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The Manny

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Steve opened the door at the quiet knock and could only blink at the man standing on his porch. The gorgeously grungy brunette with blue grey eyes, an adorable dimpled chin covered by scruff, and hair pulled back into a messy bun, was definitely not what he expected when Natasha had recommended the guy as a nanny for their children. Manny? Steve still wasn’t sure of the proper name for him. Caretaker? Either way he looked like he could possibly bench press a truck and/or pick Steve up with one arm and looked like a complete grump.

Natasha said he was a total sweetheart and was excellent with children, but Steve was having his doubts. He knew about first impressions and the man, James, had yet to say a word so he shouldn’t be judging just on appearances, but surely he could have cleaned up a bit before starting his first day of work or at least attempted to smile. Steve felt guilty as hell. He knew how shitty being judged on your appearance felt.

Bucky gave the blonde a weak smile to hide the massive panic attack brewing below the surface. He was in no way, shape, or form prepared for the large blonde that opened the door. He’d been expecting some little nerdy guy when Natasha had said Art History Professor and babysitting a couple kids for a few hours in the afternoons seemed like a decent enough gig so he’d agreed without ever talking to or meeting the guy beforehand. He kind of wished he’d told Natasha no and taken the mission in Oklahoma of all places instead, even if it brought back nightmares of when he’d tripped and landed face first in a pile of cow crap the last time he’d been there.

Because holy fucking shit. Instant boner.

What the hell kind of art teacher was Rogers? What the hell kind of art history did he teach? Did he double as a model? Was he the nude model for his students? Art history people painted and shit too didn’t they? Did he moonlight as a stripper? Was the horrible dad khakis, cardigan, and t-shirt his stripper uniform? and where were the big, thick, acetate framed glasses? Hot For Teacher ran through Bucky's mind and he nearly groaned out loud as he pictured the gorgeous blue eyed blonde stripping. Fuuuck. He was screwed. So very screwed.

And not in the getting shoved face down on the bed and getting pounded until he couldn’t remember his own name kind of screwed. No. This was the oh so very dangerous wanting to fuck his boss kind of screwed. That didn’t end well. For anybody. He'd done that once and he wouldn't do it again. Granted his old boss had been an asshole of epic proportions, but he'd been a hot asshole. What Stark lacked in height he'd more than made up for below the belt.

It had been fun for a while, but then shit had gone downhill and Stark had started his hiding from feelings shit when there wasn’t supposed to be feelings anyway. Yeah, Bucky didn't do the whole fighting back from being pushed away thing. He had enjoyed his time with Stark, but he had not cared about him as much as he probably should have. It wasn’t like they were in a real relationship anyways. It had gotten weird at work when Bucky ended it so he had put in his resignation and left.

That was about a year ago and the brunette had been living off of his savings and crashing in Natasha’s spare room ever since. Well that and taking the odd job with her once in a while. Just so he didn’t lose touch with that part of himself. S.H.I.E.L.D. had tried to keep him on contract him full time, but he didn’t really do that anymore. Not unless Natasha asked for help.

Now she’d gotten him a job taking care of a hot blonde’s rugrats while he graded papers, sketches? paintings? or stripped (please be stripping) or whatever it was he did when not on campus.

“Um…” The blonde looked him over from head to toe (again) and Bucky grinned hooking his thumbs in his pockets. Blue eyes with little flecks of green followed the movement and Bucky tensed for a minute when they locked onto the gleaming metal of his left hand. In the end the blonde only smiled softly, apparently Natasha had warned him, and lifted his eyes to Bucky’s. He still didn’t speak and Bucky nearly rolled his eyes then broke the ice. Maybe he’d actually get in the door at some point.

“You Steve? Natasha sent me. Unless I’m in the wrong place?”

“No. I mean, yeah. I mean . . . Yes, I’m Steve. No, you’re not in the wrong place. Sorry. I just . . . please don’t be offended James, but you’re not at all what I was expecting when she said she’d found a nanny for my twins.”

“Bucky. And you’re not what I expected for an art history teacher so we’re even.” Bucky shrugged, sounding more than a little bit rude but he needed to keep his distance from Hot Art Stripper Steve and if he got friendly then there’d be feelings and that just wouldn’t work out. He couldn’t exactly afford to lose a job right now. And there were kids involved. He secretly adored children and hated when they got in the middle of relationships and wound up being hurt. So anything not remotely involving the kids was off the table.

Steve stepped aside to let Bucky in and turned to see Alexi and Alexa standing at the bottom of the stairs looking unlike the little hellions they usually were. That wasn’t to say they couldn’t be and weren’t usually sweet, but they were twins, they were nine, and they were redheads like their birth mother. So yeah. He loved his little demon babies. They grinned at him as if knowing what he was thinking and he winked making them giggle.

“Bucky, these are my kids. Alexi and Alexa. Kids this is your watcher Auntie Tasha found for you.”

What is this, an episode of Buffy? Bucky snorted. He was going to change his name to Giles and rename the twins Buffy and Dawn. Maybe Willow and Zander. It depended on how things went.

Alexa smiled sweetly but her brother only looked the older man over from head to toe and blinked, giving nothing away. He was more like Natasha than he ought to be especially since he only saw her a few times a year and had no clue she was his mother. Steve supposed Alexi’s slight distrust of new people was inherited from Natasha and Alexa’s trusting nature had been inherited from him.

Bucky smiled down at the two redheads that looked almost nothing like their father and quite a bit like a certain redheaded friend of his that he’d known for several years. He knew for a fact, at least he thought he did, that she didn’t have any children but the look that the boy was giving him was all Natasha. It showed absolutely nothing of what he was thinking and there was only one place he’d have learned that because Alexa and Steve’s faces were open books. Showing everything. Alexi was more like his mother. And why the hell hadn’t Natasha said anything about the kids being hers?

“Mr. Barnes is going to help you with homework, will cook dinner if he feels like it or if not you can order out, but you know the rules about that.”

“Pizza or Chinese once a week and every day besides that has to be something healthy.”

“So choose wisely.” Steve grinned and Alexa laughed. “Mr. Barnes will help you with anything you need, short of robbing a bank or a Candy Craze, and if there’s something he’s not sure about he will ask me.”

“Why can’t you help us,” Alexi asked quietly and in Russian. Steve sighed, not seeing Bucky’s raised brow, then answered in English.

“It’s rude to speak in other languages in front of someone who might not understand them and I’m really busy with work right now, baby. You know how busy Daddy gets with school this time of year. It’s only for a few weeks. I promise.”

“Okay.”

“Now, go get started on your homework. I’m going to get started on mine. English only.” The twins nodded then headed into the kitchen to sit at the table and start on their work.

Steve turned to Bucky. “Please don’t take them to rob a bank or a Candy Craze.”

“I make no guarantees. Well, I can guarantee we won’t be robbing a bank, but I’m afraid robbing a Candy Craze is on my bucket list and they seem like the perfect accomplices.” Bucky grinned for a second then schooled it into a slight frown. No flirting damn it! “Maybe we’ll hit the bank after Candy Craze.”

He shrugged then walked in the direction the kids had gone in, following the sound of whispered Russian interspersed with French. What even was that? Why mix the two languages? Were they tiny spies like their mother? And had Steve been one at some point? Was that how he knew Natasha? Was he S.H.I.E.L.D? How did he know her well enough to knock her up? Obviously the kids didn’t know she was really their mom and he didn’t want to interrogate them because only assholes stooped so low as to ask kids questions about their parents.

“What’s first,” he asked instead as he sat across from them. Alexa smiled sweetly and tapped her pencil on her math book. “Math blows,” he groaned reaching across the table for the most hated of school subjects.

“Das ist wahr,” Alexi mumbled.

“How many languages do you know?”

“Two and a half besides English. We just started on German last week.” Alexa was the one that answered him while her twin only shrugged.

“Why so many?”

“Auntie Tasha and Daddy wanted us to learn them.”

“Shut up, Lexa! You tell him too much.”

She stuck her tongue out at her brother but turned back to her math. Bucky smiled. Alexi was just like Natasha. Keeping everything close to the vest and not giving anything away unless he saw fit or needed to use what he had to bargain for something else.

Bucky planned on exploiting that a little bit he thought as they finished their math and started on science. He’d always been good at science and apparently it was Alexi’s favorite subject. He wasn’t going to do anything bad. Just give the kid a nudge into being civil or even friendly toward him. It would take some time, he knew. Just like it had taken Natasha time to trust him and befriend him. She didn’t trust easily. Never had. Even after so many years she still didn’t trust him enough to tell him she had twins with a gorgeous man she’d never mentioned before. True she wasn’t exactly their mother and appeared only to have been a surrogate, but still she had children and he’d never known about them.

“Okay, let’s do this,” Bucky murmured glancing over the lesson in their science book. “I thought you guys were in 3rd grade? What are they doing teaching genetics in 3rd grade now?”

“Advanced Science classes.”

“Awesome.”

***

Steve groaned opening another email from one of his students. Another student that wanted his advice or approval or any number of things they didn’t honestly need from him. At this point he didn’t even care what they did as long as they had something finished and turned in on time. He’d given them two options. The first was that each student was to pick one iconic painting and do a short, formal analysis and a research paper with an iconographic analysis. Or they could do a comparative analysis on two artworks by the same artist during different periods of their work. It really wasn’t that difficult. There was no reason his students should be having so much trouble. He’d let them off relatively easy considering how much he’d tortured his previous years’ students.

He glanced over the email that was asking him for an extra week on the assignment even though they’d been given a month to turn it in and he smacked his head on his desk. He loved his students. “I love my job. I love my job. I love my job,” he repeated the mantra as he denied the request. He could be spending time with his kids right now. He could be helping his own children with their homework instead of someone else’s. He could be cooking them dinner. Playing games. Sneaking down there and watching the hot brunette he didn’t know take care of his kids just because Natasha had promised he was a good guy.

Steve jolted when he realized he knew absolutely nothing about him other than the fact that Natasha said he was good with kids. Well, and the fact that he was gorgeous. It shocked him that he trusted her so much that he had just taken her word on it and not even bothered checking out Barnes on his own. Although, Natasha had infinitely better resources at her disposal than he did. He’d lost all of his abilities to take someone’s name and find out every little detail of their lives when he’d left his old life behind to become a teacher. To eventually become a father. Still he had intuition and though he and Barnes hadn’t spoken but for two seconds he seemed like a decent guy. He’d ask the twins what they thought about Bucky after he left for the evening. If they didn’t like him then he’d apologize to the gorgeous scruffy man and then call Natasha and tell her that the kids didn’t like him, beg her forgiveness, and hope she helped him find someone else to help him out with the kids for a few weeks.

He sighed wearily, God he was exhausted already, and started back on his emails.

When he finally finished in his office it was close to eight and he stood with a groan, popping his back and shoulders. He needed a taller desk. He didn’t even want a damn desk. He loved teaching, he honestly did, but sometimes he just wished he could paint again. That he didn’t have to worry about whether or not there were groceries in the fridge or if he could pay his bills. That kind of life, living from painting to painting, wouldn’t be right for the twins. He couldn’t put his children though that. If he was on his own he’d do it in a heartbeat but there were two other hearts he had to take care of and if sitting behind a desk at home for hours at a time after spending all day at campus with temperamental art students was the cost, then he would do it.

He headed down the stairs and smiled when he heard his children laughing. A deeper laugh followed and he nearly sighed. God, Bucky had a great laugh. He walked into the kitchen and saw the kids sitting on one side of the table, Bucky on the other and their books, a pizza, and a salad spread out between them. Alexi had ranch smeared on his chin and was chewing while laughing again at whatever Bucky had said. Alexa rolled her eyes at her twin and dabbed at her own mouth delicately.

“Hey. Homework done?”

Bucky straightened immediately from where he’d been leaning over the table toward the twins as they had talked and nodded. “Yeah. Everything’s done. Ordered pizza for dinner. Made a salad. Figured you were one of those annoying parents that wants their kids to have green leafy stuff all the time like it’ll be the end of the world without it.”

Well then. Steve only blinked at the brunette then looked the twins who had pretty much cleared their plates and from the amount of pizza gone from the box he figured they’d eaten decently enough. “Why don’t you two go get cleaned up for bed yeah? I’ll walk Mr. Barnes out.”

“Okay, Daddy.” Alexa grinned up at her father then grabbed her brother’s hand and dragged him out of the kitchen.

Steve watched them go then turned back to Bucky in time to see him schooling his smile into a frown. “Were they all right?”

“They were fine. They’re good kids. Smart. Alexi has a little bit of a hard time reading.”

“He’s dyslexic. He’s got a helper at school a couple days a week. She teaches him little tricks that help him switch things back around.”

“That’s good. Alexa is just lazy about her math. She can do it; she’s plenty smart, just lazy.”

“She hates math.”

“Everyone does.”

“Right. Well, thank you for doing this. I know it seems like I’m not . . .  as involved with my children as I should be.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You don’t have to. I know how it looks.” Steve waved a hand vaguely in the direction of the rest of the three-story house he’d bought with his inheritance and money he’d made working for S.H.I.E.L.D. He may have gone overboard, but it was a really nice house and he’d been tired of living in shoeboxes and didn’t want his babies to live in one either.

“A butler didn’t answer the door, Steve. Natasha told me you just need a bit of help right now. That’s it, that’s all. I’m the help. You don’t have to explain anything to me. I’m just here to take care of the kids in the afternoons.” With that Bucky shrugged one shoulder dismissively then walked out of the kitchen, leaving Steve staring after him and flinching when the front door opened then swung shut.

What an asshole! Steve glared at the empty doorway then sighed. He was pretty, but pretty didn’t excuse being a dick. What was his issue? Bucky didn’t seem to have one with the kids, actually seemed to like them, but what was his issue with Steve? He frowned walking up the stairs to the kid’s room to peek in on them to make sure they were getting ready for bed. He had tried to separate them and give them their own rooms but they kept sneaking back together so he had decided to leave them until they were ready. He figured that they would decide when they were ready to have separate rooms. Probably soon the way his demon babies had been fighting some days.

Alexa was already in her pajamas, lying on her bed and reading a book. Alexi was singing from the bathroom and Steve smiled then backed out of the room to go back downstairs and call Natasha and ask her if she was absolutely sure about Bucky Barnes.

Steve went back to the kitchen to start cleaning up the kid’s mess from dinner and swiped through his phone for Natasha’s number. She answered after the second ring making him think that she’d been waiting for him to call. She probably had.

“How’s it going, Rogers?”

“Nat, are you sure about this guy? He seems kinda … gruff? I mean he's alright with the kids but he's kind of a douchebag.” He was scraping the leftovers in the pail to take to the compost bin as he spoke.

Natasha laughed. “He'll be fine Steve. He's really a great guy. Give him time to get used to you. It's only been a day.”

Steve groaned, thunking his head on the kitchen counter. “If you're sure.”

“I wouldn’t have mentioned him at all if I wasn’t sure. They may not be my kids, but I still care about them, Steve.”

“Natasha,” he sighed. He sometimes felt like shit that he and Natasha were the only ones that knew she was the kid's mother. “You know we can tell them if you want to. They love you already.”

“I'd rather be Auntie Tasha than Mommy, Rogers. You know that.”

“I know.” Steve smiled weakly even though she couldn't see him.

“You know I'm fine with them just being your kids, Steve. That was the plan before we had them. Best sex I ever had though. You're sure you're gay?”

“Jesus, Natasha! You can’t just say shit like that!”

She giggled, a rarity for her, and then hung up before he could say anything else. At least she hadn't brought up the fact that he had been so drunk he could barely walk. And yeah, they could have gone to a clinic, would have been easier, but Natasha had refused. She worked for the government and had a healthy, or unhealthy if you wanted to get technical about it, dose of paranoia. So he'd gotten drunk off his ass, even though she wasn’t the first woman he had ever been with because he’d been with a couple before figuring out that they didn’t have the equipment he wanted, and they'd had sex.

He had run in the morning after he'd woken up to Natasha's giggles and comments on his form. Asking him if he was sure he was gay and did he want to go again to make sure. He had blushed the entire time he pulled his clothes on and then ran out of her apartment. A few weeks later she'd called to tell him she was pregnant and now, almost ten years later he had twin 3rd graders.

He had thought that they would get easier to take care of as they got older. He'd been wrong. He adored his twins. He really did. But still, more often than not, he realized he had no clue what he was doing. He did his best and they seemed happy, but he still worried. He was still apprehensive about getting a nanny for them because he'd seen single moms take care of their kids on their own and they had his total respect and admiration, but he just needed a little help now and again. He especially needed it when it got close to finals. He hated this time of year. Absolutely fucking hated it.

“Daddy!” He heard Alexi yell for him and Alexa followed her older brother soon after. He sighed then walked into their bedroom and smiled when he saw that they had pushed their beds together after he'd left the room.

“If you start fighting I'll move them back.” He softened the threat with a smile. He had already had to move their beds across the room on several occasions.

“We won't!” Alexa promised with a grin he didn't trust for a single second. That mischievous grin was all him. Alexi was more like Natasha. Quiet and always watching everyone around him. He was suspicious by nature like his birth mother and only trusted a select few. Steve counted himself lucky to be one of those few. Alexa loved everyone.

“What did you think about...Mr. Barnes?” He couldn't manage to call the ex-whatever branch of the military Natasha had found him in- a nanny. Or was he a manny? It was probably extremely juvenile that he wanted to giggle about it, but other than that Bucky was fucking gorgeous, even if he was a bit of a dick. Such a dick.

Both kids shrugged after looking at each other for a moment. “He's okay,” Alexa murmured. “He's good at math.”

“And he likes science too!” Alexi grinned and bounced halfway across their beds. “He said he's read all kinds of books about it!”

“So you think you should keep him?”

Alexa nodded quickly which Steve should have known it was a given with her. Alexi nodded too, slower this time.

“He's okay, Daddy.”

“All right, okay. We'll see how it goes.”

“I like him,” Alexa added with a grin. “We gonna read before bed?”

“What?”

“Are we going to read a book before bed?”

Steve stared down at her with playfully narrowed eyes then nodded and carefully flung himself down between them on the pushed together beds. They immediately snuggled against him and Alexi handed him a leather bound copy of Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales . The real ones. The scary ones that weren’t PC or dumbed down. It was the twins’ favorite book. “Which one should we read tonight?”

The Girl Without Hands !”

“Yeah?” They both nodded and Steve opened the book, flipping through pages until he found the story. “A certain miller had little by little fallen into poverty, and had nothing left but his mill and a large apple tree behind it. Once when he had gone into the forest to fetch wood, an old man stepped up to him whom he had never seen before and said, “Why dost thou plague thyself with cutting wood, I will make thee rich, if thou wilt promise me what is standing behind thy mill.”

“It’s not the apple tree,” Lexa warned quietly. Steve laughed then continued to read the short story.

He read three more stories before the twins fell asleep. He closed the book silently then gave them each a gentle kiss and slid out between them, turning to watch as they unerringly found each other and snuggled closely. They had always slept wrapped around each other. Had since birth practically. Neither of them wanting to be away from the other in their sleep. It was cute and he felt a little bit sad that one day they wouldn’t be together anymore. His babies were growing up. Christ, he wasn’t ready for that. He fled the room before he could start crying and closed their door all but a crack so he would hear if they woke and called for him. Truthfully they hadn’t needed him during the night in a long time, not unless one of them had a nightmare, but he still listened for them.

Steve walked down the stairs slowly, expertly dodging the creaky steps, and then moved around the house turning off the lights and locking the front door. He always did the kitchen lights and door last, taking out the day’s scraps to put in the compost for the garden he and the twins planted every year. They had carrots, cauliflower, and lettuce growing right now.  After those finished for the year they would turn the dirt over and plant pumpkins, gourds, and watermelon. They tried to plant something different every year and those were the things the twins had picked out this time around. Alexa read The Old Farmer’s Almanac religiously to see when they could begin planting their garden.

She and her brother wanted chickens too, had even checked the town’s charter to see if they were allowed and found out that they could have a maximum of four and only hens. They’d also made a list of breeds that were relatively docile and good layers. Checked for nutritional needs and proper care and housing. All of this, without even consulting Steve until they’d found out the proper intel. He thought that maybe they had listened to Natasha talking about work one too many times. Though he did almost go out and find them some chickens just because they had shown initiative and he was proud of them for doing their research before jumping in on their newest project. Still, he wasn’t sure if he was ready for chickens yet. Maybe they’d get some during the summer when they had more free time.

He shook his head with a smile as he went back up the stairs and to his bedroom. How had he gone from art school to army to S.H.I.E.L.D. to professor with twins who wanted to plant gardens and raise chickens? He was lucky. Beyond lucky. He knew he was. So many things he’d done in his life should have killed him. Being born with a list of illnesses as long as his arm, fighting fights he had no business getting into, working two jobs and going to art school while helping his mother pay her hospital bills, suddenly growing into his 6’2, 240 pound body a few years too late for puberty. (Well, he’d had a little bit of help.) His health problems were pretty much cleared up now. He’d retired from a life that definitely could have killed him and was happily raising his children. He had Natasha, his best friend who had kept him under her wing during his S.H.I.E.L.D. years, and Sam who was one of the counselors on campus and whom Steve had known for most of his life. He was definitely lucky. And right now he was definitely exhausted, he thought as he stripped down to his boxers and fell on his bed.

***

Bucky walked into Natasha’s house and groaned, “I hate you.”

She laughed from her place on the couch and watched him as he walked straight into the kitchen and grabbed one of his nasty beers that he absolutely loved. Some kind of pilsner from a local brewery. They were absolutely awful. “Why?”

“He’s fucking gorgeous.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. And you already knew that.” She only smiled sweetly, something that irritated him more often than not and he flopped down beside her. “Why didn't you tell me they were your kids?

“They aren't.” She gave him a look he couldn't decipher and he frowned looking down at his beer bottle, picking at the label and flicking the little pieces of paper on the coffee table. He knew he’d have to pick it up later or she’d strangle him, but he did it anyway.

“Alexi is a spitting image of you. Alexa looks a hair bit more like Steve than her brother, but they are definitely your kids.”

“The twins are not my children.” He glared at her for treating him like he was stupid and she sighed. “They're Steve's kids. I just gave birth to them. He was ready for babies, for family, he wasn’t in a relationship. I volunteered.”

“That's why you went off the radar for over a year.”

“Yeah, I told everyone it was an extended mission. Deep under cover. The whole mess. Steve got his babies and I get to play Auntie Tasha a few times a year. It’s good this way. Better. Definitely safer.”

“For them, or for you?” Green eyes narrowed dangerously at him but he held her gaze while taking a sip of his beer. She scared him, of course she did, but she had also been his best friend for the past ten years and he knew when she was really pissed off at him and when she was mildly irritated. Right now she was somewhere in the middle.

“Them. For Steve and the twins. You can’t have a family and do what we do for a living. Not really. You can pretend for a while. You can try to have a family, a partner, kids, a house and a dog, but it doesn’t last. It can’t. Not when so much of our lives revolve around lying to everyone we know. Steve got out. He was ready to leave it all behind. He got his house and he got his job and he got his babies. That’s the life he wanted and an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. can’t have that. So he does a job he mostly enjoys to provide the life for the twins that he never had. Trust me; it’s safer for all those involved that I’m not in their lives more than what I am.”

“So, did you send me to Steve’s to watch over the kids because you can’t? Or because I needed the money?”

“Because you needed the money, because Steve needs help right now and you’re the only other person I trust enough to help him take care of the kids. I’m sure he feels safer knowing your background.”

“How much of it?” It wasn’t Natasha’s story to tell. She had to know that. He knew she wouldn’t betray his trust, not unless there was no other option. So how much had she told Steve about his past? Had she told him about his being captured and tortured for six months? The loss of his left arm due to the infection they’d let him get by failing to clean the wounds properly? Though he’d always pretty much figured that was part of the torture. The explosion he had made while hoping to either escape or die trying that had caused the scarring down his left side and helped cauterize his other wounds? The years of therapy: mental and physical?

“Only that you joined S.H.I.E.L.D. pretty much right after he left and you’re ex-military. It’s not my story to tell, James.”

“Okay. I’m sorry. I just…”

“It’s fine. He never has to know if you don’t want him to.”

“You warned him about the arm though,” he murmured wiggling the fingers of his left hand. She snorted with a slight glare. He knew better than that.

“There was nothing to warn him about. It’s your arm. I’m sure he didn’t say a thing about it and neither would the twins. It’s an arm. It’s your arm. That’s all.”

“Yeah. Yeah, okay.” He downed the rest of his beer then swept the torn label pieces off the table and into his hand, carrying them with him when he stood and walked into the kitchen. He tossed the bottle and bits of paper into the trash a little harder than necessary, enjoying the loud clinking of glass hitting glass from previous bottles and watching the little pieces of paper fluttering down on top of the bottles. He almost went to the fridge for another beer then shook his head. He didn’t need it. Didn’t even want it. He was stressing over nothing honestly. He had nothing to worry about.

All he had to do was go to Steve’s around four, stay until eight or so helping the kids with homework and dinner, and then come home. That was it. That was all. Avoiding Art Stripper Steve wouldn’t be that much of a challenge because he’d be in his office all evening. Bucky would only have to see him for like five minutes max and he could restrain himself from doing something stupid for that long. Couldn’t he? Probably. Maybe especially if Steve was wearing another horrible khaki, cardigan, and shirt combo. That would be enough to let him hold himself back. Right? He glanced up at the ceiling pitifully looking for an answer. Not receiving one, he took a deep breath to steady himself and gave a decisive nod. He could do this.

Steve was gorgeous, so fucking gorgeous, but that didn’t mean Bucky was going to jump him first thing. Or ever. Not jumping him was good. Not sleeping with their boss was something a lot of people did right? Besides, Steve probably wasn’t interested. And probably he only liked women. So Bucky was worried over nothing. Right? Besides, there were kids involved and absolutely nothing could jeopardize the kids. Steve was his boss, his gorgeous blue-eyed boss, and that was that. He wasn’t his friend, wasn’t anything more than an employer. Bucky would do his job; he would take care of the kids and help them with their homework and that was it.

Bucky would take care of the kids, be just this side of rude to Steve so he wouldn’t get attached or have to worry about being friendly without it leading to flirting or something else equally stupid, and that was that. He’d be fine. Totally fine.    

 

 

Chapter Text

Bucky so wasn’t fine. He was dying. His heart was palpitating, his mouth was dry, he was sweating, he wasn’t even sure if he was blinking or not, he couldn’t breathe, his left arm was numb. Was he having a heart attack?

“Um…are you okay, Bucky? You look kind of…sweaty?” Steve blinked at the brunette who had yet to say a word. Did he have anxiety? Was he having a panic attack? It was the same thing as yesterday. Sort of. Bucky had looked him over from head to toe and then froze. He wasn’t even blinking. Steve wasn’t even sure if the brunette was breathing. “Hey, Bucky?” What if he was having some kind of episode? Natasha had said he was with S.H.I.E.L.D. and obviously something had happened to warrant the arm. S.H.I.E.L.D. was very, very, careful with whom they gave them to. So maybe not an episode? Steve wasn’t sure if he should reach out and touch Bucky to ground him or not. It would either be a blessing and help him or a curse and make it worse. Whatever it was. Should he call Natasha?

Your left arm is always numb, dumb shit. Fuck! Just breathe, Bucky. Breathe. It’s fine. You’re fine. You’re absolutely fine. He wasn’t fine. No, because Art Stripper Steve had opened the door wearing a grey V-neck tee shirt that was at least two sizes too small and a pair of faded, well-loved jeans that had holes worn in the knees and were so threadbare they were practically see through as they stretched around his thighs and were splattered with different colors of paint. His shirt clung to muscles that no art teacher should ever have, his pecs were begging Bucky to grab handfuls and his nipples were erect and pressing against the thin t-shirt knit. And his jeans? Oh, God. They barely concealed what Bucky thought would be a very impressive dick judging by the bulge behind the zipper. That wasn’t even the worst (best) part. No, the worst part of all of it was Steve was wearing the thick black acetate framed glasses Bucky thought he should have had on the day before. They made his eyes pop, appearing larger and bluer than they had before. He could see the little green specks even clearer and he kind of wanted to just fall into them and never leave.

Christ, why did this have to happen to him? Why couldn’t Steve have been the little tiny art nerd he’d imagined when Natasha had told him about the job? Why couldn’t he be a tiny dweeby guy? Not that there was anything wrong with little dweeby guys, Bucky’d had a twink or two in his time, but why did Steve have to be this massive, beefy, blonde? He was so Bucky’s kryptonite and if he was being honest with himself he kind of more than hated Natasha right now for doing this to him. He loved her for it too because, damn, but he needed to not have this in his life. Not when he was supposed to be watching the guy’s kids.

Oh shit! The kids . That’s why he was here. To help them with their homework and cook dinner and stuff. Not lust after their father. The kids that were currently standing at the bottom of the steps looking at him worriedly he noticed when he finally managed to drag his eyes away from their Adonis-like father. Alexa looked more worried than her brother, biting her bottom lip and frowning slightly. Alexi only blinked and one corner of his mouth turned down for a split second.

“Mr. Barnes!”

Bucky jumped, his heart racing in his chest, and swallowed loudly. It wasn’t a gulp. Really, it wasn’t. He looked back to Steve who was staring concernedly and reaching a hand out toward him slowly, choreographing his movements. “Huh? Oh, there’s the glasses.” Smooth Barnes. Real smooth.

“What?” Steve just blinked at him through those horrible (perfect) glasses. Bucky only shook his head. “Are you all right? Do you need to go home? Need me to call anyone for you?”

“What? No, no. I’m fine. Sorry, I just…”

“You looked like you were having a panic attack.”

“I’m okay. It’s nothing.” And it would continue to be nothing because the kids and bosses and relationships with bosses who had kids just wouldn’t work out. Someone would get hurt along the way and it would most likely be the kids. So yeah, no.

“You’re sure? You can take the evening off if you need it?”

God, he’s so sweet. “No, thanks though. I’m fine. I just need a glass of water and I’ll be right as rain.” Right as rain? Who even said that anymore? “I just started yesterday. It’d be kind of shitty of me to already be taking a day off anyway, Rogers. I’ll be fine in a minute.” As soon as Steve went to his office Bucky would be able to breathe again and focus on the two little redheads.

“Language, Mr. Barnes.” Steve’s concerned gaze shifted slightly toward a glare and the twins giggled.

“You say worse than that all the time, daddy,” Alexa said, the words muffled behind her hands as she giggled more.

“Ha! You got narked on.” Bucky snorted earning a glare from Steve and the twins giggled again. “I promise not to use any more bad language words around your spawn.”

“Please don’t call them spawn.”

“But you call us demon spawn all the time. We’re your little soulless ginger demon babies.”

Steve groaned pinching the bridge of his nose, pushing his glasses up his face. “Homework.”

“I like you, kid.” Bucky winked at Alexa and she giggled then ran into the kitchen with Alexi following after her slowly. “Your daughter is a nark.”

“I’m aware,” Steve groaned dropping his hand and let his glasses fall back to his nose. “So, watch what you say in front of them, yeah?”

Bucky gave him a cocky salute then slipped past him into the house, biting back a groan when his arm bumped into Steve causing little pulses to fire in his brain to let him know his left arm had been touched. He walked into the kitchen where Alexa was digging in the fridge and came out with a bottle of water then handed it to him and went to sit at the table and opened her math book. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome Mr. Barnes. You sure you’re okay? You looked like daddy made you nervous or something.”

“Nervous ain’t the word I would use.” She only tilted her head to the side, unblinking then grinned. “What’s up in the world of Math today?” He needed to distract her before she figured out that he was crushing hardcore on her daddy.

“We’re starting on Geometry. Just basic stuff, but I don’t understand the angles and hypotenuses and stuff.”

“Yeah…gimme your book. Let me read over your lesson and see if I can remember how to do this.” He did know, honestly, but he wasn’t sure he should explain angles and such to a third grader by telling her about how to judge angles and get the perfect head shot when using a sniper rifle. Steve probably wouldn’t appreciate it very much and then he’d be out of a job. Well, aside from not getting paid it wouldn’t suck that badly because then he wouldn’t have the temptation of the 6’2” Adonis that was making his way up the stairs. Bucky took a drink of his water then sat the bottle aside when Alexa slid the book over to him. “Let’s get this show on the road, huh?”

***

Steve sat at his desk, twirling an ink pen on the hardwood. Maybe he was being paranoid. Bucky seemed to have come out of his fit or whatever he’d been having and seemed fine for the two seconds he’d actually spoken before fleeing to the kitchen after a cocky salute that’d had Steve fighting back the urge to salute back. Steve had watched him with the kids for a couple minutes before going upstairs. Not because he didn’t trust him, but just in case whatever had happened, happened again. They started with Alexa’s math and Steve smiled softly when Bucky took her book and began reading over the lesson to reacquaint himself with something he probably hadn’t had to do in years.

Steve decided they were probably okay, but left his office door open as usual just in case something went wrong. Probably it wouldn’t. They’d be fine, just like the day before. It was fine. They were fine.

So now Steve was sat in his office staring down at the twirling ink pen instead of checking his emails and going over the samples his students had emailed of their work since last night and the end of their school day. Really he should just do it and get done with it, but he couldn’t concentrate on it for some reason. “You know why,” he murmured to himself spinning the ink pen once more.

Bucky. Bucky Barnes. Jesus. The man was gorgeous but a mess and a half. Steve was tempted to call Natasha again but he knew he’d get the same answer he’d gotten the day before. She trusted the brunette so he would too. He just wasn’t sure what to do if and when Bucky had another episode. He could ask Bucky, but he thought it might embarrass him. Either that or piss him off. Bucky seemed like someone who would have a short fuse where prying adults were involved, but would probably answer the million and one questions kids would ask with the endless patience of a saint. Bucky was probably a good guy like that. He probably never got impatient with kids. Not like Steve did sometimes when they were being brats or fighting.

He groaned dropping his head to his desk then whimpered. “Get to work. Get to work. Get to work.” He really needed to. The longer he fucked around the longer it would take him to get done. The longer Bucky would have to hang around and while he clearly liked the kids and Steve wasn’t at all biased (ha) when he wondered who wouldn’t like them, Bucky clearly didn’t like Steve for whatever reason. Steve was torn between wanting to work on that, to find out why the brunette didn’t like him, and wanting to just not be in the same room with him for longer than necessary. It unnerved Steve for some reason that the man he might have wanted to at the very least become friends with, seemed to hate him for some reason. He hadn’t even done anything to him.

Was it petty that he sort of wanted to give Bucky a reason to hate him? He’d never actually do it. There was no sense in being hurtful just to be hurtful. No reason to be cruel to anyone if it could be helped. So what the hell was Bucky Barnes’ problem? Not that he’d been cruel just…unfriendly.

Steve growled then sat up and lifted the screen of his laptop. “Let’s do this shit,” he murmured with a heavy sigh.

***

Bucky and the twins looked up at the ceiling as one when they heard a loud bang coming from upstairs. It happened again moments later, followed by rapid muted thuds and Bucky looked back to the twins. “What is that?”

“Daddy’s boxing. He does it when his students are being pains,” Alexa murmured looking back to her homework. She had one last science problem and then she would be done. Alexi had two more questions in his reading booklet before he was finished.

“Daddy boxes when he’s angry with them?” Jesus, don’t call him Daddy, Barnes. That’s a whole other situation. Not that Bucky was necessarily opposed to calling Steve Daddy at some point. Christ! Get it together, Barnes.

“Yeah. When they drive him crazy. It only happens around now. Maybe you can go talk to him? Tell him to take a break and he can have dinner with us tonight,” Alexi murmured finally looking back at his book.

“I dunno if that’s a good idea. Steve’s probably really busy. That’s why he hired me, right?”

“Well, yeah, but…” Alexa pouted and Bucky knew he was screwed. She looked so much like her daddy when she pouted. Bottom lip jutted out, that crease between her eyebrows. So adorable.

“I’ll go see in a few minutes, okay? No promises that he’ll join us though. Finish your work first.”

“Okay, Mr. Barnes.”

Bucky watched with a small smile as Alexa finished her paper and slammed her book shut then immediately turned to her brother and helped him read his last question and find the answer in his booklet. When they were finished they stacked all of their books, getting them neatly in order, then put them in their rucksacks and carried them to the living room to hang them on hooks by the door. When they came back they gave Bucky expectant looks as they sat at the table and he sighed heavily, one again glancing up at the ceiling where the muted thumps were still happening although maybe a bit slower. Maybe Steve had calmed down some.

“Fine. Let me go check. You two think about what you want for dinner tonight, okay?”

“Okay.”

Bucky walked out of the kitchen well aware of the twins’ eyes on him as he left. What were they doing? He shook his head and climbed the stairs slowly, listening to Steve hit the punching bag. He found him in a room that was obviously his office. The door was hanging open which explained how loud it had been downstairs. There was a large cherry wood desk and an office chair on one side. A laptop sat crookedly on the desk. A mason jar that held ink pens and all sorts of pencils sat on one corner and had most likely been made by one of the twins, probably Alexa since it was covered in butterflies, flowers, and pink glitter. There were sketches and drawings hung on the walls, some the twins had done he could tell and some were probably Steve’s.

One sketch caught his eye and he walked toward it slowly, smiling when he realized it was Natasha sitting on the couch with the twins when they’d been smaller. She was reading them a book and they were all smiling happily. Bucky found it kind of sad that they didn’t even realize the woman reading to them was their birth mother. Still, it wasn’t his job to worry about that. They would be told or they would realize it on their own. It wasn’t any of his business.

No, his business was trying to talk Steve into joining them for dinner. Steve had hired him to take care of the kids. That was the whole point of Bucky being here. Taking care of the kids for a few hours a day so Steve could finish whatever it was exactly that he did for a living. Bucky knew very little about art, knew even less about art school or art history. Again, not his job. That didn’t mean Bucky was supposed to come up here and talk Steve into eating dinner with his kids instead of pounding away at a defenseless punching bag.

He finally turned to see Steve so he could talk to him and nearly swallowed his tongue. Christ he had to quit this job before he keeled over. Steve was covered in sweat, his hair wet with it. He was still wearing the shirt and jeans combo, only now his shirt was damp with sweat, clinging to his back more obscenely than it already had been and his jeans had slipped down his hips, showing the waistband of his boxers and the slight swell at the top of his ass. And what a perfect ass it was. How the hell did Steve even have an ass like that if he worked out as much as he looked like he did? It jiggled enticingly as he hit the bag and bounced on his feet lightly while throwing punches that had the bag swaying on its stand. Bucky wanted to grab handfuls and bury his face between those perfect cheeks. Jesus, Buck, get it together man!

He cleared his throat, looking away from Steve to calm himself for a moment before he got lost in his own head again like he had earlier. That had been beyond mortifying. He hoped Steve didn’t realize what had been happening to him. Though Steve had been treating him like he’d been having a panic attack, which he guessed he had been, but not for whatever reason Steve was probably thinking. He shook his head at his own stupidity then walked closer to Steve, not realizing how silent his footsteps were until he spoke Steve’s name and the blonde whipped around in shock.

“Bucky!” Bucky took a few steps back and held his hands up and Steve lowered his own from where they’d been held in front of him defensively. Jesus, the last thing he needed to do was scare off the nanny. “What are you doing in here?”

“Um…the kids. You. Dinner. Tonight,” Bucky rambled then turned on his heels and left the room, closing the door behind him.

“Shit!” Steve shook his head and dropped to the floor, pulling his knees up to rest his forearms on them. He hadn’t heard Bucky come in over the noise in his head, the pounding beat of his fists on the canvas bag, the rush of blood in his ears. How long had Bucky been trying to get his attention? Had he even tried before then? “Fuck.” He groaned, hoping he hadn’t scared Bucky off, and then started unwrapping the sports tape from his hands.

He flexed his hands after the tape was off then stood and tossed it in the trash bin next to his desk. From what Bucky had rambled he figured the kids wanted him to take a break and eat dinner with them tonight. He only had a few emails left to answer and he could do that after dinner. For now he needed a shower. His shirt and jeans were clinging to him from sweat, his hair disheveled and sweat soaked. He was gross. And Bucky had seen him that way. Gorgeous mostly put together Bucky had seen him looking disgusting. Bucky was a mess, a beautiful mess, but still…right now he was more put together than Steve was. He grimaced then walked out of his office and to his bedroom to take a quick shower in the master bath and get ready for dinner.

Bucky fled to the kitchen were the twins were digging in the fridge and took a breath to steady himself so they wouldn’t notice anything had happened. Not that anything had happened except for startling Steve and then getting startled himself when Steve had whipped around with his fists up. Bucky knew Steve hadn’t been about to hit him, but with what they both did or had done for a living it wasn’t necessarily surprising. Though usually Bucky would’ve done the same thing Steve had instead of practically cowering away from him. Of course Bucky wasn’t usually distracted by hot, sweaty blondes with perfect bodies. He shook his head again then spoke to the twins.

“Figure anything out?”

“Chicken Caesar Salads?”

“Sounds good. Why don’t you guys go play or something while I get it ready?”

“We can help.”

“Yeah,” Bucky agreed with a grin as he grabbed the package of chicken out of the fridge. “But then I’d have to pay you out of my check and I’m pretty sure your daddy wouldn’t agree with that. I’m the hired help. You’re my wards until I go home.” He grinned at them when they rolled their eyes. “Go watch TV or something, yeah?”

“Yes, Mr. Barnes.” Alexi nodded then dragged his sister out of the kitchen, ignoring her protests that they should stay and help anyway.

Bucky smiled to himself as he sat the chicken on the cutting board on the counter then grabbed a skillet to sauté it in off of the hooks on the wall. He’d kill for the copper pots and pans that were hanging there. Figuratively anyway. He sat it on the stove and poured a little bit of oil in the pan, turning the fire on low so it could heat slowly while he sliced the chicken breasts in small pieces. After cutting up the chicken he tossed it into the skillet and sprinkled it with a few spices, salt and pepper. None of which the kids were allergic to. He’d memorized the list of their allergies Natasha had sent him before coming to work. The last thing he needed was to put one of his charges in the hospital. Steve would kick his fucking ass and if Steve didn’t, Natasha would for sure. He would be more careful with these spawn than anyone else’s he’d ever taken care of.

While the chicken was cooking he grabbed three different kinds of lettuce from the fridge and traded the one cutting board for another color coated one that had VEGGIES printed on one end. Bucky laughed. Everything was so organized here. Who needed more than one cutting board? That’s what washing them was for. He switched knives and started shredding the lettuce then remembered he hadn’t gotten a bowl out to mix the salad in and that he’d probably have to make the dressing too. Or not, he found after looking in the fridge and finding a bottle in the door.

***

Steve leaned against the kitchen door, watching Bucky move around the kitchen like he’d spent more than two days in it. He glided effortlessly from cabinet to cabinet, to the stove, to the fridge and back. His movements controlled and precise. He was in his element here. Humming to himself as he made dinner for them. Swaying his hips a bit as he cut a loaf of crusty bread into small chunks and tossed them in olive oil, Italian seasoning, and parmesan to make croutons. He was beautiful. He leaned down to slide the pan into the oven and Steve swallowed as he watched the baggy denim fucking mold to Bucky’s ass and thighs.

The brunette was still swaying his hips and Steve followed that sway, unable to tear his gaze from it. Damn, he had a nice ass. His thighs though, that’s what drew Steve’s gaze more than the frankly amazing ass. Bucky’s thighs were long and thick with muscle and Steve wanted to know exactly how hard Bucky could squeeze him with them if he were between them. Wanted to know what they felt like wrapped around his hips, around his shoulders, or fuck, even around his head while they did filthy, filthy things. Steve shuddered at the visions running through his head. There were lots of things Steve wanted to do to Bucky. All of them inappropriate; a little voice in the back of his head supplied, making him frown. Especially since Bucky was his kids’ nanny and his employee. That was definitely a breach of propriety of some kind.

Bucky stood and closed the oven door then turned the fire off under the chicken and set it aside to cool. He spun around, smiling to himself, and jolted when he saw Steve just inside the doorway of the kitchen leaning against the doorjamb. He’d showered since Bucky had scared the shit out of both of them and was wearing a navy blue long sleeved shirt that clung to his broad shoulders, pecs, and arms but was baggy everywhere else and another pair of ratty jeans that were covered in paint splatters. His hair was still wet, bangs hanging over his forehead in a way that suggested he hadn’t bothered to comb it. Maybe he’d just run his fingers through it and what Bucky wouldn’t do to run his own fingers through Steve’s hair to see if it felt as soft as it looked.

“Um…I’m sorry I went in your office. The kids heard you boxing. Said maybe you’d want to take a break and join us…them! for dinner. Definitely them. Not me. I mean. I’ll be here too, I guess? Unless you’re done working this evening and then I’ll go home after I finish making dinner? It’s almost done.”

“Relax, Bucky. It’s fine.” Steve smiled gently, hoping it would calm his nervous employee. He really sort of wanted to wrap Bucky in a gentle hug and comb his fingers through his long hair until he settled down. But again, that crossed the boundaries of propriety. Bucky being in his employ meant he couldn’t do that. Couldn’t settle a hand on Bucky’s shoulder or hug him or comb his fingers through his hair or press him up against the stainless steel fridge and kiss him to see if he tasted as sweet as he looked or like the vinegar his words usually held for Steve.

No, he was stuck watching Bucky stand nervously in his kitchen instead of being able to sing or hum or dance around like he had been before when he thought no one had been watching him. What Steve wouldn’t give to see Bucky act like that around him instead of the weird sort of disdain and now fear. Maybe Steve should send him home for the day.

“Are you okay, Bucky? Do you need to go home? It’s okay if you do. I won’t hold it against you.”

“What? No. I’m fine, Rogers. You just startled me. I was lost in my own head I guess.” Bucky shrugged turning back to the oven to check on the croutons and Steve bit his bottom lip, unable to help his gaze straying right back to Bucky’s ass and thighs as he leaned down.

Jesus. What was he doing? He needed to just go sit with the twins while Bucky finished getting dinner ready for them. He had just wanted to make sure Bucky was okay after the scare and from his episode when he’d first gotten to the house, but when he’d seen Bucky humming and dancing and gliding all over the kitchen he couldn’t help but watch and wonder if someday he might be able to make Bucky that comfortable around him instead of the almost panic or snarky remarks. It shouldn’t really matter he guessed as the little nagging voice reminded him yet again about Bucky being in his employ instead of a potential friend or significant other. Bucky probably thought he was a snob anyway because of the house and hiring a nanny to watch the kids a few hours a day anyway.

Steve shook his head and left the kitchen to go sit with his twins. They were sitting in the living room floor, one on either side of the coffee table, playing Go Fish and betting with pennies. They looked much too serious for their nine years, definitely inherited from Natasha, and he smiled as he sat on the couch.

“Deal me in on the next hand, huh?”

“Buy in is a dollar,” Alexi grinned sliding two more pennies toward the pile. He looked back to his sister and she matched his bet.

“I’m good for it. I got credit with the house.”

“Not tonight you don’t. Put up or shut up.” Alexi grinned again as he said it and Steve snorted.

“All right, let me go sell one of my kidneys. Then I’ll be flush.” He winked at the twins when they giggled then stood and walked to the cabinet where they kept their games and the rolls of pennies for game nights when they picked card games. He grabbed two rolls then walked back to the couch and slapped them down gently on the coffee table. “There. Deal me in next game.”

Alexi nodded sliding more pennies toward the pile then asked his sister for a five. She blinked at him then slid the five out of her hand of cards and he laughed taking it from her and slapping down his last two cards. She groaned starting to count how many pennies she had left. Steve unrolled his pennies and sat them in stacks of ten while Alexi pulled the pile of pennies toward himself then began to shuffle the cards.

Bucky finished making dinner, plating the salads and sitting the bottle of dressing on the table, putting empty glasses beside them and then setting out a pitcher of tea and a pitcher of water from the fridge. He nodded to himself after rechecking the three plates he’d made then walked to the living room where Steve and his kids were apparently gambling. It was for pennies, but still. Apparently he and Natasha had a couple little card sharks on their hands the way Rogers was frowning down at his cards. He pulled a card out of his hand and gave it to Alexa who giggled and slapped two cards down on the table next to a small pile of cards she’d already amassed.

Go Fish? Who gambled while playing Go Fish?

“You’re counting cards.” Steve murmured in French. Alexa smiled innocently and Bucky grinned. He didn’t believe that smile for a second.

“I don’t know how to count cards, Daddy. It’s just the way Lexi shuffled the deck.”

“Uh huh.”

“Really, Daddy.”

“Okay, baby.”

Bucky smiled watching them play their game. The two tiny card sharks were beating their father’s ass at Go Fish. Steve was too earnest. He had a really shitty poker face and Bucky would hate to see him actually playing poker or betting more than a few pennies at a time. The blonde would lose his ass at a real card game. He waited until their game was finished before calling them for dinner.

They sat the cards on the table after stacking them then went to wash up. Bucky checked over the table once more then nodded to himself and walked out of the kitchen and began cleaning up their card game He put the deck of cards back in its box then rerolled the pennies back in their wrappers and carried them back over to the game cabinet.

Steve walked back into the living room to see that Bucky had cleared away their game and was staring out the window. The setting sun bathed him in a pinkish orange glow and Steve thought the brunette had never looked more beautiful than with that fiery halo surrounding him. Of course he’d seen the man exactly twice so it wasn’t hard, but even still Steve didn’t think Bucky could ever look more beautiful than he did in that moment.

The moment ended when his heathens thundered down the steps and into the kitchen. He turned after them quickly, hoping Bucky hadn’t caught him staring. He’d be mortified. Even more so than when he had frightened the brunette earlier. He walked into the kitchen to see only three plates set on the kitchen table. The rest of the salad was in a bowl in the middle surrounded by the pitchers of tea and water from the fridge and salad dressing. The croutons were in a bowl next to the salad as well as some shredded parmesan and the plate of diced sautéed chicken.

Was Bucky not going to eat with them? Why wouldn’t he eat? Steve turned to go back into the living room to ask Bucky if he was going to have dinner with them and saw that Bucky had pilfered cleaning supplies out of the hall closet and was busy dusting the tables. Steve bit his bottom lip as he watched the oblivious brunette wipe down tables. Manners demanded he at least ask Bucky if he wanted to join them for dinner. His head warned him that he should probably just leave Bucky alone and let him clean. His stupid heart, which had no business getting involved at all this early in the game, not that there was a game, kind of wanted Bucky to stay forever. He looked…right. Content. A level of domesticity that Steve didn’t really expect from the scruffy unkempt appearance. He shook his head with a sigh. He shouldn’t be thinking about domesticity. Not with Bucky in the picture at least.

He’d ask if he wanted to join them for dinner. He could hear his mother’s voice in his ear griping at him because he hadn’t asked yet.

“Hey, Bucky?” The brunette jolted like he’d been shocked, dropping the dust cloth to the floor, and Steve sighed heavily. “Do you want to join us for dinner? You cooked, only seems right that you get to eat too.”

“I was just gonna grab a burger or something on the way home later.”

“Buck, come on. You cooked. Come eat with us. The kids’ll appreciate it. They like you.”

How was Bucky supposed to sit across the table from Steve and keep being tacky to him in front of the kids? He couldn’t really. He would have to be polite and engaging or else he’d be setting a bad example for the twins. He didn’t think he could do that without falling a little bit more in lust with the Adonis that was currently pouting at him. That pout should be illegal. It reminded Bucky of a golden retriever puppy he’d had a kid that always begged for table scraps. Steve’s blue eyes shone pitifully, perfect bottom lip jutted out, Bucky wanted to kiss him. Or punch him. Rogers had to know how unfair that stupid (adorable) pout was. Ugh!

“I guess I can eat now,” Bucky mumbled, fighting a smile when Steve immediately lit up, bouncing on his feet like a child who had gotten their way. So unfair. “I’ll go wash up.”

“Okay, I’ll have the kids wait for you.”

“Don’t worry about it, Steve. It’s fine. They’re probably starving. I always was after school and homework.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yeah, it’s fine Rogers.” Bucky picked up his cleaning supplies and carried them with him as he walked out of the room.

Steve smiled after Bucky for a second then walked into the kitchen to find his heathens already piling chicken, croutons, and cheese on the salads Bucky had plated for them. “Bucky’s going to be joining us for dinner so save him some, yeah?”

“Okay, Daddy.”

Bucky shook his head as he put the cleaning supplies back in the hall closet. He really shouldn’t stay and eat with them. He didn’t need that kind of temptation and he knew watching Steve interact with his kids would be the killing blow on Bucky’s resolve not to get involved with the man. He shut the door quietly then sighed and started to slowly make his way to the kitchen. When he stood in the doorway he stopped to watch Steve and the kids talking about their days, about homework and kids at school. The summer programs the twins’ school was thinking about doing this year. Taekwondo, piano, cooking and art classes. Things they already did at home except play the piano. Bucky could piano though. He’d learned when he was a kid. He honestly wasn’t surprised the twins did all of that. Not with whom their father and birthmother were. He wondered if he should tell Steve he could play the piano, but decided not to. Not right now at least.

He really shouldn’t be here right now. His place wasn’t with Steve and the twins while they talked about their extracurricular activities. He’d already done what he was supposed to do. Helping the twins with their homework and making dinner. He’d yet to clean up properly, doing the dishes he’d dirtied, but Steve could handle that. Probably. Most likely. He was a grown assed man; surely he knew how to do the dishes? But Steve probably had more work to do after dinner and Bucky hadn’t thought to ask to make sure he wasn’t still needed.

Fuck it, he thought, bailing on their invitation to dinner. They didn’t need him making things more awkward than they already were. He started to turn and walk out without making an excuse then shook his head. He actually sort of did need the money and while he had no issues, well, few issues being rude to Steve he didn’t want to be rude to the blonde’s spawn. And anyway, Steve had already tried to get him to go home twice and didn’t seem upset about it. Bucky tapped on the doorjamb and smiled weakly when they all three turned to look at him.

“I’m uh…not feeling all that great actually. I’m just gonna go ahead and go if that’s okay?”

Steve nodded with an understanding smile and the kids pouted. “Sure, if you need to, Bucky.” The brunette nodded with a weak smile.

“Yeah. I’ll um…I’ll be back tomorrow though.”

“That’s fine.” Steve excused himself from his children, starting to stand to walk Bucky out but the brunette waved him away and turned to rush out the door, closing it behind him with a decisive click.

“Is Mr. Barnes okay, Daddy?”

“Yeah, sweetheart. He’s okay. Eat your dinner.” Steve really hoped Bucky was okay. Maybe tomorrow would be a better day for the brunette.

Chapter Text

Bucky took off walking down the sidewalk. He’d decided to walk home instead of taking the subway to punish himself for being stupid. It was only like an hour’s walk anyway and he was probably the most dangerous person on the street right now so he didn’t have to worry about getting mugged. Not when he could kill a man with his pinkie. Okay, so he hadn’t actually tried to kill anyone with his pinkie, but he’d thought about it a lot. Knew the proper stress points and whatnot. He was also pretty sure he’d seen Natasha kill someone with her pinkie finger once. He hadn’t been able to prove it and she refused to answer him which was sort of like answering him, but even so he couldn’t be 100% positive she’d done it. His gut told him she had though. He could totally kill someone with an ink pen though. He’d done it before when almost getting his ass kicked on an assignment before.

Tomorrow would be a better day. He was sure of it. He was going to get a good night’s sleep. He was going to wake up late and play video games for a little while and then he’d get ready to go to Steve’s to take care of his tiny heathens. Maybe he’d even tell Steve he could play piano, but that would mean Steve would know he’d eavesdropped on him and the twins. He hadn’t exactly meant to. He’d just been watching a sweet moment between Steve and the kids and hadn’t been able to tear his eyes away from it.

Stupidly torn over it, Bucky made his way home, stopping to grab a burger that he’d wound up being unable to eat and handed off to a homeless man along with the last $20 out of his wallet. He needed it more than Bucky did anyway. If anything Bucky would probably scavenge through the cabinets until he found out where Natasha had hidden his Coffee Nut M&M’s and have himself a miniature pity party. Maybe he’d even pull out the Death by Chocolate ice cream.

Or he’d use his emergency credit card and go to the grocery store and buy vanilla ice cream, bananas, and whipped cream then go to the liquor store and buy a bottle of 99 Bananas and a bottle of Bacardi 151 and make a milkshake. Or he could save his emergency credit card for an actual emergency like an adult. He huffed, shaking his head and continued his way home. Adulting was not anywhere near as fun as what he’d been led to believe when he was a kid. Lying assholes.

***

Steve sighed as he took out that night’s scraps to put in the compost. He’d already put away the left overs to take for his lunch the next day, done the dishes, locked all the windows and doors, and turned off the lights. The twins had been read a bedtime story and were sacked out in their bedroom. The door left cracked open like always. He dumped the little bucket in the compost bin then rinsed it out with the water hose and took it back inside to shove under the kitchen sink until they used it again.

He still had to go back into his office and finish sending his emails for the day. He didn’t want to. Wanted to be irresponsible for a little bit. His ma would be snapping at him with her heavy Irish accent or boxing his ears if she knew. Probably both. ‘You’ve got responsibilities now, Steven. You can’t go fucking off whenever you want anymore. You’ve two darling angels to look after now.’ Even if it was just postponing a few emails. She’d definitely have something to say about it.

He groaned nodding along with his mother’s nonexistent words in his ears as he made his way to into his office. Maybe he’d just take the laptop to bed with him, he thought, when he remembered the incident that had happened with Bucky earlier. He’d been so shocked when he heard Bucky calling for him that he’d just spun around with his guard still up and frightened him. Frightened himself too if he was being honest. Bucky had jerked back a couple steps with his hands up in front of himself defensively looking more shocked than Steve had been for not having realized Bucky was even in the room. He was surprised the brunette hadn’t taken off right then and there. Maybe he hadn’t because they’d both been military. Had both been S.H.I.E.L.D. and come back from living that kind of life. Though from what Natasha said sometimes Bucky still went on missions so he hadn’t quite left that world behind. Not as much as Steve had.

The blonde grabbed his laptop from his desk and carried it with him into his bedroom, dropping it onto the bed before changing into a pair of loose cotton pajama pants and shucking his shirt off. He tossed his clothes haphazardly toward the hamper, not really caring if they made it or not then shut his bedroom light off and climbed onto the bed to finish his emails before he fell asleep.

He loved his life, loved his children, and that he had the ability to care for them as well as he did, but sometimes he fucking hated adulting. Especially when it included having to repeat himself time and time again to his students.

***

Bucky trudged to the door of the house and opened it, falling with it when it swung open and nearly brained himself on the wall. He grumbled under his breath as he shuffled further into the apartment closing the door behind himself. He immediately fell onto the couch, kicking his boots off and glancing at the post-it on the coffee table. Natasha had gone on another mission then. He lifted the yellow square and blinked at it, trying to decipher the emoji laden message that she constantly used. A skull, a gun, a bomb, a sailboat, an explosion, and a smiley. He snorted, if he hadn’t been so tired he’d have realized what it was immediately. He had stacks of post-its she’d given him with similar messages printed on them. It was cute. She was the only agent he knew that left messages by emoji. Probably she’d kill him if she knew he thought it was cute.

He sat the note back on the table then took a steadying breath and pushed himself off of the couch to go in search of his stash of M&M’s that Natasha hid every time she found them just because it drove him crazy. She found them nearly as fast as he hid them though. He didn’t doubt she used cameras and bugs to find out where he’d hidden them. He’d found and destroyed a few before she’d told him they were hers and part of her security system. She didn’t put any in his bedroom, or at least not anymore, but had put alarms on the windows just in case someone would try to slip through. Even when he hid his chocolate in his room though she still found it. Granted there wasn’t a lot of places to hide it, but still. A man’s chocolate was sacred and she needed to not.

He started in the kitchen because she hadn’t hidden his candy there lately and twenty minutes, a trip up onto the kitchen table, and pilfering through the air vent later, he was sat on the couch wearing only his boxers and demolishing his Coffee Nut M&M’s and Death by Chocolate ice cream while Monty Python and the Holy Grail played on the TV. This was definitely a chocolate overdose night after the day he’d had.

He’d made a complete fool of himself because Art Stripper Steve had opened the door looking like a painting god and had had those dorky as hell glasses on. He was glad Steve hadn’t looked him over from head to toe like he had the day before. There was no hiding that erection if he had. He’d keep making a fool of himself he figured if he kept working for Steve. But if Steve opened the door wearing the stupid cardigan combo again Bucky would be safe. Cardigans were so not sexy. Well, not unless Steve was wearing a cardigan and nothing else. Bucky frowned into his ice cream as he envisioned it and shook his head with a snort and a giggle. Nope, still stupid. Of course if he actually saw Steve nude then he might have a better idea of what to picture. So far all he had was Steve standing with his back toward him with no pants or underwear and a cardigan that ended right above his ass.

His perfect, perfect, ass. Bucky whimpered shoving another spoon of ice cream and M&M’s in his mouth. Steve really did have the most perfect ass that Bucky had ever seen. Perfect little globes he wanted his hands and mouth all over. Like a peach. Round and juicy. He groaned picturing all the little licks and nips and hickeys he wanted to leave on Steve’s pale skin and dropped the carton of ice cream on his lap with a hiss at the cold against his dick to calm himself down.

“Serves you right, fucker.” He glared down at his lap and stabbed his spoon into the carton with a wince. “You’re going to get me fired. Or make me have to quit.” He groaned scrubbing his hands over his face and dropped his head back against the couch. “You’re talking to your dick. And yourself. Awesome.” He wished he’d gotten the stuff to make his liquored up milkshake instead of being an adult. Well, as much of an adult as he ever was.

He finished off his carton of ice cream and two bags of M&M’s before realizing that he was either going to have a heart attack or never sleep again if he ate any more of them than what he already had. In the end he told himself to fuck it and ate another bag. His life was crap right now anyway. He was well aware he was being melodramatic. Sometimes though, you just gotta be melodramatic.

And sometimes at four in the morning when you can’t sleep because you’ve jacked yourself up on chocolate and caffeine you rub one out thinking about your impossibly hot Art Stripper boss. Because apparently Bucky could keep an erection even while holding ice cream or a bag of frozen peas he would never look at the same way again over his dick.

***

“I masturbated over you last night. To the image of you wearing nothing but one of those dorky cardigans,” was what Bucky absolutely did not say the next day at work. He didn’t say anything at all to Steve in fact. Mostly because he knew he’d be stammering, especially after his caffeine and chocolate fueled masturbation marathon. Instead when the gorgeous blonde had opened the door wearing his glasses, a navy cardigan with a red t-shirt under it, and a pair of blue jeans Bucky had blushed crimson at the unbidden memories from earlier that day, he never had gone to sleep, and slid past Steve and straight into the kitchen where he knew the twins were waiting on him to help with their homework.

“Mr. Barnes?”

Bucky looked up from Alexi’s reading booklet and blinked at Steve where he was stood in the doorway of the kitchen with his hands in his pockets, inadvertently framing the dick Bucky had spent so much time fantasizing about. His eyes trailed down without meaning to and he bit back a whimper then cleared his throat and looked up to meet Steve’s eyes. His beautiful eyes that Bucky imagined would darken to match his cardigan when he was aroused.

“Um…yeah?”

“Will you stay after dinner tonight? I think there’s some things we need to discuss.”

“Oh.” Oh, shit. There went the lusty goodness that was highly inappropriate anyway. Bucky was fired. He was gone. Steve was done with his shit. It had only technically been two days. That…well…it wasn’t a new record. Bucky had gotten fired in the first hour of a job once, but even so he thought he was doing pretty good with the kids. Was there something he was supposed to have done and didn’t do? Something he did and wasn’t supposed to? “Is there something wrong?” See? He could Adult when he had to.

Steve looked panicked himself for a moment, quickly shaking his head. “No. No, of course not. Everything’s fine.”

Bucky hid his sigh of relief and waited for an explanation. When Steve only stared at him he did sigh this time, loudly, and flicked the booklet in his hand with his thumb. “If that’s all?” It was a dismissal and he knew it, but still. He couldn’t take Steve staring at him like that. Like he was something confusing that needed to be figured out. Maybe he was though.

“You’ll stay after?”

“Yes.”

“Okay.” Steve nodded then turned to walk away, tapping the knuckles of one hand on the doorjamb on his way out.

“Daddy’s weird today,” Alexi noted staring after his father.

Alexa rolled her eyes. “He’s always weird.”

“Back to work kiddos.”

Alexi leaned closer over the table to see his booklet better and began to read out loud. Bucky telling him it might help him understand the passage better that way. He listened with one ear as he contemplated what to make for dinner later after homework was finished.

This was totally an order-in for dinner day too. Steve could suck it. He was going to be busy in his office grading papers or practicing a new stripping routine or whatever it was he did when not teaching. Maybe if Bucky ordered from that one Italian place Natasha liked so much Steve couldn’t bitch about what the kids ate for dinner. It wasn’t that terrible for you if you didn’t go crazy when ordering and he’d make sure to order a salad to go with it.

After finishing what little homework the twins had he ordered their dinner and then went out to the backyard with them to check out the small garden they kept. Alexi and Alexa were telling him about what they had planted and when it would be ready to pick. Their plans for a chicken coop in the back corner of the yard. Raising pullets and getting eggs from them. Having pine shavings in the floor of the coop, something called a deep litter method that they’d only have to clean out a few times a year and would help keep the hens warm in winter. Apparently pine was better than straw or hay because mites hid in the straw and it would be near impossible to get rid of them safely. And they could put the litter in the compost bin for fertilizer for their garden. All of it was moot though if they couldn’t convince their father to buy them the coop and the chicks. He wanted them to wait until summer and they’d talk about it again. So hopefully in a few weeks they’d have baby chickens and in a few months from then they’d start getting eggs. And that was only if they could decide on which breed of chickens they wanted. Alexa wanted something called Austra Whites and Alexi wanted Buff Orpingtons. Bucky had no clue what the hell either breed of chicken was. The only chicken he’d ever seen that wasn’t already cooked or fixing to be cooked was Forghorn Leghorn from the old cartoons when he’d been a kid.

They told him everything he’d never really thought he needed to know about chickens and he could see Natasha’s influence on them. Their need to gather all the intel they could on the subject. And maybe even Steve’s, Bucky couldn’t honestly say since he didn’t know the blonde, but he knew that Steve had worked with Natasha and had been military. It was nice to see how much thought and work they’d put into their project. He hoped Steve agreed to let them do it. The twins were highly responsible and he knew it was because they’d grown up with a military family, but part of it was definitely just the way Steve was. Responsible, commanding, but loving to his children, taking care of them and somehow managing to handle all the responsibilities that had been handed to him. He seemed like one of those mythical people that actually knew how to Adult. Art Stripper Steve was a unicorn.

That wasn’t to say the kids didn’t have time to be kids. They obviously did. He could see it in the worn but loved swing set and play house. A jungle gym and other toys scattered through the backyard but still neatly. The backyard was its own little world just for the twins and Bucky was glad that they had that. That even though their family was made of former military and former and active S.H.I.E.L.D. agents they still got to have that security and life and fun. They got to be normal children. He finally understood why Natasha would never be Mom. Besides the fact that she had only been a surrogate for Steve. He understood why she could never put herself in their lives more than what she did. Even from just three days with the twins he knew he’d do whatever he could to protect them.

***

Steve was sitting in the wide seat at the large bay window in his office, pencil scratching across paper quickly. Hoping to capture what he’d seen perfectly. The twins had Bucky by the hands, dragging him around the backyard and showing him everything. The garden, their toys, play house, swing set, the jungle gym. The corner where they hoped to have their little chicken coop one day.

He hadn’t meant to spy on them. Had only gone to look out of the window when he’d heard the twins’ excited chatter and loud giggles. He’d found them crouched over the garden, pointing to the plants and naming them off for Bucky. Bucky was listening raptly with a smile on his face. One of his perfect happy smiles that made his eyes crinkle. A smile that Steve would probably never get to have directed at him. He’d been unable to tear his eyes away from that smile, standing at the window for longer than he should have, feeling like a creeper for watching Bucky so closely even while he told himself he was just keeping an eye out on his kids.

Steve wanted to capture it on paper so had grabbed his sketchpad and a pencil and sat at the window seat, smiling and putting pencil to paper. He sketched them at the garden, standing by the jungle gym. Going down the slide one after another. All three of them laughing happily. It was sweet. Innocent. Something he knew one day would end for his children, but for now it was enough. The last sketch, the best one in his opinion, was of his twins and Bucky laid out in the yard staring up at the clouds and laughing as they pointed out shapes. He sketched a tiny stalk of flowers in the corner; a Hybrid Delphinium, for fun, lightness, and levity. He resolutely didn’t think about the fact that it also stood for ardent attachment and that he meant it for Bucky as much as he did for the twins. He barely knew the man, hadn’t had more than a couple conversations with him. If you could call sniping at each other conversation.

They eventually walked back toward he house and he flipped the sketchpad shut and moved back to his desk to finish working and hoped they hadn’t noticed him watching them at any point. If they did they didn’t act like it, but if they had seen him and noticed how long he’d been watching he couldn’t pass it off as having just peeked out at them to make sure they were okay. He groaned clicking through the files he’d downloaded from his students trying to find a draft that didn’t look terribly boring or difficult to read. Some of his students had poor writing skills and he wanted to bash his head against his desk while he tried to translate what the hell they meant.

He still had to figure out how to ask Bucky about his episodes. He still wasn’t sure to call them, but they seemed like panic attacks or something close. He didn’t want to embarrass the man. Or piss him off. Wanted to make whatever accommodations he could to help him, but didn’t know how to bring it up. He’d tried to call Natasha, but she’d refused the call and then sent him a text that was made completely from emojis from a number he didn’t recognize, but knew it was her all the same. She was fond of burner phones. She was gone on a mission somewhere involving a boat and couldn’t talk. Couldn’t let him know the right way to talk to Bucky. So he was on his own. He still had until after dinner and having the kids get ready for bed. That gave him an hour or so to figure out how to delicately talk to his nanny. Although maybe he didn’t have to. Bucky hadn’t panicked today. He had only flushed a spectacular shade of red that Steve had more often than not sported on his own face. Maybe Bucky had only needed a couple days to situate himself.

***

Bucky finished putting their dinner dishes in the dish washer then sat the bucket that was to be carried to the compost bin by the door so Steve could take it out after he’d eaten. Bucky had put Steve’s dinner in the microwave to keep until he came down from planning his stripper routine. Grading paintings. Whatever it was he actually did. Bucky still put his money on stripping. Not that he had a lot of money right this minute. Probably he had like $20 in the bank to last him until he got paid. He had savings but he hated to dip into them. Not unless it was an emergency. Another one of those Adulting things he had issues with.

“Mr. Barnes?”

Bucky turned to Alexa with a gentle smile. “What is it?”

“Is Daddy going to fire you? Me and Lexi told him we like you. And you’re good at science. Daddy’s not really that great at it and we have our end of the year Science Faire in two weeks.”

“I don’t think he is, Alexa. He just wanted to talk to me before I go home tonight.”

“If he does I’ll tell Auntie Nat and she’ll make him hire you back. Daddy always does what she says.”

Bucky snorted out a laugh. That wasn’t surprising in the least. Natasha had this one look that only involved a blank stare and a raised brow that always had people scrambling to do what she wanted them to do. He’d had ample experience with that look over the years. She was the one person he was truly terrified of. He knew she’d never actually kill him. Injure gravely maybe, but not kill him. “A lot of people do what your Auntie Nat says.”

“You know Auntie Nat?” Alexa grinned looking so much like her daddy and Bucky couldn’t help but smile back.

“Yep. I used to work with her.”

“Daddy did too. Before he got us.”

“I figured he did.”

“But now he’s just a boring old teacher.” Alexa frowned at that and Bucky laughed again then sent her along after her brother to go play so he could finish cleaning up until Steve came and got them for bed.

So Steve definitely used to be an agent. Bucky had figured that he had been with how close he was with Natasha. She didn’t have many people she liked, even fewer she considered friends. How close were she and Rogers that she’d volunteered to carry his spawn? He knew they had to be tight, but just how tight? Had they had a relationship before? Natasha usually stayed far away from romantic relationships because she didn’t like having to lie, no matter how good she was at it for work, but if Rogers had been an agent had they been together during that time?

Was Bucky’s teenage angst worthy crush pointless? He had thought Steve had been checking him out that first day, but now he wasn’t sure. Probably he’d just been looking him over and trying to decide if Bucky was going to rob him or kidnap his children instead of taking care of them like he’d been hired to do. It didn’t particularly matter in the end. He wouldn’t fuck this job up over a crush. He couldn’t stand the idea that the kids might get hurt if he and Steve did anything. Which they wouldn’t do anything. Not as long as Bucky worked for him. It was flatly against Bucky’s rules and this job was only temporary. Four more weeks and he’d never see any of them again. It sucked because he was already attached to the tiny redheaded heathens he’d been taking care of, but he’d get over it. Throw himself back at Natasha’s mercy and find another mission to go on. Maybe he’d even hire back on and be a fulltime agent again if he got desperate enough. He really, really, hoped he didn’t get that desperate.

“Mr. Barnes?”

Bucky jolted, turning toward Steve and saw him leaning against the doorjamb. It seemed to be his favorite part of the kitchen. He was forever hanging out there.

“You got something going on with the doorway or what?” He didn’t mean to snap at Steve that time, but it was too late to take it back now.

Steve blinked then huffed out an awkward laugh. “I was trying not to scare you again. Seems that’s all I manage to do. You looked kind of lost.”

“What did you want to talk to me about?” Bucky leaned against the counter, crossing his arms over his chest defensively. He really hoped he wasn’t about to get fired even though Steve had told him earlier that everything was fine.

“I um…” Steve trailed off raking one hand through already tousled hair. “I just…well, I was wondering…you have panic issues? I think. And I was just wondering if you needed me to do anything to make this more comfortable for you?” He was fucking up so bad. That wasn’t how he wanted to word things. He was trying to be delicate about it, damn it!

Bucky blanched at what Steve had said. Oh shit. Oh, fuck. He’d noticed, but Bucky hadn’t been having panic attacks like he did sometimes. Not the ones that were entwined with his past, with his time in the Army and his time as an agent. No, Bucky had panicked because Steve was the most beautiful man he’d ever seen. It was fine. He’d get over it.

“It’s fine like it is, Steve. Really. I just…need time.” He did. Time to get over his crush which he would do this weekend. One way or the other. Maybe he’d go dancing and find some other hot blonde to spend time with and get his mind off of the blonde Adonis.

“You’re sure? I mean…you seem to only panic when I’m around. Is it something I did?”

“What? No.” Had Steve been watching him that closely? And he hadn’t noticed it? Holy shit he was fucked. “It’s fine. If that’s all?” Steve nodded, looking a little put out, and Bucky pushed away from the counter with his foot against the cabinet door and walked out of the kitchen. “I put your dinner in the microwave. I’ll be back tomorrow.”

“Oh, okay. Thank you, Bucky.”

“It’s my job, Rogers. No need to thank me.” With that Bucky walked out of the house closing the door behind him silently, leaving Steve staring after him despondently.

“I fucked it up. I knew I’d fuck it up.”

Steve sighed heavily and turned to grab the plate from the microwave. He wasn’t really in the mood to eat now. He’d probably just mortally offended Bucky. He lifted the piece of foil that covered it and smiled when he saw the chicken parmesan from Nat’s favorite restaurant and a salad with a little container of balsamic dressing sitting next to it. He put the foil back down then moved to put the plate in the fridge. He’d eat it later. After he figured out how to apologize to Bucky for managing to fuck up so badly.

“Daddy! Come read us a story please,” Alexi yelled from his and Alexa’s bedroom and Steve smiled softly wondering just how much longer his babies would want him to read them a story before bed. They were already growing up so quickly. He left the kitchen and lumbered up the stairs, grabbing Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales again and flinging himself down on the pushed together twin beds. Alexi and Alexa giggled snuggling against him, one on either side, and he flipped the book open to a random page and began to read.

It wasn’t until later, almost three in the morning, when Steve had to be awake in less than three hours to get his children and himself ready for school that he figured out what he was going to do to apologize to the brunette. Probably it was a little crazy, but Bucky seemed crazy about the twins so Steve figured it would turn out okay. He’d give Bucky the sketch he’d drawn of he and twins laying on the grass and watching the clouds. If Bucky noticed the tiny flower stalk in the corner, he probably wouldn’t know what it meant anyway so it would be okay. Wouldn’t it? He just had to scan it to his laptop first.

Chapter Text

When Bucky got to work the next day, instead of Steve opening the door for him it was the twins. They both grinned excitedly and dragged him into the kitchen. Where the hell was Steve? And why the hell had he let the twins answer the door? Didn’t he know how dangerous that was? Granted Bucky might be the only one to show up at the same time every day, but even still Steve shouldn’t get complacent and just assume Bucky was the one knocking on the door. Yeah, the twins were old enough to see who it was first, but still. He’d be talking to Steve about it later.

When Bucky sat at the kitchen table Alexa pushed a piece of paper toward him. He blinked at the yellow sticky note. I’m sorry if I overstepped, Steve. Okay, what the hell? He looked down at the paper and saw a sketch of him and the twins. They were laying out in the backyard staring up at the sky and pointing at the clouds.

So Steve had been watching them. But had he been watching the twins? Or had he been watching Bucky and why? If he was watching the twins then that was fine, he’d be afraid for Steve’s sense of comfort if he didn’t, but if he was watching Bucky was it because he’d panicked before? Or was it something else? What other reason could it be? He looked over the sketch again and smiled weakly when he saw how happy all three of them looked. Alexi and Alexa had their heads angled toward each other, Bucky was lying next to them pointing up at a cloud shaped like a duck. All of them with smiles on their faces. His eyes caught a tiny flower thing in one corner, hey sue him, he didn’t know what a flower was unless it was a rose, tulip, or daisy, and figured it was Steve’s weird little signature. All artists had some special signature right?

All in all, it was a cute sketch and he appreciated the apology. He honestly had just hoped to avoid another conversation with Steve about it, about anything really, and had planned on avoiding him for the rest of forever anyway. Because every time he saw Art Stripper Steve he wanted to climb him like a tree and that was so unprofessional.

“Do you like Daddy’s drawing,” Alexa asked breaking him from his thoughts. Bucky nodded.

“Yeah, sweet pea. It’s really good. I’ll tell him thank you before I leave.” He sat the sketch aside where it wouldn’t get messed up then turned back to the twins. “What’s on the agenda today?”

“Science,” Alexi yelled throwing a fist up into the air. Alexa rolled her eyes at her brother’s exuberance and Bucky grinned.

“I only have three math problems. After we’re done can we go outside and play until dinner?”

“Sure. What do you guys want for dinner?”

“Tomato soup and grilled cheese,” Alexi said after a moment. His sister nodded quickly.

“I can do that if you’ve got the stuff for it.”

“We do. Daddy always keeps cans of soup for us.”

“Canned? Ugh. I can make it work.” God. Canned? Might as well be making them eat dirt. “Alright, let’s get this show on the road.”

“What show,” Alexa asked with a confused frown. So much like her daddy.

“It’s an expression. It means let’s get to work.”

“Oh, okay.”

Alexa finished her math problems without asking for help and Bucky went over her paper to make sure she’d gotten them all right. After putting a check by the few she’d gotten wrong he handed the paper back to her then went back to helping Alexi with his science. This lesson was covering atoms. Protons, neutrons, electrons, nuclei. Things that he remembered what they were called, but not exactly what they did. He skimmed over the lesson until he parsed what he needed to know then handed the book back and answered Alexi’s questions to the best of his ability.

Homework was soon finished and he watched the twins with a small smile as they packed up their books, papers, and pencils, putting them back into their rucksacks and hanging them back up by the door like they did every day. He liked how organized they kept things, but seriously, where was the mess?

When he’d been their ages he had been lucky to be able to find his rucksack much less his homework. There were more important things to worry about. Like playing outside with his friends or at their houses playing the Super Nintendo and the Mario games, Primal Rage, Killer Instinct, Mortal Kombat and ClayFighter. His favorite game had been Primal Rage purely for the fight at the beach where if you and a second player did it just right you could pick up one of the humans with your dinosaur and bat them back and forth. A volley ball net would eventually appear as long as you didn’t drop the tiny flailing person. It was fun. He wondered if Steve had ever played any of those games. He was the right age for them. He was nerdy and artsy though so probably not. Maybe Super Mario though. Even nerdy artsy people could play that one.

He chuckled letting the twins lead him out to the backyard and couldn’t help but turn and glimpse up at the windows to see if Steve was watching them again as they walked across the yard toward the swing set. The twins hopped onto the swings and Bucky grinned walking behind them.

“Want a push?”

The twins both cheered loudly and he laughed placing a gentle hand on each of their backs and pushing.

“I wanna go so high I can see the roof!”

“Your father would kill me. Then bring me back from the dead just to fire me and then kill me again. I’m pretty sure.” And there were definitely better ways to die than by Angry Dad. He’d had enough experience when angry dads when he’d been a horny teenager. Experimenting with daughters and then curious sons. He’d always had more fun with their sons. It hadn’t taken him long at all to figure out that he definitely had more fun with their sons than he had with their daughters.

“Daddy, wouldn’t do that, Mr. Barnes. Auntie Tasha would beat him up.”    

“Would she?”

“Yep. She told Daddy he had to hire you because she knew you’d be the best one to take care of us besides her and Daddy because you secretly love kids and want to have a bunch of Mini Buckies running around.”

“Really?”

“Yep. Me and Lexi heard her talking to Daddy about it.”

“You eavesdropped on your father and Auntie Tasha?”

“We didn’t eavesdrop. We listened in over the phone,” Alexi told him, turning to face Bucky enough that he could roll his eyes at him.

Bucky laughed, shaking his head and pushing the swings higher. High enough that the twins squealed and giggled, both of them stretching up to see if they could see the roof. So long as neither of them flew from the swings they’d probably be okay. He was going to have to have a talk with Natasha though. She needed to stop telling everyone his secrets. Yeah, he adored children. Kittens and puppies too. That didn’t mean she needed to tell everyone. He had a reputation to uphold damn it. They hadn’t called him the Winter Soldier because of his profound love for tiny cuddly animals and babies after all.

***

Steve smiled to himself watching Bucky pushing the twins on the swing set. He tensed in worry though when the twins were swinging high enough that the chains were nearly even with the top bar of the frame. His kids flying back and forth quickly like violent redheaded pendulums. Giggling and screaming the whole time. He wanted to rush out there and make them stop. Slow them down to less insane speed and heights. He’d ruin their fun though. But, a little voice whispered, they’d be safe.

He had issues with the whole fun VS safe thing. He always had which was why when he’d been their age he’d broken his arm falling out of a tree because he wanted to see how high his tiny body could climb. He’d made it halfway up the 20-foot-tall tree before hauling himself up onto a dead branch and falling to what he was sure was his death. He’d gotten his ears boxed, a trip to the emergency room, a kiss on the forehead, and then ice cream. So it hadn’t been all that bad, but even so he didn’t want his babies hurt. He knew he couldn’t protect them from everything, but this he could protect them from.

He sat his sketch pad down and was just slipping his fingers under the edge of the window to raise it when Bucky caught the twins, one under each arm and flew out with them when they swung up, dragging his feet on the ground to slow them when they swung back down. “Jesus!” Steve’s heart was racing, mostly from panic but a little bit from lust too because holy fucking shit Bucky was strong. And he looked so good with the twins. They were all three smiling and laughing, sand from under the swings flying through the air as Bucky’s feet dragged over it. Clouds of it lingering and falling. Covering all three of them in the silica. He was going to have to hose them down with the water hose before letting them into the house.

And why the hell had Bucky suddenly jumped on them like that? Had he seen Steve sitting at the window? Had he seen his panic? Or was he just that much of a dork that he wanted to swing too and decided to jump on the kids to do it? There was no fucking telling and he was pretty sure Bucky wouldn’t bring it up even if he had seen Steve staring out the window, sketching as he watched them. It was going to become an issue at some point, Steve knew. He’d never admit to watching them, but well, he sort of already had by leaving the previous day’s sketch for Bucky on the kitchen table with an apology post-it note stuck to it. Still, he was supposed to be working, but when he heard the kids laugh, without him much less, he couldn’t help but go to the window to see why. To watch them having fun for a few minutes. To sketch those little moments of happiness. The smiles on all three of their faces, but even more, on Bucky’s. Even if they didn’t include him right now.

He knew Bucky would close off if he saw him watching or if he’d gone out to join them. He always did when Steve walked into the room. The blonde just wished he knew why. He knew he couldn’t make everyone like him. He’d always known. He still hated it sometimes though. Especially now. Especially because it was Bucky who apparently was one of Natasha’s friends and he’d never even known about him. Especially because Bucky was gorgeous and so sweet with the twins. He was so good with them, like Natasha had told Steve he would be, but why the hell did Bucky seem to hate him? Maybe he didn’t hate him, but he certainly seemed to dislike him a great deal.

Steve sighed with relief once the twins jumped down from their swings and ran to the monkey bars. At least the eight foot drop wouldn’t kill them like the swings flying as high as the bar across the top would if they fell from them.

He shook his head and sketched out the scene before him. The twins hanging from the monkey bars on their play set while Bucky waited to catch them in case they fell. All three of them with huge smiles on their faces and laughing loudly as the twins played Chicken. He added an Anthurium in the bottom corner for happiness then sat aside his sketchpad and went back to his desk to actually work so he could be done in time to get his little demon babies in bed and read them a story. He heard them laughing again and sighed mournfully because he wanted to be out there with them. Sometimes Adulting sucked.

***

“All right, brats, go get washed up and chill for a bit. I’ll make dinner.”

The twins scrambled down from the monkey bars and Bucky watched them with a laugh as they ran screaming into the house, pushing and shoving each other out of the way in order to get to the door first. Alexa finally managed to move Alexi out of the way and ran through the door with a victorious crowing that had Bucky laughing and shaking his head as he slowly made his way back to the house.

He looked up at the window to Steve’s office, expecting the blonde to be sitting there and finding him absent. Was it wrong that he felt disappointed that Steve hadn’t been watching them? Steve had definitely watched them before as evidenced by the sketch he’d left with his apology Post-it note. Bucky still wasn’t sure if it was a good thing or not. Probably Steve was just paranoid and making sure Bucky wasn’t a creepy weirdo. In the end, Bucky only shrugged to himself because it really didn’t matter if Steve watched them or not, and walked into the kitchen to dig for the canned soup the twins wanted for dinner.

He found the tomato soup pushed to the back of the pantry next to the fridge and also pulled out a can of diced tomatoes and a can of evaporated milk. If he was going to have to feed them canned soup he was going to make it taste better damn it. He found a soup pan and set it on the burner then scrounged around for a can opener and opened the cans then dumped them all into the pan then added a little bit of water and went to the fridge for the butter. He cut off a tablespoon and dropped it in the soup and then sat the butter on the counter for their grilled cheeses and put the fire on low. He grabbed the loaf of crusty bread with grainy bits on it and sliced it for their grilled cheeses.

He’d make him one too he decided. He didn’t usually eat with them, but today he would. If only for the fact that he hadn’t actually had a grilled cheese since he was a kid. He’d forgotten how good they were. How simple they were to make on days when the closest thing he did that came to cooking was tapping the number for a pizza place out on his phone and only rolling off of the couch to answer the door when the delivery driver showed up. Those days sucked. When he got so wrapped up in his own head, in his own shit , that he didn’t realize how long he lay there until his stomach started growling. Those days were few and far between, but even so he still hated them. Hated the stifling thoughts that weighed on him. The tightness that felt like an elephant sitting on his chest. The apathetic way he couldn’t bring himself to care about anything when minutes later he’d be having an anxiety attack over caring too much about the same thing he’d not given a shit about only moments before. He shook his head to clear it then turned the heat up under the soup so he could get done with dinner as soon as possible.

Bucky stuck his head out of the kitchen ten minutes later and smiled seeing the twins sitting on the couch and flicking cards with deadly accuracy into a large urn that sat under one window. He wondered if Steve or Natasha had been the one to teach them. Probably Steve. He had never seen Natasha playing with a deck of cards for as long as he’d known her.

“Dinner’s ready, heathens.” They scrambled off of the couch toward the urn to pick up their cards and he waved them away. “I’ll get it. Go wash up.”

“Okay, Mr. Barnes.”

He watched them scramble up the stairs then ducked back into the kitchen and filled three bowls with soup then sat them on plates and sat their grilled cheeses that he’d cut diagonally in half beside the bowls. He put two on the table for the twins then dug around for the tea tray he’d seen the other day but couldn’t remember where. He’d take Steve his dinner. He still had to talk to Steve about the twins opening the door to him.

What kind of moron let kids open the door anyway? Yeah, they weren’t technically in the city, but they weren’t in the country either. People didn’t keep their cars or doors unlocked. Didn’t have friendly neighbors who brought them pies and shit when they moved in or were ill or whatever. It was dangerous. Steve had to know that. He couldn’t be that naïve. Could he? Probably, Bucky decided as he carried the tray out of the kitchen, sidestepping the kids on the stairs as they ran down. Steve hadn’t asked him a single question when he’d show up the first day. Hadn’t done anything really except take Natasha’s word apparently. What a moron. That wasn’t to say he couldn’t trust Natasha. You could. Most of the time. Definitely with your life if nothing else and that was only if she liked you or was on a mission with you. Still, Steve was too trusting to just let the twins open the door without him.

Bucky stepped into Steve’s office, waiting the door for a moment to see if he’d be noticed. Steve was leaning over his desk, stupid (adorable) glasses on his face and staring at the screen of his laptop. He snorted shaking his head and Bucky almost smiled, would have if it wasn’t still irritated over Steve’s naivety with letting the twins answer the door. He watched the blonde type a response then walked into the room. Bucky sat the tray on Steve’s desk with a snap of metal against hardwood and Steve jumped, almost flinging himself backward over his chair.

“What!”

“Why didn’t you answer the door?”

“The twins did.”

“I know the twins did! It could have been anyone, Rogers.”

“You’re the only one that gets here at four.”

“Doesn’t matter. I don’t want those babies opening that door themselves ever again!”

“Okay. Okay. I just thought…I didn’t think you’d want to see me after yesterday and you seem calmer when it’s just you and the twins so I thought it would be okay for them to answer the door after they made sure it was you.”

“Those kids are my responsibility, Steve. I take that very seriously.”

“I’m their father. Do you think I don’t? You think they’re not my responsibility?” Steve didn’t know whether to be offended that Bucky didn’t seem to think he could take care of his own kids or impressed that Bucky cared about them enough to be pissed off and accusatory. He’d known it was Bucky at the door. Had watched him walk up the sidewalk to the porch from one of the windows upstairs. He had okayed it for the twins to let him in.

“Not after I show up they’re not. I’m their caretaker until I leave for the night and I don’t ever want to see them opening the door at another knock as long as I’m working here. I don’t care who’s at the door. Eat your fucking soup and your damned grilled cheese. Fucking canned shit. It’s a goddamn travesty.” Bucky spun on his heels and stomped out of the room leaving Steve staring in his wake.

“Holy shit.”

So maybe he needed to apologize to Bucky for letting the kids answer the door? Or maybe he needed to apologize for having canned soup in the cabinets instead of whatever it was Bucky needed to make homemade tomato soup. Should he make his own damn cheese too? Bake his own bread? What the hell was wrong with soup out of a can? Why should he have to apologize for that? It was food. The kids loved it. Yeah, it probably wasn’t all that healthy but even so they hardly ever ate it to begin with. What was so bad about tomato soup out of a can anyway?

Steve sighed, pushing his laptop away from him and pulled the tray closer. Taking a tentative spoonful of the soup he decided that there was definitely something bad about canned tomato soup. He didn’t know what exactly Bucky had done to it aside from the chunks of tomato he’d added but holy shit this was so much better than usual. He’d marry Bucky just for his cooking skills alone if he could. The man was a god in the kitchen.

That thought made him blink, his spoon dropping back into the bowl. There wasn’t even a relationship to go with that thought. Wasn’t even a vague sense of friendship. What the fuck brain? Yeah, Bucky was gorgeous what with the curl of his lips when he smiled, the adorable crinkles at the corners of his eyes, the long messy hair always pulled back in a low bun that left little wisps of hair caressing his cheekbones and jawline. None of that meant anything. It couldn’t mean anything. Bucky was his employee and that was all. That was it. There was nothing else to him. There couldn’t be. Not only did Bucky seem to not like him in any way, shape, or form, but that was a gross breach of employer/employee conduct. Too much like taking advantage and Steve would never do that. No matter how badly he wanted to pin Bucky to the wall and kiss him stupid. And he really, really, wanted. He sighed again and shoved the tray back across his desk and pulled his laptop closer. He’d eat later.

***

“You didn’t eat.” Steve leaned back from his laptop, blinking to get his eyes to adjust, and saw Bucky standing just in the doorway. “Was it bad? It’s from a can.” His voice sounded so small and unsure that Steve wanted to wrap him in a hug and never let him go.

“No. It’s uh…it’s really great, actually. I just…” Steve waved a hand toward his laptop and the brunette nodded with a small smile. “Work.”

“Yeah…it’s…I’ll take it down for you. It’s gross cold. Especially the grilled cheese.”

“I’ll take it, Bucky. I’m almost done with this.”

“I’ll reheat it for you.”

“I can do it.”

“I know.” Bucky came in and took the tray then left without another word.

Steve let out a heavy sigh then shut his laptop. He could finish after the twins went to bed for the night. Bucky wasn’t supposed to be taking care of him too. He pushed himself back from his desk and grabbed his sketchbook and pencil then went downstairs to stop the brunette. When he got to the kitchen Bucky already had the soup reheating on the stove and another grilled cheese in the frying pan.

“Bucky, you don’t have to do this. You’re just here for the kids.”

“Let me do something nice, Rogers.” Though he didn’t really know why he was trying to be nice to Steve unless it was an unspoken apology for chewing his ass earlier.

As pissed off as Bucky was earlier Steve really didn’t want to irritate him even further so nodded and sat at the table that had already been cleared of the twins’ dinner dishes. He watched the brunette move around the stove, stirring the soup and flipping the grilled cheese. The one that had gone cold sat with a bite taken out of it on a plate. He smiled at that then began a quick sketch of Bucky as he finished heating up Steve’s dinner. Another apology sketch. He finished just as Bucky was sitting his dinner on the table then quickly added a hyacinth. It was supposed to be purple for an apology, but he only had his pencil. Bucky probably didn’t know what it was supposed to mean anyway. Just like the other sketch he’d given him.

He tore it from the sketchpad and sat it on the table, sliding it toward the brunette after he’d sat Steve’s soup and grilled cheese in front of him.

“What’s this,” Bucky asked. Steve didn’t answer, only pushed the piece of paper closer to him, and Bucky picked it up barely resisting the urge to roll his eyes. What he saw made his heart stutter in his chest and he blinked at the paper he held in front of him.

It couldn’t have taken Steve more than five minutes to finish the sketch. That was about how long it had been since the blonde sat at the table. Still it was…stunning, Bucky thought. Somehow Steve had made him look almost ethereal even while doing something as mundane and domestic as fixing his dinner. Somehow in those few minutes the blonde had managed to capture Bucky in a light he’d never seen himself before. He seemed content. Casual but still graceful on the page. Steve had caught the messy bun of his hair, the lock of hair curling along his jawline. One hand stirring the soup while he flipped the grilled cheese with the other. The look on the half of his face that you could see suggested a smile from the upturned corner of his lips and the little crinkles around his eye.

It made Bucky nervous that Steve could see so much in so little time. How much else could Steve see just by watching him? What if he realized that Bucky was crushed on him? What if he realized that it might even be more than that? Because if the sketch told Bucky anything at all it was that Steve watched him, and carefully, even when the twins weren’t around him. Why? What was his reason for watching Bucky so closely? He’d been nothing but an ass to Steve the entire time, mostly because he didn’t want to get close to the blonde, so why did Steve seem to watch him so much?

“It’s an apology. Another one.” Steve ate a spoonful of his soup, looking away from the brunette for the first time since walking into the kitchen.

“For what?”

“You chewed my ass for it an hour ago.”

“I…” I what? Bucky didn’t know what to say. What to do. He was completely lost and it was over a sketch. What the hell, brain? He needed to go. Needed to leave before he did something stupid like kiss the blonde that sat across the table from where he stood. “I have to go.” He turned to leave and Steve reached out and grabbed his arm.

“Bucky. I’m sorry if I did something wrong. I just…don’t leave.” God he looked so pitiful.

“I…it’s fine, Steve. Really. I just…have to go.” Bucky pulled his arm from Steve’s grasp then grabbed the other sketch from the table and fled the house before Steve could do anything else that would break past the wall of snark and assholery that Bucky surrounded himself with to keep himself from getting close to the blonde.

Steve winced as the door swung shut behind Bucky then groaned and pushed his plate aside, thunking his head on the table. What had he done this time? It was just a sketch, but why had Bucky reacted like that? First it seemed he was in awe but then there was the panic again. Why was he panicking over a quick apology sketch? Could he see how much Steve liked watching him? How closely he’d been watching him while reheating his dinner? Had he freaked him out that badly with it? It was just a sketch. Just a slice of life. It wasn’t even the best he could do.

What if Bucky quit over it? Oh, fuck. He’d have to find a new nanny. How the fuck would he manage to find one as competent as Bucky? He’d have to ask Natasha if she knew anyone else that was good with kids. Even if she had already told him that Bucky was the best person she knew to do it. Oh, shit. Natasha. How the hell would he explain it to Natasha? Bucky was one of her few friends. One of her best if she trusted him enough to watch the twins. Even if Steve had never heard of him until now, which really wasn’t all that surprising considering it was Natasha. She was going to kill him if he had made Bucky quit.

He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket to get the conversation/his death over with. She answered after the second ring and he whimpered hearing her voice. “Natasha. I fucked up.”

***

Bucky let himself into Natasha’s house, he didn’t dare call it their house even if he lived there and had for most of a year, and tossed his keys on the little table by the door. A fist flew out at him from nowhere and he caught it and glared at the petite redhead it belonged to.

“Not in the mood, Tasha.”

“What happened? Steve called in hysterics thinking he’d royally fucked up.”

“Jesus. Nothing happened. It’s fine.” How much of a drama queen was Steve? He hadn’t fucked up. Bucky had. Well, he didn’t think Steve had fucked up. It was just a couple sketches, but still.

“Steve is awkward and a little bit pathetic sometimes, but he doesn’t usually call in hysterics. Not unless one of the twins is sick.”

“Goodnight.” He went to brush past her and she grabbed his arm.

“James.” Natasha gave him one of her knowing looks and he sighed. “Is it that bad?”

“I don’t know, Natasha.” He really didn’t. Had he fucked up? Had Steve even really fucked up? He was nervous about Steve realizing how much he liked him. He hoped the blonde never found out and that meant not being nice to him anymore. Not that he was very nice to him to begin with. There had to be a balance between being an asshole and being nice. Something in the middle that left him aloof but not too much of an asshole.

“It’s only been a few days, James. What happened?” Something had definitely happened aside from Steve giving Bucky the sketches. Were they falling for each other already? She knew she was good, but damn. She hadn’t exactly told either one of them that the other was definitely their type, but still. They were big boys. Surely they could see how great they would be together? Maybe only a few days was moving a little fast, but even so they were good for each other. But what exactly had happened? She’d find out one way or another.

“What did he say?” There was no telling what Steve had told her. Especially if he was being as dramatic as Natasha seemed to think.

“Only that he gave you a couple sketches, you seemed really uncomfortable and then you left.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.” He narrowed his eyes at her, knowing it wouldn’t intimidate her in the least and she only blinked at him.

“How is that hysterics?”

“His tone of voice.” Bucky rolled his eyes and she smiled. “So, what’s up with the sketches he gave you?”

“They’re just sketches.”

“And why did that make you panic and leave?” He rolled his eyes again then pulled the folded up sketches out of his pocket and handed them to her then finally made his way past her into the house. He immediately went into the kitchen and grabbed a beer leaving her to look them over.

Natasha carefully unfolded the heavy paper and smiled when she saw a sketch of the twins and James lying out in the backyard by their garden. All three of them were smiling beautifully, James was pointing up at a cloud shaped like a duck. She could tell they’d been laughing and playing. What was surprising was the flower in the corner of the sketch. A Hybrid Delphinium. Oh, Steve. It meant fun and lightness sure. But it also meant ardent attachment. Had he meant that part of it?

The next sketch was of Bucky cooking at the stove and she sighed. She could see the attention that Steve had paid him drawn on the paper in sweeping lines. The laugh lines round his eye, the little curl of his lip. His hair brushing his jawline. No wonder Bucky had panicked. Steve’s feelings for him were right on the page. But was that what Bucky had seen?

Had Bucky seen any of that or had he only seen how closely Steve watched him and just assumed Steve was being paranoid and keeping an eye on him? She sighed shaking her head then looked at the flower in the corner. This one was a Hyacinth. Depending on its color it could mean anything. Blue meant sincerity. Purple meant please forgive me, sorrow, and I’m sorry. Yellow meant jealousy. Red meant play time or recreation and white meant loveliness. So which color had Steve meant it to be?

From the way he’d acted it was probably supposed to be purple. Steve had rambled through his explanation while telling her he had fucked up. Apparently he thought Bucky had been having panic issues and had given him the first sketch as an apology for overstepping his bounds when he’d asked about it because he thought the brunette would like it. The second sketch was for something she hadn’t quite gotten out of the blonde, but as panicked as he was about it she knew he was apologizing again. Even if he possibly hadn’t said it out loud.

She highly doubted Bucky knew what the flowers meant. He would probably be more panicked than what Steve had thought he’d been. She thought for a second that she might tell him, but decided it would be more fun to let him find out on his own. If he ever figured out that there was a different flower on them. She had a feeling that these two drawings were the first of many. She couldn’t wait to see how long it took him to realize it.

“These are beautiful sketches,” she murmured walking into the kitchen to find him sipping from a beer as he sat at the small table.

“Yeah. They’re good.” She sat the sketches on the table in front of him and he sighed heavily.  “They’re really good. I don’t know why I panicked over them.”

“Don’t you?” She gave him a knowing smile, as if there was anything to know, and he rolled his eyes.

“He watches me. I don’t know why. It makes me nervous. Paranoid. Is he just checking on the twins to make sure they’re okay with me or is it something else?” He didn’t know what that something else could be, but if Steve watched him that closely then there had to be a reason for it.

“Steve’s…very observant. He always has been. That’s what made him a Captain in the Army and one of the best S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. It’s nothing to worry about.”

“If you say so.”

“I’m always right.”

He snorted shaking his head then yelped when she slugged him on the shoulder with a glare.

“Agree with me damn it.”

“Fine! It’s nothing to worry about.” Totally fine. Absolutely nothing to worry about. Definitely no worries here. There would be no further worries.

Chapter Text

There were worries. There were lots of worries. Bucky spent his three day weekend ignoring texts from Steve asking if he’d be returning to work on Monday, listening to Natasha bitch at him for moping, and well, moping. He drove himself crazy wondering what the hell he was supposed to do. It was just sketches and Steve was obviously a dork who didn’t know how to speak to humans properly and how the hell did he manage to teach an art history class if he couldn’t speak to anyone without blushing or being awkward? Just like Bucky couldn’t function around Steve because he was stupidly, unfairly gorgeous. So fucking gorgeous.

By the time Monday rolled around he’d decided to keep his job. He needed the money. He’d just avoid Steve as much as possible. If he didn’t go back Natasha would dig up some God awful mission for him to go on as punishment for fucking up instead. He’d take awkwardly working for Steve over terrible missions any day.

So he’d texted Steve and apologized for not answering him before, telling him that he’d been busy and hadn’t been able to check his messages, but he’d still be at work that afternoon. Steve texted back almost immediately, like he’d been waiting to hear from Bucky, and told him that it was fine and he’d see him that afternoon.

It had been a suspiciously easy conversation and it only served to make Bucky more paranoid. What the fuck, Steve?

How was the blonde so calm? Or at least seemingly calm, because he hadn’t sent a message in all caps and hadn’t called to yell at him for ignoring his texts about work all weekend. Bucky would have been pissed off if his employee hadn’t responded for three days. He’d have fired them and made sure they knew not to use him as a reference when applying for a new job. Hell he’d probably be a vindictive ass and use his connections to make sure they couldn’t find another job. Okay, maybe he wouldn’t go that far but he’d for sure fire them. So why the hell was Steve being nice enough to not fire him? Was it because of Natasha, because she had been the one to recommend Bucky to watch the kids? What other reason could it be?

Sometimes it sucked getting a job that a friend had recommended you for. If it didn’t turn out for whatever reason it looked bad on the one who had recommended you. If you hated it and quit, it looked bad on both of you. If you hated them and quit it just made you look like an asshole. If you were nervous because the guy was exceptionally hot it made you look slightly crazy and if they were nice like Steve he worried that you were having panic attacks and wanted to let you know that if there was something he could do to help to let him know and he’d do it. He’d also taken it upon himself to try to remedy the situation by removing himself from it completely.

Which, yeah okay it was super nice, but still that meant the twins were the ones to open the door and call Bucky paranoid, ha! But he’d rather they didn’t do that, ever. Not just to him, but to anyone that knocked on the door.

He knew there were bad people in this world. He helped protect it from them. He and Natasha and Steve all had, but somehow Steve had managed to hang on to enough innocence to let the kids open the door on their own. It made Bucky crazy. He wasn’t exactly cynical, but he knew how cruel the world could be and wanted to protect people as much as he possibly could. Especially kids, he wanted them to retain their innocence for as long as possible. He maybe even wanted to protect Steve’s kids especially because Steve and Natasha had entrusted their lives with him. And maybe it wasn’t quite as dramatic as all that, but even so he’d protect them with everything he had. Even if it meant protecting them from their own kind hearted father because what kind of moron lets his babies open the door when someone knocks on it?

“Now you’re being dramatic again.” Bucky groaned dropping his head back against his pillow. “Talking to yourself is definitely not a sign of stability, Barnes.” Besides, everyone talks to themselves so that would make everyone unstable which technically means they’d all be stable anyways. Fuck you psychology. “‘Course I’d for sure be stable if Steve wasn’t so fucking gorgeous. It’s so not fair.”

It really wasn’t.

By the time two o’clock had rolled around Bucky had managed to actually talk himself into getting out of bed and taking a shower. He’d also managed to keep any and all fantasies starring the incredibly hot blonde to the bare minimum of wanking material. His life was turning into a bad porno. He could feel it. He could almost hear the sound of terrible porn music. Only for some reason his bad porno life had midi files instead of mp3. Probably it would have a midi file of some Ed Sheeran song. Or Careless Whisper , the cover by Seether though. Maybe Clint Eastwood by Gorillaz or Heathens by Twenty-One Pilots instead. They both had a distinctly porn-y feel to them when done as midi files. And why were there still midi files anyway?

He made his way to Steve’s house. The hour long walk giving him too much time to think about his bad porno life and which midi file he’d use for which scene. By the time he’d made it to the door he had his entire porno midi file musical line up done in his head and a disturbing amount of planning and organization. He had figured out where they’d start and what song would be playing. Where they’d move to and which song it would shift to. Whom would be doing what to whom when whatever particular midi file was playing.

He definitely was too interested in his imaginary bad porno. So much so that when he knocked on the door and Steve answered it he'd smiled like a dope and almost kissed him hello. Thankfully his nerves had caught up with him and he had managed to catch himself. Smiling like a dope was bad enough. He'd have to quit for real if he kissed Steve.

Instead he'd smiled and pretended nothing was wrong while he died on the inside a little bit more.

***

Steve blinked at the brunette that was standing the doorway with a dopey smile on his face and his hair out of a bun for once. While it was better than the usual panic, Steve was still concerned. Had he taken something before coming over? Drank something? He swayed toward Steve for a second then stopped himself with a shocked look and a shake of his head. Was he drunk? Steve leaned in trying to smell for alcohol on his breath and Bucky gasped backing away slightly. Okay, not drunk, but what the hell? Bucky wasn’t usually this…non-combative or non-panicky.

“You okay, Buck?”

“Hmm? Oh, yeah, I’m fine Stevie. The kids in the kitchen?”

Stevie? No one had called him Stevie since his mother when he was eight years old and decided he was too old for that baby name. “Yeah. Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Perfectly fine. Hey um…thanks for not firing me? I mean…I would have if someone had done what I did this weekend. So, thanks.” Bucky shrugged, shoving his hands in his jeans pockets and Steve only blinked at him again.

“Why would I ever fire you? You said you were busy and couldn’t answer. It’s fine. Besides you’re really great with the kids. They adore you so much.”

“Good. That’s…good. So um…I’m gonna go in there.” He nodded toward the kitchen then slipped past the blonde into the house, accidently sliding his ass across Steve’s hip. That was 100% an accident. Not even a tiny bit on purpose.

Steve turned to watch the brunette go into the kitchen and smiled when he heard the twins’ excited chatter. At least Bucky seemed to be in a better mood this time around. He wasn’t panicking or snapping or yelling at him. Whatever Bucky had done this weekend or taken before he’d gotten to work seemed like it had helped him a great deal. Maybe he’d gotten some medication for his anxiety? Either way he was glad Bucky seemed to be doing better.

He smiled again when Alexa giggled and then turned to go upstairs to his office, barely remembering to shut the front door from where he’d stood with it hanging open like a moron because he’d been so shocked at Bucky’s lack of panic. He paused on the stairs, deciding that maybe he should keep an eye on Bucky and twins for a moment before going back to his office. Just in case whatever medication Bucky might have taken made him a little loopy or something.

Sure, that’s the only reason you want to keep an eye on him. It has nothing to do with him being the most gorgeous man you’ve ever seen in your life. It has nothing to do with the fact that you think he looks amazing with the twins. Nothing to do with the fact that even though he’s a complete dick to you he’s an angel to the twins. Shut up, brain!

He shook his head to clear it then went back down the stairs as silently as possible, dodging the creaky steps, and peeked around the doorway into the kitchen. Bucky was on one side of the table and the twins were on the other as usual. Bucky was on his knees in the chair, leaning over the table and reading out loud from one of the twins’ books. He kept reaching up to tuck his hair back behind his ear and Steve’s eyes followed the graceful movement. Lips forming a wistful smile as locks of Bucky’s bangs that were too short to stay slid back along his cheekbone framing it perfectly. Another lock, longer than the others, fell forward kissing the corner of his perfect mouth and Steve nearly sighed like a lovestruck fool.

He eventually dragged himself away; if only to get his sketchbook and put the image on paper instead of working. It was becoming a problem, he thought. Or very nearly one. How he wanted to stay downstairs and watch Bucky with his children. He couldn’t. Couldn’t allow himself to keep doing it. Keep watching them. He couldn’t keep lying to himself about why. Yes, he did enjoy seeing his children happy. What parent wouldn’t? And he did actually check to make sure they were okay, but he enjoyed the smiles on Bucky’s face just as much as he did his twins’ and it wasn’t allowed .

There was a big flashing no symbol above the brunette’s head that warned Steve away. One that he kind of wanted to take a baseball bat to, but still it was there for a good reason. Reasons actually; the first of them was the fact that Bucky was his employee. Secondly, Bucky was a fucking tool, a gorgeous one at that, but a tool nonetheless. And pine as he might over someone he could never be with, he wouldn’t want to anyway if the guy was a douche canoe. Like Bucky. Total douche canoe. Damn him for being so pretty and so good with the twins. Not that Steve was pining. He wasn’t. Would never. Pining was for teenagers and he’d outgrown that a long time ago.

Steve scowled at the sketch appearing on the pad that rested on his knee, Bucky’s likeness captured perfectly. He wanted so badly to take his frustration out on the page and scribble all of Bucky’s features away, but couldn’t bring himself to. Not when the twins were also on that page. Both of them writing on their papers as Bucky read to them, twin looks of fierce concentration on their faces that so reminded him of himself. The little line between their eyebrows, the slight pout of their lips. He was still floored every day that his spawn were so much like him. So much like Natasha too.

Hell, he was still floored every day that he even had his tiny ginger demon babies. He loved them more and more every day and had since they were born and Natasha had placed them in his arms. He’d been young and stupid and hadn’t the faintest idea what to do with them. Had no clue how to take care of them, but he’d wanted them so badly. Wanted a family so badly. He’d easily given up the life he’d known for them. He never regretted it. Not once in the last almost ten years had he regretted his babies. Not when they woke every couple hours needing changed and fed. Not when he thought he might have bitten off more than he could chew the first time they’d both gotten sick. Not when he realized he was hilariously ill-equipped for twins at first. He had decided early on that raising twins on his own was harder than any mission he’d ever been sent on. Harder than basic training. Harder than the hand to hand and martial arts that Natasha had taught him.

He worried about them constantly. Wondered if he’d chosen the right school, the right clothes, and the right suburb for them to grow up in. The right way of teaching them all that he knew. Telling them of the mistakes he had made along the way in hopes that they wouldn’t repeat them. They were only nine, he had a few more years until they were gone from under his roof, but he prayed every day that he was doing the best for them that he could. He’d never been afraid of failure before. Not really. He had always been confident and sure that he wouldn’t fail. But this? Raising two children who depended on him for everything? He’d never been so terrified in his life that he would fail them in some way. The only thing he could do was try not to and if he did fail them in some way, try to make up for it the best he could.

He knew it was impossible to be a perfect parent, but oh how he wanted to be. Tried to be. Sometimes it wore him out. Made him tired and like he just wanted to sleep the hours away. But it was worth it to see the smiles on the twins’ faces. Worth the time and effort and pain and tears. It was always worth it and would always be worth it, if only to see them smile so brightly.

Steve sighed heavily, sketching a Zinnia in the bottom corner for lasting affection, and pretended that the flower only applied to his children as he sat his sketchbook aside and moved to his desk. He needed to get to work. Needed to finish up before dinner for once instead of waiting until after and then taking a break to get his heathens in bed and not finishing until late. He honestly didn’t have much to do this time, it just seemed like it dragged on and on. Especially when he was reading through his student’s assignments. He had six sitting in his inbox he needed to scan over and reply to the questions at the end of. He just really didn’t want to deal with it. It was one of his struggles about his parenting skills. He only wanted to be with his children, to make sure they were safe and cared for, but had to work. He’d felt so guilty even asking Natasha if she knew someone that could help him.

She had tried to tell him he didn’t need to feel guilty. That sometimes people needed help and it was okay to ask for it, something he had always hated doing, and then told him that Bucky would be a good choice. And that was that. Bucky started work two days later and Steve’s life had changed so drastically. Now he only wanted to spend time with the brunette and the twins. Wanted to see Bucky’s smiles directed at him instead of his usual scowls. Wanted to feel Bucky’s lips on his. Wanted his hands all over him. Wanted to feel the strength of the muscle Bucky kept hidden under grungy clothes. He groaned and dropped his head onto his desk with a thunk.

“You can’t do this. You cannot do this, Rogers. He’s the nanny. You can’t want to fuck your nanny. So many bad pornos start off with that and you cannot let your life turn into a bad porno.” His dick is probably huge , a little voice supplied, making him whimper. “Shut up, tiny voice.” But you want to see it. “Ugh.” He slammed his forehead against his desk then sat up and opened his laptop. “Work. I’m working. I don’t have time for you, tiny voice.” He clicked on the first email he saw and opened the attached file hoping it would distract him enough to shut the tiny voice up. And to keep him from sighing wistfully like a moron. And to prevent him getting distracted by his twins and Bucky laughing hysterically or screaming and running and playing in the backyard. “Get to work, Rogers. You can do this.”

Less than fifteen minutes later he’d caught himself listening to the twins and Bucky play arguing over what they wanted for dinner with a dopey smile on his face. He wanted to flail around like Kermit the Frog in that gif that was everywhere for a while. Only Steve would be flailing in frustration instead of excitement.

He pushed himself away from his desk and went to his office door, closing it for the first time since he’d bought the house and turned the room into his office, and then made his way back to his desk and fell into his chair opening Windows Media Player and finding the last playlist he’d had open. He felt so old still using it, but it worked. He plugged the cable for his sound system in and turned the music up, actually flailing and almost falling from his chair when Closer by Nine Inch Nails started to play.

“Oh, hell no!” He scrambled to hit a button, any button, on his keyboard that would silence the song. There will be no fucking like animals, damn it! But oh, how he wanted to. He shook his head, irritated with himself and skipped it to the next song then pushed play. More Human Than Human started, the uncensored one at that, and he whimpered and skipped it again. What the hell playlist? Remind me of what I can’t do, thanks. Loads of help. He skipped it again and Freak on a Leash started. He figured it was safe enough and turned the volume up a little bit more until he felt like his entire body was rattling then sighed and got to work.

***

Bucky looked up at the ceiling when he heard music blaring and raised a brow when the song cut off a few seconds later. Nine Inch Nails ? Closer even. Maybe there was a midi file of that for his bad porno life. And that one, he added when More Human Than Human started. Was Steve planning his own bad porno? Or maybe a really hot aggressive one? That’d be nice. Certainly nicer than Bucky’s own bad midi file filled one.

Maybe he was planning his new stripper routine? Art Stripper Steve dancing to Closer while taking off his clothes one piece at a time. The dorky cardigan would go first, and then he’d unbutton and unzip his jeans, pull off his t-shirt with paint splattered hands, run his hands over his pecs, teasing at his nipples and then down his abs leaving messy streaks of acrylic paint in their wake. Leaving even more streaks as he pushed his jeans down revealing that he hadn’t been wearing anything under the almost threadbare denim jeans. Jesus. Bucky could almost see it. Could almost feel the pounding bass. His heart thumping along in time as Steve moved to the music wearing nothing but those stupidly sexy glasses. The little multicolored flakes of dried acrylic paint beginning to peel as Steve ran a hand around his pelvis and inner thighs, never touching the one place Bucky wanted him to touch more than anything.

“Mr. Barnes? I need help with number six.”

Bucky jolted, falling over and taking his chair with him in a clatter of wood and metal on tile. He groaned when he landed on his left arm. “Ow.”

“Oh, my God! Mr. Barnes, are you okay!” Alexa ran around the table, hands fluttering wildly as she looked him over. He nodded with another groan and rolled over onto his back.

“I’m fine.” God that was so fucking inappropriate, Buck. You’re at fucking work, dumb shit.

“Should I go get Daddy?”

“No!” She flinched and he sighed. “No, sweetheart. I’m fine. I promise. I’m sorry.” So fucking embarrassing.

“Are you sure?”

“Yep.” He sat up with a wince, rubbing at his collarbone absently. It was going to ache like a bitch later. Why did he have to fling himself to the floor? Because you’re lusting after your boss, moron. Jesus. You’re supposed to be taking care of the kids. You don’t have time for this shit.

He dragged himself out of the floor and sat his chair upright after making sure he hadn’t broken it. “Which one did you need help with?” He sat in the chair as Alexa walked back around the table and then pushed her paper toward him.

“Number six.” He read over the math problem wondering once again why the hell there were so many names and shit in it now. Who cared how many hamburgers Bobby bought and was stingy with? They might as well have asked what the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow was. Both questions were pointless, though the latter was more amusing than Bobby and his stupid hamburgers that he refused to share with Geoffrey. Bucky wondered if the twins had ever seen Monty Python and The Holy Grail. Probably not. They didn’t seem to watch much on the TV and their DVD and Blu-Ray collection was rather low in number. They kept busy with homework and playing games or playing outside more than they watched TV. Which was cool. That’s how he’d always been as a kid. Even if he had wanted a Super Nintendo that his ma couldn’t afford to get him. The first thing he’d done when he got enough money was buy a Wii and Mario Kart. It was the best money he’d ever spent. Eventually no one would play with him though because he refused to lose and blue shelled the hell out of everyone. Still it was fun. Alexa tapped her page to get his attention and he nodded then showed her how to work out the problem on a piece of scrap paper while the music continued to blast from upstairs.

The kids had finished homework and dinner had been eaten. The music from upstairs was still going. Bucky was dancing along to it as he put Steve’s plate in the microwave and began to load the dishwasher. Dancing like crazy because there was no one watching him. He kept his eye on the doorway as he moved; making sure Steve wasn’t standing in it watching him as was his apparently favorite pastime.

Bucky was sweating by the time he was done cleaning up and the twins ran into the kitchen dancing with him when some pop song he didn’t know came on. They apparently did though, singing at the top of their lungs and dancing around the room. He watched them with a smile then joined in their dancing, letting them drag him in circles around the kitchen table. Lonely is the Night started and the kids left the kitchen and ran upstairs to get ready for bed without their father having to tell them for once. Which what? Why the hell hadn’t Steve come down? Was he that in the zone? Bucky peeked out the doorway and saw Steve’s retreating form following them up. Oh, he had come to get them. How had Bucky missed him?

He carried the bucket of scraps out to the compost bin then walked into the kitchen singing and dancing his way across the room to rinse the bucket and put it back under the sink. “Somebody’s watching you baby, so much you can do. Nobody’s stopping you baby, from making it too. One glimpse’ll show you now baby, what the music can do. One kiss’ll show you now baby, it can happen to you.” He spun around as he sang the last line and nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw Steve standing in the doorway looking pale and bit sweaty.

“Oh, fuck.” Bucky really hoped he hadn’t been dancing as suggestively as he thought he might have been. His hair was stuck to his face and neck with sweat, breaths rushing in and out, shoulders heaving with the effort. How long had Steve been there? “Um…”

***

Steve only blinked at the brunette struggling for breath in his kitchen. Steve had never seen anyone move like that before. Not even the strippers at a club that Sam had dragged him to years ago when Steve had been on leave. How the hell did Bucky know how to move like that? All swaying hips and body rolls and running his hands through his dark hair. Jesus. Steve needed a cold shower. He wanted nothing more than to drag Bucky over to him and kiss those red bitten lips for all he was worth. Run his hands over him and rest them on his hips. See if Bucky would dance like that just for him.

“Rogers?” Bucky moved toward him slowly and Steve shook his head and blinked some more. “What’s wrong? You look…sweaty.”

“So do you.” Steve’s voice was rough with arousal and he cleared his throat. He had to get away from Bucky before he did something stupid. “You can go. Thank you.” With that he turned and fled.

***

Bucky blinked as he watched Steve tuck tail and run. What the hell just happened? Had Steve had some kind of panic attack? Like he was always asking Bucky? When Steve had first seen him those short few days ago he’d blinked and not said a word for the longest time. After that he hadn’t seemed bothered, but now? What the hell was Bucky supposed to do about it? Yeah, he’d probably been dancing more suggestively than he should have been, but he he’d been alone. Had thought he’d been alone anyway. How long had Steve watched him? Had he watched him from the moment he’d gone back into the kitchen or just long enough to see him singing and dancing? And why the fuck had Steve looked at him like that? Like he wasn’t sure what to make of him? Like he wanted to say something or do something? And then just dismissed him like that? ‘You can go. Thank you.’? What the fuck was that about? Scare the living shit out of him and then run?

He wanted to go ask Steve what the hell, but that meant talking to him and he was still embarrassed at being caught dancing and singing like that in the man’s kitchen. He had enough problems trying to talk to Steve anyway. He had to be gruff so Steve would almost hate him, but not enough to actually fire him. By now he kind of figured that even if he was a complete dick to Steve the kids liked him well enough that Steve would keep him. As their nanny and not as anything else even though Bucky really, really wanted everything he could get from the blonde. It was still so unfair how gorgeous and out of reach he was. Steve was so off limits for him that there might as well have been a flashing no symbol floating over his head. One he wanted to shoot out of the air with his sniper rifle. So fucking unfair.

He shook his head then walked out of the kitchen, pausing at the bottom of the stairs to look up them to see if Steve was still watching for him. Telling himself that it was the only reason to look for the blonde and not because he wanted one last look at him before he went home for the night. Keep telling yourself that, Barnes. He shook his head, at himself and at Steve, then turned and left the house to make his way home to his empty bedroom.

He didn’t even realize he’d started humming Lonely is the Night as he went until he walked into the house and Natasha started to hum with him.

“Where’d you hear that song?”

“Steve’s. He was blasting music from his office.”

“Hmm.” Steve never listened to music while he was working. Not unless he was distracted by something else. Or someone else. He and Bucky needed to get their shit together and talk. It was going to be painful for them if they didn’t. Hysterically funny for her because they were so oblivious, but painful nonetheless.

“What?”

“Oh, nothing.” This was going to be so great. All the pining these two dumbasses were going to do. She wasn’t going to help them though. They had to figure shit out on their own. She’d already done her part. Bucky thought Steve was absolutely gorgeous, which he was, and Steve…well, Steve thought Bucky was a douche bag. Even if he was head over heels for him from what she could tell by the sketches. Which was good, it was all part of the plan, but even so if Bucky didn’t stop being a dick to Steve it wouldn’t matter.

“Steve usually only listens to music when he’s distracted, it helps him focus.”

“Oh. Why would he be distracted?”

“You.”

“I’m sorry? I don’t even fucking talk to him, Tasha. I go there, I do my job, and I leave. Just like I’m supposed to.”

“Maybe you should talk to him.”

“Nope.”

“Why not?”    

“You know why.” He pouted at her, flinging himself down on the couch dramatically. “He’s so gorgeous. And so very off limits.”

“Why off limits?”

“You’re fucking with me right?” He raised both brows in question then groaned and dropped his head against the back of the sofa. “You know what happened last time I got involved with my boss.”

“Yeah, you quit a promising career as head of security at Stark’s.”

“He got clingy and it got weird. I couldn’t stay there. I learned from my mistakes, okay? No more sleeping with the boss. Besides, Steve hates me. I made him hate me.”

“If Steve hated you, you wouldn’t be working for him.”

“Yes, I would. He’s too nice to fire someone just because he dislikes them.”

Bucky had it so bad and didn’t even realize it. Not really. “That is surprisingly astute for someone who hasn’t spoken to him more than strictly necessary.”

“Eh.” Bucky shrugged then stood and walked to the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge. It really wasn’t that hard to figure out that Steve was one of those almost annoyingly nice people. Not after he’d offered to keep out of Bucky’s sight in case of panic attacks. So what if they weren’t even actual panic attacks. Not for the reasons people might think. Honestly, who would think that someone would panic when faced by an unfairly attractive Art History professor that possibly moonlighted as a stripper? Those eyelashes that framed those ocean blue eyes shoulda been fucking illegal. And those lips. Bucky had a multitude of fantasies about those perfect pouty lips. The man was stupidly attractive and Bucky was so very screwed.  

“Look, Barnes. Just try to be nice to him? He adores his kids and that’s why he’s distracted and blasting music through the house. He wants to spend every minute with them that he can and this shit cuts down on his time with them. You get to play with them and make them dinner and that’s what he’s distracted by. I guarantee it.”

“Oh.” Were they playing too loudly? Laughing too loudly while doing their homework and telling bad jokes? They must have been because Steve never closed his office door from what Bucky could tell. Except maybe when he’d played his music so loud earlier. It had sounded muffled, but that could have been from filtering downstairs too. Shit. “Well, the twins and I will keep it down so he can work.”

Holy shit, James was so far off base. This was going to be so amazing. Natasha almost laughed, would have if not for the pitiful look in Bucky’s face, and then patted his shoulder consolingly. “That’s nice. I’m sure he’ll appreciate it.”

Bucky nodded looking miserable. “Yeah.”

Chapter Text

Steve had watched out of one of the upstairs windows as Bucky left the house minutes after Steve had rudely dismissed him. Like the brunette was a troublesome servant instead of his employee. He’d fucked up. So fucking bad. He didn’t know how long he had watched Bucky walking down the sidewalk before he’d gone to read the twins their bedtime stories. Only that it was probably longer than it should have been. He needed to get those thoughts, those images of Bucky dancing so suggestively, out of his head and watching the man walk down the sidewalk had not done him any favors. Watching the way his shoulders rolled and his hips swayed, his ass and thighs tantalizing even from so far away. How had he never noticed that Bucky didn’t walk, he fucking prowled, looking dangerous and sexy at the same time. Steve imagined that the brunette could handle himself just fine in a fight; he had been Army and was still part-time with S.H.I.E.L.D. after all.

Yeah, Rogers. Fighting is really what you want to imagine him doing. Anything you want to see him doing involves being horizontal or pushed up against a wall or door. “Shut up, brain,” he murmured as he went back into the kitchen after making sure the twins were still sleeping soundly. He grabbed his plate from the microwave and ate it cold, not really paying attention to what it was other than the fact that it was chicken and tasted better than anything he could have made. No, his mind was still on the sway of Bucky’s hips as the danced only inches from where Steve was currently sitting. His movements perfectly matching the music as he sang along to the old Billy Squire song. Jesus, he was half-hard over it. Again. Still. Whatever.

He finished his dinner, sticking the plate in the dishwasher and turning it on then went upstairs to his bedroom so he could take a shower. A nice cold shower because he was being so inappropriate right now. No boss should ever be that turned on by one of their employees. Even if they were hot as sin. He refused to masturbate to Bucky. Absolutely refused. He wouldn’t, he told himself as he stripped down and climbed into the shower with a shiver when he turned the cold water on full blast. He was most definitely not going to, he thought, as his hand strayed to the knob for the hot water and turned it on too. It was definitely never gonna happen, he told himself, as he palmed his rapidly swelling erection and started to stroke himself quickly while images of Bucky played behind his closed eyelids. Fuck it; it would only happen once, he told himself as he came far sooner than he’d wanted to. Just the once and that was it. He’d never do it again.

“So inappropriate, Rogers. Never again.”

Never again happened twice more before he fell asleep in his bed covered in come and sweat and dreaming of ice blue eyes and lips that he wanted pressed all over his body.

When he woke in the morning, body crusted with dried sweat and evidence of his lack of propriety and control, because seriously brain? He felt guilty. More guilty than he’d ever felt before. It wasn’t his usual Catholic guilt. It went deeper than that. He felt like he’d taken advantage of Bucky even if he hadn’t physically done anything with him. To him. Mental images of sex with the brunette, his employee , were just as bad.

And how the hell was he ever supposed to face him again? He’d be seeing him in just under ten hours. He’d avoid him completely if he wouldn’t get his ass chewed for letting the twins open the door to him again. Somehow mortification seemed the lesser of those two evils. And wasn’t that something to worry about later? For now he’d take another shower, where he would absolutely not think about what he’d done the night before, and then get himself and the twins ready for school.

***

School was not so great, Steve thought, as he tossed back the last drink of coffee in his mug. He’d been distracted all day, watching the clock ticking and bringing him closer and closer to having to see Bucky again. Trying to figure out what he’d say or do. Trying to figure out if he should even say or do anything, afraid that if he spoke to Bucky he’d blurt out the fact that he’d had a masturbation marathon over him last night. And wouldn’t that just be great. He’d really have to look for a new nanny after that kind of fuck up.

But the worrying was only half of the problem. He’d spent his entire first hour letting his students talk and fuck off the class because he’d been doodling in the side margin of his papers. Tiny drawings and doodles of Bucky which had turned into a full page front and back, which had led to him pulling out his sketchpad and drawing Bucky as he had been in the kitchen.

In it Bucky had his blue-grey eyes closed, one hand at his neck, the other tangled his hair, lips parted in song. Beads of sweat rested on his skin, one sliding under the collar of his shirt that had ridden up to show the muscles of his lower stomach and the V that Steve wanted to drag his lips and tongue across and down as the low waist of his jeans hung from his hips. The band of his navy boxer briefs showing too, a dark slash against tan skin. At least Steve thought they were boxer briefs. The band looked similar to one of his own pair.

It was beautiful but didn’t do Bucky any justice at all. Steve wished he had video. He’d never seen someone move so perfectly, look so perfect, as they got lost in the music. He had it so bad and it could never happen. He drew a Coriander flower in the corner for lust, not even pretending that the flower didn’t mean anything for once, and then shoved the sketchpad in the very bottom drawer of his desk under a pile of papers to be forgotten about.

He’d wound up digging it out on his lunch break and shoving it in his satchel to take home with him. He’d brought it back out almost immediately and decided to draw a caricature of himself looking supremely guilty with overly large eyes and a hangdog expression with a Salt Cedar flower drawn in the corner for guilt. As soon as he was finished he shoved the pad back into his satchel which he then kicked under his desk to keep himself from dragging the sketchpad back out.

Now he was sat as his desk watching his students file out the door after the last class of the day. He needed to be getting his shit together to go home and wait for the twins to get off of the bus, but he was still too busy worrying about what to do where Bucky was concerned. Probably the best course of action would be to just let him in, smile politely, and then hide in his office until time for Bucky to go home. Then all he’d have to do is get the twins ready for bed and then pretend that none of the past twenty-four hours had happened. Pretend he’d never seen Bucky singing and dancing in the kitchen, pretend he’d never done what he’d done in the shower and after in his bed. None of it meant anything. Except that he should be, and was, deeply, deeply ashamed over his lack of control.

He was so fucked where James Barnes was concerned. He could never allow Natasha to find out. She’d never let him hear the end of it. Would make jokes about him being a stereotypical upper middle class white guy wanting to sleep with the nanny. Never mind the fact that he was only upper middle class because of his savings from before he’d become a professor. He’d grown up poor and had been poor until S.H.I.E.L.D had scooped him up after he’d left the Army. And then somehow he’d managed college and missions at the same time and left to become a father and then an Art History professor at a younger age than most. He’d managed to teach his courses and raise his twins and give them the life he’d always wanted. And now? Now his life was plagued by a gorgeous brunette that couldn’t stand the sight of him but was adored by the twins and seemed to adore them in return. He just had to keep him hired on for a few more weeks while doing his best to ignore him and figure out how to sort out the mess his head was in where Bucky was concerned. So, yes, Steve was very fucked.

He sighed heavily then grabbed his satchel and shoved all of the papers off of his desk into it then buckled it shut and left his classroom. He needed to be home to walk the twins home from the bus stop. God forbid Bucky ever find out that they usually walked the half block home from the bus stop alone, but with Steve watching them from the sidewalk in front of their house. Steve would never hear the fucking end of it. He’d get his ass chewed again and not in a fun away. Though he probably wouldn’t mind Bucky biting his ass at some point. Fuck off, brain!

He got home in time to watch the twins step off of the bus and walk toward him, giggling and calling goodbyes at their friends. He waved at them when they finally stopped shouting at their friends and they waved back with goofy grins on their faces and then ran to him. He dropped his satchel in time for them to jump on him and he spun around with a groan, falling backward onto the grass of their yard and dragging them down with him while they laughed. They did the same thing every day and he dreaded the day they would decide they were too old to climb all over him like a couple of monkeys.

“How was school?”

“Fine. Lexi almost got in trouble with Miss Cooper.” Alexa looked positively gleeful that her twin had almost gotten in trouble with their math teacher. Usually she was more subdued when he got in trouble at school. Steve thought it was because they both usually got in trouble at the same time.

“Really?” Steve raised a brow at his son, but Alexi only shrugged.

“Yeah. He corrected her on one of the math problems that Mr. Barnes helped us with yesterday and she got mad but then she looked it up and Lexi was right!”

“I see.”

“So why did she get mad?”

“Probably because she’s supposed to be the smartest one in the room and teaching you, not the other way around. It’s good that you helped her figure out that she was wrong, but maybe don’t do it in front of the whole class next time, yeah?”

“Okay, Daddy.”

“Good job though, baby.” He waited for his son to snap at him and tell him he wasn’t a baby any longer but the words never came. How much more time did he have before that started up? He couldn’t imagine that he could get away with it for much longer even though they would always be his babies. His adorable ginger demon babies.

“Thank you, Daddy.”

“You’re welcome.” He sat up and gave them both a kiss on the forehead then stood and pulled them up. “Let’s go fix you a snack while we wait for Mr. Barnes.”

By the time they’d gotten their snacks fixed and were sitting at the kitchen table it was five ‘til four and Steve was sitting on the couch waiting for Bucky and pretending he wasn’t freaking out over what to do or say to the brunette. Well, he knew what he wanted to do to the brunette, but that was never going to happen. There was too much at stake for anything to happen.

Steve honestly only hoped that nothing embarrassing came out of his mouth as soon as he opened it. It probably would. Just to torment him. He’d blurt out the fact that he’d had his masturbation marathon over Bucky and then Bucky would quit and Steve would have to tell Natasha that Bucky had quit and even more embarrassing than that, the reason why. And Natasha would never let it go. She’d laugh in his face and then not help him find another nanny for the twins. So, yeah. No speaking to Bucky. He’d just give him a polite smile, wave him into the kitchen with the twins to work on their homework, and then go into his office to work and pretend there wasn’t a devastatingly gorgeous brunette in the kitchen. There wouldn’t be any awkward conversation or accidental confession of impropriety. He’d be fine. He could do this.

He in no way, shape, or form made what could later be described as a mouse-like squeak when said brunette knocked on the door. He stood and wiped his sweaty palms on his khakis as he walked to the door and peeked through the peephole. Not like he was expecting anyone else, but Bucky’s bitch fit from before was still fresh in his mind. He opened the door after confirming that it was the brunette then stepped back to let him in.

Bucky started to step through the door then paused with one foot over the threshold. “Um…I want to apologize for yesterday. I shouldn’t have been…well…”

“It’s okay, Bucky. Really.” See? Not so hard to not blurt out shit he didn’t need to say.

“No, I um…it’s just…”

“Bucky, you were just dancing, it’s fine.” So totally fine. Bucky could dance all he wanted if Steve could see him that lost in the music again. No, damn it! No dancing! No watching him dance! And no more marathons! Get your mind out of the gutter, Rogers.

“No, that’s not…well, that too maybe, but I’m sorry if me and the kids make too much noise. I guess that’s why you had the stereo up so loud? And we’ll try to be quieter.”

“Wait. What?” Steve blinked wondering when he’d gotten lost and realized it was almost a week ago when Bucky had started working. The minute he’d opened the door to see the brunette standing there was when he’d gotten lost. He was fucked. Bucky couldn’t stand him, he adored Bucky, and he was totally fucked. And not in a fun way. There doesn’t need to be a fun way, brain!

“The music? I figured the kids and I were distracting you is why you had it on.” Bucky gave him an awkward smile while tucking a lock of hair behind his ear. Steve found it endearing. Even if he didn’t want to. Thank God for Bucky’s obliviousness.

“No, I just needed to work out some frustration and manage to work at the same time. I can’t box every time.”

“Oh. Okay.”

Steve nodded, more to himself than the brunette, and then stepped further back hoping he’d take the hint and go into the kitchen with the twins before something embarrassing happened. Before Steve blurted out things that ought not to be said. Ever. To anyone. For any reason. But especially not to the star of his recent fantasies.

Bucky gave him a weak smile, a pale example of the happy smiles he showed the twins, then slid past him and walked into the kitchen where the twins were waiting. Steve stifled a sigh of relief since he was no longer in danger of being stupid, then shut the door and made his way upstairs to his office to hide. Work. He was going to be working. He was a grown man and didn’t need to hide. He was too old for this shit. This was like grade school level pining and awkwardness he was doing right now. He was definitely not going to hide from Bucky.

He was totally going to hide.

***

Bucky peeked around the entryway to the kitchen and watched as Steve made his way up the stairs quickly. Like he couldn’t wait to get away from Bucky and his awkwardness and piss poor attitude. It wasn’t Bucky’s fault Steve was unfairly gorgeous and incredibly sexy and caused Bucky to get all awkward and sweaty and flushed. Although he had been being kind of nice for once. He made a mental note to stop the niceness. He couldn’t afford to get attached to Steve. Not with the kids in the mix. Not with his job in the mix. Why the hell did life have to be so fucking unfair? Why couldn’t, just once, shit not be complicated? Why couldn’t he just fall into bed with the blonde and not leave for a few days?

And what was up with Steve today? He’d seemed shifty and awkward. Much like when he’d caught Bucky dancing, but not nearly as bad. Was he upset over it or was there something else? Were his classes stressing him out that badly? No wonder he had needed to hire a nanny. Poor guy. Maybe Art Stripper Steve needed to take a break from stripping too. Not that Bucky figured the blonde actually stripped, but he damn sure didn’t have a Dad Bod. And when the hell did the guy ever have time to hit the gym anyway? Between teaching classes all day and then working at home in the evenings and two kids when did he get the chance? He boxed when annoyed with his students, but surely it wasn’t enough to warrant his build.

And now visions of the time Bucky had watched Steve beating up a punching bag were floating across his vision. The way his shirt had been soaked with sweat and his jeans had ridden low on his hips and the way his ass jiggled so nicely as he punched the bag and bounced lightly on his feet. Damn but Bucky was fucked. So fucked. And not in a fun way. Not that there’d be a fun way. He couldn’t do fun anymore. Not with someone he worked for. He doubted he’d be able to have fun with anyone else right now anyway. Not with how hardcore his crush on Steve was. He was pining so epic it was annoying. He hadn’t pined so much since he’d fallen in love with a little twinky kid back in high school.

And hadn’t that been fun? Bucky had been on the baseball team, not yet out to anyone aside from his mother. He’d been one of the guys, a star on the team, if anyone had ever found out he’d have gotten thrown off the team and probably run out of the school. But Bucky had seen one glance of that perpetually messy mop of blonde hair and those gorgeous blue eyes and pouty lips on that tiny body and had fallen headfirst for the kid. They hadn’t been in the same circles at all and Bucky had to be content with watching him from afar. Carefully. Eventually the kid had moved or something, Bucky was never sure what, but one day he had been there and the next he’d been gone and Bucky had never seen him again. Had hated his own cowardice and stupidity had kept him from ever speaking to the tiny blonde while he’d had the chance and then all of the sudden it was too late.

And he was doing it again, wasn’t he? Being a coward? No. He was being smart. Nothing good ever came from starting a relationship with the boss. Aside from awesome sex. There were too many complications and Bucky couldn’t let himself feel anything more than what he already did. He hated the fact that even though he didn’t want to feel close or get close to Steve it seemed like he was anyway. From the two sketches Steve had given him with their amazing detail, and what little of him he’d seen, to the twins chattering away mindlessly about their dad and the stuff he always did with them. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t take that chance. He liked this job and he adored the kids. It was so much better than whatever mission Natasha would have gotten for him.

He’d much rather take care of a couple kids for less than a fourth of what the mission would have paid. The money would have been good, but this was so much better. He had always adored children. They were his one weakness. Well, next to kitten and puppy videos on YouTube, but no one could ever find out about those. Anyone aside from Natasha that was, because she had always known and would randomly send him links to videos when she was away. As if she didn’t have a job of her own to be doing. Though he doubted anyone would give her shit for it. No, most everyone was scared of Natasha. He was still almost certain she’d killed a man with her pinkie once. She had definitely John Wick-ed someone with a pencil one time though. He had too once, but that was beside the point. Not that he was even sure he had one at this point.

“Mr. Barnes?”

“Hmm?” He blinked back into awareness and saw the twins watching him worriedly. “What’s up?”

“We only have two math problems to finish and we’ll be done.”

“Okay.”

“And we have to pick the carrots today. It says so on the calendar.” She pointed over his shoulder to a calendar he’d never noticed before and he smiled seeing a carrot shaped sticker in the little square for the date.

“I don’t know how to pick them.”

“I’ll show you.”

“Okay. Let’s get this finished up and I’ll look over your papers and then we’ll pick your carrots.”

***

Bucky grinned to himself as he held the water hose so the twins could wash the dark soil from their carrots. His hand twitched and sprayed Alexa who screamed and then giggled hysterically when he sprayed her brother next. “I am so sorry. That was an accident.” He grinned again, putting his thumb over the end of the hose to pressurize the spray and hosed them and their carrots down while they giggled and screamed. Hopefully Steve wouldn’t get upset with them for playing in the water in their school clothes. Or for playing in the water in general. It was plenty warm outside though so they shouldn’t get ill from it.

Clumps of mud dripped from the carrots the twins held in the hands, dropping on their shoes and the grass at their feet. He grinned hosing their shoes off then yelped when the twins shared a look that he’d seen on Natasha’s face plenty of times before. He was in so much trouble. He dropped the hose the second they dropped their vegetables and took off across the yard not fully realizing how long the water hose was until he was drenched and laughing just as much as the twins were. Alexi sprayed him right in the face and he coughed and sputtered then dropped into a defensive stance with a playful glare. Alexa screamed and her brother yelped and dropped the hose then took off running. Bucky ran after them, slower than he could have, and swiped the hose chasing them across the yard with it until they were completely soaked from head to toe and begging for mercy.

Bucky laughed then went to turn the water hose off at the faucet that was built into the side of the house and he gulped when he saw Steve standing in the doorway with his arms crossed over his muscled chest and now wearing a t-shirt that was at least three sizes too small and a pair of baggy jeans instead of the khakis and button down he’d been wearing when he answered the door.

“I can explain.” What even was that look on Steve’s face? He looked torn between anger, amusement, and constipation. Bucky stifled a laugh at that. He didn’t want to piss Steve off more than what he already possibly was.

“You can?”

“Yeah. We picked the carrots and then we were washing them and my hand twitched.” He wiggled the fingers of his left hand, trying to pretend that it had malfunctioned and Steve’s lips twitched then settled back into their almost frown. “And I accidently sprayed the twins and then they went crazy and got me back. It was all purely accidental. The first bit anyway.”

“Was it, now?”

Bucky nodded, trying his best not to laugh as the twins nodded in agreement with him.

“It was, Daddy! Honest!” Alexa giggled, not helping their case any and Steve rolled his eyes at his twins then reached over with one arm and grabbed a stack of towels. He tossed them each one and watched bemusedly as they dried off as much as they were able.

“Leave your shoes outside and then I want you all to go clean up and put some dry clothes on.”

Bucky smiled down at the twins as he draped the towel over his shoulders then went to pick up their carrots as they kicked off their shoes and went into the house, squeezing past their father. He handed them to Steve then backed away quickly at the look in the blonde’s eyes. He looked…not mad, but maybe upset. Bucky wasn’t sure what that look was as Steve looked him over from head to toe like he wasn’t quite sure what to make of him. That was good though, he guessed. He didn’t want to get too close.

“I’m sorry if the twins weren’t supposed to play in the water. It was just…I couldn’t help myself? I always loved playing in the water as a kid and it just sorta…happened.”

“It’s fine, Bucky.” Steve murmured after clearing his throat and looking over Bucky’s shoulder instead of meeting his eyes. “I um…I probably have some clothes you can wear so you don’t stay soppy until you leave.” He scratched the back of his neck awkwardly as he spoke and Bucky only blinked at him.

Oh, God. Oh, no. Bucky couldn’t wear Steve’s clothes. No way in hell was he going to do that because then he’d be surrounded Steve’s scent. Something slightly floral from their laundry soap and something earthy and musky that Bucky assumed was just Steve’s natural scent. He’d die from brain death before the end of the day if he had to wear Steve’s clothes because there wouldn’t be an ounce of blood left in his head. Well…the proper head anyway. He’d be completely NSFW and get fired.

“I’ll just go get them for you. You can get dressed in my bathroom.”

“I shouldn’t, honestly. I uh…I’ll just run home for a few minutes and then come back.”

“I’m not going to let you trek across town looking like you entered a wet t-shirt contest, Buck.” With that Steve turned on his heels and walked back into the house and through the kitchen.

It was only belatedly that Bucky realized he was wearing a white shirt and he could probably jab someone’s eyes out with his nipples.

“Well, shit.”

Chapter Text

Steve was going to die. He was definitely going to die. He whimpered as he dug through his closet for something that might fit Bucky, dismissing everything but the baggiest pair of jeans he owned and a grey-blue t-shirt he’d never worn before but might fit Bucky okay. They were close in size, but not that close. Although, from the way the transparent white t-shirt had clung to Bucky’s chest and stomach and the way his jeans had been stuck to him every-fucking-where they were pretty evenly matched. Bucky’s shoulders might be broader, his waist a little bit thicker, but good God those fucking thighs. It was the last thing Steve had needed to see after last night. He didn’t need more fuel for the inappropriate fire that burned through him. So probably he should give Bucky a different t-shirt. Because he had in no way picked that shirt because it matched Bucky’s eyes. So what if he’d stared at those cold eyes for longer than he should have? There weren’t any witnesses. No one could prove it.

Fuck, he was so screwed.

He had looked out the office window when he had heard the twins giggling and smiled when he saw them with soil covered carrots dangling from their hands by the leafy tops. Bucky pulled one up, shaking the dirt from it with a grin and Alexa had laughed again shaking the dirt from her own and getting it on Bucky and Alexi. They picked more, shaking them at each other until they were all three speckled with the nearly black soil. Bucky handed his few to the twins then walked over to turn the water hose on then walked back over to them to rinse the dirt from the vegetables. Steve had sighed when he saw Bucky spraying them down while they held carrots in their hands. Soaking them in their school clothes and getting mud all over them. Well, he had to do laundry anyway so it wasn’t a big deal.

No, it hadn’t been a big deal until Bucky had yelped and dropped the water hose after a shared look from the twins and then they had dropped their carrots and ran after Bucky, spraying him down with the water hose and soaking him completely. His white t-shirt had quickly turned transparent, clinging to pecs and abs and obliques and unf. Even from his office window, so far from the back yard, he had seen every inch of Bucky through that t-shirt. And if that wasn’t bad enough, his jeans clung to his thighs and crotch and ass. Not at all hiding anything they should have and holy fuck Bucky was going commando.

Now Steve was going to be lucky if he managed to get any sleep that night. Every time he closed his eyes he saw that perfect body draped in clinging fabric. He wanted to rip it off of him and take him to bed and keep him there for the foreseeable future. He whimpered again and palmed his cock, hoping it would take the hint and quit before it got him in trouble and needing a new nanny. He’d been half-hard since he’d seen Bucky the first time and he’d managed to will it away before going downstairs to bring the kids in. But now it was coming back full force since he knew they were busy and he’d seen Bucky up close, had seen how hard the brunette’s nipples were from the cool water.

Steve wanted to bite them. Wanted to warm then with his lips and tongue and hands. Oh, shit. If the water was cold then Bucky wasn’t even…oh God. His dick was huge. Steve would have no issues warming that up for him too. Or the rest of him for that matter. Steve naturally ran hot. He could definitely warm Bucky up.

“Damn it, Steve. You can’t do this. Or him. You absolutely can’t do him either. Just give him the clothes, go back to your office and go back to work. Don’t ogle him again. He’s your employee. It’s all kinds of wrong.”

It could be all kinds of right too , that damned little voice replied. You’d treat him so good.

“No, damn it. I’m not talking to myself over this shit again. Jesus. Shut up, tiny voice.” Steve stomped out of his room, doing his best to ignore the throbbing of his erection, and made his way down the stairs and to the doorway of the kitchen. He tossed the clothes on the table; he couldn’t very well let Bucky see him like this, and then yelled for the brunette that was still standing out in the backyard.

“I got you some clothes, Buck! They should fit you. I’m going back to my office. My bedroom door’s open so you can change in there.” He waited a few seconds for Bucky’s reply then ran back up the stairs and to his office closing the door and falling into his desk chair while he pretended that Bucky wearing his clothes and changing in his bedroom didn’t turn him on nearly as much as it did. He was going to die before the day was over.

He pulled out his sketchbook, the one he’d drawn the picture of Bucky dancing in, and flipped to a blank page then grabbed a pencil from the glitter and butterfly covered Mason jar cup holder that Alexa had made him in kindergarten. Maybe sketching Bucky and the kids picking their carrots would calm him down. So long as he pretended they had never played in the water.

He heard quiet footsteps in the hallway, too quiet to be either of the twins, and gulped when he heard his bedroom door shut. Oh, fuck. Bucky was only thirty-five feet away from him, probably still dripping wet, and fixing to be nude. Even more than that though, was the idea that Bucky was fixing to be wearing his clothes. There was something primal in him, he thought, that the notion of Bucky wearing his clothes made his heart stutter and his stomach twist in knots while a rush of possessiveness and lust burned in his veins.

There could be no stomach twisting, no heart stuttering, no feelings of possessiveness. He sighed heavily then turned his music on and settled back in his chair, focusing on putting his pencil to paper and sketching the delicate lines of his twins’ faces.

***

Bucky kicked his boots off by the door then walked through the kitchen grabbing the clothes Steve had left for him on his way through and made his way upstairs hoping he wasn’t ruining the carpet. He crept down the hallway, past the closed door of Steve’s office, and down two more doors to find the open bedroom door. He hadn’t thought to wonder what Steve’s bedroom might be like, there was too much temptation in that, but what he found as he walked into the room was unexpected. It probably shouldn’t have been. There were pictures and paintings on every wall. Most of them included the twins at every stage of their lives. His favorite was a picture of a terrified but happy looking younger Steve holding the twins as infants in a hospital room. Natasha was behind him, lying on the bed and smiling tiredly, her always perfect hair matted with sweat. It was sweet. They all looked adorable. He’d never tell Natasha he’d seen the photo though. She’d probably kill him. But only after asking him how he’d gotten to be in Steve’s bedroom anyway and that would lead to a whole other discussion he’d rather not have.

He intentionally kept his gaze away from the probably orgy sized bed because that would only lead to him imagining what it would be like to be tangled up in its sheets with Steve. He sighed, realizing he was dripping water on the floor, and shuffled his way to Steve’s ensuite. The gleaming white tiles and chrome fixtures threw him for a minute as he dumped Steve’s clothes on the counter next to the sinks. His and Hers sinks. Which one did Steve use? Soaps, an old fashioned straight razor, and bottles of product were scattered around, neatly like everything else, but still scattered. There was no one side to the double sink. Of course, there didn’t really need to be, did there? Steve was single, terminally from the looks of things, and his stuff stretched across the counter and both sinks.

It would be easier for Bucky if Steve wasn’t single. If he had some pretty husband or wife here to keep Bucky from getting too invested. Of course if he had the pretty spouse then Bucky wouldn’t be here at all. Which, honestly, would suck because he enjoyed spending time with the twins, but would be so much easier on his head and heart. Not that his heart had anything to do with it. It didn’t. Totally did not. There was no heart involved. None whatsoever. He definitely did not want to be the pretty husband in this imaginary scenario. It was sad enough his life was turning into a bad imaginary porno. He couldn’t be the husband and the nanny too.

He dropped the wet towel that he’d had draped over his shoulders in the sink then stripped out of his clothes and held them as he tried to decide what to do with them. Did he leave them in the floor? Toss them in the giant bathtub that was big enough to hold him and Steve at the same time? Take them outside? Was Steve planning on washing them? Did Bucky need to cart them with him everywhere until he went home dressed in Steve’s clothes?

Oh, God. Natasha would see him in Steve’s clothes and get Ideas . Ideas she didn’t need to be getting. Maybe she’d be gone again when he got home. As if he’d ever be that lucky. No, knowing his luck she’d be waiting at the door for him with some all-knowing smirk and a comment about him coming home dressed in Steve’s clothes. He knew he was being ridiculous again, okay? He knew it. It still didn’t help him not be.

He finally tossed the clothes in the shower to keep the floor from getting soaked then tossed the towel in after. He stared at Steve’s clothes that sat so innocuously on the sink for a lot longer than he should have. The smedium grey-blue shirt that almost exactly matched Bucky’s eyes, and had Steve picked it out on purpose? But that would mean Steve had looked at his eyes enough to know what color they were beyond just being blue and that was a whole other reason to panic so yeah, no. He wasn’t going to focus on that no matter how badly his twisted up brain wanted to. The baggy jeans that Bucky was pretty sure were the threadbare ones that were covered in paint that Steve had worn the day Bucky had nearly had his heart attack.

He was going to die. He couldn’t help but picture Steve in them and then himself and even though he was slightly chilled from the water and then coming inside under the air conditioning Little Bucky decided to make his presence known. Apparently Little Bucky liked the idea of Big Bucky wearing Steve’s clothes too. He was seriously going to die. At least get brain damage or something because it was one thing to imagine Steve in the outfit and quite another for Bucky to realize that he’d be going commando under Steve’s jeans and what the hell 15 year old Bucky that popped into 35 year old Bucky’s head? Jesus, it’s not like he was getting Steve’s letter jacket. Down boy.

He needed to hurry the fuck up and get dressed and get back to the twins. He wasn’t being paid to stand nude in Steve’s bathroom with a fucking boner. Although, he wouldn’t be opposed to standing naked for Steve at some point and letting him draw him. He didn’t even have to get paid. Not in cash anyway. Little Bucky twitched at that and Big Bucky groaned and rolled his eyes. Sorry, my dude. Now is not the time.

He finally got dressed; doing some creative rearranging of certain body parts and absolutely did not in any way smell the t-shirt and inhale the scent of Steve’s laundry detergent as he pulled the shirt over his head. Nope, never happened. There were no witnesses. You couldn’t prove it.

The smedium shirt clung to his shoulders and biceps, stretched across his chest letting anyone within a 10 feet radius see his obscenely perky nipples, and clung to his stomach. Whoever let Steve buy his own clothes needed a medal for exemplary service to their country and then punched in the face, because now Bucky was imagining this look on Steve and unf. Bad, bad, brain. Steve’s jeans fit him a bit more snuggly than they did Steve. Bucky’s waist a little bit thicker but who else would have that teeny tiny waist besides Steve? That shoulder to hip ratio was unnatural. Perfect, and amazing, and gorgeous, but unnatural. The worn and super comfy denim stretched over Bucky’s thighs and he was half afraid he’d tear a seam if he stepped wrong. Still it was better than wearing wet clothes the rest of the day and hopefully Natasha would be gone when he got home so he wouldn’t have to explain to her why he was wearing Steve’s clothes.

First though he needed to ask Steve what he was supposed to do with his clothes. He did not need to see Steve right this minute, but he still didn’t know if he should just leave his clothes in Steve’s bath or if he should cart them with him and find a bag to stick them in in the kitchen. Although he’d seen a distinct lack of plastic bags in his time there. Unicorn Art Stripper Steve probably used those reusable canvas grocery bags when he went shopping, the heavy cotton ones not the crappy recycled plastic ones. Those tore up more often than not.

He sighed and made his way out of Steve’s room before he could talk himself out of seeing Steve. He was an adult. In theory anyway. He could do this. He could go into Steve’s office, use his Winter Soldier iciness as a camouflage and ask what he should do with his clothes without it being weird. It wasn’t weird. Nothing about this was weird. He was just wearing the clothes of a man he was in lust with and that was that. That’s all it was, borrowing clothes. He was fine. Totally fine.

When he lifted his hand to knock on Steve’s office door he realized how totally not fine he was because he was fixing to see Steve again and he was wearing Steve’s clothes and he was fixing to panic, but fuck he had to get back to the twins before something happened. He took a steadying breath and barely managed to school his expression and nerves into something resembling normalcy before opening the door to Steve’s office not even taking notice of the music blaring from the room until it practically knocked him on his ass. How the fuck did Steve manage to have his music that loud and still function?

He looked to the blonde and saw him bent over a sketchpad that rested on the desk and scratching a pencil over the paper quickly, almost desperately, like he was trying to hurry up and finish whatever it was that he was working on before he lost the image in his head. He wondered what Steve was sketching this time but was too chicken shit to go check for himself. He didn’t want to get too close to Steve right now, especially since he was wearing the blonde’s clothes. It was too domestic. He’d just leave his own in the shower.

He backed out of the office, closing the door quietly, not that it really mattered he figured what with Steve’s music blaring so loud and made his way down to the kitchen to see the twins, his tiny ginger partners in crime, looking at the menu for the Chinese place they loved so much. They had washed up and changed their clothes in the time that he’d spent day dreaming in their father’s bedroom and creeping on him in his office when he’d been completely unaware of Bucky standing in the doorway watching him draw with an intensity that had Bucky curious about what he was drawing and why. Was there going to be another apology sketch? Was it just a sketch in general? Why had Steve been so flushed while he’d sketched? Why was he drawing so aggressively?

The twins finally noticed him and grinned. He shook himself then walked over to them and listened intently as they started reading him the menu.

***

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Steve groaned slapping his pencil down on the sketchpad and sat back from the desk. He wasn’t getting shit done except irritating himself because he was frustrated and no matter how he tried to lighten the strokes of the pencil on the paper the lines came out too heavy and dark. It didn’t at all fit the sketch of the twins and Bucky picking their carrots. They all had serene smiles on their faces, but they looked kind of creepy with the dark jagged lines instead of the delicate sweep they should have had.

Fuck! He had to figure something out. He couldn’t keep lusting after Bucky. Not to this level of distraction. He hadn’t even really started going through his emails or any damn thing else. No, because his brain and body were too busy fucking torturing him with what he couldn’t fucking have.

“Damn it.” He pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes and took a few steadying breaths, trying to calm himself down. When all he could see were speckles of light when he blinked his eyes open he picked up the sketchpad again and drew a sprig of Baby’s Breath for innocence and pure of heart for the twins. He tapped the pencil against the edge of the page in thought before adding a Burdock burr with its purple flower in Bucky’s hair, changing it so some of the strands were tangled in it. Touch me not was all the advice he could give himself. In the bottom corner, almost hidden in a pile of carrots was a White Columbine for folly. This whole situation was folly.

He needed to talk to someone about this. Someone that wouldn’t judge him for being supremely fucking stupid over a man he didn’t know and wasn’t sure he wanted to know. Okay, that was a lie. He wanted to know Bucky. Wanted to know everything about him, but it just wasn’t possible. He already felt he was in too deep just wishing for Bucky’s smiles directed at him instead of the glares and panic. He needed to nip whatever was happening to him in the bud. He needed to talk to Sam. Sam would know what to do. Besides, he couldn’t tell Natasha any of it. She’d just laugh at him for being stupid, for already being in too deep over a man that was a total dick to him and it wasn’t allowed . She’d definitely never let him hear the end of it if he told her he was sort of maybe (not at all damn it) falling (in lust) for his douchebag of a nanny.

Sam would help him figure out what to do because he couldn’t fire Bucky just to be rid of the temptation. He also couldn’t sleep with someone in his employ. And he couldn’t just freaking jerk off every night after Bucky left either. Well, he could. And had. And probably would again. But the guilt was still eating at him. He felt like a creepy pervert, but God it had been incredible. So yeah, he needed to talk to Sam. Soon. The next day during lunch at work.  They’d at least get to cover the basics and Steve needed Sam’s calming presence desperately.

“Shit.” He turned his music off, the sudden silence in his office deafening, then pushed the sketchpad aside and lifted the screen of his laptop. He had to get shit done.

Later he only realized how late it had gotten while he was helping some of his students when the twins came into his office already dressed in their pajamas and each of them holding a book in their hands. He’d missed dinner again, which wasn’t fine but it wasn’t the first time this week, but he’d also missed reminding his babies to get ready for bed and to brush their teeth. Bucky had even French braided Alexa’s hair and tied a ribbon bow at the end.

“God. I’m so sorry.” He scrubbed his hands over his face with a heavy sigh.

“It’s okay, Daddy. Mr. Bucky didn’t mind. We figured you was busy.”

Mr. Bucky? Freaking adorable, but no. “Mr. Barnes and I was. I’m sorry, babies. I should’ve gotten done sooner so I could get you guys.”

“We know you’re busy,” Alexi murmured, hugging his book to his chest.

“I shouldn’t be too busy to get you guys ready for bed. I’ll do better tomorrow. I promise.” He’d have to. He couldn’t keep doing this shit. It wasn’t fair to the twins. It wasn’t fair to himself. He hated missing so much of them this time of year. He should have just done without hiring a nanny like he always had. He should have dealt with being sleep deprived and a little cranky like he did every year. He had thought that hiring a nanny would help him. Probably it would have if Bucky hadn’t been so fucking gorgeous. So technically this was all Natasha’s fault. She’d been the one to send him Bucky. She had said he had a clean record and was good with kids. What else could Steve have wanted? Besides someone that looked like a toad apparently.

“Come on, go get in bed while I see Mr. Barnes out and then we’ll go read before bed. I’ll read you a couple extra stories tonight.” It wouldn’t make up for him being a practical failure at managing a career, his twins, and his stupid crush, but it might help. Besides, there was always bribery. He was a mature adult. He was pretty sure it was perfectly fine to bribe your children in times of emergency. Probably. He winced as he watched the twins walk into their bedroom. His mother would kill him if she knew he thought that.

He caught sight of Bucky walking out of his bedroom and started to snap at him, because what the fuck, he did not need more of those images especially not with Bucky wearing his clothes and walking around barefoot, but then he saw Bucky holding his sodden clothes and kept his mouth shut. He knew if he opened it now it would only lead to him asking Bucky to stay for reasons he didn’t want to deal with.

“I uh…had to get my clothes.” Bucky wiggled the pile of clothes with a weak smile.

“It’s fine,” Steve squeaked.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Steve.”

“Yeah.” Steve nodded, hoping Bucky didn’t notice the way his voice cracked again. Was that the first time Bucky had called him Steve instead of Rogers? No, no he’d called him Steve before. Only a couple times that he could remember, though. Not that it mattered. It definitely did not matter (how dare you thump like that heart!) that Douchebag Barnes had called him Steve. “Goodnight, Bucky.”

The brunette nodded then walked past him and Steve turned to watch as he practically ran down the stairs and into the kitchen. He came back out seconds later carrying his boots and went out the front door. Steve shook his head with a heavy sigh then ducked into the twins’ room to tell them he was going to lock up for the night and then he’d be back to read to them. He had to talk to Sam and get his head on straight. He couldn’t keep doing this.

Chapter Text

Steve didn’t have to hunt Sam down during lunch. He’d spent all morning lost in his own head and letting his students do whatever they wanted. Again. He hadn’t gone over any of their assignments, hadn’t encouraged or taught, hadn’t done anything but sit and brood at his sketchpad. In the end he hadn’t even needed to hunt Sam down because Sam came to his classroom before he could get up the nerve to go to Sam’s office and tell him everything. Apparently some of his students had told on him because he’d been acting unlike himself. Which, okay, he was, but even so he didn’t think he’d gotten bad enough that the students he was torturing for finals would be concerned about him.

“Okay, Steve. What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” he answered automatically. Sam only narrowed his eyes as he kicked the door shut and locked it then walked to Steve’s desk. “Yeah, I know.” Steve sighed, slumping down in his chair. He didn’t even know where to begin now that he was actually facing Sam. It seemed so damn complicated and he didn’t know what the hell to do. Sam sat on the edge of his desk and stared down at him.

“I’ve had ten of your students in my office today alone wondering if I could talk to you because something isn’t right. They’re worried about you, which means you’ve been brooding and standoffish lately. Which also explains why you’ve barely talked to me the past couple weeks. Is it the twins? Did they realize Natasha’s their mom?”

“She’s their birth mother, not their mom, and no. Not yet.”

“They're going to figure it out on their own anyway.

“I know.” Steve whined and Sam sighed. “I’ll sit them down and talk to them eventually. They’re smart kids; they probably already have a feeling. I mean, where the hell else did that red hair come from?”

“True. So what’s going on?”

“I want to fuck my nanny.”

Sam blinked at him in shock a long moment and Steve groaned knowing what was coming when Sam grinned. “Well, you are a middle class white suburban dad.”

“That’s stereotyping, Wilson.”

“Oh, I know. This is great!”

“No! No it’s not. I can’t. He’s a fucking douche anyway, just…gah!” Steve tangled his fingers in his hair and Sam sighed heavily.

Steve looked so damn miserable. There was something else there besides apparently wanting to fuck his nanny. Just how hot was this guy? And what the hell had happened to Steve? He’d never been this torn up over a guy before. He was Mr. Oblivious most days. Sam had had to tell him several times over the course of their friendship that guys were flirting with him. For some reason Steve never realized it until it was too late to do anything about it. And the times that Sam had told him he was being flirted with he’d only blushed and ducked his head claiming that he’d missed the opportunity.

Deep inside that 6’2” muscled up body was the tiny scrawny 16 year old that never had a hope of getting a date. There were so many dates Steve could have gone on but his flirt radar sucked. Sam had seen someone blatantly ask Steve out and the man hadn’t realized it until he’d already made a fool of himself by not realizing what they were actually asking. Sam had tried not to laugh at him and had smoothed things over when the guy asking Steve out had gotten irritated. They still didn’t go out on a date though. Steve hadn’t had a single relationship that meant anything since the twins were born. He’d go out and hook up when he got desperate, which had happened all of twice, but that was about it. So what was it about the nanny that had Steve this torn up?

“If he’s a douche why are you torn up over him? Is it because he’s a douche? Is he your bad boy, Steve?”

“No! Yes! I don’t know! He’s a dick. Oh my god, he’s such a dick. But he’s so amazing with the kids. Look.”

Steve handed Sam the sketchpad after flipping to the beginning of it and Sam raised a brow when he saw a sketch of the twins standing at their garden and pointing something out to a tall handsome brunette with a metal arm and holy shit, that was Steve’s nanny? Jesus, no wonder Steve was conflicted.

Yeah, Sam was hetero, but he was secure enough in his masculinity that he wasn’t afraid to admit that the dude was fine. He flipped to the next page and saw the twins and the nanny at the jungle gym, flipped again and saw them on the slide, the nanny smiling brightly. There was a sketch of the twins hanging from the monkey bars on their play set while the nanny stood underneath them waiting to catch them in case they fell. All three of them with huge smiles on their faces. He saw a small flower sketched into the bottom corner.

Oh, no. Oh, Steve. The next page was a sketch of the kids doing their homework and the nanny leaned over the table, reading from a book, his hair was coming out of its bun, a lock of it kissing the corner of his mouth. Another flower was in the corner, this one Sam actually knew what it was, a zinnia for lasting affection. Poor Steve. In love and too stupid to realize it. Of course he was. Sam finished going through the sketches, each one of them breaking his heart a little bit more because now he knew what was wrong with Steve and it wasn’t something he could help him with. Not really. He came across the final sketch in the book, drawn with angry lines that belied the pixie-like delicate lines of the twin’s faces but accentuated the angled jaw on the nanny. There were three flowers drawn on the paper this time, one close to the twins, one tangled in the nanny’s hair and one half hidden under a pile of carrots. Sam recognized Baby’s Breath, who didn’t? and knew it meant innocence. That one was definitely for the twins, but he didn’t know the other two.

“What are these other flowers, Steve?”

“The one in Bucky’s hair is Burdock and the one under the carrots is a Columbine.”

“And what do they mean?”

“The uh…Columbine is white for uh…folly.”

“And the Burdock?”

“Touch me not.”

“Steve?” The blonde looked half afraid and half depressed. “Have you tried talking to him?”

“He won’t talk to me! We barely say two words to each other and when we do it’s usually him being an asshole.”

“Why’s he still working for you,” he asked.

“Because the twins adore him, because he’s so amazing with them. I can tell he cares about them. I mean…hell, you saw the sketches! Look how happy he looks with them! He’s never smiled at me like that!” Steve pulled at his hair with a whimper then leaned forward and dropped his head to his desk next to Sam’s hip. Sam patted his head consolingly and sat the sketchpad aside.

“You’re going to have to try to talk to him. Even if he’s a complete dick, he might have a reason for it.”

“What possible reason could he have? He’s such an asshole.”

“Pulling your pigtails.”

“I don’t have pigtails, Sam.” Steve sat up and stared at him like he was crazy. Sam rolled his eyes.

“Your metaphorical pigtails.”

“Sam, I really don't see what pigtails have to do with grown men.”

“You never pulled a girl's pigtails?”

“No! That's rude!” Steve looked so scandalized that Sam laughed.

“Little boys are mean to girls they have crushes on, Steve.”

“I never had crushes on girls so I don’t have any pigtail pulling experience.” The one woman he’d slept with didn’t count as a crush. No, he’d never had a crush on Natasha.

“He’s mean to you because he likes you.”

“No. He’s just a dick. A gorgeous dick that would walk right past me on the sidewalk and not piss on me if I was on fire.”

“Dude, that’s graphic, but whatever. Talk to him before he leaves work tonight, okay?”

“I can’t. I can’t even say anything to him. I get all tongue tied and it’s really awkward because he either stares at me like I’m something that needs to be dissected or like he’s terrified of me.”

Sam sighed and slid off the desk then wrapped Steve up in a tight hug. “This, whatever this is, won’t get resolved if you don’t talk to him.”

“Yeah. Okay. I’ll try.” He wasn’t going to try. He and Sam both knew he wouldn’t try to talk shit out. Not like it would matter if he did anyway. Bucky would never give him the time of day. Not even enough for Steve to tell him he adored him. Which would be a horrible mistake. He’d either scare Bucky away, he didn’t even know if the brunette liked men or not, or Bucky would punch him in the face and quit his job, walking away from the twins. No, it was better that Steve never talked to Bucky about how he felt. It couldn’t happen anyway. Bucky was first and foremost his employee. Nothing could or would happen between them. No matter how badly Steve wanted it to.

***

Steve didn’t feel any better by the time he got home, but maybe a little more centered. All he had to do was keep reminding himself that Bucky was off limits. It didn’t matter if Bucky liked men or not. Nothing could happen and that was that. Steve would just learn to be content with his lot in life like he had before Bucky had shown up on his doorstep looking grungy and perfect and gorgeous. It was fine. He was fine. He was fine not being in a relationship. He liked not having to worry about how his children would react to him being in a relationship. He was fine not having to worry about how a potential significant other would react to learning he had children. Really, it was fine. Bucky didn’t mean anything to him other than he was his demon babies’ nanny. They weren’t even friends. Were barely acquaintances. It was fine. He was calm and cool and collected and his babies were happy and he would be happy because they were happy.

He was so far in denial his head was spinning.

He was not at all calm, cool, or collected when Bucky knocked on the door and Steve opened it to find the brunette holding the clothes he’d borrowed to his chest. He bit back a whimper as he took the clothes, catching the scent of Bucky’s laundry detergent and cologne. They’d been washed and dried and Steve knew that it was definitely Bucky’s laundry detergent because Natasha always used the perfume free, dye free detergents because she was allergic to the others.

“Thank you for letting me borrow your clothes. I uh, washed ‘em and stuff.”

“It’s fine. Really. Um, come in.” He stepped aside and let Bucky in, hugging his clothes to his chest to keep from reaching out to him. He could do this. It was fine. It was great. He could do it. He was a grown man, not a fumbling hormonal teenage boy. At least he had been until the scent of detergent and cologne hit his nose. Or, rather, he had been until he’d answered the door to Bucky the first time.

Bucky’s detergent and cologne did not remind Steve of walking in the woods after the first rain in a long time. Didn’t remind him of soft undergrowth or the scent of packed down leaves and plants being stirred around by footsteps. The scent rising up from the crushed plant life. Rich dark soil and new green things reaching for that small amount of sunlight that filtered through the thick leaves overhead.

He jolted when Bucky gave him a weak smile and stepped into the house. Oh, shit. It wasn’t just lust anymore was it? He’d gone and fallen in love with the asshole. Holy shit. This couldn’t happen. This very much could not happen. He was so fucked.

“You alright, Rogers? You look a little bit peaky.”

Steve blinked and shook his head. He was far from all right. “I’m fine. Kids are in the kitchen.” He tucked tail and ran leaving Bucky standing in the doorway.

***

What the hell just happened? Bucky sighed heavily, watching Steve run up the stairs then shook his head as he closed the door. Was Steve being pissy about him wearing his clothes? He’d been the one to insist Bucky wear them home. And thank God that Natasha had been gone when he’d gotten back to her place. He’d have never heard the end of it from her if she saw him wearing Steve’s clothes. There’d have been so much innuendo. So, so much innuendo.  And probably not just innuendo. She’d think he and Rogers were sleeping together. Accuse him of sleeping with Steve even though his fucked up not-relationship with Stark was why he’d given up what would have been a great career.

He wished he was sleeping with Rogers. It’d give him an excuse to see him for more than three seconds at a time that didn’t involve him sniping or being a smartass. He was still amazed he hadn’t been fired yet. Anyone else would have gotten rid of him day one. But not Steve. No. He had to be some kind of paragon of righteousness or virtue or some shit. Rogers was too decent for his own fucking good. It drove Bucky insane that no matter how much of a dick he was, Rogers pretty much ignored it and went about his business, leaving Bucky to take care of the twins. He never sniped back, was never rude or bitchy with him when he clearly had reason to be. He’d just get this look on his face like he was disappointed, although it wasn’t Disappointed Dad Face because Bucky had ample experience with that one, and then go into his office to work until time for dinner or time to get the twins in bed.

Except for the night before. Why hadn’t Steve gotten the twins ready? Bucky hadn’t even realized how late it had been until Alexa had started yawning after homework, dinner, and Go Fish. Bucky had herded the twins up the stairs, having them get ready for bed even though they’d whined that their daddy always came to get them and have them get ready. Just the once, he’d promised them. So Steve had better get his shit together or it would break Bucky’s promise. Alexa had asked him if he knew how to braid hair and had grinned and grabbed her brush and a length of ribbon. He’d French braided her hair and tied it off with the ribbon and an extra hair tie he’d had around his wrist.

After that he’d gotten tired of waiting on Steve to come get the twins even though he should have waited because Steve’d probably been working still and had sent the twins to go get their daddy. It was their bedtime and Bucky knew Steve always got them ready for bed. He’d never been late to it before, at least not since Bucky had started working. What was wrong with Steve?

Bucky hoped it wasn’t something he had done. He figured Rogers would tell him though, if it was. And he couldn’t ask the twins because that would be so wrong. He was not going to, nor would he ever, use a child to get to their parent. He could be an adult and go ask, but it was too hard. He was still stupid and tongue tied around Rogers unless he was being mean to him. Fuck it. Steve was weird.

He walked into the kitchen to find the twins sat at the table with their math books out. “Ugh.”

“Yep.” Alexa grinned up at him and sat up straight. “This lesson’s got music in it!”

“Really?”

“Yep! It’s got form, rhythm, and meter and stuff in it. But we haven’t had any music lessons.”

“You don’t have band at school?”

“Not yet. Next year.” Alexi murmured. “And they’ll have piano for the after school program, but we don’t know if Daddy’ll let us do it or not cause it’ll be longer school days and we already have the garden and stuff.”

“And your daddy misses you when you’re gone.” Bucky knew that would influence Steve’s decision more than the longer school days would. He knew Steve wanted the twins to have anything they wanted, within reason, but Bucky also knew that Steve wanted to spend every minute he could with the twins before they grew up and decided  they were too cool to spend time with their old man. It was coming. A few more years and the twins wouldn’t need him at their beck and call.

“Yeah.”

“Well, you might be in luck.”

“Yeah?”

“Yep, because I can play the piano.” He’d had ten years of music lessons when he was a kid. It had been awhile since he’d actually sat and played but surely it wouldn’t be too hard to pick back up. “I mean, we don’t have a piano handy, but I know how to play.”

“Cool!”

Bucky grinned watching the twins bounce in their seats.

“Let’s see if music can make this math lesson suck less.” He sat at the table and pulled Alexa’s book over to him and began to read over the lesson. Nope. Music wasn’t going to help. What the fuck was up with math nowadays? Christ, it was so dull. Why couldn’t they have science instead? “Bad news, it’s not gonna help. Good news, it should be really easy. You two have anything else aside from Math?”

“Alexi has reading and I’ve got one problem left on my science but I don’t need help with it.”

“Okay. Let’s get started.”

***

They’d finished homework and gone outside to play. Bucky was supervising the twins chasing each other through the yard from the swing set and couldn’t help but glance up at the window to see if Steve was watching them again. So far he hadn’t caught him. He wasn’t sure if he was happy about that or not. It still made him slightly paranoid to know that Steve watched them, but he’d almost gotten used to the idea of it. Not because Steve didn’t trust him with the twins, he obviously did at this point, but because maybe Steve got some sense of relief in being able to watch his children playing happily. Bucky hoped anyway. Relief or relaxation or something because Steve had seemed pretty high strung the past few days.

Bucky heard a scream and launched himself off of the swing set and looked back to the twins before he could register that it was an infuriated scream instead of one of fear or pain. The twins were wrestling on the ground, Alexa pinning her brother down with his arm wrenched behind his back with one arm, a knee in the small of his back, and her other arm pressing against the back of his neck to keep him face down in the grass. “Jesus! Alexa!” Bucky rushed over and pulled her off of her brother, sitting her aside and then carefully rolled Alexi over to check on him. “You okay?” Alexi groaned as he sat up then launched himself at his sister and tackling her to the ground before Bucky could stop him. Jesus they were quick. Bucky stood up and spun toward the twins then pulled them apart and stood between them. “What are you doing!”

Both of the twins started yelling over the top of each other and he thanked his lucky stars he’d been an only child.

“Lexi hit me!”

“It was an accident!”

“No it wasn’t!”

English flew out the window as they yelled at each other; their strange language of French and Russian mixed together coming back and Bucky wondered if they used it in place of that made up language that most twins had when they were babies.

“Okay, that’s enough!” He didn’t know if he should put them in corners or make them apologize to each other or what. He and Steve hadn’t had any conversation about punishments should the twins get out of hand, but Bucky wasn’t comfortable with punishing someone else’s kids anyway. Come to think of it the only rules that Steve had given them at the beginning was that they should always listen to Bucky, they could only order out once a week, which Bucky hadn’t been overly religious about following, and that they shouldn’t be allowed to rob a bank or a Candy Craze. “Come on.”

Bucky put a hand on each of their shoulders and led them back to the house wondering where they hell they’d learned to fight like that. Steve or Natasha one. Probably Natasha. She seemed the more likely one to teach the kids how to fight, but probably it was only supposed to be used as self-defense and not to beat each other up. But, they were ten. Siblings tended to fight. He sat Alexa on one side of the table and Alexi on the other.

“Now, you’re going to sit here and be quiet and I’m going to go get your daddy.” They nodded, still glaring at each other and when he turned to leave the kitchen he saw Steve standing in the doorway with his arms crossed over his chest causing his pecs to bunch up and Bucky couldn’t help the inappropriate thought that he really wanted to nip them and leave little lavender bruises all over them. Steve blinked at him then sighed and walked into the kitchen, dropping his arms and ending Bucky’s show. Shit, Bucky really needed to not do that.

“I heard the fight.”

“Oh. Yeah. I just…I didn’t catch them in time.” He stepped out of the way as Steve walked to the table where the twins were sat.

“It’s okay, Buck. They’re quick. It’s that red hair you know? Soulless ginger demon babies.” Steve gave him a crooked smile and Bucky snorted out a quiet laugh as he watched Steve walk to the end of the table. The twins were already looking contrite and Bucky wondered how much of it was for show and how much was real. If they were anything like their mother and what he knew of their father it was mostly for show.

“Now, I want to know, in short precise sentences what you two think you were doing fighting like that.” Both twins started to speak and he held a hand up to silence them. “One at a time.”

Alexi opened his mouth to speak and Alexa glared at him until he closed it.

“Me and Lexi were playing. He started chasing me with a slug! And I told him to quit but he didn’t and then he hit me. So I maybe kind of pinned him down like Auntie Tasha showed us and Mr. Bucky broke us up but then Lexi tackled me and stuff.”

Figures. He had a feeling Rogers might be calling Natasha later to let her know either that her training worked or he was gonna kick her ass for teaching the twins in the first place. Bucky could practically feel the disappointment rolling off of Steve in waves. Whether it was aimed toward the twins, Natasha, or himself, Bucky wasn’t sure. Knowing what little he did of Steve he figured the disappointment was aimed at himself. It didn’t have that Disappointed Dad vibe and if Steve knew Natasha as well as Bucky did, which he probably knew her even better considering she’d given birth to his twins, then he knew that being disappointed in Natasha wasn’t something most people did.

“Lexa.”

“I know, Daddy. Self-defense only, but technically it was self-defense because he was chasing me around with that icky slimy slug and then he hit me.”

“Uh huh.” Steve looked to his son and Lexi sat up straighter and glared at his sister one last time before looking up to meet his father’s gaze.

“We were playing and I saw the slug in the grass and chased Lexa with it ‘cause it was funny and I accidently hit her with it so she sucker punched me and then I hit her back and then she pinned me like Auntie Tasha showed us.”

Bucky was starting to be disappointed he’d missed the fight honestly. He had a feeling that the little scrap was more Steve’s style than Natasha’s. He figured that Steve was scrappy as fuck and took every cheap shot he could. Natasha did too, but for some reason Bucky saw Steve as a tiny scrappy kid that took all the cheap shots when he’d been a kid. Steve reminded Bucky of that little artsy twink he’d been in love with in high school now that he thought about it. Similar blonde hair and stubborn jaw, similar blue eyes and crooked nose. But it couldn’t be. Steve, muscled up, six feet two inches of hotness, couldn’t be that kid. Not unless he’d had a major growth spurt after he’d disappeared. It wasn’t possible for someone to grow that much, was it? Steve Rogers was not that kid that constantly got his ass handed to him for running his mouth.

God that kid had gotten his ass beat so much for talking shit and getting between the bullies and their other victims. It had only made Bucky adore him more. The one time Bucky had tried to defend him he’d gotten socked in the mouth by the little blonde so he hadn’t tried again and had stayed away from him for fear of becoming the bullies’ next target. He’d been a dumb scared kid. If he had it to do over again he’d have saved the little guy every chance he could no matter what it cost him because as it turned out none of those assholes on any of the sports teams he’d played on meant anything in the long run. He hadn’t seen any of them since high school and by the time Bucky had finally come into himself he and they had been long gone from each other’s lives. The only person he wished he’d been able to get in touch with was that tiny, mouthy blonde that definitely couldn’t be his current employer. Could it?

He edged closer to the table to see Steve’s face better and frowned thoughtfully. The hair was different, a little darker than the kid in school. Shorter now than it had been. Back then his bangs had been long enough to fall into his eyes. Gorgeous baby blues that Bucky had seen from down the hallway. Baby blues that were the exact same shade as Steve’s, but seriously, there was no telling how many people had blue eyes like that. His nose had been broken at least twice judging by the little bump on it, but Bucky had a feeling it had been quite a few times more than that and had been set afterward instead of left to heal crookedly. That stubborn sexy jaw even looked the same. Shit, Steve really did look like that kid.

Bucky was going to have to dig around now and see if they were the same person because if he didn’t, and Steve was that kid he’d been in love with then Natasha had probably known since the day she’d gotten Bucky drunk enough to whine about how much he’d been in love with him and how he’d missed his chance because one day the boy had up and disappeared and Bucky had never seen him again. Which also meant she’d set this whole fucking thing up and he was going to have to kill her.

He couldn’t just ask Steve if he’d been that tiny kid. Not without giving him a reason and he really didn’t want to tell his boss that he’d practically been in love with him since high school. Not when they barely knew each other now and had never spoken back then.

“Bucky? You okay?” He blinked when Steve waved a hand in front of his eyes then shook his head.

“Huh?”

“You spaced out for a minute.”

“Yeah. I’m sorry. What were you saying?” He had been saying something right? God, he hoped so. Otherwise Steve was going to think he was even crazier than what he probably already did.

“It’s okay. I was just saying that the twins are going to do the dishes after dinner and no more games this evening.” That seemed reasonable.

“Okay.”

“And they have something to say to you.”

“They do?”

Steve nodded with a small smile and Bucky turned to the table to look at the twins.

“We’re sorry you had to see us act like demon spawn.” They spoke at the same time, once again reminding him of the twins from The Shining, and he nodded not knowing quite what to say.

“It’s okay. Just don’t let it happen again.” He softened the words with a wink and they giggled. Steve even managed a quiet chuckle so Bucky figured he was in the clear.

“All right. I’m going to get back to work. You guys be good for Mr. Barnes yeah?”

“Yes, Daddy,” the Shining twins spoke again and Bucky wondered if they practiced it or if it was something all twins did, like the secret language thing.

“I’ll see you for dinner.”

Bucky and the twins nodded, watching silently as Steve walked out of the kitchen and made his way back up the stairs.

“So,” Bucky said after a moment. “What do you heathens want for dinner tonight?”

***

Steve walked into his office and fell into his desk chair with a sigh. He should have warned Bucky about the twins getting into fights sometimes, but honestly, siblings fought and even if Bucky didn’t have any he’d watched kids before so he probably knew. Granted most ten year olds hadn’t been taught basic self-defense by their paranoid families. It had been Natasha’s idea to teach them, Steve hadn’t wanted them to learn at first, but after Natasha reminded him of what she did and what he used to do he had figured a little bit was okay.

He hadn’t anticipated the twins using it on each other when they got into arguments though. He probably should have. His Ma would have warned him about it had she still been alive. He wished more often than not that she’d gotten to live and see him become the man he had instead of the little troublemaker he had been before she died. He wished she’d gotten to see her grandbabies too. She’d have straightened them out right quick after seeing or hearing about the fight. He kind of wished he’d seen it himself even though he would have had to break it up before they hurt each other beyond bruised pride and slug slime.

He huffed with a grin and then turned back to his laptop. He needed to finish this next read-through before dinner. Honestly it could wait until later, but he also wanted to keep his mind off of Bucky and the way the brunette had been staring at him down in the kitchen. Half like he was trying to figure something out by pinning him to a board and dissecting him and half like he wanted to pin him to the bed and tear his clothes off. After the way Bucky had treated him since starting the last bit was highly unlikely no matter how Steve felt about him. Bucky hated his guts for whatever reason so Steve began to think that he’d imagined that look. Or projected his own thoughts onto it. Buck had probably just been watching him to see how he dealt with the twins getting into a fight.

How the hell had he fallen in love with someone like Bucky Barnes? He barely knew him. Really he only knew what Natasha had told him which was very little, but watching him with the twins had planted to that stupid little seed in his heart that had sprouted into a giant fucking oak tree. And how the hell had he not noticed until now?

“Christ. Just get to work, Rogers. You can deal with that revelation later.”

He wanted to put his music on to distract himself from the entire mess, but couldn’t this time around because he wanted to listen for the twins to make sure they were being good for Bucky. He doubted there’d be any more problems from them, not this soon at least, but he wanted to listen for them just to be on the safe side. He knew his demon spawn had tempers that rivaled his and Natasha’s. Though they were a little closer to his. Natasha was more the wait you out until you least expect it type. He was more the crashing through walls and doors to chase your ass down type. He’d gotten his ass beat all through school because of it. Of course he’d been less than half the size he was now at the time. If he’d been this size in high school he could have taken the whole damn football team. The jerks on the baseball team too. Fuckers. Still, in the end none of them mattered. Maybe that was a tiny lie. He’d run into a couple of them during his time in the Army and none of them had recognized him as the scrawny gay kid they’d all beaten up and he’d taken pleasure in running them ragged as their CO. So he may have been a vindictive little shit, but still, after what they’d put him through they deserved it.

“Work, damn it.” He needed to stop daydreaming so fucking much. He might actually get done at some point that way.

***

Bucky sat the bowl of salad on the table next to the pasta he’d cooked then looked toward his tiny helpers and watched as they set the plates and silverware on the table. He nodded when they looked up at him for approval then grinned.

“Go get your daddy. Tell him dinner’s ready.”

“Are you gonna stay,” Alexi asked quietly.

Bucky sighed. He should. They had been wanting him to stay for dinner, but he couldn’t. He didn’t want to fall further into this mess with Steve than he already was. Besides, he had to go home and start poking around to see if Steve was the kid from school he’d been head over heels for and too chicken shit to do anything about. Not that he’d even be able to do anything about it now, but still. It wouldn’t hurt to check, right?

“Not tonight, kiddo. Maybe tomorrow, yeah?”

“Okay.”

He watched the twins run out of the kitchen and shook his head with a smile then turned to the oven and pulled the garlic bread out and piled the slices on another plate to sit on the table. He grabbed the cold pitcher of lemon water from the fridge and sat it and the plate of garlic bread on the table then hightailed it to the front door so he could escape before Steve could come down and ask him to stay for dinner like he usually did. One day Bucky was going to run out of excuses to give him, but this wasn’t that day. He hoped that day didn’t come for a while actually. There was too much shit he needed to sort through. Too many feelings he shouldn’t have for a man he barely knew and had been nothing but a dick to since day one. He wanted to talk to someone about it, but the only person he had to talk to was Natasha and she’d just make fun of him or tell him to let it go, which wasn’t that easy or he’d be done with it already, so he was on his own this time.

He heard the twins rambling about him being able to play the piano and looked toward the stairs to see them traipsing down them with Steve following after and listening attentively. Not like some parents that just pretended to listen, but actually listening. He had a glint in his eyes that made Bucky worry slightly, but what could be so bad about it when he was just listening to the twins ramble about finding a place where Bucky could give them piano lessons?

“You’re not staying,” Steve murmured as the twins ran into the kitchen. Bucky shook his head.

“Can’t. Have some stuff to take care of at home.”

“Okay.”

“Yeah. It’s…” I’m just trying to figure out if you’re the first boy I’d ever fallen in love with or if it’s just my brain trying to give me an acceptable reason for liking you so fucking much without a good damn reason except for how I can tell how much you love your kids and you’re gorgeous and you have your shit together. Fucking unicorn. “I gotta go.”

He turned and let himself out of the house, closing the door quietly behind him, without waiting for Steve to tell him goodbye like he usually did. Well, that wasn’t completely terrible. It also wasn’t as asshole-y as he usually was. He wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not