 

Winifred fully enters the sitting room. "Your father got distracted by ESPN, and I thought it might be nice for you kids to have some time to talk amongst yourselves. But to get back to the subject at hand... If you're both working tomorrow, do you need to make a move?" She smiles warmly. "Not that I'm trying to get rid of you, but both you boys probably need a good night's sleep."

 

Bucky looks to Steve, and he gives a little shrug. "It's up to you," he says, "I'm having a nice time, but I'll go with whatever you want."

 

He only takes a moment to ponder the choices. Critical thinking is a strong point of his. "Maybe should head off. It'll take me a little while to drive home, and I'm starting to get tired." Steve nods and stands, smoothing down his trousers.

 

Abigail and Grace look disappointed, and rise as well. Bucky folds Grace in a hug. "Hey, you'll see us another time. And you're overdue to come over and watch old movies with me, anyhow."

 

"Okay," Grace says, wrapping her arms around Bucky's torso. "I'll call you later in the week." He squeezes her for a moment longer, kissing her forehead.

 

Winifred tears George away from ESPN to say goodbye to Bucky and Steve as they make the rounds to say farewell. Steve kisses Abigail and Grace on the cheek as he bids them goodnight, and Bucky can see they're still slightly starstruck. But thankfully, not letting it hinder their reactions too much. Steve gets a warm handshake from George and a hug and a kiss from Winifred.

 

Everyone comes out onto the landing to see them off. His mom promises to bake an extra pie next time so they can go home with one, and Steve nods enthusiastically. They pile into Bucky's car, and wind the windows down as they back out. Steve waves cheerfully as Bucky gives a short, sharp toot of the horn when they drive off.

 

Steve sinks into the passenger seat and breathes out a sigh. Bucky flicks him a glance. "Hey, you survived," he says with a little grin.

 

Loosening his tie, Steve turns in his seat to face Bucky. "I actually think I did all right."

 

"Are you kidding? They loved you."

"Yeah?" Steve asks hopefully.

 

"Yeah. Shit, Steve, you got the 'call me Winnie' treatment within minutes. I think Nick was jealous."

 

He smirks at that, because deep down, Steve is a competitive little asshole. And Bucky likes that about him.

 

"Nick was really nice, so was Becca. In fact... everyone was great."

 

"I know. They're related to me," Bucky throws back. He interlaces the fingers of his right hand with Steve's left. "There was a little weirdness, because honestly, the last thing they were expecting was for me to bring... well... you. But we both knew that was going to happen. They actually did so much better than I thought they were going to, if truth be told."

 

Steve drums his fingertips on the back of Bucky's hand. "Do you think Gracie is going to be okay?"

 

"No doubt," Bucky says confidently. "That bit at the end there? Joking about the embarrassing things I did to her in school or the kitten photos... that's my little sister. She just had to let go of being the researcher for a little while, which I know is easier said than done."

 

"I understand it must be hard for her to be confronted with me so suddenly," Steve says quietly, and there's so much concern in his voice that Bucky's heart bleeds a little.

 

"It was. I could see that, both as a brother and a psych major. But as her brother, I also know that she's got a good head on her shoulders, and she's going to be able to find a way to deal with the information. Talking to her tonight helped a lot, I think."

 

"She's real smart, Buck," he says softly.

 

"The PhD gave it away, did it?" Bucky grins proudly. Because Steve's talking about his baby sister, who is so clever, and so passionate about her work, and he still remembers when his mom brought her home from the hospital.

 

Steve is watching him, but Bucky can't take his eyes off the road. He eventually turns back to look out the windshield, but doesn't let go of Bucky's hand.

 

It's peacefully quiet for a while. Bucky thinks Steve is partly mentally and emotionally exhausted. As much as he probably wouldn't admit, and as much as he enjoyed the visit, it was taxing on him.

 

"Meanwhile, the yummy faces about my mom's cooking worked like a charm," Bucky comments out of the blue, and Steve laughs.

 

"If you've ever seen one of those forties movie reels of me, you know I'm not much of an actor. They were all genuine yummy faces," Steve chuckles.

 

And hearing Steve say 'yummy faces' is unintentionally hilarious. Bucky starts laughing, partially out of his own tiredness. Steve joins in.

 

It doesn't take them long to get back to Bucky's apartment. Despite the fact they're both working the next day, Bucky vetoes Steve riding back home on his motorcycle, and it's not as though Steve's arm needs a lot of twisting to spend another night there. He vows to get up early tomorrow, however, and return to his apartment for more clothes.

 

Babushka is happy to see them again, and Steve takes to coddling her while Bucky gets changed into his night gear. He's brushing his teeth when Steve calls out to him. "Bucky?"

 

Bucky spits into the sink. "Bathroom, Captain Kitten-Face."

 

Steve's head pops around the door, a frown on his face. "You're not really going to start calling me that, are you?"

 

"Probably not. But I make no promises," Bucky says as he rinses out his toothbrush. "Did you need something?"

 

Steve steps into the bathroom and Bucky notices he too is in his sleepwear. "I was wondering if you saw my spare pair of underwear. The red ones? I can't find them."

 

"Not that I recall." Bucky meets Steve's eyes in the reflection of the mirror. "Didn't get mixed up with mine, did they?"

 

"Don't think so." He shrugs. "Not really important, I still have the black pair." He purposefully crowds Bucky against the sink as he reaches across to get his toothbrush.

 

"Steve Rogers: Aggressive Spooner," Bucky remarks.

 

"Damn right," he replies. Bucky kisses him on the cheek at the same time as pinching his ass as he leaves the bathroom to the sound of Steve's protests.

 

It's only hit him now how tired he is after the day's and evening's events. In all honesty, Bucky can't believe the dinner went as well as it did. His family's reactions weren't too over-the-top, Steve didn't freak out or feel interrogated, he charmed them silly without even trying, and Bucky got to spend time with all his nearest and dearest. It was a winning scenario.

 

Bucky grabs his phone to set his alarm. Thankfully, his start is a little later tomorrow, so there'll be a bit more sleep to be had. However, Steve's probably intending to get up at the ass-crack of dawn.

 

There are also unread messages on his phone from his sisters.

 

Rebecca: Bobby woke up as we were putting him to bed and wouldn't stop talking about 'Steeb' playing trucks with him. He's made a tiny fan! Nice work, big brother. I hope you realise this means I'm going to be checking up on you more often.

 

Rebecca: Also Nick was pretty cool on the night, but he wants Steve to come over and watch the game one afternoon. All the way home he kept asking if you think he'd be interested. I think he has a bro-crush.

 

Bucky starts laughing. Nick is good people, and he resolves to ask Steve about it later.

 

There are more messages, though, and Bucky flicks to those.

 

Abigail: Because I couldn’t do it in front of mom and dad... HOLY FUCKING SHITBALLS, BUCK. I can't believe we had dinner with Captain America. I can't believe you're dating Captain America-- sorry. Steve. I can't believe he wants me to take photos of you guys. Just say the word, and we'll do it. Steve is so awesome. You'd better be tapping that.

 

Bucky rolls his eyes, but that's pure Abigail.

 

Grace: I feel like I owe you and Steve an apology for tonight. I'm sorry if I was a bit funny, you really caught me by surprise. No more surprises, Bucky! Having said that... wow. He is nothing and everything like I expected. I'm still processing. Listening to him over dinner, talking with him after dessert... I get it. I get what you were saying, and I want you to know I'm going to try very hard not to let one thing interfere with the other.

 

Grace: I also want you to know that Steve, your boyfriend, is a delight. I'm so happy to have met him. You look wonderful together, I'm thrilled for you xo

I'll call you later in the week to catch up, I miss you.

 

Bucky resolves to reply to all of them tomorrow, he just can't quite bring himself to muster up the energy right this second.

 

There's a noise at his door, and Bucky looks up. Steve's finished in the bathroom. His hair's ruffled out of the carefully combed style it had been in, sleep clothes are soft and worn in, feet are bare, Babushka is in his arms.

 

"You're not even pretending to put her in her own bed?" Bucky asks, putting his phone to the side.

 

"She's just going to end up in here anyway," Steve says. Babushka meows.

 

He walks over and places Babushka at the end of the bed, while he moves up the side and slips beneath the covers. Steve doesn't hesitate in plastering his body to Bucky's side, putting his head on Bucky's shoulder and wrapping arms around his waist.

 

"The results are in," Bucky says, chucking a thumb towards his phone, "the sisters and brother all like you."

 

There is palpable relief on Steve's face. "That's great, I'm glad. I really liked them, too."

 

"I don't have to kill you, then," Bucky jokes.

 

Steve's eyes dip and he looks pensive for a moment. "What about your parents? About your dad?"

 

Bucky finger-combs Steve's hair. "I haven't heard from them, but based on your interactions, you were a hit. You ate all my mom's dinner and listened to my dad's engineering stories, that automatically gives you so much extra credit, you have no idea."

 

Steve exhales noisily. "I hope so."

 

Bucky cups Steve's jaw with one hand. "Are you okay, though? Did you have a good time? I know they can be a little overwhelming sometimes -- and a little handsy -- but it looked like you were handling it pretty well. Bobby apparently wants to play trucks with you again."

 

"I had the best time," Steve admits. "It's been a long time since I was in a family situation, and I'm embarrassed to say, I'd forgotten how nice it could be." He turns to press a kiss on the palm of Bucky's hand. "They really love you, Buck. Thank you for letting me be a part of that."

 

"No problem," Bucky murmurs, leaning down to touch his lips to Steve's. He tastes like mint toothpaste and smells like soap. It's singularly attractive.

 

Steve's hands roam his back and go so far as to rest on the swell of his ass, and while Bucky would absolutely fucking love to do something further tonight, it's just not the right time. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is utterly exhausted now. Steve's also had a good -- but emotionally trying -- night, and needs rest. Hardly seems like fun if they're both too tired to appreciate it.

 

Babushka, best cockblock in the business, chooses this moment to walk up the dips and curves of Steve's body, wishing to take her place at pillow height, meowing pitifully.

 

Steve pulls away from Bucky, a flush high on his cheeks, eyes dark, lips swollen. Bucky can't help pressing another kiss to them, they're so lush.

 

"You need sleep?" he croaks.

 

"Kind of, yeah. You do, too. Early start tomorrow," he counters, skimming his fingers over Steve's face. Babushka meows again.

 

Steve stretches up to kiss Bucky once more, before making a circular motion with his finger. "Little spoon it," he says.

 

Bucky smiles and turns over, facing his nightstand. He flicks the lamp off as Steve moves to slot behind him, arm draping across his waist. He can feel Babushka padding around, to curl up in a ball just above his head.

 

It's warm and comfortable and relaxing, so of course just as Bucky's nodding off, Steve speaks. "Tonight was good," Steve murmurs right next to his ear."

 

"Mhm," Bucky agrees.

 

"Maybe you can meet the rest of my family soon?" he asks. "There's only Clint and Bruce and Thor to go."

 

Bucky's gotten too sleepy to really have the words sink in that Steve wants him to meet the rest of the Avengers. "Yeah, sure. Whatever," he yawns around the 'whatever' widely.

"We could play the breadstick game with them," Steve suggests, fingers drumming on Bucky's stomach.

 

Bucky frowns. "Um, sure." He pauses. "Goodnight, Steve."

 

Steve nuzzles the back of his ear and it's silent for a few moments.


"I wonder if Thor or the Hulk can snap more breadsticks than me," Steve ponders.

 

Bucky's created a monster. "Oh my god, Steve, shut up. I want to sleep."

 

He feels Steve's lips curve into a smile right behind his left ear. "Roger that."

 

Chapter Text

Dating (wk 11)

 

The One With The Mid-Week Date Night

(Location: East Village / Steve's apartment)

 

Bucky goes back to work Monday morning. Normally he'd get Monday and sometimes Tuesday off depending on his weekend schedule, but his workload continues to increase due to the other outreach's closure.

 

Denise says he doesn't have to take more days because that's not what's in his contract, but realistically, they have more kids than the rest of the staff can handle. Bucky doesn't feel right about not pulling his weight, and so he takes up additional hours.

 

On Tuesday morning Steve texts him and asks if he'd like to go to dinner that evening. Bucky initially says yes, but has to pull out later. Some parents he's needed to catch up with about one of his kids can only meet him today, after hours. Reluctantly, he texts Steve and tells him he's not going to be able to make it. Unperturbed, Steve asks if he's free Wednesday, instead.

 

So Wednesday finds Bucky desperately trying to finish his paperwork to be able to get home in time. Steve hasn't mentioned where they're going, only telling Bucky that he's going to get picked up at six-thirty, and to 'dress nice'.

 

"Dress nice," Bucky mutters as he catches the train home, willing his station to be next. What the hell does 'dress nice' mean in Steve Rogerese? He texts, trying to wheedle more information out of his boyfriend.

 

Bucky: Nice could mean so many things. Nice for a restaurant and nice for party on the town are two completely different things.

 

Steve: :)

 

Bucky: Supremely unhelpful.

 

Steve: See you at 1830.

 

Bucky ends up getting home a little after six. Knowing Steve's penchant for punctuality, he doesn't have much time. Diving into the shower, Bucky washes himself quickly. He finishes drying and stands at his wardrobe with the doors open, towel around his hips, trying to decide on what to wear. Babushka circles antsily around his ankles.

 

The weather's just starting to get cooler, and Bucky's feeling it, so he decides on a navy blue sweater underneath a reconditioned brown leather jacket he bought from army surplus between deployments. He loves it because it's old and soft and worn-in to perfection. Teamed with a pair of dark trousers and a grey scarf, he's ready to go.

 

Bucky's just finished styling his hair and is about to give his jaw a quick shave when the doorbell sounds, exactly on six-thirty.

 

He sighs and puts down his electric shaver, the anally retentive part of himself annoyed he can't finish his task so close to completion. Answer the door first, shave after.

 

Bucky gives himself one last quick once-over in the bathroom mirror, before heading out to his living room.

 

He opens the door to Steve holding a bouquet of flowers. Bucky can't help the grin that alights on his face.

 

Steve smiles in return. "Hey, Buck," he greets warmly, holding the flowers to him.

 

"Hi," he returns. Bucky takes the proffered flowers and moves aside from the doorway to let Steve in. Steve steps through and shuts the door behind him, before cupping Bucky's face and kissing him sweetly on the lips.

 

Bucky allows it, although Steve's quick entry has trapped the flowers between their bodies. He doesn't say no to the kiss, but pushes Steve away after a second. "I haven't shaved yet, and you're crushing my flowers."

 

"You don't need to shave," Steve murmurs, rubbing his lips against Bucky's stubbly jaw, "and I can always get you more flowers." It's beyond stupid how much Steve's easy affection douses any disquiet he feels.

 

Bucky shakes his head, even as he allows another kiss, slightly longer than the first. "No, I don't want you to ruin the first ones I've ever gotten."

 

Steve rears back for a moment. "Nobody's ever given you flowers before?"

 

"I think I got a rose on Valentine's Day once? But no, not like this. I mean... guys usually aren't the recipients of bouquets, in my experience." Bucky smells them. They have a nice scent without being too cloying. "What are they, anyway?"

 

Steve's hand rests on the side of Bucky's neck. It should be too heavy and just too restrictive, but it's not. It makes Bucky inexplicably happy. "They're hyacinths," Steve answers, rubbing his thumb over the soft skin behind Bucky's ear, the side of the digit deliberately scraping his stubble. "Only blooming for another month and then you won't see them until April next year."

 

Because of course Steve knows that. Steve is here after a long day, in a grey shirt and blue leather jacket and trousers, and his eyes are practically glowing with mischief, smelling amazing and giving him flowers before taking him out, and--

 

Bucky wraps both arms around Steve's shoulders, flowers dangling from his hands, and kisses Steve soundly. Steve responds immediately, arms encircling Bucky's waist and nearly lifting him up off the ground.

 

It's hard not to get too distracted by Steve's mouth, his hands. Steve breaks their kiss ultimately, pressing their foreheads together and -- to Bucky's amusement -- panting slightly.

 

"Don't mistake this for a complaint, but what was that for?" he asks.

 

Bucky sighs gustily. "I've had a really big couple of days," he admits.

 

Steve catches his eyes. "Do you still feel like going out? I know you work tomorrow... if it's just too much--"

 

"You planned stuff, I want to do it," Bucky cuts him off, pressing a quick kiss to Steve's lips. "But first, I have to find something to put these in," he shakes the flowers gently, "and make sure Bushka has everything she needs."

 

As if mere mentions summon her into existence, Babushka appears from out of nowhere, purring and rubbing her cheek against Steve's shins. He dips down to scoop her up immediately. "Can I help?" Steve asks, fingers stroking the soft fur of Babushka's brow.

 

"If you can check her water and refill her food, you're a life-saver," Bucky replies. "I already looked at her litter tray, she's fine until tomorrow."

 

Steve flicks him a lazy salute, and Bucky is beyond amused at the response. "Captain America only accepts the best missions," he intones.

 

"Damn right," Steve grins.

 

It only takes a few minutes for them to each accomplish their tasks. Steve knows where all of Babushka's things are, and anyone who gets her food automatically has her complete and undivided attention. Bucky has time to ferret around in a back cupboard to find the vase his mother gave him years ago. Because apparently, she had the foresight to see into the future to the time when an old-fashioned, adorable asshole would buy him flowers and they'd need a home.

 

Bucky places the water-filled vase on his counter just as Steve puts Babushka's kibble away. They make eye contact and Steve raises an eyebrow. "Ready?"

 

"Let's do this," Bucky grins. He grabs his wallet and keys and gestures for Steve to exit first. Bucky locks up and Steve takes his hand immediately.

 

"So, are you going to tell me anything about what you have planned?" Bucky asks as they get to the ground floor of his building.

 

"You won't go hungry," Steve replies cryptically.

 

"I figured that..." Bucky tugs on his hand. He stops when they get to street level, looking for Steve's motorcycle. "I'll have you know it took me four precious minutes to style my hair, so appreciate it now before the helmet ruins it."

 

Steve gives him an indulgent smile. "No bike today."

 

Bucky raises one eyebrow. "Subway?" Steve shakes his head. "Walking?" Another shake. "You didn't tell me we were teleporting," he grins, before it falls away. "Are we teleporting? I can keep a secret, you know, if it's hush-hush SHIELD tech--"

 

Steve's laughter cuts him off. "We're not teleporting. But points for imagination." He gestures to their left, and Bucky's eyes travel the street in confusion, skating over the line of cars parked at the curb. His gaze lingers on an exceptionally nice silver car not so far away, unusual because his neighbourhood isn't particularly well-known for its fancy rides.

 

He's not about to pay it too much mind until Steve pulls him towards it.

 

Bucky digs his heels in and brings them to a stop. "Steve, what's this?"

 

Steve gives him a charming grin. "This is your ride."

 

Bucky can't quite help his jaw falling open. "Is this your car?"

 

Opening the passenger door for Bucky, he lifts one shoulder in a shrug. "Borrowed from a friend."

 

"How many friends do you know who own an Aston Martin from, what... the 60's? I--" Bucky stops himself from speaking further, because he sounds like an idiot. Of course Steve knows someone who would own this car. "I can't believe I even said that." He rolls his eyes.

 

Me neither, Buck," Steve grins as Bucky slips into the car. "You really had to ask?"

 

"Long day, remember?" Bucky gripes, watching as Steve jogs around to the driver's side. He slides into the seat and gives Bucky a beaming grin.

 

Bucky gets distracted by the impeccably-kept leather interior. "This car is something else. Am I right about the 60's?"

 

"1963," Steve confirms.

 

"It looks like something out of James Bond," Bucky remarks.

 

"Goldfinger," Steve supplies. "Or so I'm told."

 

Bucky's eyes go the size of dinner plates. "Fuck off," he spits. "This is Bond's actual car?"

 

"Howard acquired it in the 80s, so Tony tells me. I wanted to borrow a nice car for tonight, and he made some crack about me being able to drive this one."

 

Bucky waves his hands exuberantly. "Back up to the part where I'm sitting in a car that's held Howard Stark and Sean Connery. Also maybe Pussy Galore."

 

"Don't forget James Barnes," Steve puts in, squeezing Bucky's thigh before buckling himself in.

 

"And Steve Rogers," Bucky adds, looking around at the interior. Steve starts the engine, checks his mirrors, and pulls away from the curb.

 

Bucky takes a more critical look at the interior of the car. "Come to think of it... given its ownership history... I do not want to be shining a blacklight in this thing. It's probably seen some action."

 

"Wow, that's... incredibly graphic, Buck," Steve blanches.

 

"You brought hand sanitiser, right?"

 

"It's something I'm borrowing off Tony, of course I did."

 

They both laugh as Steve drives. Bucky settles back into the seat with a sigh and appreciates being a passenger. The subway burnt him a little today. It was crowded and stank, made worse by the fact he was in a hurry.

 

"Enjoying the ride, huh?" Steve asks after flicking him a quick glance.

 

"Mhm," Bucky sighs and shimmies his shoulders comfortably into his chair. "I don't know what it is about New York City subways that scream 'toilet' to some people."

 

"If it's any consolation, that hasn't changed so much since the last century," Steve remarks.

 

"Great. So either they haven't cleaned the trains since the forties, or human beings are still disgusting."

 

"Maybe it's a little of both. It's amazing to be able to step onto a train, take a deep breath, and feel like nothing's changed," Steve says. "And by 'amazing', I clearly mean 'horrendous'."

 

They share another laugh that tapers off, but the smile remains on Bucky's face. Steve flicks him a quick glance. "Well, if you want a bit of quiet time before we reach our destination--"

 

"--which is..?" Bucky queries curiously.

 

Steve doesn't address his query, only smiles politely and continues as though he hadn't been interrupted. "--I don't mind if you put the seat back, or even listen to some music. Take some time to relax, if you need to."

 

They share a smile with each other, and Steve lets go of the gear shift momentarily to brush the back of Bucky's hand, before they fall into a companionable silence.

 

Bucky watches the street lights and other cars go by, listening to Steve hum off-key, and takes a few moments to really appreciate the man next to him.

 

Steve knows Bucky's decently extroverted. That it helps with his work, and he draws comfort and energy from being around people a lot of the time.

 

But...

 

Especially since coming back from active duty, Bucky's needed more time for self-possession, for decompression from work, or just a little bit of mental quiet. It doesn't necessarily mean he needs or wants to be alone -- hell, he'd gladly share a space with someone he likes or trusts -- it just means he needs some literal quiet time to re-centre himself.

 

It's something that Steve seems to have instinctively picked up on over their months of dating, without Bucky ever really having to ask for it. He's prone to babbling when anxious, but doesn't have the desire to fill every silence with chatter. He's more than happy to quietly cuddle, or even go about his own tasks if they're sharing a space, allowing Bucky companionship without feeling obligated to speak or be stifled.

 

It's... really fucking awesome.

 

Bucky moulds his body further into the soft leather of the car seat and idly stares out the windshield. He breathes slowly, and his mind stops thinking about work and starts to casually try and figure out where Steve might be taking him. They're heading further north into Brooklyn, but Bucky doesn't really make any indication he's paying too much attention until Steve drives across the bridge and into lower Manhattan.

 

The curiosity is building, and if it were anyone else deeming fit to drive Bucky all across Creation after a long day of work and with another expected tomorrow, he'd probably be grouchier, or protest more.

 

But it's Steve, and Steve's obviously been putting thought into their plans, so he forbears. He's still not a huge fan of surprises, but Bucky's placing a lot of trust in Steve that their undisclosed location won't be something he'll dislike.

 

The streets of the East Village start to become a familiar sight to Bucky, and he cocks an eyebrow trying to parse out where they might be headed. He takes to staring openly at Steve, but Steve is either preoccupied with his direction of travel, or ignoring him. Eventually, when he can, Steve pulls over in the first available space on the street.

 

Bucky nods as he unbuckles his seatbelt, impressed. "Finding a parking space in the East Village without resorting to black magic... that's a pretty mean feat."

 

"Well, I'm kind of a big deal," Steve remarks solemnly, though Bucky knows better than to believe that Steve thinks of himself so highly. "Although we're a couple of blocks out from our destination."

 

"Who doesn't walk in New York City?" Buck says as he gets out of the car. They both make it onto the curb, Bucky adjusting his scarf at the slight breeze in the air. "Besides, clearly the most interesting thing of all is the fact that you remember how to drive stick."

 

"Lucky for you," Steve quips, straightening out Bucky's jacket collar.

 

Bucky's eyes widen. "Was that innuendo? Or a commentary on not becoming a traffic fatality?"

 

Steve's eyes sparkle with bemusement. "Why not both?" he murmurs, leaning forward to brush their lips together briefly.

 

It's barely a kiss, but still makes Bucky's toes curl. "You are my favourite kind of smartass," he grins.

 

"Lucky for me," Steve grins. They stare at each other for a moment, and it's just quiet, it's just them, and Bucky's not sure he's ever even really looked at another human being like he's looking at Steve...

 

Steve's insanely long eyelashes flutter down for a moment. "Let's go," Steve urges, clearing his throat and inclining his head up the path. "Don't want to be late."

 

They don't hold hands, but they're close enough for their shoulders to touch ever few steps. Bucky and Steve walk for about a block he can't quite hold it in any longer.

 

"So any hints on what's going to happen tonight?"

 

Steve gives him a sidelong glance. "We're nearly there and you want me to spoil it now?"

 

"Mainly I just want to confirm that I'm going to be getting fed soon. I had lunch at eleven, and it's nearly seven-thirty."

 

"It is? We'd better hurry, then!" Steve grabs his hand and starts jogging, pulling him along the sidewalk. Bucky laughs and does his best not to trip over his feet.

 

Steve slows down and drops his hand, but slings an arm around the back of Bucky and squeezes his shoulders together briefly. "One more block," he murmurs, hot breath ghosting Bucky's ear.

 

Bucky smiles, but then quickly changes his expression to something stern. "Just because you're cute," he says, "I will wait a little longer."

 

"I appreciate your patience," Steve says.

 

They walk a little further before Steve stops in front of a cheerfully-painted red and yellow building, proclaiming John's Restaurant + Pizza in red neon. He gives Bucky a little smile before opening the front glass door for them.

 

A dark-haired man with bushy eyebrows and wearing a crisp, white apron greets them at the door. Steve tells him he has a reservation under the name 'Steven Grant'. Bucky stifles his smirk as the man looks the information up in his book. Finding it, he escorts them through the restaurant towards the back.

 

Bucky finds himself looking around as they walk. It's a fairly narrow place, tables lining one wall and two-person booths in a mustard yellow down the other. The carpet is a bit garish and the fixtures a little antiquated, but there's a warm, homey atmosphere to the place, with its timber furniture and starched, white tablecloths.

 

In short, it's exactly the kind of place Bucky would expect Steve to love.

 

They are seated in the last two-person booth along the wall before the next section, which appears to be some kind of function room. Steve gestures for Bucky to sit in the chair that faces the doorway, and takes the one with his back to the majority of the room.

 

Bucky watches Steve cast a glance around, as though he's not necessarily comfortable in that position. "I can switch, if you'd rather be facing the room," Bucky says, moving to stand, but Steve gives him a smile and waves him down.

 

"We'll get more privacy this way, I think. Besides, I trust you to watch my back."

 

It's such a small thing, but it means a lot to Bucky. He reaches over and squeezes Steve's fingers across the table.

 

Another waiter comes over to hand out menus and put a carafe of water on their table. As they choose meals, a basket of bread with olive oil and parmesan cheese is also put before them.

 

It's not even hit the tablecloth before Bucky's grabbed a piece and taken a large bite. Steve looks scandalised.

 

"You try and wait so long without eating," Bucky says, waving his bread in Steve's direction, "I know for a fact you can't."

 

"And you give me shit about my table manners..." Steve shakes his head, taking his own bread.

 

Bucky's so hungry he chooses the first thing that really catches his eye. Steve, it seems, may've already been acquainted with the menu, because he makes his decision fairly quickly, too.

 

The waiter comes back, and they order. When asked if they would be interested in wine, Steve looks to him expectantly. He shrugs. "I'm not driving," Bucky says, "I won't mind."

 

Steve asks for the waiter's recommendation for something that will complement their orders, and he suggests a particular bottle of red. Steve asks for one and hands their menus over cheerfully.

 

Bucky takes a few moments to look around the restaurant. It's Wednesday, so it's not busy, but there are still a few small parties scattered here and there. They don't seem to be paying too much attention, however, so that's nice.

 

"How'd you hear about this place?" Bucky asks.

 

"There's been a few times where I've been stuck at the Tower, and Ms P-- Pepper-- has ordered from John's," Steve explains. "I've also come here once before with Clint." He looks around, features soft. "It just feels warm here, lived in... sure, it's not all modern, but sometimes I look at something purported to be 'modern' and it just feels 'sterile'."

 

Bucky smiles a little and brushes his hand across Steve's knuckles. "I know exactly what you mean."

 

Their waiter then returns with wine and pours them each a glass, before leaving the bottle on their table. Bucky and Steve each pick up their glasses and hold them out.

 

"To breaking the fast from eleven," Steve suggests as a toast. Bucky grins.

 

"To driving stick in James Bond's car," he returns. Steve laughs and they clink, before taking a sip.

 

Bucky takes a little more than a sip, a fact that doesn't escape Steve. He arches one brow. "Y'okay there, Buck?"

 

"Yeah," Bucky nods, putting his glass down. "It's fine, I won't go nuts. Just... needed it today."

 

Steve interlaces his fingers on the table in front of him. "Want to talk about it?"

 

"I don't know," Bucky winces, "I don't want to spoil our date."

 

"So get it out of your system now before we eat, and then don't bring it up again," Steve suggests diplomatically.

 

It would be nice to have a little vent. Maybe then he can relax and properly enjoy Steve's company. "Okay," Bucky says, "but I don't want this to be the only thing we talk about all night."

 

"It won't be. I'm incredibly shallow and am going to have to talk about me at some stage," Steve deadpans. Bucky gives him a nudge with his toe under the table, but then somehow just doesn't move his foot away from where it sits next to Steve's.

 

Bucky takes another fortifying sip from his wine glass, but it's not until Steve catches his eye and gently takes his hand to rubs his thumb along Bucky's knuckles, that he can bring himself to discuss work.

 

He tells Steve about how their staff has stayed the same, whereas their caseload has doubled -- and in some instances, tripled. Some of his groups are getting bigger, which means it's harder to spend time with the kids who need a little more encouragement in those group situations.

 

"I have this one girl that's been coming to some of my sessions -- Oksana -- she's a little younger than the kids I'd normally take, but she doesn't speak much English. Jarrod foisted her onto me because I have rudimentary Russian skills, as you know."

 

Steve gives a soft smile. "Rudimentary Russian baking skills, too," he offers.

 

"Damn right," Bucky agrees with a grin. It falls away as he takes up his story again. "Up until now I've been able to find a little bit of time for her in my group programs, and on some days, an hour after to help her with her English, help her adjust."

 

Bucky shakes his head bitterly. "I can't even spare her half an hour outside my sessions, my shit's so tightly packed right now. Also she gets a little lost now that my groups are bigger, and I have to learn about all of the new cases. She's so much smaller than all these bigger kids..."

 

Steve frowns. "I don't think I've ever asked... how is your outreach funded?"

 

Bucky runs his fingers through his carefully-styled hair, clenching at his scalp to give the strands a tug. "The government will periodically throw a bit of money our way, but not nearly enough. Most of what keeps us functioning actually comes from donations. We get in touch with bigger businesses within the Burroughs to donate towards our programs. Some of the big corporations -- and they can be nation-wide -- will have grants we can apply for. They can be pretty lucrative if you get the right one."

 

"Relying on donations," Steve murmurs, "that has to be tough."

 

Bucky shrugs. "It can be. Denise is a bit of a wizard at getting money out of corporations, I have to say. She says 'tax write-off' and that tends to get them moving. But the applications and the hoops you need to jump through to get grant money can be pretty time-consuming. Writing proposals takes time away from writing programs, or working with her kids. So if she's stuck doing that, someone else has to pick up the slack for her cases, and so and on and so forth."

 

"It's a lot more complex than I thought," Steve nods, brow creased.

 

"Don't I know it, pal." Bucky runs a finger around the edge of his wine glass. "The other outreach closed because they weren't as good as us at securing grants. But now we're under even more pressure with more kids coming to us, because they don't have anywhere else to go. More money would equal more staff to be able to cope."

 

"And you've been working more," Steve observes.

 

Bucky screws up his nose. "Yeah... I mean, I can't leave Dee in the lurch like this. Plus, if I don't, it's not me that misses out, it's the kids."

 

Steve's eyes look so warm in the yellow light of the restaurant. He tugs at Bucky's hand gently, which he's still holding, until it's in front of his mouth. Ever-so-gently, he brushes his lips across the brunet's knuckles. The hairs on Bucky's arms stand up on their end at the feather-soft contact.

 

"You're something else, Bucky Barnes," he says in an admiring, rich tone, which sends good feelings immediately to the pit of Bucky's stomach. Bucky can never understand how someone as amazing as Steve will look at him like he's the greatest thing since sliced bread. He has a healthy ego, to be sure, but when it comes down to it, Bucky considers himself a pretty regular guy. Steve is an actual hero, and yet Bucky keeps catching the blond looking at him like he is.

 

Bucky breaks eye contact with Steve as he sees their waiter approach with two plates. He gently disengages their hands, but not before pressing a digit gently to Steve's nose.

 

"Yeah; hungry."

 

Steve laughs heartily as their meals are put before them. They thank the waiter and stare down at their delicious food. Bucky ordered the homemade lasagne, while Steve went with the chicken parmigiana with spaghetti.

 

"But enough talk about my work, and indeed, enough talk, period," Bucky says, unable to take his eyes away from his lasagne.

 

"10-4, Sergeant," Steve says, picking up his knife and fork.

 

They heartily enjoy their meals. Bucky's embarrassed to say that he's famished enough that they don't make a whole lot of conversation until he's at least halfway through and the edge is taken off his hunger. After that point, he forces himself to eat a little slower, a scolding from Winifred ringing in his ears about gulping down his food too fast.

 

The waiter tops up their wine glasses as Bucky asks how Steve's been keeping busy.

 

"I thought we weren't going to talk about work," Steve says with an arched eyebrow.

 

"We've finished talking about my work. You have to even it out a little," Bucky counters.

 

Steve rolls his eyes, but puts his fork down for a moment to wipe the corners of his mouth. "Since Geneva, the World Security Council has been going over protocols for big summits to try and prevent what occurred happening again. I've been revisiting my already extensive debriefing of the situation--" And he sounds about as happy doing that as someone would be to get a root canal "--and running through lots of scenario-based training exercises with some of the strike teams."

 

"That is absolutely riveting," Bucky says blandly.

 

"Rub it in, jerk," Steve replies, to Bucky's delighted laugh.

 

"You're so feisty when you're bored out of your fucking gourd." Bucky lays on the saccharine, and he can see Steve warring with the idea of flicking spaghetti at him.

 

"Yeah, well, I get a slight reprieve tomorrow. Starting at eleven, finishing at three." Bucky winces and Steve has the audacity to look smug.

 

"I'm upgrading you from 'feisty' to 'asshole'," Bucky sneers, but Steve looks unperturbed.

 

"You know why there's a big 'A' on my helmet, right?" Steve asks, and Bucky's really glad he doesn't happen to be eating or drinking anything at the time, because as it is, he nearly chokes on air.

 

"Oh my god," Bucky stutters out, and the waiter looks over to make sure he's not got something lodged in his throat. Bucky waves at them feebly, his laughter coming out harshly, making him sound like Muttley from the old Wacky Races cartoons.

 

Steve smiles a little. "Careful, Buck, I think someone here might try and rescue you from choking."

 

"If I need rescuing, you can do it," Bucky pauses deliberately, "Captain Asshole." He dissolves into furious laughter once again, drawing the attention of an elderly couple sitting a few tables away. Steve makes a small apology to the pair, who turn back to their own meals. "Well, if it's a choice between that or 'Captain Kitten-Face', call me 'Asshole', please."

 

Bucky's eyes light up. "Captain Kitten-Face. Remind me to have Captains Kitten-Face and Asshole engraved onto plaques. I can go to the Smithsonian exhibit and stick them places it'll take the guards months to find and remove."

 

Steve's mouth hangs open for a moment in surprise. "I can't believe I'm seen in public with you," Steve bemoans, picking up his fork again to eat, "you're so embarrassing."

 

"My presence is a boon to all, and you wear high-waisted trousers," Bucky counters.

 

"I do not. At least, not anymore. But if I did, I would work them."

 

"Whatever you say, Beyonce," Bucky humours him.

 

When they're finally done eating their entrees, their long-suffering waiter brings menus back out for dessert. Steve chooses cheesecake, while Bucky orders tiramisu when he finds out Steve's never had it.

 

Bucky promises to share, but what he fails to mention is that he intends to feed Steve said dessert.

 

"Open up and close your eyes," he says, waving his fork in front of Steve's face.

 

"Is that necessary?"

 

"It helps you concentrate on the coffee flavour more, trust me on this."

 

Steve looks at him with unveiled suspicion, but Bucky smiles encouragingly and waves his fork around a little more.

 

"Okay, stop waving the fork, you'll spill it." Steve slowly closes his eyes and opens his mouth.

 

Poor trusting Steve.

 

Bucky does get the bite of tiramisu in Steve's mouth, but not before he 'misses' and smears it over the side of his cheek first. Steve's eyes snap open but can't reply as the dessert is pushed into his mouth. He tries to frown as he chews, but it's a little bit impossible.

 

He does, however, surprise Bucky by smushing a segment of cheesecake on his closed mouth.

 

This happens a few more times before Steve kicks Bucky under the table as their waiter passes by, looking like the last thing he wants to do is tell the two grown men in the corner to settle down.

 

Bucky finishes his wine and behaves for the remainder of dessert. They end up leaving a hefty tip for their poor server, and Steve draws a very quick caricature of the two of them in the process of re-enacting the spaghetti scene from Lady & the Tramp with a heartfelt thank you on a napkin. Bucky snaps a quick photo of the masterpiece before they leave.

 

The air has gotten a tiny bit chillier since they've been in the restaurant, and Bucky pulls his scarf around his throat a little tighter. Steve slots his left shoulder behind Bucky's right, gently resting his hand on the small of Bucky's back as they walk. There aren't too many people around on a Wednesday night, those that are around don't pay much mind.

 

"Want to go for a little walk before we head back to the car?" Steve asks.

 

Bucky nods. "I could probably stand to work off the pasta a little," he jokes.

 

They stroll around a few streets of the East Village, talking quietly and window-shopping. There are some really cool hole-in-the-wall shops that Bucky wouldn't mind coming back and checking out during opening hours. He hasn't really had much cause to visit this part of town in years.

 

Steve's presence is warm and comforting. It's rather fun pressing their faces up against the glass of some of the stores and pointing out things on the inside. One of the vintage stores has a truly hideous fringe vest from the seventies in the window, and Bucky feels it necessary for Steve to know it exists, and revile it like he does. He grabs Steve's hand and tugs on it to draw his attention, but then somehow just never takes it away again. For his part, Steve doesn't let it go.

 

A little thrill goes through Bucky as they walk down the street holding hands. It's not the first time they've done it, but most hand-holding with Steve happens in private, due to their mutual desire to stay off the radar -- at least a little longer. Still, it's Wednesday night and after nine pm and nobody seems to care.

 

On the way they stop at a little coffee place, where Steve buys them both chai lattes, ordering under the name 'Grant'. He admits it's sometimes a complete whim as to what name he gives various baristas or strangers, but his local ones all know him as 'Steve'.

 

Chai acquired -- and delicious -- Steve walks them back to where he's parked the car. They soon discover that as fancy as the car is, one modern convenience is absent; cup holders. Bucky laughs and shakes his head. "What did we do before cup holders, huh? Hold our drinks like losers." He takes Steve's drink, because he's definitely going to need both hands to drive.

 

"I don't know... my cup holder's pretty cute," Steve grins tweaking Bucky's nose.

 

"This is what it comes down to," Bucky deadpans, "we're dating so you can drive and not spill your hot beverage."

 

"That and the eye candy," Steve says, leaning over to kiss Bucky firmly before he kicks over the engine.

 

Steve turns on the radio at a low volume as they head back towards Brooklyn. It's a pleasant drive, and Bucky ends up winding the window down a little, letting Steve sip from his cup at traffic lights. They chatter over the background music piping through the speakers.

 

Just before they hit the Manhattan Bridge, a traffic report tells them there's been a collision on the expressway that will take them most of the way to Bucky's apartment, holding up travel.

 

Bucky winces. He's been having such a pleasant evening, he really doesn't feel like spending the last of it stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the way home.

 

"We can always detour to my place, if you want," Steve suggests. "Worst case scenario, you can spend the night and get an early start tomorrow morning."

 

Babushka has plenty of water and food to get her by for the night, and even spending an hour at Steve's apartment would be better than an hour on the road. "Deal. Take me home, Rogers."

 

Steve nods succinctly, and takes a different offshoot when he crosses the bridge, heading towards Brooklyn Heights. The trip there is much shorter, and Bucky muses how convenient it must be for Steve to head into Manhattan so often when he lives as close as he does.

 

Swiping into his building's underground garage, Steve parks next to his motorcycle. They make their way upstairs, Steve still laughing about how when he stopped at a traffic light, Bucky jumped out of the car to run to the curb and trash their empty chai cups.

 

When they get inside Steve's apartment, Bucky removes his scarf, wallet and keys, and immediately flops down on the couch. He's full, and calm, and happy to be hanging out with his boyfriend. Toeing off his shoes, he puts his feet up on the coffee table and sighs deeply, slumping into the cushions.

 

"Make yourself at home, Buck," Steve says in an amused voice. He's turned on the kitchen light and put car and apartment keys on the counter, but doesn't turn on any others; the light from the kitchen is enough to see, but still leaves the living room pretty dim. He putters around, drinking a glass of water, and putting on some music softly before finally coming to stand beside Bucky. "Do you need anything?"

 

Bucky considers this carefully, before shaking his head and patting the empty sofa cushion next to him. Steve grins and takes his jacket off before sitting down. Bucky's momentarily distracted by the fabric of his tee adhering slightly to the curves of his chest. Steve has a weird tendency to wear things too tight sometimes -- not that Bucky's complaining -- but this shirt is just right. It hints at his impressive musculature without showing it off.

 

Steve's arms go around the back of the sofa and Bucky doesn't even try to stop himself from wrapping an arm around Steve's waist and leaning in. "I hope you've had a nice time tonight," he murmurs, pressing a kiss to the side of Bucky's head.

 

"It's been perfect," Bucky replies. "Just what I needed, really." He absently rubs his hand over Steve's stomach. "What brought it on, anyway?"

 

Steve shrugs, his hand brushing down Bucky's arm. "It's sort of a thank-you for introducing me to your family? But not really. Mostly it's because I wanted an excuse for us to get a little dressed up and go out on a nice date."

 

Bucky makes a little snort, and Steve looks at him with surprise. "What was that for?"

 

"I'm a bit mad at you," Bucky says, and he knows he can't keep his voice serious. He turns towards Steve and pokes him in the chest. Steve shifts, a curious smile on his face.

 

"What did I do?" he asks enquiringly.

 

"My cheeks hurt a lot, and it's your fault." Bucky does his best to keep a stern tone, but it's so hard.

 

Steve blinks those big blue eyes at him, not knowing where he's going with his line of questioning, but willing to see it through anyway. He brushes his fingers over the curve of Bucky's cheek. "Why is that?" Steve asks softly.

 

Bucky twists and ends up slinging a leg over Steve's thighs, straddling them. He rests his forearms on his boyfriend's shoulders. "Because I smile too much when I'm around you."

 

Steve's face is a revelation of happiness. His smile soft and sweet as he wraps his huge hands around Bucky's waist. "Wow, Buck," he whispers reverently, "that was really--"

 

"Heartfelt?" Bucky suggests.

 

"Sappy," Steve counters. "Really. I think I have diabetes now."

 

"Jerk. Your face has diabetes."

 

"Bucky," Steve laughs, "that doesn't even make sen--"

 

But Steve's cut off when Bucky kisses him. Steve responds immediately, leaning up into Bucky's mouth and kissing back with fervour. Sinking hands into Steve's blond hair, Bucky opens his mouth, letting his tongue run across Steve's bottom lip.

 

His boyfriend groans, fingers twitching tighter around his waist.

 

They've kissed before. They've kissed a lot before, but there's something unique about now. No injuries, pressing engagements or distracting kittens. It's just the two of them and a nice window of time to kill. Steve rumbles noises deep in his throat and it's intoxicating.

 

Bucky shuffles forward, almost hissing in disappointment when Steve's mouth leaves his, but he needn't worry; Steve uses his beautiful lips to trail over the line of Bucky's jaw, licking and nibbling down his neck. Bucky shifts in Steve's lap, breath hitching as Steve pushes Bucky's leather jacket off his shoulders.

 

"Let me--" Bucky murmurs, stripping out of his jacket and dumping it on the floor.

 

"Messy," Steve murmurs, fingers rucking up Bucky's sweater to rest on the bare skin of his waist. His fingers are so hot, they feel like they're scalding his flesh.

 

Bucky needs to be closer, so he shifts. Instead of his knees being on the outside of Steve's thighs, one rests between. When Steve leans forward to bring their mouths together again, he presses into Bucky's knee and they both hiss at the contact. Steve's definitely physically invested in their makeout session, Bucky can tell.

 

Steve's hands are everywhere, and with increasing regularity, swiping over bare skin. He brings them up underneath Bucky's sweater, high on his torso, and shoots Bucky a questioning glance. Bucky nods feverishly in response, and Steve changes his grip to pull the sweater right off his head, throwing it over the arm of the sofa.

 

Having unimpeded access to Bucky's torso, Steve goes back to kissing Bucky's neck, now travelling down to kiss and lick at his collarbones. Steve hisses in approval when Bucky bears down on his leg, grinding into Steve's thigh. It's a sound Bucky could get used to, it makes his insides flip.

 

Bucky tugs at Steve's shirt fitfully, unsure himself as to whether it's just to give his hands something to do, or he's actively trying to strip off the other man. Steve pulls away from his skin and looks at Bucky with dark, wide eyes.

 

"I can--" he grunts out, flicking a glance down.

 

"Okay," Bucky agrees, pulling back to get his fingers under the hem of Steve's grey shirt. He yanks it up, and Steve lifts his arms to help with the ease of its removal.

 

They're skin to skin, and Bucky's eyes are drawn to the carved perfection that is Steve's chest, slightly heaving. They've been shirtless around one another before, and they've also made out like horny teenagers before... but weirdly enough, never at the same time.

 

The electricity in the air kicks up another notch as Bucky makes eye contact with Steve and deliberately tosses his shirt away. Steve makes an aggrieved little sound, and moves to take his hips in large hands. Bucky cups one hand over Steve's right shoulder, the other tentatively touching the smooth skin of his pectoral, slowly dipping lower.

 

Bucky begins mapping very specific areas of Steve's torso, often chasing them with a soft kiss. He moves from Steve

s collar bone, to a rib just below his right nipple, before travelling down to where his stomach dips and moulds to his iliac furrow, marvelling at the smooth, unmarked patches of skin.

Steve squirms under the contact, but he lets Bucky do what he wants without interfering, eyes not leave Bucky's face. Bucky likes the fact he has Steve's undivided attention, and deliberately bites his lip, which makes Steve's thigh's move fitfully beneath him. Bucky's smile is hardly more than a quick bare of his teeth, and he takes one of Steve's hands in his to kiss the soft place between thumb and index finger.

 

At first Steve seems confused, but around the fourth or fifth very specific stop, his eyes take on a knowing quality.

 

"Buck--" he breathes out.

 

"Mhm?"

 

Steve exhales harshly as Bucky's fingers skim somewhere apparently ticklish. Bucky enjoys seeing Steve's chest hitch as he breathes. "I know what you're doing."

 

Bucky's smile is warmer as he leans forward until their noses are touching and they're breathing in the same air.

 

"Seems like last time I was straddling your lap on this sofa, you looked a lot more banged up and bruised. Was just checking out the merchandise," Bucky murmurs, his lips brushing Steve's as he speaks.

 

"As you can see," Steve replies, his voice stupidly and beautifully wrecked already, "I'm all good now."

 

"I don't know," Bucky says, looking over the perfect expanse of Steve's chest. "There's still something here..." Bucky brushes his fingers over Steve's neck.

 

"What are you-- unnggh--" Steve's comments are interrupted by a sharp grunt when Bucky gives Steve a sucking bite on the firm muscle of his trapezius. Bucky's brain nearly shorts out as Steve's body jerks under his teeth, skin salty and soft.

 

"Buck," Steve gasps, and cups Bucky's face with one hand, and wraps his other powerful arm around Bucky's waist. Before he knows it, Bucky is on his back with Steve hovering over him. He can see his own teeth marks in Steve's shoulder, the red-purple of a bruise that is bound to fade very soon on his flesh.

 

Steve's eyes are almost glowing with naked affection in the dim light. It makes his stomach flip. "My turn," Steve rumbles and Bucky's toes actually curl in his socks.

 

Steve's lips skate over Bucky's torso, large hands brushing over the skin of his arms. Bucky's not sure whether he's ever been subject to such gentle and intense ministrations. The top of Steve's blond head ducks and weaves back and forth as the man makes his way with loving diligence over Bucky's chest. Bucky arches up off the cushions when Steve skims over his nipples. One leg bends at the knee as Steve finds a particularly sensitive spot on his ribs, and Bucky groans as the blond pulls said leg up and around his hips, driving Bucky's erection firmly back into the solid muscle of Steve's thigh.

 

"Fuck," Bucky breathes, gripping the couch cushions for purchase.

 

Steve stretches back up to nearly lie flush against Bucky, pressing their mouths together. Their kisses are deep and beginning to fray at the edges of Bucky's control. He's not the only one, if the desperate noises at the base of Steve's throat are anything to go by.

 

Those noises break a little bit of Bucky's brain, even as Steve's hand twitches underneath his knee. Bucky responds by hooking his bent leg up higher, around Steve's waist. Steve pulls back from Bucky's mouth, lips parting in surprise.

 

He maintains that searing contact, and presses down. They both bite out swears, which only makes Steve do it again. And again.

 

Bucky stops grabbing the couch and starts grabbing Steve, wrapping his arms around his boyfriend's shoulders and holds on tight.

 

Suddenly, Bucky starts laughing into Steve's mouth, and Steve pulls back for a moment. Although he doesn't stop grinding into Bucky's crotch, bless him.

 

"What's so funny?" he murmurs, nuzzling at Bucky's cheek again. Bucky thinks he's got a stubble fetish.

 

"Haven't dry-humped anyone on a sofa in years," he replies huskily. "At least, not when there wasn't a chance someone's parents were going to walk in and interrupt."

 

Bucky swears again as Steve grinds down, watching with careful eyes and cataloguing every reaction, it seems. He smiles a little, one side of his mouth quirked up higher than the other. "It's safe to say that's not very likely to happen." Bucky's eyes close as Steve methodically plants kisses down the side of his jaw and the line of his throat, only opening them again when a hand makes its way between them, teasing at the button of Bucky's trousers. Bucky stills, and it causes Steve to do the same. He pulls back and they gaze at one another.

 

Steve's hair is a fucking mess, his eyes are too bright and lips swollen and bitten and wet. There's a sheen of sweat just beginning to form on his shoulders. And everything about him has paused as he looks at Bucky.

 

"Bucky," Steve entreaties. It's part-question, part-plea, part-prayer. Bucky's brain is so fuzzy he just needs a moment to catch up, to buy an extra second of thinking time. This isn't where he thought he'd be on a Wednesday night.

 

"I-" Bucky's throat is so dry, he needs to clear it to speak. "I have work tomorrow," he says hoarsely, licking at the perspiration beading on his upper lip.

 

Steve hand doesn't move, his eyes don't falter, even when his brows do that cute thing where they go up.

 

"Do you want to stop?" he asks cautiously.

 

And that's all the extra time he needs to consider his answer. "No," he confesses quietly, "not at all." Bucky lifts his hips up from the sofa and presses them towards Steve's hand.

 

A hard 'yes' given, Steve bends down to kiss him passionately, the same time his hand flicks the button of his trousers open, slowly taking down the zipper. Bucky moulds himself to Steve as best he can, kissing back with renewed vigour.

 

Because he knows, he knows no matter what, if the answer had been hesitant, or a 'maybe' or an 'I don't know', Steve would've stopped. Fucking hard-on be damned, Steve would've been okay with that.

 

But Bucky wants this. And so does Steve.

 

Steve's large palm runs over Bucky's aching erection, still in his briefs, and Bucky arches into the touch with a muffled swear.

 

"Language," Steve mutters, and Bucky coughs a laugh that dissolves into a pretty embarrassing groan.

 

"Fuck me..." Bucky's retort has a lot less sass than he originally intended because of Steve's hand's current location and activities.

 

Steve's eyes glitter at the response. "I'm trying," he says as his hand finally dips under the waistband of Bucky's underwear.

 

Bucky desperately wants to snark back, but leaves the English language somewhere far behind when Steve grasps his erection.

 

Steve's hand is warm and slightly damp from sweat, fingers deceptively smooth. They massage his soft skin in a gentle rhythm, his fist giving a little twist at the crown that makes Bucky's hips jerk off the sofa. Bucky wraps one arm around Steve's neck, and the next time his hips leave the cushion, he holds onto Steve and pulls his jeans down past his hips.

 

The grin Steve gives him is equal parts wicked and joyful, and he helps get the waistband down to Bucky's upper thigh. "So thoughtful," he murmurs, breath hot on Bucky's cheek.

 

The air on his bare skin is cool, but Steve's hand is so very hot. There's a whine when the blond takes it away, and Bucky's belatedly surprised to realise it came from him. He looks to Steve, a little glassy-eyed and a lot touch-starved, only to see Steve--

 

Oh, God.

 

--see Steve lick the entire length of his hand, from the heel of his palm, to the tip of his middle finger. He gives Bucky a searing glance before he touches him again and--

 

Oh, there's that whine again.

 

Bucky can feel Steve's hard length pressing into the side of his thigh, and Steve moves with each downstroke of his hand on Bucky's dick. And while Steve spares plenty of glances down to see what he's doing, the majority of the time is spent looking at Bucky, or kissing him, or pressing his nose into the side of Bucky's neck and making these amazing, breathy sighs. Like he's the one getting a handjob on the sofa.

 

It's stupid how much Steve is into this, murmuring words Bucky can't quite make out, but he assumes, due to context, that they're likely encouraging. Steve's voice dips into a register he's never heard before, wrecked and so sexy.

 

And there's pressure building down low, a kind of tension that is winding tight, like a rubber band being pulled that's going to snap at any moment.

 

"Steve, we need to-- I can't-- much longer," he is able to choke out.

 

"What do you want, Buck?" Steve asks, lips pressing into the soft skin right behind Bucky's ear. He mercifully stops moving his hand, which, while frustrating, gives Bucky a chance to think.

 

Bucky pushes himself up onto his elbows, and Steve sits up a little, resting his hand on Bucky's naked thigh. Breathing heavily, he allows himself a moment to observe Steve in his shirtless state, the notable line of his erection pressing against his slacks.

 

"What do I want?" Bucky echoes, running shaky fingers through his hair. He looks to Steve, who's rubbing tiny circles on Bucky's hipbone with his thumb.

 

"We can do a lot, or a little," Steve says, giving him a stupid-gorgeous smile. It looks even better over the pink flush that's started at Steve's neck and is creeping down his chest at a rate of knots. "You tell me."

 

And it's not like Bucky hasn't thought about this more than once, and wondered when it was going to be the right time.

 

Now, his brain supplies helpfully.

 

It's not like he hasn't pictured Steve hovering over him, or him sliding down Steve's body to--

 

Bucky's dick twitches, and he swallows. He stretches up to kiss Steve, tugging at the blond's bottom lip with his teeth. "Oh, I want to do a lot," Bucky confirms, loving the way that Steve smiles against his lips, "it's just that... I wasn't expecting the evening to go quite like this. I'm... kinda caught unprepared."

 

"Unprepared?" Steve repeats, chasing Bucky's lips.

 

"Protection," Bucky clarifies.

 

Understanding dawns on Steve's face. "Ohhh. You mean condoms and lubricant, and so on."

 

Bucky stops kissing and pulls back. "Well, yeah, but don't say 'and so on', it sounds weird."

 

"Sorry," Steve nuzzles Bucky's throat.

 

Bucky murmurs in approval, before sighing. "So yeah. We might have to settle for a little, because I'm too fucking tired for a CVS run."

 

"Bucky," Steve says, and his tone catches Bucky's attention. It's amused, and a little bit indulgent, like Steve's teasing him. He really didn't think this'd be the point where Steve was having a laugh at his expense, despite the guy's occasionally oddball sense of humour.

 

"Bucky," he repeats, "what's made you think that you're the only one obliged to be prepared?"

 

It takes an embarrassingly long moment for Steve's words to sink in. "I--" he starts, and then stops, eyebrows rising in surprise. "Yeah?"

 

Steve just smiles beatifically. "I wanted to be ready for when we were."

 

Trust Bucky's dick to take this sweet moment and half-ruin it with a visible twitch. Steve looks down and laughs gently. Bucky pulls him in for a tender kiss, that soon turns very heated. He's not the only one who starts twitching after that.

 

"Come on," Steve urges, getting off the sofa and pulling Bucky up with him, "everything's in the bedroom."

 

Bucky shakes his head a little, suitably impressed. "Figured you for a bit of a boyscout, but had no idea you'd be so prepared."

 

"I'm a tactician," Steve says in response, hands going around the back to grip Bucky's ass firmly, "I plan ahead."

 

Bucky grunts in approval, hand going over Steve's to keep it on his butt. "Not complaining. Just... wish I could've been a fly on the wall when you were buying lube and condoms and shit."

 

Steve fixes him with a wondering look. "Did you know they make lube that heats up on contact?" and Bucky nearly chokes.

 

"Fucking hell," Bucky snorts, "are you serious?"

 

"Golly, I sure am, Buck. They didn't have that back during--"

 

The penny drops, but too late. "No, don't say it," Bucky warns.

 

"--the Great Depression," Steve finishes with a smug smile.

 

Oh, he is such an asshole, and Bucky informs him of that fact. Steve isn't worried. "You like me anyway," he tells Bucky matter-of-factly.

 

"I'll like you a lot more if we finish what we started," Bucky says, grinding his dick into Steve's trouser-clad hip.

 

Bucky tightens his arms around Steve's neck. He slants his mouth over Steve's, burying his fingers in the short hairs at the base of the blond's skull. With not too much more fanfare, and with very little effort expended on his part, Steve picks Bucky up off the ground, Bucky wrapping his legs around Steve's waist to keep from falling.

 

One of the last more coherent thoughts that flits through Bucky's brain as Steve walks him backwards to his bedroom is that he's probably not going to get a lot of sleep tonight.

 

***

 

 

The One Where Bucky's Late For Work

(Location: Steve's apartment / Bucky's office)

 

The first thing Bucky's aware of when he wakes up, is the absence of a tiny, furry body impeding his breathing. It's confusing for a minute, because Babushka never puts aside an opportunity to try and asphyxiate him while he's asleep.

 

The second thing he's aware of is there's an incredible coffee aroma wafting into the room.

 

Bucky stretches with a muffled groan and blearily blinks his eyes open. The sheets pooled around his chest are pale grey, and he instantly recognises them as Steve's.

 

Steve's...

 

Bucky shifts a little on the mattress, and feels a decidedly sharp twinge in his lower back.

 

Oh. Right.

 

Bucky grins and faceplants on his pillow, the only thing souring his sudden good mood is the fact that Steve isn't next to him -- but he's obviously off making coffee, which is the next best thing.

 

Last night had been... something else, and completely worth waiting for. Sure, he might be slightly uncomfortable at work today, but--

 

Bucky's eyes snap open as he tries to make them focus on Steve's bedside clock. It reads 08:13am.

 

Shitshitshitmotherfuckingshit.

 

With a truly epic amount of flailing, Bucky untangles himself from the sheets, narrowly escaping falling face-first on the floor. He dimly realises it might not be the best look to sprint into the living room stark naked. Scanning the room, he finds the briefs that Steve was wearing last night and pulls them on before exiting the bedroom.

 

He finds Steve at the kitchen counter, wearing sweatpants and cheerfully pouring batter into a waffle iron. He looks up as Bucky enters with his impressive bed hair and wild eyes. As soon as Bucky takes in the sight of Steve, some of the blond's calm washes over him. Bucky running into the room in borrowed underwear should be a cause of some concern, but Steve doesn't seem perturbed by it.

 

"Sleep okay?" he asks, a tentative smile on his face.

 

Bucky wants to say 'good morning'. He wants to say 'hi, Steve'. He wants to just walk over there and kiss the man stupidly on the face.

 

"It's after eight," Bucky wheezes instead, "I'm going to be late for work."

 

Steve winces. "I'm sorry. I was going to wake you when breakfast was ready."

 

"No time," Bucky mutters, looking in vain for his discarded clothes. His jacket is on the coffee table, pants in a pile on the floor... shit, they're all crushed. Sweater is hanging off the arm of the couch. Jesus Christ. He starts making his way around the living room, collecting clothes and muttering as he goes. "Fucking hell, I don't have time to go home and get changed. The subway's going to take too long from here and--"

 

"Bucky, breathe for a second," Steve says, coming to stand in front of him, taking his shoulders gently. That calm rolls off him in waves. "Have a quick shower. Call the office, tell them you might be a few minutes late, but you'll be there."

 

"But my clothes--"

 

"They'll be fine, I'll take care of them." Steve gently wrests the clothes out of Bucky's grip, draping them over one arm. "You can eat breakfast in the car while I drop you off."

 

"Steve..." Bucky says, and he's supremely aware of how this really isn't the way he was hoping a 'morning after' situation was going to go.

 

Steve's free hand cups his face and kisses him sweetly, and the contact is like an electro-static shock. "Shower. Brush your teeth. I'll get you to work on time." He pauses, a wry smile on his face. "And good morning."

 

And there's no power on earth other than this that can make Bucky stop for five seconds. He feels achey and a little fuzzy and really fucking good. "Good morning," Bucky replies, full of the fondness that should've greeted Steve first thing. This doesn't change the fact he's still on a tight schedule, but if Steve's actively on his side, Bucky's sure it won't be too bad.

 

Steve slaps him on the ass and shoos him away. "Go shower. Also," he pauses, raising an eyebrow. "Is that my underwear?"

 

"Finally got into your pants," Bucky quips, a small grin on his face as he makes a beeline for the bathroom.

 

He's stayed over at Steve's a few times, but despite Steve saying he doesn't mind, Bucky never uses the ensuite attached to the main bedroom. Feels a little too private. He always goes for the main bathroom, and if he has any bags or belongings with him, always dumps them in the spare bedroom.

 

Bucky's stepping over the tub and into the shower nearly before he's stripped out of Steve's underwear and dumped them on the counter. It takes very little time for the water to get delightfully hot. His skin feels dirty, with dried perspiration and general after-sleep staleness. Bucky puts his head and shoulders under the showerhead to wash his hair, before taking soap to his body.

 

The heat seeps into sore and strained muscles as Bucky stretches under the water. His lower back and quads burn a little, biceps throbbing. Bucky's not a masochist and isn't particularly excited by pain, but the deep ache in parts of his body only serves to remind him of his very late night with Steve, and how incredibly satisfying it was. A little smiles comes unbidden to his face.

 

As Bucky soaps his body down, he takes the opportunity to squeeze sore muscles, and carry out a little visual examination. There are a couple of faint purple smudges near his hip that are unexpected. Touching them is a little tender, and it takes Bucky a moment to figure that they're the size and shape of Steve's fingertips.

 

It's a shame that he's in such a hurry, because one of Bucky's favourite parts of sleeping with someone he likes, is sleeping with them again the next morning. And generally being comfortable and lazy, and basically the complete opposite of what's happening now.

 

But Steve doesn't seem particularly concerned. He's just there in his kitchen in sweatpants looking like a golden god and cooking breakfast and making coffee and these are definitely not things he needs to dwell on right now, given the likelihood of a hard-on, and how inconvenient that's going to make his work preparations.

 

Bucky wisely dials back the warm water and makes the remaining shower a little chillier.

 

When finished, Bucky steps out of the tub and looks for a towel. He notices the door a little more closed than when he dashed in, and a pile of items on the sink. First is a clean towel. Secondly, there's a plain, white t shirt, clean socks and underwear, all belonging to Steve.

 

Bucky grabs the towel and starts drying himself off, a little smile on his face. For a big guy, Steve can be remarkably stealthy.

 

Drying his hair enough so that it's not dripping on anything, Bucky puts on the underwear and socks and shirt, padding quickly out into the living room.

 

The first thing that pops into his brain as he lays eyes on Steve once again is "...whoa."

 

In the intervening time where Bucky's been showering, Steve has changed into a pair of taupe cargo pants, plain blue t shirt and sneakers, hair styled and looking irritatingly alert. He's set up his ironing board in the middle of the living room, getting the crinkles out of Bucky's discarded slacks from the previous night. Laid gently on the back of the couch are Bucky's leather jacket, sweater and scarf. On the counter top is a plate with a few waffles and what appears to be a travel mug, steam coming out of the opening. His mouth hangs open a little.

 

Steve looks up and gives Bucky a quick smile before his attention goes back to the ironing board. "Your underwear and socks are in my hamper, you can pick them up next time." He inclines his head towards the kitchen. "I'll be finished ironing in a minute, breakfast's on the counter."

 

Bucky doesn't argue with the man who has singlehandedly organised his life in the space of fifteen minutes. He moves immediately to the counter and bites a large chunk out of one of the waffles. It's good.

 

"How did you get all this done? Are you actually The Flash, or something?" Bucky asks around a mouthful. Rude, and his mother would kill him. But his mother ain't here.

 

Steve puts the iron down and gently shakes out Bucky's trousers. "You of all people should know that The Flash is make-believe," he says, mock-seriously.

 

"How silly of me," Bucky apologises, dropping the waffle back on the plate to take his trousers. Steve grabs a lightweight jacket as Bucky pulls his pants on, and throws his sweater from the night before over the shirt, just so he doesn't have to carry it. He also grabs his wallet and keys.

 

"You good to go?" Steve asks, picking up the discarded car keys from last night.

 

Bucky procures a few sheets of paper towel, wraps the remaining waffles in them, and grabs the travel mug. "Yeah... if I forgot anything I can live without it for a day."

 

Steve smiles and gestures to the door. "Let's get you to work, then."

 

It feels like it should be weird, leaving Steve's apartment so abruptly after what was a really lovely date, and a very enjoyable evening afterwards, but Steve doesn't for one minute make Bucky feel bad about his rushing.

 

They get into the car and Bucky once again curses the lack of cup holders. "I'll speak to Tony about it," Steve says, "he's probably happy to oblige."

 

"His cup holders would probably also double as rocket launchers. Pass," Bucky says, "I'll be a peasant and hold my own mug."

 

Steve laughs gently as they pull out onto the street.

 

The one thing Bucky didn't bank on is needing sunglasses. He winces at the bright light.

 

"You okay?" Steve asks, flicking him a quick glance.

 

"Yeah. Just... slight wine headache. Even small amounts of alcohol tend to make me feel like shit the next day. One of many reasons I don't generally imbibe. It's okay, though, I have Advil in my desk drawer."

 

"You could close your eyes, if it helps?" Steve suggests.

 

"Far too tempting. I might fall asleep again. I ah..." he grins ruefully. "I didn't get much shut-eye last night."

 

Steve's mouth twitches up into a faint smile. "I'm shocked." He pauses and chews on his lip for a moment. "Are you okay with... everything else?"

 

Bucky takes a sip of his coffee, arching one eyebrow. "What, like the political climate in Europe? The State of the Union? Or our date last night?"

 

"Let's go with the last one," Steve responds, checking his mirrors as he changes lanes.

 

Bucky gives a little grin and shifts to get more comfortable in his seat. He allows himself to think back on the last, say, sixteen hours, and damned if they weren't some of the nicest spent in anyone's company in a long time. Steve has this way of being considerate without being stifling. He paid for Bucky's dinner not because he's on a power trip or because he earns more money -- even though he does -- Steve paid because it was his idea and his treat. And if Bucky had planned the date, Bucky would do the same.

 

"That was probably one of the nicest dates I've ever been on," he says honestly. "The flowers, this car, being taken to a cute little restaurant, walking around together..." Bucky sighs contentedly. "I felt really appreciated and spoilt. You did a great job."

 

"I'm glad you enjoyed it," Steve answer softly. "I had a really good time, too."

 

They fall into a short silence where Bucky thinks Steve wants to perhaps elaborate a little further on their night proclivities, but isn't sure if he should be bringing it up. Bucky will save him the trouble.

 

He leans towards Steve conspiratorially. "Not gonna lie, the sex was pretty fantastic, too."

 

Steve barks out a laugh, head ducking shyly for a moment. Bucky takes it as a victory that any vague sense of tension that was in the car evaporates. "It was, at that," Steve confirms. His voice has that rumbly tone that makes Bucky's toes curl.

 

"I think you found muscles I'd long since abandoned to myth. I know that now, because I used them and they're killing me," Bucky quips.

 

"Well, you know what they say... you exercise more, you're bound to develop resistance," Steve somehow manages to keep a straight face. "I'm happy to act as your PT."

 

Bucky has to shake his head because that is the lamest proposition he's ever been hit with, and he loves it. "Sure, why not." His smile settles from something wide and open, into something smaller and infinitely more private.

 

"The absolute last thing I want to be doing after last night is running out on you so suddenly to go to work, but..." Bucky sighs. "You made breakfast, and clothed me, and sweet mother of god you caffeinated me, and you're driving through bullshit rush-hour Brooklyn traffic to get me to work this morning--"

 

"--and picking you up later," Steve adds.

 

"--and a pick-up?" Bucky asks, to Steve's confirming nod. Bucky shrugs helplessly. "You haven't even questioned even once why I need to go."

 

Steve actually looks confused. "Why would I? I know your work is important, and we discussed how busy you are last night."

 

"Trust me when I say not everyone is as understanding as you," Bucky puts in, and his voice speaks of experience on that matter.

 

Steve frowns, and Bucky secretly delights in the fact that Captain America is looking in disdain on anyone he's ever dated who bitched at him when his work interrupted social plans. "Well, they're jerks, then," Steve announces.

 

Bucky grins. Because Steve is awesome, and it's been a long time since he's felt taken care of, but not diminished or pandered to, by someone he's dating.

 

"They are," he answers Steve's statement. "So what I'm trying to say is... thank you for being the best boyfriend in the history of boyfriends."

 

Bucky once talked about how Steve smiles with his whole body, and now is no exception. The idiot has the audacity to be two hundred-plus pounds of muscle and strength, and he has the absolute cheek to look bashful. Bucky doesn't even know what to do with him.

 

"I'm glad I'm a good boyfriend," Steve says, squeezing Bucky's thigh. "You are, too. In case you're wondering."

 

"Stop making me feel feelings, Steve. I'm trying to eat waffles."

 

"Waffles aren't feelings food?"

 

"'course not. Pancakes are feelings food, waffles are for thoughtful contemplation of life's mysteries, but only with the correct toppings."

 

They have a quick, intense conversation about what toppings constitute as 'correct', during which Bucky finishes his breakfast and drinks the rest of his coffee. He also texts Denise to let her know he might be a touch late. She responds and allays his fears, telling him not to worry.

 

Steve makes excellent time. In fact, they get into the outreach only a little before nine-thirty. One of their neighbours has a driveway that they don't mind getting used for pick-ups and drop-offs as long as nobody parks there for more than a few minutes. Bucky directs Steve to pull in and undoes his seatbelt.

 

"Here I am," Bucky says, faintly reluctantly.

 

"Here you are," Steve replies, turning in his seat to face Bucky. "What time will you be finished?"

 

"Five-thirty, maybe six? Could be earlier, depending on how much I can smash out. You finish at three, right?"

 

"Mhm. Keep in touch through the day, let me know if your times change."

 

"Okay," Bucky says. He stays seated for a moment, looking up at Steve. Steve gives him a gentle smile before Bucky leans across, threading one hand in the hair at the bag of Steve's head, pulling their mouths together. The kiss is deeper than regular goodbye kisses, with a hint of tongue and goes long enough that Steve wraps his hand around Bucky's waist.

 

"Okay, okay," Steve says eventually, pulling away just enough to separate their lips. "You have to go." He's breathing a little heavy, and Bucky's absurdly pleased with that. He tightens his fingers in Steve's hair.

 

"I have to go," Bucky murmurs.

 

"I'll write you later," Steve says, nuzzling Bucky's cheek.

 

"You'd better-- oh, shit," Bucky curses. "Do you have time to drop by my apartment? Bushka needs to be fed, and her litter probably needs changing."

 

Steve grins, and kisses Bucky tenderly on the cheek. "I can do that."

 

"Awesome, thank you." Bucky gets out of the car and gives a little wave to Steve, who waves back.

 

With a deep breath, he heads into the office. He's met by the low-level panic that is indicative of their current situation, and finds it easy to slip to his desk without drawing attention to himself. Breathing deeply, Bucky gets to work.

 

About half an hour later, he receives a picture message from Steve. Babushka is looking pleased next to a large and familiar hand.

 

Steve: The girl is fed. I have done my boyfriendly duty. Now off to work I go!

 

Bucky: Thank you! FYI I will have more boyfriendly duties for you to complete later ;)

 

Steve: Ohh...?

 

Steve: Well, I'm known for my love of all things duty, so you let me know.

 

Bucky: Roger that, Rogers.

 

Bucky's been at work a couple of hours and finally taking a much-needed coffee break when Denise walks into the break room. Wordlessly, he takes her mug out of the cupboard and adds more coffee to the Aeropress.

 

She gives Bucky a visual once-over, before a small smile curves her lips. Bucky arches an eyebrow. "What?" he asks.

 

"An observation," she replies cryptically. "But one I don't think you want me to make."

 

Bucky leans back against the kitchenette counter and crosses his ankles as well as his arms. He trusts Denise more than anyone else in the office. If she's going to point something out, it's potentially worth hearing. "Out with it," he says.

 

Her lips twitch again, and she makes a casual glance around to make sure no one else is about to enter the room.

 

"It's not much. Just... looks like someone didn't go home last night."

 

Bucky freezes, but makes a valiant effort to keep breathing as per normal. The crowd he works with is tough; Dee tougher than most. It's really fucking hard to get stuff by her. He shoots her a delightfully obtuse, confused look. "Weird call... what makes you say that?"

 

Denise doesn't say anything save to let her eyes scan down and up his body once again. Bucky's fingers twitch on his bicep. "What I'm wearing? I dress nice for work sometimes, you know." He makes great pains to sound put-upon.

 

Cocking her head to the side, Denise capitulates. "I'll admit, it was a tough call. You don't normally wear slacks to work, but the fact that you are, and it looks like they've been freshly-ironed with creases..." She trails off, as though her observations are enough. Denise gives him a little smile. And he's not totally shit at lying, he could dismiss her observation and she'd either believe him, or not and not call him out on it... but it occurs to him that it's no big deal. Bucky can be honest with her, and it's not going to explode in his face.

 

Bucky slumps against the counter briefly, head hanging down. "Steve and his fucking creases," he mutters good-naturedly.

 

Denise smiles in triumph. "So the boyfriend ironed your pants? That's commitment."

 

"More like I woke up late and didn't want to come to work looking like Jarrod."

 

She giggles and takes some cream out of the refrigerator. "Quite the opposite, actually. Very dapper."

 

"I scrub up okay," Bucky says with a small smirk. He finishes plunging the coffee and fills their two mugs.

 

"Have a date night?" Denise asks, adding cream to her coffee.

 

"Yeah," Bucky answers, unable to help the warmth in his words. "He borrowed a fancy car, picked me up after work and we went to a little old-fashioned Italian place in the East Village."

 

"Swanky!" Denise sips from her mug.

 

"Kind of the opposite, actually. It was a really simple place, but I liked it a lot. We had good food and just enjoyed spending time together." Try as he might -- and this is half the reason it is pointless to lie to her -- he can't keep the goofy smile off his face.

 

"That sounds brilliant, Bucky," she enthuses, and he knows that she's genuinely happy for him. "Then you stayed over?"

 

"I didn't plan to. Traffic was bad on the expressway last night, it ended up being easier." He looks at Denise askance, seeing her stifling a smile. Because she's classier than a lot of people. He still can't help pulling her up on it, though. "You know it's not the first adult sleepover I've ever had, right?" he snarks.

 

"I know," she replies, smacking his arm lightly, before squeezing his bicep. "I just want to check in, and make sure you're okay. I don't require lurid personal details -- though if you wanted to share, that's cool -- but if you let me know you're doing well, that's more than enough."

 

Bucky cocks an eyebrow. "Are you using work-voice on me?" It's a strange feeling, having Denise ask him this. But then again, it's not like she's had many opportunities to pursue this line of questioning in the time they've known each other. And while it's always slightly awkward, it's a thousand times easier talking to Dee than it would be his sisters about certain things.

 

"I am, a little, but mostly I'm asking as your friend, and someone who cares about you."

 

Bucky's touched. He is normally a huge advocate of not mixing work and his personal life, but Denise is an exception, and he often feels more like her friend than her co-worker. And because of that, he pulls her in for a brief hug.

 

"I'm doing great, thank you for asking. And I'll try to remember to set my alarm next time I'm away from home and don't have a cat to sit on my face to wake me up." He grins. "Or at least I'll actually tell Steve what time I have to be at work so he can wake me."

 

"Early riser, huh?"

 

"Disgustingly so. What am I even doing with a morning person? It's against the laws of God and man," Bucky says in an offended tone. "Lucky he makes a good breakfast."

 

"Keep him," Denise advises, "Men who make breakfast voluntarily should be protected at all costs."

 

"So noted," Bucky grins.

 

 

The One Where Steve Meets Denise

(Location: Bucky's office / apartment)

 

 

Denise makes him take a half-hour lunch break with her sometime after midday. They go a few doors up and get sandwiches from the little deli Bucky's fond of.

 

This is one of the only highlights of Bucky's work day. The rest of it seems to be a tiring push uphill.

 

He is in the middle of answering urgent emails when he gets a phone call from one of his kid's parents, which lasts way longer than it should. It makes him late by ten minutes for a meeting with one of his newer charges, and he has to apologise profusely. It pushes everything back, so he ends up having to call another parent to reschedule because he's been delayed.

 

Then there's the ten-minute discussion with Jarrod over how they're going to get around the fact they've accidentally double-booked one of their meeting rooms with two separate kids who really need it. It takes some sorting, but if Denise leaves on her appointment early, Bucky can use her office instead, leaving Jarrod with the room. It's enough to give him a nosebleed.

 

Throughout his day, his phone pings regularly with texts from Steve, which Bucky answers when he can.

 

Steve: Tony asked if we did anything in the backseat of his car, and I asked if he thinks Howard did.

 

Steve: He's stopped talking to me at the moment.

 

Steve: It's like my deepest fantasy given form.

 

Bucky: if that's your deepest fantasy... wow. Disappointment on my behalf.

 

Steve: He's asking if he needs to get the inside detailed.

 

Steve: Also I very rarely disappoint! I think...

 

Steve: Now I've made this statement that I'm not sure is true.

 

Steve: Damn.

 

Steve: Can you actually answer me and maybe put me out of my misery?

 

Bucky: Jesus Christ, Steve, aren't you meant to be in important briefings or something?

 

Steve: I'm on a break, please stop being a jerk and answer me?

 

Bucky: Fine. I've yet to be disappointed. Jackass.

 

Steve: *Sexy

 

Bucky: For fuck's sake, go save the free world, or something! My phone keeps going off and I smile every time it does. People are getting suspicious.

 

Steve: You're cute when you're pretending to be pissed off.

 

Bucky keeps working, but he definitely has a hard time wiping the grin off his face, and it gets him thinking.

 

Steve's coming to pick him up... he's met the family and it went well. Maybe... maybe he could meet someone else.

 

Bucky: So hypothetically... if you come and pick me up and one of my co-workers is here, would you be interested in meeting her?

 

Steve: Sure, if you think it's a good idea.

 

Bucky: All my ideas are good ideas.

 

Steve: Keep telling yourself that, Mr 'I'll put chilli sauce on my ice-cream to prove a point'.

 

Bucky: I think I should get points for being the first person to discover the only thing on Earth Sriracha isn't good on.

 

Steve: I should get points for cleaning where you spit up the ice-cream onto my carpet.

 

Bucky: ...

 

Bucky: Good point.

 

Steve: I see what you did there

 

Steve: Your judgment call. I'd be happy to meet anyone you wanted to introduce me to xo

 

Bucky sits on the idea for a few more hours as he slogs his way through an overflowing inbox, spreadsheets of schedules that have to be written and re-written, an in tray full of case files, and more coffee than one person should probably have in a week, let alone a day.

 

One by one the rest of his colleagues head home, leaving Bucky and Denise as the last inhabitants of the outreach. She pops out of her office towards the late afternoon, dropping a Baby Ruth bar onto his desk for the sugar hit.

 

"Do you need a ride home today?" Denise asks, leaning against the filing cabinet next to his desk. "I have my car with me."

 

"Aw, thanks, Dee, but no need. Steve's picking me up," Bucky says. He pauses, looking to be as casual as he can. "If you want, you could meet him?" He pairs it with a shrug, hoping the low buzz of nerves isn't giving him away too much.

 

Denise gives him a lovely smile and adjusts her dark-rimmed glasses. "The famous Steve of the spontaneous breakfasts? Absolutely."

 

Bucky grins back at her. "Okay. Well, he should be here around six or so."

 

"Perfect, I should be done by then." She heads back into her office and leaves Bucky to it.

 

Bucky: ETA still 1800?

 

Steve: Confirm.

 

Steve: I love it when you speak all 24hr time.

 

Bucky: You love weird things.

 

Steve: Weird things deserve love. Who will love them if not I?

 

The phone calls don't stop, and the emails keep coming, and Bucky's neck is killing him. It's been on a stupid angle all day and the muscles are really starting to protest. He stretches it until it clicks as he files a report in the cabinet next to him.

 

Gradually the in tray's pile diminishes and the out tray's pile increases. It's the little things, but they're happening. And Bucky will admit, his constant texts with Steve are a source of encouragement.

 

Bucky: so still not saving the world, I see.

 

Steve: Your enthusiasm for wanting me to enter a battle zone is worrying.

 

Steve: in actual fact, I'm observing one of the tac teams sit through a briefing by Tony about using 3D spatial technology to be able to see around corners and stuff.

 

Bucky: You know what I mean! Also... that really sounds like a briefing you should be paying attention to. Just sayin'.

 

Steve: Tony told me all this while tipsy three months ago. His delivery's suffered since then.

 

Steve: Dexterity with powerpoint has improved, however.

 

Bucky: Like Tony Stark uses powerpoint. Even he has standards.

 

At ten minutes to six, Bucky shuts his monitor off and rubs his eyes. He's had a minor headache building since four-thirty, and he thinks it might be time for an eye-test.

 

There is nothing else going to get done today that can't get done tomorrow. Bucky stretches his shoulders with a muffled groan, before finding his water bottle to take a large swig. His sweater had made it to the back of the chair, but now gets put back on as the sun's going down.

 

Bucky's phone chimes and he checks it, to see a message from Steve.

 

Steve: Parked around the corner and I'm walking there now.

 

Bucky exhales in relief and makes sure his desk is tidy. He's underestimated how much he just wants to go home.

 

Presently, there's a gentle knock on the window. Bucky looks up to see Steve outside, and he's hard-pressed to think of a more welcome sight. Unlocking the door, Steve steps in. He looks around shyly for anyone else, before moving right into Bucky's personal space and gathering him up in a firm hug.

 

Bucky wants to dissolve, it's just what he needs. He presses his face into Steve's neck and puffs out an exhausted breath.

 

"Everything okay?" Steve asks, rubbing a hand down Bucky's spine.

 

"Tired. Want home."

 

"You've gone mono-syllabic," Steve observes amusedly. He pulls away and brushes the backs of his fingers over one of Bucky's cheeks. "Wanna get out of here?"

 

Bucky doesn't answer save to bring their mouths together and kiss Steve deeply. It's not the place for it, but it's sorely needed. Bucky likes to think that in the future, when he's looking at this section of floor in the office on days like today, he'll remember making out with his awesome boyfriend and it'll be somewhat fortifying.

 

Bucky pulls away, mindful they're not completely alone in the office. He sinks his hands into Steve's and squeezes them. "Want a little tour?"

 

"Sure," Steve agrees. Bucky leads him around the office, pointing out the various meeting rooms and where his co-workers sit. He takes Steve to his desk, and watches Steve take in the little details with interest.

 

Apart from the mound of papers he seems to be drowning in, there is a nice selection of personal items there; his coffee mug proclaiming his fluency in movie quotes and sarcasm; a slightly wonky clay pencil cup painted orange, made by one of his former charges, a pencil drawing of a balloon with a smiley face and another with a quote proclaiming: 'Someone who thinks logically provides a nice contrast to the real world'.

 

There are also three photos on his desk in simple frames. One is a family photo from Rebecca and Nick's wedding, the second is a quite recent photo of Bucky balancing both Izzy and Bobby on his lap, reading Dr Seuss to them. The third is a group shot of Bucky with his original co-workers not long after he joined the outreach and they went on a team-building exercise. He likes that one a lot. He looks a little harried, and his hair is longer, but the smile is genuine, and he respects and admires every single person in that photo.

 

Steve looks over everything intently. He flicks a finger at the quote. "I like it," he grins.

 

"Courtesy of Becca," Bucky responds. "It appeals to me."

 

Bucky looks down the hall where he can see the door to Denise's office and gives a tired sigh. Steve glances at him, a small smile on his face. "If you'd rather save the introduction for another time, it's okay," he says disarmingly.

 

Bucky's tired, and he does just want to go home... but the office is so quiet right now, and he's not sure when another such a perfect opportunity will present itself given his awful schedule. He appreciates Steve's 'out', but an introduction will only take a minute. Bucky takes Steve's hand and leads him down the hall. He stops just outside Denise's door, and knocks on the frame lightly. Steve is next to him, but waits just outside the door for his cue.

 

Denise is sitting behind her desk, typing. She looks up immediately and smiles. "Time to go already?"

 

"You say that like it wasn't a wretched slog uphill," Bucky smirks.

 

"It was. It's just now it's time to go home." She starts gathering her belongings, and Bucky clears his throat.

 

"Before you finish, I've got someone for you to meet." Before he can change his mind, Bucky pulls Steve into the room by his hand. He doesn't let go as they stand there.

 

Denise's attention is momentarily diverted, so she initially misses Steve walk in. When she does look up, Bucky sees the surprise that well and truly alights on her face.

 

Steve stands there holding Bucky's hand, every inch the all-American boy. Shoulders back, but not military parade stance. His fingers are interlaced with Bucky's, and they squeeze them a little tighter as Denise adjusts her glasses.

 

"It's very nice to meet you, Denise, I've heard a lot about you," Steve begins politely.

 

Denise seems unable to answer for a moment, and Bucky honestly doesn't blame her one bit. She looks at him, then Steve, eyes flicking down to their joined hands. He knows that Dee is a clinical thinker with an excellent memory, and she's probably going through every single thing she knows about Bucky's mystery boyfriend so far; the downturn in mood during the Geneva incident, looking after an 'injured Army buddy' just afterwards, all those personal anecdotes he shared when they went out for a drink...

 

"Likewise," she says carefully, "Save for one or two details." She rises from her chair and holds a hand out, which Steve takes immediately, dropping Bucky's hand to give hers a gentle shake. Bucky stifles a laugh when she sees Denise totally sizing Steve up in her typical appraising way. It's nerve-wracking not knowing what she's going to say, or how she's going to say it.

 

"So," she says with some measure of unflappable calm, "you're Bucky's Steve."

 

The smiles that grace both of their faces are, quite simply, ridiculous. Bucky feels his uncertainty vanish, and he can feel it in Steve, too.

 

Because she doesn't acknowledge Steve Rogers, or even Captain America first.

 

It's Bucky's Steve.

 

"Yes, ma'am, I am," Steve says quite proudly, sliding an arm around Bucky's waist. Bucky doesn't know if he wants to cringe or start making out with him.

 

Denise rolls her eyes. "Oh, please don't call me that. I feel like you came close to calling me 'ma'am' on the phone once... I assume that was you I was talking to?"

 

"Yes, on both accounts. I was trying to track him down because Bucky missed our date."

 

Denise looks reproachfully at Bucky. "You had a date and you let me leave early?"

 

"You had an anniversary dinner to go to," Bucky reminds her, leaning into Steve, "kinda more important. Someone had to stick around with Tyler."

 

She harrumphs at him, as though the subject is still up for discussion, sitting on the corner of her desk. "Next time, tell me. We can Rock Paper Scissors for it, or something."

 

"Okay, okay," Bucky capitulates, rolling his eyes. He looks to Steve, who is watching the exchange in amusement.

 

"Are you the boss here, Denise?" Steve asks curiously.

 

She gives a little smile to Bucky. "To some, not to others. I started a little before Bucky did, and only worked part-time doing a few days at the beginning. Now I'm full-time, and I help co-ordinate things, but it's definitely a lot more democratic than autocratic here." She makes a gesture to Bucky. "Bucky runs a lot of his programs by me, as well as his scheduling, but that's more as a sounding board rather than me being necessary to green-light his work."

 

"Dee did have a big hand in me getting this job, though. She was the one who recommended me, even though I was fresh out of my military retirement, and hadn't quite finished grad school," Bucky puts in.

 

"I'm glad," Steve says, turning to Bucky, "you're amazing at what you do."

 

"I agree," Denise says. "We really struck gold with Bucky. The kids respond well to him, and he's great with the parents, too. I think the job has been instrumental in integrating him firmly back into civilian life."

 

"The VA helped a lot, and so did you," Bucky says. He puts his hand over Steve's where it rests on his waist. "Dee specialises in dealing with Post Traumatic Stress cases," he explains, "so when I was still navigating the shitty emotional minefield of trying to adjust to being a civilian, she could help out." Bucky gives Denise a wry smile. "Sometimes before I even realised she was helping me out."

 

Steve chews on his lip and frowns. "You don't take any PTSD cases yourself?" he asks, and Bucky shakes his head.

 

"Nope. I work best with at-risk pre-teens and teens. And I do some of the fun sessions as a balance."

 

"Forgive my ignorance, I thought that given your experience, you might be the perfect person for someone with PTSD to talk to," Steve says.

 

Bucky winces, screwing up his nose a little. "Yeah, well, what makes me perfect is also the thing preventing me from really doing it."

 

Steve definitely looks confused. "I don't understand."

 

"What Bucky's trying to say, Steve, is that triggers for PTSD are funny things. Some of the kids we get through have very real and all-encompassing issues, and require stability to feel safe again. We have a duty to take into account the well-being of our therapists, as well.

 

"None of us are perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it could be overwhelming for a therapist also dealing with some of those elements. It might make them anxious while trying to help counsel someone. They could get unwittingly triggered by one of their charges, and that would really put us all back at square one."

 

Steve's face is the very picture of attentiveness and concern. "I hadn't considered that."

 

Bucky squeezes his hand. "Look, ultimately anything can be a trigger, really. We don't have control over our brains when it comes to that, but it's not the worst idea to at least try and limit the likelihood of it happening."

 

"As I said, Bucky's one of our assets. I would hate for his work to put his own mental health at risk," Denise concludes.

 

Steve nods effusively. "I can't agree more. Do you... do you get many child PTSD cases?"

 

Denise sighs. "More than I'd like. PTSD doesn't just occur with returned servicemen, it can be caused by any number of traumatic events: physical or sexual abuse, witnessing a terrible event like a death or a terrorist attack, being in a severe accident... we have a few children of refugees that witnessed horrible things on their way to seek asylum in the United States. Still more unreal circumstances like aliens coming out of the sky and taking out a good section of Midtown." Dee shakes her head. "I wasn't here for that event, but I'm sure many new cases popped up afterwards."

 

Bucky leans into Steve as he feels the blond's body tense up at the mention of the Battle of New York.

 

"Shit happens," he murmurs, "you didn't cause that." Steve's fingers tighten at Bucky's waist, but his posture relaxes a little.

 

He clears his throat and changes the subject. "Clearly you have your work cut out for you, then. And you've been so much busier lately."

 

Denise nods. "We have been. Perhaps Bucky's mentioned the closure of a similar outreach?" Steve nods gravely, and she continues. "We're working hard to secure enough funding to maybe hire some additional staff. Everyone's pulling extra shifts, and it's pretty draining. Bucky's practically doing five days in the office when he used to only have to do two or three here, or running programs, and a work-from-home day."

 

"Not permanently," Bucky argues. "Just until we get a little more help. I can handle it."

 

Denise looks like she doesn't believe him for a second, and maybe she's right to. The last few weeks have been excessively taxing. She hasn't mentioned it in front of Steve, but Dee knows the reason he was doing less than full time is because when he first started working, it was all he could handle. Bucky's in a different mindset now, but his time has stayed the same because that workload works best for his life and his mental health wellbeing.

 

It doesn't affect him to do extra on a temporary basis, but when the days get longer and there's no foreseeable end in sight, that's when everything starts to wear a little thin.

 

"Well, I hope you get the funding you need to employ more staff soon," Steve says sincerely. "Buck's said you're a bit of a whiz at separating companies from their money for a good cause."

 

Denise smiles at them both, and puts her purse on her shoulder. "Despite how criminal that sounds, it's a very sweet compliment. I do try."

 

"You need it more than they do. Do you ever take volunteers for the programs that are a little more recreational?" he asks.

 

"If we have the right program, with enough kids, most definitely." She cocks her head to the side, mouth quirked up. "Why, you offering?"

 

Steve pauses for a moment, and that gets Bucky's undivided attention, both eyebrows raised. "Maybe," Steve says, giving Bucky a whimsical shrug.

 

Denise looks slightly incredulous. "I was joking... Are you serious?"

 

Steve straightens up a little. "I am, yes."

 

Bucky's gaze flicks from Steve, to Dee, and then back to Steve. It's pretty left field, and not at all what he expected Steve to say. "Don't look at me, I didn't know," Bucky says, as mystified as Denise. He turns to Steve and pokes him in the side. "Nice bombshell. How long have you been sitting on this idea?" Because if Steve had been thinking of volunteering at Bucky's work, wouldn't it have made sense to run it by him instead of just announcing it?

 

"In real terms? Approximately one hour," he admits, and Bucky relaxes a little.

 

"Well, the sentiment is definitely appreciated," Denise says, and Bucky gives her mad props for her amazing diplomacy. "I understand you can be a pretty busy man, so if you're serious about doing it," she gives a little smile, her eyes twinkling, "you have the best man we've got to fill you in about our different programs. Then you can decide whether it's something you'd like to pursue."

 

"That sounds excellent," Steve says, and looks to Bucky, who can barely stifle a yawn. A large hand comes to rest on Bucky's shoulder, giving it a squeeze. "Come on. I think you need a quiet night and sleep."

 

"I think we all need that," Denise says.

 

They walk out of her office together, and Bucky unlocks the front door while Dee turns off the lights. Once everything's locked up, they stand on the curb. It's going dusk and there are a few clouds in the sky, making it a little darker.

 

Bucky's pressed up against Steve's body so they're not in the main thoroughfare of pedestrians. Denise looks to them both. "Well, I must be off; the husband has cooked dinner for me." She turns towards the blond. "It was so nice to meet you, Steve. I hope to see you again in the future." She puts her hand out for Steve to shake, and he does, though he leans in and adds a kiss to her cheek. Bucky has the sincere pleasure of seeing Denise's cheeks go a little red. She holds it together, though, she's a professional.

 

She turns to Bucky, a warm and heartfelt smile on her face, and pulls him into a hug. "See you tomorrow, Bucky. I expect to commandeer you for lunch; no arguments, and your treat."

 

Bucky gives her a squeeze. She'll want to give him a gentle grilling about Steve when he's not there, And Bucky's okay with that. She took the news so brilliantly, it's the very least he can do.

 

"It's a date," he promises, kissing her cheek as well. In a slightly softer voice, one that he's not one hundred per cent sure that Steve can't hear, he adds: "Thank you for being so cool with this."

 

"I haven't done anything," she says back, equally softly. "Thank you for trusting me enough to share."

 

Bucky pulls back, feeling warm and a little goopy inside.

 

"Denise, can we walk you to your car?" Steve asks, that little concerned frown he does that looks so goddamn earnest, on his face.

 

Dee laughs gently. "Thank you, but I'm only across the street." She points to a blue Honda parked on the opposite curb.

 

They say their farewells, waiting until Denise is in her car safely before they themselves start to walk in the direction of Steve's borrowed vehicle. Once again, Steve's hand finds its way to the small of his back, and Bucky's coming to love that placement.

 

"Well," he says with a little sigh, "that went well."

 

"It did," Steve agrees. "She's great."

 

"She is," Bucky says. "She knows her stuff, is experienced as hell, and takes exactly zero shit from anyone, and at the same time, warm and thoughtful and smart."

 

"Sounds like you have a competence kink," Steve grins, pressing a brief kiss to the side of Bucky's head as they walk.

 

Bucky leans into Steve just that little bit more. "I kinda do, yeah."

 

Steve's hand curves around just a tiny bit more so that it rests on Bucky's waist. "That's good; so do I."

 

Bucky can't quite stop grinning like a bit of a loon. Maybe that's the reason for a few pedestrians crossing the street to walk on the opposite curb.

 

Steve detours on the way to the car to buy them both dinner at the good gyro place two blocks down, which is brilliant, because Bucky definitely doesn't have the enthusiasm to make himself anything remotely decent in the kitchen tonight.

 

The drive back to Bucky's apartment in Carroll Gardens is spent talking about their respective days, and Bucky desperately trying not to open his delicious-smelling gyro in the very expensive car and start eating.

 

Steve finds a parking spot half a block down from Bucky's building, and they waste no time in hot-footing it to the apartment.

 

Babushka greets Bucky warmly when he gets in; that is to say, she catches sight of him and meows that she's hungry. "I missed you, too, sweetheart," he says wryly. Bucky takes a couple of minutes to get her sorted, otherwise she will spend their entire dinnertime caterwauling at his feet.

 

In the meantime, Steve has put their gyros on plates, filled up two large tumblers full of water, and set everything up on Bucky's coffee table. Babushka's food trumps even Steve's presence, so she doesn't bother them as they settle down to have some dinner.

 

The gyros are stupidly messy and absolutely delicious. Bucky sighs as he takes a big bite, because the night is pretty much going exactly how he'd hoped. They eat in silence for a while, Bucky taking the edge off his hunger before he begins conversation.

 

"So," Bucky starts as he picks up a napkin to wipe sauce off his fingers, "are you going to tell me about this grand plan to volunteer at my outreach?"

 

"Well, it's not really a plan, yet. More an idea," Steve says, sucking the sauce off his own fingers with a slurp.

 

"So tell me your idea."

 

Steve puts his gyro down on the plate and finally uses a napkin. "I was thinking about all the times we've talked about your work, and how rewarding it sounds. I've done charity things before, but they're usually a little clinical and organised by SHIELD PR. That's not to say they're not worthwhile, but I'm usually in uniform and accompanied by a phalanx of reporters and photographers..." Steve cringes minutely at the recollection.

 

"I'd like to do something smaller, a little more personal. I can do lots of very good things as Captain America, but I'd also like to do good things as Steve Rogers, too." He leans towards Bucky, resting his elbows on his knees. Bucky puts his gyro down and rests his face in his hand, listening intently. "I know you run sessions where you aren't necessarily counselling kids, but doing an activity with them, or taking them to the park or aquarium... If you think that's something that I could help out with, I'd really like to.

 

"I wouldn't want it to be like I'm stepping on your toes or anything, coming to your work," he adds quickly. "If it would be too weird for you, it's okay. But I thought that given I know you and now I've met Denise... maybe there's something I could do that's going to be about actually helping and not necessarily getting a press release?"

 

Bucky wants to shake his head mildly in disbelief. Because how is he even real. Steve watches him earnestly, waiting for a response.

 

"First of all," Bucky begins, "it wouldn't be weird for me to have you at work, so don't worry about that. I think Dee is already sold, so you're kind of halfway there." He gives Steve a little smile. "With those more fun sessions, we often have parents or guardians assisting, so that's definitely not unheard of."

 

"Oh, good. So it wouldn't be like you were bending rules just because it's me, then?" Steve clarifies.

 

"Right," Bucky confirms. "We do a lot of different things in those sessions... we sometimes do field trips to particular attractions -- like the aquarium -- but a lot of the time it's things that cost little to no money for the families. It's not a summer camp activity, you know? It's a recreational activity for kids who might be troubled. Not always, but often, that comes hand in hand with financial burdens."

 

"So, outdoor games? Trips to the park, that kind of thing?"

 

"Exactly," Bucky says. "But we try and balance it out with other creative or intellectual activities. Not every kid is good at or even likes sports."

 

"That's true," Steve nods. "When I was growing up I could barely play with all my ailments. I stayed home so much and just drew, and--" Steve stops in the middle of his sentence, eyes going wide. "Have you ever had an art program?"

 

Bucky cottons on very quickly. "We do have one, but haven't had anyone with artistic ability be involved for at least a year. Our resident artist kinda hit the big time and moved to England. I've run it a few times, and it works out okay," Bucky gives a self-deprecating grin, "when they see what I draw, no kid feels bad about their talent level. It's more about enjoyment and expression than producing stuff for MoMA, y'know? But we've not had a chance to find someone with actual ability to be involved, and that's a shame. If they could be learning about art, too, that's the best, most enriching scenario." He pauses giving Steve a measured look. "This the sort of thing you'd be interested in helping out with?"

 

"Probably the best thing I'm qualified for, apart from ass-kicking," he jokes, before tapping his lips thoughtfully. "I would've thought Brooklyn would've been full of starving artists wanting to help."

 

Bucky shrugs. "Yes, it is. The root of the problem seems to be that they are starving, and can't or won't agree to get on board when they know we can't pay them. Our budget just doesn't stretch far enough to pay said artist for their contribution. Unfortunately that seems to turn a lot of them off."

 

"That's pretty harsh," Steve frowns.

 

"I know how cheeky it is to ask them for their time and skill for free. Artists are forever getting asked to do stuff for nothing by douchebags, with payment in 'exposure'." Bucky makes quotation marks with his fingers. "I am asking them to donate their time and skill to kids, for a legitimate charity." He shrugs sadly. "I think most of 'em have been taken advantage of, so by the time we come along, we're lumped in with the 'want something for free' leeches."

 

"But it's for kids!" Steve protests again, and damned if his indignation isn't cute.

 

"It's not to say we don't ever get any help, but the fact that it's not paid work tends to make it a bit low priority for some. We've had multiple cancellations from individuals before, which has made it disappointing for some of the kids. They still enjoy the outing and the ability to produce art, but they get the most out of someone with experience being there to bounce their ideas off."

 

"That's one thing I'm worried about," Steve admits. "Reliability. I wouldn't want to let anyone down, and you know yourself how erratic my schedule can be."

 

Bucky picks up his half-eaten gyro. "We don't have to discuss it now, though. There'd be plenty of other details to iron out as well, including that one."

 

Steve mirrors his action, a thoughtful look on his face. "Okay. We definitely will talk about this later."

 

"Awesome. Because I, for one, am sick of talking about work and not eating this fucking amazing gyro."

 

"Eat your fucking gyro," Steve says gravely, making Bucky laugh. "And I'm sorry," he apologises, "no more work-talk tonight."

 

By the time they're finished eating and Steve's cleared away the dishes, Babushka has also finished and has jumped on the couch to be petted and generally worshipped. She gets quite a few pets, but the majority of Steve's handsiness is directed solely towards Bucky.

 

Bucky doesn't have a problem with this. Steve starts by sitting behind him and rubbing his shoulders. Somehow, he's able to apply just the right amount of pressure to dig into some stubborn knots and loosen them up. Bucky becomes so boneless he ends up slipping down on the sofa, Steve still behind him, rubbing warm fingers across his hipbone and kissing the back of his neck. It's relaxing and wonderful, until Bucky wakes with a snort.

 

"You fell asleep, Buck," Steve says gently, brushing some hair off Bucky's brow.

 

"M'ok, m'fine," Bucky croaks out, disorientated.

 

Steve kisses the back of his shoulder. "Maybe you should call it a night," he suggests. "You look wrecked."

 

"Wow, thanks, pal," Bucky gripes around a yawn. With a little effort he turns on the couch so he's facing Steve. He leans forward to kiss Steve sweetly. The contact gets Steve pulling Bucky flush to his body. Everything's warm and safe and happy here, and Bucky feels himself starting to drift again.

 

"Okay, you're definitely going to bed," Steve insists. He helps a bitterly-complaining Bucky onto his feet and ushers him towards the bedroom.

 

Once there, however, Bucky starts stripping off with no encouragement needed. Steve watches for a moment, helping with Bucky's shoes. There's a pair of soft flannel pajama pants under his pillow, which Bucky pulls on immediately.

 

"Do you need your phone for your alarm?" Steve asks.

 

Shit, yes. That would've made him late tomorrow. Again. "Yeah, I do. It's on the coffee table."

 

Steve leaves, and when he comes back, Bucky's already flat on his back on the mattress. He hands Bucky the phone, and Bucky has just enough mental fortitude to set it for tomorrow and plug it in before he has officially run out of steam.

 

Steve goes to lie next to him on the bed, albeit on his side. He runs a gentle hand through Bucky's hair. "Big day, huh?"

 

"Big forty-eight hours," Bucky corrects, eyes closed.

 

"Well, at least you'll be able to get more sleep tonight," Steve offers.

 

Bucky sticks his bottom lip out a little. "I'd rather be doing other stuff. But we'd just end up in the same position tomorrow."

 

He hears Steve's soft chuckle a lot closer to his face, just before feeling the blond's lips skim his cheekbone. "So let's wait until the weekend. I don't have anything planned on Saturday."

 

Bucky sighs. Being an adult fucking sucks. But the thought of spending the weekend with Steve, where they can spend good portions of it naked and without work commitments, pleases him exceedingly.

 

"My place or yours?" Bucky asks, his eyes opening in slits.

 

"Let's go with whoever has the best-stocked fridge," he smiles.

 

"So me, then," Bucky states, and Steve cups his face to kiss him properly.

 

"You, then," Steve whispers right over his mouth. It's not a special or a romantic thing to say, but nevertheless, it makes Bucky shiver with the promise of things to come.

 

He wraps his arm around Steve's neck, pressing his forehead into Steve's cheek. "You should probably go before I won't let you," Bucky admits.

 

"Worse places to be trapped," Steve says, but he gently disengages Bucky's arms anyway. He kisses Bucky sweetly on the forehead. "I'll write you tomorrow," Steve says.

 

"You better," Bucky slurs a little. Steve bids him farewell and heads out, and Bucky dimly hears his front door close.

 

About a minute later, a tiny, furry body pads onto his mattress to take up residence at his shoulder, Bucky pats Babushka absently before turning off his lamp, to tired to be mad that his cat hasn't even seen fit to wait until he's asleep to begin her nightly quest for dominance.

Chapter Text

 

The One With The Morning-After Redo

 

(Location: Bucky's apartment)

 

 

It starts in Bucky's fingertips; a little twitch here or a little flex there, usually happening in the moments before he opens his eyes.

 

But he doesn't open his eyes just yet... he takes those moments and makes the most of them. Feels the familiar cool sheets beneath and above him, the warmth of the sun from his window on his bare shoulder, the scent of his favourite detergent on his pillowcase, along with a slight depression that can only be Babushka. The certainty that it's Saturday, and what's more, a Saturday where he doesn't have to be anywhere and it's amazing.

 

Bucky smiles as he blinks his eyes open. Everything is familiar and nothing hurts.

 

Or rather, they do hurt, but in eminently good ways. He subtly stretches, feeling a twinge in his lower back, and quads.

 

It had been one of the most eventful weeks he'd had in a very long time, including but not limited to having Steve meet his family, working long hours and clocking up his fair share of overtime, a mid-week date and an unexpected progressing of their relationship. Then of course there was introducing Steve to his co-worker and having a big discussion about him possibly contributing to his work in some fashion... Bucky was exhausted and had been ready to be a hermit all weekend.

 

He'd gotten home on Friday, immediately changed into a soft t shirt and pajama pants and parked himself on the sofa. Bucky hadn't been home for an hour before his doorbell rang.

 

Cautious and irritated, he opened the door to Steve, who was standing in the hall, clutching an overnight bag. He wastes no time in crowding Bucky back into his apartment and kissing him senseless, dropping the bag by the door.

 

It seemed that Steve took Bucky having Saturday off very seriously, and Bucky's irritation vanished.

 

"I was going... to call you..." Bucky said in between frantic kisses, breath hitching when Steve's hands slipped under the elastic at the back of his pajamas, gripping his bare ass tight.

 

"Couldn't wait," Steve replied, voice already kind of wrecked.

 

Steve carried him into his bedroom, and proceeded to occupy Bucky thoroughly until his stomach began making noises neither of them could ignore. Not in the mood to prepare anything, Bucky called for pizza, and reluctantly put pants on when the doorbell rang.

 

It really was something else to sit crosslegged on his bed, with pizza boxes in between them, Steve bare-chested -- bare everything, really -- and feeding Babushka stringy bits of mozzarella. If he were more prone to sentimentality, he'd say that his entire acquaintance with Steve had been leading to this moment of perfection.

 

It was satisfying, and then Steve discarded pizza boxes and left greasy fingerprints on his sheets and climbed up over him, and satisfying was redefined once again.

 

Bucky sighs. He doesn't mind that he was kept up late, because he could sleep in this morning; which is what he has done, to great success.

 

Turning over in bed, he startles mildly when he comes face to face with the wall of muscle that is Steve. His boyfriend is sleeping on his stomach, arms bent to have hands shoved underneath the pillow. There's a divot on Steve's pillow as well, leading Bucky to believe that Babushka has spent at least part of the night sleeping there, too.

 

Bucky looks up to see the cat curled up on his pillow, one eye open and watching him.

 

"You're kind of a traitor," Bucky says in a low voice. Babushka merely yawns and closes her eye.

 

Bucky turns his attention back to Steve. It's not that he forgot Steve spent the night -- how could he -- it's just that with the exception of the very first night Bucky watched over Steve after he busted his ankle, Steve's always been awake and disgustingly accomplished by the time Bucky rouses.

 

It's nice to watch him being relaxed; it's especially nice to appreciate him in the context of Bucky's home, his bedroom. This place is his sanctuary, and he's used to sleeping in, but it's a lovely surprise to see Steve there this time.

 

With the tiniest bit of drool sneaking out of the corner of his mouth.

 

Bucky bites his lip. Ohh, but there's no physical way he can let this slide.

 

The only problem is, his phone is resting on the bedside, which is closest to Steve. This makes his task difficult, but not impossible.

 

With slow movements, Bucky pushes himself up onto his knees, shuffling a little closer. If he's incredibly careful, he can lean across and reach his phone and--

 

Bucky's knee slips, brushing Steve's side. Steve's eyes snap open and he twists onto his back, pulling Bucky down to lie on top of him. Babushka jumps off the bed with an annoyed meow.

 

Steve's grinning and Bucky knows now he never could've won. "How long were you awake for?"

 

"Since you called Bushka a traitor," Steve answers smugly. One hand stays on Bucky's hip, the other one drifts up to gently cup the back of his neck. Steve exerts the faintest pressure there, so minute Bucky could easily resist, but he doesn't want to. He leans down so their chests are flush to one another, buries his fingers in Steve's hair, and kisses him.

 

It's just the way he wanted to wake up, morning breath be damned. Skin on skin, with the tiniest feel of slipperiness as their close proximity has their bodies producing more heat. Bucky's erection digs into the crease between Steve's thigh and groin, and he can't help but move his hips a little, creating tantalising friction.

 

Steve's kisses are gentle and measured, his energy matching the tone of the morning. Bucky's left hand leaves Steve's hair to drift down, working its way between them to curl as best it can around both their erections. There's a sharp intake of breath from Steve, exhaling into a pleasant moan as Bucky starts a slow tug.

 

There's no urgency, no rush. It's lazy and a little messy, but Bucky likes that he can rut up against Steve like a teenager because it's his bed and his apartment and his goddamn boyfriend.

 

Steve says Bucky's name softly into his mouth; their lips touch, but half the time they're not even kissing. It's just that they're so close, they're breathing the same air. Bucky likes being so near to Steve that he can see the detail in his irises, take note of the very light freckles around his eyes, the way that Steve bites his lower lip at a particularly long tug from Bucky's hand.

 

It lasts longer than he expects, but shorter than he'd like. Bucky tenses, hand stuttering in its movements, his face falling to the side to rest in the crook of Steve's shoulder. He feels wetness and warmth between them, but doesn't stop the slow, long, pull until Steve lets out a muffled groan.

 

The twitching coil of tension that has been building in Steve's body like a rubber band being stretched, snaps. Beneath him, Bucky can feel Steve go a little boneless and sink into his mattress.

 

Bucky pushes himself up a little way from Steve's shoulder, to look down at him. Steve's sweat-damp hair is a mess from Bucky running his hands through it, there's a high blush to his cheeks, and his eyes are heavily-lidded slits of blue.

 

Bucky's not sure he's ever seen anything quite so fucking magnificent in his life.

 

Steve's mouth curves into a lazy smile. "Good morning," he says belatedly, and all Bucky can do is laugh and roll off him.

 

The one thing TV shows fail to talk about very much is how actually messy sex is. Both he and Steve are quite a sight, and despite what porn would have you believe, it's not necessarily always hot, either. Sometimes it's just uncomfortable and a little gross. Bucky knows he's going to have to wash his sheets, but he doesn't necessarily want to wipe his hand on them, either. He's not a fucking frat boy.

 

"I'll be right back," Steve says, pressing a quick kiss to Bucky's lips and rolling off the bed. Bucky enjoys watching Steve's naked ass as he pads out of the bedroom. He hears the faucet in the bathroom run, and presently, a much cleaner Steve re-enters the bedroom with a washcloth dampened with warm water. He doesn't let Bucky take it, however in an almost embarrassingly intimate move, chooses to lie next to him and gently wipe any mess away personally.

 

Ditching the washcloth, Steve then motions for Bucky to join him further into the centre of the bed. They arrange themselves comfortably, Steve's head almost completely tucked under Bucky's chin, who has both arms around the blond's shoulders. Their legs just sort of tangle up and around together.

 

Steve lets out a huge, relaxed sigh, and Bucky gives a husky chuckle. "This is how I would've preferred Thursday morning go," Bucky says, thinking back to what actually happened with its panic and rushing (and Steve keeping calm and driving him to work).

 

"I can't say I disagree," Steve mumbles into Bucky's collarbone, "but I apparently like any morning with you, regardless of how it goes."

 

"Wow, Steve... that's incredibly... what's the word I want?"

 

"Sweet?" Steve suggests.

 

"Lame," Bucky answers. He laughs when Steve pinches his side.

 

"You really are somewhat of an asshole," Steve grumbles without heat.

 

"Just somewhat," Bucky answers, chuckling. They lapse into silence for a few moments, and Bucky takes to running his fingers through Steve's hair. With his crazy workload and feeling increasingly worn around the edges, it's just so very pleasant to have this moment, and really appreciate it.

 

"This is so nice," Steve murmurs, as if reading Bucky's thoughts. Bucky's hand pauses in Steve's hair and he smiles, before continuing the rhythmic stroking.

 

"The hair rubbing? Or the cuddling? Or the sex?" Bucky asks amusedly. "Narrow it down, Steve."

 

Steve shifts against him, shuffling up so he's more face-to-face. "Can it be all three?" he asks seriously.

 

"It can," Bucky replies, equally as gravely.

 

Steve smiles and leans forward a little, but Bucky is the one to bridge the gap and join their mouths together. They kiss for a while, just enjoying being near one another. Bucky reasons he may've clocked more time now purely necking with Steve than he has with anyone else in his life.

 

Breaking away from Bucky's lips, Steve trails his mouth tenderly down the side of Bucky's jaw, running over the sharp angle to plant a feather light kiss in the shallow, stubbly cleft of his chin.

 

"Not going to lie; this is my favourite part of your whole face," he says quietly, as if imparting a secret.

 

Bucky looks at him for a moment, speechless, before dissolving into husky laughter.

 

"Do you have a problem shaving it?" Steve asks, his fake straight face killing Bucky.

"It's okay," Bucky smirks, rubbing his index finger over his chin, "about as difficult as it is for you to make shitty 'Great Depression' era jokes."

 

"My Great Depression jokes are amazing. You have no appreciation for them because you're a philistine."

 

Bucky arches a brow. "Philistine, huh?" Steve nods. With slow, deliberate movements, Bucky leans in close. He hears Steve's quick intake of breath as his lips graze the blond's ear. "Tough talk from the naked guy in my bed," Bucky breathes, before latching his teeth to Steve's earlobe and giving a gentle tug.

 

Steve stifles a moan, squeezing at Bucky's bicep. "Fight me," he murmurs when he has Bucky's attention, hitching one leg up over Bucky's hip to bring them closer together once again. The next few minutes are once again lost to sweet, hot kisses.

 

Breaking away when he needs air, Bucky laughs gently and rests his hand on Steve's waist, while Steve brushes a lock of hair from Bucky's forehead. His smile is no longer cheeky and self-aggrandising, but soft and almost pleasantly surprised. "Penny for your thoughts?" Bucky asks curiously.

 

Steve takes a moment, seemingly choosing his words. "I'm just realising that I've never had an opportunity like this before," he says slowly.

 

"I'm not sure I understand."

 

"Lying in bed with the person I'm seeing... just... enjoying your company and not being rushed and--" Steve stops, shrugging helplessly. "I don't know. Everything."

 

Bucky rubs a thumb over the smooth skin of his waist. Steve's had quite a few firsts in the last week, this seems to be another. While he's quite adamant that he's not Steve's counsellor, as his boyfriend, he wants to check in and make sure nobody's boundaries are being pushed.

 

"And are you okay with how everything's going so far?" Bucky asks carefully. "If you are happy, that's awesome. If there's been things happen in ways you didn't expect -- too fast, to slow -- we can talk about them."

 

Steve almost looks surprised. "Of course! It's been... Buck, it's been wonderful," he enthuses, and the level of passion he puts into that endorsement is enough to make Bucky's skin get a little hot. "I wondered what it would be like to just be with someone in a relaxed way like this..." Steve trails off, looking stupidly shy for a moment. "And now I know." Bucky's chest seemingly expands with a feeling of affection that he's recognising belongs to Steve specifically.

It's such a sweet admission, and Bucky's not sure words could do a reply justice, so instead he reaches out to enfold Steve in his embrace again, which Steve enters willingly.

 

"Are you happy?" Steve mumbles out a few moments later.

 

"Very," Bucky answers immediately, rubbing his cheek against Steve's. "I basically consider myself too old to not do things or be around people that don't make me happy anymore."

 

"Well if you're too old for that, what does that make me?" Steve wonders, and Bucky laughs.

 

He doesn't answer, save to press little kisses to the soft skin beneath Steve's ear. A hand comes to rest on the back of Bucky's head, fingers grazing the sensitive short hairs at the base of his skull with little, encouraging strokes.

 

Bucky presses forward, revelling in the sheer area of skin-body contact they have right now. If he thinks about it, he can't remember if he's ever just lain in bed with someone naked, when it wasn't directly moving towards sex. Sure, he and Steve had already slept together that morning, and undoubtedly would do so again, but to spend the intervening time just being close with no cloth barriers and no expectation of things they should be doing... it's not like anything Buck's experienced at all.

 

He gets that very specific Steve-affection feeling in his chest cavity once again.

 

"So I just had an idea," Steve says out of the blue, shaking Bucky out of his train of thought and getting him to pause in his ministrations.

 

"Your naked ideas are usually good," Bucky murmurs, with a chuckle in response from Steve.

 

"I have a lot to live up to, then, so stop me if this is a bad one..." He takes a deep breath before speaking. "How would you feel about going away with me somewhere?"

 

Steve puts his hands on Bucky's shoulders and gently pulls him back so they can look at one another. Bucky gives Steve a curious expression.

 

"You want me to go away with you?" he asks to clarify.

 

"Yeah. For a weekend, or something?" Steve winces. "I'm not really sure we've hit the specific time that is the official 'going away for a weekend' milestone, or if there even is one. You know I've not had a relationship that's progressed to this stage, so I'm kind of flying blind..." There's a vague, vulnerable hesitance to Steve's statement that twangs at Bucky's heart.

 

"For the record, you're doing excellently so far," Bucky puts in, and is on the receiving end of a sweet and hopeful Steve smile. "And I don't think there's a milestone, per se, just when it feels right."

 

Steve brushes his knuckles softly over Bucky's cheekbone. "Well, it feels right to me, now. I'm just thinking about how nice it is to wake up next to you and feel relaxed... it'd probably be ten times better away from here where we don't have to worry about work, or responsibilities, or your adorable cat watching us feel each other up."

 

Bucky gives him a little grin. "I am not opposed to going somewhere where Bushka can't see us grind on each other. It's just not right." He leans forward and presses a sweet kiss to Steve's lips. "When my work is out of the red zone, get some time off, and we'll do it."

 

Steve lights up like a miniature sun, showing two rows of perfect, white teeth. "Yeah?"

 

"Yeah," Bucky answers confidently, "of course."

 

The idea that Steve wants to go away with him somewhere is nice. Well, it's more than nice, it's awesome. Bucky's not sure when it might happen, but it's definitely something to look forward to, maybe even help push him through the mounds of ridiculous and necessary paperwork he finds himself doing.

 

"Do you think your work's going to slow down anytime soon?" Steve asks curiously, "because it seems as though it's just steadily busy right now."

 

Bucky sighs. In a way, he wishes Steve hadn't brought it up, because he'd been enjoying a few minutes not thinking about his crushing workload. But it's Steve being stupidly earnest and concerned, so of course he's not going to mention that. "Being honest, it's probably not going to let up anytime before Halloween," he says grimly.

 

Steve's lips tighten in commiseration. "I'm sorry about that... oh, actually, you've reminded me of something. Do you have Halloween weekend plans?"

 

"I have nothing scheduled past lunchtime on the 31st so I can go to Becca's and take the kids trick-or-treating. It's Izzy's first Halloween, and I'm really looking to forward to taking her out." Bucky can't help but grin. "Becca got her this little skeleton onesie, and it's the cutest fucking thing I've ever seen. It came with a mask, but she won't keep it on, so Becca thinks she's just going to draw some skull markings with eyeliner on her cheeks, or something."

 

Steve gives Bucky a soft smile. "That sounds great. What's my new best friend, Bobby, going to be?"

 

"Last I heard he was either going to be a Ninja Turtle, or a garbage man." Bucky shrugs. "What is it about little kids and the garbage men? Anyway, that particular costume would allow him to carry his truck around all night. You know the one."

 

"I do," Steve nods gravely. "We bonded over that truck."

 

Bucky stretches, feeling a delightful ache in his shoulders. "Yeah, so that's the plan. I am going to err on the side of the Turtles and wear a costume shirt and bandana and beanie." He casts a curious eye to Steve. "What about you? Is Halloween much of a thing for you, or...?"

 

"Sometimes," Steve says. "It wasn't very big when I was growing up... more an excuse for hoodlums in the neighbourhood to play pranks on houses." He brushes his fingers down Bucky's arm absently. "Nowadays it looks like a lot more fun, but I've never really done much for it, personally. More often than not, Tony drags me to these big parties he throws."

 

"I can only imagine what those must be like," Bucky murmurs.

 

"Maybe you don't have to imagine?" Steve says questioningly, and winces when Bucky's gaze snaps to him immediately. "Tony's having one again this year. It's going to be part-charity ball and part-costume party. I am doing the first half that's the charity component in an official capacity, but after that... I thought maybe..." Steve starts to trail off, and Bucky realises it's because his face is doing this elaborate descent into a frown. He visibly works at smoothing his forehead and not looking so negative.

 

"Maybe what?" he prompts softly, intertwining his fingers with Steve's.

 

Steve exhales, willing to go on. "Maybe you'd want to be my date for the second half?"

 

Bucky chews on his lip. "I already promised Becca I was definitely not missing Izzy's first trick or treating--"

 

"I wouldn't want you to risk Becca's wrath," Steve gently interrupts, giving him a rueful smile. "Besides, it sounds like you're really looking forward to trick or treating with your family. The party is actually the weekend before on the Saturday night. Not Halloween night, because that's a Monday."

 

"Huh." Bucky mashes the side of his face into his pillow and exhales noisily. The idea of a Tony Stark party is daunting. He'd be lying if he said he wasn't curious, but it's really not his kind of scene.

 

Steve has asked him to be his date, though.

 

Steve. The stupid dork who is trying to make sure he's hitting all the right couple milestones has asked him to be his date for a party.

 

Bucky's not that much of a heel, he can't say no to that.

 

He opens his mouth to answer when his cell phone rings. Steve's eyebrows go up expectantly. "Hold that thought," Bucky says, reaching for the device.

 

He frowns when the caller ID tells him it's Denise. Denise only texts information, and calls when something big is happening. Or there's something wrong.

 

Bucky sits up in bed with his back to the headboard, and answers the phone. "Dee? Is everything okay?"

 

"Hi, Bucky. Yes, everything's fine. I'm sorry I don't normally call you on your days off," she apologises.

 

Bucky runs his fingers through his hair and adjusts the sheets that have pooled in his lap. Steve's hand has come to rest on his knee tentatively, and Bucky pats it to let him know everything's okay.

 

"That's okay, good to hear everything's fine. What's up?"

 

There's a slight pause on the end of the line, which makes Bucky sit up a bit straighter. There's definitely something going on. It might not be a bad something, but a something nonetheless.

 

"I know this is a very strange request, but it's regarding the conversation Steve, myself and you had on Thursday about him volunteering. There's a couple of things I'd like to discuss with him, but I wasn't sure of the best way to get into contact."

 

"Oh? Anything I can help with?" Bucky asks, fishing for information.

 

"Not really," she says sadly, "but if it wasn't intruding, perhaps you could tell me the how to get in touch with him, or even give him my number?"

 

Bucky hesitates, and Denise presses on. "You know I will hold yours and his privacy in the highest regard. I wouldn'tve called, save that this is a matter of some importance, and--"

 

"It's okay, Dee, I trust you." Bucky pauses and looks to Steve, who is watching him with something approaching concern. "Steve's here, I can ask him." That comment sends Steve's eyebrows skyrocketing to his hairline.

 

Denise doesn't sound surprised. "If it's not a bad time, that'd be great."

 

Bucky holds the phone away from them both, and covers the microphone. "Dee wants to know if she can speak to you, it's something about the volunteering. Do you want to talk to her?"

 

Steve pushes himself up from where he'd been leaning on his elbow into a sitting position. He looks puzzled, but nods. "Sure."

 

Bucky hands him the phone and sits back on the headboard, trying not to look terribly like he's eavesdropping.

 

"This is Steve, Denise," Steve greets in a friendly manner. He makes some small talk with her, and Bucky can glean he's confirming he's not being disturbed, and telling her he's well... regular polite banter. Then Steve starts to listen intently, and a thoughtful frown starts to come over his face, as he concentrates on Denise's conversation carefully.

 

Steve starts to move, clambering around and fishing for his clothes, because this conversation apparently necessitates the need to not be naked. Bucky watched with something close to amusement as Steve feels around the covers and then his clothes dumped on the ground for particular articles, bare ass waving about.

 

He excuses himself from Denise and holds his hand over the receiver. "Bucky, do you know where my underwear is?"

 

Bucky shrugs. "You got yourself out of them, I have no idea."

 

He curses a little, and keeps feeling around for them.

 

Bucky figures maybe Steve wants clothes, so he can be polite and leave the room to have his conversation. But Steve's also stubborn, and if he's got his mind set to finding one particular article, he won't stop until he's got it.

 

Bucky can solve this problem. He gets up and retrieves a pair of his sweatpants dumped on the other side of his nightstand and pulls them on. "You stay here, I'll go out and start breakfast."

 

The stress-frown that's started to appear on Steve's head lightens. "Okay," he says in relief.

 

Bucky shoots him a sloppy salute and shuffles out of his bedroom, gently shutting the door behind him. After taking a minute to freshen up in the bathroom, he heads out to the kitchen to see what he can rustle up for food. The coffee maker is turned on immediately, and a poke in the fridge finds him pulling out a carton of eggs and the frying pan.

 

Scrambled eggs will be enough to take the edge of hunger for himself and Steve, but it'll probably be nice if they go out and get something heartier somewhere... maybe even visit the farmer's market again and stop at the food trucks that are stationed around.

 

Bucky plugs the toaster in at the outlet and puts in four slices of bread. He's humming to himself and pouring a hell of a lot of whisked eggs into the heated pan when he hears the bedroom door open.

 

"Do you like your eggs on the runny side, or a bit firmer?" he asks without looking up. Steve doesn't answer, so Bucky glances his way, and a few of the hairs stand up on the back of his neck.

 

Steve's standing at the entrance to the kitchen in a t shirt and sweat pants, still with the phone in his hand, covering the receiver.

 

Bucky would've thought he'd be off the phone by now, surely Denise couldn'tve had that much to talk about... unless there's something else? "Steve, is everything okay?" he asks warily, hand on the spatula pausing.

 

Steve heads into the kitchen and gently takes the spatula out of Bucky's hand, at the same time, handing him back the cell phone. "You talk, I'll stir." He kisses Bucky on the cheek and immediately focuses on the pan on the stove.

 

Bucky sees that the call is still connected. He shoots Steve a circumspect look, before stepping out of the kitchen. "Dee, you still there?"

 

"Yes, Bucky," she answers.

 

"What the hell's going on?" he asks bluntly.

 

"Sorry for the cloak and dagger, but I just wanted to find out a little bit of information from Steve, first," she says.

 

"What information?" Bucky presses, flicking a glance to Steve. Steve knows he's watching, but keeps his eyes cast down on the pan.

 

"You know that I sent off a few proposals for some grants to some big-name corporate companies last month," she begins.

 

"Yeah, I remember."

 

"Did I tell you exactly which companies?"

 

Bucky thinks for a moment. "No, I don't recall that you mentioned names. Just a few around the burroughs; two in Brooklyn and one in Manhattan, I think?"

 

"That's right," Denise confirms. "What I hadn't gotten around to mentioning was that Manhattan business was actually Stark Industries."

 

"Stark Industries?" Bucky parrots incredulously, eyes flicking immediately to Steve. Steve looks to Bucky at his surprised tone, flashing him a shy smile before turning back to the stove. "Since when have they been offering up grant money for outreaches?"

 

"They've been branching out into more and more community projects in the last few years. I've been keeping my eye on them, but this is the first time we've met their requirements for what they were offering. I felt like we had a really good case for the money, and so I submitted a proposal to them.

 

"This morning, I got a call from Ms Pepper Potts, congratulating us on our successful bid," Denise says, and Bucky can hear the contained excitement in her voice. "The grant's actually been won by us and a hospice for homeless veterans who require ongoing medical treatment in Jersey, but rather than split the amount in half, the Howard and Maria Stark Foundation -- which is what the charitable wing of Stark Industries is called -- just doubled it. So each of us still gets the same."

 

Bucky feels like he needs to pick his jaw up off the floor. A heaviness settles in the pit of his stomach. It's almost too serendipitous, too coincidental. Steve is still making breakfast, but Bucky can feel him watching him out of the corner of his eye. "Why did you want to speak to Steve?" he asks, still confused about that part of the story.

 

"Curiosity, mostly," Denise replies. "Obviously, when I applied, I didn't realise I was only a couple of degrees of separation from Stark Industries. After the call today, and having met Steve on Thursday, I wondered if maybe he'd played a part in us getting it."

 

Bucky's jaw twitches. Steve's got his back to Bucky now, finishing up the coffee, as though he's purposefully trying to not distract Bucky from the conversation. "And what was the response?" he asks in a low, even voice. The idea that Steve might've had something to do with them getting the grant is an ethical minefield he really doesn't want to set foot in if he can help it. He hopes like hell he doesn't have to.

 

"He said he didn't know about the grant at all until I told him about it," Denise responds.

 

Bucky lets out a breath he hadn't even realised he'd begun to hold. He's got no reason to doubt Steve's or Denise's words; Bucky considers both of these individuals highly trustworthy. Running a hand through his hair, Bucky watches as Steve finishes off their breakfast preparations, relieved in the knowledge that all that time Steve had been picking his brain about how his outreach works in the last week wasn't some sort of well-meaning deception.

 

"Okay, okay. So we have money now..."

 

"--A lot of money--" Denise adds, and Bucky lets out a little laugh.

 

"How much is 'a lot'?" Bucky queries.

 

"Two hundred and fifty thousand," Denise answers, and Bucky nearly chokes on his sharp intake of air.

"Holy shit," he breathes, running a hand through his hair. "Okay, a lot of money," Bucky corrects himself. "What's the next step? I'm assuming you already have ideas."

 

"You know me," Denise says with a smile in her voice, "always prepared. For starters, we can start recruiting new counsellors straightaway."

 

"That'd be great," Bucky says, although the hiring process is going to be a bit of a bitch. It'll be worth it.

 

"Of course you know, that's going to take a little time, getting the right people," Denise adds, as though reading Bucky's mind. "But something we can do to immediately alleviate some of the stress on the office is get someone in to help with the paperwork and upkeep of files, data entry, etc."

 

"That should be a little easier to fill; they don't need any specific experience with kids, just office experience," Bucky muses.

 

"Remember our intern out of high school from last year?"

 

Bucky perks up immediately. She'd been a lovely girl, smart as a whip and hardworking. "Vanessa?"

 

"That's her. She called me a month ago to say if we ever had any work available for her, she'd love to leave her current employment to do it. She's studying social work at college, and is available at least three full days a week to come and help as a general office assistant."

 

"She's also worked here before, so she knows our systems, and we like her, so we can hire immediately without going through the motions of interviewing other randoms," Bucky finishes, the beginnings of a smile on his face.

 

"Exactly," Denise enthuses. "She's also ready to start this week, if we want her."

 

Bucky thinks to the stacks of files he's still trying to complete, and how it's sending him cross-eyed sitting at his computer for so long. The idea it's no longer solely up to him to do is delicious. "That's amazing."

 

"You're telling me. And since she'll likely be able to join us by the end of this week, all that time you'd set aside to do the follow-up filing and spreadsheets next weekend is rendered unnecessary."

 

Bucky blinks slowly. "Dee?" he asks, confused.

 

"Your special skills aren't actually needed for that -- frankly, very boring -- job, and you've been working well over your contract. Congratulations, Bucky, you now have next Thursday to Monday off."

 

Bucky shakes his head. "Dee, I can't take vacation time now, when we'll have so much to d--" he starts to dispute, but Denise hushes him quickly.

 

"Bucky," she says softly. There's something in Denise's tone that says stop arguing. "You've been working a lot longer, and it's starting to show." He winces, partly due to the fact that he knows it's true. Bucky flicks a quick glance to Steve, wondering if he's picking up on any of the conversation, or even whether he's picked up on how tired Bucky's getting. Though if he hasn't, it's not his fault: Steve's not as familiar with his quirks as Denise is. If Steve can hear anything, he's steadfastly pretending he can't. Bucky appreciates the illusion of privacy that Steve's giving him for this private matter.

 

The thing is, Bucky loves his job. But in the last few months it's been an uphill battle, and it's starting to wear a little thin. Out of hours meetings, the stressors of Steve getting injured as well as meeting his family, less downtime, and some sleepless nights, have not made for the kindest mindset.

 

While Steve was away receiving accolades with Sam in DC, Bucky'd had a bad night, but didn't get around to calling Benjamin, or even telling Steve about it. There just seemed no point when he could parse exactly why it happened; he knows it comes from exhaustion, knows that he's burning the candle at both ends.

 

"It's important that you're well-rested the week after next, because I'll put out the call for counsellors on Monday, and I'm going to need you in on the interviews afterwards." Dee's voice breaks Bucky out of dwelling on his mental state.

 

Bucky gives a good-natured groan. "Why do you always have me in on interviews?"

 

"If they can get past your thousand-yard stare, they'll be tough enough to work here," Denise says, a grin evident in her voice. "Also, we'll have to pick candidates for the Halloween party."

 

Bucky freezes for a moment. "What party?" he asks carefully.

 

"Oh, okay. So the announcement for the winners of the grant is going to happen at some big shindig at the Avengers Tower the Saturday before Halloween. Ms Potts would like for us to pick out some kids and their families who would be great examples of the work we do to attend. Representatives and vets from the hospice will be there, too. They'll get to dress up in costume, be picked up in a limousine and taken to Manhattan where they'll meet the Avengers, as well." Denise pauses for a moment. "They need a few outreach workers there to chaperone, as well as receive the grant, and I thought maybe you might like to be one of them? If it's something you would be comfortable doing."

 

Bucky chews on his bottom lip. It's an interesting predicament to be in. He was just invited to the party by Steve, but more for the second part. Steve seemed to think that Bucky wouldn't want to see the pomp and circumstance of an official Avengers charity meet and greet. Well, it just might happen anyway, now.

 

The question is, can he attend the party in both capacities? As a representative of his workplace first, and then afterwards, as Steve's date?

 

He doesn't realise he's fallen silent until Denise asks if he's still on the line.

 

"Yes, sorry," Bucky apologises, "just... thinking." He glances at Steve, who is stirring some creamer into Bucky's coffee with a teaspoon, just how he likes it.

 

"That's okay. You've probably got quite a bit to ponder," Denise agrees. "I'm so sorry to have bothered you on your day off with this information--"

 

"It's fine, Dee. This was pretty damned important," Bucky says. He breathes a big sigh. "You think we'll be okay?"

 

"I think we'll be fine," Denise assures kindly. "This is what we needed. I can't wait to see the good this money will be able to do."

 

Bucky gives a small, genuine smile. "Me neither," he says in a slightly awed voice. They say their goodbyes, and Bucky hangs up. He stares at the blank phone screen for a few moments before half-turning to throw it onto the sofa cushions.

 

He slumps against the kitchen counter and watches Steve, who has finished the entire breakfast while Bucky's been on the phone; eggs and toast and coffee, all laid out on the counter. He looks tentatively at Bucky, unsure and potentially gauging how he's processing all this new information.

 

Bucky doesn't say anything, save to walk over to Steve and wrap his arms around the blond's chest. Steve hugs him back immediately, and Bucky sags into the embrace, relief bleeding out in torrents. It's a wonderful moment, if only because Bucky's realising that while there's still a bit of hard work to go, essentially his life is once again more his own than it was ten minutes ago. He exhales gustily.

 

"Everything okay?" Steve murmurs.

 

"Yeah... yeah, it is. I'm just shocked, without putting too fine a point on it."

 

Bucky pulls back a little, hands gripping Steve's huge biceps. "You really didn't have anything to do with it?" Bucky doesn't think he's been lied to, he'd just really like to hear the words come from Steve's mouth directly.

 

Steve shakes his head emphatically. "I really didn't. In fact... I think Pepper kept me in the dark on purpose." He pushes some of Bucky's longer bangs away from his face with a careful hand. Bucky leans into the hand for a brief moment, before forcing himself to pull away. He gestures to their plates of breakfast untouched on the counter top.

 

"Let's eat before this gets cold," Bucky suggests, "and you can tell me why you think that."

 

They each slide onto the stools by the counter, and take up a fork. Bucky has a sip of coffee as Steve takes a huge bite out of his scrambled eggs on toast.

 

"I dropped in on Pepper while at the Tower yesterday, to ask her a question. It was about volunteering at your work," Steve says without preamble, after he's finished chewing his mouthful.

 

Bucky's eyebrows rise. "Why is that?"

 

"Well, I told you my reasons to volunteer, about me wanting it to be for Steve Rogers, not Captain America," he begins seriously.

 

"Very compelling arguments they were, too," Bucky says kindly, touching the back of Steve's hand. The sombre expression lightens a little bit, and Bucky is glad for it.

 

"Pepper is a great sounding board, and very knowledgeable. I wanted to ask her advice on it, and wanted to know if it would cause any problems, or if I were breaking any rules that I didn't know about.

 

"She said no, especially if I were doing it as myself, and not in my official role, though she did admit it would be great PR for the Avengers."

 

Bucky knows he can't keep the grimace off his face, because the last thing he wants to happen is for the circus to roll into town, with their reporters and their film crews to scrutinise his families for a sound bite on the six o'clock news on what they think about Captain America coming to visit them.

 

"You don't have to worry; I told her straight out that I didn't want my job to affect the volunteer aspect, and that I didn't want any PR stuff going on. I also said you probably wouldn't appreciate it."

 

Bucky gives a little sigh of relief, before a question occurs. "You told her specifically you wanted to work at my outreach?"

 

"Admittedly, if it were going to cause you any undue hassle at all, it wouldn't have to be yours, but I'd like for it to be," he says with gentle conviction, his jaw set in a way that probably should be all serious. Unfortunately Bucky gets a flash in his mind's eye of a tiny, ninety-pound Steve with the exact same set to his jaw, and can't help but think it's unfairly endearing.

 

"Does she know we're not just dating anymore?" Bucky presses.

 

The tips of Steve's ears go pink, and it's unconscionably attractive. "Yeah," he admits. "She asks about you sometimes. You made an impression on her."

 

"A good one, I hope," Bucky declares, wondering if she perhaps still thinks him taking Tony down a couple of pegs was a good thing.

 

"Definitely. Also, she thinks you have great eyes," Steve grins, before biting his lip. "Clearly, she's never seen your ass."

 

Bucky barks out a laugh. "And undoubtedly, she never will," he smiles back.

 

"Anyway," Steve continues, "I've no doubt she put two and two together, once she knew the name of where you worked, and where I wanted to volunteer, but she didn't say anything to me about it. Just sort of smiled, and asked if you were going to come to the Halloween party. Oh, and she also offered to help with a costume if needs be."

 

Because a Stark party would probably -- no, definitely -- necessitate the need for a better costume than the shitty Ninja Turtle one he plans to wear trick or treating. That's a Future Bucky concern, though. He needs to get back on task.

 

Bucky shakes his head a little. "Sounds like she knew already, but just didn't want to you to either a) spoil the surprise, b) put your foot in it, or c) have you give the game away early."

 

"All viable options," Steve nods, taking another bite of toast.

 

Bucky sips his coffee quietly for a few moments, setting out the timeline of events in his head. "So Dee really did get the grant based entirely on her proposal?"

 

"Looks like. When I spoke to her, she didn't know it was your workplace until I mentioned it. I think maybe... maybe after Pepper realised, she didn't want you to think that she was awarding it because of you, or me."

 

"Dee does write a kickass proposal," Bucky admits.

 

"If anyone could convince Pepper and a committee to hand over money, even based on only one meeting, I feel like it would be her," he says with utter confidence, a large smile on his face. He leans across to kiss Bucky on the cheek. "Congratulations to Denise, and you, and everyone at your work. This is such great news."

 

Bucky grins. "Damn right."

 

He takes a few more bites before a sudden pensive look crosses Steve's face. "Oh. So, uh... I heard you talk about hiring more staff now?"

 

"Yeah," Bucky says around a mouthful of scrambled egg, "that's going to be pretty great. You know, once we're past the shit interview process."

 

"Right... so..." Steve chews on his bottom lip. "I know you can probably afford a real artist for the course now, but... I'd love for you to still consider me as a volunteer position for it, if you wouldn't mind? You can save the money you'd spend hiring someone for something else, I was always going to do it for free, if you'd have me."

 

Bucky's heart hurts a little bit at Steve's tentative selling of his skills. "Are you fucking kidding me? Of course you're still considered for it." He takes Steve's hand. "We still have to iron out those details about what to do and when, but when that happens, if you're agreeable, I pretty much think Denise is already on board."

 

Steve gives him a sweet, hopeful smile, and it's quite disgusting what it does to Bucky's insides. They turn to molten fucking lava.

 

"Okay, that's-- that's great," he gently enthuses, squeezing Bucky's hand, and Bucky squeezes back.

 

They eat a little more breakfast before Steve puts his chin in his hand. "So what's going to happen now? Will you still have to work as much?"

 

Bucky sits up in the stool a little straighter, an idea forming in his head.

 

"Would it be hard for you to get a few days off from Thursday?" Bucky asks abruptly, answering the question with one of his own.

 

Steve gives one shoulder a shrug. "I've finished all the briefings, and am just running a few training exercises early next week. Barring an emergency, it shouldn't be too difficult. Why?"

 

Bucky cups his face in his hand and leans his elbow on the counter top, smirking. "...How about that weekend away?"

Chapter Text

 

Bucky sighs contentedly and flips a page in his paperback, though his attention on the book has been waning for the past few minutes. Steve lies next to him propped up on one elbow, on a similar towel, doodling in his sketchbook.

 

Well, he calls it 'doodling'. Bucky prefers to call it 'being ridiculously talented'.

 

"You're staring again," Steve comments lightly, though he hasn't looked up, and Bucky's wearing sunglasses. Bucky pushes them up off his nose, squinting at the brightness.

 

"How could you tell?" he asks curiously.

 

"I'm extremely observant," Steve replies with as much gravity as he can muster, and Bucky throws his balled-up sandwich wrapper at him.

 

"You're also a massive target," Bucky remarks rudely.

 

Steve stops drawing and looks up. "Are you... are you calling me fat?" he asks with horror, but not even Steve can keep a straight face at that anymore, and they both start laughing.

 

"You're such a ham. How did you even have an acting career?" Bucky chortles.

 

"It wasn't much of one, in case you couldn't tell," Steve grins.

 

Bucky smiles and drops his paperback to the side, completely abandoning any pretence of reading to watch Steve's pencil on the paper.

 

They've now spent just over twenty-four hours in North Carolina, and Bucky doesn't think he's ever felt so relaxed.

 

As it turns out, it wasn't hard for Steve to get some time off. He thinks maybe Pepper had some kind of hand in making it happen, because he knows at least that Pepper was the one to suggest North Carolina. She even went so far as to provide Steve with a few options as to where to stay, naming one in particular she had visited multiple times.

 

Because in some places she and Stark had been away together, the staff of wherever they stayed reported it to the media in the hopes of making a quick buck, Pepper now had made legal confidentiality agreements with certain trustworthy establishments around the country. Stark Industries kicks in a generous bonus if there were no leaks to their whereabouts during the stay. She'd told Steve that they both could be shielded by that agreement if they so chose.

 

With that, Steve agreed to Pepper's suggestion, and for expediency, even capitulating to her loaning them her private SI jet. Driving would take half a day, and a commercial airline would be more trouble than it was worth.

 

Bucky knew Steve didn't necessarily like leaning on Pepper for things such as this, but for a last-minute trip, he was willing to take whatever help he could get -- that wasn't Tony's.

 

Steve had been worried that Bucky would think the private jet and nondisclosure agreements were too much, but Bucky was surprisingly okay with it. He assured Steve that it was good to spoil yourself every once in a while, insisting that Steve had to start living like he'd actually left the Great Depression that he loved to fondly bring up all the time.

 

Flying on a private jet turned out to be pretty cool.

 

Bucky was happy enough to let Steve choose their accommodation, only getting cranky when Steve wouldn't let him split the cost.

 

"I'm staying there, too, I should pay as well," Bucky argued.

 

"It was my idea, when it's your idea, you can pay," Steve insisted. "Also, I'd like to think of it as me treating you for doing so well at work. If you still want to contribute, you can buy us food," Steve tacked on the end when Bucky was set to protest again.

 

The proviso was enough to stop Bucky arguing, especially knowing how much Steve could eat, it would actually end up being mostly fair.

 

With the jet dropping them off at a private airstrip, a town car was waiting to take them to their accommodation: the Harborlight Guest House.

 

The place, while not looking like much from the outside, turned out to be brilliant. Steve and Bucky had a two-room suite with waterfront views on three sides, a deck, and a hot tub in the living room -- a fucking hot tub. The suite looked like it rivalled Steve's apartment in sheer square footage, and it was definitely decorated a little nicer. Pale green walls with a mix of wooden and wicker furniture, comfortable chairs and a huge king bed. There was even a little patio facing the water.

 

"Damn," Bucky had breathed, suitably impressed upon walking in. "Pepper clearly knows her shit." He dropped his bag by one of the overstuffed chairs and went to one of the windows. It showed a pristine scene of the water, something that Bucky didn't get much opportunity to see.

 

Steve appeared behind him, turning his body around and slowly backing him into the master bedroom. "Was there ever any doubt?" he murmured next to Bucky's ear. Bucky couldn't help the grin or the pleased little shiver that went down his spine.

 

Just before the backs of Bucky's knees hit the bed, he used his size to swing Steve around and reverse their positions, before pushing him onto the mattress first.

 

Bucky'd never been to North Carolina before, but his first memories of it were undoubtedly burnt into his brain as extremely pleasant for years to come.

 

Their first day was lazy and nice. After some quality time in their suite, Steve went down to reception and organised the pick-up of their rental car. After exploring the amenities of their accommodation, their car was dropped off as a courtesy, and Steve took Bucky on a drive.

 

It was nice to have the convenience of a car without having to be the one to drive. Steve took them to the nearby national park where there were restaurants and shops and conveniences. They picked a little hole in the wall diner to have lunch at, before stopping to buy a shit-ton of snack foods to take back to their room. They made it back to see the sun set over the water from their little patio, and get room service for dinner.

 

All in all, a pretty good first day.

 

And their second day was shaping up to be even better, if Bucky had any say in it. After a lazy morning, they got changed into comfortable clothes, filled a backpack full of snacks, two towels, a novel and a sketchpad, and went on a walk.

 

The temperature was somewhere between warm and cool; warmer than New York, enough to wear shorts and t shirts during the day, but cool enough to require a light jacket or a supersoldier-shaped personal furnace at night.

 

Lucky Bucky brought both those things.

 

He sighs as he watches Steve shade with the pencil on his page, before his eyes get drawn out to the ocean. They'd found a sandy bank by the water, and then a couple of trees that afforded to give them a little shade out of the direct heat. They'd eaten some lunch and drawn and read respectively, now Bucky's getting itchy feet.

 

The water looks beautiful in the sunlight, flecks of sunshine rippling over the gentle water. There's next to no movement in the waves, just the gentlest of breaks onto the shore.

 

Bucky can't remember the last time he went swimming, but the urge suddenly hits him now.

 

He sits up and takes his sunglasses off, before grabbing his t shirt between his shoulderblades, pulling it up and off. The movement distracts Steve from his drawing and he arches an eyebrow.

 

Bucky undoes his belt and unzips his fly, and this time both of Steve's eyebrows decide to meet his hairline.

 

"Didn't think this was a nudist beach," he says mildly, watching Bucky kick off his shorts, until all that's left are his boxer briefs.

 

Steve gives a cautious look around, but there's barely anybody to see Bucky in all his glory. "Don't mistake this for a complaint, but is there any particular reason you're stripping?" Steve asks with amusement. He does allow himself a good long glance up and down Bucky's body.

 

Bucky gives a one-shouldered shrug and chucks his thumb towards the water. "Thought I'd take a dip," he gives Steve a grin and starts to back up towards the water.

 

Steve looks at him with surprise. Bucky laughs at his boyfriend's stunned mullet expression, crooking a finger in a beckoning motion as he gets closer. He hurries until the sand gets softer and cooler as gets closer to the water's edge, until suddenly it laps at his heels.

 

Bucky turns towards the water, breathing in the salt air. It's beautiful, and the gentle noises of the ocean are soothing. He steps in carefully, but the chill of the water doesn't properly hit him until it comes to mid-thigh. "Shit," he mutters, his breath quickening.

 

He shifts from foot to foot to foot to stay warm. When Bucky's become a little accustomed to the invigorating temperature, he looks back to Steve. Steve has stood by his towel, sketchbook dangling from one hand.

 

Bucky cups his hands in front of his face. "Come on in! It's beautiful!"

 

He's moved to where the water level reaches mid-chest. It's still fairly cool, but kicking his feet under the water helps keep him warm. Bucky draws his fingers over the edge of the water, watching the tips of his digits ripple the surface.

 

Without warning, he gives a little jump up, inhaling deeply and squeezing his eyes shut, before sinking below the surface.

 

Cool completely envelops him as he moves his arms through the water, fingers outspread. He can feel his hair float about his face like seaweed. After a moment, the soles of his feet find the sandbank again, and he pushes himself up.

 

Rubbing the salt water from his closed eyes with the heels of his hands, Bucky pushes his hair away from his face and blinks the droplets of water away. It takes a few moments to get his vision back, but when he does, Steve is still on the bank. It seems as though he's taken a few steps closer to the water, and he no longer holds the sketch pad, but it doesn't look like Bucky's getting a wading buddy.

 

Bucky peers closer. The line of Steve's body is stiff, shoulders rigid. He's far away, but something is off. His body language is screaming tension.

 

Bucky suddenly gets nervous he's about to see a dorsal fin pop up next to him or something, and gives a quick look around.

 

Shark fears allayed, Bucky turns to look back to the shore. "Steve?" He calls out in question.

 

Steve gives a short, sharp shake of his head before turning away. He bends down and starts picking things up like he's packing up.

 

A warning klaxon goes off in Bucky's head. He's not sure what happened in the last five minutes, but something is now wrong. It's subtle, but Bucky's spent nearly three months learning Steve's visual cues, and everything's off by degrees now.

 

Bucky starts to move back to the shore, cursing that the water slows him down so much. He struggles towards shore before jogging through the knee high water with some level of difficulty.

 

"How did Hasslehoff make it look easy?" he mutters, getting back to the sand. His boxer briefs now stick uncomfortably to his skin, but that's the least of his concerns right now.

 

Bucky jogs over the beach back to Steve, who has successfully thrown out their trash and packed all their belongings, save for Bucky's towel and clothes, into the backpack.

 

Running a hand through his wet hair, Bucky waits for Steve to offer an explanation. Steve, who seems to be studiously avoiding his gaze, watches the road.

 

"You didn't have to stop swimming," he says, unusually subdued.

 

Bucky responds with enforced cheer, picking up his towel. "'Course I did. You looked like you were packing up. Going somewhere?"

 

Steve keeps his eyes on the path. "I wasn't feeling-- I wanted to--" he lets out a sharp exhale. "I want to head back," he says resolutely, "getting a little hot."

 

Bucky dries his hair, the towel covering his face for a few moments. Steve doesn't really lie, per se, but he has been a fan in the past of deliberately omitting important details.

There's obviously bigger factors at play right now, so Bucky chooses to file that away to be addressed later.

 

Instead of dwelling, he hangs the towel around his shoulders and pulls his shorts back on, slipping into his flip flops. "Fair enough," Bucky says amiably, pulling his shirt back on as well.

 

Steve finally makes eye contact, looking surprised. "You don't have to come back... you can keep swimming if you want."

 

Bucky shrugs nonchalantly, hooking his sunglasses on the yoke of his t shirt. "Na, I'm okay. The point of the weekend was for us to spend time together, right? How can we do that if I'm here and you're back at the room?"

 

Steve doesn't answer, save to pick up the back pack and sling it over his tense shoulders. Bucky rubs the towel absently through his still-damp hair as they begin the five minute walk back to their accommodation.

 

They don't talk much on the way, and Bucky's not even sure Steve wants to be touched. They'd walked down to the beach holding hands, now Steve's hands are gripped in the straps of the backpack. Bucky stays close, brushing against him from time to time, but side glances show that Steve's not really paying attention.

 

For a guy that is perennially aware of his surroundings, it's unusual and it worries Bucky.

 

He doesn't ask anything, not until they get back to the room where there's a semblance of privacy.

 

Steve takes the backpack into their bedroom and starts unpacking it automatically. It stretches the silence out between them, but the actions seem reflexive, and important to Steve. Bucky watches from the doorway, running his hands through his hair. The line of Steve's body is still taut with tension.

 

Bucky leans against the doorframe and watches him for a few moments. Steve gives him side-eye as he busies himself.

 

"Sorry about that," Steve offers, voice seemingly light. "Think I was getting a little sunstroke." He tries for a smile, but it wavers a little. "Irish complexion and all."

 

"It was warm lying out in the sun," Bucky agrees. "The water cooled me right down, though."

 

At the statement, Steve pauses for a moment, and Bucky confirms to himself that this was the tipping point. He walks in and sits himself down on the bed, wriggling a little as his still-wet briefs soak through the seat of his pants. That's a Future Bucky problem, though.

 

Bucky takes a deep breath and looks up to Steve. "Are you okay, Steve? I feel like there might be something bothering you."

 

"Everything's good," Steve answers too quickly. He flicks a glance to Bucky and looks away quickly.

 

"And exactly how many people who give a shit about you does that sort of response usually work on?" Bucky queries.

 

Steve looks at him again, holding the eye contact for longer now. He pauses deliberately before answering. "You'd be surprised," Steve admits ruefully.

 

Bucky still stays silent. He has patience that a saint would envy, and half the time at work, all he needs to do is to wait the other person out. Bucky exhales softly and watches Steve finish unpacking their belongings.

 

With a deep sigh, Steve eventually sits next to Bucky, staring at the clasped hands in his lap. They're silent for a few moments more before Bucky decides to do something about it.

 

"Normally I'd let you start talking first, but I want to say something quickly, if that's okay?" Bucky prompts.

 

"Go ahead," Steve murmurs.

 

Bucky takes a deep breath and holds his hand out to Steve. After a moment's pause, Steve takes it. That, at least, is a good sign.

 

"It feels like something's happened that's upset you somehow. I don't pretend to have the details figured out, but I care about you. And I want to help if I can."

 

Bucky runs his thumb over the back of Steve's hand. "If you feel comfortable telling me what's upset you, I am ready to listen. But it's important for you to know that my help doesn't hinge on you telling me that information; if you don't feel like you can, I still want to make you feel comfortable and safe again."

 

"I am safe," Steve argues gently. "I know that."

 

"Logically you know that, I'm sure," Bucky responds, "but humans don't always act logically." He waits for Steve to respond, but Steve says nothing, so Bucky continues. "If there's anything I can do to help, I'd really like for you to tell me."

 

Steve looks at Bucky then, and his eyes are strained, fingers twitching in Bucky's hand. "I. I want to tell you," he bites out.

 

Bucky arches a brow. "Really? Because it doesn't sound like you do."

 

Steve squeezes his hand and shakes his head. "No, I do. I should. But--" he looks around with his brow furrowed. It seems like the words are getting stuck.

 

Bucky runs a thumb over the back of Steve's hand. "Do you need a little bit of time to yourself?" he offers.

 

"Yes," Steve responds, almost desperately. "If I can just get my thoughts together..."

 

Bucky nods and gets up. "Okay. I'm going to take a shower, wash the salt out of my hair. Take as much time as you need. If I come out and you're still not ready, that's okay, too." He leans down to kiss Steve on the forehead and slowly disengages their hands.

 

With a little, encouraging smile, Bucky backs into the bathroom and closes the door. When it's shut, he kicks off his flip flops and leans on the sink. His skin feels too tight and his chest aches. Steve's obviously distressed, but doesn't know how to articulate his problems. He says he wants to speak, but Bucky's not sure that Steve can.

 

Bucky desperately wishes he'd taken his cell into the bathroom with him, he's tempted to fire off a call to Denise. There's a reason she handles their PTSD-related cases.

 

Bucky strips off and gets in the shower. As great as that idea is, it's really not feasible, anyway. If Steve overheard him talking, that'd be horrifically awkward, and no doubt a breach of trust. That and it's not exactly keeping his work and personal life separate, like he strives to do on a daily basis.

 

The water is pleasant and Bucky takes his time washing his hair. He's not sure if he should hurry the shower to return to Steve, or take longer to give him more time.

 

Bucky rubs his eyes under the water, and tries to think about what he'd want in a similar situation. He'd want company, but space. To not feel crowded in, but know that he's not alone, and the ability to reach out when he felt he was ready for some sort of physical solace.

 

But that's him. Steve could be entirely different.

 

Bucky runs through scenarios in his head as he showers, trying to figure a plan on how to assist, but it's remarkably difficult when he knows next to nothing about what has triggered anxiety in Steve. Instead, Bucky exhales smoothly, and thinks of a few different options he can offer as physical comforts. He rinses the conditioner out of his hair and exits the shower.

 

Running a comb through his hair, Bucky wraps a large, fluffy towel around his waist and shuffles back into the bedroom, deciding to play it by ear.

 

Steve's still sitting on the bed, head in his hands, and the sight makes Bucky wince. He knows what it's like to feel like that. Gaze snapping up when he hears Bucky, Steve looks simultaneously happy and terrified to see him.

 

Bucky resumes his place next to him, not touching, but close enough to reach if Steve wishes. He can only go by his own responses when triggered, and sometimes touch is a -- forgive the pun -- touchy subject for him.

 

Those concerns are allayed when Steve pulls him close almost instantly. Bucky wraps his arms around Steve's torso, and holds him tight. He can feel Steve's face resting in the crook of his shoulder, can hear the uneven breathing and the occasional hitch, the faster heartbeat.

 

"Hey, it's okay. You don't have to talk now," Bucky soothes. "What do you need to feel a little better?"

 

Steve's words are a little muffled, but Bucky can make them out clearly enough. "I need to tell you," he insists, before pushing up from Bucky. Bucky can see his eyes are just a touch moist, and his heart drops a little in his chest. "It's so stupid, though. What sets me off," Steve says as he wipes at the skin just below his right eye.

 

Bucky thinks he knows why Steve is having so much trouble speaking, because he knows exactly what it's like to have a conversation like this with Denise, except he was on Steve's side.

 

It's about not wanting to be vulnerable in front of someone you respect. You don't want them to think less of you. It's so clear, in the way that Steve is sitting there, licking dry lips and trying to choose his words. Trying to think of the most acceptable way to present his deeply individual trauma to Bucky.

 

And Bucky knows what he can do to perhaps help make it a bit easier on Steve.

 

"Birthday candles," he offers quietly, putting his hands in Steve's. Steve looks at him in confusion, so he elaborates. "Birthday candles, when they're blown out have a very specific smell. Apparently, it reminds me of the smell of the smoke grenades I used in Afghanistan to clear out a building full of insurgents."

 

He laughs without much humour. "Found out quite by accident in my first six months of working at the outreach, when it was Wendy's birthday. She blew out her candles, and the next thing I remember is Dee crouching next to me." He shrugs stiffly." I'd apparently hit the deck and crawled into the corner of the room, yelling out some stuff."

 

"I'm sorry, Buck," Steve says sincerely.

 

"I'm the reason we can't have candles on cakes at work anymore," Bucky says self-deprecatingly.

 

"Candles are overrated," Steve says with a wavering smile.

 

Bucky lets out a soft laugh and kisses Steve on the cheek. "Thanks." He sighs. "The reason I'm telling you this is that it's okay to share with the people you trust, they're not going to think less of you. If they care for you don't want to see you hurting.

 

"If they care for you, they can help."

 

Steve leans forward and presses their foreheads together, closing his eyes. "Thank you," he says quietly. "That probably wasn't easy to say."

 

"It wasn't so bad," Bucky murmurs back, "I trust you."

 

Bucky can feel Steve exhale a large breath, the air tickling his skin. With some effort, Steve leans back and opens his eyes. They're still holding hands, and Bucky can feel his fingers twitch, the large palms slightly slick with sweat.

 

"I--" Steve stops, licking dry lips. His eyes scan back and forth, as though he's sorting through which words to speak. Bucky rubs his thumbs in small circles over the back of Steve's hands, trying to show him support. Eventually, Steve begins to talk in slow, measured words. "I don't like going into large bodies of water. It's not just the ocean, but the ocean is the worst."

 

Bucky nods thoughtfully. The ocean is an interesting one. He knows -- and has had personal experience with -- people who've not been able to go to the beach, but that's usually been due to the sand. In fact, Bucky grits his teeth on dry sand: once he's close to the water and it's wet, it bears little to no resemblance to the desert he had to put up with for years, and it gets much better.

 

Steve's voice pulls him out of his musings. His words are stilted, each one sounds like an effort to be forced out of his body. "Everyone thinks that the ice is a big deal to me, and tiptoe around it. Unless you're Tony, and making constant jokes about it."

 

"Tony's an asshole," Bucky cuts in bluntly, and it makes Steve smile a little, squeezing his hands.

 

"Sometimes," he agrees. Steve inhales deeply, the exhale rattling through his chest. "The ice was-- is bad, I agree. But-- but I don't really remember it very well, th-the freezing or the defrosting process."

 

Steve lifts his eyes to Bucky's, and they are scraped clean of the mirth and vitality that they usually contain. "I remember the water."

 

Bucky's forehead creases in a frown. Steve's talking about the Valkyrie, and Bucky goes over every scrap of information he knows about it. Given that he's made a point not to research Captain America anymore than he already knew, his has to think back to his high school history classes, as well as anything Gracie has talked about over the course of her Masters degree.

 

Steve was stuck on the HYDRA plane, bombs on board and heading for the States. Unable to land, he nosedived...

 

...into the ocean.

 

Bucky's mouth drops open in horror, and Steve's jaw clenches tight. "I don't remember freezing," he says quietly, looking down at their joined hands, "But I remember water seeping into the cockpit, so very cold." Steve's adam's apple bobs as he swallows.

 

"I remember drowning."

 

His voice fades on the last syllable, but to Bucky, he may as well have shouted it. It's like a slap in the face, and Bucky watches in dismay as Steve's broad shoulders slump and curve forward.

 

Bucky can't help his reaction. He pulls Steve forward, back into the crook of his neck, wrapping one arm around his shoulders and the other around his waist. Steve is pliant and goes there willingly, digging his nose into Bucky's damp collarbone. Words are halted as Bucky runs through the chain of events in the afternoon, like flipping through slides.

 

"I didn't realise," Bucky says hoarsely, in reflection. "And I-- I called you out into the water."

 

"I've been in water before, sometimes I've had no choice," Steve admits. "If I need to save someone, or I've been thrown into it, I could manage." He gives a little shudder. "I just didn't do well afterwards."

 

Bucky wets his lips. "Have you ever told anyone else this? Your teammates? A counsellor?"

 

Steve moves, and it's a shake of his head. "Telling someone means I'm thinking about it, and I don't like to do that." His fingers twitch on Bucky's skin, pulling him tighter. Bucky doesn't shirk away, squeezing Steve as tight as he possibly can in return; he knows it's not going to hurt the blond.

 

Bucky thinks on Steve's reply, thinks on how close he's been keeping this information. "Would you have told me if we weren't staying here together? Or if I hadn't asked?"

 

Steve breathes out a sigh, his breath tickling at Bucky's wet skin. "Probably not," he admits in a small voice.

 

Bucky's not upset by the admission. Steve has proven time and again to be protective of his privacy, and as he well knows, PTSD is not an easy subject to discuss with anyone.

 

One of his hands goes into Steve's hair and massages the knotted muscles at the base of the blond's skull, and Steve moves towards the touch.

 

"Thank you for telling me," he says sincerely, "it was really brave. I'm glad that you felt like you could, and I appreciate how much it took to not deflect or lie about it."

 

Steve gives a scandalised snort and looks up. His eyes are red-rimmed, but there's a little bit of fire back in them. Not as much as normal, but it's an improvement. "I couldn't lie," he says, sounding shocked. "It might be hard, but... I couldn't do that."

 

Bucky cups Steve's face in his hands and gives him a smile. "Maybe the 'A' doesn't stand for 'Asshole' after all. 'Captain Altruism' has a ring of truth to it."

                                 

"Shut up," Steve blurts out an ugly laugh, and Bucky chuckles gently.

 

He exhales a deep breath. With the story out, Bucky can focus on the next step. He runs the backs of his knuckles gently over Steve's cheekbones. "So now that I know what the cause is... what can I do to help?" When Steve looks at him somewhat blankly, Bucky rephrases. "What can we both do to make you to feel more settled and comfortable for the rest of our time here?"

 

Steve chews on his bottom lip, casting a quick glance behind him to the rest of their suite. "We have three windows that face the water..." he begins slowly.

 

"Want to see if we can switch suites?"

 

"I really love this room, though," Steve insists, "and you do, too. I just--" he exhales sharply. "I don't want to see it right now."

 

Bucky thinks carefully. "Would shutting the curtains help?"

 

Steve perks up as though he'd not thought of that as an option. "You wouldn't mind?"

 

"Shit, Steve, they're just curtains. If I want to appreciate the view, I can always go sit out on the patio. If so many views of the water make you uncomfortable, it's an easy fix."

 

"Just two," Steve says quickly. "I mean. One is okay, three is a little much."

 

Bucky suspects that Steve's saying it just to please him, but he doesn't need to get into arguing little details like that now.

 

"That's eminently doable," Bucky agrees, "What else?"

 

Steve looks thoughtful. "Noise is good? Not a lot... just, music. Or even the TV on or something?"

 

Bucky nods and stands. He takes Steve's hands and gives a little tug, pulling Steve to his feet. Gently leading Steve into the living room of their suite, Bucky drops one hand to pick up the remote control to the TV and flick it on. He flips around, looking for something to play. Bucky stops on the sports channel as ESPN is replaying the baseball game from a few days ago. The gentle roar of the crowd combined with the laconic narration by the commentators has Steve visibly relaxing.

 

"That's good," Steve murmurs, eyes drawn to the screen.

 

"Anything else?" Bucky prompts.

 

Steve thinks, a deep frown creasing his brow. "I like to have hot showers," he admits after a few moments. "The temperature helps me remember I'm... not there."

 

Bucky observes Steve carefully, and thinks back to after Geneva. Steve didn't have a problem with a bath when he had a busted foot, but he also wasn't coming off a PTSD-related episode at the time.

 

"Are baths okay under the circumstances, too?" Bucky queries.

 

"Yes," Steve confirms. "They're different."

 

"Good." Bucky presses a quick kiss to Steve's hand and drops it. He walks past the overstuffed armchairs to the dais where the hot tub is. Steaming water streams through the faucet as he turns the taps on. There's a lot of pressure, and Bucky is suitably impressed at the speed in which the tub is filling.

 

While that happens, Bucky moves to each one of the large picture windows in the room and closes the curtains. He turns after closing the third one to see Steve's jaw jut out stubbornly.

 

"I said you didn't have to do that to all three," he says obstinately.

 

"I know," Bucky replies, moving to turn on one of the pedestal lamps in the room, "but for privacy, it's probably a good idea."

 

Before Steve can respond, Bucky crosses the room, heading towards the tub. As he moves, he unwraps the towel from his waist, so by the time Bucky gets there and drops the towel, he's naked. The water level's close to where it needs to be now, so Bucky slides in and turns to face Steve.

 

He is frozen in place, not unlike he was at the beach, save for the fact his face and body betray more surprise than anxiety. Bucky gives Steve an encouraging smile, and to his pleasure, a small one is returned. Reaching out to flick on the lamp conveniently close to the tub, the bulb bathes Bucky's skin in warm, yellow light. He turns the taps off and sits up so that the water comes to his hips, only just covering his crotch.

 

Bucky arches one brow and cocks his head to the side, avoiding verbally asking Steve to join him, so to cause no associations with asking the blond to join him in the ocean earlier.

 

Steve seems to pick up on the question without problem. He walks slowly to the tub, taking his t shirt off as he goes. Sitting down on the top stair but facing away from the tub, Steve takes his time removing his shoes, and then shorts. He flips around then, his boxer briefs the only stitch of clothing left.

 

Bucky moves to Steve, who dangles his legs in the tub. He scoops the water up with his hands, getting Steve's bony knees wet. Placing both hands on them, he pushes Steve's knees apart and moves between them. He stretches up, stopping a few inches out from Steve's mouth, but Steve drops down so their lips touch.

 

The kiss is sweet and remarkably chaste. Bucky looks at Steve's shoulders, curving down in a slump, his eyes watching Bucky with adoration and wariness. "If you're in the mood," Bucky starts, running wet hands down Steve's chest and stomach until he gets to the waistband of his briefs, "you should join me."

 

Bucky's fingers tug gently at the elastic, and ultimately, Steve pushes himself up on his hands so Bucky can pull the briefs down past his ass. He then lifts his feet out of the water so Bucky can completely remove them.

 

He reaches blindly for Bucky's hands. Then, and only then, does Steve lift himself up off the rim of the tub and sink slowly into the water. Sitting on the ledge on the inside, the water comes up to just below his pectorals.

 

Bucky flicks a switch and turns the jets on. Steve startles for a moment, but the soft burbling of the water, combined with how it feels from all the sides, seems to distract him a little.

 

Bucky smiles indulgently. "Thank you," he whispers. He slides up and into Steve's lap, his knees bracketing Steve's thighs. Their parts are pressed together, but Bucky ignores that for the time being.

 

He drapes his arms gently around Steve's neck and they spend a few more important moments kissing. Steve's movements are skittish, not as confident as they normally are, so Bucky takes his time, not only with his lips, but with his hands. They are not idle, roaming the blond's shoulders and arms, trying to work out the tense, bunched muscles.

 

As Steve loosens up, Bucky slides out of his lap and manoeuvres himself behind Steve, doing his best to bracket Steve's body with his own.

 

In this position, Steve sags against him once he feels Bucky surround him. Bucky reaches his arms around Steve's chest and holds him close, dipping to kiss Steve on the shoulder before resting his chin there.

 

They sit like that for a while, listening to the bubbling of the spa, and the dull murmur of the baseball crowd from the TV. Steve's breathing seems to have evened out. If Bucky's thinking about it, he's tried to create an environment opposite to what he thinks Steve's experiences would've been like: instead of silent, cold and alone, it's noise, warmth and companionship. Bucky hopes it's enough to make something resembling a safe space for him.

 

"This is nice," Steve says presently, leaning back a little so their cheeks rub together, because Steve has a thing for Bucky with a couple of day's growth on his face.

 

Bucky exhales a short breath in relief. "So the situation's okay?" Bucky confirms, and Steve nods in reply. "Good," he says, adding in a squeeze for good measure.

 

Steve's silent for a little longer, before letting out a sigh, his large hands coming to rest over Bucky's on his chest.

 

"I'm sorry," he says quietly, facing out.

 

"What for?" Bucky asks, and Steve gives him a weird look from the side. Bucky remains resolute. "Seriously, what for?"

 

"This was meant to be our first weekend away," Steve begins.

 

"It's still our first weekend away," Bucky reminds him, gently bumping his head into Steve's.

 

"It's just--" Steve pauses and sighs. "It's our first weekend away, and I've gone and ruined it."

 

Bucky pulls away, looking mildly horrified. "How on earth do you think you've ruined this?" He gestures to them both, and the entire beautiful room.

 

Steve looks at the jet directly opposite him, spewing out warm water. "I freaked out a little and got depressing, and you're having to cheer me up and be like a counsellor," he sulks. "It's meant to be your time off work."

 

Bucky laughs huskily, and shifts behind him, lips brushing Steve's cheek. "Trust me when I say I am not confusing you with a twelve-year old who's having problems at school."

 

"I should hope not," Steve says mildly, pushing back into Bucky's pelvis, so his half-hard dick presses into his ass.

 

"Hey," Bucky says with fake offense, "don't blame my dick for not listening to our emotional conversation, it was solely focused on the touching and the spooning you. Can you blame it? S'got a mind of its own."

 

Steve sighs. "If I did, I'd have to blame mine, too," he says ruefully, and Bucky gets a little jolt of desire spike through him. His hands move down a little over the slick plane of Steve's chest, squeezing his pectorals to the tune of a muffled hiss.

 

Steve feels incredible under his hands, smooth and pliant and warm. Bucky licks a few beads of water away from the crook of Steve's neck, and hears a cut-off whimper of pleasure, and Steve leans back, pressing into Bucky. Maybe there's something else he can do to help Steve feel good and safe again.

 

"In response to me acting like your counsellor," Bucky begins, bringing the conversation back to Steve's concerns, "I'd like to remind you of my strict code of conduct in relation to my charges, and my job."

 

"I remember your feelings on the subject," Steve murmurs.

 

Bucky shifts, one hand drifting absently over Steve's abdominals, then the hard plane of his lower stomach. "If I were actually your counsellor, it'd be completely unethical to give you a handjob," he says nonchalantly, taking Steve's hardening dick in his hand. "Make no mistake, if you're up for it--" Bucky pauses to laugh softly at his own joke, pressing his nose into Steve's cheek, "--that's what I plan to do."

 

Any lingering worry that he might not be going in the right direction with Steve is dismissed when Steve bites off a groan and thrusts his hips into Bucky's hand.

 

Bucky's teeth scrape the back of Steve's shoulder as he pumps Steve's shaft. A larger hand joins Bucky's and with a twisting motion, it doesn't take long before Steve's hips stutter to a halt, body going momentarily rigid in front of him.

 

Bucky murmurs his approval as Steve gulps in air to come down from his orgasm. His own erection is pressed between them and momentarily forgotten when Steve turns in his embrace and presses him up against the wall of the tub to kiss him deeply. He should feel boxed in by Steve's imposing presence, but he doesn't. Steve keeps nudging at Bucky while they kiss, like he wants something specific. Bucky's arms wrap around his neck, and his legs go instinctively around Steve's waist when he stands up in the tub, lifting Bucky out.

 

Water sluices off their bodies, to be soaked up by the towels strewn haphazardly at the little stairs, as Steve puts Bucky down carefully, making eye contact with Bucky that is heavy with the many things he hasn't been able to say.

 

"I'd like to take you to bed," Steve announces with a moderate amount of confidence, and Bucky's gratified that a little of the old Steve is returning. The way in which he says it reminds Bucky of him signing off his more confident missives with 'I'll write you tomorrow'. Still, Steve being Steve, it's an offer that allows for a negative response, just in case.

 

Bucky gives him a gentle smile and holds one hand out. Steve takes it immediately, interlacing their fingers. "I'd like that, too," Bucky responds.

 

He leads Steve across the carpet and to the bedroom, leaving droplets and wet footprints in their wake.

 

Once there, Bucky sets about making Steve feel safe and cared for. Steve is forever clutching at him, pulling him close, so Bucky makes sure there's always three or four points of contact between their bodies.

 

There is an edge of desperation to what they do, but Bucky keeps slowing Steve down. He calms Steve's manic energy with gentle touches, feather-light kisses and soft words of encouragement.

 

And Steve responds in the way that Bucky's realising is indicative of his boyfriend; jumping into their intimacy with both feet first, eyes wide open, and trusting. With Steve opening up to him in such a personal way, Bucky thinks a barrier or two he hadn’t quite realised were up, have come down.

 

It is a very privileged position that Bucky finds himself in, to be the source of comfort and grounding of not Captain America, but Steve.

 

Because Steve is a deep and complex and wonderful human all on his own, without ever putting that brightly-coloured uniform on.

 

Steve comes down from his climax, sweaty and shaking and still clutching at Bucky's shoulders. Their foreheads are pressed together, breath intermingling. Steve's eyes are so blue and so close... Bucky presses their lips together in a sweet kiss, wanting to sink down on top of Steve after their coupling. All he really wants to do is have a nap after the physical and emotional toll of the afternoon.

 

Looking up at him softly, Steve pushes some errant strands of hair away from his eyes, before his hand travels to cup Bucky's face.

 

Bucky's stomach dips. Oh he really is in serious like with this man.

 

"Buck," Steve murmurs, brushing his thumb along Bucky's cheekbone.

 

"Yeah?" Bucky replies, leaning into the touch.

 

Steve smiles up at him, beatific and tender, his eyes utterly arresting in the afternoon light. He pauses before the smile wanes, shifting his shoulders on the mattress uncomfortably. "... the sheets are really wet."

 

Bucky looks at him for a beat before he starts laughing. They'd traipsed into the bedroom without actually drying off from the hot tub. Steve begins laughing, too. Lying with Steve in the afterglow or having a short nap is not conducive on sodden linen.

 

They both get out of bed after that, changing into comfortable, warm sweats and t shirts. Much to Steve's mortification, Bucky calls housekeeping and asks if it's possible for someone to bring up a fresh set of sheets, while Steve drains the tub, strips the bed, and frantically picks up wet towels from the floor.

 

Ten minutes later, their lovely housekeeper arrives with fresh linens. Steve is too embarrassed to let her make the bed, instead giving her the bundled-up wet sheets and tipping her generously. He then sets about remaking their bed quickly, with military precision. Bucky nods in understanding. When they teach you how to make the bed like that, it never quite goes away.

 

Once complete, Bucky takes the opportunity to jump into the centre of the bed, sitting up against the headboard. Steve rolls his eyes but joins him, choosing to slide a bit further down and rest his head against Bucky's collarbone. Bucky drags his fingers through Steve's blond hair absently.

 

They talk quietly about what they might occupy themselves with tomorrow -- kayaking, no, maritime museum, yes -- and Bucky orders a small feast from room service. It's a little early for dinner, but they're both hungry after their long day, and Bucky reasons they can always order more food later.

 

Steve yawns a lot in the early evening, and it sets Bucky off, too. They forego ordering more food to turn in early instead. Bucky sinks down onto the mattress, facing Steve on the other pillow.

 

"I miss Babushka," he admits, "but she's probably not missing me, running amok at mom and dad's. My mom spoils her like you do."

 

"Your mom is a woman of discerning and faultless taste," Steve replies with a little smile. "I miss her, too."

 

Bucky's mind starts to skirt close to the list of jobs waiting for him when he gets back -- from picking up Babushka from his parents' house to the many interviews Dee is lining up for him to sit in on when he gets back -- but he forcibly pushes those thoughts aside and refocuses on the man next to him. Steve looks tired, and not as good as he'd looked first thing in the morning, but better than when they'd returned to the suite.

 

"I fully intend to take advantage of the time spent not being suffocated by her, though," Bucky decides, making a circular motion with one finger. Steve smiles immediately and turns, putting his back to Bucky, and Bucky shuffles closer, draping his arm over Steve's waist.

 

Steve yawns again, and it's gratifying to hear the even breathes coming from the blond. But just to be sure...

 

"How are you doing?" he asks, and the tone lets Steve know in which way Bucky's expecting him to answer.

 

Steve exhales deeply. "I'm okay," he says presently, squeezing Bucky's hand where it rests on his stomach. "Thanks for listening and... taking care of me."

 

Bucky smiles and brushes his nose at the soft skin behind Steve's ear. "That's my super power," Bucky imparts like a secret, and Steve just chuckles and pulls him closer.

Chapter Text

The One With The Big Party

 

(Location: Avengers Tower)

 

 

 

The sounds of the party are a little loud and a little obnoxious, but Bucky doesn't expect anything less from a shindig thrown by Tony Stark.

 

Bucky stands off to the side of the massive ballroom-come-function room, a few feet away from the wall. The cool he normally thinks he displays when standing waiting for something is hampered by the fact he's in full costume. Eyes constantly slip to the door as he waits uncertainly, and his face is itching underneath the mask. Bucky scratches it absently and does his best not to wring his hands.

 

"Don't look so nervous," a kind voice says by his left side. Bucky turns to see Pepper Potts stand next to him with a winning smile. Her beautiful red hair is carefully done in two braids. She's Jessie from Toy Story, currently sans hat.

 

Bucky goes to refute her claim, before shaking his head shallowly. "That obvious, is it?" he asks wryly.

 

"Not really, but I'm more than familiar with the anticipation before a big event." She smiles, a shallow dimple showing in one cheek. "You're also standing closer to the door, and spending more time watching it than Steve, so I'm hazarding a guess."

 

At the mention, Bucky flicks a quick glance to where Steve is. He's on the other side of the room, mingling with some representatives of another charity. He's got his 'polite and earnest interest' face going on, nodding and smiling as he's spoken to.

 

Bucky flashes Pepper a little smile. "He can look after himself. I'm more concerned about the kids and their families."

 

Pepper nods. "I have their information, but can you tell me a little about who is coming?"

 

The party is an unfamiliar environment, but this is work, and work-mode takes over. It's almost a bit of a blessing. Bucky's spine straightens, his shoulders go back, and his eyes gain focus.

 

"Denise and I chose three families that represent a good cross-section of the kids we help in the community.

 

"First, there's Oksana, who is ten. She and her younger brother, Yuri, mom and dad emigrated from Russia two years ago. Her mom knows enough English to get by, but Oksana's struggling, and falling behind in school." Bucky winces. "I'd been helping her pick up the slack and then we got so busy I couldn't give her individual time anymore."

 

"Well, hopefully that's going to change now," Pepper says brightly, and Bucky smiles back, moving on.

 

"Next up is Shaylah. She's fifteen and is really bright, very physically active. Her mom died last year, but luckily her brother, Tyrone, was of legal age to become her guardian. He's had to shoulder a lot of responsibility very early. Went from full time to part time at college to be able to juggle work so he can provide for him and his sister. We're trying to help pick up the slack, keep her involved in after school programs and study groups to keep her on track for an athletics scholarship. Also providing additional emotional support at this time."

 

Bucky gives a sigh. "Finally, there's Jacob. He's nine, with a five-year-old sister, Selena. Their dad was in the Army." His mouth sets in a hard, sad line. "He was killed by a roadside bomb three years ago. Their mom looks after them, but Jacob is still traumatised by the loss. He acts out a lot. Selena was only two when her dad died, so she doesn't remember much about him, but Jacob does."

 

Pepper nods quietly, putting a soft hand on Bucky's arm. "So many different kinds of cases. I read Denise's very thorough breakdown of your outreach. Have you had anything to do with the families that are coming tonight?"

 

Bucky nods. "As I mentioned, I have Oksana in my groups, and also worked with her individually. Shaylah is a regular at my weekend outdoor activity-based programs, and also attends plenty of college prep sessions with one of my colleagues." He pauses. "I haven't had a lot to do with Jacob, though I've met him a bunch of times. Denise works with him, primarily."

 

Pepper studies him carefully, and Bucky gets the feeling this woman rarely misses a trick.

 

"It would be a very hard job, some days, but also very rewarding," she says.

 

Bucky breathes out a gusty sigh, but a smile makes its way onto his face. "I wouldn't have it any other way." He stops for a moment, considering the woman in front of him. "I don't know that I've yet properly thanked you for choosing our outreach for this generous contribution. It's going to make such a difference to so many kids, and the community at large."

 

She gives him a demure smile. "Well, I didn't know it was your outreach when the board and I chose it, but it is partially your fault that it was on the cards at all."

 

Bucky frowns. "What do you mean?" He hopes that the information he'd been given wasn't wrong, he'd just gotten used to the idea that it was a fortuitous set of circumstances that led to this situation.

 

"Well, when you were busy taking Tony down a few pegs," Pepper starts, and Bucky has at least a little bit of humility in him to feel slightly embarrassed, "you mentioned that you worked for disadvantaged children. It piqued my interest, and we had been looking to get into more community-based work. When the Howard and Maria Stark Foundation grant was on the cards, I made sure the board shortlisted a few outreaches and children's charities." Pepper smiles at him. "I didn't know until Steve came to speak with me that one of our picks was the organisation you worked for."

 

Bucky's shoulders slump minutely with relief. Pepper laughs lightly. "Yes, it still was pure coincidence," she confirms.

 

"I'm being way too obvious," Bucky remarks ruefully.

 

"Not at all, but I completely understand your situation. When I realised, I didn't mention it to Steve, I didn't want it to be an issue between you. Also, while there's no doubt in my mind that your organisation is extremely deserving, certain... ethical questions on how we arrived at the choice could be problematic in the future. This way, we have a clear timeline and paper trail proving that the only reason you were chosen was because you submitted one of the best applications the board and I had seen in quite some time."

 

Bucky grins. "Please tell Denise that when she gets here. She'll be thrilled."

 

"We've spoken on the phone, I can't wait to meet her," Pepper enthuses. She gives Bucky the once-over, too. "And since I hadn't mentioned before, you're looking very dashing."

 

Bucky smiles and ducks his head a little, tugging the sash around his waist back into position. "Well, I wouldn't look nearly so good if you hadn't helped me get a half-decent Zorro costume," he says. "Otherwise it would've been old fatigues, or the crappy ninja turtle costume I'm planning to go trick or treating in." Pepper laughs, and it's a soothing sound.

 

"Is there any particular reason you chose him?" she asks curiously. It's simple, but striking. Bucky is all in black, wearing a voluminous shirt and high-waisted riding trousers. Black calf-high boots, gloves, a waist-sash and cravat round out the details, with a fabric half-mask and flat-brimmed round hat on his face and head. Pepper had offered to secure him a replica foil to hang at his hip, but Bucky demurred, instead going for a plastic copy. Work-Bucky mode means nothing resembling a workable weapon, not even for a costume.

 

"I always thought the old series was a bit of fun. Turns out Steve saw the movie back in the forties, too. So... bonus." Bucky points to the mask. "But it also covers the majority of my face. I figured there'd be media here, and I'm not in the mood to be photographed. This is about the kids and the outreach, not me."

 

Pepper casts a significant glance back towards Steve, who currently has no less than two photographers tailing him, taking candids, along with a miked reporter. "I understand. Also, so the recipients get some proper time with the team, the media is only going to be allowed to stay for the first ten minutes after the presentations. After that, they're leaving, so everyone can have time mingling without photographers sticking lenses in their faces."

 

Bucky nods in approval, his estimation of Pepper going up another few notches. "That's really thoughtful. It'd go a long way to make the kids and their families feel more comfortable."

 

Pepper waves dismissively. "Not a problem. The media attention is great, but we want everyone to feel easy and relaxed.

 

"And speaking of relaxed," Pepper changes the subject smoothly, "did you enjoy North Carolina?"

 

Bucky smiles softly. "It was... a really significant trip," he decides on, and Pepper gives him a knowing smile. She doesn't know in what way it was significant, but he won't elaborate.

 

Suddenly, his phone buzzes in his pocket. He fumbles it out quickly, to see a message from Denise. "They're in the elevator on the way up. I should go meet them."

 

"Of course," Pepper says kindly, gesturing to the doorway of the function room. Bucky flashes her a smile, grabs his Zorro hat, and walks briskly to the door, texting Denise on the way. Outside, past security, he can see the numbers on the elevator steadily increase. Bucky stands in front of the doors and taps his foot impatiently.

 

Eventually, the doors open. He hears JARVIS announce the floor to the overwhelmed occupants. Bucky pastes a big smile on his face and greets them.

 

"Hey, everyone, good to see you! I can't keep this party going all by myself."

 

Denise had already prepped them that he was there and in costume, so Oksana breaks away from her mother and runs straight to Bucky. He bends down and takes her hands.

 

"<Beautiful ballerina, Oksana>," he says, wincing at his pronunciation. He really is quite out of practice.

 

Oksana answers back, but Bucky only picks up every third or fourth word, so her statement doesn't make sense. He looks up to Oksana's mother, Alyona.

 

Alyona smiles. "She say your hat is too big, she cannot see face."

 

As if to prove the point, Oksana pushes Bucky's black wide-brimmed hat off his head, so it falls down behind him. Yuri, dressed like a pirate, giggles behind her, and Bucky makes a mock mad face.

 

"You're not allowed to gang up on me, that's not fair," he tells her.

 

Denise ushers their other charges in, eyes meeting Bucky's immediately, giving him a quick smile and nod. Shaylah is looking nervous, but trying to hide it. Bucky shakes hands with Tyrone, and then Shaylah. Shaylah's chosen to be Red Riding Hood, the cloak she wears a stark and beautiful contrast to her dark hair and skin. Tyrone seems to have done something to match, dressing up partially as a wolf to match her.

 

Finally, Bucky turns to the last family. Jacob looks around warily, but there's an edge of excitement to his expression even as his mother slowly ushers him forward. He sports a familiar set of round wire-rimmed glasses and a lightning bolt scar. Bucky's gaze flicks to his little sister, Selena, and promptly sinks his teeth savagely into his bottom lip.

 

Selena is wearing a Captain America costume.

 

Only it's not the mass-produced girl's costume he's seen in stores. The top half is glittery, and the bottom half is a mass of bright blue tulle. She wears red boot covers that are a little floppy, red gloves, and an oversized facemask representing Steve's helmet. In her right hand, she carries a miniature plastic shield.

 

Bucky's gaze snaps to Denise, who is valiantly keeping a shit-eating grin off her face, because she's a goddamn professional.

 

Bucky's eyes start to water at the effort of keeping the mild smile on his face, and greets them. "Hi Jacob, how are you doing?" Bucky doesn't have a strong, personal relationship with the boy, but that didn't stop him being an advocate for Jacob as a deserving kid to attend the party.

 

"Fine," Jacob says quickly, looking past Bucky. "Are the Avengers really inside?"

 

"Most of them, yes," Bucky confirms. He has already been informed that Dr Banner will not attend, and that Thor wouldn't be able to make it in time. That still leaves an impressive five Avengers out of seven.

 

Jacob and Selena's mom looks to Bucky. "Please tell me Captain America is in there," she says, gesturing to Selena, "or I'll never hear the end of it."

 

Bucky chuckles. "Captain America is definitely inside," he confirms, and Selena grins toothily behind the mask, tugging on her mom's hand sharply.

 

Bucky takes a few moments to explain to them what's going to happen: They'll head into the function room and meet Miss Potts, before taking a seat near the small stage. Miss Potts will give a short speech about the Howard and Maria Stark Foundation, before inviting the representatives from the two recipient groups up to be presented with the cheques by the Avengers in attendance. There's ten minutes of photos, and then time for private mingling. A limo comes to pick them up again at nine pm.

 

"Okay, are you ready to head in?" Bucky asks. Everyone nods gravely, having been hanging on Bucky's every word. "And just remember, your parents and guardians, and Denise and I are here. If for any reason you're feeling a little overwhelmed, need a break or absolutely anything else, just let us know. You got it?" Bucky receives another round of nods.

 

He turns to lead them into the function room, but before he can take more than one step, a small hand works his way into his palm. Bucky looks down to see Oksana smiling shyly at him. He looks back to Oksana's mom, who has her arms full of a wriggling Yuri. He gives her hand a gentle squeeze, and they walk in.

 

Bucky hears the muted exclamations as they enter the function room. There are lavish decorations and long tables of food, people milling about in all manner of costumes, from the sublime to the ridiculous. While Bucky's been out of the room, Pepper seems to have gotten Steve and the rest of the Avengers assembled onto the stage. Pepper comes over to greet them, shaking Denise's hand profusely. They exchange a few words, and Pepper laughs at something Denise says. She then gestures for them to take a few seats in the front row of the assembled chairs.

 

Bucky and Denise get everyone seated in a timely fashion, and Pepper wastes no time in taking the stage and standing behind the lectern. She introduces the Avengers in attendance: Tony Stark, in an all-too-good Buzz Lightyear costume, Clint Barton wearing a simple Robin Hood, Natasha Romanov in a jumpsuit from the new Ghostbusters movie, and Steve in an Original Series Star Trek Captain Kirk uniform.

 

In deference to the young children present, she gives a short but powerful speech about the goals of the Howard and Maria Stark foundation, and briefly why each organisation was chosen.

 

She then invites recipients from the homeless veteran's hospice up to meet the Avengers first. Bucky takes note at how they react to Steve; the former soldiers greet Stark, Romanov and Barton with politeness, but when they get to Steve, it's a wholly different vibe. They look Steve square in the eye as they shake his hand, spines going straighter, shoulders going back. They look at him with awe and deference, and Steve returns the respect sincerely.

 

Bucky allows himself a little smile, not much more than a curve of the lips. It's always nice to see Steve get the acknowledgment he so richly deserves from his peers. And by 'peers', Bucky doesn't mean other enhanced humans or superheroes, he means fellow veterans.

 

Their representative says a few quick words of thanks, before it's the outreach's turn. The kids are antsy to wait for their turn, but it means that once they meet the Avengers, they don't have to vacate the stage immediately for anyone else to be presented.

 

Pepper calls Denise and Bucky up, who help usher the kids. Stark lets out a loud guffaw when Selena takes the stage, and Bucky's afraid he might get blinded by the flashes that go off. It's worth it for the look on Steve's face when he lays eyes on Selena, who bounds up onto the stage with an enthusiastic exclamation, and then waves to her mother.

 

Steve's eyes widen, eyebrows shooting up to his hairline, and the first person his gaze snaps to is Bucky. Bucky lifts one shoulder in a shallow shrug, giving a lopsided smile.

 

To make it easier on the kids, they line up for a photograph first, and Denise takes the microphone. She gives an eloquent thank you to Pepper and the board for their decision, and thanks everyone working at the outreach, gesturing to Bucky as she does. Bucky nods in acknowledgment, ignoring the flashbulbs.

 

There's a round of applause from the assembled guests, after which Pepper invites the children to talk to the Avengers. They shuffle down the stairs and off the stage, and Bucky casts a quick eye around the room before settling his attention on Oksana.

 

She expresses her nerves to him in Russian. Bucky nods and acknowledges them, then tugs on her hand gently. "Remember you were going to try and speak English unless you couldn't remember the words, Oksana?" he reminds her kindly.

 

Oksana nods jerkily. "Yes, Yakov," she replies, and Bucky knows she's not too nervous if she can sass him like that. Oksana has never liked his nickname but calls him that as his preference, only using the Russian derivative when she's purposefully having a go at him.

 

He rolls his eyes. "Okay, sassypants, is there anyone you want to say 'hello' to?" She shyly points to Hawkeye, dressed in the green cap. Bucky shrugs. Guess he's meeting Clint Barton for the first time now, too.

 

They walk back to where he's still standing. There's lots of activity around, but Barton seems to be on his own, watching the room. He looks down as Bucky approaches, sharp eyes going from Bucky, to his companion. His outlook immediately brightens, jumping down from the stage.

 

"Mr Barton--" Bucky begins, but is quickly cut off by a horrified look and a wave of his hand.

 

"Clint, please. God, I sound like a suit." He slings the very real longbow over his shoulder and offers a hand for Bucky to shake.

 

"Clint," he capitulates, taking the hand slowly. He supposes this could be a good time to introduce himself, but Oksana's standing right there, and he'd rather her get to be the first one to do so. "This is Oksana, and she's wanting to meet you."

 

Clint drops his thoroughly piercing, evaluative gaze from Bucky down to Oksana, where it once again warms considerably. He hunkers down to sit on the edge of the stage so they're more at eye-level.

 

"That's great, because I've been wanting to meet you," he says, and Oksana gives him a small smile. It grows larger when he takes her hand and kisses the back of her knuckles instead of shaking it, like she was expecting. "Your costume is wonderful," he enthuses, "I mean, really fantastic. Have you ever taken dance lessons? My friend used to wear outfits just like that when she danced, a long time ago."

 

Oksana's brow furrows, mouthing words silently, before looking up to Bucky helplessly. Clint watches the exchange, puzzled. "Did I say something wrong?" he asks Bucky.

 

Bucky addresses Oksana first, thinking he knows what's going on. "<Too fast?>" he queries, and she nods effusively.

 

He turns back to Barton. "Sorry, Clint. Oksana is still learning English. That was all just a bit fast for her to pick up on. If you slow it down a little, she'll be able to understand you a lot better."

 

Clint looks relieved. "Oh, that's fine." He looks to Oksana and smiles apologetically. "I get carried away sometimes."

 

"Is okay," Oksana replies, her voice sounding soft, but confident. "You say again?"

 

Clint repeats his questions slowly, and in more straight-forward terms. Bucky watches Oksana concentrate, taking in every word, before she replies. Yes, she took dance back in Russia, no, her parents haven't found the right school to go to here.

 

Bucky's brain starts to work in the background as he supervises, like a computer program. He didn't actually know that Oksana's family was looking for a new dance school for her. It would probably help get her into a good routine if she started again at an affordable studio. Perhaps he could look into it, seeing as now he's got more time.

 

Barton, in the meantime, has gestured to Romanov, all without breaking eye contact or losing the thread of conversation he's having with Oksana. She walks over, briefly making eye contact with Bucky and giving him a shallow nod, before sitting next to Barton on the edge of the stage, listening intently.

 

It's only when Oksana stumbles over some of her English that she cuts in in Russian, a shade before Bucky gets the chance to. Oksana's eyes open with surprise and pleasure. She answers cautiously in Russian, and when Romanov replies once again in her native tongue, Oksana excitedly calls her mother over.

 

It starts a long conversation between them in Russian, which is completely over Barton's head, and much of it too quick and colloquial for Bucky to follow.

 

Barton excuses himself to stand next to Bucky, watching Natasha hold a lively conversation with Oksana's family, exchanging many smiles. Somehow, Yuri wriggled out of his mother's grasp and onto Romanov's lap. She looks mildly surprised for a moment, but adapts. Alyona seems grateful for the reprieve.

 

"She doesn't get to do that too often," Barton says out of the blue, eyes still trained on Romanov and the children. "If they know who she is, most people from Russia still look at her as a defector."

 

Bucky doesn't quite know what to say, so he just nods. Barton turns to him and gives him another appraising look. He looks like he wants to say something, but spends a moment casting his sharp eye around the room. It makes something in Bucky itch, and he does too, realising that Barton is checking out the proximity of any media. Thankfully, most of the photographers seem to be swarming Stark at this moment.

 

Before Barton can open his mouth, Bucky remembers something from Steve's Tinder profile, as well as a conversation they had a month ago. "So you're Lucky's owner? I've seen a couple of photos."

 

He gets an amiable smile in return. "That's me. And you're the famous Bucky, huh?"

 

"You must have me mistaken for someone else," Bucky says, "I'm Zorro."

 

Barton watches him for a beat before he laughs. "You have the same crappy sense of humour as Steve. I can see why he likes you."

 

Oddly enough, that amuses him. "If it's too cerebral for you, there's no shame in admitting that."

 

"Ohhh, you're also a little shit, he did happen to mention that," Barton says, stroking the short, dark gold hairs on his chin.

 

"Anything else he's said to you about me that I should be aware of?" Bucky asks. There's a big element of humour to asking, but also a thread of genuine curiosity.

 

Barton eyes him speculatively. "Just that you're ex-Ranger sniper -- I approve, by the way -- you work with kids, don't take any shit, not even from Stark -- I approve of that, too -- and you make him do this weird snort-laugh when you text him something funny."

 

He pauses. "I assume that's you texting him, anyway."

 

Bucky tamps down on the idiotic grin that wants to break out on his face, settling for something a little bit milder. "Pretty sure I'm the only funny person he knows, so..."

 

Barking out a laugh, Barton shakes his head. That shrewd, calculating expression has finally faded. It's not gone completely, but then again, Bucky would never expect that. "You're a smartass. I like it; we could always do with one more." He gives Bucky a mildly roguish smile.

 

They both go back to watching Oksana talk excitedly to Romanov, who seems to wear a genuinely pleased smile in return.

 

In the silence that ensues, Barton speaks up again. "I think he's happier. He was never unhappy before, but now it's more obvious that he is."

 

Bucky casts a sideways glance at Barton. He didn't know what Steve was like before, apart from seeing him on the TV occasionally. To hear this from one of Steve's colleagues is encouraging.

 

"Me too," Bucky responds quietly with a pleased huff. Barton gives him a charming grin in return and pats his shoulder.

 

Bucky decides that Barton-- that Clint is successfully on par with Sam, with regards to Steve's friends.

 

The party continues, though it still doesn't quite feel like a party to Bucky. He doesn't care much about himself now; he's too busy to even get close to Steve, and his face is mostly covered. His priority is watching out for his charges, and keeping an eye on the photographers. It's more to make sure they press aren't getting too intrusive with his families. He's had a couple of bad experiences before with bullying media, and he doesn't like it.

 

Along with all the other intricate details Pepper has seen to, she must've also vetted the photographers and media reps. They're all unfailingly polite and very respectful to his people. They also kick up no fuss at all at being told their time's up after ten minutes.

 

Bucky doesn't switch off, but he does breath a sigh of relief when they leave. The kids seem to notice the sudden absence of flashbulbs and microphones, but it makes more of a difference to the adults.

 

With Romanov still in deep in conversation with Oksana and Alyona, Bucky decides to let them have some time alone, and check up on the rest of his charges.

 

Stark is having a chat to a star-struck Tyrone, who has been doing a science degree at college, if memory serves. Shaylah talks animatedly to a late-arriving Sam, who catches Bucky's eye and gives him a nod. Clint has moved away to talk to some of the vets from the other grant recipient, and the other VIP guests at the party mingle and drink and eat around them.

 

Over the tops of a few heads, Denise catches Bucky's eye. Casting a glance around, Bucky determines that nobody needs him, so he moves to join her. The kids and their families seem to be doing well, and that's a good thing. Thinking about their comfort and needs has taken the edge off being around a big-ass group of important people he doesn't know, and meeting or hanging around the rest of Steve's colleagues.

 

AKA The Avengers.

 

Bucky joins Denise, who is standing with Jacob's mom, Theresa, watching something magical unfold.

 

Jacob is sitting on a cushy chair, deep in conversation with Steve, who has also somehow acquired a miniature female, sequinned version of himself. Selena has wormed her way into Steve's lap, and is sitting there gazing up adoringly at him.

 

Bucky's hand itches; his phone is burning a hole in his pocket. It's probably not terribly appropriate to take photos of someone else's child, though, especially when he doesn't have much to do with this family.

 

Theresa watches, a tremulous smile on her face. "I can't believe he's talking to Captain America," she offers as they observe, "he still has a tendency to resent anyone who made it back when Gary didn't." She tears her gaze away from Jacob, Selena and Steve, to Bucky. "I'm sorry," she apologises sincerely to Bucky, who accepts it with a wave of his hand.

 

"It's fine. We all know does a lot better with Dee, anyway." Bucky turns to see Steve coax a smile out of Jacob. "And Captain Rogers, as it turns out."

 

Steve looks up briefly when Bucky says his name, flashing a quick smile. Bucky's heart quickens, though he doesn't do more than nod back in answer. Denise, in her beautifully unobtrusive way, stands on the toe of his boot.

 

"He's, ah, very handsome, isn't he?" Theresa mumbles, touching her own cheek, which has gone pink.

 

"I'm an old, married woman, I hadn't noticed," Denise remarks flippantly, even as she smiles cheekily. "Bucky?"

 

"I'm just here for the canapés," he deadpans, and his companions laugh.

 

While Jacob talks to Steve, Selena touches the 'A' on her facemask, then reaches up to touch Steve's carefully-styled hair. He stops talking and looks down at her fondly.

 

"Where's your helmet?" she asks curiously.

 

"It's upstairs," he replies. "I like yours, though."

 

"Where's your shield?" she presses, waving her little plastic disc in his face.

 

"Same place as my helmet," he says, pointing upstairs.

 

"I wish I could see it," Jacob says wistfully, "I've never seen vibranium before."

 

"Would you like me to get it?" Steve asks, and the expressions of joy he receives in return are enough of a reply.

 

Bucky can then see the real war on Steve's face; he wants to get his shield, but he doesn't want to dislodge Selena, who seems perfectly content in his lap.

 

Steve looks up helplessly, and Bucky steps in. "Anything I can help with?" he asks.

 

Steve's face relaxes. "You don't know if Sam Wilson has arrived by any chance, do you?"

 

Nodding, Bucky gestures to his right. "As a matter of fact, I do. He's over there talking to Shaylah."

 

"If it's not an imposition, could you ask him to grab my shield from the 80th floor? He'll know how to get in." He smiles self-deprecatingly. "I seem to be a little stuck."

 

"No problems, Captain," Bucky says, throwing in a very un-military salute, and Steve rolls his eyes.

 

"You know you can all call me 'Steve', right?" he says, addressing not just Bucky, but Denise and Theresa as well.

 

"Even me?" Jacob asks with wonder.

 

"Even me?" Selena parrots.

 

"Especially you two," he responds with gravity.

 

Jacob bites his lip. "Mom says I'm not allowed to call grownups by their given names. Says it's rude."

 

"Well, it can be rude without permission," Steve explains, "but I'm giving it to you." He looks up to Theresa, who nods, a sappy smile on her face, her eyes getting a little moist.

 

Well, shit. Steve's just charming the pants off everyone, like Bucky knew he would. Bucky has to tear himself away to accomplish his task, biting his lip all the way.

 

He makes it back to Shaylah, who is still chatting excitedly to Sam. She grins at Bucky as he approaches. "Bucky," Shaylah gushes, bouncing from foot to foot, "Falcon said he's going to visit my school next month! My school!"

 

Bucky's eyebrows arch in surprise. "That's fantastic, Shay," he smiles back. "Do you mind if I borrow Mr Wilson for a few minutes?" Shaylah nods, and Bucky gives her a thankful smile when she moves off to the refreshment table.

 

Sam gives him a curious look. "What's up?" he inquires, pulling his mirrored shades off.

 

"Firstly... your costume is highly distracting," Bucky begins, and Sam gives him a wide, gap-toothed smile.

 

Because Sam has come as Tony Stark. He's trimmed his facial hair a little more, wearing a Black Sabbath shirt with a glowy disk behind it to represent the arc reactor. Along with the aviators and the swagger, he does a decent job at mimicking Stark.

 

"Secondly," Bucky continues, "Steve wants to know if you can go to the 80th floor and get his shield?"

 

Sam nods. "Wants to show off, does he?"

 

"A five year old asked him about his shield. Do you think he could say 'no'?" Bucky counters.

 

"Not in this universe. I'll be back ASAP," he says, squeezing Bucky's shoulder.

 

Seeing Shaylah is now with her brother, he heads back towards Steve and the kids. They're embroiled in deep discussions, but it's not long before Sam returns, hefting Steve's shield.

 

Jacob and Shaylah both exclaim loudly in excitement when Sam passes the shield to Steve. He takes it easily, moving it so much smoother than Sam. The kids are suitably blown away, and Steve spends a bit of time talking about how special vibranium is, and how long it takes to repaint it when it's been damaged.

 

"Hey, how about a photo all together?" Sam suggests.

 

Even crouching, Steve is as tall as Jacob. Selena only comes up to his chest, and has to stand to the side so the shield doesn't completely cover her.

 

"Would you like to wear my helmet, Steve?" Selena asks seriously. "You didn't bring yours down."

 

Bucky bites his lip savagely. Having Steve in the costume helmet mask would be hilarious. Steve looks like he wants to say 'no', but the question has been levelled at him with such sincere gravity, he's boxed into a corner.

 

There ain't no way Steve Rogers is saying 'no' to this little girl.

 

"I think you should keep it on," Steve responds with quiet gravity, before his face melts into the sort of smile that tends to make Bucky's toes tingle. "It wouldn't do to have my best girl without her helmet, would it?"

 

A little swoony gasp goes up from the assembled women, but Bucky only has eyes for Steve and Selena. The girl in question beams her delight and burrows in closer to Steve's large frame. "Good idea," she praises enthusiastically, and Lord in Heaven save Bucky from Steve interacting with five-year-olds.

 

Sam whips out his phone, as does Theresa, and they take photos of Steve, Jacob and Selena. Then Jacob gets one by himself with the shield. Then Steve and Selena get one together.

 

"Your costume needs more sparkles," Selena tells Steve seriously, and Bucky's teeth dig savagely into his bottom lip to keep from snorting aloud. Because not only is she suggesting Steve attack his iconic look with a bedazzler, she calls it a costume, rather than a uniform. It's enough to make his eyes water.

 

Steve, to his ever-growing credit in Bucky's mind, doesn't laugh or smirk, but takes her comment as thoughtfully as one can ever take from a tiny child. "I'll look into it," he tells her in a grave manner, "but I'm worried that people might get us mixed up if I'm sparkly like you."

 

Selena's laughter is high-pitched and contagious. "Silly Steve," she chastises him cheerfully, "I'm five."

 

Everyone within earshot starts giggling uncontrollably, and Steve cracks a smile. "I'm sorry, I forgot," he tells her, and she pats his hand consolingly.

 

After that, there's a steady stream of people to take Steve's attention. Bucky checks in again with the three families, making sure they're not too excited to forget the refreshment table to eat and have something to drink.

 

While they're getting food, some members of the other lucky charity approach, and Bucky engages the vets in conversation. They congratulate one another on the good fortune to both be chosen for the grant, as each organisation does much-needed work in the community. One of the women pegs Bucky as a vet as well, but Bucky forestalls any conversations too deep when Oksana tugs on his hand, and can't stop speaking about the 'beautiful red lady'.

 

Bucky makes his apologies and tends to his charges, oddly pleased that he doesn't have to do the 'veteran bonding' thing. He's just not in the right frame of mind to get distracted; he is working.

 

Time actually flies, and before he knows it, Bucky's approached by Pepper. "The limousine is getting prepped for collection."

 

Bucky's eyes widen. "It's nearly nine already?"

 

Pepper nods, giving him a large smile. "Went quicker than you thought?"

 

"A little, yeah," he admits.

 

"I spoke to Denise, she's absolutely lovely," Pepper enthuses. "The Foundation doesn't want to interfere with how the funds are distributed, but they -- and I, mind you -- definitely wanted to be kept abreast of how they're being allocated. Not to keep track of you, but it always makes our shareholders and accountants happy when they know their money is being put to good use. So I look forward to calling and speaking to her from time to time. And you, of course," she smiles, one cheek dimpling, "though I don't think you'll be hard to track down."

 

"Dee will love that," Bucky assures, before looking around. "Okay, I'd better start wrangling the kids."

 

"Do you need any help?" Pepper asks.

 

"Sure. It's like herding cats, you'll love it," Bucky grins snarkily.

 

"Can't be any harder than trying to get Tony out of a room," she replies, and Bucky laughs.

 

It takes close to the full fifteen minutes to get everyone together. Selena insists on running back to Steve to wrap her arms around his knees in a hug, and Dee needs to go grab her.

 

When everyone is together, Dee takes the lead and Bucky follows up, ushering the excited group out of the room.

 

Yuri has fallen asleep in his mother's arms, Jacob is opening his mouth in a large yawn, even as he tugs on his mother's arm, spewing a steady stream of facts and information about the Avengers he's picked up over the evening. Bucky escorts them all back to the elevator and presses the button.

 

"Aren't you coming with us, Bucky?" Shaylah asks curiously.

 

Bucky has prepared for his answer. "I have some loose ends to tie up. Besides, my car's downstairs. Ain't no way I'm leaving it with Stark. He might get jealous."

 

Tyrone guffaws, before clapping his mouth shut. "Sorry," he apologises, "it's just that... well, I've seen your car..."

 

Bucky rolls his eyes. "Everyone's a comedian. Anyway, I'll see all of you next week." He bends down and takes Oksana's hand, squeezing her fingers. "See you on Tuesday, okay?"

 

Oksana nods, trying to stifle a yawn.

 

Bucky approaches Denise and gives her a swift kiss on the cheek. "Have a good night," she says in a voice soft enough that only he can hear.

 

"Thanks," he murmurs in response. "Safe trip back to Brooklyn."

 

"Are you kidding me? We're going in a limo, Barnes. You don't have any cool points left to top that."

 

"Is that so," Bucky smirks. "JARVIS?" he asks, to the air, to the curiosity of those around him.

 

"Yes, Mr Barnes?" JARVIS' polite tones sound around them, eliciting a gasp from Tyrone.

 

"Is that limo ready yet?"

 

"Mr Stark's limousine is currently at street level, awaiting your arrival."

 

As if on cue, the elevator dings and the doors open. Everyone gets in, looking around in wonder to see if they can 'see' JARVIS. They'd assumed the voice in the elevator before was automated.

 

Bucky gives Denise a shit-eating grin and she slow-claps him. "Well played," she admits, and Bucky gives her a sweeping bow, taking his hat off in the process.

 

They say their goodbyes, and the elevator doors shut. Bucky lets out a big sigh and stretches his neck.

 

The work part is over, now it's just... the other stuff.

 

Bucky's obligations for the evening seem to be finished, but Steve's probably aren't. He's not sure how much longer his boyfriend is going to be engaged, so he'd better find something to occupy his time with.

 

Exhaling sharply, Bucky makes his way back into the function room. The party is still kicking away, but Bucky automatically steers away from the large throngs of people to the fringes.

 

He makes his way to the bar to get a bottle of Coke. The bartender is friendly and pops the metal cap off before handing it to him.

 

Bucky removes his hat and takes a long pull of the fizzy drink. There's no one he can see offhand that he recognises, and those he does seem to be quite busy. Bucky doesn't mind so much; it gives him a chance to transition from work to social.

 

Unexpectedly, Bucky's pocket vibrates. He takes off his hat, placing it on the bar, before fishing his cell out of his pocket.

 

It's a picture message from Sam, containing the photos he'd taken of Steve and Selena. Bucky starts chuckling and saves them immediately, before typing out a thank you.

 

Bucky: Christmas comes early once again! Thanks, Sam. If not for you, and the intervention of my cat, I'd never get any incriminating photos of him at all.

 

"What are you doing?" Steve's voice asks from right beside him, and Bucky jumps; he hadn't noticed the approach at all. Putting a hand on his chest, Bucky taps it.

 

"Damn, give a guy a heart attack, Steve," he admonishes, but can't stop a smile from appearing on his face, anyway.

 

"Captain Rogers, would you like a drink?" the bartender asks smoothly, but Steve politely waves him away. He leans his elbows back on the bar, standing next to where Bucky sits, looking out at the sea of people.

 

"Neat event," he remarks, gesturing to the eating, drinking and dancing people.

 

Bucky gives a nod and sips at his Coke. "Yeah. It's pretty lavish, but I was expecting that."

 

Steve nods, drumming his fingers on the side of the bar. There are still charity donors hobnobbing with VIPs, a scattering of politicians and veterans and live action heroes, drinking more and more. Steve's close enough that his arm brushes Bucky's, and the contact is something grounding in the weirdness that is Tony Stark's personal dog-and-pony show.

 

A woman in an elaborate, clichéd Cleopatra costume spies Steve from across the room, her eyes lighting up. She excuses herself from the people she's talking to and begins to make her way towards them, hindered by the volume of people. Bucky and Steve both see her, Steve's spine going a little rigid.

 

He gives Bucky epic side-eye. "Want to get out of here?"

 

"God, yes," Bucky enthuses, pushing himself up from the stool with gusto. He grabs his hat from the bar, puts it on, and looks to Steve expectantly. "This is your home turf. Where to?"

 

Steve takes a moment, and it's almost a thing of beauty to watch his mind work; he takes note of where everyone is -- including Cleopatra -- all the viable exits, which ones are blocked, which are free, and where they're liable to lead.

 

Cleopatra gets closer as there's a gap in the revellers, but Steve puts his hand in Bucky's and leads him directly into the people, melting into the crowd. Even Steve's distinct silhouette is easily camouflaged amongst the elaborate costumes and ostentatious decorations.

 

Bucky has no idea where he's going, which is slightly disquieting, but stamps down on that feeling. It actual fact, it feels like he's a kid and his boyfriend is leading him on some grand adventure, which is kind of awesome. Bucky lets go of any reticence he might be feeling and lets Steve sweep him away.

 

They lose Cleopatra somewhere amongst the people. Plenty of others greet or smile at Steve, and he blithely acknowledges everyone without stopping. With the mask on, combined with not knowing anyone and no longer being on the clock, Bucky doesn't feel the obligation to acknowledge anyone, just continues to let Steve lead him away.

 

Steve takes him through the kitchen entrance the banquet staff are using constantly. Here, his smiles get a little less plastic and a little more genuine. A few greetings of 'Captain' or 'Steve' are thrown his way, but nobody tries to stop him, they're all too busy working. And nobody tells him he's somewhere he's not meant to be.

 

With grace and nimbleness that belies his size, Steve successfully weaves between stainless steel bench tops and scurrying workers, even helping one kitchen hand catch a tray she nearly drops as they breeze past.

 

Steve leads him directly through to the empty corridor on the other side. There's an elevator there, with one plain button on the outside. He presses it, and gives Bucky a charming grin.

 

When they turn towards the doors, Steve catches sight of his reflection in the polished surface and drops Bucky's hand to try and smooth his cowlick back into the carefully combed and gelled style of his costume.

 

Bucky has a private laugh at that. He's seen people dress up as Captain Kirk before. Hell, he's seen the Original Series of Star Trek and Shatner in his glory days, and even he didn't look quite as good as Steve in command gold.

 

The doors open and Bucky starts chuckling. Upon entering the elevator, Bucky looks around at the stainless steel and glass and the smooth surfaces with no panels. He's put slightly on edge immediately, even though there's probably some incredibly high-tech and amazing reason for it.

 

"Ninety-three, please, JARVIS," Steve says politely.

 

"Of course, Captain," he's replied to in smooth, British tones, and the elevator begins to rise.

 

"No buttons?" Bucky queries.

 

"Restricted levels, authorised personnel only," Steve answers. "And boyfriends," he adds, which makes Bucky shake his head.

 

Bucky takes his hat off and looks at Steve's reflection once again, an odd thought occurring, which makes him laugh.

 

Steve bumps his shoulder gently. "What's so funny?"

 

"I just realised... you got dressed up for Halloween... and you're still a Captain."

 

Steve goes to answer, before pausing. "I hadn't actually considered that. I just really liked the show."

 

The way he says it so very seriously has Bucky laughing even harder.

 

"You should've dressed up as a fictional Sergeant," Steve says encouragingly, before his brow furrows. "Who is the best fictional Sergeant, anyway?" he asks as the doors open, presumably on level ninety-three.

 

"B. A. Baracus," Bucky remarks immediately. At Steve's blank look, Bucky shakes his head, scandalised. "Oh, you need some serious schooling on The A Team."

 

Bucky's attention is drawn from Steve to the room they're entering. It's a strange two-level room with large glass windows, a balcony, a bar, and lots of electronics.

 

Steve places his hand on the small of Bucky's back as they walk in. Through the large picture windows he sees a big chunk of the Manhattan skyline. Presumably that means they're on the top level, the one containing the large platform that sticks out from the main tower and functions as a launching/landing pad for Iron Man.

 

"This place can't decide if it's a laboratory or a lounge," Bucky mutters. It's fucking weird, but it's very Stark.

 

There are a few people scattered around the room, some sitting on the assorted couches. As they spot Steve and himself, a cheer goes up and everyone takes a drink.

 

There's a staircase to the left that Steve leads him up, to find half of his team lazing about. Clint and Romanov are close to the bar, on the sofas sit a harmless-looking guy with greying curls and glasses, an attractive, and a not harmless-looking bearded guy that's bigger than Steve. Which is an impressive feat in itself.

 

The two people Bucky's already acquainted with have shed pieces of their costumes for regular clothes -- though Clint still wears the tights and carries the bow -- the two people Bucky doesn't know aren't in costume at all.

 

Bucky suddenly feels a little weird. He takes off his hat and gloves, and after a moment where the cloth mask finally feels too itchy, unties that as well. He lets out a sigh and ruffles his hair.

 

"Hey, hey hey," Barton cuts in as he approaches, before either of them can say anything. "There's two of them, do we need to take another drink?"

 

The curly-haired man shrugs, the huge blond nods gravely. Everyone takes another drink.

 

"What's the game?" Steve asks with a smile.

 

"Every time someone abandons the schmooze-fest downstairs for here, we drink," he says, gesturing to Romanov.

 

She joins them then, handing both Bucky and Steve full glasses of what looks like Coke. Bucky gives the glass a brief look before taking a sip. There's the distinct taste of a spirit as an undercurrent, and he makes a mildly distasteful face.

 

"There's rum in this," Steve murmurs softly, "do you want another?"

 

Bucky considers doing the polite thing and drinking the beverage that was made for him. But he really didn't want to drink tonight, and Steve knows it. He gives Steve a smile. "Yeah. Actually, could probably do with some water."

 

"You got it," Steve beams at him, taking the glass away and heading to the bar.

 

"Something wrong with my drink-making skills?" Romanov queries from next to Bucky. While the question is abrupt, a smile tugs at the corner of her mouth.

 

Bucky meets her gaze levelly, but makes his tone light. "Nothing, presumably, I'm just not drinking tonight," he replies.

 

Romanov arches a brow, as though he's some puzzle to work out, but lets his answer sit as it is.

 

"Me, neither," the man with the glasses and curls cuts in, and if Romanov was about to say anything else, she clams up. "I'm just here for the canapés." Bucky doesn't know who he is, but he likes him already.

 

"I feel that on a deeply spiritual level," Bucky replies, and he gets a gentle, genuine smile in return.

 

Romanov gives a wry smirk at the pair of them and departs gracefully.

 

Bucky waits for Romanov to get further out of earshot before he speaks up. "Thanks. Felt like I was about to be interrogated."

 

"Oh, you were. Just not by her," the man continues to smile warmly, taking off his spectacles. He holds out his hand. "We've not officially met, yet. Bruce Banner," he says by way of introduction. His hand stays extended almost hesitantly, as though he's not sure Bucky will take it.

 

Bucky's heard of Bruce, and of the Hulk -- both from Steve and from the few reports he's remembered seeing -- he just never thought Bruce would look so... normal.

 

Bucky takes his hand and gives it a firm shake. "James Barnes," he says politely, "but everyone calls me Bucky. It's a pleasure to meet you, Dr Banner. Steve says good things about you."

 

Banner's smile gets a little less tentative and a little more sincere. "Bruce, please. And Steve says good things about a lot of people."

 

"Yeah, but he doesn't mean it half the time," Bucky replies, and it startles a laugh out of Bruce. "But the things about you, I'll believe."

 

"And why is that?" Bruce asks. His eyes twinkle with humour, but there's a genuine curiosity behind them.

 

Bucky drops his voice. "You seem to be close to the only normal person here," he confesses theatrically, making Bruce laugh again.

 

"I don't know about that, but thanks for thinking so. I suppose, by comparison, I don't look like much," he says.

 

"I've met Stark, so..." Bucky trails off, and Bruce laughs again, before his eyes drift from Bucky to some point over his left shoulder.

 

Bucky then hears Steve approach, and turns to greet him. Steve gives him a lovely smile and hands him a glass of iced water.

 

"You've met Bruce," Steve says in a thoroughly pleased fashion.

 

"I feel like he should've been the first person you introduced me to," Bucky counters.

 

"Who did you meet first?" Bruce asks curiously.

 

"It was Tony," Steve answers, the apology still heavy in his voice.

 

Bruce frowns thoughtfully for a moment, before a light goes off in his eyes. "Are you the guy who told Tony he's short?"

 

Bucky's lips twitch. "I'll have you know, he called me a slew of things first. I'm not proud, it was purely reactive." He pauses for a moment. "Okay, I'm a little proud," he corrects.  

 

"He bitched about that in the lab for a week," Bruce says. "I resorted to ear plugs."

 

"I don't know if I can apologise enough to you for that," Bucky shrugs.

 

"I'm tougher than I look," Bruce gives him a little smirk, and Bucky returns with a light chuckle. Someone catches Bruce's eye then, and he excuses himself with a gentle pat to Steve's arm.

 

Bucky watches him go for a few moments before taking a sip of water. It's a relief to have a good meeting with another one of Steve's colleagues. He lets out a long, slow breath.

 

"Another one bites the dust," he mutters. "Is that everybody now?"

 

Steve shrugs one huge shoulder. "There's still that guy," he says softly, pointing across the room to where the afore-noticed huge blond man talks to Barton. As if he realises he's being watched, the man looks up and catches Steve's eye. He waves and makes his approach.

 

Bucky's mouth goes dry. He's really not sure he's ready to meet a fucking god.

 

Even if said god is wearing what looks like a dark red smoking jacket. Who's he taking fashion advice from, Hugh Hefner?

 

As he gets closer, it's hard not to notice how attractive Thor is. He possesses many features that Bucky finds supremely attractive in Steve, only amped up further.

 

The hairs on the back of Bucky's neck stand up, and he's not sure if it's some lightning god/electricity in the air thing, or just his regular hackles. There's a fight-or-flight instinct that suddenly kicks in, surprising him. He hasn't felt like this in quite some time. Bucky plants his feet an even distance apart, squares his jaw, and puts his shoulders back.

 

His body language seems to be a dead giveaway to Steve, who circles to Bucky's right and presses the entire length of his body, from shoulder to ankle, into Bucky's side.

 

It's a small thing, but knowing that Steve is there, and also strong and capable should some weird shit suddenly go down, helps bring Bucky's blood pressure down a little. Bucky urges his physical response down, and tries to manually flick his switch to his intellectual side, where he works on observation and behaviour, rather than instinct.

 

Thor greets Steve first, shaking his hand and gripping his elbow. It's a less boisterous greeting than Bucky was expecting, and he's surprised at the quiet warmth. The approach helps ease Bucky's pure physical reaction.

 

"It is good to see you, Steven," Thor says, and his voice tickles Bucky's spine.

 

"And you, Thor. How are things at home?"

 

Bucky notices a brief frown flash across Thor's features, before it smooths away. "My responsibilities to the throne grow with time, but I am still able to find opportunities to visit my good friends on Midgard." He accompanies that with a firm squeeze to Steve's shoulder.

 

Bucky watches the exchange with interest. He admits to having thoughts about what an alien-prince-thunder-god might be like, but the ease and calm with which Steve interacts with Thor changes them somewhat.

 

There's some deep lizard brain in Bucky that still sets his instincts on edge, but that's got a lot to do with recognising a superior individual, one that vastly outmatches him in power and strength. Despite this, Bucky holds his ground and takes his cues from Steve, who speaks to Thor as though he's a dear and trusted friend. Paying attention to Steve actually helps a lot.

 

Thor turns his bright blue eyes to Bucky, and Bucky feels summarily assessed, though it's not as flesh-stripping as what Romanov put him through, nor sharp and calculating as Clint. If anything, Bucky feels a little small, and tries to remember anything Steve might've mentioned as to exactly how old Thor is.

 

"I do not believe we have had the good fortune to be introduced," Thor says, his voice polite and interested. He extends a large hand. "I am Thor."

 

Bucky pauses before he shakes the proffered hand, appreciating the fact that Thor's grip is firm, but not tight. "Bucky Barnes," Bucky says, coaxing a smile onto his face. It takes a turn for the slightly more sincere when he feels Steve's hand slide to rest lightly on his back.

 

Thor's eyes are immediately drawn to the movement, but he doesn't react. He also doesn't react to Bucky's name, so maybe nobody's told him about his relationship with Steve? It did sound as though he might not have seen Steve in a while.

 

"What brings you to this place on a night such as this, Bucky Barnes?" Thor asks curiously.

 

Steve angles his body slightly more towards Bucky's again, hand moving up from the small of his back to the space between his shoulderblades. Bucky looks to Steve briefly, but Steve just smiles encouragingly at him. Bucky guesses that Steve really doesn't mind what he decides to talk about. Bucky supposes he could burst out with the 'boyfriend' information, but Thor is Steve's friend, and it's really not his news to share.

 

"I was at the party downstairs first. My organisation was being presented with money to help disadvantaged youth in Brooklyn," Bucky decides on.

 

"I see. A worthy cause, to be sure," Thor nods in understanding. "I do apologise for not arriving in time for the official festivities, it would have been a great honour to be present."

 

"The kids would've loved you," Bucky admits with a smile. "Maybe another time."

 

Thor nods enthusiastically, before he continues. "You already seem familiar with our good Captain, which suggests tonight is not your first meeting. Have you known each other long?"

 

Bucky thinks back to summer and does a quick mental calculation. "About five months, or thereabouts?"

 

Thor hums in acknowledgment and turns to Steve. "It's good to meet a new friend of yours, Steven," he says, and Bucky gets the impression that Steve's co-workers probably haven't been introduced to too many of his non-Avenging-slash-SHIELD acquaintances, if any.

 

Steve turns to give Bucky a sweet -- verging on sappy -- smile, and his hand drops down to fall into Bucky's.

 

"He's also my boyfriend," Steve adds, fingers tightening briefly around his, and damned if those words don't make Bucky want to laugh hysterically. What is his life currently.

 

Thor's eyebrows approach his hairline in surprise.

 

"We've been seeing each other for about three months," Steve adds helpfully in clarification.

 

Bucky's not sure what he expects to happen, but Thor's reaction is definitely one of the most guileless and sincerely happy he's ever gotten. The man's face lights up, and he reaches out to wrap each huge hand around the curve of Bucky's and Steve's shoulders respectively.

 

"It truly warms my heart to hear this news," Thor says, and Bucky is taken aback by straightforwardness in his tone, and the way he speaks to both of them, not just Steve. Even though he's only just met Bucky two minutes ago. "Lifetimes on Midgard do not last as long as others in the Nine Realms, but it has been my experience that humans are more than adept at filling their allotted spans with colour, and light, and love. I do wish this, most sincerely, for the both of you."

 

Thor's little speech sends the both of them silent for a few moments. Even Steve is rendered speechless. He puts his hand over Thor's, still resting on his shoulder, and squeezes. "Thank you, Thor." He casts a quick look to a poleaxed Bucky. "From the both of us. Your words and support mean a great deal to me-- to us both."

 

"Of course," Thor says, before a pregnant pause. "Now, I believe it is my duty to discuss some chattering spade with your chosen, is it not?" he asks.

 

It takes Bucky a moment to catch up, and then his eyes go wide. Thor is very bad at keeping a straight face, which helps clue him in.

 

Bucky turns to Steve. "Please don't tell me a Norse God wants to give me the shovel talk. Please."

 

Steve shrugs helplessly, even as he grins. Thor's laugh is, in a word, booming. He squeezes Bucky's shoulder encouragingly. "It is the custom of friends, so I have been told," he says, even though the large smile on his face gives away the joke.

 

"Don't threaten him too much," Steve responds gravely, "I like him the way he is."

 

"Of course, of course," Thor capitulates, before encouraging Bucky and Steve towards the sofas. "Come. I would talk and become better acquainted with you, Bucky Barnes."

 

And that's how Bucky spends his Saturday night, sitting on a sofa between a legitimate god-alien-prince of Norse myth, and Captain America.

 

He can't dream this shit up.

 

But that's really just him being dramatic. He already thinks of Steve more as his cheesy, sarcastic boyfriend than a national hero, it takes surprisingly little time after conversing with Thor to start to view him as an out-of-town friend of Steve's. His manner of speech is a little formal, but his interest in and warmth towards Bucky reads as very genuine.

 

Bucky is drawn into a vibrant and interesting conversation with the three of them, where Thor asks him many questions about himself. It doesn't come across as a grilling, however, more a friendly exchange of information. Bucky, too, asks many questions about Thor, his life and family and world, and the responses are fascinating.

 

Through the course of their exchange, Thor finds out about Bucky's former service to the military. Bucky doesn't know what it looks like to Thor, as a professional warrior, for him to want to be someone so different from who he was as soldier.

 

Thor is surprisingly sympathetic on the subject. He tells Bucky of the Asgardian warriors who lay down their arms and take on quieter pursuits.

 

"It is not a source of shame or dishonour," he tells Bucky, "it is a reward for bravery and sacrifice. Those who live only for battle often do not outlive those who do not."

 

Bucky sits back on the couch in a slump. "Huh," he says, taking a fortifying sip of water.

 

"Are you all right, my friend?" Thor asks with concern.

 

"Yeah, yeah. I just--" Bucky pauses, trying to think how to frame his words. "I've never needed anyone's validation for my choices in life, first getting into the Army, and then getting out..." he flicks his gaze to Steve, and then Thor, smiling wryly. "But I wasn't expecting you to give it to me, anyway."

 

"I am quite unexpected, or so my lady, Jane, tells me often," Thor smiles back genially.

 

At that moment, the elevator doors open, emptying Sam and Tony out onto the floor. The assembled guests let out a cheer and raise their glasses. Steve looks to Bucky expectantly, holding out his glass of orange juice. Bucky clinks his water glass and they both gulp down two mouthfuls. Thor excuses himself, wanting another drink.

 

"Tony. Tony," Clint greets the both of them in the same deadpan voice when they get to the top of the stairs, and hands them both a beer. Once suitably armed with refreshments, Sam immediately walks over to Steve, and Bucky.

 

"Didn't take you long to get up here," Sam nudges Steve as he sits next to him.

 

"Cleopatra was chasing him, so he rabbited," Bucky puts in.

 

Steve glares at Sam when he laughs. "Discretion is sometimes the better part of valour," he sniffs indignantly.

 

"Like you've ever backed out of a fight," Sam snorts.

 

"You didn't see her," Bucky confides in a stage whisper. "Poised for the kill."

 

"I wouldn't have introduced you two if I knew you were going to gang up on me all the time. Best friend. Boyfriend. Aren't you meant to be on my side?" Steve pleads.

 

Sam and Bucky look at one another before they answer simultaneously: "No."

 

"Who else is going to call you out on your shit?" Sam explains. "Keep you grounded?"

 

"Who lets you play with their kitten?" Bucky puts in.

 

Sam chokes on a mouthful of beer. "I hope you're talking about the little calico I've seen pictures of, and not a euphemism for some weird sex thing."

 

"Captain America doesn't know anything about sex," Steve says gravely, making a sincere effort to furrow his brow and look stern.

 

"I knew it," a familiar voice sounds, and Bucky resists the urge to roll his eyes.

 

Stark strides over, divesting himself of parts of his Buzz Lightyear costume as he moves. He comes to stand in front of their couch, just in front of Sam, and Bucky can't help but privately laugh at the millionaire and his doppelganger.

 

"Be careful, Tony," Steve warns, "this is a good look on Sam. He'll be in a suit before you know it."

 

"Na," Sam says genially, "Wings beat repulsors any day of the week. Falcon all the way."

 

"Bite your tongue," Stark gasps, before looking to Bucky,

one dark eyebrow barely cocked. "The famous Bucky returns. It was 'Bucky', right?" he asks, holding out his hand. Bucky glances down at it, pausing a few seconds too long before he leans forward on his seat and takes the proffered appendage slowly.

 

"Pleasure to see you again, Mr Stark," Bucky says with bland politeness.

 

The air charges mildly with tension. Stark can taste his sarcasm, but Bucky's given him nothing to grip concretely on to.

 

"Please. You're making an honest man out of Red, White and Blue, here? You can call me 'Tony'."

 

Bucky smiles then, and it's the fake smile he uses when he visits family and his elderly aunt starts talking to him about her stamp collection. "Sure thing, Tony," he says, giving Stark's hand a reflexive squeeze before letting it go.

 

Stark considers Bucky shrewdly for a moment, before clapping Sam on the shoulder. "Hey, gents, mind if I have a quick tete-a-tete with the Buckster?"

 

Steve's eyes widen minutely and he immediately looks to Bucky. He angles his body towards Bucky, chest brushing Bucky's shoulder. They have a silent conversation with their eyes in which Steve communicates the question of 'are you sure?' and Bucky responds with a reassuring tap on his wrist and an expression that clearly says 'I can handle the dumbass'.

 

"Man, I could use a fresh drink," Sam says as he stands, despite his half-full bottle.

 

Steve nods and stands also. "Bucky, d'you want anything?"

 

Bucky hands him his empty glass. "That'd be great. More water, or a Coke, or something."

 

"You got it." Steve gives him one last, lingering look before walking away with Sam.

 

Stark sits next to him, taking Steve's spot, albeit with a little more of a conservative distance between them. With Steve gone, however, Bucky's face loses a little of its softness. It's all business now.

 

Stark looks over his outfit. "I like your costume. It's very... flouncy, but you make it work somehow."

 

"I look good in black," Bucky says mildly.

 

Stark's eyes narrow before he pushes a jet of air out between his lips, leaning towards him. "Listen, Buckeroo, I know the first time we met it didn't really go well. I said some things, then you said some things--"

 

"All true," Bucky interrupts, and he receives a mild glare.

 

"--some of them were... factually accurate," Stark says. "The point is, shit went down. And then I got it in the ear from Pepper. And then from Steve. And Bruce before he resorted to wearing earplugs, which he doesn't think I know about. And then Pepper again."

 

Bucky listens with a blank face, not giving anything away. It sounds as though Stark is attempting to apologise, albeit in an ass-backwards way. But Bucky wonders how much of the 'apology' is sincere, and how much of his hand has been forced by his colleagues.

 

"Here's the thing," Stark continues, "I like and I trust these people, and they all seem to like and trust you." He waves his hand vaguely. "And pretty much anyone Pepper has time for, I am obligated to like on principal, because she doesn't suffer fools gladly."

 

Nailed it. Bucky moves to open his mouth to protest that one automatically, but Stark makes a 'zip it' gesture with his lips. "I'm trying to offer an olive branch, d'you mind?" Bucky shrugs, but keeps his comment to himself, and Stark continues.

 

"So what it boils down to is that given you make the big, blond guy exceedingly cheerful, there's a good chance you might be around for a while, so I'd like to bury the hatchet. What can I do to smooth things over with you?"

 

Bucky watches Stark shrewdly throughout his entire spiel. He's a showman and a consummate prevaricator, but on the almost diametrically opposed other hand, he's also famous for not bullshitting and telling the truth, too. The fact that he admits that the olive branch comes more from his desire to appease Pepper than his own intention to make amends rings true to Bucky.

 

Stark is a man of somewhat grey principles, but, much like Pinocchio, he has a conscience.

 

It just so happens his conscience is 5'9", located outside his body, has red hair, and runs his company.

 

While his motives might not necessarily be pure as the driven snow, Bucky believes him in his devotion to Pepper. He clearly adores her, and doesn't want to piss her off too righteously.

 

This means... Bucky has an advantage. One he means to press.

 

"First of all," Bucky starts, amused to note Stark's attention laser-focus on him, "You can call me 'Bucky'. If you find yourself incapable of not reducing my nickname to something even more childish, feel free to default to 'James', or 'Barnes', I don't really care which. But I won't answer to anything else."

 

"James, Barnes, Bucky... right. Got it," Stark repeats, agreeing quickly. "Anything else?"

 

Bucky tastes blood in the water.

 

"Secondly... you're Steve's friend, and co-worker. He thinks a lot of you -- not always good things, mind you -- but there's a pretty high level of regard there."

 

Stark peps up like he's going to puff his chest out at the information, but Bucky cuts him off. "I respect his opinion, but I don't necessarily share it. At least--" he continues when Stark -- once again -- goes to interrupt. "--not yet."

 

Bucky takes a deep breath, getting his words together. "It's natural for friends or co-workers to want to share personal information, prod or be curious about details about relationships, et cetera... but you don't ask; you push. And you treat his personal life like an oddity. A sideshow." Bucky lets a little bit of steel show in his voice. "It's not. And now that personal life includes me, I think I get a say.

 

"If he wants to share with you on the fly, or if you ask like a decent human being and he responds in kind... fantastic. But if you go about belittling him and I in the way you did when we first met, we're going to continue to have problems."

 

Stark is silent for a moment, a crease between his dark brows. "To be fair..." he begins slowly, "I was pretty busy that day, and I don't always do well when interrupted in the middle of a project."

 

Bucky snorts. "To be fair," he repeats back, "we both know that's just an excuse, and I know you're too smart to believe that's a legitimate response, or that I'd buy it."

 

There's a pregnant pause, in which Stark regards him warily. "I am smart," Stark murmurs, before giving a world-weary sigh. "And sometimes... just sometimes... I'm not the easiest person to get along with."

 

Bucky nods gravely. "I think you're forgetting the word 'asshole'." Before Stark can look too offended, Bucky offers a grin. "But it's okay, so'm I. Just sometimes."

 

Stark looks at him for a moment before shaking his head and laughing softly. "'Assholes recognise one another'," he quotes the text he sent Steve after that first meeting.

 

Holding out a hand, Stark stops laughing. "Okay. As a founding member of Assholes Anonymous -- heretofore referred to as AA -- do you accept my apology so all my friends will stop whining about it?"

 

Bucky takes his hand and shakes it. "I'll do you one better, as a gesture of good faith; I'll tell Pepper you did a good job."

 

Stark starts pumping his hand in earnest. "Oh, thank Christ. I'll turn over a new leaf and everything."

 

With a smile, Bucky stops shaking Tony's hand in favour of one long squeeze. "Don't knock yourself out. Just... respect his -- respect our -- boundaries."

 

"Got it, Bucker-- Barnes," he corrects swiftly, wearing a guilty expression like he's mucked up already.

 

Bucky arches a brow, but he supposes Tony is allowed a slip-up at the beginning. He snorts and gives his head a little shake, and Tony responds with a slightly sheepish grin.

 

Steve returns and hands a glass of Coke to Bucky, moving to sit on Bucky's other side. Bucky looks to Steve and gives him a grateful smile. "Actually my hero," Bucky says, his throat parched.

 

Bucky observes Tony through his lashes, wondering if he'll take the obvious bait, even though he's just promised some decorum. He opens his mouth and Bucky's prepared for some snide remark, despite the truce.

 

"Admiral Ackbar warned me about this," he says, and Bucky nearly snorts a mouthful of Coke painfully through his nose.

 

Steve looks a little confused. "Which Admiral?" he asks, and while Bucky knows Steve's not completely culturally deficient, the reference is just subtle enough for him to not pick it up. Tony, however, looks to Bucky and grins.

 

"You can explain that one, Barnes." He stands and claps Steve on the shoulder, before departing generously.

 

Steve looks to Bucky. "I missed something," he states.

 

"Nothing important," Bucky mollifies, leaning into his chest. Steve smiles and moves to meet him, brushing a gentle kiss across his lips.

 

The elevator doors open, drawing everyone's attention to the lower floor. Finally finished with her obligations downstairs, Pepper is the last person to join them in the lab. A cheer goes up and everyone toasts her arrival, while Tony immediately moves to greet her.

 

Now that Pepper is here, Bucky gets the impression that the entire 'family' is together, and everyone seems a little more chipper.

 

"So," Steve begins now that they're alone, sipping at his drink, "you didn't maim Tony."

 

Bucky gives a one-shouldered shrug. "He wasn't a complete asshole," he admits.

 

"Just part of one?"

 

"Yeah. Like me."

 

Steve snorts indignantly. "Like hell. You're amazing."

 

Bucky puts his glass on a nearby table and leans back on the sofa. "You're biased because I let you play with my cat and see me naked."

 

"Occasionally even at the same time," Steve adds, and Bucky barks out a laugh.

 

Steve hunkers down into the sofa a little as well, pulling Bucky flush to his side. It's a bit strange to be more touchy-feely here, but a quick glance around confirms that none of Steve's friends are paying attention to them.

 

Plus... they're Steve's friends. The cat's out of the bag, and they don't seem to mind that Steve's got a boyfriend.

 

"So I have a question," Steve says, fingers lightly pulling at a ripple in Bucky's voluminous, black shirt.

 

"I have an answer," Bucky responds.

 

Steve smiles softly. "When I was meeting Jacob and Selena, their mother was talking about how Jacob didn't do well with other soldiers usually, and apologised to you. What for?"

 

Bucky has to momentarily rewind to that moment earlier in the evening. "You heard that? I thought you were listening to the kids."

 

"I can multitask. Also... I hope you came here for more than just the canapés."

 

"The canapés were good, though," Bucky muses, and Steve gently elbows him in the side.

 

His smile fades and he grows serious. "It's okay if you don't want to tell me, or if... I don't know, it breaches any confidentiality issues? I was just curious."

 

Bucky tucks himself into Steve's side a little more. "It's okay. If anything, it's more about me than him." Steve gives him an encouraging look as Bucky fiddles with the buttons on cuffs of his shirt, undoing them.

 

"Remember how I told you a while back that I didn't handle the PTSD kids we get because it wasn't a good fit?" Bucky asks, and Steve nods. "We realised this after I actually tried."

 

Steve doesn't say anything, but his attention becomes incredibly focused on Bucky. Bucky sighs and doesn't make eye contact with Steve, choosing instead to watch Romanov behind the bar at the far wall. Romanov sees him from where she stands, and gives him a small smile. As odd as it is, it's encouraging.

 

"I'd probably been at the outreach for six months when Jacob came to us. I figured-- we all figured I might have some insight to offer him.

 

"Jacob was, and to an extent, still is, very angry. Clever kid, but mad that his dad was gone, mad at everything. Real chip on his shoulder." Bucky looks at Steve quickly. "I'm not blaming him for that, or saying he shouldn't be that way, it's just a fact."

 

"I understand," Steve says gently, then falls silent for Bucky to continue.

 

"Anyway, I sat down with him to talk a few times, thinking my veteran status would make me more relatable to him. But it became pretty clear he was having none of it." Bucky lets out a sigh, and Steve lays a comforting hand on his bicep. Taking a deep breath, Bucky continues.

 

"I mentioned the kid was smart, right?" Steve nods. "He started pushing my buttons, asking really hard questions. Stuff that I couldn't in good conscience answer. Working with him didn't improve his situation, and I ended up feeling... frayed. Stretched thin. Angry. Denise thought perhaps it wasn't a good fit, and so she took on his case, and continued to take all similar cases after that." Bucky gives Steve a tremulous smile.

 

"He does so much better with Dee, so that's a really good thing. And I still see Jacob and his family at the outreach, or sometimes at group events, but he's not particularly warm to me, and I don't have that much interaction with him. Sort of feels like I let him down." Bucky shakes his head shallowly. Even knowing there's nothing he could do to change what happen or help, it still sometimes feels like a mini failure on his part. He wishes he could've done more, or been stronger. Whenever he sees Jacob, he's reminded of this blind spot in his ability, and it irks him.

 

"You didn't let anyone down, and he's getting good help from Denise, I'd wager. Helping him was not worth the cost to your own mental well-being." Steve says gently.

 

Bucky snorts. "You sound like Dee."

 

"That's because she's smart, and so am I," Steve says confidently.

 

"You jump out of planes without a parachute," Bucky reminds him scathingly.

 

"It's only dumb if you know you can't do it," Steve replies conspiratorially, and Bucky can't help but let out a chuckle.

 

Steve leans in to press his dry lips to Bucky's temple, and Bucky lets his eyes slip shut. "You're very brave," he says in an admiring tone.

 

Bucky snorts. "I'm not sure that applies here," he says.

 

"Didn't you once tell me I was brave for admitting some shit was hard to deal with?"

 

Bucky pauses, before he opens his eyes to stare inscrutably at Steve.

 

"It's not fair when you use your eidetic memory and my own words against me," he gripes.

 

"Steve Rogers don't always fight fair," Steve answers back, nuzzling Bucky's temple.

                               

Bucky lets out a breath he'd been holding in. "Apparently not," he replies softly.

 

They stay on the couch together for a while longer, talking quietly. Eventually, the rest of the Avengers and Avengers-adjacent people begin joining them at various times.

 

There is fun and interesting conversation on the offering, and while Bucky doesn't always know the ins and outs of what they discuss, he never feels like he's being left out; Steve will whisper little tidbit explanations to him from time to time, or it's something Bucky avidly understands. He even contributes a fair bit, but by and large he feels his biggest contribution is to give Steve's hands something to play with.

 

Steve's hands are constantly in contact with him, whether it's dusting invisible lint off the shoulder of his shirt, or resting a hand on his arm, or his chest, or even raking through his hair as he goes to get them fresh drinks. It's nice that he feels comfortable enough in front of his friends, but at the same token, Bucky's really glad he's not going full PDA on them. Apart from Bucky not really being super demonstrative in public, it'd feel weird in front of this particular group.

 

The fact that Steve's body language is so comfortable here, and he's the person Bucky knows him to be in private, is a lovely bonus. Not only has Bucky had the chance to hold his own as an individual in front of these people, but Steve has also presented them to his closest friends as a couple, and that feels significant. And really nice.

 

The points of contact are agreeable, but Bucky eventually starts to get restless. He holds out for a little, until it becomes clear that he's not the only one; Bruce is the first one to excuse himself, calling it a night. Next is Pepper, who, despite it being Sunday tomorrow, has more work to do and needs an early night.

 

Bucky takes the exit opportunity, inclines his body towards Steve's, takes his hand and squeezes his fingers. Steve, who's listening to a rambling Stark story, looks at him questioningly.

 

"I'm done," he says in a low voice.

 

Steve doesn't look for any further clarification, apparently, that's enough. He waits for a moment, because even Stark has to take a breath every now and then, stands and reaches out to Bucky to help him up. "We're off, everyone," Steve announces in that tiny pause, to a sad little exclamation.

 

After a blessedly quick round of goodbyes, Steve ushers Bucky downstairs and back to the elevator they first entered at. He asks whether Bucky wants to stay or go home for the night.

 

Steve has already filled Bucky in on the space that Tony has set aside for Steve should he ever want to remain in the tower, just in case they didn't feel like hoofing it back to Brooklyn tonight. Bucky stifles a yawn. Brooklyn is definitely happening tomorrow.

 

Steve interlaces their fingers in the elevator as it travels thirteen stories down to floor eighty, brushing his thumb rhythmically over the soft skin on the inside of Bucky's index finger.

 

Bucky had packed an overnight bag just in case, which JARVIS informs him has courteously already been delivered to Steve's room. Bucky grumbles a little because it means someone poked around his car to get said bag. Given he had is car goddamn valet parked when he arrived, he supposes it's not terribly surprising.

 

Steve's apartment in Avengers Tower is luxurious, but not lived in. It feels like a hotel; clean and impersonal. There are things that a layman might think Captain America might like, but if you know the man, there's little to appeal to Steve Rogers. Bucky does take note that someone has brought up Steve's shield and placed it by the door.

 

"I don't stay here much," Steve admits. "I prefer my apartment, but it's very nice of Tony to have this for me when I am here."

 

"Complete with turn-down service and twenty-four hour surveillance," Bucky comments wryly, setting his costume pieces down on the sofa, and kicking off his boots.

 

"Oh, I allow JARVIS to monitor life signs, and limited audio, only," Steve says informatively. "I like my privacy, too."

 

Bucky raises an eyebrow. "Really?" he queries, turning to face Steve, hand on his cocked hip.

 

"Mhm." Steve moves to stand in front of Bucky, fingers slowly undoing the buttons of his black, voluminous shirt, pressing a kiss to the side of Bucky's mouth.

 

"Seems like a suitable reward for surviving a Stark party," Bucky grins, undoing the sash from around his waist and throwing it behind him haphazardly.

 

"It wasn't that bad, was it?" Steve queries. "They're generally not my speed, but an occasional necessary evil. Still, sometimes they're for really good things, like tonight."

 

"Look, it wasn't the worst party I've ever been to," Bucky admits. "And it was fun seeing you in that element." Bucky scrambles for his phone and quickly pulls up the photo Sam sent of Steve and Selena with the fake helmet and real shield. "This is my new favourite photo of you ever," Bucky admits in a stage whisper.

 

A light flush stains Steve's cheeks, but he's not overly embarrassed. Instead, he untucks Bucky's shirt from his pants and pushes the fabric off his shoulders. Because Steve Rogers can be ridiculously single-minded sometimes. "I know the first part was obligation, but..." he breathes out softly, "I'm really glad you came as my date for the second half."

 

"And met the rest of the family, and got the shovel talk from fucking Thor," Bucky finishes, letting his shirt fall to the floor, and pulling fitfully at Steve's.

 

"I think you could take him," Steve says, "You were clearly the most badass man in that room." He pulls the gold long-sleeved shirt off his head and tosses it away.

 

They stand together shirtless, Steve's hands resting on his biceps. "I only have room in my life for one stupidly buff, blue-eyed blond, and that position is already filled," Bucky says. With Steve beaming a smile, Bucky takes him by the hand and pulls him towards the bedroom.

Chapter Text

 

The One Where They Go Trick or Treating.

 

(Location: Brooklyn neighbourhood)

 

"Are you sure this costume is okay?" Steve asks, pulling at the beanie nervously.

 

"It's fine," Bucky assures him, tying an orange bandana around his eyes. "At any rate, if someone doesn't pick you for a Ninja Turtle, with all the green and the muscles, they'll probably just assume you're the Hulk."

 

Steve gives him the bitchiest expression. "Oh, ha ha."

 

Bucky and Steve are on the driveway out the front of Becca and Nick's place, waiting for her to wrangle the kids out the door. Nick is staying back to hand out candy, seeing as there are other adults out to help his wife with their kids.

 

Steve points to his bandana. "I figure there's a reason for the colour coding... why am I the red one?"

 

Bucky shrugs and pops a piece of gum in his mouth. "You should probably have the blue bandana for Leonardo -- he's the responsible and dedicated leader of the team -- but Bobby's Leo. Because all little boys love Leo. So I picked Raphael for you instead."

 

"Raphael," Steve muses, "what's his story?"

 

Bucky gives Steve a shit-eating grin. "Well, he's the guy with deep-seated anger management and impulse control issues who likes action first and talking later." He gives a one-shouldered shrug. "Thought you might be able to relate to a few aspects."

 

Steve puts a palm to his chest in offense. "I'm shocked that you think that of me. Truly."

 

Bucky leans forward and brushes his hands over Steve's hip, cheek coming close to his boyfriend's. "You'll get over it," he murmurs, tucking the pair of plastic sai better into Steve's belt.

 

The costumes are simple; green t shirts with the turtle shells printed on them, green knit beanies and bandanas over the top. When Steve agreed to come trick or treating, Bucky made an emergency run to Hot Topic to make sure Steve wouldn't be busting out of his costume shirt.

 

If there's one thing Bucky knows, it's how to be unobtrusive in public. A big guy in a shirt showing off his broad shoulders and muscles is going to attract attention. A big guy in a slightly baggier shirt that hides his physique is much easier to glance over. Combined with the beanie over Steve's blond head, and the bandana, figuring out it's him is a lot harder.

 

It doesn't stop Steve from looking attractive, it just reduces the likelihood of him being recognised.

 

Every time they're going out, they're running the risk of Steve being recognised, and Bucky knows that it doesn't matter how close Steve plays it, it's going to come out eventually. The guy makes TMZ when the paps catch him on a run after the six a.m., with that kind of scrutiny, it's only a matter of time before Bucky's seen in his company a few times and people start questioning Captain America's male friend.

 

It's going to be something that they can't keep under wraps forever, but just for this moment, in dorky costumes in his sister's neighbourhood in Brooklyn, Bucky and Steve can just be normal. And Bucky won't fail to treasure each moment like this.

 

Steve purses his lips cutely, and looks like he wants to say something, when the door to Rebecca and Nick's opens. Rebecca is there, in the same sort of shirt as Bucky and Steve -- only her bandana is purple -- trying to wrangle two small children. Nick waves as he stands by the door with Robert, but as soon as he sees Bucky, he slips out of Nick's grip and runs down the path as fast as his little legs will carry him.

 

Rebecca and Nick both make to chase him, until they realise his safe destination.

 

Bucky grins and crouches down to scoop him up into his arms. "Heyyyy buddy," Bucky grins, readjusting the blue bandana so the eyeholes line up correctly.

 

"Bucky," Robert says very seriously, waving a little jack-o-lantern bucket. "M'get candy?"

 

"That's right. So much candy, you'll be on a sugar high for hours and your mom will pitch a fit."

 

"That's not funny, Bucky," Rebecca grouses, adjusting Isobel on one side of the double-pram. She's wearing the skeleton onesie and has some vague eyeliner marks on her cheeks to denote a skull. "If you do that, I'll send him for a sleep-over at his beloved uncle's apartment. Newsflash: There will be no sleep."

 

"Just like when I stay over," Steve murmurs in an undertone and Bucky suddenly coughs.

 

"Filthy, Rogers," Bucky whispers with a disbelieving shake of his head.

 

"What?" Steve asks innocently, "I just meant Babushka keeps me awake."

 

"A likely story," Bucky mutters, before looking down to Robert, who is staring at Steve curiously. "Bobby, you remember Steve?" Bucky asks in a gentle voice. "He played trucks with you at Grannie and Pop's place."

 

Steve gives a little wave and a hopeful smile. "Hi, Bobby."

 

Bobby looks at him appraisingly for a moment, before he responds. "Steeb, trucks," he says with a modicum of confidence.

 

"That's right. I love playing with trucks," Steve says, and Bobby grins at him.

 

"Trucks are gooooooood," Bobby replies, drawing out the word and cocking his head to the side, enough that Bucky has to readjust his grip lest the little boy flip himself out of his hands.

 

"Gooooooooooood," Steve responds.

 

"Gooooooooooooooooooood," Bobby chirps again.

 

"Oh dear God, they're stuck in a loop," Rebecca says, even though there's a smile on her face. "How do you reboot your boyfriend?"

 

"He's analog, not digital. I haven't figured it out, yet," Bucky answers.

 

"Didn't have to put up with this back in the Great Depression," Steve sniffs.

 

"You didn't have proper Halloween, either," Bucky reminds him. "Speaking of which, are you guys ready to get some candy?"

 

Bobby whoops in excitement, nearly smacking Bucky in the face. Isobel lets out an excited squeal, but only because her brother does, not because she has one clue as to what's going on. It's still cute.

 

With Robert proclaiming he's a big enough boy to totter down the sidewalk on his own, he nearly wriggles out of Bucky's grip. The little boy has to listen to a stern lecture about being allowed to walk as long as he stays on the path and goes nowhere near the curb.

 

"Everything but the sidewalk and your pram is lava," Bucky intones gravely and Bobby's eyes widen, before he nods solemnly.

 

With the ground rules in place, trick or treating begins in earnest, and it's a singularly enjoyable practice. Not only does Bucky get to experience Isobel's first Halloween, watch her getting cooed over by homeowners and other parents alike, but he gets to see the holiday through Steve's eyes, too.

 

Steve seems fascinated. His eyes are constantly roving to the bedecked houses, kids running past in as witches and wizards and heroes. There is an atmosphere of excitement and joy, and watching Bucky's nephew and niece get crazy about the candy is fun.

 

He tugs on Bucky's arm to point out some of the more elaborate, decorated yards, with spooky things strung up in trees or over fence posts. It's endearing to see Steve so excited.

 

While Robert initially side-eyed Steve, he soon remembers all the fun he had playing trucks, and starts demanding more and more of Steve's attention. First it's shooting him shy smiles, then babble-talking to him where even Bucky can only pick up every third word -- and he's fluent in excited Bobby-speak -- to holding his hand as they walk. Bucky finds himself barely able to cope with how Steve has to bow down to make it happen. Rebecca elbows him and Bucky can't help but snap a photo of them with their hands joined.

 

"Bucky," Becca whispers, "how can you function? He's fucking adorable."

 

Bucky shakes his head, unable to tear his gaze away from his boyfriend and nephew. "I have no idea, sis."

 

Becca laughs lightly and lets Bucky take Isobel's pram. The shade is up as it's late afternoon, allowing a bird's eye view of her cute, mousey-brown head as it looks around at everything curiously.

 

"So," Rebecca starts, "change in effect at work yet?"

 

Bucky avoids some broken pavement on the sidewalk. "Started the first round of interviews for new therapists late last week, continuing into this week. Tomorrow I get to start calling contact references and seeing how they pan out."

 

"I know how much you love to be on the phone," Rebecca says sarcastically.

 

"Joy of joys," Bucky sighs. It's good, no, it is. But damn, is it a process.

 

Still, the effort is necessary. He'd rather do his best to root out any problems now, rather than be responsible for hiring someone that might not be a good fit for their kids or their work environment.

 

"How many new guys do you think you'll get?"

 

"Hard to say. We have a new receptionist, who will be able to take a lot of the more tedious office-jobs off our hands. Given the wage situation... I'm thinking maybe one full-time and one part-time therapist should do it." He shrugs. "Hell, even one full-time or two part-time would work, if that's all we can find. We're not going to hire a body just because, y'know?"

 

Becca squeezes his shoulder. "I know. Meanwhile," she gives him a sidelong grin, "perks of the grant include Stark parties, right? Or is that more of a boyfriend perk?"

 

"I am consistently amused by your use of the word 'perk'," Bucky shakes his head. He lets out a sigh, and cocks his head to the side. "It's a thing. I mean, it's interesting, don't get me wrong, but not really my scene. Not really Steve's either, but it's something he's got to do from time to time."

 

"It's traumatic having to rub shoulders with the rich and famous, isn't it," Becca bemoans, though she gives him a little smile to let him know she's just joking.

 

"The canapés were flown in from Canada. I mean, they didn't even come from another continent. Stark's disappointed me bitterly." Becca laughs lightly and looks to him fondly. Bucky deliberately leans into her for a moment and bumps their shoulders together. It's been a little while since he's had grown-up chats with his sister, her bailing him up about Steve notwithstanding. He always liked the way she responds to the unexpected.

 

With that in mind, he drops his next truth bomb accordingly. "Met Thor, though," he throws out casually.

 

Rebecca stops in her tracks, mouth falling open in disbelief. "Why didn't you open with that?!" she hisses at him.

 

"You asked about work first," Bucky reminds her, chuckling. "This is boyfriend stuff, not work stuff." Because Bucky can compartmentalise like a badass mother.

 

As they stop from house to house, Steve and Bobby slightly ahead, Bucky tells his sister how meeting the remaining members of the Avengers went.

 

"--so Thor has his hammer on the coffee table, and it really is... magical, I guess is the best term. Everyone's taking turns to try and lift it and it doesn't budge. I mean, nothing. Rockets do not make this thing move--"

 

"Did you try?" Rebecca asks.

 

"What am I, stupid? Of course not. So anyway, they cajole Steve into giving it a turn--" Bucky breathes out, still slightly in disbelief, "--and it moved."

 

Becca screws up her nose at him. "What do you mean?"

 

"I mean, it moved. Just a tiny bit, half an inch, max."

 

"What's the deal with the hammer again, anyway?" Becca gets distracted by Isobel's yowl when she 'accidentally' throws a stuffed bunny out of her pram.

 

"I don't know the whole story, but only Thor can lift it. As in, nobody else can. It didn't even shift when anyone else tried," Bucky explains. "I caught a quick look at Thor's face when Steve was having a go. He looked pretty shocked."

 

"Why is that?" she presses.

 

"Something about whoever's worthy for the throne of Asgard?" Bucky shrugs. "He's a god-alien who lives in outer space. I was just trying to keep my tenuous hold on sanity."

 

"Afraid to say that ship has already sailed, brother o' mine." She pats his arm consolingly, and Bucky flips her off, making sure neither his niece or nephew are watching.

"Can I pick her up?" he gestures to Isobel, who is still fussing in her seat.

 

Becca nods, and Bucky immediately moves to unbuckle her. He hoists her with gusto, and she lets out a whoop of excitement.

 

It's probably a mistake, but once Bucky picks Izzy up, she never wants him to put her down. He's surprisingly okay with his tiny, wriggling, skeleton bundle.

 

Steve and Bobby take the lead to most houses, followed closely by Bucky holding Isobel, and Rebecca pushing the pram. She complains about being the one left holding the bag, but Bucky knows that she's enjoying not being immediately responsible for her two tiny humans right this second. It allows her to just enjoy observing, taking the occasional photo.

 

Izzy's bucket is half the size of Bobby's, but rather than care about the candy to eat it, all she seems concerned with is the more candy that goes in, the more shaking the bucket sounds like a big maraca.

 

After visiting another two houses, Bobby feels ripped off that his baby sister is catching a lift with her favourite uncle. He turns to Steve and tugs on his jeans, mouth set in a little pout.

 

"Steeb! Steeb! Up!" Robert demands, and Bucky has to bite the inside of his cheek.

 

"Up, please," Rebecca corrects in that world-weary mom kind of way, but it's too late. Steve has already capitulated and scooped Robert up like he's nothing, a large grin on his face. He puts the little boy on one of his huge shoulders, and Robert grips the side of Steve's head tightly.

 

Bobby's jack-o-lantern bucket keeps whacking Steve in the cheek, so he turns and looks helplessly at Bucky and his sister. Rebecca rolls her eyes good-naturedly and bargains with Bobby to let his candy bucket be put in the seat of the pram for safe-keeping, in exchange for Steve continuing to hold him.

 

It makes Bucky so damned happy to see Steve enjoying himself, and interacting with his family in such a positive way. It does warm, sludgy things to his insides.

 

He and Steve end up carrying Bobby and Izzy to the next few rows of houses, with Rebecca bringing up the rear to collect the candy. Bobby's delightfully mangled version of 'Trick or Treat' when the door opens sounds a lot closer to 'Tick'n Teat', and it never fails to make Steve snort in a severely unattractive manner.

 

Bucky still loves his ugly-snorts, anyway.

 

It's too much for Isobel, who falls asleep on the way back. Bucky puts her in the pram, followed by Robert. As much as he enjoys being carried by Steve, he'd rather spend some quality time cradling his candy like a dragon jealously guarding treasure.

 

Bucky takes the opportunity to slip his hand into Steve's as they walk back. Steve squeezes his fingers and swings their arms a little like the massive dork that he is.

 

It's on their way back that they actually run into a group of tiny grade-school kids dressed as the Avengers.

 

Bucky's fingers get squeezed again as Steve sees them, before he releases his hand, a huge grin on his face. According to a previous conversation, Steve's seen many kids dress up as the team since the Battle of New York, but it never gets old.

 

That's because kids are perennially adorable, and so is Steve.

 

Steve and Bucky stop in front of the group. He looks to their chaperone to check if it's okay to address the kids. The young woman they're with looks briefly from Steve and Bucky, to Becca and the kids. She must decide that they don't look too threatening, despite Steve's size, because she nods.

 

"You guys have amazing costumes," Steve enthuses sincerely, crouching in front of them, and he gets six toothy grins in return. There's a little Cap (of course), but also Iron Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Thor and even a Falcon. Steve looks to each one, before he frowns.

 

"Did you forget Hulk?" he asks.

 

"Billy's brother was gonna be Hulk," little Falcon answers, pointing to little Thor, "but he got strep throat and had to stay home." Everyone nods their heads sadly, and Bucky has to bite his lip.

 

"That's a shame," Bucky remarks, "but you all still look amazing. Ready to fight some bad guys?"

 

"Yeah!" Little Widow hollers, and does her own version of a karate chop. Steve can't smile any wider if he tried.

 

"I like your costume," little Cap tells Steve, and the irony threatens to kidney-punch Bucky.

 

"Thanks. I wanted to be Leonardo, but my, ah..." Steve gestures to Robert, in the pram, and stumbles. "My little friend, Bobby," he decides on carefully, "got to choose first."

 

"I like Leonardo best, too," little Cap replies, because if he likes Captain America, of course Leonardo is his favourite turtle. "But Raphael is pretty cool, too."

 

"So I hear," Steve says, before he asks the group what their favourite turtles are. What follows is sixty seconds of six kids talking over one another as they explain exactly why x turtle is better than all the other turtles.

 

When they've exhausted themselves, Steve nods in a way that Bucky knows he barely picked up any of the conversation.

 

Their chaperone makes an aborted movement like she wants to keep moving with the kids, and both Bucky and Steve see it.

 

"It was so great to talk to you guys, and I know you've probably got to keep moving to get candy," Steve says, "but before you go, would it be okay if I took a photograph of you all? I just can't get over how cool your costumes are."

 

"We have to ask Juanita," little Hawkeye says dutifully, and six heads turn towards their chaperone.

 

Juanita nods, a faint smile on her face. "Yeah, it's okay." Little Widow lets out another ear-piercing whoop. Bucky can't help but think that she's got a bit to learn from the real Widow, because spying would become increasingly difficult if she kept giving away her position like that.

 

"You're all in green, you can be our Hulk!" Little Iron Man suddenly exclaims, and the kids begin chattering excitedly. Steve looks to Bucky immediately, the start of a pout forming on his lips. Bucky just mouths 'told you'.

 

"You need to do a Hulk pose," little Falcon says gravely, tugging on Steve's jeans to make him pay attention.

 

Steve thinks for a minute, before flexing his biceps. Even in a larger shirt, they stretch the cotton sleeves. The kids look suitably impressed. Bucky, Rebecca and Juanita are also impressed, but for entirely different reasons.

 

Steve hands Bucky his phone, and moves to tower behind the small group. Proportionately speaking, it seems just about right to the footage Bucky has seen of the team in action.

 

"Now do a nice, smiling one," Bucky says. Some of the kids keep their hero poses, but Steve drops his 'Hulk pose', and hunkers down a little more behind the kids.

 

Bucky gets a great idea. He forages for his own phone and passes it to Becca. His sister snaps away happily as Bucky sidles up to Steve.

 

It's amusing to note that Steve can read him well enough to raise an eyebrow at him. "What are you doing?" he asks in an extremely low voice.

 

"Giving you something to laugh about later," Bucky replies. He turns to Becca. "Ready?"

 

"I'm always ready," she replies with a grin.

 

As she's taking the photo, Bucky whips Steve's beanie off and pulls his mask down for a few moments. Becca chortles as she takes a photo of Steve with his little band of Avengers, unmasked.

 

Before any of the kids can turn around, Bucky replaces the beanie, and Steve re-positions his mask. Bucky's about to vacate the photo when Steve tucks him in under his arm.

 

"Smile, handsome," he says, big grin levelled at Becca.

 

Bucky capitulates and smiles for Becca, before his eyes slide to Juanita, who's glancing at the clock on her phone. She's been completely nice to indulge them, but she might have to meet the kids' parents at a certain time, and they're holding her up.

 

"C'mon, Raph," Bucky says, tapping Steve's thigh, "I think the Avengers have to head off and fight evil somewhere."

 

Steve nods, and takes a moment to shake each kid's hand, before approaching Juanita and thanking her sincerely for letting him get a photo. She blushes and stumbles over her words a little, before corralling the kids into some semblance of order. Steve and Bucky spend a few moments waving as the six kids move away.

 

"That was pretty cute," Rebecca says, handing Bucky's phone back to him.

 

"I do my best," Bucky says, and gets a punch in the arm for his trouble. Once again, he regrets teaching his sisters to defend themselves. "Don't set a bad example for your kids. Bad parenting!" Bucky scolds, rubbing his arm.

 

"Just teaching them to take out anyone who mouths off at them."

 

"You should be talking to this guy, then," Bucky nods towards Steve.

 

"I resemble that remark," he says, offended.

 

The sheer depth of his indignance makes both Barnes siblings laugh. Becca puts a consoling arm around Steve's back. "Suck it up, Steve," she says sweetly.

 

Steve shakes his head. "You're both clearly related."

 

"Not so much. I begged my parents for a younger sibling, but the best they could do was a chimp from the Bronx Zoo."

 

Becca harrumphs. "Fine. You no longer get to push your niece and nephew in the pram. Steve?" Steve jumps to attention, and takes the pram's handles dutifully. Becca links her arm in with his and they begin walking, leaving Bucky behind.

 

Bucky looks at them and grins. For all the world, they look like a happy little nuclear family, and Bucky's fifth-wheeling it. Only, he knows the truth.

 

Only one of them sees Steve naked, and it ain't his sister.

 

Bucky trails behind as he looks through his phone gallery, to some of the photos Becca took. They're really cute. The one of Steve unmasked, with the mini-vengers is particularly nice, but Bucky keeps getting drawn back to the one where he and Steve are grinning together. After a moment's consideration, he makes their stupid faces the wallpaper for his home screen, before pulling up Sam's number.

 

He definitely has some pretty fantastic images to share.

 

***

 

 

The One With The Instagram Post

 

(Location: Bucky's office)

 

 

Bucky's spelunking through a filing cabinet, amiably chatting to Vanessa, when his phone chimes. He's been ignoring the sound all day, only deeming to check it when it's one of the personalised tones for his family or Steve. He digs it out of his pocket to discover a text from one of his sisters.

 

Abi: Check your email asap. I sent you something important xo

 

Bucky cocks an eyebrow, because while Abigail tends towards dramatic, she doesn't usually go for cryptic.

 

He finishes finding the group of files he's looking for and goes back to his desk. The new addition to it stares cheerfully back at him, and Bucky has to stifle the grin he gets every single time he sees it.

 

Rebecca had been casually snapping photos while they went trick-or-treating on Monday night. A day or two later, she showed up at Bucky's apartment, claiming she'd been in the neighbourhood, to share a coffee and drop something off.

 

It turned out to be a small photo in a plain frame of him and Steve carrying her kids around. It had been taken from the back, and from a short distance away, so no faces or particularly defined identifying characteristics are visible, making it a perfect desk photo.

 

The silhouettes of Bucky and Steve are clear, with Bobby perched on Steve's shoulders pointing at paper chain decorations hanging from a tree, while Bucky rests Izzy on his hip, turned towards her. It's amazingly clear for a smartphone picture, and feels intimate while still preserving their privacy.

 

Bucky kind of adores it.

 

Tearing his eyes away from the photo, Bucky heads into his work email to find nothing there from Abi. He checks his junk mail, but knows that Abi's email address is in his contacts, and should never be forwarded there, anyway. A quick search reveals nothing recent, let alone sent today. It's enough to make him mildly anxious.

 

On a hunch, he logs into his personal email account instead, and there's her email. He leans on his elbow, face resting in his hand as he double-clicks to read it.

 

Bucky,

 

Not sure if you've seen this yet, it started doing the rounds of the sites today as a minor puff piece. Nothing to worry about right this moment, I don't think, but if you want any thoughts on your next move, just call.

 

Abi xo

 

Attached to the email is a screen shot of an internet gossip article. The photo and headline cause Bucky's breath to catch in his throat.

 

CAPTAIN AMERICA FINDS NEW TEAM!

 

Everyone's favourite Avenger (not including Tony Stark) took to the streets of Brooklyn in an entirely new costume on Halloween, and ended up finding himself a brand new set of heroes!

 

At the top of the article is a photo of an unmasked Steve hunkering down with the costumed kids. There's a Bucky-shaped blur in the background, who was of course behind him, having just pulled the beanie up and off. The inset is a generic headshot of Steve in his uniform.

 

Mother. Fucker.

 

At first, Bucky thinks maybe his or Becca's or Steve's phone has been hacked. But looking at the image more closely, the angle is off from the ones in his possession. It's definitely not been taken from the front, like his, but from the side.

 

It doesn't take much for Bucky to realise that's where the kids' chaperone, Juanita, was standing.

 

Jarrod walks past Bucky's desk and he smoothly clicks out of the email. Taking a moment or two to catch his breath, Bucky grabs his phone and heads to the bathroom and locks the door behind him.

 

He sits on the toilet seat and starts fiddling. Interestingly enough, all those chimes he'd been ignoring earlier, had been the Google alerts for 'Captain America' still in place on his device, notifying him of the articles beginning to pop up. There are alerts from at least four different gossip sites, but all of them have nearly identical content, not that that makes him feel any better. Bucky rolls his shoulders uncomfortably.

 

Bucky re-finds the original article on a garish pink Hollywood gossip blog, and clicks the 'read more' link.

 

"I was doing my baby sister and her friends a favor," Juanita Ramirez, 23, said. "A nice man in costume stopped the kids and talked to them, we took some photos, and then they left. I didn't know who it was until I posted on Instagram. One of my friends said 'Holy shit, that's Captain America'."

 

Miss Ramirez didn't recognise him at the time, and the good Captain was only unmasked because one of his friends did it to get a picture, seemingly as a joke.

 

Related: Avengers Line Up For Ritzy Stark Halloween Benefit

 

It seems Cap ditched his famous team in favor of heading out with an unnamed family to get some quality trick-or-treating in.

 

Only recently, Brooklyn's favorite son appeared in a Star Trek costume at a huge Halloween bash, honoring the recipients of the Howard and Maria Stark Foundation grant, where he got up close and personal with another little Captain.

 

On meeting Captain America unexpectedly, Miss Ramirez is remarkably circumspect. "It's New York, there's famous people everywhere. I just wished I'd realized it was him at the time. He and his friend were so nice to the kids, they made their night."

 

Captain Rogers couldn't be reached for comment.

 

Interspersed in the article are three other pictures: Steve in his 'Hulk pose' with the kids in question embedded from Juanita's Instagram account, a generic Avengers group publicity still, and a press photo from the Halloween party on the weekend, with Steve in deep discussion with Jacob and Selena.

 

Bucky breathes deeply and reads the article twice more before he calls Steve. Steve blessedly picks up quickly, and Bucky launches straight into reading the article aloud.

 

When Bucky's finished, Steve is quiet for a few moments. He then goes through the meat of the article, discarding the fluff.

 

"There's no mention of Becca or the kids, apart from the generic 'family' statement. As it is, it sounds like they've pegged you and Becca as a couple."

 

Bucky makes a slight noise of disgust, and Steve gives a gentle laugh. Bit of a gross thought, but preferable to the alternative.

 

"There's only a passing reference to you, as well," Steve adds, picking up on the tiny details. "I guess the story wasn't big enough to warrant any further investigation?"

 

"The article said you couldn't be reached for comment. Did someone ask?"

 

"Not that I know of," Steve answers. "If Pepper was notified, being that it's such a small story, she probably wouldn'tve bothered me with it."

 

Steve's logic makes sense, he's probably done this a hundred times. Also, any minor resentment he'd been holding towards Juanita is gone, too. He can't even blame her for posting the photo to social media, because all young people do.

 

"So the cat's not out of the bag just yet," Bucky breathes out.

 

"Babushka is safe," Steve says gently, and Bucky can hear the smile in his voice.

 

Bucky rests his elbows on his knees. "It's my fault," Bucky shakes his head regretfully. "Rookie fucking mistake. I thought it'd be funny for you to get a photo without your mask, and look what happened."

 

"Buck, it was an accident. Juanita didn't realise at the time, it took someone else to tell her. Whenever I go out, no matter what, there's no surefire guarantee that I'm not going to be recognised." Bucky can hear the shrug over the other end of the line. "I do what I can to prevent it, but I don't get mad when it happens."

 

"If I hadn't unmasked you, it probably wouldn'tve happened, though," Bucky insists.

 

"And it was the most harmless puff piece I've read about myself in a while." Steve gives a rueful little chuckle. "It can always be worse. Three years ago I was seen at a Ramadan celebration, and some mouthy, orange guy with a toupee started asking for my birth certificate if I was going to call myself Captain America."

 

Bucky lets out a little laugh. Steve just seems to take everything in his stride, it's hard not to go along with the ride. If Steve's not worried, maybe Bucky shouldn't be, either. "He tends to do that," Bucky replies aloud, rubbing his eyes. It feels like there's grit under his lids and his eyeballs are all sandpapery. "I must've been overseas when he did this, though... what ended up happening?"

 

"Tony filed an immediate law suit citing harassment, saying something about being a successful businessman as well as an actual genius, he could make the legal action stick." Steve gives a little, amused grunt. "Didn't hear anything more about it."

 

Bucky shakes his head disbelievingly. "Amazing." His smile fades, and he sighs deeply. "I knew it was going to happen, but I thought we'd have a bit more of a plan of attack in place beforehand."

 

"So maybe this is our wakeup call. We could meet with Pepper and her team; see if she can make any suggestions. Maybe... maybe getting that online presence, like Abigail talked about, would help us from getting caught off-guard, too."

 

"Mmm," Bucky grunts. "I could always call her, and she could give you the more detailed Social Media: 101 lecture."

 

"Yeah! That sounds great," Steve enthuses, "She could come over for coffee."

 

Bucky nods, not sure if Steve's more animated about talking to his sister, talking to his sister about social media, or the coffee. "Okay. We'll discuss this before the week's out." He looks down at the article once again, finally able to see the funny side a little. "Hey, did you know you got hashtagged #BrooklynHottie?

 

"Is that even a thing?"

 

There's an impatient knock on the door. "Whassamatter, Bucky, did you fall in? I gotta gooo!" Jarrod sounds a little whiny, but also a little desperate.

 

"Nearly done!" Bucky addresses him, before speaking into the phone. "I gotta go. Thanks for calming me down. Write me later?" he asks fondly.

 

"It's what I do," Steve returns with unflappable composure.

 

***

 

The One With The Concessions To The Modern Era

 

(Location: Bucky's apartment)

 

 

Bucky digs in his messenger bag for his keys as the elevator doors open on his floor. He had an early mark from work, and had invited Abi around for the afternoon, but a last-minute job had kept him back for an extra half-hour. Driving home, Bucky hadn't even had a chance to text her and let her know he was going to be late.

 

Oddly enough, he hasn't received a chiming message from her asking where he is. Maybe she's running late, too. Bucky picks up his pace.

 

He walks briskly to his door and unlocks it, to find Abi already sitting on his sofa, next to Steve. He blinks once in surprise at the both of them, and throws his keys on the table by the door.

 

"I swear, it's not what it looks like," Abi says with a serene smile. Steve gives him a quirky grin and sips from his mug.

 

Bucky moves in to dump his messenger bag and run both hands through his hair. "Really? Because it looks like you're bogarting my new French vanilla coffee."

 

"Then it's exactly what it looks like," Steve grins, and Abi gives him a high five. Bucky rolls his eyes and mouths 'save me' to the ceiling.

 

The ceiling remains silent.

 

"There's still some percolating, if you want a cup," Abi says.

 

"How generous you're being with my own coffee," he snarks back, but does just that, going into the kitchen and pouring a mug.

 

After a fortifying sip, Bucky wanders over to his boyfriend and sister. They look comfortable together. Abi has kicked her shoes off, curling her legs underneath her on the sofa. Steve has gotten changed out of whatever clothes he wore to Bucky's, and into a cozy -- but still decent -- pair of sweats and a relaxed cotton t-shirt. His lap is filled with a purring Babushka.

 

Bucky budges Steve over just slightly so he can sit on the arm of the sofa. Abigail's tablet and phone sit between them on the couch cushions, screens open on various social media apps.

 

"How long have you been here?" Bucky asks Abi after a fortifying mouthful of coffee.

 

"Twenty minutes, or so. I figured you were running late, and I'd left my set of your spare keys at my apartment, but then Steve showed up shortly after and rescued me from sitting in the hall, fielding glares of suspicion from the neighbours."

 

Bucky grins. It seems to be Abi's lot. Becca has a warm, no-nonsense young mom vibe, and Gracie does wholesome and doe-eyed like nobody's business, but Abigail... Abi is the trendy one, the modern one, always sharp like a razor, and therefore, always first to be branded with the 'troublesome youth' mark by older people.

 

It amuses Bucky to no end.

 

He peers over Steve's shoulder, and glances at the tablet, before chucking his thumb towards it. "I think I missed the basics, so where are you up to now?"

 

Steve puts down his mug on the coffee table without disturbing Babushka and picks up Abigail's tablet. "Abi went over the reasons why people in the public eye choose to release information via social media, and was showing me some examples on the different... platforms? Did I get that right?" He looks to Abi for confirmation.

 

"That's exactly it," she assures. "We'd also started touching base on the pros and cons of some of the majors."

 

"Which ones are you leaning towards?" Bucky asks.

 

Abi takes her phone and brings up a list of the most popular social media platforms in the USA. "Based on this list, I've discussed what they're like, and showed the interfaces, and we've already ruled a few out, like Pinterest, Tumblr, LinkedIn. There are a few in the 'maybe in the future' category like Snapchat and Youtube, but by and large we're left with the big three."

 

"Let me guess," Bucky says, "Facebook, Twitter and Instagram."

 

"You got it, bro. Based on their interfaces, what it can do for you, and how it presents information--" she turns to Steve, "--I'd recommend one or all of these as a base."

 

"I think just one will be plenty," Steve says quickly, and Bucky and Abi both smile.

 

"That's probably really good to start out. But just keep in mind, if you're enjoying it, or if you want to slightly change your audience, you can change platform and it's a whole new ballgame."

 

Steve looks at the tablet and cycles through the three mentioned programs. "Can you give me the rundown on the three of them again?"

 

Abi puts her mug down on the coffee table. "How about you tell me exactly what you want, and how you'd like to interact with people, and we'll choose something from there?"

 

Steve is quiet for a moment, as he thinks. "I want something that I can control. I mean, I don't mind getting help, but you talked about how some of these big accounts have people that post for them... I don't want that."

 

"That's a good start," Abi encourages. "What else?"

 

"Something people aren't going to expect posts from every day... because I physically can't do it. I want to be able to interact with people, but... on my own terms, I guess? Easy interface..."

 

"You should get something visual," Bucky puts in. "Remember the photos you used to send me before we met? Views from Manhattan, the park at dawn, drawings you were working on... they were so painfully hipster, the internet would eat that shit up with a spoon."

 

Abigail perks up. "You draw?"

 

Bucky hefts himself off the sofa arm to shuffle to the far wall and take a frame down. He returns to the seat, handing it to Abi. It's a collage of the studies Steve did of Babushka when he was laid up with his busted ankle.

 

Abi looks at the drawings like she's staring at the Mona Lisa. "Steve, these are wonderful. You do this often?"

 

"When I have the time," Steve shrugs modestly.

 

She taps the glass. "This is exactly the kind of thing I was talking about at mom and dad's. For a lot of people, you're still this untouchable figure from history, barely human. Things like this, they make you relatable. You're already likable, this makes you even moreso." Steve looks down, abashed at the praise. Lord in Heaven, please save him from a blushing Steve Rogers.

 

Abi sits back in the couch cushions, looking thoughtful. "Based on what you've said, I thing Instagram might be the way to go. It's visually based, with the ability to use tags to look up subjects. You aren't required to actually say words if you don't want to; you could just put up a picture with no explanation, but the option is there to use text if you really want. You can even record up to a minute of video! People can interact with you and tag you in things, but it's not quite the free-for-all that Facebook or Twitter are. I mean, if someone tags you in something, it's not going to appear on your feed for your followers or anything, but you have the option to acknowledge it."

 

"That's true," Bucky says. "There's nothing more annoying than being tagged in stuff, and your friends or followers see it, when you really might prefer they didn't."

 

"Basically, on Instagram, if people choose to follow you, all they get to see are the things you put up, not all the posts other people will tag you in. And yes," she confirms, "a lot of people are going to tag you in things."

 

Steve looks down at the Instagram feed, scrolling through. "What kind of things would you suggest that I put up?" he asks presently.

 

Abigail shrugs. "It's entirely up to you. To put what's just happened into perspective for you, if I were you, and I'd had a cute photo taken with a bunch of kids dressed as me and my colleagues? Forget the media being the first one to tell the story, I would. I'd upload the photo and say what I wanted about it. Whether it's just a comment on the great costumes, or maybe something a bit deeper about how it makes you feel when you see kids dressed up as you guys, I'd make sure my narrative is the one that's always first attached to the story, not somebody else's. I'd realise that it would make the rounds for the gossip sites, or Facebook or Twitter, but it would make those rounds with my words attached first.

 

"You may, however, want to have a discussion with your PR reps -- Stark's, I assume? -- to see if they have any particular untouchable subjects."

 

"I'm sure there are a few," Steve says, before a wry smile curves his lips, "and then, I'm sure there are a few things that I'd want to say regardless."

 

Bucky bites his lip and shakes his head. Maybe the public will finally start realising Captain America is really a sarcastic shit-stirrer called Steve Rogers. They will if he keeps this up, at any rate.

 

Abi grins. "I like him," she says to Bucky, and Bucky merely high fives her as an answer. She turns back to Steve. "If that's the way you want to go, I've got a few suggestions to make.

 

"Firstly, turn off location services in the app, so it'll never record and post exactly where you are. I know you're not about to take selfies and post while you're out working somewhere, but just in general, you probably don't want people to know where you are. You can also choose to delay the posting, so the location information isn't relevant at the time of the upload.

 

"Secondly, get the little blue check mark."

 

"What's the blue check mark?" Steve is mystified.

 

"The blue check mark on any of these platforms means that you are actually Steve Rogers. People in the public eye can be verified, so you know that the person posting is exactly who they say they are, and it's not someone impersonating you."

 

"How do you get one of those?" he asks curiously.

 

"If you ask Ms Potts, she would definitely be able to get the process sorted, it's much better coming from a corporation. And I'm sure she'd have some clout in that area.

 

"And thirdly--"

 

"Don't feed the trolls," Bucky cuts in.

 

"I was going to say that!" Abi pouts.

 

Steve looks to Bucky, raising his eyebrows. Bucky sighs and motions with his hand. "Budge over," he says, and Steve shuffles, letting Bucky slide between him and the arm of the sofa. Babushka opens her eye and glares at him, for deigning to make her comfy human pillow move.

 

Bucky lets out a long breath. "The world is full of great people, but it's also equally populated with assholes, the majority of which have internet access. You're gonna get lovely people who are huge fans contact you, and you're gonna get a slew of abusive hatemongers who either really believe the shit they're spouting, or are just saying it to get a rise out of you, because that's how they get their jollies.

 

"All they want to do is have you nibble, so they can bite back. So don't give them the satisfaction."

 

Bucky waits patiently as Steve looks particularly torn at the prospect of not taking down bullies a few pegs. "What if I want to anyway? What if they're picking on someone? I should step in if I can," he says, and this is just the kind of guy his boyfriend is.

 

"If I can help," Abi cuts in, and they both turn to look at her. "In my opinion, one, it's physically impossible to respond to every single crappy message out there -- Steve, don't take that as a challenge -- and two, it's definitely only worth doing if you can remain cool and be pithy about it."

 

Bucky nods vigorously. "Absolutely. If you get angry and the media picks up on it, all they'll talk about is how 'Captain America was baited by a troll'. It's never a good look, and those guys always come back. But if you keep calm and destroy them with wit, they end up getting shamed out and deleting their accounts."

 

"He's right," Abigail confirms. "If you want examples of amazing comebacks to trolls, check out J. K. Rowling or Patton Oswalt's Twitter accounts, or even food chains Dennys and Wendy's; they're brilliant."

 

Bucky drops his hand to the back of Steve's neck and starts playing with the short hairs there, and Steve leans into his touch.

 

"We should probably make mention of a third category of people, too," Abi says, her face screwing up. "You'll have the genuine fans, and the haters, but you'll also have the girls and guys who are... maybe a little obsessed with you?"

 

Steve arches an eyebrow. "I think I know where you're going with this," he intones in a heavy voice.

 

"Yeah. They're the ones that'll post about how they want to sleep with you, or tag you in sexually explicit material... it's not always as bad as that, they can just continually tag or write messages in an effort to get your attention. Sadly, the attention usually doesn't make them settle down, it amps them up further."

 

Bucky cringes. From Steve's tone, he's definitely encountered this before. He's not sure how he'd feel people did the same thing to him. Probably exceedingly awkward.

 

"The thing of it is, Steve," Abi explains, "is that the relative anonymity of social media means some people say things that they just would never say to your face, because they don't have to face embarrassing or inappropriate repercussions. In my opinion, it's probably just best to leave those sorts of comments alone. Responding would set a precedent, and that's not great. Best to let sleeping dogs lie."

 

Steve looks thoughtful for a while. "So your advice is, take the time to reply to some nice comments, ignore the more... creative comments, and only respond to the bad ones if I can destroy them with my witty repartee?"

 

Abi beams a smile, and Bucky can see himself in her grin. "You are a fast learner! And I'm happy to help if you ever need it," she offers, "this is what I do, and I'm very good at it. Ms Potts probably has a whole PR team that have the interests and good image of the Avengers at their forefront... but you're my brother's boyfriend. If you want to talk to someone who has your interests and good image only at the forefront, I'm available."

 

Bucky can't help but smile, because Abi is the gregarious, likable Barnes. She's got a smile for everyone she meets, but only time for a select few, and family always makes the cut.

 

She's treating Steve like family. Bucky suddenly finds it hard to swallow.

 

Not knowing Abi like Bucky does, Steve doesn't really understand the magnitude of what he's being offered, but seems touched nonetheless. "That's... very kind of you, Abi. I'll have a think about it, and a chat to Pepper about getting verified and whatnot, and go from there." Steve looks quickly at Bucky, before addressing Abigail once again. "If it's permissible, may I have your phone number? I can text you when I have a solid decision."

 

Bucky presses his lips together as he sees Abi try desperately hard to keep her cool because Captain America wants her number. She does it, though, because she makes eye contact with Bucky and realises he's silently laughing at her.

 

Steve notices the pause and the looks between Bucky and his sister, and raises an eyebrow. "I can communicate with you through Bucky if you'd both prefer...?" He hedges.

 

"No! No, it's fine. Bucky's just being an asshole," Abi says, passing Steve her phone. He enters his number, and she immediately sends a test text, Steve's phone making a little 'ping' from where it sits on the kitchen counter. Steve gives her a thumbs up.

 

"Besides," Abi grins, "if we have each other's numbers, we can talk about Bucky whenever we want." Steve perks up immediately, with a large smile.

 

Suddenly his sister having Steve's number isn't quite so funny. Bucky's face must alert everyone to this fact, because Abi and Steve both start laughing.

 

"All right, all right, yuck it up, you mooks. All I've ever done is support the both of you."

 

"Like a bra," Abi says solemnly, before they both dissolve into mirth again.

 

Bucky picks up Babushka and moves towards the kitchen. "I don't know why I even bother, sometimes, Bushka, they're so mean to me." Babushka has no answer, save to meow.

 

Abigail stays for a while longer, chatting happily with Steve. They share another cup of coffee before Abi gets up with a sigh.

 

"As much fun as this has been, I should get going."

 

Bucky loves his sister well and truly, but after a long day at work, he would enjoy some private time with Steve now.

 

Abi slips her feet into her shoes, and gathers her things. Steve stands as well, and opens his arms to her. "Thank you so much for your time, Abi," he says sincerely, leaning down to kiss her on the cheek. Abi can't help but smile.

 

"It's honestly my pleasure. Let me know what Ms Potts says, and we can have another chat."

 

Steve flicks her a lazy salute, and Bucky walks her to the door, opening it for her.

 

Abi moves to kiss Bucky on the cheek. "Bye, Buck-Buck," she murmurs into his ear. "You keep that one."

 

Bucky's lips twitch in response. "You've discerned my heinous plan."

 

He and Abi share a few final words before she takes her leave, Bucky shutting the door behind him. He leans one shoulder against the now-closed door and dramatically wipes his forehead. "Thought she'd never leave."

 

Steve kicks back on the sofa a little more, putting his legs up. "Don't be an ass, she is awesome and helpful."

 

Bucky wanders back to the sofa and sits with his legs straddling Steve's thighs near his knees. "Helpfully cock-blocking her brother," Bucky grumbles, resting his hands on Steve's broad chest, which rumbles with laughter.

 

Steve stretches up to take Bucky's lips with his own sweetly, hands going straight into Bucky's hair. Letting out a little groan, Bucky skates his hands down to tug at the waistband of Steve's sweats.

 

Steve shifts a little to accommodate the movement, allowing Bucky to dip his fingers beneath the elastic and hit bare skin. He rears back for a second.

 

"Wait, you weren't wearing anything under your sweats this whole time? How did I not realise this?" Bucky asks, mystified.

 

"Probably because you were too busy talking to your sister to realise I was going..."

 

And Bucky gets it... He's already trying to put his other hand over Steve's mouth.

 

"...Commando." Steve's voice is muffled behind Bucky's palm.

 

"Dear sweet baby Jesus," Bucky moans, putting his forehead against Steve's chest, while his boyfriend laughs. "This isn't funny! Bad puns kill boners, it's a scientific fact."

 

"Pretty sure they don't," Steve says with a reasonably confident air.

 

Bucky lifts his head up and scrutinises Steve very carefully.

 

The solution comes to him as a bolt out of the blue. "You couldn't find your underwear again, could you?"

 

"I have no idea where they are," Steve shrugs sadly. "Maybe I can borrow yours?"

 

Bucky smiles, and runs his lips across the sharp angle of Steve's jaw. "Go ahead; don't think I'll be needing mine for much longer."

Chapter Text

 

The One With Bucky's Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day

 

Location: Main Street Park, DUMBO

 

 

Dumbo Boulders, the man-made rock-climbing under the Manhattan bridge, is pretty busy for Veterans' day. Bucky watches his half a dozen charges, arms folded across his chest.

 

It's a brisk sixty-six degrees, requiring a light jacket, but other than that, the day is beautiful. He can see clear into Manhattan, blue skies and barely any clouds.

 

This is the second year he's taken a small group of kids out for an activity on the holiday. Being Veterans' Day, his group mainly consists of some of the outreach's kids from military families. It serves a dual purpose. On the one hand, it gives the families with returned servicemen the ability to go out and meet with their comrades, or spend the day in quiet reflection without having to worry about their children. On the other hand, it gives kids whose parents didn't return from conflict something to do on the day without dwelling too greatly on their situation.

 

And if it also helps Bucky do the latter, well that's just a side benefit. Bucky smiles to himself, looking for his charges on the climbing walls.

 

He has three of the same kids from last year, as well as two new ones. And then there's Tyler, who is taking his job as Bucky's helper extremely seriously. Other counsellors might have a second adult helping them wrangle, but in this instance, Bucky's fine with Tyler. He's proving to be a great XO who takes instruction well, and has a strong sense of empathy for children younger than himself.

 

The big surprise package in this group is Jacob, who had expressed an interest in coming along. Bucky's not sure if his involvement in choosing Jacob to meet the Avengers has played a part in this, or it's his burgeoning friendship with Tyler -- whom he looks up to. Either way, Jacob is here, and not giving Bucky complete attitude, so that's something.

 

It's nice to have non-combative eye contact with the boy, and have whole exchanges that aren't him being deliberately inflammatory. He's noticing that Jacob is taking a lot of his behavioural cues from Tyler, and Tyler happens to think Bucky's pretty awesome. Bucky doesn't need to be Jacob's favourite person, but maybe he's on the way to not bearing the brunt of all the kid's ill-feelings towards the military.

 

That'd be something he'd consider a fair improvement on the past.

 

"Bucky, I made it to the top!" a shrill voice cries out, and Bucky is shaken out of his musings. Georgia waves at him, long blond hair streaming behind her as she clings to the hand and foot holds.

 

"Good job, Georgia!" he claps, smiling at her.

 

So, six kids, rock climbing in a picturesque location. He's had worse Veterans' days. It's just a shame Steve couldn't join.

 

He'd floated the idea a few days ago when it came up, as Steve's first outing with the outreach. Steve was enthusiastic, but his plans for Veterans' day had been locked in months ago, and it was just too late to pull out. He had already agreed to spend time at two VA facilities, first at the Manhattan Vet Centre, followed by the New York State Division of Veterans' Affairs, both in lower Manhattan.

 

Steve seemed genuinely disappointed he couldn't renege on his obligations, and resolved to make sure he was available next year with such sweet sincerity, Bucky felt mildly diabetic.

 

They have plans to catch up together later, though, so Bucky's definitely looking forward to the pizza and lounging about in underpants, which has been promised.

 

A faint screech of brakes and a familiar metal-on-metal crunching sound diverts Bucky's attention, followed by a number of blaring car horns. He looks up at the bridge and winces in sympathy. There's nothing worse than having a car accident on a holiday, it's fucking impossible to get a tow truck and find an open garage.

 

"You got the short straw looking after all the kids today?" One of the Dumbo Boulders employees sidles up to Bucky, drawing his attention away from the bridge.

 

Bucky grins. "Not the short straw. Just having some fun with some kids who need it," he replies.

 

"You a social worker, or something?" The guy asks, squinting. He's pretty ripped, biceps threatening to bust out of his uniform shirt, but Bucky supposes he has to be strong to be one of the climbing instructors. His nametag says 'Brad'.

 

Bucky gives a tiny smirk. "Something like that." He's not in the habit of telling complete strangers what he does for a living.

 

A few faint 'pops' sound over the natural ambient sounds of the city, and Bucky looks from the young guy out towards the bridge and the East River again. He can't tell what made the noises, nor exactly where they emanate from, and frowns.

 

"I'm Brad," the employee says unnecessarily cheerfully, holding out his hand and drawing Bucky's attention back. Once he has Bucky's gaze, he furnishes the brunet with a very appraising once-over.

 

Bucky glances back towards the river before turning to Brad, weighing up how rude it would be to not shake it. "James," Bucky offers eventually, reaching out but only shaking firmly once before releasing Brad's hand and turning back to the kids.

 

"James... that's a great name." Brad gives him a winning smile. "You from Brooklyn, James?"

 

Bucky sighs and wants to pinch the bridge of his nose. It's been a while since he got hit on this lousily. He at least gives points for originality, even if he's not on the market, and Brad just doesn't pass muster. In all honesty, he's just not in the mood to give this guy the time of day before the polite brush-off. Bucky slips his hand into his pocket and fingers the edge of his phone, willing to fake a telephone call to get out of the conversation.

 

"Bucky, I need help!" Georgia cries out from the wall, and Bucky's ears prick up immediately, saying a silent prayer to his littlest charge.

 

"Sorry, Brad, duty calls," Bucky apologises, leaving Brad looking puzzled. He quickly moves beneath Georgia, who has been refusing help from the other employees, and helps lower her down. Georgia can be funny like that; not wanting others to touch her, even if they're non-threatening and trying to help. Thankfully, she doesn't have that issue with Bucky.

 

Bucky sets her on the ground carefully. "You okay now, GG?"

 

"Yuhuh," Georgia mutters. "That one's too high."

 

Kneeling down in front of her, Bucky shrugs, pointing to another climbing wall. "That's okay. There are shorter walls over there, if you want to try that instead? Or you can have a break with me and watch for a bit."

 

Georgia opens her mouth to answer, when there's a further series of pops. Similar to the first noise Bucky heard, but now more frequent, and louder, which means closer. He instinctively inclines his body towards hers.

 

Bucky looks back to the bridge, where a thin plume of black smoke spoils the perfect line of blue sky.

 

It's potentially still fall-out from the traffic accident he heard, but that's the rational part of his mind trying to explain away something that is beginning to make his gut instinct for flight stir.

 

"Bucky, what's that noise?" Georgia pulls on his jeansclad leg.

 

"I don't know, honey," he says calmly, even though every single strand of hair on the back of his neck now stands up. More pops, this time accompanied by a faint sound of human exclamation. Bucky flicks his gaze back to the bridge, before kneeling in front of Georgia, placing both hands on her shoulders. "Hey, do me a favour? Go get Cynthia and Lani, and grab your coats from the lockers, I think it's time for me to take you guys for some ice cream."

 

Georgia lights up, and Bucky gives her a reassuring smile, which drops as soon as she scampers off. He stands and dusts his knees, looking to the bridge.

 

More plumes of smoke rise from the structure, this time further towards the middle. The noise and the smoke have drawn the attention of a number of the climbers and surrounding pedestrians, who have paused to see what's going on. A few have taken out phones to take pictures or film the smoke.

 

Something itches at the base of Bucky's spine. He didn't stay alive in places where people were trying to blow him and his team up by ignoring the impulse.

 

Bucky approaches the wall where he can see Tyler, Ramone and Jacob arguing the best way to grip the hand holds, while when he hears a sound that turns his gut to ice.

 

Automatic gunfire.

 

Bucky walks to the wall immediately, not running to cause panic. "Kids, we have to go. Right now." His tone is nothing like he normally uses with the kids; it's not joking, it's not his counsellor voice, it's purely authoritative.

 

It's 'follow orders, explain later'.

 

There's more gunfire from the bridge, and the boys freeze. Bucky reaches up and helps pull them down to the ground and unclipping their carabiners and safety ropes. He sees the Dumbo Boulders staff doing similar things for other climbers, getting them out of their safety climbing equipment as quick as possible.

 

"Bucky, what's happening?" Tyler asks, eyes wide. People around them are starting to make loud exclamations, a few have started to run.

 

"I don't know," Bucky says truthfully. "But I think we should move to somewhere safer.

 

"Where's Lani?" Ramone asks of his sister, suddenly stricken.

 

"Lani, Cynthia and Georgia are grabbing their coats. We're going to collect them, and head back towards Brooklyn, down Plymouth St, okay?" Bucky is practiced at keeping a calm voice. Inside, his heart is doing double-time, brain is calculating exits and gauging shelter.

 

Jacob jumps as there's another barrage of gunfire. People on the bridge are screaming. Two more plumes of smoke join the first. It's enough to start the patrons of the Boulders fleeing the area.

 

Someone running past in a hasty exit knocks Ramone off his feet, and he hits the ground hard. Panic is setting in and the adults are starting to act erratically.

 

"Jerk!" Bucky calls out, before crouching with Ramone, who winces in pain. "You okay, buddy? Can you stand?"

 

"My ankle hurts," he says, and Christ, this is all Bucky needs.

 

"That's okay. I'll pick you up, all right?" Ramone nods and Bucky hauls him on his back as quickly as he can. "Tyler, you take Jacob's hand. You don't let go for any reason, okay?"

 

Tyler nods, lips set in a grim line. He looks alarmed, but determined to follow Bucky's instructions. Jacob is gripping Tyler's hand so hard it's white.

 

"We need to get Lani," Ramone says, lower lip quivering. Bucky thinks it's part fear, and part pain from his ankle.

 

"Right," Bucky confirms. "If the girls are smart, they've stayed at the lockers. Tyler and Jacob, you go ahead, I'm going to be right behind you."

 

Tyler sets off at a jog, pulling Jacob alongside. Bucky follows behind, Ramone clinging to his neck and using his knees to grip as tightly as he can. They make their way through the fleeing people back to the lockers.

 

Sure enough, Lani is there, with her arms around Cynthia and Georgia. Georgia spots Bucky first and makes to run out, but Lani wisely holds her back. Her eyes are trained immediately on her brother, worry clouding her eyes.

 

"Good job, Lani," Bucky praises as soon as he gets there. Georgia latches onto Bucky's leg like a limpet.

 

"What's wrong with Ramone?" Lani asks immediately.

 

"My ankle hurts," he tells her miserably.

 

"What's happening, Bucky?" Cynthia asks, dark eyes wide, and that is the start of all the kids beginning to talk over one another.

 

Bucky hushes them with a finger over his lips. He puts Ramone down for a moment and crouches in front of the group, looking each one of them in the eye.

 

"I don't know what's going on, but what I do know is that we need to get somewhere safer. To do that, we're going to have to help each other, stay together, and do exactly what I say. Can you do that?"

 

Everybody nods quickly, solemnly, and Bucky knows he has their undivided attention. "We're going to buddy up. Tyler and Jacob, Lani and Georgia, me with Ramone and Cynthia."

 

"But--" Lani starts, gesturing to her brother.

 

"I know you want to look after him, Lani, but for speed I need to carry him. I'm counting on you to look after Georgia." He gestures to the smallest child in the group. "If you do that, you can count on me to take care of Ramone."

 

Lani nods jerkily. Bucky exhales sharply, and casts his eye around. "We need to leave, but we need cover." He points to the street that borders Main Street Park. "We head west along Plymouth. There are cars parked along the street. Stay close, get low. Whatever you do, keep your head down." He turns back to the kids. "If for any reason we get separated, don't lose your buddy. Find shelter, I will find you."

 

Bucky looks over them again. There's obvious fear and worry there, but these kids in particular are as resilient as they come. He has to place trust in them to follow directions, there's no other option. "Ready?"

 

With six nods, Bucky turns to Ramone. "Climb on my back and hold on, okay?" Ramone clambers up, locking his arms around Bucky's shoulders, legs around his waist. Although he's a bit out of practice, Ramone still weighs less than his military pack used to, so it's not that hard. Cynthia takes a hold of Bucky's hand, and they begin moving.

 

There are horns blaring, people yelling and screaming, and the gunfire becomes more intermittent, and unfortunately, closer. This is why they need to move.

 

Plymouth becomes like a parking lot, with people leaving their cars and jumping out. Bucky is looking for vantage points, trying to always keep them obscured from anyone with a high-powered weapon on the bridge. It's easier said than done, but the kids are keeping up well, and Bucky's as pleased with their progress and their cohesion as a team as he can be under the circumstances.

 

They get half a block from Main St, before Bucky stops. The kids bank up behind him, and they look ahead. In some people's apparent haste to get out of the danger zone, there's been a multi-vehicle accident in the middle of the road, blocking a lot of the street. Someone's fuel tank has caught fire and the flames are licking out.

 

Even from further away, the heat prickles Bucky's skin. In the distance, he can hear the sirens of fire trucks.

 

"What now?" Tyler asks, looking to Bucky hopefully.

 

Bucky wipes the perspiration from his upper lip. "We double back. Go through the buildings if it's safe, if we can't, down Washington to head south."

 

Bucky's mind is working at a mile a minute. It's a shame they can't keep continuing west from Plymouth, but if they can go south on Washington, then back west on Water, they can avoid the majority of the fleeing public and any other potential blocks.

 

His phone chimes softly in his pocket, and Bucky itches to check it; to look up if there's information on subway closures, or police movements, safe zones... but he can't do that until it's safe to stop for some cover. He can't afford to be distracted. Not only are there hostiles in the area, but there's always the chance of his kids getting lost or hurt due to the erratic nature of panic-stricken adults. He already has one minor injury to deal with, they can't afford any others.

 

The familiar thud-thud-thud of chopper blades goes overhead, and Bucky has to remember he's not in sand. He looks up, blinking into the sun. The camera crews are assembling, no doubt beaming footage of whatever the hell is going on at the bridge into news rooms everywhere.

 

The thought occurs that they're heading towards Brooklyn Heights, and towards Steve's apartment.

 

If there is absolutely nowhere else to go, and he needs somewhere safe to get the kids, he would take them there; Bucky knows Steve wouldn't object. But priority should be getting them back to their parents, who are probably already seeing footage and freaking out.

 

The kids are panting, but keeping up. Lani and Tyler are doing an amazing job of looking after their charges. He can hear quiet words of encouragement and motivation, and he's so fucking grateful they are paying attention to him and not questioning his zig-zagging movements through the streets and between buildings.

 

Ramone still has an iron grip around his waist and shoulders, Cynthia is squeezing his hand as tightly as she possibly can. Her shoelace comes undone, and she nearly trips, but Bucky is able to scoop her up into his arms. He knows where Lani and Georgia, and Tyler and Jacob are based on their shadows on the pavement as they move.

 

Up ahead there is a bank of red and blue flashing lights; a police blockade. Bucky can see uniformed officers, weapons drawn, encouraging people to get behind their cars. If they can just get behind them, it's likely that the area behind the cops is clear.

 

The police are still a good block away. However, instead of getting further away, the gunfire seems to be getting closer. Bucky grimaces.

 

If the gunfire is getting closer, the police might represent a target for the hostiles, rather than safety for them.

 

Bucky pulls the kids to the side, behind a row of abandoned vehicles, next to a large, white van. He sets Cynthia down gingerly, arms burning a little from the strain. Running isn't conducive to asking questions, but now that they've stopped, six pairs of eyes burn into his skull.

 

"Bucky, what do we do now?" Tyler asks urgently, desperate for instruction. Bucky opens his mouth to answer, when some windows from a building on the other side of the street get shot out.

 

Reaching for the handle of the van to pull himself up, he finds the door slides open. Bucky blinks in surprise, but doesn't wish to look a gift horse in the mouth. He spends a precious three seconds looking inside the van for danger, finding none before snapping his gaze to the kids, wrenching the door open wider. "Get in," he orders abruptly, gratified that there is no argument, just children scrambling inside.

 

It seems to be a van from a produce truck, with wax-covered cardboard boxes. The kids huddle together and look to Bucky, who holds one finger against his lips, motioning for them to get down as far as they can.

 

He cocks his head to the side, listening for more gunfire. After a few moments, when the staccato fire has died off, Bucky peers over the passenger seat, out the front windshield. Visibility isn't great. He can't see any hostiles, but without knowing the area for certain is clear, they're not leaving that van.

 

Bucky digs his phone out of his pocket. The alerts that had kept chiming while they were on the run were his google alerts for Captain America; reports of armed men in multiple vehicles on the Manhattan bridge were enough to get the Avengers involved. First reports were that Steve got on the scene fairly quickly. Bucky's not surprised, seeing as he would've been physically close to any disturbances.

 

Flipping out of the news apps, Bucky immediately tries to call Denise. It starts ringing, but halfway through the third ring, his phone cuts out. Bucky curses softly and pokes at the screen. His signal's dropped out, emergency calls only. And there's definitely no point in calling 911; the police clearly already know something's going down, and he'll only be clogging the line when the operator is not going to be able to render any assistance whatsoever. Calling Steve -- even if he could -- seems needlessly dangerous; he'd be too busy to answer, and trying might jeopardise his safety.

 

It's up to Bucky to get the kids somewhere safe.

 

As if to remind him of his purpose, a small hand makes its way onto his knee, shaking him out of his clinical planning. Georgia. He looks down to her, forcing a smile onto his face, lowering his phone. "You okay, honey?"

 

"I'm scared," she says in a small voice.

 

Bucky exhales. It's not like working with a heavily-armed team. It's just him, with no weapons, no body armour, no backup, and six kids under the age of fifteen, one with a sprained ankle.

 

"It's going to be okay." He looks to all of the kids. "Everything is going to be okay. There's a police barricade down the street, maybe a hundred yards away. We wait until the coast is clear, and we make our way to the police. Anywhere behind t