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Cards on the Table (We’re Both Showing Hearts)

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"It's a goddamn tragedy," Tony told Sam, nodding seriously as he tweaked something with Sam's latest wing prototype using what Sam assumed was the world's most expensive screwdriver. Sam sat there and waited for a bit of context. With Tony, the tragedy of the day could be the continuation of Starbucks as a legitimate coffee experience, the latest episode of Real Housewives of Wherever, pleated khakis existing—

"He was working out to Perry Fucking Como. The Winter Soldier should be metal as fuck—is metal as fuck, if you think about it—"

"Tony, what have I said about prosthetic jokes—"           

Tony kept right on talking. "—and is only 90-whatever years old on paper. No twenty-something who likes to wear that much eyeliner and has hair that tragic should be in my gym killing a punching bag to Papa Loves Mambo. He should be listening to bands with names that have umlauts over every letter and are so obscure even the Brooklyn hipsters haven’t heard of them. Sidenote: watching him go after a Brooklyn hipster would be hilarious. A PR disaster, of course, but hilarious. Anyway, I was going to have JARVIS ban old fart music from that room, but I enjoy being alive and not having an assassin killing me in my sleep because I took away something he recognized…" He stopped rambling and looked at Sam expectantly.

Sam glanced at him sideways. "Are you asking me if taking away Perry Como is going to trigger Barnes? His recovery is so beyond my pay grade—"

"Music therapy is a thing, right? I'm pretty sure it's a thing."

Sam fought the urge to rub away the headache that had sprung up between his eyebrows and nodded. "It's been used with good results for mood disorders, autism, strokes—"

"—brainwashed super soldiers?" Tony added hopefully.

"Yes," Sam said, trying to see if he could actually roll his eyes into the back of his head the way his mother used to threaten. "In the hundreds of cases that exist, it was always the music that broke through to them."

"I get the sense that I'm being mocked," Tony replied.

A sudden mental image overtook Sam: Barnes in a therapist's office, glowering under his hair as he figured out 17 ways to kill Tony with a tambourine while some perky woman tried to make him sing along with Kumbaya. He barely smothered a snort. "You are a genius," he continued, already regretting the next words out of his mouth. "Fine. I'll make some calls just to be sure and you check in with Steve before doing anything. You know how—"

"—he does a terrifying impression of a mama bear? Is insanely overprotective?" Tony rolled his eyes. "Yes, I've run into the Great Wall of Rogers a few times since, you know—" He made a complicated hand gesture Sam guessed was supposed to mean "his best friend/possible soulmate/no way am I gonna ask for specifics/master assassin came back from the presumed dead." In Sam's head, Tony's hand gestures were as rambling as his normal speech. "He has no sense of humor at all about Barnes," Tony concluded.

"Well, there was the thing with the arm," Sam replied.

"It should have worked!"

"And the magnetic poetry?"

"That was Barton. Why do you think he took that assignment in Mozambique just after? 'Above your clearance' my perfectly toned ass. No one gets on a plane to Africa that fast looking that relieved about it."

Yeah, Sam was sorry for this already. "Ease Barnes in slowly, okay? Don't go from Perry Como straight to death metal. And if Hydra programmed him with an automatic kill order when he hears Little Bunny Foo Foo, that's all on you."

Tony's face lit up, already ignoring at least half of what Sam had said. Sam prayed that he'd caught the part about Steve, at least. "I'll ask everyone for suggestions. This'll be great!"

Sam sighed and rubbed at his head again. Come to Stark Industries for the tech, stay for the rampant dysfunction. It was amazing that wasn't the company slogan.

 ***

Steve glanced over the rim of his coffee mug as Sam and Tony came into the common area he tended to haunt when Bucky insisted on being alone at the gym, and then flipped off the news so he could give them his full attention. Tony had the manic look in his eyes that Steve had learned to be wary of years ago when he'd seen the same gleam in Howard's: it was inevitably followed by an idea that seemed good on the surface only to end in disaster, like "let's take Thor out for shots!" or "let's teach the USO girls to drive a tank!"

Sadly, those had both been Tony.

"Sam, tell Stark that the Angry Birds catapult isn't a feasible way to launch people into battle," he said, taking a stab in the dark about what Tony's current terrible idea might be. "Maybe he'll listen to you, since you'll be the primary target."

"That's not—wait, you know what Angry Birds is?" Tony said, easily derailed.

"I'll be the what?" Sam squawked right over him, then pointed at Steve, who wasn't even trying to hide his smirk. "You're a little shit. No one believes me when I tell them Captain America's a little shit, but you are."

Steve gave them his best "I'd love to take fifteen more pictures, Congressman," innocent, wide-eyed smile. "Of course they won't believe you. You shouldn't be trash talking an American icon like that."

"I'll American icon you right back to Brooklyn," Sam retorted.

"Oh, can you catch me now? Someone call CNN."

"Boys, boys," Tony said, "when I'm the mature adult in the room, you should all be seriously re-evaluating your life choices." He flopped down on the sofa next to Steve. "So. Capsicle."

Steve frowned. "Yeah."

"Your boy Robocop—" Steve's frown deepened, which Tony either didn't notice or ignored, "—One Armed Bandit? Terminator? I can't call him Bucky. It causes me physical pain to call another human over the age of six Bucky. I have a very delicate system."

"Tony." Any of the initial amusement on Steve's face was long gone by now, as was his instinct to protest the "your boy" label. "What about Bucky? If he broke something in the gym again, I'll pay for it."

"What?" Tony looked momentarily bewildered. "Seriously, what? Did you miss the billionaire part of the genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist deal? Like I care if he breaks something that isn't an Avenger. Or Pepper. Or that coffee table but that's only because I've replaced it three times and I'm starting to think he's doing it on purpose just to annoy me now. No, he's fine. Still possessor of the world's stupidest hair—"

Sam coughed pointedly. "Right," Tony said. "Barnes needs to learn about better music. He's making the baby Jesus cry by working out to Lawrence Welk shit."

"Lawrence Welk?" Steve repeated, looking to Sam.

"Someone I hadn't added to your list for a reason," Sam said, talking right over Tony's, "Oh God, was Lawrence Welk after your time? He's older than dinosaurs." "Lots of accordion. Too damn much accordion, which is really anything involving an accordion. And Barnes isn't actually listening to it—Stark just thinks he needs something a little more...current."

Steve had spent enough time with Tony to recognize that when Tony was trying to do something nice for someone else he scrabbled at it sidewise, almost hoping they wouldn't understand the gesture for what it was. And Bucky had always loved music, dancing, people, noise, which was part of what made his new stillness so unnatural to Steve. He forced some of the tension of out his shoulders and nodded. "I think he'd really like that, Tony. Thanks."

"Wow, I'd come in half-expecting Mr. Red, White and Buzzkill," Tony said. "Way to move with the times, Cap." He whipped out his phone and began texting, narrating as he typed because it was almost physically impossible for Tony not to talk: "Avengers assemble, with your music collections."

***

Sam was on a sofa between Bruce Banner and freaking War Machine (Iron Patriot had always and would always be a stupid name) as the majority of the Avengers, plus Pepper and minus Steve (who was walking with Barnes down to his bi-weekly therapy session) had one long, impossible-to-follow discussion about music.

"All right, it's official." Tony's voice rose over the noise. "Every single one of you has shitty taste in music."

"Hey."

"Every single one of you except Rhodey has shitty taste in music." Rhodes smirked at Sam. Sam didn't choke on his tongue in reply, which he was a little too proud of, but War Machine was acknowledging him! He was allowed to be a little starstruck, all right?  "We have about 60 percent of the same songs," Sam muttered back. "What makes you special?"

"Blackmail pictures from college."

"I didn't know Tony Stark could feel shame."

"Three words: leopard-print Hammer Pants."

Sam burst out laughing. Rhodes had good taste in music and a sense of humor? Everyone in this room wasn't designed to personally drive Sam Wilson to drinking! It was like a Christmas miracle in July.

"A man with six different versions of We Will Rock You can't judge anyone’s shitty music," Clint said to Tony, frowning hard from his perch on the top of one of the sofas with his feet on the cushions. Sam throttled the voice in his head that sounded a lot like his mama yelling about expensive upholstery and not being raised in a barn. For all he knew, Clint had been raised in a barn.

"One, anthem rock is awesome, ask anyone, and two, you have the entire collection of Now That's What I Call One Hit Wonders, Barton, and so your opinion is invalid."

"What can I say? Who Let the Dogs Out speaks to me on a spiritual level."

Sam watched as Steve walked into the room, brow creasing in momentary confusion at the number of people there already, before he settled himself next to Clint on the couch. Tony didn't even look up from his judgmental scrolling through everyone's playlists, now in three dimensions over the coffee table because, Sam fervently believed, Tony thought anything worth doing was worth overdoing. "Okay, fess up, people. Which one of you is the loser with 98 Degrees' entire body of work?"

Natasha bared her teeth at him from her spot in the corner wingback chair with the best view of the exits. "That would be me. Say one word about my t.A.T.u. collection and they'll be counting the stiletto marks down your back for a week."

"Worth it," Sam murmured to Rhodes, who grinned back.

"I will limit my commentary to their abuse of capitalization and punctuation and move on," Tony decided quickly. "Banner—this one can only be yours—there shouldn't be this much trance music on the planet, man. How can you tell any of it apart?"

Bruce opened his mouth, but Tony rolled right over him. "Don't actually care. Barnes isn't getting any music with a didgeridoo, pan flute or flugelhorn inflicted on him. Guy's suffered enough." He frowned at another list. "Which also disqualifies most of Thor's stuff. Good Lord, who introduced Point Break to Eurovision?"

"That was me." A voice Sam didn't recognize came through the incredibly over-engineered conference call system. "Dr. Foster," Bruce supplied quietly, giving Sam a small smile.

"He likes the theatrics," she added. "And the wind machines."

"Of course he does," Tony said, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "JARVIS? You've uploaded all of this?"

"Eleven minutes ago, sir," JARVIS replied dryly.

"Okay, here's how this'll work," Tony said. "JARVIS is going to become a much cooler version of Pandora—because I designed him and therefore by default he's already cooler—and we'll just let Barnes decide for himself what stuff he likes best based on science, which is always the best way. Hundred bucks says it's Guns 'n Roses."

A roar of outraged voices countered that claim and Sam watched, amused, as Steve closed his eyes and fell asleep, head tilted into Clint's shoulder. He poked Rhodes and pointed. Neither one of them commented on how the guy could nod off despite the racket: they were both combat vets and knew that when someone was tired enough, they could fall asleep anywhere. "Wasn't like he was contributing much to the conversation anyway," Sam said with a little grin. "He hasn't even reached Stark's beloved musical choices yet. I got discouraged in the mid ‘70s." He shook his head. "That is a man with no rhythm at all. Funk is entirely wasted on him."

Rhodes gave him an incredulous look. "You introduced Captain Whitebread to funk."

"Looking back, not my best move. I have seen a lot of sad, sad things, but that man trying to find the beat to It's Your Thing is in the top ten easy."

"That's a mental image that's gonna haunt me," Rhodes complained.

"You gave me Stark in Hammer Pants. Just paying you back."

Natasha, who'd been watching Steve a lot more closely than the rest of the room, uncurled from her chair and stood. "He's been out ten minutes," she said quietly, and the rest of the team fell silent. "Let's leave him to it."

No one in the room was going to argue that Steve needed less sleep—he'd been running mostly on coffee and stubbornness since well before Barnes resurfaced—so the rest of them filed out of the room as Clint managed to extricate himself from Steve's grasp and Pepper found a garish Iron Man-themed blanket (not that Sam had ever seen a tasteful Iron Man-themed blanket) to cover him.

"Tell Barnes," Natasha told Sam. "You know how twitchy he gets if Steve isn't exactly where he's supposed to be, especially when he's coming out of his sessions."

"Why do I have to do that?" he asked.

"You're the new guy," she said, lips quirking up in a catlike smile.

"Whoo," Sam replied with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.

***

Steve woke up faceplanted on the sofa with a blanket over his shoulders and Bucky standing over him, lips quirked up slightly as he drawled, "I know we can collect senior pensions now, pal, but a nap in the middle of the afternoon?"

Steve sat up and ran his fingers through his hair—by Bucky's expression, not an improvement to whatever it had been doing already—and laughed a little sheepishly. "Where'd everybody go?"

"Way Wilson tells it, Natalia threatened personal violence on the rest of 'em if they woke you up as soon as she noticed you drooling on Barton's shirt," Bucky replied. "Seems that giant circles under your eyes aren't really a modern fashion statement. I’m shocked to discover this."

Steve opened his mouth to defend himself but he was always terrible at lying, especially to someone who could see straight through him. Bucky knew exactly why he wasn't sleeping well: waking up to Bucky's screaming nightmares wasn't exactly restful, and mentioning it out loud would just make Bucky feel worse. Steve wasn't going to add more guilt onto the mountain Bucky already piled onto his own shoulders.

"Maybe I'll start a trend," Steve said, tossing the blanket off and then standing up to fold it neatly into a square. "Do I even want to know why Tony's stocked the common areas with Iron Man blankets?" he asked, frowning down at the giant helmet.

"Maybe they were sold out of Cap blankets that day," Bucky replied wryly, and Steve could hear the tension and the brittleness that sometimes cropped up in his voice when Bucky talked about Captain America. He was glad that tone was back, in a way—it meant that Bucky was remembering parts of their past together—but it didn't mean he was ready to go fifteen rounds on how he'd been out of Bucky's sight for "thirty seconds, Rogers," before he'd agreed to join a highly problematic scientific experiment, and how reckless that had been and so on and so on. They'd done that dance enough back in '43. He gave Bucky a steady glance to tell him that he'd heard the subtext and wasn't going to pick that fight, thanks, then headed over to the extremely complicated coffee machine and managed to wrangle two cups of black coffee out of it without accidentally launching it into space. He handed a cup to Bucky and settled back onto the couch. "Session get tough?"

Bucky sat down next to him and took a few sips of his drink before replying. "Same as last time...talk about what I remember that's new, whether I slept much, if I broke another coffee table..." He trailed off with a shrug. Bucky wasn't nearly as chatty as he'd been back in the old days, and when it came to talking about his therapy, he could teach clams lessons on not opening up. "It's like going to confession without having to remember how many Hail Marys are in a decade of the rosary."

"Ten, jerk, that's why it's called a decade," Steve replied, shoving into Bucky's shoulder, and grateful for the months of work that had tempered Bucky's reflexes back to his normal easy  physicality—at least with Steve—and away from the  "you touch me, you lose an arm" instincts of the Winter Soldier. Steve still felt a bone-deep compulsion to reach out and check that Bucky was there, to feel his clothing beneath his fingers, and while his broken wrist had healed quickly from the first time he’d carelessly grabbed Bucky’s arm, the guilty look on Bucky's face had been harder to take. Since then, Steve was careful to initiate contact only when Bucky had his full attention turned on him. He didn’t want to add onto the burdens Bucky was already carrying.

"You altar boy," Bucky retorted, shoving back with a smile.

"Only for a month. You were a choir boy for years," Steve countered, poking Bucky in the chest. "And I didn't doze off in front of the whole church and knock over half the tenor section." He grinned. "Tipped like dominoes. Never heard your old man laugh so hard."

"In my defense, Easter Vigil Mass is the longest, most boring unit of time ever invented," Bucky said, before frowning lightly in concentration. "And didn't you once set Fr. Murphy on fire with the incense burner?"

"The thurible," Steve corrected airily. "Vocabulary was on the altar boy test." He tried, and failed, not to show how much he loved it when Bucky remembered stories like this. "And it was only the hem of his cassock. They shouldn't have given an asthmatic kid something that blows smoke. The coughing fit was practically guaranteed."

Bucky rested his head against the back of the couch and let out a long breath, closing his eyes. "No one ever accused Fr. Murphy of having an abundance of gray matter," he said a little dryly. "But that’s a good definition of therapy this week," he said. "Better than setting a priest on fire. Mostly."

Steve shifted next to him so that he and Bucky were touching from shoulder to knee. "You're doing so good, Buck," he offered quietly. "You're handling all of this it much better than I would."

Bucky tilted his head to give him an incredulous look. "Right," he said. "You went through scarlet fever, then rheumatic fever, and then strep the first winter we knew each other with barely a whimper. You'd handle this fine."  He bit his lower lip, visibly steeling himself, before reaching out and brushing the fabric of Steve's t-shirt with a finger, ghosting over where the bullet scar had been before the serum had worked its usual magic. "I shot you full of holes," he whispered. "Mea culpa," he added, barely loud enough for even Steve's ears to hear as his hand moved from one spot on Steve's body to the other two. "Mea culpa, mea máxima culpa."

Steve leaned in so that his forehead touched Bucky's, then cupped his chin so that Bucky was forced to meet his eyes. "Hey," he said softly. "I forgive you." There was nothing to forgive, but Steve'd grown up just as Irish Catholic as Bucky and knew an overly developed guilt complex when it was staring at him with slightly damp blue-gray eyes.  Bucky pressed his lips together, ducking his head and on the verge of saying something else, when Tony burst into the room.  "Hey, Cap?"

Steve and Bucky sprang apart as Tony's eyes went wide. "Oh, there was a moment. I interrupted a thing. I'm a big...thing interrupter. Sorry, my brain just short-circuited at the mental image of World War II vets getting busy."

Bucky's glare could have melted a hole in the wall. "We weren't." Steve wasn't sure if he was angry about the interruption or the implication, and he was too afraid to look and find out, so he turned to face Tony instead. The blush on his cheeks was just something he'd have to pretend didn't exist. "Are we be invaded? Blown up? Threatened with death rays?" The "this had better be important, Stark" tone was being deployed at maximum capacity.

"Um," Tony replied eloquently. "Where does 'giant radioactive squid climbing the Statue of Liberty' fall?"

Steve let his head thump back against the back of the sofa as he groaned. "Did you create it?"

"Of course not!" Tony said, sounding insulted. "I don't do biology."

"Had to check. And we can't just wait for it to suffocate since it's a sea creature and out of the water?"

"Looks like it's been adapted to fix that small issue."

Steve flung his arm over his eyes. How was this his life now? "Fine," he said, keeping the whine out of his voice. "Tell everyone to suit up."

Tony left and Steve turned to meet Bucky's amused expression. "I'll be here," Bucky said. "Not fighting a giant squid."

"You know you're jealous."

"Really not."

Steve stood up from the couch and smiled down at Bucky. "And if there’s a weirdly accurate sharpshooter watching my six in a half hour?"

Bucky gave him an elaborately innocent stare. "Then Barton must’ve put down his arrows for once. I’m gonna be here catching up on 70 years of bad television."

Steve reached out and ruffled Bucky’s hair as he left. "Sure you are."

***

 Sam came up with more and more excuses to hang around Avengers Tower once Operation Mix Tape began. Some of it was simple appreciation for watching how Barnes moved in the gym (the moves were much easier to appreciate now that he wasn't using them to pull Sam out of the sky. Ruthless efficiency was better when it was taking apart a heavy bag and not one-of-a-kind million dollar military hardware he'd been using to stay in the air), some of it was "hey, free gym membership," but most of it was simple curiosity for how Barnes would react to Sam's favorite songs. Judging by the uptick in gym loitering by the rest of the team, they were all feeling something similar.

JARVIS started out with more upbeat musical choices from the ‘30s (without Perry Como, at Tony's specific order), and then took cues from Barnes from there. Actual standards led into modern covers of those songs. Barnes developed a fondness for Harry Connick Jr. that led to an extremely passionate five-way argument about reality TV, singing competitions, and the downfall of American civilization. (Barnes pointed out that he, despite being decades older than everyone else, had not been the one to utter the dreaded "kids today" comment. Clint didn't talk to him for a week.) They eventually looped through dance crazes of the last century, some decidedly more to Barnes’ taste than others. JARVIS didn't make it through the first stanza of the Macarena before the sound was drowned out by eight people shrieking, "NO," and the video Natasha took of Barnes witnessing twerking for the first time almost made Tony crash into a building because he'd been laughing too hard to see where he was flying.

They'd eventually figured out the sweet spot for Barnes’ musical choices, at least in the gym: something fast (but not too fast), and loud (but not too loud), with a good beat that he could actually keep time to, much to Sam's outspoken relief. Barnes gave him a grin between chin-ups. "You tried to teach Steve to dance, didn't you? You poor schmuck."

"No one told me the man had no rhythm," Sam said, shaking his head from where he was taking some VA red tape frustration out on the free weights. "It's not in the history books." He regretted saying that as soon as the words left his mouth. He could watch the shutters come down in Barnes’ eyes, killing the mischievous, affectionate sparkle that only came out when Steve was the topic of discussion.

Barnes made a face. "Most of the good stuff isn't."

"Like what?" Sam asked, putting the dumbbell down and trying to regain lost ground. "Did you try to teach him?"

"After both of our mothers failed. Miserably," Barnes said, still looking a little wary. "We finally gave up when he sent my little sister spinning into the china cabinet. He sat at the table with a toothpick and glue fixing Ma's good platter for three hours." The light came back as he remembered. "Kind of surprised he's still not apologizing for that. Couldn't look her in the eyes for months. The Lindy Hop's not even that complicated."

Over on the elliptical, Pepper's eyes lit up. "You swing dance?"

"'Course I do, dollface," Barnes drawled, winking.

Sam beat a hasty retreat out of the room before Barnes had him rock-step, triple-stepping with the rest of them. "The VA calls!" he lied, waving from the doorway. If the VA knew he could learn how to swing dance, he’d be doomed to do it, and then he’d be the emcee for theme parties for the WWII and Korean War vets from now until 2045. And they’d make him bring Cap, who’d end up inviting them all over to the Tower and hell to the no to getting shit-faced octogenarians home after they’d all lost their money in poker. So no. No swing dancing with ex-assassins with bad hair. His mama taught him better than that.

"Not at 8 o’clock, they don’t! Coward!" Natasha yelled after him.

 ***

Steve didn't mind modern music at all—he had a decided fondness for Mellencamp, Springsteen and most of U2's early stuff (and he knew that was still slightly dated modern)—but his tastes skewed toward Duke Ellington, Bing Crosby, and the Andrews Sisters when he was in the kitchen. There was something very calming about smelling familiar food and having it match up with the sounds of the ‘30s. He'd noticed the first night he’d done it that Bucky's shoulders relaxed when he came home and recognized the music immediately, and so Steve had turned it into a ritual on the days Bucky was subjected to Operation Mix Tape: home cooking and the biggest hits of the Great Depression.

He was taking soda bread from the oven as dinner simmered on the range—yes, they'd boiled everything back then and committed untold heinous crimes upon vegetables, but his mom's recipe for stew was still the best—as he heard Bucky's familiar whistle from the doorway. "Add in over-boiled cabbage, hissing radiator pipes and the neighbors screaming at each other in Italian, and we could be back in Brooklyn," he said, smiling at Steve as he sauntered closer.

"Like they allow cabbage in Brooklyn anymore unless it’s in small-batch artisanal kimchi," Steve replied, snorting. "There’s only kale. Kale forever. And keep your grimy mitts away from that bread," he added as he set the slightly over-browned loaf on the counter. "You know the rules: shower first, then supper."

Bucky made a face at him, stripping his shirt off as he went. "You do a scary impression of my mother, Rogers."

"Never say that again," Steve called after him, tossing the dish towel at Bucky's retreating back, and then taking a good look at it as Bucky walked away, feeling the same twist in his stomach that had been there since the day he’d been twelve and Bucky’d stripped down to get drenched in the block’s fire hydrant. This time, though, Bucky turned around and Steve felt his face flush. "Is it that bad?" Bucky asked softly, voice a little plaintive. "The scarring? I can feel you looking."

Steve could kick himself for giving Bucky a moment’s doubt, let alone something like this that sounded like it’d been festering for a while. He crossed the distance between them, brow furrowed in self-recrimination. "It’s part of you," he said, reaching a careful hand out to touch Bucky’s back, noticing how the skin turned to goosebumps under his fingers. He hadn’t realized the air conditioning was up so high.

At one point in their lives, he’d known all of the curves and edges of this man: tenement living and then the Army hadn’t left much in the way of privacy, and Bucky had been his first and favorite portrait model. Steve started, fingertips gentle, by tracing over the freckles on Bucky’s shoulder and the back of his neck that had been there almost as long as they’d known each other.  He moved to the lighter, unfamiliar scars along the center of Bucky’s back, hating how his brain automatically sorted bullet wound from knife scar from…was that from razor wire? His hand slid up to the more vivid marks that led to the metal arm and realized that Bucky’s knuckles were white from gripping the bathroom’s doorjamb. "Nothing that’s part of you is bad, Buck," he whispered, swallowing hard. Bucky still hadn’t turned his head to look at him, which made the next part easier to admit to. "I’ve missed all of it."

Bucky took a shaky breath, his body trembling under Steve’s hand, and Steve gave him a helpful little push toward the bathroom. "You’ll catch a chill," he scolded softly. "Go wash up."

To his surprise, Bucky gave him an annoyed glare in reply. "For a tactical genius, sometimes you’re a goddamn idiot, Rogers," he muttered, slamming the door in Steve’s face.

Steve loitered in the kitchen for an hour, giving the place the kind of deep cleaning his mother wouldn’t have thought him capable of as an excuse to stay there, but Bucky never came back out to the common area they shared. Steve ended up putting most of the stew in the fridge, more than a little confused about what had just happened. He slumped down on the couch alone with a lukewarm bowl of dinner in his lap, stared out the window onto a view of New York he wouldn’t have believed existed ten years—eighty years—ago, and let out a sigh. Etta James’ rich voice filled the apartment: "And I just can’t get my poor self together…I’m weary all the time, so weary all the time…"

He closed his eyes. "JARVIS? That’s not helping."

"My apologies, Captain," JARVIS replied immediately, shifting the music to something contemporary and blessedly without lyrics. Steve continued to stare out the window as the bowl of stew congealed in his hands, lost in his own thoughts.

***

In his office, Sam slammed down his phone and let out a frustrated groan.

"Bad time?" Steve, early for their Thursday lunch, asked from the doorway.

"Kind of," Sam said. "I’ve got this guy—couple tours in Afghanistan, undiagnosed PTSD—who’s been trying to get in for an appointment at the VA hospital for almost two years. I’ve sent in his paperwork myself three separate times and they keep losing it." He looked up to see Steve doing his heroic jaw clenching thing and tried not to smile. He kind of knew what was coming.

"Mind calling ‘em back?" Steve asked, unconsciously squaring his shoulders. Sam could practically see the flag waving behind him, despite the dad jeans and regrettable checked shirt.  He dialed the number back, handed the phone to Captain Freaking America, and didn’t feel the least bit guilty about it.

"Hello, Mr. –" Steve raised his eyebrows at Sam, who provided "Weiner." Steve gave him a "seriously?" look and Sam gave him a "well, not my fault it fits him" shrug in reply. "—Mr. Weiner," Steve said. "My name is Captain Steve Rogers—"

There was a long pause where Steve didn’t say anything. "Yes, that Captain Rogers, yessir," he finally said, then covered the phone receiver and grinned at Sam. "Apparently, I’m getting transferred to his supervisor."

"I didn’t even know he had a supervisor," Sam grumped. "He’s the highest ranking administrator at the hospital for the New York Harbor area."

Steve’s head bopped along to what Sam was generously granting him as a tempo to some song somewhere, and then he came back to attention. "Hello, ma’am. Yes, this is Captain Rogers." His smile turned strained. "Well, I’m always happy to meet a fan. But there’s a problem that has come to my attention and Mr. Weiner over in Brooklyn seems to think you’re the one to fix it for me." He waved his hand so that Sam could give him the name on the file. "SSgt Raul Martinez—I can forward you his service number—has been waiting for a med appointment to get the help he needs for, pardon my impatience, ma’am—a ridiculous amount of time." He listened to the reply, pursing his lips. "Yes, ma’am, I realize there are a lot of people to process, but my paperwork—and that of my good friend James Barnes—was handled in double-quick time, and I would hate to think that it was just because we had connections."

There was a longer, more awkward pause, and Steve mouthed "got any other names?" while listening to what was clearly the longest bullshit story this side of Stark talking about anything. Sam shoved a tilting pile of files at him, and then fled for the door. "Cap’s got the undersecretary on the ropes!" he crowed. "Give me all the files that’ve gotten jammed up."

Ten minutes later and Sam was clearing his desk of six months of hard work while singing under his breath. "Dum-dum-dum…another one bites the dust…"

Steve looked amused. "So you’re not annoyed?"

"Hell no, man! My job is to make sure people get the help they need. I have no problem using my good friend Captain America to guilt trip the shit out of people to get that done." Sam laughed. "Tell me. You made her cry, didn’t you? There at the end."

Steve’s ears turned red. "Maybe. But she has an obligation!"

"Damn right she does," Sam said, logging out of his computer and heading out the door. "We’re sure as hell not doing this job for the amazing paychecks and benefits packages. Help the folks or get the hell out of the way."

He had decidedly less warm and fuzzy thoughts about Cap after a half hour of listening to him stammer confusedly about his dinner of stew and sadness the night before. He glared at the giant brick of a man trying to hide uncertainly behind a ham and cheese sandwich.  "Steve. I love you like a brother and I know you’re as emotionally constipated as the rest of the men from your generation, so I’m gonna lay this out here real easy. Use. Your. Words. If you want something from Barnes that isn’t a lifetime of platonic friendship and, you know, killing weird-ass aliens on weekends and alternate Tuesdays, you have to do something a little more blatant than giving him the Captain America Kicked Puppy Look while cooking him terrible Irish cuisine."

"I do not have a kicked puppy look!" Steve protested.

"You do too. But that wasn’t my main point," Sam pointed out. "Talk to him."

Steve stared at his water bottle like it held the answers to the universe inside it.

"Steve," Sam said a little more gently. "You leaped out of an airplane under fire and without  jump training for him. He dove several stories off of a flaming helicarrier for you. Your actions—from the both of you—are already screaming how you feel. Just say it out loud. I promise it’s not gonna hurt."

"I don’t want to ask him for something he can’t give," Steve murmured, still focused on anything but Sam’s face. "He’s had so many people demanding things for so long…I don’t want to ask. I want to be the part of his life that’s easy."

Sam shook his head. "You two are so damn worried about not bleeding on the other. Emotionally, anyway. You have remarkably little problem actually bleeding on each other, which is a whole different conversation that you won't like we’ll have another time.  But for now, tell me: is there anything Barnes could do or say that would make you decide to give up after almost a hundred years of knowing him?"

"No," Steve said without a pause.

"Then give the man the same credit," Sam said. "He hid for two years while he did his whole fixing-my-brain-through-massive-Hydra-carnage thing because he didn’t want his issues to burden you. Tell him you want things to change: worst that can happen is probably a few minutes of awkward silence that you can fill by eating some more of your awful cooking."

"It’s not awful!"

Sam shot him a look. "You burn water, Cap. I’ve seen you do it twice."

"In my defense, the Dodgers were playing."

"And you were…what?"

"Hate watching, now that they moved to LA," Steve said. "It’s a thing. I’m allowed to be petty just like everyone else." He scrubbed agitated fingers through his hair. "And Bucky…he knows that. He sees me: not the histories, not the movies, not the shit that’s spun out of myth and fantasy over the last half century. He sees Steve Rogers: ninety pounds of terrible ideas and a busted nose ready to happen. He could give a rat’s ass about Captain America." He shrugged, meeting Sam’s eyes with a steadiness Sam should know better than to be surprised by at this point. "When I didn’t have anything, I had him…and without him, it didn’t mean anything. But you don’t just tell someone that."

"You really can," Sam said quietly.

***

No one ever accused Steve of walking away from a confrontation (forcing one, definitely. Looking for one, more than once. Walking away? Never.), and so he planned his conversation with Bucky with the same focus he’d spent on complicated Howling Commando infiltrations…most which had ended with smoking craters of destruction, now that he thought back. That wasn’t the result he wanted tonight.

Bucky was down in the gym with the rest of the Avengers—somehow he’d ended up teaching a swing dance class with Natasha that Steve had emphatically excused himself from—and so Steve was upstairs in his apartment instead, consulting his refrigerator and mentally reviewing his limited repertoire of recipes. Guinness stew, which had stew in the name? Chicken pot pie, which was pretty much stew in a crust? He made a face. He would never admit it, but Sam might’ve had a point about his cooking.

He pulled out the ingredients for cottage pie (based on the thought process that more potatoes were always better when feeding two supersoldiers and at least ground beef wasn’t stew), and focused most of his energy on debating with JARVIS about the musical selections for the night.

"What songs have been his favorites recently?" he asked.

"Well, Mr. Stark’s attempts to steer Sergeant Barnes toward anthem rock aside, here are a few that have been in heavy rotation recently," JARVIS replied before running through five upbeat, loud songs. Steve winced slightly. "Not exactly the tone I’m trying to hit, pal," he admitted.

"Perhaps something from your usual preferences, then?" JARVIS suggested.

"Maybe something a little more recent than that," Steve said, pacing the living room.

They’d gone through several dozen songs, none exactly right, when JARVIS interrupted with, "Excuse me, Captain, but I believe your dinner—"

"—is burning," Bucky said, laughter in his voice as he came through the door. "Now it smells like home."

All of the nerves Steve weren’t about to admit to disappeared in irritation. "Oh, like you’ve cooked anything beyond toast in your entire life, Barnes," he said as he raced for the kitchen to rescue what was left of dinner.

"Hey now," Bucky said, following behind, "I could unwrap a K-ration and pretend it tasted like food. That is a life skill."

"Ugh. Cold Spam. I don’t miss it," Steve said, wrinkling his nose, and then gazing down at the smoking remains of what he’d cooked. Bucky was already heading for the drawer of takeout menus.  "Pizza, Chinese, or something unusual?" he asked, flipping through options.

"How unusual are we lookin’ at here?" Steve asked.

"Ever tried Wakandan?" Bucky replied, staring at the menu.

"Not even once," Steve admitted. "Can’t be worse than blackened cottage pie."

"Was that what dinner was supposed to be?" Bucky teased, reaching out and tousling Steve’s hair as he headed for the living room.

"You’re only half as funny as you think you are," Steve said, dumping the whole mess into the trash.

"Good thing I’m twice as good-lookin’," Bucky replied, flopping onto the couch and grinning at him.

Steve felt his heart clench as he looked back. Bucky’s hair was falling out of the ponytail he’d pulled it into for his workout and his shirt was clinging to still-damp muscles. His cheeks were pink from exercise and his eyes were sparkling with humor. "Good looking" didn’t come close to describing him, but Steve couldn’t say that Bucky took his breath away regularly. Instead he wiggled his hand as he shrugged. "Ehh. I don’t see it," he replied, hoping that his expression wasn’t giving him away.

Bucky snorted softly. "Yeah, you never did." He stood up. "Right. I’m gonna hit the shower. Order a little bit of everything, since neither of us knows what we’re doing?"

Now it was Steve’s turn to huff a laugh. "Yeah, we really don’t," he said, mostly to himself. He picked up the phone and after confirming with the excited employee on the other end that he really was that Steve Rogers (when the food’s delivered to Avengers Tower, there was very little point in giving a fake name) got recommendations for dinner: chicken, tilapia, rice, plantains, a bunch of dishes he couldn’t pronounce, and a spicy condiment she called shito that he promised in his very best Cap voice to use judiciously. Depending on how hot it was, "use judiciously" would include "labeling it ketchup and watching Clint sputter" because Steve had Bucky-related vengeance to administer now that Clint had returned from Mozambique.  He hung up, then spent the time until the food arrived cleaning the kitchen and glancing down the hallway where Bucky had disappeared.

Bucky eventually re-emerged, running fingers through still-damp hair as he came into the kitchen in a blue t-shirt Steve was pretty sure had been his and pair of jeans that did absolutely ridiculous things for Bucky’s legs. Bucky tilted his head up and listened to the music being played as he leaned back against the counter. "This isn’t the usual," he said. "I like coming home and hearing the old stuff."

The tips of Steve’s ears turned pink as he blushed. "Didn’t realize you’d noticed," he said, grabbing silverware and plates in a slightly frantic attempt to avoid eye contact.

"Give me a little bit of credit here, Rogers," Bucky said with a small laugh. Their fingertips touched as Bucky took the forks from him. "Memories might not always be there every time I want them, but I know what I like, and it’s always playing when I come home." He looked up to the ceiling. "JARVIS, how about something classic?"

"Certainly, Sergeant," JARVIS replied.

"Bet you weren’t playing this one downstairs," Steve said, biting his lower lip as the slow strains of Harry James’ orchestra filled the room: "Kiss me once, then kiss me twice, then kiss me once again—" He cleared his throat. It was just a song. "You can’t Charleston to it."

"It’s still got a certain something," Bucky replied, eyes very blue and clear as he gazed back, a soft smile on his face. "Shame we both missed it when it first came out." Steve was about to throw out his entire carefully rehearsed speech and just kiss the man when JARVIS interrupted. "Your food is here, gentlemen."

"I’ve got it," Bucky said, pulling back—when had he gotten so close?—and heading for the door. Steve, through great internal strength and integrity, didn’t groan in frustration as he headed for the table. He did, however, watch Bucky as he walked away. He was only human and those jeans—and what they were attached to— deserved to be appreciated.

"Did you really order the entire menu, Steve? I was kidding when I said that," Bucky teased as he brought back four giant bags of takeout containers.

"Only half," Steve insisted, smiling back. He pulled two smaller, clear bags from the larger bags and glanced at their contents—giant beige masses—a little skeptically. "These are the biggest, heaviest dumplings I’ve ever seen. The woman on the phone said they’re a side dish for the fish and the scary red sauce."

"You ordered something called ‘scary red sauce’?" Bucky asked.

"Well, no, but I don’t remember what it was called," he admitted, popping open boxes. "Jeez. Everything’s covered in a red sauce, so I guess we’ll have to try them all and hope for the best." He opened the last offering and blinked. "And this one has a fish in it with its eyeballs still attached."

"That’s yours," Bucky declared immediately.

"Oh, are you scared of a little fish eyeball?" Steve teased.

"We aren’t seven any more, Steve," Bucky replied. "You can’t dare me to eat the weird fish and expect it to work."

"I can absolutely dare you to eat the weird fish and expect it to work," Steve said.

Bucky glared at him. Steve glared back. "Fine," Bucky finally huffed, "but I’m not gonna be gracious about it."

Steve laughed. "I wasn’t expecting miracles," he said, dropping the dumpling-thing onto his plate. It landed with an unpromising, heavy thud. He blinked. "Kind of reminds me of how your ma made mashed potatoes," he said, poking at it dubiously with a fork.

"Ma was a terrible, terrible cook, God rest her," Bucky said with a lopsided grin. "It does have that gluey sort of consistency. Generally not something I look for in my food, but sure, I’m game for trying."

"If you’re not full of fish," Steve said sweetly, shoving that box toward Bucky. "There’s rice, too, and fried banana-looking things." He popped one in his mouth. "Okay, those are good."

They filled their plates, discovered the esophagus-blistering, eye-watering heat of the scary red sauce, and started new plates, this time without as much red sauce. Super-healing or not, their stomachs didn’t need to be punished that way.

Dinner was their normal quiet, easy companionship interspersed with "wow, I have no idea what I just ate," and "that one’s slimy, but in a good way?", "and oh, definitely try this one," plus plenty of Bucky refusing to eat fish eyeball, which Steve hadn’t really been trying to get him to do anyway. As Bucky picked at the final bits of the fish, Steve put his fork down and gazed across the table. "I love you," he began, starting on the little speech he’d worked out for himself.

Bucky winked. "Well, thank you. Eating that fish was worthy of a tickertape parade."

"No, I mean it," Steve said. "I love you."

Bucky’s expression softened. "Hope you don’t think that’s some kind of huge revelation to me, punk," he said. "You’re kind of an open book."

Steve blinked, caught flat-footed. "Wait, what? You knew? Why didn’t you say anything? For decades?"

Bucky shrugged. "Didn’t think I needed to, pal. We’ve been in each other’s pockets since we were both wearing knickers. You don’t spend that kind of time with someone you don’t love."

Steve realized his mouth was gaping open and he shut it. Maybe Bucky didn’t realize what kind of love he was talking about? "But you were making time with half of Brooklyn," he finally protested, voice sounding a little hurt despite himself.

"And came home to you," Bucky said, raising an eyebrow.

"Because we were roommates!" Steve said, blushing hotly.

"Who shared the same bed sometimes," Bucky said with a little smirk.

"…because it was cold," Steve replied.

Bucky just stared at him, eyes amused.

And it finally clicked: all of Bucky’s lingering looks and secret smiles, the goosebumps when Steve touched him, the arms slung around his shoulders for no real reason but to keep Steve close. Following him into combat when Bucky’d had a guaranteed shot of going Stateside…the look in his eyes on the helicarrier just before the glass broke. "Ohhhhhhhh," Steve said, putting his head in his hands and covering his eyes. "I’m kind of an idiot, huh?"

"Only every now and then," Bucky said, laughing softly, "but I’m used to it."

Steve took a deep breath and stood up, shifting around to Bucky’s side of the table. "I’m gonna kiss you right now unless you say no or punch me or something," he murmured, gazing down into Bucky’s eyes and sliding his hand along his face.

"I dare you to," Bucky whispered, staring back fearlessly.

Steve felt the swoop in his stomach he normally associated with jumping out of airplanes or elevators as he closed the distance between them. He expected explosions, or symphonies, or something equally dramatic (and while Natasha’s kiss hadn’t been his first since 1945, Peggy’s kisses had generally included both drama and explosives, so his expectations were a little skewed). When their lips touched, the kiss was familiar instead: safe, a natural extension of what Bucky and he already had. It was like coming home—a feeling he’d given up on finding again. "There you are," he whispered, smiling, as he pulled back a bit.

Bucky, on the other hand, looked supremely unimpressed. "That is how you kiss a girl on the first date after a CYO mixer when her dad’s lurking behind the door," he said, shoving Steve by the shoulders hard enough to send him stumbling toward the couch. "This is how you kiss the love of your life," he said, pushing him onto the cushions, and then straddling Steve’s hips with his legs.   "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Steve," he muttered, gripping the back of Steve’s head with surprising gentleness for the scowl on his face. "Gotta teach you everything." And Bucky pounced.

Steve saw stars.

He’d always thought that the girls had been playing up Bucky’s ability to kiss because Steve had been there; that the giggling and resting against Bucky’s chest was just an excuse to, well, giggle and rest against his chest. But now, as Bucky kissed him with the intense focus he normally reserved for combat situations, Steve was wondering if the girls hadn’t undersold the whole experience. He could feel his toes curling as Bucky lay careful siege to his mouth with a series of gentle nips and sweeps of his tongue, and his brain had shorted out almost entirely, providing him with feedback that was more like "!!!!!!!!!" than anything he could use. His hands finally slid to rest on Bucky’s hips, pulling him closer. Bucky chuckled against Steve’s mouth, pausing a moment to catch his breath. "Was wondering if you were going to do anything back," he teased. "It was like kissing a dead fish for a moment there."

And the teasing was familiar, even if Bucky’s spot on his lap was decidedly new.

Steve burst out laughing. "You’ve been kissing a lot of dead fish, Buck?" he asked. "Because we’ve got one left over from dinner if you want me to go and get it." He pretended to lift Bucky off of him, even if it was more of an excuse to hug him tightly than anything else. "I’m not gonna judge your weird-ass hang-ups—"

The last part of the sentence was swallowed up in Bucky thoroughly kissing him again. "You are still such a punk," Bucky said when they finally broke apart, sounding delighted. "God, I love you."

Steve could feel his eyes widen at that, and Bucky’s face changed to an expression Steve’d never seen before—and he thought he knew all of them. Bucky leaned in and stroked Steve’s cheek, his eyes intent on his face. "I have loved you my entire life," he murmured, entirely serious. "When I didn’t know my own name, I knew that."

Steve, normally so brave, had to break eye contact. Bursting into tears would be a mood killer right now. Unfortunately, Bucky knew him too well for that. His fingers slid down to trace Steve’s tightened jawline. "I know what this means," he said softly, resting his forehead against Steve’s.  "Don’t be upset."

"I just missed you so much," Steve finally managed, swallowing around a huge lump in his throat and holding onto Bucky more like a lifeline than anything romantic. "I couldn’t really let myself think about how much…I’d drown in it."

Bucky shifted so he could give Steve a tight hug. "I’m here now," he whispered. "I’m sorry I wasn’t –"

Steve shook his head hard. "No. Don’t apologize for something that wasn’t your fault, Buck. It’s a goddamn miracle we’re here at all, and I’m not gonna waste another second of it wallowing about how lonely I used to be." He gave Bucky a slightly wobbly smile. "Not that kissing you instead is suddenly an option."

Bucky leaned in nudged his nose against Steve’s. "It’s definitely an option. Always an option. Just—" his eyes sparkled, "—kiss me like you mean it this time, okay?"

And Steve could never, ever back down from a challenge like that. He slid his fingers through Bucky’s hair and pulled him in close, then kissed him with all of the love and longing that had built up since he’d been an idiot teenager. Bucky let out a quiet whimper, and Steve’s new goal in life was to get Bucky to make that noise as often as possible. He nipped at Bucky’s lower lip and was rewarded with a small growl and Bucky’s hips pressing into his.  Steve hadn’t felt this light-headed since the Vita-Rays kicked in, and he finally pulled back to remember to breathe.

"Losing you already, pal?" Bucky teased, even though he sounded just as breathless and looked thoroughly mussed. "We’ve still got all our clothes on."

"James Buchanan Barnes," Steve said, trying to sound severe but ruining it by laughing through it, "are you trying to get fresh with me?"

"Just sayin’ that I haven’t gotten laid this century and I’m pretty sure parts of me are gonna start falling off soon due to lack of use," Bucky replied.

"I don’t know," Steve said, surprisingly them both by pressing the heel of his hand against the front of Bucky’s jeans, "it doesn’t seem to be in much danger of going unappreciated…"

Bucky moaned and rocked up. "Christ, Steve," he said, sounding shaky. "You keep doing that and this isn’t gonna last very long."

Steve chuckled—Bucky’s Brooklyn accent got more pronounced the longer he kissed him, it was fantastic—and leaned in against Bucky’s ear. "Let me tell you about how great super-serum is in that area—" and was pleased when Bucky honest-to-God whined at what he told him next. "But you’re in too many clothes," Steve concluded, tugging at the hem of the shirt Bucky was wearing. "Isn’t this mine, anyway?"

Bucky’s shifted guiltily, and in a terribly distracting way, in his lap. "Maybe? Shut up."

"I wasn’t complaining," Steve said, yanking it over Bucky’s head and letting out a little sigh at the expanse of skin that was now in front of him to explore, "just wondering."

"Your shirts are soft and they smell like you and I don’t want to talk about it right now, punk," Bucky said, biting his lower lip. "Why’re you looking at me like I’m a hot fudge sundae or something?"

"Because you’re the best thing I’ve ever seen," Steve murmured, slowly kissing a trail down the skin he could reach—along Bucky’s jaw to his neck, then to where it joined with his shoulder. He made his way leisurely over toward his metal arm, watching Bucky’s reactions closely just in case this was going to be too much. "Wanted to do this the other day," he whispered, "when you looked so lost."

Bucky let out a choked sort of laugh. "I wasn’t lost," he argued. "I was fighting the urge to toss you up against the nearest wall and kiss the stuffing out of you."

"Then we were both idiots," Steve said, tilting his head to kiss Bucky’s chest, "because that would have been amazing."

"Not arguing," Bucky replied with a shiver as he yanked on Steve’s shirt. "Off-off-off," he demanded. "Fair’s fair." He grinned. "Haven’t seen you blush all the way down in years."

"You’re such a jerk," Steve complained through the fabric of his shirt. "I don’t know why I put up with you."

"Because you love me," Bucky said, giving him a lopsided smile, "and there’s no take-backs."

"No take-backs?" Steve said, nipping down on Bucky’s flesh shoulder. "What are we? Twelve?"

"We better not be twelve," Bucky said, rocking into Steve hard enough to make him and the sofa groan. Bucky laughed. "Guess this sofa wasn’t made with supersoldier extracurricular activities in mind."

"I’ll write a complaint to Stark," Steve said, resting his face in the crook of Bucky’s neck and breathing in for a moment. "Just not right now. And you can still pronounce extracurricular. Gonna have to up my game."

"I’m just impressed you have game at all," Bucky teased.

"And here I was about to move us to my bedroom," Steve said, shaking his head and looking sad. "Oh well for y—"

Bucky interrupted by kissing him again. "Ask me," he said.

"Come to bed with me," Steve said, the request coming out more softly—and more sincerely—than he’d meant it to. His cheeks went pink as he stared up at Bucky. "Yeah," Bucky murmured back, standing up and reaching for Steve’s hand, looking vulnerable. He kissed Bucky's temple. "We're not doing anything you're not totally okay with," he whispered. He'd had more than a few sleepless nights after reading the report Natasha had unearthed for him, and he'd cut off his own arm rather than cause Bucky a second of discomfort when it came to his autonomy.

Bucky gave him a smile full of affection. "Of course I know that, you sap. It's just…I'm gettin' something I've always wanted. It took my breath away for a sec."

Steve kissed him again. He couldn't not, after that. They finally made it back to his dimly lit bedroom after a few stops against various walls and doors, and Bucky grinned rakishly at him as he reached down to undo his pants.

"Now there's a smile I remember," Steve said with a tiny smirk in reply. "Rarely directed at me, but—"

"That's because you weren't looking, idiot," Bucky replied fondly, patting the spot on the bed next to him. "Get over here. I don't bite unless you ask nicely."

Steve shook his head as he removed his pants and got onto the bed. "I can't believe I fell for a guy who uses lines that old."

"They were new when I used 'em the first time," Bucky said, winking.

"They really, really weren't," Steve said, leaning in and kissing him, heart beginning to pound again. This scenario had played a prominent role in most of his teenaged fantasies, and it was a little tough to believe this was really happening.

"I can hear you thinking," Bucky murmured against his mouth as he straddled Steve’s hips again, both hands moving down to rest on Steve's shoulders and ground him in the moment. The cool metal on Steve’s right side reminded him that this wasn’t his imagination—teenaged Steve hadn’t accounted for war wounds. "Cut it out. I'm fine. We're fine. Breathe and touch me, okay?"

"Touch you where?" Steve asked, proud of himself for stringing words together at all. Bucky was on top of him. His brain had basically given up back in the living room.

"Anywhere," Bucky whispered, trailing kisses along Steve’s shoulders, then nipping a slow trail down his chest. "I trust you."

Steve let out a shaky breath, overwhelmed with the weight of that kind of faith from a man who’d had no reason to believe in anyone.  He closed his eyes as he slid his hands along Bucky’s back, tracing up and down his spine and memorizing the play of warm skin and muscle under his fingers. He was rewarded with a low moan and Bucky grinding down against him. His hands slid lower, landing on the only bit of clothing Bucky was still in. Bucky’s eyes went wide and Steve quickly checked in. "Okay?" he whispered.

"Very," he replied with a tiny smile and another kiss.  "I’m a sure thing here, Rogers."

Teasing words and laughter made way for kisses, bites, and touches, and then back to teasing words and laughter as they learned when Bucky slid cool metallic fingers under the waistband of Steve’s boxer briefs, that decades might have passed but Steve’s stomach was still stupidly ticklish. "Seriously?" Bucky teased, nipping at Steve’s neck hard enough to leave a bruise while Steve blushed in embarrassment.  "Are the bottoms of your feet still ticklish too?"

"If you try to find out right now," Steve said, moving his hand below Bucky’s waist with purpose and squeezing slightly, "you’ll never get to know what I plan to do with this hand."

Bucky let out a strangled groan and rocked into the touch. "Steve."

Steve made a mental note to make Bucky say his name like that many, many more times as he adjusted his grip, stroking Bucky through the material until Bucky grew frustrated enough to flip them both back over.

"This isn’t just about me, punk," he murmured fondly, sucking gently on Steve’s lower lip before he worked them both out of their underwear. "I want to make you feel good, too."

"You’re the best thing in my life even when you aren’t naked and on top of me," Steve babbled. "I feel great."

"You dope," Bucky replied fondly, taking a moment to just look. Steve found himself blushing under the scrutiny.  "’snot like you haven’t seen this before," he mumbled.

"True," Bucky said, "but this is the first time I’m allowed to really stare, so I’m gonna take advantage." He grinned and added, "The blush really does go all the way down."

"You’re an ass," Steve replied, kissing him fiercely. "I have no idea why I love you so much."

"Yeah, you do," Bucky said, sliding his fingers through Steve’s hair.

"Yeah, I do," Steve agreed, rocking his hips up into Bucky’s, who responded to that with a very satisfying little whimper.

They fell into a slow and steady rhythm, nothing between them but skin, but Steve still hesitated taking the next step. Bucky finally slid his hand in between them, taking hold of them both. "Not gonna break, Steve. You don’t need to be so delicate."

Steve was too busy relearning to breathe to be able to say anything. Bucky noticed and stared into his eyes, blue meeting blue in the semi-darkness. "Okay?"

"Very," Steve whispered. "It’s just been… a while."

Bucky’s expression turned impossibly fond. "We’ve known each other our whole lives," he said. "You can say ‘never.’"

"It’s not never," Steve said, face flushing. "It’s not a lot, but it’s not never."

Bucky’s eyebrows arched up. "Oh, really." His thumb slid over Steve’s tip, causing him to let out a needy gasp. "Then where’s your Vaseline, pal?"

"Top drawer," Steve replied promptly. He was 95. He wasn’t dead.

Bucky fumbled through the drawer, drew out a small bottle and held it up to the light of the window. "Steven Grant Rogers, this is called Emotion Lotion," he said, laughing as he popped it open. "And it smells like apple pie."

"Stark thinks he’s hilarious," Steve replied, burying his face against Bucky’s neck in embarrassment. "It also heats up. Isn’t the 21st Century swell?"

"Not sure if I can defile an American treasure if he literally smells like apple pie," Bucky reflected, sliding his metal fingers along Steve’s spine.

"For the love of Pete," Steve grumbled, yanking the bottle from Bucky’s hand and slicking his own fingers up. "Give it here. I have no problem defiling you."

"Language, Rogers," Bucky teased, though his laughter cut off abruptly as Steve slid his hand back between them and started moving. "Christ, I don’t care what it smells like. That feels amazing."

"You’re still talking," Steve said, giving his wrist a little twist and enjoying the sound of Bucky’s whimpers, "so not amazing enough."

Bucky stopped using words after that, though the gasps and moans that escaped his mouth were a very good thing, and so were the bruises he was sucking into Steve's neck, especially when Steve did the wrist-twisting thing again. Super-stamina warred with an overload of emotions and a fair helping of "haven't done this with another person in decades" and they were both riding the edge a little faster than they'd planned, but not exactly complaining about it.

Bucky finally came apart with Steve's name on his lips, and the look on his face was enough to have Steve tumbling over the edge right after him. Bucky was beautiful a thousand different ways, but Bucky with his hair a wreck and his expression entirely undone was Steve's new favorite. His fingers itched for a pencil. And a washcloth. They were kind of gross.

They collapsed against the pillows after a half-hearted attempt to untangle the covers, and Bucky kissed Steve softly. "We're good," he murmured when they could finally string words together again. "Never gonna be able to smell cinnamon again without thinking something inappropriate, but—"

Steve laughed and kissed him back.

"Now how about two showers and a long nap," Bucky added, then gave Steve the little eyebrow waggle that had gotten him a second date with half of Brooklyn, "and we can wake up and do that again?"

***

Sam looked up from his desk to see Steve drawing all eyes as he walked through the cube farm with an ear-splitting grin on his face.  "Take that smile off," he called out, turning down his music. "It’s making the people in my office walk into walls. They can’t handle the power of a full-wattage Cap smile. It’s not meant for mere mortals."

Steve propped his shoulder against the doorjamb and held up his little notebook. "Mind if I ask you a few questions?" he asked. "I’d ask Stark, but I’ve only got a fifty-fifty shot of him giving me a real answer, y’know?"

Sam snickered. "Yeah, I’m still not sure if I should thank him for showing you Urban Dictionary," he replied, reaching for his coffee mug. "Take your first shot, Cap," he said, taking a sip.           

"Right," Steve said, clearing his throat and looking at his notes. "Did you know there’s a sex position called the Captain America that involves apple pie, blueberry-flavored lube, and a flag that you stick—"

Coffee through his nose really, really hurt. "Stop!" Sam managed, sounding strangled. "Oh my GOD, stop. I’m beggin’ you."

Steve burst out laughing, that asshole.

"My childhood is ruined," Sam whined, thunking his head onto his desk. "I’ll never be able to look you in the eye again."

Steve was shuffling pages in his notebook. "Guess that means the rest of these questions should wait for Stark, then?" he asked, grinning hard.

"Only if I’m there to watch him turn purple," Sam said. "You owe me, man." He arched up an eyebrow. "You’re in a ridiculously good mood. Take it this means you talked to Barnes."

Sam gave him a lopsided smile in reply. "Yeah. It’s…it’s good. Thanks for the push."

"You didn’t need much of a push," Sam said, "but I’ll gladly take the credit. Just, y’know, never share sex details."

Steve burst out laughing. "I’ll do my best, but no promises. Turns out we’re really good at it."

"STOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOP."

"And may have broken the bed. Do you know where I can find a good replacement?"

"You're shitting me," Sam declared, peeking out between his fingers. "Please tell me you are—"

There was an ominous, amused pause.

"STEVEN GRANT ROGERS."

Steve burst out laughing. "You are so easy to wind up that's almost not fun anymore."

"I hate you so, so much."

"What if I buy lunch?" Steve offered.

"Chicken and waffles? In Harlem. With my mama and her church group because half of them don’t really believe I know you."

"If you insist."

"I really do," Sam said, reaching up to clap Steve on the shoulder and wincing slightly. It hurt when he hit Cap, even with the best of intentions behind it.  "I'm happy for you."

"I'm happy for me," Steve said with another smile as he shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans. "Long time ago you asked what made me happy—I finally have an answer."

Sam smiled back. "I’m glad. Still think you could’ve made a killing in ultimate fighting."

"Maybe, but then who would fight the giant squids?" Steve asked, arching an eyebrow.

Sam shook his head. "Don’t look at me. Squids don’t fly, and when they start to, Stark better be your first call. "

Steve chuckled. "Oh, definitely," he agreed, falling into step with Sam as they headed for the subway. "I need to thank him for the music, too. It’s really helped Bucky. "

Sam looked surprised. "Really?"

Steve’s smile softened. "It certainly didn’t hurt anything, and it’ll make Stark feel good to think he helped."

"It’ll make Stark insufferable to think he helped," Sam muttered.

"I could say something mean about how that would be different than normal, but I’m in a good mood today so I won’t," Steve said with a little smirk.

"Yeah, you’re a paragon of virtue, Cap," Sam said.

"As long as you don’t look my name up on Urban Dictionary," Steve agreed. "Let’s get lunch. "

###