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Realistically, Bucky knew that the box in front of his door was harmless. He also knew that PTSD was an irritable bitch and ignoring it never made it go away. When he was having a bad period, the smallest thing could end up magnified. The unexpected knock on his door had startled him enough that he'd frozen and by the time he'd made himself move to check out the security lens, the delivery man was gone and a package he hadn't ordered sat in front of his door. His heart had started pounding double time and he'd sank to the floor, sitting with his back against it while he tried to slow his breathing. He tried to tell himself that it could be something Steve had ordered, but Steve was the best roommate and best friend a guy could have. He was sensitive to Bucky's… quirks and would have told Bucky to expect a package. Frustrated, Bucky banged his head back against the door.

"This is stupid," he muttered.

Stupid or not, he was having a hard time convincing himself that the box on his welcome mat wasn't going to explode. He fumbled his phone out of his pocket, knowing Steve would talk him down. Or Sam. Sam was a good friend of Steve's and worked as a counselor at the local VA. He wasn't, officially, Bucky's counselor but since Bucky hadn't bothered to replace his VA therapist when she'd moved, Sam had fallen into the role. He knew there was no shame in asking for help, but he was getting so tired of always needing his hand held.

Shoving to his feet, he turned to face the door. He took a couple of slow, deep breaths, the way Sam had taught him to when he needed a second to ground himself. When he felt steady enough, he opened the door. He grabbed the box, yanked it inside and slammed the door, ignoring the way his heart was pounding. He glared at the offending box, thought about it kicking it but refrained. He'd already lost an arm to things exploding, he'd hate to lose a foot too.

Rolling his eyes at himself, he snickered at the poor joke. No one else was around, he could cope with lame humor if he wanted to. Feeling a little calmer, he put his hands on his hips, contemplated the box. It was about hip high, but it hadn't been heavy. Crouching down, he tipped the box so he could read the label, then cursed under his breath.

"All this for a freaking box that isn't even mine."

The name on the label read Clint Barton, and the address was right except that the apartment was a floor above Bucky's. Now he had to figure out what to do with the thing. He could leave it until Steve got home from work, but the idea irritated him. All he had to do to deliver it himself was walk up a flight of stairs. He didn't have to take the elevator or leave the building. He didn't even have to talk to whoever this Clint Barton was. He could set the box in front of the door, knock, and leave. Same thing that had gotten them into this in the first place.

He was stepping out of the apartment for the first time in days, though, and he frowned down at himself. He was wearing pajama pants that had seen better days (but were so comfy he was never getting rid of them) and a T-shirt he was pretty sure was Steve's. On good days, he didn't care about having his prosthetic arm on display. This was not a good day (or month, if he were being honest) so he needed to at least change the shirt. Scowling, he headed for his bedroom, tugging the shirt off as he went.

Fifteen minutes later, he had on a long-sleeved T and had pulled his long hair back into a messy bun. He shoved his socked feet into a pair of old tennis shoes, grabbed the box and his keys, and headed for the door before he could talk himself out of it. In the hall, he meticulously locked up and headed for the stairs at the end of the hall. His breathing was a little quick, but not bad and he distracted himself by counting the stairs as he headed up. On the fifth-floor landing, he shoved open the door and strode purposefully down the hall. He was almost finished here. Everything was fine.

Barton's apartment was at the end of the hall and Bucky realized that this Barton guy must live right above him and Steve. He was setting the box down to knock on the door, when he heard the soft chime of the elevator around the corner. He froze for a split second, just long enough for a guy to come around the corner. He had a bag slung over his shoulder and several more dangling from his wrists. He looked up before Bucky could make himself move. The distracted expression on the guy's face turned to one of confusion when he saw the box in front of the door.

"You're not dressed like the usual delivery guy."

Bucky felt his cheeks heat. "No, uh. The FedEx guy dropped your box at my place by mistake."

"Oh. Well thanks for delivering it the rest of the way."

"Sure." Bucky jerked a thumb over his shoulder to indicate the stairs, like an idiot. "I'm just gonna…"

"Oh, sure. Shit. Hang on. Could you move the box for just a second while I get in the door?"

"Oh, uh. Yeah, okay."

God, he could not sound like more of an idiot. He moved the box while the guy managed to get his keys in the door and shove it open. He stepped inside, bags rustling, before he called out to Bucky.

"If you wouldn't mind, can you just put the box inside the door for me while I put these down?"

Bucky cursed softly. If the guy was a serial killer and this was a ruse to get Bucky into his apartment, Steve was going to kill Bucky. On the other hand, there had to be a better way for serial killers to get prey than to order shit from Amazon, hope the FedEx guy fucked up, and that someone was nice enough to bring the package to the serial killer's lair.

It was a good thing Bucky didn't write thrillers for a living.

Shaking his head at himself, he moved to set the box in the entryway. He could see the guy dropping boxes onto the island across the way and couldn't help but look around. The place was laid out identical to his and Steve's, but the furniture was a lot newer. Theirs were hand-me-downs from Bucky's mom from when she'd redone the living room and bought a new furniture set. Bucky didn't care; he loved the comfortable couch, had grown up watching Saturday morning cartoons on it. Steve had long ago commandeered the recliner, and it sat in front of the big window in the living room so he could have natural light to draw by.

He was shaken out of his thoughts by the sound of footsteps approaching on the hardwood floor. He bit his lip, irritated with himself for zoning out and losing the chance to make a quick getaway. He forced himself not to run away, managed a small smile back when his neighbor smiled at him.

"Thanks again, man. I'm Clint by the way."

"Bucky. I, uh, live just a floor down."

God, he was the master of small talk, wasn't he? Clint didn't seem to mind, was still smiling what Bucky noticed was a very nice smile. Surprised at himself for noticing, he had the sudden need to get back to the safety of his own place.

"I need to, uh. Go. Yeah. Umm. Goodbye."

Clint's smile turned confused and Bucky left before he could say anything else. He didn't run back to the stairs, if only because he looked enough like an ass already. He did, however, take the stairs back down far more quickly than he had going up. He was breathing heavy by the time he got his door unlocked and stumbled inside. Cursing, he slammed the door, leaned against it with his head thrown back and his eyes closed until his heart rate slowed and his breathing calmed.

A little meep had him cracking one eye open. Alpine, his cat, sat in front of him, head cocked as she stared at him. He sighed, pushed away from the door to go to the kitchen. Alpine followed, curious as always. He opened the fridge and dug out a bottle of water.

"Well, that could have gone better," he told her as he twisted off the bottle cap. "Pretty sure the guy upstairs thinks I'm nuts."

Alpine meeped at him; he glared down at her. "Yes, I know. I'm not crazy. I have an anxiety disorder." He pointed a metal finger at her. "You need to stop talking to Sam."

She huffed out an all too human sigh and wandered off to lick herself in a patch of sunlight next to the chair Steve claimed as his own. Bucky snorted out a laugh.

"In my next life, I'm coming back as a cat."

➳✪➳

He didn't tell Steve about his foray out of the apartment. There was nothing to tell, and it wasn't like Bucky had made it out of the building. He would, he always did eventually, but he knew he wasn't there yet. Steve had learned over the years when to push and when to leave well enough alone. He was usually good at reading Bucky, but this foray outside would make him hopeful and Bucky didn't want to deal with that when he still felt shaky.

He spent the next day or so communing with the couch and surfing Netflix. He talked to Sam, drank water when Steve texted to remind him. He didn't have an appetite, but he managed dinner with Steve every night and he'd have a piece of fruit or a pudding cup when he got up for the water breaks. Occasionally he found himself thinking about Clint and had no idea why. They'd met for all of a minute and Bucky had been a disaster for at least 45 seconds of that.

A thought struck him, and he pulled up his phone to text Sam. Sam was the only person who knew about the possibly exploding box because even though he wasn't Bucky's therapist – officially – he still took confidentiality seriously in times like this.

I keep thinking about Clint.

Upstairs neighbor, right?

Yep.

Well, was he cute?

How would I know? He was wearing a purple beanie, a purple scarf, and one of those puffy winter coats that make you look huge.

Bucky hadn't gone outside in weeks, but he had eyes and windows. Plus, he grew up in New York. Winter was no joke.

Maybe it's not him then.

Come again?

Maybe it’s not him you keep thinking about it. Maybe it's something else about the situation?

Bucky put the phone down, thought about that for a while. Finally, he picked the phone back up.

Can you die from embarrassment?

Doubtful.

I went up there in my pajamas, Sam. I haven't showered in days. He probably thinks I'm some homeless guy that wandered in off the streets.

James Buchanan Barnes.

Bucky winced. No one full named him except his mom and Sam.

I wasn't judging homeless people, Samuel.

No, you were judging yourself.

Ugh. This was why he hated talked to Sam sometimes. He tossed the phone on the coffee table and burritoed himself in the Dodgers blanket his sister, Becca, bought for Steve last Christmas. Steve hated the Dodgers, a holdover left from his father's anger at the team leaving Brooklyn back in the day. That had happened when Steve's dad was a kid, but no one held a grudge like the Rogers men. Steve's dad had died when he and Steve were in high school, but Steve was more than happy to keep that particular fire stoked.

He woke to the sound of the key in the lock and Alpine purring merrily where she was tucked under his chin. She'd wormed her way into the burrito without waking him up and he had to smile as he carefully moved to wipe grit from his eyes without disturbing the cat. He blinked sleepily and found Steve smiling down at him. Steve always had a smile for him, no matter the situation, and his heart squeezed painfully in his chest. He didn't know what he'd ever done to deserve a friend like Steve Rogers, but he was damn grateful for it.

"Hey Stevie," he rasped, voice still rough with sleep. "How was school?"

"Good!"

Steve beamed at him. He taught art to middle school kids and loved every second of it. Bucky thought he might have a screw or two loose because who the hell loved other peoples' kids that much? Just another weird thing about Steve that made him who he was, Bucky supposed.

"We're making holiday art."

Bucky arched a brow. "Not Christmas art?"

"There are fourteen different religious holidays in December, Buck." He said it primly; the twinkle in his eyes gave him away. "Would be rude to ignore any of them."

"And if you piss off some of the asshole parents?"

"Guess that's my Christmas bonus."

Bucky laughed, sat up carefully so Alpine didn't slide down his chest. "You're still the same little shit, Stevie. Doesn't matter that you shot up a foot in college."

Steve grinned at him, reached down to ruffle his hair. He stopped at the last minute, ran a finger down Alpine's back instead. Bucky's heart hurt. They'd always been physically affectionate before Bucky's accident. Now he didn't always handle touch well, not even from Steve. Steve was good about letting Bucky initiate whatever he was comfortable with though he sometimes forgot. Well aware that he couldn't actually remember the last time he'd showered and knowing his hair was a disaster, Bucky reached out to squeeze Steve's hand. That brought Steve's grin back in full force. He patted Bucky's shoulder gently before heading into the kitchen for a snack. Steve was a big guy and despite the fact that he was pushing thirty, he still had an after-school snack every day. It always made Bucky grin.

"I'm doing peanut butter and apples today," Steve called from the kitchen. "Want some?"

"Sure."

Steve brought over the snacks and bottles of water, flopped onto the couch next to Bucky's blanketed feet. They watched a holiday themed baking episode on the Food Network while they ate, and Steve talked about his day. Bucky hadn't left the apartment and had nothing to contribute there; Steve never minded. He had plenty of stories. Later, after Steve had changed into comfortable clothes and spent some time on preparing what he needed for school the next day, they made dinner together in the little kitchen. There wasn't always space for two guys built like they were and there were days Bucky had to bow out, unable to be that close to Steve.

He managed well enough this evening as he and Steve made spaghetti and meatballs. There was warm garlic bread that made the whole house smell delicious and Bucky's stomach actually rumbled. Steve laughed, genuinely pleased that Bucky was hungry. They ate at the little table in the alcove, Bucky's feet tangled up with Steve's. Steve was smiling so hard by the end of the meal his face had to hurt. Bucky blushed a little, kicked lightly at Steve's ankle. Steve didn't say a word, just cleared the table and dug out ice cream for dessert. Bucky groaned.

"Steve, I ate two plates of spaghetti and like half a loaf of bread."

Steve shrugged. "I can finish off the carton by myself."

"Hell no, bring me a bowl."

Bucky did the dishes because Steve tended to end up with the rest of the housework when Bucky was down. After, they watched a movie on Netflix before Steve headed off to shower and go to bed. Bucky knew he'd spend the next hour or so on the phone with his boyfriend before he went to sleep. Bucky didn't mind; having Steve in the apartment was nice, even when they weren't in the same room. A couple of hours after Steve retired, Bucky went to bed himself.

He slept surprisingly well despite his nap during the day. Well enough that he missed Steve leaving for school. There was a note on the fridge telling Bucky there were leftover pancakes staying warm in the oven. He contemplated things for a second before deciding he was hungry and fishing them out. He made himself coffee in the fancy-ass machine Steve's boyfriend had given Steve for his birthday then carried breakfast into the living room. He only ate at the table when he ate with Steve. Eating at a table alone seemed weird somehow.

He nearly sat on the couch before realizing there was a distinct Bucky-shape on the cushions. He flushed, relocated to the recliner Steve liked to draw in. Morning sun poured through the windows and Bucky felt a lot like Alpine as he ate his pancakes. After, he cleaned up the kitchen then contemplated the state of the apartment and the state of himself. Steve kept the place pretty clean, always managing to work around Bucky when he was in a funk. He never demanded that Bucky stay in his own room or anything, put up with Bucky's moods.

Determined, Bucky marched to Steve's room and grabbed his laundry hamper. He could do laundry and fumigate the couch. They had an in-unit laundry area so Bucky could manage at least that much. He aired out his room, added his sheets and blankets to the pile to wash. He Febreezed the sofa then decided all the work had made him hungry. He had eaten a small snack and drank a bottle of water before Steve's reminder text came in. Grinning and feeling pretty accomplished, he wondered what else he could do.

Food was always a good choice. He set up a grocery delivery, adding more ice cream and a roasting chicken with all the sides. It was one of Steve's favorites, and easy enough for Bucky to cook. Bouncing on his heels, he grinned at Alpine as she came out from under the couch.

"Sorry about the evil vacuum, but between you and me that couch was just gross."

Alpine flicked her tail at him before wandering off to eat. Bucky snorted, twisted to get the twinge out of his lower back. He'd done a lot more activity than he'd managed for a while and his body was letting him know it. He lifted his arms to stretch, caught a whiff of himself and grimaced.

"Oh wow. Fuck. Stevie is a saint for standing downwind of me."

Alpine meowed loudly from the kitchen. "No one asked you, furball," Bucky called back.

There was no way he was crawling into clean sheets like this or sitting on his now clean and cat hair free couch. He showered, staying in the stall until the hot water ran out. He'd washed his hair three times and the rest of him twice. He brushed his teeth, towel wrapped around his waist. The metal of his left arm gleamed in the bathroom light and he frowned a little before deciding he wasn't feeling awful about that today either.

He dressed in clean, newer pajama pants and another of Steve's T-shirts, a Star Wars one this time. He switched out a load of a laundry and was folding Steve's socks (had to make the weirdo happy) when there was a sharp rap on the door. Frowning, he double checked the time on his phone, wondering why the grocery delivery had come without a text notice.

At the door, a glance through the security lens showed him a box sitting on the floor. He barely hesitated before he opened the door, bending down to grab the box and read the label. He sighed, ducked back inside for shoes and his keys. Alpine was curled on the back of the sofa and eyeing him questioningly.

“Hey, at least I’ve showered this time.”

She meeped something that was probably an insult. Bucky was used to that, ignored her in favor of slipping on his tennis shoes. He grabbed his keys and the box and headed upstairs. It was mid-morning, but he knocked on Clint’s door anyway. He wanted to at least check if the guy was home before just dropping the box off outside his place. There was no answer and he wasn’t sure if he was relieved or disappointed. Stupid to feel either. He was just dropping off a box to guy he’d spoken a couple of sentences to.

Bucky set the box down, turned to head for the stairs when the elevator chimed. He heard whistling and paused, curious. Sure enough, Clint came around the corner, decked out in his purple beanie and scarf. It made Bucky smile just a little. Clint glanced up, saw him, and his face lit up.

“Hey downstairs neighbor!” He noticed the box then and groaned. “Aw, man. I’m sorry you had to bring up another one.”

Bucky shrugged one shoulder. “It’s okay. I didn’t have to go far.”

“True. Still not sure what’s going on. I don’t order a ton of stuff, but I don’t usually have this much trouble.”

Clint unlocked his door and swung it open, hefted the box to carry it inside. “Do you want to come in for a cup of coffee?”

Bucky hesitated, surprised by how much he wanted exactly that. He didn’t tend to want much these days. Clint noticed the hesitation, his smile dimming. Bucky wanted it back.

“It’s just... I’m not really dressed for company.”

“Sure, you are,” Clint laughed. “Pajamas and coffee go together like Oreos and orange juice.”

Bucky had stepped forward to follow Clint, but he now he stopped with a frown. “So not at all then?”

“Excuse you?” Clint sounded outraged. “I’ll have you know that is the height of happy snacking.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

Bucky followed Clint into his apartment, settling at the island when Clint waved him in that direction. He took the box and disappeared into the room that was Bucky’s in his apartment. He came back unwinding the scarf from his neck. He tossed it and the beanie onto a chair, shrugged out of his coat and added it to the pile. He caught Bucky looking and grinned sheepishly.

“My roommate, Natasha, changed jobs recently so she’s not around as much. My slob tendencies are sneaking back in.”

“I get that. Steve can be kind of messy.”

Steve tended to get lost in art projects that Bucky was forever cleaning up after. Unless he was in one of his depression cycles. Steve did a pretty good job of cleaning up after the both of them when that happened.

Bucky shook off the thought. He was having a nice conversation that was going well so far. He wasn’t going to jinx things by letting his thoughts spiral. He focused on Clint instead as the man moved around filling his coffee pot with water. He reached into a cupboard and Bucky found himself blinking at the dizzying array of coffee bags he could see.

“Do you run a coffee shop out of this place?”

Clint snickered. “Nope, coffee is just my first love.” He pulled a bag down at random, held it to his chest as if he were hugging it. “We’ve been through thick and thin and it never lets me down.”

“I can’t say I’ve ever had a love affair with coffee.”

“You just haven’t met the right one yet,” Clint declared. He set the bag on the island, eyed Bucky seriously. “Here’s the important question. How do you feel about flavored coffee?”

“Uh, I’m not opposed?”

Clint narrowed his eyes. “Not a ringing endorsement but I’ll take it. You allergic to anything?”

“Spiders. And if you’re putting that in coffee, I’m out of here.”

Clint laughed; a deep belly laugh that made Bucky smile right along with him. “No creepy crawlies in my coffee, Buck. I promise.”

The unexpected shortening of his nickname had Bucky feeling... something. Only Steve did that. It was... nice, Bucky finally decided. Something about Clint reminded him of Steve anyway and he had a feeling that was one reason he was fairly comfortable in Clint’s presence. Whatever it was, he would take it. He liked feeling normal, though he could see Sam scowling at him for phrasing it that way.

He watched Clint putter around the kitchen, talking to himself as he measured out coffee before digging in another cupboard for mugs. He stood for a minute, hands on his hips and head cocked before turning to Bucky.

“Nat brought me cinnamon rolls from the bakery on the corner yesterday. She was headed on a work trip and thinks I’ll starve without her. There’s a few left if you want me to warm some up.”

“Oh, I...”

Bucky had actually eaten more today than he had for some time. He contemplated the question, wondering if it would be rude to refuse. Then his stomach growled loudly, making him blush and Clint grin.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Clint said, opening a Tupperware container.

Clint busied himself with putting rolls on a plate and shoving them in the microwave. When he turned, Bucky caught a flash of purple behind his ear. He frowned, not sure what he was seeing. Just then Clint turned and caught his expression.

“Something wrong?”

“Oh, no. I just... I think maybe you’ve got a loose thread of something from your beanie caught in your hair.” He waved a hand toward his own ear. “By your ear.”

Clint made a face, reached up to smooth a hand through his hair. "Oh, that. No. I wear hearing aids.”

Bucky blinked, then felt his face flood with color. “Shit. I’m so sorry.”

“Why? You weren’t a jerk about it.” Clint arched a brow at him. “Are you going to be a jerk about it?”

“That’d be hypocritical,” he said, glancing toward his left arm. The dark metal was on full display since he was wearing short sleeves. “But I didn’t mean... I still don’t like people asking about the arm and...”

“That’s fair,” Clint said with an easy shrug. “But I’ve been hard of hearing since I was eight. Had a lot of time to get used to it. My old aids were really noticeable. I forget sometimes that these aren’t.”

Clint pulled the rolls out of the microwave and set the plate in the middle of the island, busied himself pouring mugs of coffee. He brought the mugs over and sat down across from Bucky.

“Today’s coffee of the day is bourbon pecan. Nat brings it back for me from this restaurant in Texas. It’s freaking amazing.”

It smelled good; Bucky would say that for it. He took a cautious sip then couldn’t hold back a moan of pleasure. Clint burst out laughing.

“I told you!”

“I might propose to this cup of coffee, Clint. Holy shit.”

Clint seemed happy to hear it as he grabbed napkins from a holder on the island. He passed a couple across the island before grabbing a cinnamon roll and setting it on his own wad of napkins. They chatted about nothing at all as they shared breakfast, and it was the easiest thing Bucky could remember in a long time. He was finishing up a second cup of coffee when his phone beeped. He pulled his phone out of his pocket, expecting a reminder text from Steve. Instead, it was a notice that his grocery delivery was fifteen minutes out.

“Oh shit, I’ve got to go,” Bucky said, hopping up from his chair.

“Was it something I said?” Clint asked, looking startled.

“God, I’m sorry. That was so rude.” His mom would be kicking him in the butt if she heard his lack of manners. “I ordered groceries delivered and didn’t realize how long I’d been here.”

“As long as you’re aren’t leaving because I was an ass.”

“Nope,” Bucky laughed. “But I am. I’m really sorry to eat and run like this.”

“Don’t even worry about it. Thanks for keeping me company.”

Clint walked him to the door. Bucky thanked him again then hurried downstairs. He was in time to let in the delivery person, ignoring the second glances his arm got. He was in a good mood, and he was staying that way. To that end, he set his phone on the counter and turned on music while he put away groceries and got dinner going. By the time Steve got home, the whole apartment was filled with the delicious aromas. Steve walked in the door and immediately gave an appreciative sniff.

“Something smells amazing, Buck.”

“It’s your mom’s recipe for roast chicken, the one with the rosemary.”

Steve’s eyes went soft, the same way they did anytime his mom was mentioned. She had died while Bucky was deployed, and it had been hard on Steve to lose her while he was essentially alone. Especially coming just a few years after his dad.

“You’ve been busy today.”

Bucky rolled his eyes, gestured at Steve. Steve came closer and looped an arm around Bucky’s shoulder, pulling him against his side in a half hug. Bucky slung an arm around Steve’s waist and squeezed.

“I had a good day.”

Steve grinned down at him, leaned down to kiss the top of his head. “I can tell. You don’t smell like a gym sock.

Bucky made an outraged noise, dug metal fingers gently into Steve’s ribs. Steve ducked away, laughing. “Next time I do your laundry I’m not folding your socks, asshole.”

“You didn’t have to do that, Bucky.”

“Had time,” Bucky said nonchalantly.

He knew Steve didn’t expect payback for all the things he did for Bucky when Bucky couldn’t do for himself. They’d never had that kind of relationship. But Bucky wasn’t working at the moment, and he needed to feel useful. It wasn’t even about gratitude; it was about feeling like a person because sometimes he just didn’t when the depression got bad.

“I’m going to make a snack,” Steve said, thankfully letting it go. “You want anything?”

“Nah. I had a big breakfast.”

He didn’t tell Steve that he’d technically had two breakfasts. He wasn’t sure why, but he was keeping Clint to himself for now.

➳✪➳

That night, Bucky had the mother of all nightmares. He woke with a scream locked behind his teeth, left shoulder on fire. He scrambled to sit against the headboard, sweat pouring down his back. He couldn’t help feeling betrayed. He’d had such a good day, damn it.

He stayed in bed until his breathing evened out. It was tempting to stay in bed and wallow, give in to the anger he was feeling. He knew what Sam would say about that. Cursing, he threw back the covers, stripping as he headed for the bathroom. He rinsed off the sweat, dressed himself in fresh pajamas. He didn’t want to crawl back into the now disgusting sheets, but the couch was unappealing after so many days of living on it.

Sighing, he crept quietly across the dark apartment and let himself into Steve’s room. Steve didn’t say a word, just scooted over and lifted up the blankets. Bucky dove in, wiggled back against Steve so he would know it was okay to touch. Steve tucked them in, curled his arm around Bucky protectively.

“Want to talk about it?”

“Nightmare,” Bucky replied. “Pisses me off. I had a good day, Steve.”

“I know, Buck.”

He kissed Bucky’s temple. Bucky didn’t even kick him because it was kind of nice to be loved right now. He glared into the darkness, metal fingers drumming against Steve’s forearm.

“I’m going to take a picture, send it to Stark.”

“Of your arm?”

Tony Stark had made Bucky’s prosthetic. He was a genius and kind of dick. Bucky, who was more of dick now than he had been before needing Stark’s arm, appreciated both traits to varying degrees depending on the day.

“Nope. Of me getting cuddled by his boyfriend. He’ll sputter and squawk, and I’ll feel better.”

“If it makes you feel better,” Steve said with a long-suffering sigh.

Steve had met Tony Stark through the long process to get Bucky approved for the prosthetic program and then been with him for the various fittings and things after. They’d bickered from the start in some sort of weird flirting ritual that still made Bucky snicker when he thought about it. Steve’s protectiveness of Bucky and his innate stubbornness clashed with Stark’s tendency to believe he knew best about everything. Bucky could admit the man knew his tech, but he didn’t know Bucky and Steve had refused to let him railroad Bucky into anything involving the arm. He’d forced Stark to slow down and explain, and while it pissed the man off, it had apparently intrigued him as well.

The two were as different as night and day and they probably shouldn’t work, but they did.

Bucky was still contemplating the weirdness of his best friend’s relationship when he fell back to sleep.

He slept through Steve leaving, waking to find himself curled into a ball and surrounded by sheets that smelled like Steve. He pondered staying there all day before deciding that might be creepy. He and Steve might be attached at the hip, but they still had boundaries. A few. Sometimes.

He showered, again. Threw his sheets in the wash, again. Instead of feeling accomplished like he had the day before, the necessity of repeating the chores pissed him off all over again. He picked up the phone to text Sam before shoving the thing into the pocket of his sweats. He knew what Sam would say. None of the good advice seemed to mean shit to his brain so why bother?

He was ignoring Steve’s text reminder about drinking water when there was a knock on the door. Another box sat on the welcome mat and his anger spiked. He knew it was irrational (destructive anger, Barnes said the Sam-voice in his head) but couldn’t stop himself from grabbing the box and leaving with a slam of the door. He didn’t bother to lock up, didn’t even grab shoes. He stormed his way up to Clint’s fifth floor apartment, barely kept his knock from being a pounding on the door. Clint opened the door, a sheepish grin curling his lips when he saw Bucky.

“Aw, man, not again.”

“Yeah, again, so maybe you could call FedEx or who the hell ever and take care of it.”

Bucky wasn’t yelling but he knew his anger was probably visible from space right now. Clint’s grin slid away, his face going blank.

“You’re right.” He took the box Bucky was holding out. “I’m sorry. I’ll try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

He didn’t slam the door in Bucky’s face, but the quiet click as it closed was almost worse. Bucky closed his eyes, took a deep breath. He debated knocking and apologizing, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He walked back down to his apartment; shoulders slumped. Once inside, he flopped onto the couch, scooped up Alpine for a cuddle. She curled against his chest, head under his chin as she purred away. He sent off a text to Sam.

I screwed up. Bad.

I’ve got some free time if you want to call.

Bucky debated before dialing Sam. He usually preferred to text, but this seemed like a phone call kind of talk. Sam answered after the first ring.

“How bad are we talking?”

Bucky grimaced. “You remember upstairs neighbor guy?”

“Sure.”

“I kind of stormed up there and was a dick because another package got left here.”

“Were you a dick because you’re tired of having to take his stuff upstairs or was it something else?”

“Something else,” Bucky sighed. “I had a real good day yesterday, Sam. Then I had a goddamn nightmare and I was just so pissed today.”

“I know that sucks, man. Having a bad night after such a good day.”

“It was like a slap in the face, Sam. I just... one whole day. Can’t I have one whole day with nothing shitty happening?”

“I get it, I do, but you got to stop looking at everything as a setback. You’re still healing, man.”

“The arm is great.”

“You know I’m not talking about that. Your mind’s a lot harder to heal, Bucky.”

“I just feel so fucking stupid.”

“Don’t me full name you.”

Bucky sighed. “I know, I know. I’m not stupid. But my brain is sometimes.”

Sam sighed right back. “Be nicer to it, Bucky. It’s had trauma.”

Bucky glared at the ceiling since he couldn’t glare at Sam. “I just want to be normal.”

Sam snorted. “You weren’t normal before.”

“Dick. Is that how therapists are supposed to talk?”

“I’m not your therapist,” Sam shot back. “I get to talk to your delightful ass for free.”

Bucky felt a little bit of guilt at that before he shoved it away. He knew Sam was teasing, knew Sam would tell him a heartbeat if he didn’t have time to talk to Bucky or didn’t want to.

“I screwed up, Sam. I practically screamed in the guy’s face.”

“You already know what you need to do.”

“Grovel,” Bucky groaned.

“I mean, sure. If you think it needs to go that far. Or just use a simple sorry. He’s a dude that lives in the building, Bucky.”

Bucky bit his lip, fingers rubbing gently through Alpine’s fur. “I don’t... I don’t think I want him to be just a dude that lives in the building. I liked talking to him.”

“I still think a simple apology will work.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“You do that.” Sam said. “In the meantime, how’s the anger now?”

“Went away the second I saw Clint’s face after I was a dick to him.”

“I figured. You’ve got a good heart, Bucky.”

“Stop it,” Bucky flushed.

“You do. You take good care of the people you love. Maybe start doing that for yourself.”

Bucky didn’t state the obvious because he knew Sam already knew. “Do I really have to do that self-care shit?”

“I have no idea why you hate on that stuff, man. It’s good to be good to yourself.” Bucky cursed and grumbled. Sam allowed it for a minute or two before he cut him off. “How do you expect to be nice to other people when you can’t be nice to yourself?”

“I hate you.”

“I know you do,” Sam said, amused. “I need to get back to work. You going to be okay?”

“Yeah, I’ll be fine.”

“Text me if you need me.”

“’kay. Hey, Sam?”

“Yeah?”

“I don’t really hate you.”

“I know.” Sam’s voice was soft. “Go be good to yourself.”

“Did you just tell me to go jerk off? I’m appalled, Samuel.”

“Gross, Barnes,” Sam groaned. “Why do you always got to be so weird?”

“Nope, I’m going to do it,” Bucky said gleefully. “Doctor’s orders.”

“Man, I hate you.”

Bucky burst out laughing as Sam hung up on him. Alpine made an inquisitive sounding meow. “I love that guy, Alpine. Seriously.”

He kissed the top of her head, laid her gently on the sofa cushion. He sent a text to Steve telling him he was going to take some quiet time and not to freak out if Bucky didn't answer his text. He wandered into the bathroom, stood for a minute scowling at the tub. He wasn't good at self-care days for a lot of reasons, the main one being that it gave his brain too much time to think. It was easy for him to spiral if he wasn't focusing.

If he was going to follow Sam's advice and have it work, he was going to have to try something different. He opened up the library app on his phone and found a promising audiobook to try. While it downloaded, he ran a hot bath generously splashed with some lavender and vanilla bath oil that was supposed to help with relaxation. He shucked his clothes, silenced everything on his phone, and put in his AirPods. They made him smirk. Stark Industries manufactured cell phones and accessories and he was outraged every time he saw Bucky's iPhone.

Mood already tremendously improved, Bucky started the audiobook and climbed into the tub. It was surprisingly easy to sink into the hot water and get lost in the world painted by the words playing in his head. He closed his eyes and drifted, draining off water when it cooled and topping it back up with hot. He did that twice before he felt guilty about it. He paused the book and got out of the tub, wrapped himself in a soft, fluffy towel. After dressing in his softest pajamas, he curled up on the couch with his Dodgers blanket and the audiobook.

He was utterly relaxed by the time Steve came home. Steve didn't ask about his nightmare and Bucky didn't offer details. They ordered Chinese and curled up on the couch together to watch National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. They'd seen it a million times, could recite most of the dialogue, and it was just the kind of mindless entertainment Bucky needed.

Before he headed to bed that night, he texted Sam a simple thank you.

➳✪➳

Bucky's sleep was deep and dreamless, and he was in a much better frame of mind when he woke the next morning. He was up early enough to share breakfast with Steve. After Steve left for school, Bucky was at loose ends. He wasn't typically an early riser and couldn't fill his mornings the way Steve did. Running had never appealed to Bucky, even before he had to factor in the weight of a metal arm. Besides, he had to figure out a way to apologize to Clint. He didn't know the man well enough to know what he'd like beyond coffee, but he had to do something.

Bucky finally settled on baking. It was a hobby he'd taken up after his accident. Following a recipe gave him something to focus on and the finished product gave him a sense of accomplishment. He perused the cupboards and found he had the ingredients for brownies. Nothing complicated for him and the only problem would be if Clint was allergic. He supposed he'd have to take that chance. He glanced down at Alpine, who was curled up on a chair by the table.

"If he's still mad at me, he might just throw the brownies in my face and then it won't matter if he's allergic to chocolate, right?"

Alpine meeped.

"Exactly."

He lost himself in the mechanics of measuring and mixing and it wasn't long before he had two pans of brownies in the oven. He'd made a double batch because he didn't want to deal with Steve's puppy eyes if he came home, smelled chocolate, then couldn't have any.

Bucky showered while the brownies baked, dressed in jeans and a red V-neck. Maybe dressing like an actual adult would help his confidence. Couldn't hurt, in any case.

After the brownies came out of the oven, he had time to kill while they cooled. He went over to the desk and fished out one of Steve's sketchpads and some colored pencils. He didn't have Steve's artistic ability, but he wasn't bad. He sketched out a little picture, thought about what he wanted to say. In the end, he went with simple, like Sam had said.

His stomach was tight with nerves as he cut and plated brownies. He covered a plate with saran wrap and put it on the counter for he and Steve for dessert after dinner. He sprinkled powdered sugar over the other plate before covering it as well. He taped his little apology card to it and laid it on the table by the front door while he hunted up his sneakers and his keys.

Even walking slow, the trip to Clint's took no time at all. He found himself hoping Clint wouldn't be home so he could leave the plate and run. That was the easy way out though and while Bucky sometimes thought badly about himself, he knew he wasn't a coward. He took a deep breath and knocked on Clint's door. He'd been standing in the hall long enough that he was debating whether to knock again or leave when he heard the sound of the door unlocking. Clint peered out blearily, all bed head and a sleepy scowl. Bucky probably shouldn’t find it endearing.

He did, damn it.

They stared at one another in a growing silence that stretched out until Clint raised a brow. Bucky started, practically shoved the plate in his hands at Clint.

"I wanted to… yesterday…"

Clint took the plate, glanced down at the card on top. There, a little cartoon Bucky sat sprawled on the ground, metal fingers twisted in the hem of his shirt, a little tear on one cheek. The thought bubble above his head read 'I'm sorry for being a dick.' Clint snorted, looked back up at Bucky.

"He's cute."

"He's sincere."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah." Bucky rocked nervously on his heels. "Clint, I…"

A door slammed down the hall, making Bucky jump. Clint stepped back from the motioned Bucky in. Relieved that he wasn't going to be exiled to the hall, he followed Clint into his apartment. Clint put the brownies down on the island and went to grab mugs. He held one up questioningly.

"You want to stay for coffee?"

Bucky nodded gratefully. "Yes, thank you."

Clint smiled. "You don't have to be so polite, Buck. Come grab a seat."

Bucky slid onto one of the stools while Clint filled the mugs. He took his when it was handed to him, wrapped his hands around the warmth as he took an appreciative sniff.

"Vanilla?"

"French vanilla, yeah."

They sat in awkward silence, sipping at the coffee, until Bucky wondered if he shouldn't have accepted the offer. Finally, Clint gave a heavy sigh.

"Okay, this is weird, and I don't want weird, Bucky. I liked hanging out with you the other day."

"I liked it too. I don't…" Bucky took a breath. "I had a good day too. I haven't had many of those lately." Bucky said the next part quickly, like ripping off a band-aid. "I have PTSD and depression."

Clint winced in sympathy. "Double dose, huh?"

"Yeah," Bucky said, and was able to go on in the face of Clint's easy acceptance. "Been going through a bad phase since right after Halloween. That day, though? It was really good. Then I had a nightmare and…" He swallowed hard, looked down at his mug. "It felt like a betrayal. I was pissed that my stupid brain had ruined my first good day in a month and then that box came."

He lifted his head, forced himself to look Clint in the eye because Clint deserved the apology, not the damn countertop. "I'm sorry I took my bad mood out on you."

Clint watched him for a minute then nodded. "Alright. I'm not going to tell you it's okay because it isn't. I have… issues of my own and if we're not honest with each other I feel like things could get bad. And I like you, Bucky. I want you to keep coming around, I want to get to know you."

"I want that too." Bucky smiled ruefully. "I'm not used to talking about this with anyone except Steve and it's different. He's known me since fourth grade."

Clint grinned at that. "Yeah? Me and my buddy Nat have known each about that long. It's cool, huh?"

"Maybe, if you're not friends with Steve," Bucky joked, and Clint cracked up. Bucky sobered, drummed metal fingers carefully on the countertop. "I get what you mean about being honest and stuff and I know it's important to let people know about my triggers. But I… I don't want to tell you everything yet."

"Well, no. Of course not." Clint was nodding. "We don't know each other that well."

"It's not that," Bucky said quickly. "Being around you is… nice. Steve's known me so long that he knows the me before the arm and the me now. And he's great, he's amazing," Bucky said earnestly. "But sometimes he says something, and I react a certain way and I can see in his eyes that he expected that other Bucky's reaction. Does that make sense?"

"I think so. You just want to be you."

"That'd be easier if I knew who that was," Bucky laughed softly. "But yeah. Basically. I swear I'll warn you if I'm having a bad day and need you to do or not do certain things. But I don't want to focus on that, if that's okay."

Clint smiled. "More than. Like I said, I like you." He reached out and gave Bucky's metal hand a quick pat. "Now that we've made up and are bros again, I want a brownie."

Bucky sat frozen, staring at his hand. He didn't have the sensation he did in the right hand, but he could feel pressure and Clint's touch lingered. He knew he should tell Clint about his touch aversion, but he wasn't feeling that today. He didn't have that skin crawling sensation he sometimes got. He rolled his shoulders and blew out a breath. He wanted normal with Clint, as normal as he could manage, and things were okay now. He'd talk to Sam later, but he thought it was okay to give himself permission to enjoy a good a moment and not worry about all the things that might go wrong.

Clint served them up warm brownies on bright purple napkins. The ones from cinnamon roll day had been boring white and Bucky couldn't help but laugh.

"I didn't even know napkins came in this color."

"Purple is my favorite," Clint said with a grin. "My kids know that and I'm always getting gifts in varying shades of it."

"Your kids?" Bucky knew Clint lived with Natasha, but there was no evidence in the apartment that children were ever there.

"Not my actual kids, sorry. I teach archery at a prep school downtown. We're on break, which is why you keep finding me at home in the morning."

"Steve teaches too. He teaches art at a middle school here in Brooklyn. The one we attended as kids."

"No kidding? That's awesome. I'm from Iowa so a long way from my middle school."

"What brought you to New York?"

"Umm, that's kind of a long story."

Something in Clint's voice told Bucky it wasn't a happy story and he reached out to squeeze Clint's wrist. It wasn't until after he'd released Clint that he realized he'd touched him without even thinking about it. It had just seemed natural to offer Clint comfort. "You don't have to tell me."

"It's not the happiest story and I won't tell you all of it." His lips quirked in a little grin. "Maybe when we know each other better."

"That's fair."

"Okay then. I was born in Iowa, lived there my whole life. Lost my parents when I was eight and ended up in foster care."

"That's rough, Clint."

"It was, but then Natasha came along. She's Russian and her parents had just emigrated to the US. How they picked Iowa is anyone's guess." Clint laughed, shook his head. "I was eleven by then, and Nat was nine. Picture this tiny slip of a girl with fiery red hair who barely spoke English. She had the fiercest glare of anyone I'd ever met. She took one look at me and decided I was hers. Said I'd get myself killed if she didn’t look out for me. I'm a huge klutz so she's probably right." Clint shot Bucky a grin. "Which does not answer your question at all."

"Nope," Bucky agreed cheerfully. "But it tells me something about you and I like that."

Clint's cheeks went pink. "Yeah?"

"Yeah."

Clint was still blushing, but he looked pleased. "Okay. Well. Umm, Nat and I were too old to get adopted so we aged out of the system. Me first, obviously, and I took some odd jobs and stuff until Nat was eighteen. We got the hell out of Iowa and never looked back."

Clint finished off his second brownie and got up to pour them more coffee. When he sat back down, Bucky waved at him to continue.

"Neither of us wanted to go to college so we bummed around the country, picked up odd jobs. Believe it or not at one point we actually joined a circus."

Bucky's eyes widened in surprise. "You're kidding?"

"I'm telling the truth, I promise. It's where I learned to shoot." He stood and took an elaborate bow. "You're in the presence of the Amazing Hawkeye."

"Oh my god, that's awesome."

Clint slid back into his seat, grinning cheerfully. "Yep. I was awesome. Natasha learned the trapeze, but I hate heights. After a couple of years, we got bored and moved on. I love shooting though so I stuck with it and now I do it for a living. When I'm on school break, I teach classes at a range here in town."

"What about Natasha?"

"Super-secret spy agent for the government." Bucky blinked as he took that in, and Clint laughed. "No, seriously. She's like an American James Bond only more bad ass. And minus the dick."

Bucky cracked up, leaving Clint looking very pleased with himself. "You're lying."

"Only sort of," Clint said cheerfully. "I don’t actually know exactly what she does because it’s all covert."

"Okay. James Bond it is."

It was Clint's turn to laugh. "Enough about me and my best friend. Tell me about you and yours.”

Bucky found it surprisingly easy to do. He told Clint about a tiny ball of rage named Steve Rogers who was determined to right the neighborhood wrongs at the tender age of nine. "You won't believe this when you meet him, but he was the smallest dude. My family had just moved to Brooklyn from Indiana and I met him on the playground my first day. I seriously thought he was going to get killed."

"But you stepped in and he didn't," Clint surmised.

"Yeah, and the ungrateful little shit nearly bit my head off. He was all 'I had them on the ropes.'" Bucky rolled his eyes at the memory. "I told him he was a jerk and he said I was an ass. We were inseparable after that."

"Sounds about right," Clint said with a laugh.

They sat at the island and polished off the brownies and coffee, sharing stories. Once the food was gone, Clint took him into the living room where they plopped down on the comfortable sofa. Bucky lost track of time after that, lost in the tales Clint was spinning. He found himself reciprocating easily, though he stuck to stories from his childhood. Clint didn't seem to mind, which let Bucky relax.

Clint was in the middle of a story about one of his archery kids when his stomach growled loudly. Bucky fished out his phone and was surprised to find it was after noon. He had some texts from Steve which he answered quickly. He shoved his phone back into his pocket, looked up to see Clint tapping away at his.

"You hungry?" Clint asked.

"We ate a pan of brownies and drank a pot of coffee, Clint."

"That a no?"

Bucky paused, took stock of himself. Clint was watching him expectantly, making Bucky blush. "I, uh, have issues with my appetite sometimes."

"Shit, sorry. Should I not ask things like that?"

"No, it's okay." And surprisingly, it was. "Just don't make a big deal of it when I can't or don't want to eat?"

"Course not, Bucky." Clint kicked out and poked Bucky's shin with his bare toes. "I eat all the time. Second teenagerhood or something. I'm going to order a pizza and you can have as much or as little as you want."

Bucky felt his tension ease. "No veggies?"

"No problem."

Clint was true to his word and didn't say a thing when Bucky picked at a single slice of pizza when it arrived. They turned on a cooking show in the background while they ate and talked. The hours flew by and Bucky was surprised the next time he checked his phone and realized Steve would be on his way home.

"Man, I've monopolized your whole day. Why didn't you kick me out?" Bucky asked as Clint walked him to the door.

"Didn't want to." Clint smiled at him. "Come by any time, Buck. You don't even have to wait for screwed up FedEx delivery."

"Okay," Bucky laughed. "I won't."

Bucky had to rush to get home and get changed into his usually attire of pajamas before Steve got home. He wasn't sure why he didn't want to share this with Steve yet. The two of them had no secrets. Everything that had ever happened in Bucky's life, no matter how small, Steve knew about. Hell, he'd been there for most of it. Bucky pulled his T-shirt on, glanced at Alpine where she perched on the foot of his bed.

"I'll tell him, and he'll be happy for me, I know he will." He bit his lip as Alpine watched him patiently. "I just… I don't want him to get his hopes up, you know? I don't want it to get weird." Alpine meowed at him. "This is between you and me right now, okay?" Alpine meowed again and he kissed her head. "You're the best."

Alpine butted her head against his chin, then hopped off the bed just as Bucky heard the key in the lock. He went out to greet Steve, feeling an odd mix of guilt and happiness. He was going to keep this secret just a little longer.

➳✪➳

Over the next week and a half, Bucky found himself in the odd position of having to ration going up to Clint's place. He knew Clint had said to come by whenever, but Bucky tended to lose track of time and spend the whole day hanging with Clint. Clint never seemed to mind, but Bucky was still getting used to the idea that he wanted to spend that kind of time with someone who wasn't Steve.

Bucky didn't like denying himself harmless things that made him happy. Not when they were rare these days. He didn't want to scare Clint off by being needy, though, so he limited himself to every other day. Then another package arrived, and Bucky had no choice. He had to go see Clint despite having seen him the day before. Alpine sat on the couch, front paws crossed, a judgmental look on her face as she watched Bucky twist his hair up into a bun.

"I thought you were on my side, furball."

Alpine yawned. Bucky snickered as he put on his sneakers and grabbed his keys. Alpine could judge all she wanted to, Bucky was going to get to see Clint again. He whistled as he jogged up the stairs, carrying the heavy box easily. He rapped on Clint's door, bouncing a little on the balls of his feet while he waited. Clint answered the door, blinking sleepily and making Bucky wonder if he'd looked at the time wrong. He couldn't check his phone with his hands full, but he'd been sure it was late morning.

"Did I wake you up?"

Clint was staring at him, not answering, making Bucky frown. "Clint?"

Clint startled, cheeks going pink. He ran a hand through his messy hair, stepped back to let Bucky in. "Sorry about that. I ended up watching a shark movie marathon on SyFy until late."

Bucky set the box aside to follow a stumbling Clint into the kitchen. He knew Clint well enough now to know the man didn't function without coffee, a truth proven when Clint managed to nearly drop the coffee pot into the sink as he tried to fill it. Bucky took the pot and gently nudged Clint aside.

"Let me before you hurt yourself."

Clint acquiesced, seating himself at the island while Bucky filled the reservoir with water. He opened Clint's coffee cupboard to peruse the choices.

"Do you have a preference?"

He barely caught Clint's muffled "Too early." He glanced back to see Clint with his head resting on his folded arms. Bucky felt a surge of affection, had to turn back to the cupboard and take a deep breath. Shaking his head, he grabbed something called a blonde roast, assuming if it was in Clint's cupboard, he must like it. Bucky was nowhere near the coffee connoisseur Clint was.

The first cup of coffee perked Clint up and he was almost speaking full sentences by the time he finished the second cup. He stretched, T-shirt pulling tight against his biceps. Bucky swallowed hard, pushed back from the island.

"Breakfast."

"Huh?"

Bucky blushed. "I could make you breakfast if you're hungry."

"You don't have to do that."

"I like to cook. I don't mind, if you want something."

"Oh, okay. If you're sure."

Bucky paused in front of the fridge, raised an inquiring brow. Clint laughed, waved a hand to indicate the kitchen.

"Go ahead Mi casa is su casa, Buckaroo."

Bucky snorted as he opened the refrigerator door to peruse the contents. "Omelet?"

"Gross," Clint wrinkled his nose. "I don't like eggs unless they're in cake. Or cookies. Stuff like that."

Bucky made a note of that, moved on to look in the pantry. Clint had syrup and he'd seen bacon in the fridge. He poked his head out of the pantry.

"How about pancakes?"

Clint's brow scrunched in thought. "I don't think I have a mix."

"I don't need a mix."

Clint's pantry was surprisingly well stocked for a guy who seemed to live on takeout. Bucky suspected Natasha. He realized he hadn't gotten an answer and poked his head back out of the pantry.

"Clint? Pancakes?"

Clint was looking at him with an expression on his face that Bucky couldn't read. "You're going to make real pancakes?"

"Sure, it's not hard and you have all the stuff."

He grabbed what he needed from the pantry, carried it to the counter before he dug through Clint's cupboard for a bowl and measuring cups. He felt Clint's eyes on him, shot a look over his shoulder. Clint was still watching him with that odd expression and Bucky found himself wondering if it was because no one had made him pancakes in a while. Then Bucky wondered if anyone had ever done it for him. He thought the answer might be no, given what he was learning about Clint's background.

He turned back to the counter and began assembling ingredients, stomach tight with an uncomfortable feeling. He found himself wanting to do whatever it took to bring back Clint's smile. It was… not unexpected. Bucky wasn't stupid. He knew he was having more than friendly feelings for Clint. It had just been so long since that had happened that he'd been able to ignore it in the face of making a new friend while navigating his depression.

Shaking off his thoughts, Bucky immersed himself in the familiar actions of making food. He didn't need a recipe for pancakes, had been making them for ages, and it was a struggle not to let his mind wander back to Clint. He managed by concentrating harder than he needed to on each ingredient that went into the bowl. He finished the batter, paused when he remembered that he'd seen a couple bags of chocolate chips in the pantry. He went back to grab one, added some chips to his batter before he set the bowl aside while he dug out a griddle.

"Why do you have all of this stuff if you never cook?" Bucky asked, turning to look at Clint.

Clint startled, gaze flying up to Bucky's. Bucky froze. Had Clint been checking out his ass? They stared at one another in growing silence until Bucky forced himself to turn around and put the griddle on the stove. He busied himself with letting it heat, then made pancakes by rote, his mind whirling. He was almost sorry to bring the last of the pancakes off the griddle and add them to the stack he was keeping warm under foil.

He brought the laden plate to the island. Clint scrambled off his chair to grab plates and forks. He set them on the island then freshened up their coffee while Bucky grabbed the syrup from the pantry. He went back to the fridge for butter then couldn't procrastinate anymore without making it weird. Weirder.

Clint ignored the butter in favor of drizzling syrup over the impressive stack of pancakes he'd put on his plate. Bucky had started with two despite how good they smelled. His stomach was tight with the tension in the kitchen and he wasn't sure if he'd even be able to manage that. They ate in silence broken only by the scrape of forks on plates, and he could see Clint wince occasionally.

“Are your...” He paused, because he hadn’t really mentioned Clint’s hearing since he and Clint had first talked about it. “Are your ears bothering you?”

Clint looked up from his pancakes, head cocked in that way Bucky was coming to realize meant he was confused. It was so goddamn cute Bucky couldn’t stand it. God he was in so much trouble here. Clint hadn’t answered him, and Bucky fought not to squirm in his chair.

“Sorry. Should I not ask about them?”

Clint set his fork down with a quiet sigh. “No, it’s fine. I fell asleep on the couch watching movies and slept in my aids so my ears feel gross. But I don’t want to take them out.”

Bucky set his fork on his plate as quietly as he could. “It’s probably weird to have someone around when you can’t hear. I can see why you’d want them in. I can go so you can get comfortable.”

Clint shook his head vehemently. “I don’t want you go. And it wouldn’t bother me to have my ears out with you here. I trust you.”

Bucky had to rest a hand on his suddenly swooping belly. Clint was always honest, sometimes painfully so, and Bucky knew he would never lie about something like that. Still, he had to ask.

“Are you sure? I know I woke you up and then kind of bullied you into pancakes.”

Clint grinned. “These are amazing. You can bully me into breakfast anytime.”

“If you’re sure.” Bucky still wasn’t one hundred percent convinced. “You seem distracted.”

Clint blushed at that and Bucky’s stomach did that stupid swooping thing again. Clint blushed at the most random things; Bucky loved it. Clint watched him for a minute before nodding decisively.

“You know, I haven’t had enough coffee to keep a lid on things so here we go. I am distracted this morning. I am distracted and it is entirely your fault.”

“Me? What did I do?”

Clint’s eyes widened. “Are you kidding me? You... you’re in pajamas, Buck.”

Bucky looked down at himself, feeling unaccountably hurt. “You said you didn’t mind if I...”

“Of course, I don’t mind. I love your pajamas. The other day there were dancing pineapples on your pants. Today, there’s pizza slices. Pizza slices, Bucky. I fucking love it.”

Now it was Bucky’s turn to blush. After his accident, when it became clear he was in the grip of major depression, Steve had taken to buying him fun pajama pants. Some days he hadn’t been able to care, but some days he’d managed to find a smile.

“Steve buys them for me,” he said quietly. “To cheer me up.”

“I love Steve,” Clint declared. “I don’t know him, but I love him.”

Bucky didn’t like the sound of that at all. “He’s got a boyfriend.”

“I don’t love him like that, Bucko,” Clint laughed.

“You’re the only person I know who makes my nickname another nickname.”

“Bucky is a nickname?”

Bucky raised a brow. “You thought my parents named me Bucky?”

“Parents do weird shit all the time, and you never call yourself anything else.”

“My name is James.”

“James.” Clint seemed to ponder that. “I like it. How do you get Bucky out of James?”

“From my middle name. There were six other James in our class so Steve started calling me Bucky and it stuck.”

“And your middle name is?”

“Buchanan,” Bucky said with a sigh.

“James Buchanan.” Clint pondered that. “Your parents named you James Buchanan and you think I’m the weird one for thinking your name might actually be Bucky.”

“Asshole.”

Clint snickered. “James Buchanan. James Buchanan Barnes. The notorious JBB.”

“No. You are not calling me that.”

“Jim?”

“No.”

“Jamie?”

“Hell no.”

“Jimmy B?”

“Clint.”

Bucky’s tone was a warning that only made Clint laugh, eyes crinkling up at the corner with his amusement. He was gorgeous when he really laughed and this time it was Bucky’s heart that did the swoop.

“Can I call you James sometimes?”

“Sure, I guess. I don’t hate it. Just, no one calls me that anymore.”

Even his mom had fallen into calling him Bucky most of the time, unless he was in trouble. Clint’s grin softened into something else as he looked at Bucky.

“Good, then that’s just for us.”

“Do we... do we need something just for us?”

“James.” Bucky had not known Clint’s voice could do that, or that his given name could sound so good in that tone. “It’s a good thing you’re pretty.”

Bucky managed to keep his mouth from dropping open in shock, though it was a near thing. “You think I’m pretty?”

“God,” Clint groaned. “I opened the door for you today looking like that and it was all I could do not to jump you.”

Well that was surprising new information. Bucky had never noticed Clint noticing him. Before he could say anything, Clint had continued.

“Your hair is just...”

“It’s clean today,” Bucky said hesitantly.

“I know it is,” Clint smiled. “For the record, I only care about the sad hobo look because of what it says about the kind of day you’re having. You’re always gorgeous, doesn’t matter. But when your hair is all shiny and clean. Jesus. You have red highlights, James. Do you know how hard it’s been for me not to touch you?”

That was a lot to unpack, and Bucky couldn’t get his mind around it all. He sat frozen in his chair, unable to move or say anything in response. He was quiet enough that he could see when Clint became concerned.

“Bucky? Are you... did I say something wrong?”

Fuck. He was already addicted to the way Clint called him James and he wanted it back. He held up a hand, asking for space, and Clint gave it to him. Bucky breathed in and out, slow and deep the way Sam had taught him. His voice was low when he could speak and he hoped Clint’s aids picked it up okay because this was important.

“You didn’t say anything wrong. I’ve been... I’ve noticed. You. But I didn’t think you were looking at me. Like that. And it’s a lot.”

“Bad a lot?”

Bucky shook his head. “Just a lot. I haven’t even tried to be with anyone since the arm.”

“Can I ask how long?”

“Two years since the accident. I’ve had the prosthesis for about eight months.” He managed a smile. “Had to heal up, you know?”

“Hey, it’s okay to tell me no. We don’t have to be anything except friends. I like you, Buck. I like spending time with you.”

That right there was part of the reason Bucky liked Clint as much as he did already. Clint just seemed to understand him. Bucky sat up straight and looked into Clint’s eyes.

“I don’t want just friends. I’d like to try. But I don’t know much I can give you.”

Clint’s smile was bright and real. “You don’t have to give me anything. We’ll do this at your pace. I’d be happy just to sit on the couch and hold your hand.”

Bucky knew Clint meant every word. That gave him the courage to tease just a little. “That really what you want to do right now? Hold my hand?”

Clint looked a little shocked before he groaned. “God you’re going to kill me. No, James. That’s not really what I want to do right now.”

“What is?”

“I want to get my hands in your hair, James. Maybe kiss you a little, if you’re okay with that.”

Heat shot down Bucky’s spine to pool in his groin. Jesus. He hadn’t felt heat like that in years. Hell, maybe never. He couldn’t remember any lover affecting him the way Clint was. He pushed back from the island a little.

“You’re too far away for that.”

Clint grinned, got up to come around to Bucky’s side. He reached out to trail careful fingers along Bucky’s right forearm, making Bucky’s skin tingle with the contact.

“How close can I be?”

Bucky reached out to grab Clint’s hips and tug him into his lap. This was definitely closer than he allowed anyone except Steve, but it felt right with Clint. Clint’s eyes had gone dark as he rested his hands on his thighs.

“Manhandling is a thing. A hot thing. I did not know that.”

Bucky ducked his head. “Sorry, I should have asked first.”

Clint got a finger under Bucky’s chin and nudged his head up. “Maybe, because consent is sexy. On the other hand, I’m over 6 feet tall, babe. No one manhandles me.” He gave Bucky another heated look. “I liked it.”

“Babe, huh?”

Clint blushed and rolled his eyes. “My mouth runs during sex. Plus, I’m still coffee deprived.”

“Should I let you go?”

“Don’t you dare!”

Bucky grinned because he’d only been teasing. Now that he had Clint close, he wasn’t ready to let go yet.

“I’m guessing since you have me here that it’s okay to touch you,” Clint said. “But you have to tell me if there’s anywhere you don’t want me to touch you.”

“You’ve noticed, haven’t you?”

“That you’re very careful in allowing how you’re touched?” Clint smiled softly. “Yeah, I noticed.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.”

“s okay. I just never want to do something that hurts you.”

“You wouldn’t.”

If Bucky hadn’t believed that, they wouldn’t be here like this now. He gave Clint’s waist a squeeze.

“Hey, same goes. You have any no fly zones?”

Clint laughed, breaking the tension the way Bucky had hoped. “My ears. I don’t like them touched when my aids are in.”

“Got it.” He tipped his head towards his left shoulder. “It doesn’t hurt anymore but no one touches it except when I have maintenance.”

“Maintenance?” Clint frowned. “You’re not a car, James.”

Bucky snickered. “Point. But I’ve seen so many doctors since it happened, and I still have to see Stark so he can run tests and things. It’s just kind of become a joke.”

He felt Clint relax in his lap. “Okay then, as long as they’re not treating you badly.”

“You’re pretty damn amazing, you know that?”

There went Clint’s blush again. He hid it behind an eye roll and a kiss to Bucky’s nose, the weirdo. Bucky hid his nerves behind more teasing.

“I remember you mentioning my hair. And kisses. Those were definitely mentioned, Barton.”

“Hmm. I think you’re right.”

Clint ran his fingertips gently up Bucky’s arms. The sensation was muted on the left, just pressure, but the heat on the right more than made up for it. Bucky couldn’t stop a shiver.

“Okay?” Clint asked.

“Yes, very okay.”

Clint smiled, traced the curve of Bucky’s right shoulder before he lifted both hands to cup Bucky’s face. He traced a thumb over Bucky’s chin.

“I love your stubble. There’s this little patch of gray right here.”

Bucky made an outraged sound. Clint just grinned and leaned down to kiss it.

“It’s like it was put there just to torment me. I’ve been dying to kiss it forever.”

Bucky huffed out a breath. “You haven’t known me forever.”

“Says you.”

Clint kissed him again, just shy of the corner of his mouth and Bucky had to fight not to squirm with anticipation. Clint lifted his head, gaze straying to Bucky’s mouth and Bucky thought this might be it. Instead, Clint sat up and reached for the hair tie securing Bucky’s bun. When he didn’t do anything else, Bucky frowned up at him.

“Hush,” Clint said. “I’m savoring the moment. Been waiting for this too.”

“You’re ridiculous.”

Bucky’s tone was undeniably fond, and it made Clint grin down at him. Clint began to ease the hair tie loose, his gaze leaving Bucky’s so he could watch as Bucky’s hair fell down around his shoulders. He made the kind of pornographic sound that was usually reserved for coffee.

“Jesus, James, you’re fucking gorgeous.”

Clint slid his fingers into Bucky’s hair, massaging gently at Bucky’s scalp. Bucky groaned low in his throat and Clint laughed.

“You sound like a big, contented cat.”

Bucky grinned, butted his head into Clint’s hands in the same kind of demand for more that Alpine used. Clint obliged, combing his fingers through Bucky’s hair until it lay neatly. Bucky leaned forward to rest his forehead against Clint’s.

“Well that was new.”

“No one pets you?”

“Not really a thing, no.”

Steve was more of a back-rubber, which Bucky enjoyed. Just not in the same way he was enjoying having Clint close. Thank God. That would be awkward.

Clint stayed still and let Bucky have a moment. Up close like this, Clint’s eyes were amazing. They were a riot of color, blue and green mixed with gold and they held such warmth that it stunned Bucky. He leaned forward the last little bit and let his mouth brush against Clint’s.

Bucky wasn’t even sure it could be called a kiss. It was the softest touch, Clint’s breath warm against his lips. Then Clint tilted his head just right and they found their perfect fit, Clint deepening the kiss as his fingers tightened in Bucky’s hair. Bucky kissed back, slid his hands up Clint’s sides before resting them on Clint’s arms. Clint had amazing arms and shoulders from years of archery. Bucky had been admiring them from afar, but now he had permission to touch. He gripped Clint’s biceps, fingertips sliding under the edges of his sleeves.

Clint groaned, licked along Bucky’s bottom lip. Bucky opened to him, breath hitching when Clint’s tongue touched his. Clint pulled back a little, nipped Bucky’s bottom lip as he looked into Bucky’s eyes. Whatever he saw there had him groaning again before he dove back in, tongue licking into Bucky’s mouth. The kisses Clint was giving him now were incendiary, and Bucky was rock hard in his pajama pants. He felt on the edge already, like all it would take was Clint’s mouth on his to having him coming.

Clint shifted closer, his ass right over Bucky’s cock. He could feel Clint’s erection pressed up against his stomach and he tore his mouth from Clint’s with a curse. Clint went still as Bucky tried to catch his breath.

“Sorry, Clint. Sorry. I need...”

Clint ran his hands soothingly along Bucky’s arms. “No sorry. Whatever you need. This is your pace, remember?”

Bucky closed his eyes and rested his forehead against Clint’s. He gave a little whimper when Clint scooted back, removing his weight off Bucky’s cock. It was a blessing and a curse. Clint murmured softly to him, just random nonsense while Bucky calmed down. When he felt more in control, he lifted his head and looked at Clint.

“Thanks.”

Clint traced a thumb across Bucky’s cheekbone. “It’s okay. That escalated quickly.”

Bucky chuckled at that. “That’s for sure. You’re a damn fine kisser.”

“Back at ya.”

Bucky slid an arm around Clint’s waist, keeping him close but not close enough to ramp things back up. Clint’s hand had drifted to Bucky’s hair and he was playing gently with it. The silence stretched out until Clint broke it.

“Was all of that okay?”

“More than.” Bucky reached for Clint’s free hand and tangled their fingers. “Like I said, I haven’t been with anyone since the accident, and you already know that I don’t let people touch me. Kind of got to the point of no return quicker than I thought.”

“Same for me.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, really.” Clint’s smile was fond. “I’m going to be honest with you. I like sex and I have quite a bit of it. It's always a random hookup though. It's not… they don't stay, and I don't want them to. But you."

He hesitated for a moment. Bucky squeezed his fingers. "But me what?"

"I liked you before it ever got to the possibility of nakedness. I don't do that. Sleep with people I like, or even know." His smile was crooked. Bucky wanted to kiss it. "I want more than that with you."

Bucky had to kiss him then and he did, swooping in for a quick peck. "I do too."

He wanted it enough that it was fucking scary. He didn't fool himself into thinking it would be easy. Bucky had enough issues to fill a library. He was going to try, though, and that had to be a good start.

Clint must have noticed that his thoughts had wandered because he gave a little tug on Bucky's hair. Bucky's body had finally started to calm down, but his dick gave an interested twitch at the tug, making Bucky glare half-heartedly at Clint.

"Stop it. I'm not coming in my pants like a teenager."

Clint sighed, but let go of Bucky's hair. "Fine. I like those pants, and I don't want you to ruin them."

"You were serious before? About loving these pajamas?"

"Pizzas, James. There are pizzas all over your pants. Then you went and bent over and there were pizza slices stretched over your perfect ass. I almost died."

Bucky burst out laughing. "You are so strange sometimes. I love it."

He was still laughing as he reached out and took the hair tie from around Clint's wrist. He scooped up his hair and twisted it back in a quick bun, secured it with the hair tie. Clint was staring at him, mouth agape, and Bucky let his arms fall slowly down.

"You weren't kidding about the hair either, were you?"

"God no," Clint groaned. "That was one of the sexiest things I've ever seen, baby."

They stared at one another for long moments and to Bucky it seemed like the heat in Clint's kitchen went up fifty degrees. He swallowed hard, gently pushed at Clint until he slid off Bucky's lap.

"I think I should go."

"You sure?"

"Yeah. If I stay, I'm not going to be able to stop touching you." Bucky stood up, close to Clint but not touching him. "I'm not ready for that. Honestly, I'm not sure what I'm ready for, but it's not… not all of that yet."

Clint smiled reassuringly. "It's okay. We'll go as slow as you need to."

Clint walked Bucky to the door. They both hesitated before Clint rolled his eyes and leaned down to kiss the corner of Bucky's mouth.

"Go enjoy the rest of your day. I'm going to go take a cold shower or something."

"Or something? Bucky asked, full of fake innocence.

"You're a tease, James Buchanan. Fine. I want you to get out of here so I can go jerk off and put myself out of my misery."

Bucky groaned. "Thanks a lot, Clint. How am I not supposed to think about that now?"

"Who said you had to?" He reached out to tap the tip of Bucky's nose. "You can think about me while you get yourself off. I won't mind."

"Oh God." Bucky blew out a breath. "Will you think about me? While you…"

Clint's eyes were dark with arousal. "Oh yeah. If you're okay with that."

"More than okay."

Bucky left in a hurry after that, knowing that if he stayed, he'd be tempted to push himself past where he was comfortable.

➳✪➳

That day seemed to open the floodgates, and he and Clint began texting regularly. They had exchanged numbers well before that, but Bucky was always wary of being too annoying. Clint would send him random gifs or pictures once in a while, but nothing regular. Now they texted off and on all day, about anything at all. Bucky would send pictures of whatever he was making for dinner or tell Clint about a movie or TV show he was watching. Clint sent him pictures from the range, and random shots of whatever caught his eye when he was on his way home.

Bucky got better about feeling like an annoyance when he showed up Clint's place too. He no longer rationed himself to every other day or whenever FedEx screwed up (which it was still doing sometimes). They'd make lunch together or order something and hang out on Clint's couch. Inevitably that would lead to making out because Clint was gorgeous, and Bucky was rediscovering his sex drive. It was almost as frustrating as being a teenager because hands stayed firmly on top of clothes and Bucky wasn't quite ready to ask for that to change. They hadn't even gotten one another off yet, Bucky always having to back down before that happened.

Clint never made him feel like it was a problem. He knew Clint wanted him, that it wasn't indifference that had him backing off as soon as Bucky called a halt to things. Clint cared about Bucky, and that went a long way to making Bucky more and more comfortable as the days went by.

Bucky had always found it easier to talk to Sam via text and he was opening up more to Clint using that method of communication. It wasn't as hard to be vulnerable when he could tell Clint things without his brain analyzing all of Clint's expressions. It seemed to work for Clint as well.

He was sprawled on the couch watching A Charlie Brown Christmas one night while Steve was at school late. He'd volunteered to help the music department get ready for the annual Christmas concert because he was crazy like that. He was watching Snoopy dance on the piano when he got a text from Clint.

What are you doing?

He smiled; it was the first time he'd heard from Clint that day. He'd had to go to some sort of teacher's meeting at the prep school he taught at full time.

Watching Snoopy. How about you?

Curled up on the couch, missing you.

Bucky grinned and sent off a grinning emoji and some heart eyes. Clint sent him back heart eyes and an arrow. Bucky snorted.

How'd your meeting at school go?

Okay. Everyone wanted to go out for drinks after. I hate that shit.

Really?

Yeah. I don't drink and it isn't any fun watching a bunch of teachers get drunk. Plus, someone's always trying to get me to have 'Just one, Barton.' I hate when people can't take no for an answer.

Bucky sent back the sad emoji. Before he could send anything else, he saw the ellipses that said Clint was typing again.

My dad was a drunk. A mean one. He'd tie one on and come home to beat the shit out of us. It's how my hearing got damaged. He used to box my ears all the time.

Bucky's heart squeezed painfully in his chest. He suddenly had so much sympathy for Steve and anyone else who'd tried to find words to express their sorrow about his arm. There wasn't anything that he could say, no matter how much he wanted to. In typical Clint fashion, he didn't wait for platitudes.

Enough about me. Let's talk about you. What are you wearing?

Clint.

You are definitely not wearing me but you could be.

A string of emojis followed, including Clint's typical arrow and the winking emoji. Bucky burst out laughing.

That was terrible.

Did you smile?

Yes.

Then my work here is done.

A smiley face followed before Clint texted again.

I'm going to shower and turn in early. Want to come over for breakfast?

Maybe. What have you got?

Eggo Waffles and me?

Sold.

➳✪➳

Christmas was fast approaching, which meant Steve would be on winter break. He would definitely notice that Bucky was spending more and more of the day out of the apartment with Clint. It was a problem that Bucky hadn't figured out how to handle yet.

"Why don't you just tell him?"

Bucky grumbled, pressed his face into Clint's thigh. They were hanging out at Clint's, watching Netflix. Bucky had his head in Clint's lap so Clint could play with his hair.

"It's stupid."

"I doubt that."

Bucky turned to lie on his back, tugged Clint down for a kiss. Clint's hand rested on Bucky's stomach and he could feel the warmth even through his shirt. He made a soft sound into Clint's mouth as he deepened the kiss. Clint kissed him back for long moments before pulling away.

"Are you trying to distract me, James?"

"Yep. Is it working?"

"Always."

Clint smiled down at Bucky, smoothed his hair back from his face. A thought hit and Bucky sat up to face Clint.

"Hey, you know it's not you, right?"

"Know what's not me?"

"It's not that I don't want Steve to meet you. I'm just not ready to share this yet."

Clint pulled Bucky in and kissed him. "Whenever you want to tell him is fine with me."

Relieved that Clint wasn't upset, Bucky scrambled into Clint's lap and hugged him tight. He kissed Clint's nose. "You're too good to me."

"Not possible. You deserve all the good things."

"Including you?"

"If you want, yes."

"I want."

Bucky kissed Clint slow and sensuous, fingertips sliding under Clint's T-shirt to trace the muscles of his abs. They still hadn't been naked together, or gone beyond heavy petting, but Bucky was getting bolder. More confident. It helped that he could tell much Clint was into this, into him. He tugged on the hem of Clint's shirt.

"Can I take this off?"

"Yeah, course you can."

Bucky smiled, tugged the shirt up. Clint raised his arms obligingly and let Bucky pull the shirt completely off. He sucked in a breath, looking at Clint half naked and sprawled under him. He was all long lines and rippling muscle.

"Jesus, you're ridiculous. I've never even heard you mention going to the gym."

Clint made a face. "I hate the gym. I guess I just have a good metabolism. Plus, archery is good for the upper body."

"No freaking kidding," Bucky said, smoothing his palms up Clint's belly to his chest. He brushed his fingers over Clint's nipples, felt as well as heard Clint's sharp intake of breath. It was a heady feeling, knowing he was affecting Clint the way he was.

He sat up, smiling when Clint's hands immediately went to his hips to hold him steady. He locked eyes with Clint, saw nothing but desire and warmth in Clint's gaze. He took a breath, then before he could overthink it, he pulled his shirt off and tossed it aside.

Clint's eyes widened, but he didn't ask Bucky any questions. Bucky kind of loved that, how Clint always took him at his word as to what he was okay with. Clint's hands slid up his sides, making Bucky shiver. Clint paused with his hands splayed under Bucky's ribs, his gaze going to Bucky's left side before coming back to Bucky's face.

"Can I touch you?" He asked Bucky quietly.

"Please."

Clint smiled and leaned it, kissed the soft skin above Bucky's heart. He kissed Bucky's collarbone, his ruined shoulder. Another kiss to the seam where flesh and metal met, and Bucky shuddered hard. Clint's gaze flicked up, gauged the emotion on Bucky's face. Seemingly satisfied that Bucky wasn't in physical pain, his attention shifted back to Bucky's body. He gently kissed the mass of scarring that covered Bucky's skin along the edges of metal then sat back. His eyes were soft when they looked at Bucky.

"You're beautiful, baby. You know that, right?"

Bucky shuddered again. He couldn't count the number of people who had seen him shirtless thanks to his surgeries and rehab, but all of those people were professionals. Even Tony Stark could be considered in the same class since he'd made the arm. He hadn't let anyone see, sometimes couldn't look at the ruined part of himself.

"I believe you when you say you think I am."

Clint huffed out a laugh. "I guess that'll do for now."

He leaned in and kissed the seam of Bucky's metal arm again. Bucky laughed shakily and pushed him away.

"Don't. God don't make me cry all over you. That's like least sexy thing."

"Eh, release of endorphins. It happens."

"Not the first time we have sex, damn it."

Clint's brows shot up. "We're having sex?"

"I was kind of planning on it. Not like… umm."

"Penetration?" Clint asked with that ridiculous eyebrow wiggle he did when he teased Bucky.

"Yeah, that. That is not in the cards tonight."

"'s okay. I can wait."

Bucky smiled and kissed him because he had to. "I want to make you come."

Clint groaned, reached up to tangle his fingers in Bucky's hair as he kissed him. "Do I get to reciprocate?"

"Yeah. Just. Over my clothes? I'm not ready to take anything else off."

Clint made a show of looking over Bucky's body. "You're not wearing the pizza pants. We're good."

Bucky burst out laughing. He'd never laughed during sex before Clint. He shoved at Clint until he took the hint and lay down on the couch, tugging Bucky to crouch over him. Bucky leaned down to kiss him, licked into Clint's mouth when Clint opened for him. He could feel Clint's cock, hard under his thigh. His own was perking back up now that his emotions were getting back under control. He moved so that he was laid out over Clint, lining up their hips. Clint moaned low in his throat as he grabbed Bucky's ass.

"Good?" Bucky asked.

"So good, baby."

Clint's breathing was unsteady, and it hitched when Bucky rolled his hips. It drove Bucky crazy, knowing that he was having that effect on Clint. He wanted more, wanted those little pleased moans he was always able to coax from Clint when they made out. He kissed Clint, sucking eagerly on his tongue when Clint deepened the kiss. Clint's fingers were tight on his ass as they started to rock together. Bucky would be embarrassed at how close he was already, but he couldn't help it.

"Clint, I…"

Clint groaned. "Stop worrying, baby."

Clint lifted his head to recapture Bucky's mouth. It couldn't be comfortable, yet Clint didn't seem to have any complaints. He rolled his hips in counter to Bucky's, his thick cock rubbing against Bucky's. It felt amazing, and Bucky quit thinking, concentrated instead on how good Clint felt against him. His body was hard and toned, his thighs flexing under Bucky's as they rocked together. Bucky could feel the dampness of his pajama pants, knew Clint's would be the same.

"Clint, sweetheart, can I…"

Clint shuddered hard underneath him and Bucky realized that it was the first time he'd ever used a pet name with Clint. He made a note of the reaction before moving on to what he'd wanted.

"Can I touch you?"

Clint blinked at him, eyes dazed with his arousal. "You are touching me."

"No, sweetheart." Bucky slid a hand between them to rest on Clint's belly. "Your cock. I want to feel you come."

"Oh Christ."

Clint's eyes closed, his teeth digging into his bottom lip as he fought for control. He sucked in a breath, opened his eyes to look at Bucky.

"It's not going to take long."

"Is that a yes?"

"Yeah, James. You can touch me however you want."

Bucky kissed him as he slid his hand lower, fingers curling around Clint's cock through his pajama pants. They were wet with his precome and Bucky moaned low in his throat.

"You feel so good, sweetheart."

Clint whimpered, and the sound shot straight to Bucky's cock. He tightened his fingers around Clint, held his hand still as Clint thrust up into his hand. He moved his own hips almost by reflex, still rubbing off against Clint. It took a few more strokes before Clint was coming with a hoarse shout. Bucky could feel the heat and wetness of him through the cotton of his pajamas as he stroked Clint through his orgasm. He didn't let up until Clint sagged against the couch. Dazed eyes locked on Bucky's as Clint grasped at Bucky's ass.

"Your turn, baby. I want you to come all over me."

Bucky cursed, hips jerking against Clint. Clint shifted his leg and Bucky's next thrust had his cock sliding in the groove of Clint's hip. He rocked frantically, Clint whispering filth in his ear as he got closer and closer to coming. Clint's hands slid up his back, one coming to rest on Bucky's neck while the other slid into Bucky's hair. He tugged Bucky's hair and that was it. Bucky came hard against Clint's hip, Clint kissing his name off Bucky's lips.

After, they lay curled on the couch together, calming down. Clint held him close, lips against Bucky's temple. It felt good to be held, and Bucky reveled being able to enjoy it without feeling the cloying need to get away. He chuckled, rubbed his nose against Clint's cheek. He felt Clint's smile.

"What's so funny?"

"It feels so good lying with you like this that I almost don't care how gross my underwear is right now."

Clint cracked up, arms tightening around Bucky.

"You're a romantic, James."

"Mm-hmm."

They lay tangled up until Bucky's phone alarm went off. He sat up reluctantly, pausing to kiss Clint.

"I need to go home and shower. Steve will be home soon."

Clint didn't look any happier about Bucky leaving than Bucky did, but he let him go. They kissed for a long time at Clint's door until Bucky finally had to banish Clint back to the couch.

"I'm never going to leave if you're in touching distance."

"Fine. Text me later?"

"I will. Have a good night, sweetheart."

He left, the pleased look on Clint's face staying in his mind. He was in a good mood as he showered and changed his clothes. He was on the couch, channel surfing, when Steve came in.

"Hey, Buck, watching anything good?"

"Nah, nothing fun. How was school?"

He listened as Steve talked about his day and about helping to organize the upcoming Christmas concert at school. They followed their normal routine, eating a snack together before Steve headed to their little den area. They had a table and an easel set up there so Steve could work on art projects. His kids were making decorations for the concert, but there were some things Steve needed to do to get them ready.

He worked all the way until dinner, which gave Bucky time alone with his thoughts of Clint. He hadn't even realized that Steve was watching him until they were seated on the couch together with a pizza from Steve's favorite neighborhood place. He was pondering if there was a way to sneak a picture of dinner and send it to Clint when Steve cleared his throat.

"Bucky?"

Bucky looked over to find Steve staring at him. "Something wrong?"

"No. No, not at all," Steve said quickly. "You just… you seem happy."

"Oh."

He probably had been grinning like an idiot all night. He fought a blush, made himself keep eye contact with Steve.

"I guess I am. Had a nice day."

Steve beamed at him. "That's great, Bucky."

Bucky made himself smile back before they concentrated on their food. He was definitely going to have to tell Steve. He hated keeping something like this from him. Just not tonight.

➳✪➳

Two days later Bucky woke from a nightmare. Helpless fury had his fingers curling into sweat-damp sheets as he worked to calm his breathing. He wasn't sure if he wanted to cry or hit something. Things had been going so well. He got out of bed and padded across the apartment, let himself into Steve's room. Steve's bed was empty, and Bucky cursed savagely. He hadn't checked the time, hadn't realized that Steve would have already left for school.

Feeling gross, he went to shower off the fear sweat and the residual feelings from the nightmare. As he scrubbed up, he forced himself to take some calming breaths. He remembered the last time he'd had a nightmare and he was not going to react that way this time.

After his shower, he changed his sheets, stuffing the dirty ones into the laundry hamper. He put on fresh pajamas, the pizza ones Clint liked best. They made him feel a little better, even though he still didn't want to be alone. He sat on the edge of his bed, phone in hand as he thought about calling Clint. He'd not been around Clint on a bad day, and part of him didn't want to be. He didn't want Clint to see him like that.

Bucky sighed. He didn't even have to text Sam to know what Sam would say about things. If he wanted a relationship with Clint, he had to let Clint know all of him, good and bad. Because Bucky's PTSD was never going to go away. Finally, he texted Clint.

Hey. You awake?

Morning, baby. Yeah, I'm awake

Bucky typed out his text, took a deep breath, and hit send.

Had a nightmare. Don’t really want to be alone. Can you come down?

On my way.

Relief made Bucky's knees weak, and he didn't move from the bed until he heard Clint's knock. He went to let Clint in, grabbed his hand to tug him inside. He waved his free hand at the room.

"Place looks like yours. I'll give you a tour later."

Clint chuckled, didn't protest as Bucky pulled him along to his bedroom. It was the same room as Clint's, though Bucky hadn't been inside Clint's bedroom. It felt too much like making a commitment to have sex if they were in a bed. That wasn't the case today, as they paused by Bucky's bed so Clint could kick off his shoes.

"You mind? I kind of need a cuddle."

"Anything you want, baby. You know that."

Bucky shot Clint a grateful smile as he pulled back the clean blankets and sheets so they could crawl into bed. Bucky slid in first, settling on his side as Clint molded himself to Bucky's back. He pulled the blankets around them, kissed Bucky's temple.

"Let me know if you need me to give you some space."

"'kay. But I'm good now." He rested his hand over the one Clint had on his stomach. He breathed out, his body going boneless. "Thanks, Clint."

"Thank you for calling me." He nosed behind Bucky's ear, making Bucky grin. "I'm sorry you had a bad night, but I'm glad you trust me enough to let me in."

They lay curled up under the blankets, lights off and blackout curtains closed against the gray December day. Bucky was relaxed and comfortable, Clint's body a warm line along his back. He wasn't tired enough to go back to sleep, and it felt weird to lie there in silence. He tapped the back of Clint's hand.

"Tell me a story."

"Like a fairy tale?" Clint asked, amused. "I don’t think I know any."

"Nope, I want a story about my favorite subject."

"Pizza?"

"That's your favorite subject."

"What if I want to talk about my favorite subject?"

"Boring."

Clint kicked at Bucky's ankle. Bucky pinched the back of his and they subsided. He bit his lip, thinking.

"Guess I haven't told you much, huh?"

"You've told me plenty. Doesn't mean I don't want to know more."

Bucky's nightmare was still fresh and the experience that created it were a huge part of who Bucky was now. He linked his fingers with Clint's as he stared out into the darkness of the bedroom.

"Can I tell you about my arm?"

"You can, you don't have to."

"I know."

Bucky took a breath, deciding he might as well start at the beginning. "Steve's dad was career Army, his mom was a nurse. They were good people, you know? Always willing to help. Steve grew up wanting to be a patriot, like his dad. He was just a little guy, though. I think I told you that."

"A tiny ball of fury."

"That's him," Bucky laughed. "He wasn't even five and a half feet tall, didn't weigh nothing. He had health problems when were kids, was always sick. I don't know if that was part of it or not. Anyway, after his dad died it just seemed to make him want to join even more. With his size and his health…"

"There was no way they were going to take him."

"Nope. I mean, he probably could have been a medic or something. A nurse like his mom, then it probably wouldn't have mattered. He didn't want that. He wanted to fight. Wanted to fix all the wrongs." He smiled thinking of his friend. "That's just who Stevie is. He sees something broken and he wants to fix it.

Anyway, there was no way they were going let him join up, so I did it instead. What the hell, right? I didn't have plans for college. My parents wanted me to go but there wasn't anything I was passionate enough about studying to make it seem important to me. It was fine. They got over being mad at me and Steve was so damn proud when he saw me in uniform."

"Bet you're damn hot in a uniform."

"I don't think that was the appeal for Steve."

Clint snorted, making Bucky grin.

"Basic was fine. I had a good eye and when they put a gun in my hand it was like it had always been there. I ended up the best damn sniper the Army had seen in years."

He didn't want to think about the rest, didn't want to tell Clint anything about what it was like to be in the middle of a war. He'd never even told Steve.

"I was on my second tour when the accident happened. I don't remember it. Just flashes."

Heat and sand and pain. Blackness. Wanting his mom even though he was a goddamn adult and a sniper at that.

"When I woke up in the hospital, Steve was there. He was a junior in college by then and I hadn't seen him in like a year. Hadn't been able to come home and see anyone at all. He'd hit a growth spurt in his sophomore year. Shot up a foot and packed on over a hundred pounds of muscle. It was fucking surreal. I thought I was dreaming.

He was sitting by my bed, holding my right hand. I was so busy trying to figure out how this mountain of my man was my Stevie that I didn't even notice all the bandages on my left side. I was in and out of it for weeks. When I was finally lucid enough to remember, Steve was the one who broke the news."

Bucky can still remember alternately screaming and crying. Remembers Steve having a death grip on his hand, refusing to let go.

"I didn't know it until I got home. His letter must have gotten lost." Bucky shrugged. "Happened a lot out there. We'd get letters that were months old. Anyway, he'd lost his mom about six months before my accident."

"Aw fuck. Poor Steve."

"Yeah," Bucky said sadly. "She was a great woman, a second mom to me. Steve lost her and then there was me, getting blown up in the desert. I know he thought he was going to lose me too. The jerk will tell you he doesn't have trauma, but he does. He just barrels through it."

Clint hugged him close. Bucky shifted onto his back, waited while Clint adjusted his hold. He brought his metal hand up and skimmed his fingers along Clint's arm.

"I went through a lot of therapy when I got back, physical and mental. I've got good days and bad, you know that. But I'm lucky Stark decided to quit making weapons and start making prosthetics."

"Stark?"

"Yep. Made my arm. I wouldn't have been a good candidate because of the damage to my shoulder, but his prosthesis is different. It's cybernetic too so it works with my nerves and stuff. Functions like a real arm."

"It is a real arm."

"Okay, Sam."

Clint snickered. "Sorry, that was kind of therapist sounding, huh?"

"I'll forgive you."

Clint leaned down for a kiss before settling back at Bucky's side. "My ears are Stark tech too."

"No shit?" Bucky asked, surprised.

"No shit," Clint confirmed. "Natasha got me on some kind of list for them. They're the best I've ever owned."

"Huh. I had no idea Stark was into all that."

"Yeah, I never really paid attention. Natasha knows Stark somehow, but I've never met him. She says he's kind of arrogant, but a good guy under it all. Guess he'd have to be to make prosthetics and hearing aids and whatever else he's got his fingers into."

"Think that's pretty much Steve these days."

There was a long, shocked silence before Clint burst out laughing. "I cannot believe you just that."

Bucky was laughing too. "I swear I didn't mean to. It just slipped out."

They were laughing so hard neither of them heard the door open or noticed Steve until he flicked the light on. "Buck? You okay in… holy shit."

Clint and Bucky had frozen, both blinking against the sudden harsh light. Steve was staring at the bed, looking equal parts surprised and confused. Bucky couldn't blame him, he was confused too.

"What the hell are you doing here?"

"I live here."

"Har fucking har, Stevie. Why aren't you at school?"

"Uh, it's Saturday, Buck."

"Well shit. I didn't even realize what day it was. You weren't here when I woke up and I just assumed you were at school. Where were you?"

"Out running."

"In New York in December?" It's the first thing Clint has said, and Steve's attention swung to him. "Was someone chasing you?"

Steve's face did some sort of complicated confused thing, and Bucky had to smother a laugh.

"Uh no," Steve finally said. "I run for fun."

Clint turned to Bucky and mouthed 'For fun? Freak.' and Bucky lost it. Steve sighed heavily from his spot in the doorway as Bucky tried to get his laughter under control.

"I guess everything is okay in here. I'll, uh, go. Somewhere."

Steve sounded lost and that sobered Bucky up. He nudged Clint with his shoulder.

"Hey, can you give us a minute?"

"Course."

Clint shoved the covers back, leaned in to kiss Bucky. He seemed to think better of it for a second before he shrugged and kissed Bucky's chin, over the little patch of gray he said he was enamored with. Bucky rolled his eyes, same as he always did, and Clint grinned.

"I'll make coffee," Clint said, sliding out of bed.

"Everything should be easy to find. Don't make breakfast!"

"You burn something one time," Clint mumbled.

He skirted his way around Steve, who had moved out of the way of the door and was watching them with a bewildered look. When they were alone, he moved to sit with Bucky.

"Hell, no." Bucky pointed toward the desk. "You take your sweaty ass over there. I've already changed my sheets once today."

"Gross, Bucky."

"Not because of sex, asshole. Told you I had a nightmare."

Steve pulled the desk chair out and sat down, looking contrite. Sighing, Bucky slid to sit on the edge of the bed. They stared at one another for a few minutes before Steve dropped his head.

"He seemed…"

He trailed off, and Bucky sighed again. "Unfamiliar?"

Steve cracked a smile. "Sure, but not to you."

"I met Clint a few weeks ago. He lives upstairs."

"I see."

Steve's voice was full of hurt and that was the last Bucky had wanted. Damn it, he knew he should have come clean earlier.

"I wanted to tell you. It was just so new."

"What do you mean?"

Thankfully Steve didn't sound as hurt, more curious, and Bucky's nerves settled.

"I met him on accident and we just clicked. But I didn't realize at first that I liked as more than a friend. Been a while, you know?" Steve nodded in understanding. "I guess then I got scared. Like, what if I told you and you really happy for me?"

"That would have been bad?" Steve asked cautiously.

"Sort of. I mean, you'd have been happy and hopeful and all that and it would have been good, but then. What if he stopped liking me, you know? Then I'd have to tell you that and… shit. Does that even make sense?"

"I think I get what you mean."

Bucky grinned at him, relieved, and Steve smiled back.

"Is he the reason you've been so happy lately?"

"He helps, yeah." Bucky squared his shoulders and gave Steve his best Sam look. "But other people are not responsible for our happiness, Steve."

Steve snorted. "I know, I know. He's not a magic cure. But it's been good to see you smile."

Bucky could agree with that. He liked the way he'd been feeling lately. "Do you want to meet him for real then?"

Steve perked up, the big puppy. "Hell, yeah I do."

Bucky held up his hand. "Slow down. There are rules, Steven Grant."

Steve actually crossed his arms over his chest and pouted, the big dork. Bucky loved him a hell of a lot.

"Fine. What are the rules for meeting your…"

He raised an eyebrow expectantly, making Bucky pause. He and Clint hadn't put a label on this thing yet. He shrugged.

"Clint."

"What are the rules for meeting your Clint?"

That made warmth settle in Bucky's belly and he gave himself a mental smack. He had to focus here.

"You can meet him, but you don't get to grill him."

"But, Bucky, you're never brought a boy home before!"

Steve's eyes sparkled with mirth. Cursing, Bucky grabbed a pillow and threw it at his stupid head. Steve caught it and threw it back, still grinning.

"Behave yourself, Rogers. I mean it."

"You're no fun."

"Nope," Bucky agreed concerned. "Now go shower. I'm not introducing you to Clint while you smell like a gym sock."

Steve flipped him off as he left Bucky's room, presumably to go make himself presentable. Bucky got out of bed and went to the bathroom. He washed his face, quickly pulled his hair back into a ponytail. His pajamas were clean so they were staying. Satisfied, he went out to the kitchen to check on Clint.

Clint had his phone on the counter, Spotify playing softly. Clint didn't like silence, and he always had music or the television on in the background. He was watching the coffee drip like he was mesmerized. Hell, he probably was. Bucky had no idea how many cups the man had managed to have before he came to Bucky's rescue. Feeling a surge of affection, Bucky went to stand behind him. He wrapped his hands around Clint's waist, had to go up on tiptoes to rest his chin on Clint's shoulder.

He caught part of Clint's smile as Clint rested his arms on top of Bucky's. Bucky turned his head, nearly kissed behind Clint's ear before he remembered.

"Hey, sorry. Am I too close?"

Clint turned his head, eyes on Bucky's before he shook his head. He turned back to the coffee, tipped his head down to bare his neck for Bucky. Bucky's heartbeat triple time as he saw the shiny silver lines of old scarring.

"Think that was a beer bottle," Clint said quietly. "He didn't always use his hands."

Bucky's throat hurt as he fought not to say anything. Clint didn't like sympathy any more than he did. Instead, he took the gesture for the sign of trust it was and placed a very gentle kiss behind Clint's ear. Clint shuddered and Bucky held him harder.

"Okay?" He asked.

"I forget how sensitive they are." He tipped his head back onto Bucky's shoulder.

They stood that way until they heard Steve's bedroom door open and close. He'd be dressing which meant he'd be joining them soon. Bucky gave Clint a squeeze before letting him go.

"You hungry? I can make waffles."

Clint bounced on his heels, did a little shimmy. "With blueberries and ice cream?"

"How do you not a way a thousand pounds?"

Clint was grinning as he turned to face Bucky, but the expression dropped off his face when he saw him for the first time.

"Jesus Christ, James."

A slow smile curved Bucky's lips. "Problem, sweetheart?"

"You're wearing the pizza pants and a ponytail. You asshole."

"I can't believe all I need to seduce you is fake pizza and my hair."

Clint's eyes went dark. "What can I say? I'm easy when it comes to you."

The growing tension was broken by the sound of Steve's door opening and his gigantic feet smacking against the hardwood. He scowled.

"Way to kill the mood, huh?"

Clint patted his arm. "It's okay. We'll get it back later."

Bucky grumbled, but turned to greet Steve. Alpine was following along behind him. She sat at Bucky's feet and meowed until he picked her up for a cuddle.

"This is Alpine and the big lug over there is Steve."

Clint held is hand out to Steve with an easy smile. "Hey Steve. Bucky talks about you all the time."

Steve shook his hand, opened his mouth to say something that Bucky assumed would be sarcastic. Bucky pointed a metal finger at him.

"Be nice. It's not Clint's fault I didn't tell you about him."

Steve glared at him. "I know that. I wasn't going to be rude, Buck."

"Uh huh."

Bucky eyed the two of them and shook his head. He set Alpine down and went to the pantry to gather the ingredients he needed for breakfast. Standing there acting as a referee wasn't going to make things any smoother.

The three of them made breakfast together and it was surprisingly okay. Bucky didn’t let Clint near anything hot or sharp, but he could mix batter like a pro. Steve was used to being Bucky's kitchen assistant and it didn't take long for the three of them to be seated around the table with plates piled with waffles and bacon. Clint squirmed a little in his seat, grinning.

"What's so amusing?" Bucky asked.

"I'm trying to remember the last time I ate at a table. I don't even own a table."

He did, a small one tucked in a corner and covered with the supplies he needed to make arrows. When they ate at Clint's place they sat at the island or on the couch.

"We eat most meals here," Steve explained. "Unless we get takeout. Our moms were big on family dinners at the table."

"That's cool, that you guys have that."

Clint dug into his breakfast and after a moment Steve did the same, thankfully not asking questions. Conversation was stilted but flowed more easily as Clint worked his way through three cups of coffee. He was his usual funny, sarcastic self once he was fully awake, and Bucky could see Steve relaxing. He brightened even more when he found out Clint taught as well.

"It's not exactly the same," Clint laughed. "I don't mold young minds or anything. I just teach them how to shoot shit."

"I teach kids to draw shit," Steve said. "The stuff we do is just as important as math or science."

"Don’t start, Stevie," Bucky groaned. "Wait until you know Clint better before going on a rant about the state of education in this country."

Steve glared at him as Clint laughed. "Man, don't get me started on that. Pisses me off that ASL isn't standard but you can learn just about any other language you want to."

"You know ASL?" Steve asked.

"Yep." Clint turned his head to indicate the purple aid tugged behind his ear. "Didn't learn it until high school and that's only because Natasha found an online course that we could take at the library."

Steve was practically bouncing in his seat. "My kids actually just started learning it. We got some sort of grant or something to expand the language program and the board voted on ASL."

"No shit? That's fucking awesome."

Steve nodded eagerly. "They show me some when they're in my class, but I've been thinking about taking a class of my own. I like being able to help them with stuff that isn't just my class. If I needed some help or pointers or something, would it be okay to ask you?"

Clint looked surprised to be asked. "Oh. Sure, course you can. Taking a class is great, but the best way to learn is to sign with someone who is actually deaf."

"Would you teach me?" Bucky asked quietly.

Clint's cheeks went pink with surprised pleasure. "You want to learn to sign?"

Bucky nodded, wishing he'd asked before when he saw how much it meant to Clint. "I know you don't like to put your aids in first thing, and you have to if I come over. I'd really like to learn, if that's okay."

"Course it's okay." Clint turned to Steve. "I can teach you, if you want. You and Bucky could learn together."

"Man, that'd be great. Thank you, Clint."

Clint raised his hands and Bucky stared at the graceful motions as he signed to them while he spoke. "You're welcome."

Conversation flowed easily after that. After they cleaned up the kitchen, Steve clapped Clint on the back. "It was great to meet you. I'm going to hole up in the corner over there. I've got to finish a banner for the Christmas concert."

"Do you need some help?" Clint asked. "Bucky won't let me have anything sharp, but I can glue or hold shit together or something."

"Oh, sure. That's… why won't Bucky let you near sharp objects?"

"I’m a klutz," Clint said cheerfully. "Been known to stab and or cut myself. Pretty frequently, if I’m honest."

"But you're allowed around kids and arrows?" Steve asked.

"Oh, dude, I am magic with a bow. You should come watch me shoot sometime. You too, Buck."

Bucky caught Steve's confused look and gave a shake of his head. Clint had wandered off to peruse Steve's art supplies and thankfully missed the exchange. Bucky hadn't had to tell Clint that he was house… apartment building bound when his depression was at its worst. Steve reached out to him; his eyes full of sympathy. Bucky sighed, but let Steve pull him into a quick hug.

"I like him," he whispered into Bucky's ear.

"Me too, Stevie. Me too."

➳✪➳

Clint came around fairly often after that. He and Steve bonded quickly and were more alike than Bucky had noticed before. It was a little weird, to be honest, but he got over it. The three of them had dinner together once or twice a week. They took turns hosting those even if Bucky always cooked. He enjoyed it and Clint and Steve helped out as much he would let them. It was nice. Bucky was used to only having Steve. His parents had moved back to Indiana after Bucky and his sister, Becca, graduated high school. Becca was in college in California, and he Skyped with all of them regularly. They lived too far away for easy trips to visit, even when Bucky wasn't housebound.

The three of them were hanging out Steve and Bucky's on a quiet Saturday the week before Christmas. Steve was in his recliner with a sketchpad and pencil. Clint and Bucky were curled on the couch together, watching cartoons. Saturday cartoons had been a staple in the Barnes and Rogers households. Clint had missed out on that and Bucky had made it his mission to introduce Clint to the time-honored tradition.

They were in the middle of an episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when there was a knock on the door. Steve glanced up from his drawing with a frown.

"Are you expecting somebody, Bucky?"

Bucky snorted. "My social circle is right here, pal."

"You're not getting up to answer the door, are you?"

Bucky pulled Clint's arms tighter around him. "Nope, comfy."

"Ass," Steve muttered.

He got up to answer the door, so Bucky was counting it as a win. Steve came back with a box that he set on the table next to the couch.

"It's for Clint."

"Aw, package, no," Clint said mournfully.

Bucky laughed as they untangled from one another to sit up. He'd heard Clint use that expression for everything from dropping a piece of pizza to an empty coffee pot.

"Hasn't happened for a while," Bucky told him.

"Yeah. Should be the last of them anyway."

"I've got to ask. All these mysterious boxes just appear and then disappear into Natasha's room, never to be seen again. Should I be concerned? Is Natasha going to take over the world?"

"Someday probably," Clint said. "Not today, though."

He didn't say anything else and Bucky stared at him. "You aren't going to tell me?"

Steve was back in his chair, concentrating on his sketch. "He's terrible with shit like this. He's shaken every box under that tree at least three times. Even the ones for me."

"Didn't you buy the ones for Steve?" Clint asked.

"That is not important," Bucky answered with a pout. "You don’t have to tell me."

"It's not that. It's just…"

He hesitated, and Bucky's curiosity was killing him. "Come on, Clint. Don't make me break out the big guns."

"Does it count as big guns when one of them is metal?" Steve asked. "I feel like that's cheating."

"Clint doesn't care about my arms."

Clint's eyes widened. "You wouldn't."

His tone had Steve lowering the sketchbook to watch them curiously. Bucky didn’t care, his sole focus on Clint. He slipped the hair band off his right wrist and gathered up his hair. He took his time twisting it into a bun, secured it in place with practiced moves. Clint hadn't even blinked, transfixed as he watched Bucky do his hair. He whimpered as a stray lock of hair escaped the bun to lay against Bucky's temple.

"Oh Jesus," Steve said, exasperated. "That was sex thing."

"No one told you to watch, Steven."

"You're doing it in the living room, Bucky. Community property."

Clint had leaned forward to brush back the errant strand of Bucky's hair. His fingers were gentle as he tucked it behind Bucky's ear before he leaned in to kiss Bucky's stubble. Bucky laughed quietly.

"You're ridiculous."

"Mm hmm, you've said." Clint brushed his thumb over the spot he'd kissed. "Please never shave. I just love this spot so much."

Steve heaved a sigh. "I can leave, I guess."

Clint kissed Bucky again before he stood up. "No, it's cool. I need to get this upstairs and I suppose I should deal with the rest. Been procrastinating."

He looked down at Bucky who was practically bouncing with pent up curiosity. He could see in Clint's eyes the moment he caved.

"Okay, okay. I guess I owe you after the hair thing. That was very nice."

Bucky beamed. "I'm a nice guy."

Steve snorted; Bucky flipped him off with the metal hand. It seemed more effective when he used that one.

"I, umm, buy stuff. Presents and shit."

Bucky arched a brow. "That's it? It's Christmas. Why wouldn't you want to tell me?"

"It's not for friends. I mean, I do that too, but I take these to Crossroads."

It wasn't familiar to Bucky, but Steve lowered his sketchpad again.

"The Methodist Church?"

"Yeah." Clint rubbed at the back of his neck. "I don't practice but my mom was Methodist and they… well, this time of year they always need gift donations for the kids."

Bucky exchanged a glance with Steve. They could both tell this wasn't something Clint wanted to be thanked for. Steve set his sketchpad aside.

"Do you need help wrapping them?"

Clint smiled gratefully, though Bucky suspected it was because no one was making a big deal about it.

"Nat usually helps but she's out of the country on a job. So yeah. I haven't bought any wrapping paper or anything yet."

"That's not a problem."

Clint looked a little scared at the glee in Steve's tone. He was a smart man.

"Steve's an artist, Clint. We don't buy paper here."

"I'll get out the supplies if you guys want to go grab the gifts. Probably easier to bring them down here rather than taking my art stuff upstairs."

"Hell, no. We'll definitely bring the stuff down here." It'd take them years to get everything Steve deemed necessary upstairs. "That okay with you, Clint?"

"Sure, as long as you really don't mind helping."

"Are you kidding? Steve lives for this shit."

They left Steve happily digging through the living room closet where he stored his supplies. Bucky followed Clint to the elevator, barely wincing as the doors closed behind them. Clint noticed because those sharp eyes missed nothing.

"You okay?"

"Get a little claustrophobic sometimes. It's fine."

"Shit, sorry. We can take the stairs back down."

"I'll be okay only going up and down one flight," Bucky assured him, smiling.

In the end, it took multiple trips. Clint was blushing by the time he had all the toys stacked in Bucky and Steve's living room.

"Might have gone a little overboard this year."

"It won't take the three of us long."

Clint looked at Steve skeptically. Bucky just laughed and pulled him into a quick hug.

"Trust him. Steve's got this down."

In the end, it took them most of the day, and it was worth every second. Clint was a disaster with scissors, but damn handy with glue and glitter. He wasn't a half bad artist either, though the decorations he drew on his packages had no rhyme or reason that Bucky could see. It was awesome. Steve tended toward actual scenes; Clint went for a hodgepodge of whatever he was feeling in the moment. Bucky had a more minimalist style and liked curly bows. Sue him.

They finished close to dinner time. The table in the den was a mess of glitter and paper scraps, and all three men gave groans as they stretched out sore muscles. The stack of gaily wrapped presents looked awesome and Steve took a picture of his handiwork. Bucky's Christmas spirit tended to come and go but even was smiling as he took in their work. Clint came over to kiss him, eyes dancing.

"You've got glitter in your beard, baby. I love it."

Bucky smiled and tugged Clint in close, kissing him back. They kept it light, aware of Steve hovering nearby. Clint pulled away with a pat to Bucky's cheek then turned to Steve and opened his arms wide.

"Come on, big guy. Let me thank you."

Steve grinned and came in for a hug. Clint pulled him tight, hugged Steve hard enough he squeaked. Bucky burst out laughing, highly entertained. Since Steve had hit his growth spurt, there weren't many people they knew that were taller than him, but Clint had a good three inches on him. It was funny to see Clint tugging Steve around in the way Steve usually did to Bucky.

After they cleaned up, no one had the energy to cook. Steve ordered pizza and they sprawled comfortably in the living room to eat and unwind.

"I'm going to deliver those to the church tomorrow morning after services. You guys want to come help?"

Bucky froze, slice of pizza halfway to his mouth. Clint never asked for anything and he wanted so badly to go. He usually started out with small jaunts down the block when he was ready to leave the building but hadn't even managed that yet.

"I can't," he said miserably.

"Oh, it's okay if you're busy," Clint assured him.

Bucky knew that he meant it. He sighed, set down his pizza.

"It's not that. I actually can't. Go outside."

Clint looked at him, comprehension dawning in his eyes. "Oh. You're agoraphobic?"

"I don't think so? Just when the PTSD gets bad, I don't like to leave the building. Doesn’t feel safe. The hypervigilance will let up and then I can go down the block and stuff. I have to work up to going farther than that. It's why I'm not working right now."

It was hard not to feel ashamed, but Clint took it in stride.

"It's okay. I'll drop the presents off and then I can grab breakfast from the bakery that you like. Sound good?"

Bucky leaned in, kissed Clint's cheek. "Show me how to thank you."

"Not in front of Steve," Clint said, faux scandalized.

"In sign, jackass."

Clint snickered, the ass, showing Bucky how to sign thank you. He managed pretty well, he thought, as Clint smiled and signed you're welcome.

"Hey, Clint. I could go with tomorrow, if you want. I don't have anything planned."

"That'd be great. Thanks, Steve."

"You're welcome," Steve said, signing carefully at the same time.

The smile on Clint's face almost made up for the fact that Bucky couldn't join them in the morning.

➳✪➳

The next few days leading up to Christmas passed quickly. Steve was on break, though he spent quite a bit of time in Manhattan with Tony. Bucky didn't mind as much as he normally would. It allowed him to be with Clint without feeling like he was neglecting his best friend.

Christmas Day was quiet. Steve didn't have any family and Bucky's was in Indiana. He Skyped with them before breakfast, Steve wandering in and out of the conversation as he cooked for them. Steve wasn't the best chef, but he did an amazing breakfast.

After they ate, the exchanged presents before Steve got ready to go spend a couple of days with Tony. He'd been waffling between actually staying with Tony until Clint had come along. Bucky would be offended at the idea that he couldn't be left alone, but he knew that wasn't what it was about.

After Steve left, Bucky took his turn getting ready. He showered and dressed in the pizza pants and new, black long-sleeved T-shirt. He pushed the sleeves up to his elbows, blow dried his hair so he could put it up in a bun. Once he was dressed, he grabbed the bag containing Clint's gifts and headed upstairs.

Clint was all bed head and smiles when he let Bucky in. Bucky set the bag down and pulled him in, kissed him slow and easy until Clint had practically melted against him.

"Merry Christmas, sweetheart."

"Merry Christmas, James."

Bucky had been horrified to learn that Clint usually ordered takeout on Christmas. It wasn't a surprise, yet it had still bothered him. He'd bought the groceries he'd needed for a real, albeit it smaller, Christmas dinner and left everything at Clint's. Now he prepared and stuffed a small turkey while Clint washed and peeled potatoes to be mashed later. He'd made pumpkin pie that was safely in Clint's vegetable drawer because he'd never look in there. He'd made the dinner rolls ahead of time too because they'd warm up fine.

Nothing else had to be done while the turkey roasted so they curled up together on the couch to watch Christmas movies. That proved harder than Bucky expected. Bucky liked the Grinch, but Clint refused to watch the Jim Carrey version because it was 'creepy', and Bucky had seen the old cartoon a million times. Neither of them had realized there was a new animated version until they saw it trending on Netflix. They watched that, both of them agreeing it was a good update on the classic. Then they watched the Mickey Mouse version of A Christmas Carol after that. Bucky vaguely remembered that one too.

After that was break time so Bucky could finish up dinner. He let Clint mash the potatoes while he removed the stuff and carved the turkey. He wasn't crazy enough to let Clint near a carving knife; no ER trips on Christmas if Bucky had any say in it.

They filled their plates then sat side by side at Clint's island to eat. Clint had his ankle hooked around Bucky's, and he kept giving Bucky little sidelong looks while they ate.

"Food okay?"

"It's amazing, Buck. You always make me good food."

"Then why do you keep looking at me like that?"

"I like looking at you."

The simple words made Bucky blush. Clint smiled and kissed his cheek.

"Plus, I've never spent a holiday with someone I'm… seeing."

"Never?"

Clint laughed at Bucky's surprise. "I'm kind of a dumpster fire, Bucko. I don't exactly date."

"Other people are stupid then. You're perfect."

Clint ducked his head, a pleased smile on his lips. He shifted a little closer to Bucky and they finished their meal in companionable silence. After, they loaded up Clint's dishwasher and cleaned up the kitchen before deciding to open presents before dessert.

They sat on the floor in front of Clint's little tree and exchanged small gifts. Bucky had had an awful time choosing. This thing with Clint was so new that he was afraid to buy something that screamed out his feelings for Clint when he hadn't even admitted to himself that he had them. He hadn't wanted to go the other way, either, and buy impersonal gifts that he could have handed out to anyone on the street.

Clint seemed thrilled when he opened the box Bucky had filled with supplies for fletching his arrows. He knew Clint liked to experiment and make his own and he'd hoped Google had done a decent job of telling him the right things to buy. He'd gotten Clint a new hoodie, black with a purple target that Clint put on immediately. The next gift had Clint laughing as he pulled them out of the box.

"Oh my god, Bucky, you got me my own pizza pants!"

Clint had gotten Bucky three pairs of pajama pants of his own – one with little purple arrows on them, one with baby goats that made Bucky laugh, and a pair of Dodgers pants. He knew the story behind Bucky's Dodgers pants, and he was grinning evilly when Bucky opened those. Bucky also got a box of random science fiction novels that he couldn't wait to study in more detail, and a cookbook. The cookbook was one of the old-fashioned Betty Crocker ones with the red and white checked cover that Bucky remembered from his grandma's kitchen. Clint glanced away as Bucky thumbed through it.

"My mom had that one, and… I don't know. She never really used it. Stupid, huh?"

"No, sweetheart." He wrapped his arms Clint, kissed his nose. "I love it, and I'll definitely use it."

Clint's smile was bright and beautiful as he crawled over to sit in Bucky's lap. He cupped Bucky's face in his hands as he kissed him. Bucky smiled into it, setting the book aside in favor of touching Clint.

"You're too big to sit in my lap, goofball."

Clint pecked his nose and stood up. "'kay. Hang on a second."

Clint disappeared into the bedroom, came back with a quilt from his bed. He spread it out near the tree and sprawled out on his back, beckoning at Bucky. Bucky crawled his way up Clint's body, hands roaming as he straddled Clint's lap. Clint groaned as Bucky settled on his thighs.

"God you're evil. Why do I always forget that?"

"Old age?" Bucky asked innocently.

Clint made an outraged noise. "I'm only five years older than you, jerk."

He dug his fingers into Bucky's ribs. Bucky tried to jerk away, laughing. The tussling degenerated into wrestling and before Bucky knew it he found himself flat on his back under Clint. Clint went still, looking down at Bucky concern.

"This okay?"

Whenever they fooled around, Clint was always careful to make sure the touching was in Bucky's control. He was quite a bit bigger than Bucky, and well aware of it. Bucky knew that, just like he knew he was safe in Clint's hands. He parted his thighs and tugged Clint closer.

"Very okay. You feel good on top of me."

Clint groaned, took Bucky's mouth in a lazy kiss. He was careful to keep his full weight off Bucky, but he was close enough that Bucky could feel him hardening against his thigh. Bucky slid his hands up Clint's back, under his shirt in a wordless demand. Clint sat up long enough to tug his shirt off before coming back to blanket Bucky's body. His skin was warm, muscles rippling as Bucky ran his hands over Clint's back.

"God, Clint, I want..."

"Anything, baby."

"Can I see you?"

They'd jerked one another off plenty of times since their first mutual orgasm but always under clothes. Bucky was tired of only feeling Clint, wanted to see every inch of the gorgeous body that was against his. Clint kissed the corner of his mouth then stood up to shuck his pants and boxer briefs. He stood naked in the soft light from the Christmas tree, unashamed to let Bucky look his fill. He was all muscle and golden skin and Bucky's mouth watered as he took in the lines of his shoulders, the broad chest that narrowed to cut abs. His cock was thick against his thigh, and it jerked as Bucky stared at him.

"Jesus, sweetheart, get back down here."

Clint laughed as he dropped easily to his knees before fitting that long body comfortably over Bucky. Buck groaned at the heat he could feel even through his clothes, hands dropping to get a grip on Clint's ass as he rolled his hips against Clint's.

"Fuck that feels good," Clint groaned.

He rocked his hips, dragging his cock against the cotton of Bucky's pajama pants. He seemed perfectly content to be naked while Bucky was fully clothed, and Bucky knew he'd never ask. He slid his fingers into Clint's hair, lifted his chin in a wordless demand for a kiss. Clint obliged, tongue teasing at the seam of Bucky's lips until Bucky opened for him.

"You're so good to me, Clint," Bucky whispered against Clint's mouth.

"You deserve it." Clint smiled his crooked, bashful smile. "And I'm kind of crazy about you, baby. Didn't you know that?"

Bucky's heart tumbled. "Yeah, I kind of thought you might be."

Clint made a happy sound as he dove back down for another kiss. Bucky held him close, shivering under the onslaught of feelings Clint stirred up in him. He broke the kiss, panting.

"You can… you can take my clothes off. If you want to."

Clint groaned, going still on top of Bucky. "Yeah, God. Course I want to. If you do."

"I do." He lifted his head to kiss the corner of Clint's mouth. "Please, Clint."

Clint helped Bucky take his clothes off then shifted to lie at his side. He propped his head on his hand, the fingers of his other hand tracing Bucky's ribs. Bucky turned his head to look into Clint's eyes.

"You planning to just look?"

"For a minute, if you're okay with it. You're beautiful, James."

Bucky shivered as Clint rested his warm palm on Bucky's ribs, smoothed it down Bucky's trembling belly. Bucky's cock was fully hard, resting against his stomach. Clint bypassed it in favor of sliding his hand down to the crease of Bucky's thigh. Bucky parted his legs in clear invitation.

"Any no-fly zones?" Clint asked hoarsely.

Bucky felt his tension ease. Knowing how much Clint wanted him was a heady thing.

"Not today. Touch me however you want."

"Oh, wow. Merry Christmas to me."

Bucky burst out laughing as Clint came up onto his knees beside him. "Smooth, Barton."

"Right?" Clint said with a wink. "You're sprawled naked under my Christmas tree, James. Sure seems like a present to me."

Come on, then, get your hands all over me. I want it."

It had been a long time since Bucky had been with someone like this, and he'd never been with anyone who made him feel the way Clint did. Clint settled on his knees between Bucky's thighs, then seemed content to take his time now that he could touch Bucky like this. His hands mapped every inch of Bucky's body, from his thighs to his chest, thumb teasing over a nipple before he smoothed his hand over Bucky's metal shoulder. He traced the gold lines that snaked through the black metal, then fit his hands to the grooves of Bucky's hips.

"This spot right here? Drives me almost as crazy as the little gray patch in your beard."

"Oh yeah?" Bucky asked, pleased he didn't sound as breathless as he felt.

"Yeah. When you walk around without a shirt and your pajama pants are down low? Fuck. I can see just a glimpse of hair and it makes me want to see more. Makes me to drop to me knees and get my mouth on your cock."

"Fuck, Clint."

"Too much?"

"Probably," Bucky answered with real regret.

"s okay. We can work up to that. Could I kiss you though? Just one, so I know what you taste like."

"Oh God."

Bucky's fingers dug into the blanket, cock jerking against his stomach. His belly was wet with precome and Clint was staring down at him like he was a feast. Bucky reached up to rest his hand on Clint's bicep, wanting the contact.

"James?"

"Yes, please. Kiss me."

Clint flashed a quick smile at him before he bent his head to kiss Bucky's belly. He peppered Bucky's abs with kisses, and Bucky had started to relax when he felt the heat of Clint's tongue on his skin. He moaned low in his throat, fingers tightening on Clint's arm.

Clint licked at the precome on Bucky's belly, making pleased little sounds that had Bucky's cock jerking. Clint's gaze flicked to his before he licked over the head of Bucky's cock. Bucky cried out, and Clint froze.

"James?"

"I'm good, I swear. You can kiss me one more time, okay?"

"Okay, baby."

Clint placed the gentlest kiss to the tip of Bucky's cock, tongue snaking out quick for a last taste. He shifted his focus then, kisses the crease of Bucky's hip before trailing his lips down to Bucky's thigh. He rubbed his chin against the sensitive skin of Bucky's thigh.

"I fucking love your thighs."

"You do?" Bucky was still trying not to come all over himself, figured he could be forgiven for being confused.

"Uh huh." Clint kissed his thigh. "You're short, but you're built like a goddamn tank."

"Excuse you?" Bucky lifted his head to glare at the man lying between his thighs. "I am not short."

"Baby, you're short," Clint said affectionately. "I love it. But your shoulders are insane and these thighs? I want them wrapped around me while I eat you out."

"Holy fuck." Bucky reached down frantically to get a hand around his cock. He didn't want to come yet, but Clint was making it impossible. "How do you just say things like that?"

"I don't know," Clint shrugged. "I'm just telling you the things I'd like to do to you."

"Thought about it, huh?"

"All the time."

Clint's eyes were full of heat and Bucky knew he was telling the truth.

"Get up here, please. I need to kiss you."

Clint placed a last kiss on Bucky's thigh slid up to lie next to Bucky. His hand rested on Bucky's stomach as they kissed. Bucky was on edge, and he didn’t think Clint was unaffected, no matter how in charge he seemed to be.

Bucky rolled to lie on his side, flung a leg over Clint's hip. Clint made a hot sound into Bucky's mouth. Oh yeah, Clint was as desperate as he was. He tugged gently at Clint's hair until Clint broke their kiss to look at him.

"Will you do something for me?"

"Yeah, baby. What do you need?"

"I'm close and I want to come. Will you touch me?"

Clint reached for Bucky's cock. Bucky grabbed his wrist, redirecting Clint's hand down between his legs.

"Not my cock, my hole."

Clint's entire body went rigid and he dropped his forehead to rest against Bucky's. "Oh fuck."

"Don't put your fingers in me, that's too much right now. But I'm sensitive and I know your fingers are calloused from your bow. It'll feel amazing to have you touch me."

"Fuck, okay. Give me a second."

Bucky watched as Clint visibly fought to calm down. He let go of Clint's wrist, smiled when Clint slid his hand farther between his thighs. He felt Clint rub at the thin skin behind his balls before a fingertip rested gently against his hole.

"Good?"

"So good, sweetheart."

He rocked his hips against Clint's rubbing their cocks together as Clint teased over his hole. His touch was firm enough to feel good without using enough pressure to push inside of Bucky. Bucky kissed Clint as he reached down to wrap his fingers around Clint's cock. Clint moaned into his mouth, hips rolling with the rhythm Bucky set. He rubbed two fingers over Bucky's hole, his thumb pressing against Bucky's perineum. Bucky's body went tight, cock rubbing against Clint's stomach. They moved, messy and uncoordinated until Clint came all over Bucky's hand. Bucky wasn't far behind, his release wetting Clint's belly and spent cock.

Clint slipped his hand out from between Bucky's thighs and rolled to his back. Bucky sprawled out over him, content to bask in the heat of Clint's body.

They fell asleep under the tree, and Bucky didn't even care when they woke up the next morning covered in come, with aching backs from sleeping on the floor. It was still the best Christmas he'd had in years.

➳✪➳

New Year's Eve came in blink. Bucky was irritable, snappish with Clint and Steve alike in a way that made him ashamed. He knew what was bothering him, didn't know what he could do about it. The new year meant Clint would be going back to work. He knew that seeing Clint less wouldn't change the growing feelings between them. He just saw all the long, empty hours he'd been struggling to fill before he met Clint, and now that time seemed interminable.

Steve had quit asking what was wrong when the queries simply made Bucky exile himself to his room. Clint waited patiently, seeming to understand that talking about it wasn't going to fix anything. Bucky knew the problem, but he couldn't force his PTSD to lessen its grip so he could do anything about it.

Bucky had intended to wallow in his room for the entirety of New Year's Eve. Steve had taken one long at him and shoved him toward the shower. He'd snarled and railed; Steve had been patient and unyielding. Fucker.

"I'm calling Sam. You're not supposed to bully me into doing things I'm not capable of doing."

"Duh, I know. You're fully capable. This isn't your PTSD or your depression. You're having a tantrum. That's different. Now shower."

Bucky threw a shoe at him. Steve slammed the door on his way out, which meant his patience was a sham. Bucky did a victory dance on his way to the shower.

He was clean and dressed when he went into the living room. Steve took one look at his pajamas and marched him right back into his bedroom.

"Change."

"No."

"Bucky."

"We're only going upstairs to Clint's. I can't go outside, remember?" Bucky sneered.

A flicker of sympathy sparked in Steve's eyes then was gone almost as quickly as it appeared. "Clint is going to the trouble of having us over for New Year's. You can put on pants."

"Clint likes me without pants."

"James Buchanan Barnes."

Oh, full named by Steve. He never did that. It was possible Bucky had been a bigger dick this last week than he'd realized.

Before he could apologize, Steve apparently reached the end of his rope. He stomped over to Bucky, grabbed the waistband of his pajama pants and yanked at them as he dropped to his knees. Bucky's eyebrows shot up as his pants hit the floor, Steve kneeling at his feet. They stared at one another in complete shock.

"Well, this is awkward."

The voice at Bucky's bedroom door had both of them whipping their heads in that direction. Tony Stark stood in the doorway, elegantly dressed in a three-piece suit.

"I'll just go back out to the living room, yeah?"

Unperturbed as always, Tony disappeared, leaving Steve and Bucky staring at one another. Bucky broke first, letting out a snort at the absurdity of it all. Steve's lips twitched and then they were both howling. Bucky sank down to sit on the floor in front of Steve, tears rolling down his cheeks. The laughter was a much-needed release of emotion and he nearly threw himself at Steve.

"I'm sorry, Stevie."

"I know." Steve wrapped him up tight. "I'm sorry I lost my temper. I know that doesn't help."

"It doesn't, but you're right. This isn't about my depression or anything. I can do this, I was just being a dick about it."

"Want to talk about it?"

Bucky shook his head. "Later, maybe. You're right. Clint was nice enough to invite us up. I can be presentable."

Steve kissed his head again and then untangled himself from Bucky. He left Bucky to get dressed. Bucky was not doing the suit thing, and he'd die before wearing khakis like Steve. He tugged on a pair of dark wash skinny jeans and a maroon V-neck he knew that Clint liked.

Steve and Tony were waiting for him in the living room. Tony gave him a once over, shrugged.

"Guess you'll do."

Bucky rolled his eyes but followed them out the door. They headed upstairs to Clint's place. He could hear music behind the closed door, a little louder than Clint normally would have it. When Clint opened the door for them, he could see the place was decorated, recognized Steve's hand at work.

"Hey guys, come on in."

Inside, Bucky was surprised to see Sam talking to a beautiful redhead. Clint came over to hook his arm through Bucky's, a wide grin on his face.

"Natasha made it home. You have to come and meet her."

"I didn't know Sam was going to be here."

"Oh, that." Clint rubbed at the back of his neck. "I know you can't go out right now, so I talked to Steve and we decided to do a little thing here. If it gets to be too much, you can go back home for a while to decompress, or just hang out in my room."

Bucky stared up at him, stunned. "Wait, this is for me?"

"Well, all of us, but yeah. I wanted to spend New Year's with you and Steve helped me figure out a way to make it work."

Bucky cupped Clint's face in his hands, went up on tiptoes to kiss him. "Thank you."

Clint gave him a hug, kissed his stubble. "You're welcome, baby."

Bucky groaned and his face against Clint's shoulder. "God, I've been such a jerk lately."

"I know." Clint grinned when Bucky pinched his waist. "Still like you. Still going to do nice things for you. Now come and meet Nat."

Bucky let himself be led over to Natasha and Sam. Sam greeted him with a smile. Natasha was more reserved, but she didn't seem to hold Bucky's asshole tendencies against him. It could be that Clint had told her anything. Or it could be that was going to kill him and hide his body later.

Natasha smirked at him as if she could read his mind. "Clint's been happy when I've talked to him lately. Don't screw it up."

"I'm working on that."

"See that you do."

Bucky was saved from further conversation by the arrival of pizza. Clint turned down the music and everyone settled in with food and drinks. Bucky was a little surprised to see that no one was having alcohol. He couldn't, and he knew Clint didn't drink, but he'd assumed everyone else would be having something. It was kind of nice, not having to feel like the odd one out because he didn't have a beer or something in his hand.

After pizza, Clint pulled out some board games. It was amazing (in a scary way) to see what Monopoly could do to a group of adults. By the end, he was surprised that Natasha and Tony hadn't come to blows. Steve just raked in the cash with a grin on his face. Clint smiled sadly down at his lone dollar, glanced at the space full of Steve's hotels his dog had just landed on.

"Guess I wasn't meant to be real estate mogul," he said mournfully. "Please don't kick me out, Steve."

"'Don't worry about it." Steve patted his shoulder consolingly. "Tony has that big ugly building downtown. I bet he can find room for you. You can't miss it. It has his name on it and everything."

"I'll put your name on the next one, cupcake," Tony said cheerfully, making Steve blush.

The next few hours flew by as they played games and talked. As it got near midnight, Clint turned on the television so they could watch the ball drop. He'd turned the music back up a little and Sam was dancing with Natasha. Steve had Tony wrapped up as they swayed to a beat that wasn't anything close to what was on the radio. Clint stepped up behind Bucky and wrapped his arms around him, kissed his temple.

"Almost a new year, baby. Will you save your midnight kiss for me?"

Bucky turned around, slid his arms around Clint's neck. Clint smiled down at him as he wrapped his arms around Bucky's waist.

"Can I save all of my kisses for you?"

Clint's smile was soft. "I was hoping you would. I'm really kind of crazy about you, James."

"I'm really kind of crazy about you too."

Clint bent down to kiss him. Bucky could hear Tony and Steve teasing them about not waiting but he ignored them. Ending the old year kissing Clint was almost as good as starting the new year out the same way.