Actions

Work Header

The Selection

Work Text:

The government building looms over Steve where he paces and wrings his hands, hesitating, wasting time, putting off the inevitable trip through those big glass doors. The sign reads ‘The Department of Spousal Selection’ and those giant letters leer at him, watching, taunting. He could put it off a week, he reasons with himself. But he knows he won’t. The grace period is there to work around busy schedules, like… like PhD students have or something, not silly fears. Besides, he already freed up his morning and dragged himself here so he might as well just get it over with.

The second he walks into the building a blast of cold air hits him and makes him shiver. He feels the chill all the way in his bones and bitterly wonders if there’s a spot on the questionnaire for ‘always cold, doesn’t use the air conditioner.’  Pfft, he thinks, there probably is. Supposedly the thing is ridiculously extensive.

Computers line the wall near the door and there are a couple other people here already clicking away, mostly looking about as nauseous as he feels. He makes his way to the counter at the back of the room and a woman waves him over to her station. Her nameplate says ‘Susan’. Alright Susan, let’s get this over with.

“Hello,” she greets him with a smile, hands folded politely across her lap. “Are you here to register for Selection?” Steve hears the capital S when she says it. He hears it any time anyone says it lately.

“Uh, yeah,” Steve mutters, tongue flicking out to wet his lips as he fumbles to pull all the necessary documents out of his pockets. He shuffles through them all, double-checking them for the millionth time before sliding them across the counter to her. “So, uh, how long, um, how long does it usually take?” he asks as he watches her look each one over before scanning them into the computer.

That smile is still on her lips and it makes Steve think of the Stepford Wives. Freaky. She glances up at him between pages. “It takes about an hour or so to fill out the questionnaire,” she says. “If you’re talking about the matching process, that usually takes about a month or two, give or take. Sometimes longer or shorter, in extenuating circumstances. But I wouldn’t worry about that. It’s extremely rare.” Her eyes scan the computer screen in front of her quickly and Steve feels his stomach lurch. If anyone would be considered extenuating circumstances it would be him with his mile-long list of ailments. He can only imagine how long it’ll take to match him with someone who will be able to handle it.

He’s not sure if he’s upset or relieved by that thought.

It must show on his face, because when Susan looks at him her eyes go soft and her smile becomes reassuring. She stacks his documents up neatly and pats his hand as she hands them back over. “You’re all set for terminal seven,” she says, and Steve’s grateful she hadn’t tried to give him a pep talk or something. She must see this all the time, though, he thinks. She points to the computers along the other wall and Steve checks the numbers above the terminals. “As soon as you finish the survey you’re good to go. You’ll receive a call as soon as a match has been made. Good luck. Oh! And happy birthday.” She giggles and winks at him. “Have a great day.”

“Thanks,” Steve replies, forcing a smile to his face as he stuffs his paperwork back in his pocket. “You too.”

He makes his way to terminal seven and takes a deep, settling breath before getting to work. The first half of the survey is all about him and the first set of questions is pretty standard – full name, birthday, phone number, address. Ring size – well, yeah, okay, he gets that one. They slowly start to delve a little deeper, but still nothing really abnormal, Steve thinks – medical conditions, allergies, eye color, hair color, weight, height… build? What kind of question is that? Scrawny? Sure, why not? Tattoos, piercings, major scars, other markings or modifications? Yeah, okay, fine. Part of a good match is physical attraction, too. Right? And he of all people knows how crazy some people can get with their body mods.

But damn, it doesn’t stop there. Sam hadn’t been fucking around when he’d warned him this thing goes deep. The questions quickly turn to hobbies, sleeping habits and eating preferences, religious beliefs, interest in future children, all kinds of crazy shit. He feels like it’s never going to end. And no wonder it takes so long, it’s like a year’s worth of dates and moving in together all at once. Shit. But, hey, he figures this is why the matches tend to work out so well. Right? He checks the clock and it’s already been forty-five minutes.

It isn’t until the hour mark when he finally hits the section about his own preferences for his potential partner. That part goes by much faster. He’s not particularly picky, after all. An hour and a half in and he finally clicks submit.

He doesn’t even realize he’s chewed his bottom lip practically raw until he’s pushing himself up and out of the chair. He yawns and stretches and realizes his head is killing him as he glances around the room one last time before making his way back out into the nice summer heat. It feels a little anticlimactic though, he thinks as he heads back home. He’s almost disappointed. Almost. As he lets himself into his apartment, it doesn’t even feel like he did anything out of the ordinary at all.

“There’s the birthday boy,” Sam says with a wide grin from where he’s double and triple checking Steve’s beach bag. The rest of their friends are undoubtedly already there by now with a couple of picnic tables claimed and a grill set up. “How’d it go?” his friend asks, pulling him from his thoughts.

Steve gives a meek shrug and pulls the stack of papers from his pocket, tossing it onto the coffee table to be put away later. “Kinda just feels like any other day,” Steve says as Riley comes down the hallway, a sketchbook in his hand.

“I knew I forgot something,” Sam says when he sees it, reaching out to grab it from his husband.

“Any other birthday, at least,” Steve goes on, watching Sam pack the sketchbook and zip his bag up. He takes it from his friend and slings it over his shoulder. “Shouldn’t it be hitting me by now? Shouldn’t I be panicking? Like, shit, now I just sit here for who knows how fuckin’ long and then in a month or two or whatever I’m gonna be marrying some stranger that the fuckin’ government picked out for me. From what? Some algorithm?” He gestures wildly with one hand while the other tangles itself in his hair.

There it is.” Riley laughs as he links his arm with Steve’s and kisses his cheek. “Happy 25th birthday,” he teases.

“It’ll be okay,” Sam says with a chuckle of his own, holding the door open for both of them. “They almost always work out well.”

Almost always.”

“And hey, remember? Sam and me got matched through the selection,” Riley assures him for the millionth time. And it does help a little, really. Riley and Sam are one hundred percent relationship goals. Shit, even when they fight it’s in a totally healthy way. They’re perfect together. If he gets a match half as amazing as them, he’ll consider it a win.

“Besides,” Sam adds as he closes the door behind the three of them, “there are appeals and stuff you can make if the match doesn’t work out. Or, ya know, if they’re absolute shit or something.

“Gee thanks,” Steve replies with a scoff and a roll of his eyes. “That really makes me feel better.”

 

*

 

It hasn’t even been a week when Steve’s phone rings with an unfamiliar number. He barely even hears it over the buzzing of the tattoo machines behind him. When he does notice it, his heart drops into his stomach (just like every single other time an unfamiliar number has popped up since his birthday). He knows the woman had told him a month or two, but he’s kind of been on edge.

Angie waggles her eyebrows at him from down the counter and flashes him a thumbs up as he slips out of the shop to answer.

“Hello?”

“Hello, good afternoon. Is this...” Steve can hear papers shuffling on the other end, then, “Steven Rogers?”

Steve feels his heart jump up into his throat, his pulse is racing, his chest starts to tighten. “Yes, this is.” Oh great, his voice is shaking. But holy shit, seriously? It hasn’t even been close to a month yet. Is this really happening? He is freaking the fuck out. “How can I help you?”

“Hi Steven, my name’s Amy. I’m from the Department of Spousal Selection.” Maybe there was just an issue with his questionnaire or paperwork or something. Maybe- “I’m calling to inform you that a match has been selected for you.”

“Already?” he blurts out, blushing when he realizes how rude that probably was. “Sorry, it’s just- I’m a little surprised is all. I was told it usually takes at least a month.”

“Yep, already,” Amy chimes, perky and unfazed. “It does usually take longer, but the perfect match was already in the system waiting for you from a couple months ago. An email is being sent with all the pertinent information, I’m sure you know the drill. Everyone knows at least someone who’s been through the process, right?” She laughs and Steve feels the world spin around him.

“Uh, yeah,” he forces a quiet laugh, “two of my friends just last year.”

“See? I’m sure they’ve totally prepared you then. Did you have any questions for me?”

“Oh, um… No, nothing I can think of.”

“Well, if you think of anything don’t hesitate to get in contact with me. My info will be at the bottom of the email you’re receiving. Though the packet does explain everything pretty well, if I do say so myself.” She laughs again and Steve bites his lip to keep from barfing.

“Alright, thanks,” he says after a deep breath.

“Have a great day Steve, and congratulations.”

“Oh, uh, thanks. You too.”

And then click, she’s gone and Steve’s mentally thanking god or whoever that he doesn’t have any appointments today. He’s pretty sure his hands aren’t going to stop shaking any time soon.

“Was it seriously them already?” Angie asks him as he makes his way back into the shop. “Geez-o, you okay? You’re pale. Tinted a little green. Not lookin’ so good babe,” she teases, giggling.

“Yeah, it was them,” he replies, ignoring the teasing. He cards a hand through his hair and flops down into the chair in front of the sketches he’d been working on. It’s like he’s in a trance. “They found a match already.”

Angie lets out an excited holler and she’s got that Cheshire grin on her face as she hops up from her chair. She squeezes him in a hug and kisses his cheek. “Who’s the lucky person?” she asks, nuzzling her cheek against his.

The physical contact pulls him from his stupor and he chuckles a little, shaking his head. “I dunno yet. The lady said they’re sending an email over with all the info.”

“Sooo…” she drags out the word as she drapes herself over him, her head turned to look at him, “you’re totally gonna Facebook stalk ‘em or something, right? You gotta!” Before he can even answer she pats his cheek and takes off to the back, shouting, “Guys! Stevie’s got a maa-aaatch!”

He barely hears the responses from the other artists over the blood pounding in his ears.

 

*

 

Steve’s hands are still shaking that night as he settles into a chair at Sam and Riley’s kitchen table. Sam hands him a beer and Riley is standing over the stove working on dinner.

“Well?” Sam asks him, poking him with his foot under the table. “Have you checked it yet?”

Steve blushes a little, a guilty look on his face as he shakes his head and glances up from the phone he’s fidgeting with in his free hand. “I, uh, I haven’t been able to work up the nerve,” he admits. He opens his email app and there’s Amy’s name staring up at him accusingly from his inbox. “Congrats on your match!” the subject line says. He finds himself reading it in her voice.

“Well?” Riley asks over his shoulder, eyebrows raised.

Steve swallows hard and feels his stomach roil. He looks between Sam and Riley and sets the phone down on the table. “You two are the worst. You know that?” He pauses and glances between them. “Yeah, I got it. It’s in here.” He runs a hand through his hair and pushes the phone away from himself. “You check it Sam. I can’t do it.”

“What a baby,” Sam teases him, but he’s smirking as he grabs the phone. “I’ve got this.”

“You know it isn’t even gonna have any good dirt in it. You just did this not too long ago. You remember.”

“Well you at least gotta find out their name,” Riley chimes, setting plates of food down and stealing a quick kiss from Sam before settling in at the table himself. Sam barely responds, just a smile and tilt of his head and an incoherent mumble as he skims the email, but Riley’s got this look on his face that, honestly, Steve is envious of.

He has his career and his friends, his apartment. Now all he needs is a love like that. His health can go to hell for all he cares. That kind of love is the last thing on his checklist for a life well lived.

Steve watches his friends and takes a deep breath. They were matched up this way. And they’re perfect for each other. Beyond perfect. He reminds himself for the hundredth time, the thousandth. They’re completely happy and in love and everything’s great. If they could find true love through the Selection so can he, right? And anyway, this is real and it’s happening either way. Whether he opens the damn email or not. It’ll be fine, he tries to assure himself. Great, even. Totally fine.

Totally.

He takes another deep breath and Sam looks up at him, eyebrow cocked. “So?” Steve asks. “What does it say?”

“Welp,” Sam sticks a forkful of food in his mouth and mumbles around it, “his name is James Barnes.”

“He, huh?” Steve asks as Riley winks and coos at him.

“Whose last name is sticking?” Riley asks, snatching the phone from his husband’s hands so he can read it too.

“His,” Sam says and Steve sighs, pushing some food around on his plate. “For ‘professional reasons’. Whatever.” Good ol’ Sam does the air quotes and everything. Steve knew he kept him around for a reason.

“That is gonna be so much paperwork,” Steve grumbles, running a hand down his face and sighing again.

Sam chuckles and shrugs a little. “You’ll always be Steven Grant Rogers to me,” he teases.

“You get to keep your place, at least,” Riley chimes, twirling his fork between his fingers.

“Yeah,” Sam goes on, “I guess he lives with a married couple – some friends of his – for now. Says they’re gonna be his witnesses.” He looks up at Steve. “We’re yours, right? Or did you put Peg and Ange?”

Steve smirks and manages a chuckle, kicking his friend lightly under the table. “Of course it’s you guys. Geez. Now when’s the big day?”

“Oh, they do move fast,” Riley says, looking to his husband as he holds the phone out to him. “Honey, do you remember it being this fast for us?”

Sam lets out a low whistle and shakes his head. “I don’t think so, but I dunno. Maybe?”

“When is it?” Steve asks, eyes wide in a near-panic already.

Sam holds the phone out to him and the blond scrambles for it. His breath catches and his heart starts racing as he reads the date. “Next fuckin’ Friday?!” He hyperventilates for a couple seconds before running a hand through his hair as he pushes himself up from the table. “I have so much to do,” he mumbles.

He’s officially slipped into what Riley lovingly refers to as “full meltdown mode”.

“Oh god,” Steve mutters, taking a very long sip of his beer. At least when he’s done his breathing has evened out. Hands are still shaking though. “Oh god. I have to make a list.”

“We can help,” Riley offers, his tone soothing. “This weekend, after work, in the middle of the night. Whenever you need.”

Steve opens his mouth to answer, but just then his text alert goes off and he starts wheezing again. Okay, so maybe this thing’s making him a little jumpy. He’s in full meltdown mode. He’s allowed to be jumpy. Sam and Riley exchange glances as they watch him.

“Well?” Riley asks, grinning from ear to ear.

“Who is it?” Sam chimes in.

The phone goes off three more times and Steve actually jumps this time. “You programmed his number already?” he practically shrieks, staring wide-eyed at his friends. “You two are the worst! When did you have time for that?” His voice is seriously up an octave and bless Sam and Riley for not laughing at him right now because it is hilarious.

“For the love of god read the damn things!” Riley says, slumping in his chair with an expectant look.

[James: Hey Steve]

[James: I hope this is the right number. Though I can’t imagine they’d have it wrong.]

[James: Or that you would have, like, changed it already.]

[James: ANYWAY lol This is… uh, your fiancé I guess lol]

“Oh my god, look at him,” Sam says, nudging Riley lightly and now he is laughing. “Look at his face. You’re gonna hafta come up with a new term for this one babe. Thirty seconds in and this boy fuckin’ broke him.”

Riley muffles his own laughter as he elbows his husband in the ribs. “Be nice,” he chides him. “You remember what it was like.”

Steve tries to ignore his friends as he types out a response, his hands shaking so hard he can barely manage it at all.

[Steve: Oh, hi. James, right? Yeah, you got the number right lol]

He sinks back into his chair once he hits send and Riley and Sam are up in an instant, reading over the messages

[James: You can call me Bucky :) Everyone does]

All three of them scrunch up their faces, even as Steve is already changing his contact info. Alright, that is a story he wants to hear.

[Bucky: It’s a nickname. Long story.]

[Bucky: But anyway, I know it’s still kinda frowned upon by traditionalists and all, but if you don’t mind I’d like to meet up.]

Riley lets out an excited squeal and he flings himself back and into a victory dance. Sam chuckles and smirks at his husband, shaking his head.

Steve, on the other hand, lets out a high-pitched distressed noise and starts hyperventilating again. “What do I do?” he wheezes. Oh god, where is his inhaler?

“Well, that depends,” Sam says, apparently reading his mind (or just concerned by the wheezing) because he starts heading to the cabinet where they keep a spare for him. “Do you want to meet up with him?”

“I… I don’t know.” Steve takes the inhaler gratefully and shakes it quickly before taking two long puffs off it.

“I think it would be a good idea,” Riley says, leaning against the kitchen table and resting a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

“It’ll give you a better feel for who he is,” Sam agrees, nodding.

“Not to mention what he looks like,” Riley adds with a smirk.

That, at least, draws a meek laugh from Steve. He picks up his phone and stares at it thoughtfully for a long, long moment before sending:

[Steve: What did you have in mind?]

The response comes near-instantaneously.

[Bucky: Coffee? Tomorrow? Or Saturday. Or sometime next week. Or whenever works for you]

[Bucky: Do you even like coffee? lol]

[Bucky: Well, if not you could still get tea or something]

Steve doesn’t even realize that this big, dopey grin has worked its way across his face as he stifles a giggle. Sam and Riley exchange knowing smirks.

[Steve: I love coffee. Tomorrow morning? 11 work for you]

[Bucky: Yeah, that sounds great :D]

The next message is a picture and Steve’s heart actually stops. It’s a selfie – a man with the most gorgeous blue-grey eyes. They look like the sky on a crisp winter day, or before a summer storm. His face is wonderfully expressive, equal parts nervous and excited and hopeful. And he’s got this beautiful, glorious brown hair that hangs to his shoulders, and the most sinfully red lips Steve’s ever seen. His fiancé, he thinks almost fondly.

[Bucky: So you know what to look for :)]

“Damn he’s cute,” Riley chimes in from where he’s leaning over Steve. Nosey.

Sam snorts and rolls his eyes, peering over Steve’s shoulder to get a look of his own. “He’s alright,” he admits.

“Guys, move!” Steve says, laughing. They tease him, but they do eventually back away and Steve flashes his camera a smile and sends back a selfie of his own.

 

*

 

Steve’s dressed for work and, if he’s totally honest with himself, he’s feeling a little self-conscious about it as he approaches the coffee shop he and Bucky had settled on. The summer heat is a welcome comfort but it means he looks a little less stylish and a little more beach bum in his tight denim shorts (a pair of skinny jeans he cut off at the knee) and a neon green Shield Tattoos tank top that hangs from his skinny frame. If there’s one benefit to it, it’s that all that exposed skin really shows off his extensive collection of ink. Hopefully Bucky thinks tattoos are hot.

And, really, his work clothes aren’t that different from his casual clothes, he tries to reason with himself. The biggest difference is that his work clothes are significantly more ink-stained. But the fact of the matter is that this is his future husband and basically a first date and normally he would have dressed up at least a little more than this. First impressions and all that. Well, at least he’d styled his hair this morning.

He lets himself into the coffee shop and looks around for his fiancé. Well, he reasons when he doesn’t see him and doubt starts creeping in, he is early. Alright. He gets himself an iced coffee before settling in at a table near the back. He slips his messenger bag from his shoulder and pulls out his sketchbook. The shop is having a special flash sale for Friday the 13th next month and he can work on his designs while he waits.

He’s so engrossed in his work he actually jumps a little when a low, rough, sweet voice asks, “This seat taken?”

Bucky chuckles and Steve’s eyes are wide as they meet those storm-cloud blues, a nervous smile spreading across his face. “Oh, um, no,” he stutters out, knowing full well his fiancé is just teasing him, and motions toward the other chair. “Hi, hello, it’s all yours.”

Thankfully, Bucky’s dressed casually too in denim shorts and a black tank, his hair pulled up into a messy bun. Dark, welted scars dance like lightning strikes across his left collarbone and shoulder and down his arm, which, Steve notices immediately, ends about halfway down his bicep. He’s tall and lean, but strong rather than scrawny like Steve himself. His right arm is tucked behind his back and he’s got this grin on his face.

“I wasn’t sure what would be your favorite,” Bucky says, pulling a bouquet of flowers from behind his back and holding them out to the blond. It’s a beautiful, rainbow mix of all different kinds of flowers and Steve feels butterflies flutter in his stomach. “It’s nice to meet you Steve.”

Steve tries unsuccessfully to muffle a nervous giggle and blushes, smiling as he stands up to take the flowers. “Oh my god,” is all he can manage. He sniffs them and hugs them to his chest gently before setting them down next to his bag. “Thank you,” he says, scratching the back of his neck as his blush deepens. 

“You’re very welcome,” Bucky replies with a smile, proud and genuine and Steve loves it instantly. They both hesitate, unsure whether they should shake hands or hug or do something.

“Well, here, sit down,” Steve says finally, motioning to the chair again. “What do you drink?”

“Vanilla latte, iced. Thanks,” Bucky says, his smile growing as he takes the offered seat.

He looks up at Steve as the blond smiles and squeezes between the tables with a quiet “I’ll be right back,” muttered more to himself, and heads over to the counter to get his fiancé his drink.

His fiancé.

No matter how many times he thinks it or writes it or says it, it’s still weird as fuck. It’s probably going to keep being weird as fuck until he’s calling Bucky his husband, and then that will be weird as fuck too. At first, a least.

When he gets back to the table, Bucky’s peering at the designs he’d been working on in the sketchbook he’d left open. He sets the coffee down in front of the brunet and slides back into his seat, that blush back on his face (damn his Irish skin).

Bucky thanks him again, taking a sip of his coffee and letting out a happy little hum. Then he asks, “So you’re an artist?”

“Oh, uh, yeah,” Steve flips the sketchbook closed and slides it back into his bag, then motions toward his ink-stained shirt. “A tattoo artist, professionally.”

Bucky chuckles and nods, his eyes trailing along Steve’s arms and torso. “I was gonna ask. You know, between the shirt and all your tattoos. What about non-professionally? What medium do you prefer?”

“I’ve been really big into watercolors lately, but I use all of them. It really depends on the project,” Steve says with a smile and a shrug. “What about you? What do you do?”

“I’m a writer,” Bucky replies, and the lightbulb flicks on in Steve’s brain.

“Oooh,” he crows, chuckling, “okay, okay, so that’s why I’m taking your name then. That makes sense,” he rambles, nodding as he does.

Bucky smiles and it almost looks bashful as he sips on his coffee. “I know you’re supposed to and all, but if you want to keep your name, I won’t be, like, offended or anything,” he chuckles.

Steve smiles as he leans forward on an elbow. “We’ll see how it goes,” he jokes with a wink. Bucky lets out a giggle and Steve’s smile softens. “And, hey, I mean, if you don’t want to move into my place- Oh!” Suddenly he’s scrambling in his bag and Bucky’s giving him a curious look. After a couple moments of digging he pulls out a key, grinning as he holds it out to his fiancé. “I got up early and made you a copy. But yeah, if you don’t wanna move into my place you can stay where you are while we look for a new place instead or whatever.

The brunet is grinning from ear to ear as he takes the key and immediately pulls out his keyring to slide it on. “I’m sure your place is great,” he says. “Though I appreciate the offer.” Once he’s got the key on the ring he sets them down and surprises the fuck out of Steve by signing, “I’m fluent, by the way. If you like to keep your aids out at home.

“Seriously?!” Steve laughs, shaking his head in disbelief. “I mean, I know they asked about languages and shit on the questionnaire,” he rambles, thinking aloud, “but still.” He’s shaking his head again as he signs, “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Bucky signs back. “My friend, Clint –“ he says, “we’ve been friends for, like, at least ten years now – he’s hard of hearing, so all our friends sign at least a little bit.”

“All of my friends are in some stage of learning too,” Steve explains, “depending on how long they’ve known me.” He can’t keep the smile off his face. “That’s amazing Buck. It really means a lot. I’m sure he appreciates it.”

Bucky is absolutely beaming and he opens his mouth to say something, but Steve’s phone starts blaring Sleeping with Sirens from inside his bag and cuts him off.  “Shit!” he curses under his breath as he digs his phone out. “Shit, sorry, hold on. I’m so sorry.” He holds a finger over the flashing light until he answers. “She’s not seriously already there, is she?” he asks without greeting. It was the shop phone, so he knows it’s probably Peggy. “It’s only, like, eleven-thirty. You know normally I wouldn’t care but…” He sighs.

“Of course my dear,” comes the overly-cheery reply in a familiar British lilt.  Yepp, Peggy. “I’m having her fill out the paperwork now. How long should I tell her until you’re in?”

Steve groans and flashes Bucky an apologetic smile. “Geez, alright. We’re only like fifteen away, so let her know I’m on my way.” At least if he’s starting this early it will mean he’ll finish early and he can have some extra time between appointments.

“Oh? We is it?” Peggy asks. Steve can hear the smirk in her voice.

“Goodbye dear,” he cuts off her train of thought and can hear her laughter as he hangs up.

“Work?” Bucky asks, smile soft if not a little disappointed.

“Yeah,” Steve sighs, rolling his eyes a little. “Our appointment isn’t until noon, but she’s already there. I’m so, so sorry,” he says, slipping his bag over his shoulder and tenderly cradling the flowers to his chest. “But definitely text me or something.”

“I will,” Bucky says, standing as Steve does, his smile perking up. “I’m really glad we did this.”

“Me too,” Steve replies, and he is. Honestly. He probably wouldn’t have even texted his fiancé at all if he hadn’t sent the first message. But talking to him at all, especially in person, has helped ease some of his nerves. For now, at least.

They hesitate for a moment, but then Bucky steps forward and pulls Steve into a hug. “See you soon,” he says, and the presses a soft kiss to the blond’s cheek.

“See ya,” Steve replies, breathless and blushing as he kisses his cheek back.

They part and Steve makes his way to the door. He glances over his shoulder and when he sees Bucky watching him, a big goofy smile on his face, his blush darkens and he waves goodbye one last time. He feels like he’s floating the whole way to work.

 

*

 

“I need your help. Can you guys come over?” Steve’s voice is up an octave. Full meltdown mode.

“Do you even realize what time it is sugar?” Riley croaks out, and Steve’s too worked up to even notice he’s clearly woken his friend up.

“No, no, I’m not sure. I’ve been- Is it late?” he rambles, speaking too fast, his voice still pitched. “What time is it? I’m sorry Ry, nevermind. Go back to sleep. You were asleep, weren’t you? I’m sorry. Is it late? I’m sorry, bye babe. Tell Sam I’m sorry.”

He hangs up quickly and drops his phone back to the carpet next to him, focusing all his attention back on the bookshelf he’s been trying to put together for god knows how long. Apparently he lost track of time.

And he thinks he must have done it again because suddenly there’s a key in his lock, dragging his attention away from the pile of planks and screws littering his lap and… well, an entire corner of his living room. Suddenly there’s a key in his lock and Riley and Sam are stepping into his apartment looking rumpled in their pajamas and time has to have gotten away from him because Riley was asleep when he called and there’s no way they could have gotten there in the five minutes that feel like they’ve passed since he hung up with him.

“Stevie,” Riley starts, cautious as he takes slow steps toward the blond gazing up at him with wide eyes. “You okay Stevie?”

“See? He broke him Riles. That is a broken man right there,” Sam teases, tone flat as he closes and locks the door behind himself.

Steve’s eyes keep flitting back and forth between his friends and the pile of what is supposed to be a bookshelf around him.

“Stevie, how long have you been sitting there like that baby?” Riley coos, crouching down so he can meet his friend’s eyes.

“I- I- I- I’m not sure…” he murmurs, his brow furrowing. The room finally starts to come back into focus as he meets Riley’s eyes. “What time is it? You never told me, earlier, when I called you.”

“You hung up on him,” Sam chimes.

“It’s two-thirty babe,” Riley says, shooting Sam a fond, exasperated look as he starts pulling things off of Steve’s lap. “C’mon sugar, let’s get you to bed. You don’t work tomorrow. We’ll stay the night and you can sleep in, I’ll cook breakfast, and then we’ll work on putting...” he looks around the room at the mess Steve’s made, not just with the bookshelf, but also with his belongings strewn everywhere, “all of this back together, huh? Sound okay?”

He stands and holds a hand out, pulling Steve to his feet when he takes it.

“Yeah, sure, okay,” Steve mumbles, nodding mindlessly. “You’re gonna stay?”

Sam sighs, about as fondly exasperated as Riley had been a moment ago, and wraps his arms around Steve. “We’ll stay right by your side sweet pea,” he says.

The next morning Steve wakes up and he’s instantly confused as to why Sam is in his bed, wrapped around him like an octopus. He yawns and stretches and rolls out of bed and immediately the smell of coffee and something fucking delicious hits him. After a quick stop in the bathroom he wanders into the kitchen where Riley’s buzzing around the room.

“Don’t you get sick of all that?” Steve asks, motioning toward the stove as he starts getting himself a cup of coffee. He hears Riley reply but he doesn’t have his hearing aids in so he can’t quite make out what he’s saying. He waves a hand to catch his attention and points to his ears, chuckling.

Sorry,” Riley signs, grinning. “I can’t believe you’re up this early. Did you sleep okay?” He signs between flipping crepes and checking on sauces and slicing fruit.

“You’re out-doing yourself,” Steve says with another chuckle, hopping up on the counter as he sips on his coffee.

You deserve it,” Riley signs to him. Then, “You didn’t answer my question.

Steve huffs out a laugh and rolls his eyes. “I slept great,” he says (and it’s only a half-lie) as Sam walks into the kitchen. He stops in front of his friend, hearing aids in his outstretched palm. “Thanks,” he says, flashing a smile as he takes them. “Tell your husband to stop over-doing it please.”

“You know how he is,” Sam says with a chuckle, patting Steve’s knee as he reaches for a mug. “Don’t forget your meds babe.”

“Never do,” Steve says with a little appreciative hum, taking a sip of his coffee.

Sam and Riley both dote on him over breakfast and Sam insists on doing the dishes after. It’s been a while since he’s allowed anyone to take care of him and he’s so tired still, so it’s nice at first. But he’s hitting the end of his rope when Riley insists on getting Steve’s second cup of coffee for him.

“Alright, guys, that’s enough,” he says with a huff, even as Riley is adding the perfect amount of sugar to his mug. “Why did I wake up with you in my bed and you in my kitchen?”

Sam and Riley exchange looks and when Sam meets Steve’s eyes he’s got an eyebrow quirked. “You don’t remember last night?” he asks.

Steve lets out a hum as he thinks about it, taking his mug back from Riley. “I remember after work I stopped at Ikea and got another bookshelf and stuff, and then I was trying to put it together…” he scrunches up his face as he thinks about it. “Oh, shit.” A nervous giggle escapes his lips. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I fuckin’ called you over at ass in the morning, didn’t I?”

“You did,” Riley chimes, pressing a kiss to his forehead.

“What happened anyway?” Sam asks. “You totally broke down. Was meeting him that bad? Did something happen at work?”

Steve sighs a little and slumps in his chair, shaking his head. “My first appointment was early and cut my date with Bucky short,” his heart skips a beat at the thought of his fiancé, saying his name, “but other than that work was great. Coffee was great, Bucky’s perfect. He was beautiful and smart and funny. His voice is to die for and he’s tall and handsome. Oh! And he signs!”

“No shit?” Sam asks, looking mildly impressed. “Well, I mean, he sounds great. So what happened then Stevie?”

Steve sighs again and runs a hand through his hair, pushing it back out of his face. “I dunno,” he mumbles. “I just started freaking out. I mean, a week ago I was 24 and single. By the time we get married it’ll have been less than two weeks Sam. You had time to adjust while your match was made and shit. It doesn’t usually go this fast. I haven’t had time to adjust and I know another week won’t be enough and there’s so much to do and I just… I freaked. I don’t know.”

Riley coos and pulls him up and into his arms, pressing a kiss to his cheek. “It’ll be okay Stevie,” he says. “These matches always work out. Look at me and Sammy. It takes some getting used to, that’s for sure. But it’ll work out. I promise.”

“You’ll be okay,” Sam assures him, wrapping himself around his friend and his husband. “Now let’s go build some bookshelves, shall we?”

 

*

 

Steve is on the verge of another panic attack or mental break or something the whole way to the courthouse. He and Bucky have been texting mostly regularly all week and he likes the guy, he really does. He might even go so far as to say he’s got a crush, though whether that’s been spurred on or rushed along by the circumstances or not, well, they’ll never know. But Bucky’s sweet and funny, he’s smart and creative and damn gorgeous too. Steve could definitely see a crush happening either way, eventually.

But the fact of the matter is, this isn’t a date where you get butterflies and if it doesn’t go well you never call him again. This is a wedding. Not only is it legally binding, it’s legally binding for life. It’s his wedding, and that scares the shit out of him. Angie and Peggy had said it was the same for them, though, even though they had actually been dating for years and had chosen to get married. And that makes him feel a little bit better about being terrified, maybe. But it doesn’t actually make him any less terrified, so really it doesn’t do much of anything.

Thankfully, Sam and Riley are his anchors today, each with an arm looped through his as they approach the courthouse. Sam had joked that it was in case he passed out, but Steve knows him better than all that. His suit is impeccable and his hair is styled and he knows he looks good. As good as he gets, anyway. And that helps a little too. He’s as ready as he’s ever going to be, right? But, well, he must look as nauseous as he feels because the woman at the front desk gives him a sympathetic smile as she congratulates him and points him in the right direction. Great.

Sam and Riley don’t let go until they’re standing in front of those big double doors. Steve takes a deep breath and pushes the doors open and the sight in front of him nearly knocks the wind out of him. Bucky and his friends are chatting with the chaplain and Bucky is dressed to the nines. His hair is pulled back into a tight bun and his suit is perfectly tailored, the left sleeve rolled up and pinned. The small group hasn’t noticed them yet and Steve lets himself stare just a little. His heart flutters in his chest and for a minute all of the doubt drains out of him. He doesn’t know how long this weird sense of calm will last, but for now he doesn’t care. The only thing he can think is that this is the man he’s going to fall in love with.

Bucky turns and catches his eye and the smile on his face widens as he gives a little wave.

“It’s gonna be great,” Riley says under his breath as they make their way to the front of the room. “He is cute.”

“He’s probably already head over heels for you,” Sam assures him. “And if not, it won’t take long. Only an idiot wouldn’t fall in love with you Stevie.”

“You’re so reassuring,” Steve says, rolling his eyes fondly and elbowing him in the ribs lightly.

“Hey,” Bucky breathes as they approach. His eyes trace up and down Steve’s frame, like he’s memorizing every inch. Riley’s already slipped away and snapping pictures. “You look amazing.”

Steve blushes and a bashful smile breaks out across his face. “Thanks,” he mumbles. “So do you.” Sam clears his throat next to him, looks at him expectantly. Steve flushes a shade darker and laughs. “Bucky, this is Sam and the one with the itchy trigger finger is his husband Riley.” He motions to each of them as he introduces them.

“Nice to meet you,” Bucky says, barely taking his eyes off Steve.

Sam and Riley echo the sentiment, Riley maybe just a little more excited than Sam. The redhead (Natasha, Steve remembers) to Bucky’s left elbows him in the ribs and the blond by her side starts snickering. That must be Clint, Steve thinks, noticing the bright lavender hearing aids.

They exchange greetings and then the chaplain claps his hands, smiling from ear to ear. “Alright, are you boys ready?” he asks.

The ceremony is just like Sam and Riley’s – quick, efficient, and a little cold, if he dares to think it. There’s no romance or sweet talking, no personalized vows or cute little inside jokes like at Peggy and Ange’s wedding. And when Bucky holds out the beautiful ring he’s chosen – a silver band with intricate designs carved into it and a short row of small blue gemstones set into the center – and slips it onto his finger, Steve’s nerves are back in full force.

 

*

 

At Bucky’s insistence, he’d treated Steve and their witnesses to a beautiful dinner at a very fancy restaurant after the ceremony. It had been fun and it was nice getting to know Bucky’s friends. Steve found he liked them a lot. But he hadn’t been able to shake that sick feeling in his gut and he’d barely eaten at all because of it (probably not a good idea, especially for him). When Bucky had finally suggested they head home for the night, he was beyond grateful for it.

He’s trying to play it off, though, play it cool as they ride the elevator up to his floor (their floor, he reminds himself). Well, he must be doing a damn good job because Bucky’s grinning at him as he slides the key into his lock.

“You ready?” the brunet asks him when he hesitates. Steve wonders if he’s really this excited or if he’s just trying to play it cool too. Well, he has had a couple months to process this all, hasn’t he?

Steve’s hands shake and his heart races and he feels sick to his stomach. He’s regretting those couple of drinks he had with dinner. Sure, he’s been preparing for this day for a while now. Sure, this is probably just some stupid panic attack and if he didn’t have all these stupid anxiety issues he’d be excited as hell. Shit, he felt more than okay talking to Bucky last night, maybe even excited. He’ll probably feel great in the morning. But… still. That doesn’t help him now.

He forces a smile and a weak laugh. “As I’ll ever be,” he says and pushes the door open.

Bucky’s stuff had been delivered while they were out and there are small piles of well-labeled boxes in each room, curtesy of Peggy no doubt, waiting to be unpacked. Steve runs a hand through his hair at the sight. He’s already glad he’d gotten the extra bookshelves and done some re-organizing of his own things this past week. He’s got a nervous smile on his face as he extends his arms and turns to his new husband.

“Home sweet home,” he says, and Bucky’s smiling from ear to ear.

“Just as nice as I pictured it,” he says as he looks around, taking it all in. Steve can only imagine how he feels.

Steve leads him through the apartment, giving him a brief little tour that ends in the bedroom.

“I don’t know about you,” Steve says, chuckling softly as he starts to remove his tie, “but I am about done with this suit.” He turns his back to the other man as he works on removing the rest of the offending clothing.

“God yes,” Bucky agrees with a giggle and joins him in stripping down to his boxers.

Steve lets out his first genuine laugh of the night and his shoulders start to relax just a little the second the damn thing is off. “So neither of us likes formal wear then. Good to know,” he teases. “Next formal event we have to go to, it’s pajamas all the way.”

But Bucky doesn’t laugh this time, and when Steve turns to look at him, concern on his face, Bucky’s watching him with this dopey grin on his own. “Jesus,” he breathes. “Sorry. It’s just- You are so beautiful. You know that?”

A blush blooms on Steve’s cheeks and his hands unconsciously clench into fists as he looks down his bony chest and to his feet. “I dunno about all that,” he mumbles. “Not like you or nothin’.”

“Oh I do,” Bucky ignores Steve’s second comment and steps closer, resting his hand on Steve’s waist. “I know. Beautiful. Is this okay?” he asks, just above a whisper, as Steve starts to tremble.

The color dusting Steve’s cheeks turns to crimson as he gives a timid nod, daring to look up and meet his new husband’s eyes. “Hell,” he whispers and his voice cracks, “if you weren’t so progressive I’d probably already be face-first in the pillows right now, if you know what I mean.” The nerves break through his tone and the attempted joke falls flat.

“I would never make you do something you don’t wanna,” Bucky says, a frown settling in over his features. “You can always say no to me. And I mean that about anything, not just sexual stuff. I swear, I won’t ever get mad.”

Steve can’t help but smile as the knot in his chest loosens a little. “Alright,” he replies, painfully aware of how close they both are to being naked, how close Bucky’s body is, practically pressed against his. He slides his hands up the other man’s chest, fingers dancing across the intricate scars along the left side of his body. “The same goes for me. And don’t ever be afraid to ask for anything, either.” He chuckles, but it still sounds nervous.

“Same goes for me,” Bucky says, his arm wrapping around Steve’s waist. “Can I ask you for something now, then?” he asks, pulling Steve in closer until their bodies are flush against each other. Steve swallows hard and drapes his arms over Bucky’s shoulders as he nods. “Can I kiss you?”

Steve’s heart is practically hammering out of his chest, but he only pauses for a fraction of a second before he nods again. Bucky smiles and closes the final inch of space between them as he presses a soft kiss to his lips.

And Steve can’t help it, he whimpers softly at the contact. Somewhere deep in the back of his mind, he knew this part was coming. Consummation of the marriage the first night is an expected norm, even if it’s not something they can exactly enforce anymore. But he’d been so worried about the wedding- and it’s been so long since he’s been kissed, especially so sweetly. It’s been so long since anyone’s touched him this intimately at all.

“Still okay?” Bucky breathes against his lips, nuzzling their noses together as his fingers trace patterns across the small of Steve’s back.

“Yeah,” Steve manages, not quite able to bring himself to open his eyes. “Yeah, still okay.”

He can feel Bucky smile against his lips before pressing forward for another kiss. The brunet nibbles at his bottom lip and a quiet moan rumbles in his chest. Bucky must take that as encouragement, because as they kiss he slowly backs them up until the back of Steve’s legs hit the bed. He falls back with a soft ‘oomph’ and a nervous laugh slips past his lips as he pushes himself higher up on the bed.

Bucky climbs on to join him and crawls up to kneel between Steve’s legs where they’ve fallen open. He stares down at him reverently, hand resting just above the blond’s knee, as the blush returns to his cheeks.

“You’re so beautiful,” Bucky says again. He hovers over his new husband, studying his face while the smaller man bashfully avoids meeting his eyes. He chuckles softly before leaning down and pressing kisses to his exposed neck and jaw. “Let me know if this stops being okay Stevie,” he mumbles between kisses, nipping lightly at the skin from time to time, tongue tracing along the tattoos there. “God, how’d I get so lucky?” he muses.

Steve squirms and moans quietly under his new husband, gently tugging his hair free from the elastic and running his fingers through the silky strands. Bucky leans up for another, more heated kiss before starting to work his mouth down his neck and across his collarbones and shoulders, slowly exploring every inch of skin.

And god does it feel good. Like heaven. No one’s ever been this tender with him before, praised him, worshipped him like this. Tears threaten to form in his eyes and he’s not sure if he wants Bucky to speed up or slow down. He never wants it to end. His hands are shaking, near-frantic as they run through his husband’s hair and along his back and shoulders, scratching lightly whenever he stops to nibble at a particularly sensitive spot. Don’t rush it Steve, he reminds himself. He’s got the rest of… of his… his life… for this…

Oh god.

The rest of his life. This isn’t like a date gone well or the flings he’s had before. He’s not going to wake up with a name and a phone number scribbled on a scrap of paper on his nightstand. This isn’t just some amazing thing he’ll get to do for a couple days or weeks or months until Bucky gets sick of him. They’re married now. Bucky’s his husband.

Panic floods his veins again and his chest constricts. He’s pretty sure he’s hyperventilating now and Bucky has clearly noticed because he’s stopped and is hovering over him, concern and fear painted across his face.

“Steve, what’s wrong?” he asks, eyes wide with guilt. “Did I do something?”

Steve’s able to shake his head at least and he feels his whole body tensing. He knows he’s not getting enough air into his lungs and this panic attack is going to become an asthma attack fast if he can’t calm himself down, but every attempt he makes is in vain. His fists are balled tight as his arms slip from around Bucky’s neck and he pushes him back gently, trying to right himself.

Bucky sits back on his heels and helps him up, not letting go of his hand once he is. Steve’s still hyperventilating between coughing fits and his new husband looks scared. He’s got the same look on his face the rest of his friends did the first time they had to watch him work through an asthma attack.

“Is there anything I can do?” Bucky asks him, near panic himself. He still hasn’t let go of Steve’s hand.

“My inhaler,” Steve manages to wheeze out, pointing to his suit with his free hand. He’s trying to calm himself down, to take deep breaths. He knows freaking out is only making it worse, especially for Bucky. He’s been through this a million times before and he knows better. But no matter what he does, he can’t seem to dampen the panic this time.

Bucky flies off the bed and the second Steve has his hand back he presses it to the mattress, trying to support himself. The brunet digs through the pockets of Steve’s suit, but when he looks back up at him, a new wave of terror is flooding his face. It floods Steve too, threatens to drown him.

“It’s not in here,” Bucky says, his voice shaking. No, fuck, of course it’s not. Sam has it. Fuck! He must have forgotten to get it back. Rookie mistake. Okay, okay- Shit! “Do you have a spare anywhere?” Oh god, his new husband is a fucking genius. Or at least good under pressure. Christ.

Steve tries to answer but he can’t get enough air to speak, so instead he holds up a hand and signs, “Bathroom!”

Bucky gives a single, definitive nod and darts out of the room. Steve can hear things crashing to the counter in the bathroom as he pushes himself to his knees, hands resting on them to support himself easier. He’s drooping and spots start to dance around the edges of his vision just as Bucky races back into the room and shoves the inhaler into his hand.

Steve jumps, shaking the inhaler quickly (and not as well as maybe he should) and the first gasping puff is like emerging from the water when you thought for sure you were going to drown. His chest aches as it expands and he feels a little dizzy as he finally manages to suck in the proper amount of oxygen again. With the second puff from the inhaler the tightness in his chest finally starts to lessen and the panic begins to subside.

It’s quickly replaced by shame and guilt and if he wasn’t already red half way down his chest, he sure as hell would be now. Fuck. Their first damn night together and he’s already shown just how properly fucking broken he is. Couldn’t even get laid without having a goddamn panic attack.

Bucky relaxes visibly when he realizes Steve’s breathing normally again, but the blond just feels exhausted. When the other man tugs him into his lap and holds him close he just slumps against him. Normally he would fight being coddled, especially by someone he barely knows. But this is his new husband and now’s not the time for that. He doesn’t have the energy even if he wanted to. So instead he listens to Bucky’s slowing heartbeat and lets it soothe him.

 

*

 

Despite last night’s attack, Steve wakes up at 8 AM like clockwork, his chest aching. He vaguely muses on why he ever even bothers turning on his alarms anymore. He’s usually up before them anyway. His groggy brain doesn’t even register anything out of the ordinary at first, like it’s in some kind of denial state or something. It’s not until he feels the weight tugging down the other side of his mattress that everything rushes back.

Shit.

Right, okay, the wedding. He’s married now and there’s a gorgeous man in his bed that he almost had sex with last night. But then he had a panic attack instead. And then an asthma attack. Nothing weird about that, right? He can totally handle this.

Slowly, slowly, he rolls out of bed, only allowing himself to breathe when his feet are on the floor and Bucky is still sound asleep. Or he’s faking it really well. He’ll accept that too. He drags himself to the bathroom and groans as he finally allows himself to stretch, rubbing at his burning eyes. He fell asleep with his contacts in. Of course he did. Glasses it is today.

He takes the contacts out and slips on his thick-rimmed glasses, running a hand through his still slightly crunchy hair as he inspects himself. Not too bad, he guesses, for himself and all. He’ll definitely need to shower, but coffee first. He rushes through his usual morning routine in the bathroom before making his way to the kitchen.

A yawn pulls itself from his throat as he starts the coffee pot and promptly hauls himself up to sit on the counter. He leans his head against the cabinets and has almost nodded off again right there when it hisses and spits out a stream of steam with the last glorious drops of caffeinated bliss. He opens the cabinet next to where his head is resting and grabs a travel mug.

He hops off the counter just long enough to splash some milk in the cup, then it’s right back up to finish fixing his drink (maybe a little sweeter than anyone predisposed for diabetes has a right to). He muses over this for a moment, staring into the now-light liquid, then shrugs and rolls his eyes as he twists the cap on. Whatever.

He grabs his pill bottles from the same cabinet as the mugs and slides one out of each container, setting them next to his thigh on the counter in a neat little pile. He puts the bottles away and when he turns back he’s startled by Bucky standing in front of him now, a smirk on his lips and Steve’s hearing aids in his hands, offering, his face questioning but not demanding. Oh. He knew he was forgetting something. Though, to be fair, most mornings he doesn’t put them in until damn near noon, if at all.

I wasn’t sure if you’d want these, but I thought I’d bring them just in case,” Bucky signs as Steve puts them in and adjusts them.

“Thanks,” Steve says with a smile, grabbing a mug from the cabinet and offering it to Bucky.

“So,” Bucky starts as he takes the mug and fixes himself a cup, “hearing loss, asthma, and now glasses too? Anything else I should know about?” He’s teasing, but it’s not unkind like most people would be and he’s still got that grin across his face. He points the pile of pills on the counter and asks, “Like, see? What are all those for? Should I be worried?” He chuckles and his voice is rough with sleep in a way that sends a shiver down Steve’s spine.

Steve flushes just a little as he picks up the pile and holds out his hand, pointing to each one as he explains them. “Metoprolol for my heart arrhythmia, escitalopram for depression and anxiety, omeprazole so I don’t get ulcers when I have to take a naproxen or something later in the day for my headaches. And these are just vitamin D and iron supplements for deficiencies.” Then he shotguns the whole handful and chases it with a big swig of his coffee.

“I’ve got a list,” Steve goes on as Bucky takes a seat at the kitchen table. Steve climbs up onto the table and sits cross-legged in the middle of it, mug in hand. Bucky doesn’t seem fazed other than a smirk tugging at the corner of his lips. “Well, two actually. There’s one in my memos on my phone, and an actual paper copy in my wallet. It’s got all my medications and allergies and conditions the doctors would need to be aware of if something happened and I wasn’t conscious to tell the paramedics myself.”

Bucky stays quiet for a minute, thoughtful. Then he smiles up at Steve and leans back in his seat. “Do you think you could make me a copy? So I can always have it too. Just in case, ya know.”

Steve blushes and his eyes widen a little. “Oh, uh, yeah. Of course. I’ll make you one later.” To say he’s shocked would be an understatement. Out of all the people he’s dated, no one had ever even asked about his conditions at all before. They all just tried to pretend he was perfectly fine. Which, hey, he’d take that over people babying him and pitying him any day. But still, for Bucky to care this much, this soon… It leaves him a little speechless. Even Sam and Riley and Ange and Peg don’t have copies of the list (that he knows of, he guesses), they just know where to find it if they need it.

“Did you have anything in particular you wanted to do today?” Steve changes the subject.

“I figured I’d unpack my stuff just to get it over with and then just relax, hang out, whatever.” Bucky reaches a hand out and rubs lightly over Steve’s knee. “But if you had something else you wanted to do that’s fine too.”

“That sounds fine to me,” Steve says, taking a sip of his coffee. There’s a beat where he stares down at Bucky’s hand resting on his knee, musing over the ring he designed, simple silver band with its inlaid black gemstones and that ruby heart glinting in the summer sun. “It wasn’t your fault you know,” he says softly, tapping his fingers on his mug restlessly. “Last night, I mean. You didn’t do anything to trigger it or anything. It was really… really nice, actually.” He chuckles softly. “It was just me overthinking everything, as always.”

Bucky purses his lips, looking thoughtful for another long moment before giving a little nod. “Okay,” he says with a soft smile. “Alright then. Well, I’m glad. I was actually really worried about that.”

Bucky insists on making breakfast, since he actually doesn’t feel like he’s had an elephant sitting on his chest all night. And it’s good. Steve’s gotta thank someone in the match making department for pairing him with someone who cooks almost as well as Riley does. And, come on, Riley’s a professional chef, so that’s not easy to do. He’s perfect.

He’s perfect. Bucky doesn’t even mind the heat – it’s a scorching summer but he lets Steve keep the windows open with fans on instead of cranking up the air conditioning he never uses. They get the entire bedroom unpacked and start on the living room and the longer the day goes on, the more time they spend together, the more they talk…. well, the more normal it all starts feeling. The thought comes to him again that this is one hundred percent the man he’s going to fall in love with, and with that thought comes nothing but a giddy sense of excitement. He is so ready for this.

 

*

 

Monday comes and Steve’s back to work. He could have taken more time off, really, but they both agreed they’d rather save it for whatever honeymoon plans they end up making. So now it’s 4:30 and he’s the only artist with someone in his chair. The rest of the crew is up front eating, working on sketches, watching whatever the hell they’ve got playing on the TV (sounds like some trashy reality show), whatever.

He hears heels on the linoleum and glances up to see Angie leading back a very excited and scared look teenager girl (along with what has to be her unsure and slightly disgusted white suburban mom. Hey, at least she’s supportive or something, right?). Steve flashes the girl a thumbs up and a wink and the mom shoots him a glare. Steve flips her the bird and sticks out his pierced tongue when her back is turned and Elliot, his customer, busts out laughing, shoulders shaking so hard Steve has to stop his machine for a second.

“You’re hilarious,” Elliot says, shaking his head a little, as he settles down.

“I try,” Steve replies with a cheesy grin and finger guns that start up another round of laughter.

He’s almost done with the color on this half-sleeve, then he’s got about an hour to let his hand and back rest before his next appointment. Well, if working on sketches counts as resting. Peggy doesn’t count it and will scold him for it, but he does and what does she know anyway?

“We’re almost done.” Steve glances up just briefly to ask, “How ya holdin’ up?”

The bell above the front door chimes just as Angie is leading the girl – complete with a pierced belly button – and her mother (now a couple shades paler) back up front.

“Not bad,” Elliot replies, and to his credit he’s only grimacing a little bit. Totally believable. “But god am I glad you talked me out of doing it all in one sitting.” He chuckles and shakes his head.

“Nah, you’re doing awesome dude,” Steve says over the buzz of the machine. The front of the shop erupts with noise, but no one’s screaming so Steve ignores it. They’re probably just all riled up over their trashy TV show. “We definitely could have done it,” he goes on, too focused to notice the eyes now on him from the front of the shop, “and I would have if you really wanted. Just didn’t wanna overwhelm ya, and then we got through the lines and you were done,” he chuckles. “Diving straight into that much work is hardcore man. It’s a wound, really. It wears your body down.” He takes his foot off the pedal and sets the machine down, but his ears are still ringing a little. Maybe he’ll take out his hearing aids for the next one.

“Thanks dude,” Elliot says, watching as Steve cleans off the excess ink and any blood before slathering on a healthy dose of vaseline.

He hears the quick patter of Rocket’s hyperactive feet and his voice comes a moment later from where he’s now leaning over the half-wall of his station. “Hey Stevie, you’re just about done now, right?”

“Yeah,” the blond replies, glancing up from where he’s carefully wrapping Elliot’s arm with plastic wrap. “Why? What’s up?”

“The book says you’re free for the next hour?” he questions, looking for confirmation.

“Yepp,” Steve says, popping the ‘p’, and nods. He inspects the wrap on Elliot’s arm before standing up. Elliot watches the exchange, amused, as Steve leans back against his desk and tosses his gloves in the trash before crossing his arms over his chest. “Why?” he repeats. “What’s up?”

“When you’re done cashing him out, someone’s here for you.” He’s got a sly grin playing on his lips and Steve can only imagine what kind of crazy ass shit is going on. That look on Rocket’s face is dangerous.

“Alright,” Steve nods again. “Just gimmie a sec.”

Rocket’s still got that grin on his face as he waggles his eyebrows and nods. “I’ll let ‘em know Cap’n,” he says, saluting once before disappearing back toward the front of the shop.

Steve groans a little as he shifts his attention back to his client. “Sorry about that,” he chuckles, gesturing toward where the other man was just standing. “That’s Rocket.”

“No biggie,” Elliot replies, chuckling. “You’re popular today,” he teases, pulling out his wallet and riffling through it.

“I guess so,” Steve chuckles and shrugs. “You remember how to take care of it? Need any more ointment or anything?”

“Nah, I’m good.” Elliot shakes his head and holds out a wad of cash to him. “That’s all you dude.”

“You sure?” Steve asks, flipping through it and giving it a quick count. His eyebrows shoot toward his hairline and he practically chokes when he realizes how big of a tip that leaves him with.

“Yeah Stevie, you’re the fucking best.” Elliot holds a fist out and Steve bumps it, blushing just a little (damn his Irish skin) and grinning as he tucks the money into his pocket.

“Dude, you’re the fucking best,” he replies, laughing as he pulls him into a one-armed hug. “If you wanna come back in a couple weeks or whatever once it’s all healed up I’ll get a pic for the site.”

“Definitely!” Elliot replies. “See ya then!”

“See ya,” Steve says, and they each give a little wave but Steve’s already busying himself with cleaning up his station. Hopefully this… whoever won’t take long and he can still get some sketching in before his next appointment. He’s so focused on untangling rubber bands from his machine he doesn’t even hear the footsteps padding back to his station.

“Hey,” comes Bucky’s voice, almost timidly, as he sets a paper bag down on a clear spot of Steve’s desk. He makes his way inside the station and leans back against the half-wall.

Steve’s head shoots up, taken off-guard not only by the sudden voice in general, but also by who it belongs to. “Oh, hey you,” he says, setting the tattoo machine down and walking over to his husband. He feels all eyes on them as he hesitates just a moment before leaning up and pressing a soft kiss to the corner of his mouth. The front of the shop erupts in cheers and Steve rolls his eyes while Bucky blushes. “What are you doing here?”

“Thought you might need some lunch,” Bucky replies, smile becoming more confident now as he rests a hand on the blond’s slight hip. “I’ve been warned you’re not very good at taking care of yourself when you’re working,” he teases fondly.

“Oh yeah?” Steve asks, and it’s his turn to blush now as he flips his friends off. “I wonder who would have told you something stupid like that.” He rests his hands on Bucky’s shoulders as he smiles up at him. “I guess you were the commotion I heard out there, huh?”

“Guess so,” Bucky laughs, shaking his head a little. “Your work is really amazing, you know. I saw what you did on that one guy just now. It was really great watching you work, all in your element like that.”

Steve’s blush darkens and he can hear his friends’ giggles and chatter start back up. Okay, so they’re clearly still gawking. “Well, I have some free time right now,” he says, doing his best to ignore them. He smooths his hands down Bucky’s chest and leans up for another kiss. “You know, if you wanted to stay? Eat with me?”

“Yeah?” Bucky asks, his face lighting up as his head tips to the side slightly. “Yeah, I’d like that.”

Steve motions toward his desk chair and the brunet takes a seat.

“I just gotta finish cleaning up real quick,” Steve says. He focuses his attention back on the task at hand and somewhere in the back of his mind he vaguely thinks about those sketches and how he’ll probably just have to finish them at home later. Oh well, it’ll be worth it. This kind of stuff is what marriage is supposed to be about, after all. Right?

 

*

 

“Hey Buck, where’d you put the-?” the question dies on his lips as Steve makes his way into the studio he now shares with his husband. Bucky’s video chatting with a small group of people, all of them laughing, and Steve clamps a hand over his mouth. “Shit, sorry,” he mumbles, just above a whisper, as the laughter dies down. “Didn’t realize you were in a meeting.”

“Oh, hey Stevie. Don’t worry about it, it’s not a meeting,” Bucky says, waving his hand dismissively.

“Is that him?!” a man on screen booms. He’s huge and blond with braids in his hair. His voice is heavily accented but Steve can’t quite place it. Norse maybe? Or Slavic of some kind? He was never very good at identifying languages or accents. “Come say hello new Barnes!”

Steve’s eyes widen a little at his husband and Bucky laughs. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” he says, his smile making his eyes crinkle at the corners in that way that makes Steve swoon.

“Of course he does,” says a woman with long black hair and a smirk that could rival Natasha’s. “He’s your new husband and he should know his new European family. Come on, we don’t bite! Come say hi!”

Your family?” Steve signs (on the chance they don’t know ASL. If they’re in Europe they probably don’t know Clint and therefore probably don’t sign, especially not American sign language, right?). His eyes are still wide, eyebrows raised even as he makes his way over toward the desk. He grabs his own desk chair and pulls it up next to his husband’s. “Hi everyone,” he says with a little wave and a timid smile.

Not family family,” Bucky signs back, chuckling as he shakes his head. “I just spent a couple months with them over in Europe after…” his smile falls as he trails off.

“What are you talking about? You two better not be fighting,” says a short man with the most orange hair Steve’s ever seen. “It’s not right to fight so soon after marriage.”

Bucky chuckles and shakes his head. “No, we’re not fighting. I was just telling him how we know each other,” he explains.

“Oh! Did you tell him about the parties?” The blond asks, grinning from ear to ear. “His Norwegian was not so good, but he could throw a party. One time he stripped naked and-”

“Alright!” Bucky cuts his friends off, laughing. “That’s enough of that. Stevie, this is Thor and his wife Sif, Heimdall, Hogun, Volstagg, and Fandral.”

Steve’s eyes widen again as he glances at the brunet, laughing. “I’m not going to remember any of that,” he says, “but it’s very nice to meet you all.” Thankfully the group all laughs.

The conversation is pleasant and the group is really great, even if they are a little loud for Steve. It’s just kinda like hanging out with a whole bunch of Rockets, he reasons, then shudders at the thought. Okay, maybe not that bad. Bucky even starts making promises to go visit them sometime soon (“Just not for our honeymoon,” he promises Steve, teasing, “They would never leave us alone long enough to have an actual honeymoon.”).

“I was a foreign exchange student,” Bucky explains once they hang up, chuckling. “And I’d just come into a shitload of money and I was nineteen and, well, you remember how nineteen was.”

Steve laughs and shakes his head. “At nineteen I was already a year and a half deep working in a tattoo shop under the guy that trained me – Nick Fury, working on getting my GED, and helping my mom through chemo.” He says it all with a shrug, like it’s no big deal.

But Bucky flushes, his eyes wide with admiration and sympathy, his jaw tight. “Jesus Stevie,” he mutters, resting his hand on his husband’s knee. “You’re fucking amazing, you know that? Shit, now you probably think I’m some spoiled rich kid or some shit,” he huffs out a nervous laugh. “It’s not like that.”

Steve chuckles, shaking his head. “Don’t worry, I don’t think you were some spoiled rich kid,” he says, and it’s ninety-nine percent true. “Though I’m not so sure you’re not some spoiled rich adult,” he teases with a wink. “Making plans to go to Europe?” He quirks an eyebrow as he props his feet up in his husband’s laugh. “I mean, I do well at the shop, but not that well babe.”

“Oh, I was going to pay for it. Let’s just say, my books do really well,” Bucky replies with another nervous laugh, his hand coming up to scratch at the back of his neck.

Steve blinks at him for a long moment, a half-hysterical laugh eventually spilling from his lips. “How well?” he asks, not doubting or anything like that, just curious.

Bucky’s face pulls into a grimace and he says. “I mean, how bad do you want to keep working? Because between…” he shakes his head, “and my books, I mean… you don’t have to.”

 

*

 

The bells chimes and heels click on the linoleum floor menacingly.

“I’ll be right with you,” Steve says, finishing up a piece of intricate detailing on a sketch. The client’s coming in tomorrow for it and he’s not quite as far along as he’d hoped to be.

The heels click up to the desk followed quickly by a rubber soles scuffing up the floor and Steve can feel eyes baring into him.

“Do you take walk-ins?” she asks and Steve’s head snaps up at the familiar unfamiliar voice.

“Oh, hi! Uh, hey Nat. Uh, yeah, we take walk-ins. Smaller pieces, when we’re free.” He’s sure she already knows. There’s a very funny sign on the door of Christopher Walken that says “Walkens welcome”.  Rocket made it.

“So are you free then?” Nat asks as Clint leans over the counter to get a better look at the design he’d been working on. “Right now? Because I want you, specifically. If not I’ll just make an appointment. Oh and price isn’t a concern.”

“Oh, uh, yeah,” Steve stammers. Is he really going to do this? He’s confident in his abilities and all, he knows he’s good. Not to mention he’s been doing this way longer than most people his age. But this is one of Bucky’s best friends and if she doesn’t like what he does… “I’m free for a couple hours. What did you have mind?”

“Okay, so, you know how those mermaid scale tattoos have become pretty popular lately?” she asks, leaning against the counter and crossing her arms over her chest. Steve lets out a little hum and nods. “I want dragon scales. On my hip and down my thigh a little.”

Steve’s eyebrows quirk up and he grins a little, impressed, if not intimidated. “Sounds good. Same basic idea, just maybe more of a pointed tip to the scale,” he muses aloud as he grabs a clipboard with the standard paperwork already clipped to it and hands it over. “Instead of doing a ‘wet’ effect, make them look hard, shiny, maybe metallic even. What color were you thinking?”

Natasha looks impressed too as she takes the clipboard and grabs a pen from the counter, starting to fill everything out. “Red,” she says, glancing up at him briefly. “And maybe some black ones thrown in too.”

His nerves are starting to settle as he’s slipped back into professional mode. He nods and lets out a hum as he purses his lips. “Yeah, yeah, that sounds awesome. I think I’m just gonna freehand this one if that’s okay. It’ll be easier to get a feel for the placement on your actual body. You know-“

“Rather than a flat sheet of paper,” she finishes his sentence, handing him back the clipboard along with her ID. She’s got a wolf-like grin on her face as she does. No, dragon-like. Like she could eat him alive at any time and it’s only her good grace that’s keeping him safe. The tattoo suits her, he thinks.

As he leads her back to his station he shoots a quick text, kind of maybe still freaking out a little. Just maybe. Just a little.

Peggy’s finishing up at the station next to his and as he flops into his chair and grabs a sharpie he hears her coo, “Natasha! So nice to see you again!”

“Again?” Steve asks, his head twisting around to glance between the two women.

“I came by a couple weeks ago,” Natasha smirks, “but you were off that day. So me and Peggy sat around and had a chat instead.”

Steve successfully suppresses a groan and instead manages, “Oh, well, that must have been fun.”

“Definitely. We’ll have to get lunch sometime,” Nat chimes, shamelessly stripping right out of her jeans as Clint perches himself on the half-wall separating the stations.

Steve blushes and pops the cap off the marker, rolling his chair until he’s eye-level with her waist. He studies her hip and leg for a long moment, eyes narrowed thoughtfully, before starting to lightly sketch in the basic scale shapes. When he’s satisfied he pushes himself back to get a look at the whole thing.

“What do you think?” he asks, motioning toward the full-length mirror to his right.

Nat turns and looks and lets out a pleased giggle, grinning from ear to ear. “I think this is going to look awesome,” she says.

“Alright, hop on up then,” he says, motioning toward his chair. She climbs up and lays down. “Is this your first?” he asks her as he gets set up.”

“No, but it’ll be my biggest,” she replies.

Steve nods a little, taking the machine in his hand and pressing on the pedal, testing the connection. “Alright, you ready?” he asks, meeting her eyes.

“Let’s do this,” she replies with a smirk. Steve gives one last nod before diving right in.

He and Natasha and Clint chat a little as he works, but mostly he keeps quiet, putting extra energy into focusing. He’s got about half an hour left of work when a voice near the doorway of his station almost makes him jump.

“Natalia, are you torturing my poor husband?” Bucky asks her, arms crossed over his chest and eyebrows raised expectantly.

She snorts and glances up at him. “Why James, I would never. How dare you suggest such a thing? Look, if anything he’s torturing me,” she jokes, motioning toward the fresh tattoo and how bright red the surrounding skin has become.

“She’s got a point,” Steve says without looking up. His voice waivers just a little. “What brings you here babe?”

“Sam texted me,” he says, slipping into the empty chair Steve has on the other side of his desk. “And I brought you some food.”

It’s Steve’s turn to snort and he pauses his work just long enough to shoot Bucky a look. “Your excuse of food kind of goes out the window when you tell me you’re here cuz Sam texted you,” he teases.

“Yeah, well, I brought you fries so you can’t be too mad,” Bucky teases right back.

“Ooh! Fries? Gimmie one!” he says, opening his mouth. Bucky laughs and rolls his eyes fondly, popping a fry into his husband’s mouth.

“Phanks,” Steve mumbles around it.

“So, Steven,” Natasha chimes, an amused grin on her face as she watches him already turning pink, “I noticed you have a picture from your wedding on your desk. And a couple of just Bucky, too.”

“You do?” Bucky asks, furrowing his brow as he peers around the space.

Steve goes absolutely crimson. “Uh, yeah. I mean, that’s what married couples, uh, do, right?” he stumbles out, glancing up at Natasha just briefly. “Uh, we’re, uh, almost done,” he tries to change the subject.

“It’s sweet,” she says, shooting Bucky a look that Steve doesn’t quite catch.

“Nat,” Bucky’s tone is warning as he pops a fry into his own mouth before holding another in front of his husband’s.

Steve takes the fry between his teeth just as he’s finishing up. He lets out a heavy sigh, a weight lifting from his shoulders he hadn’t even entirely realized was there.

“Alright, done,” he says, setting his machine down and cleaning the area up. “What do you think?”

He leans back in his chair as Natasha pushes herself up and glances down at his work. “Wow,” she mumbles, slipping to her feet to check out the work in the mirror. “I’ve gotta admit, you’re really good,” she says, twisting to inspect the art.

“Thanks,” Steve says, motioning for her to step back over to him. She does and he works on wrapping it quickly. “So I’m sure you know aftercare,” he says. “Keep it moisturized, clean very gently with soap and water, no picking at the scabs, yadda yadda. You can always shoot me a text if you have any questions or whatever.” He hops to his feet and claps his hands.

“Yep, not my first rodeo,” she says with a chuckle, carefully slipping her pants back on. “Here.” They hadn’t even discussed price yet, but she hands him a wad of money. “See you around,” she says with a little wink when he tries to protest. “Bye sweetie,” she adds, blowing a kiss to Bucky before making a quick exit, Clint close behind with a little, “See ya guys.”

Steve turns to Bucky, mouth hanging open, brows knit together as he counts the money she just handed him – definitely more than he would have charged. “She’s scary,” he mumbles to his husband.

Bucky just laughs, standing and pulling the blond to his chest, arm around his waist. “Yeah, that’s Natasha,” he says, pressing a kiss to Steve’s forehead. “Come on, let’s eat before it gets cold.”

 

*

 

Bucky is out to lunch with Natasha and Clint a few weeks later when Steve’s curiosity finally gets the better of him. He makes himself a little nest in their bed, piling all the pillows up, and climbs in, Kindle in hand, pulling the blanket halfway up his chest. Does he write under James Barnes, or Bucky Barnes? Steve wonders, finger hesitating over the search bar. What if he writes under a pseudonym? Then, Steve thinks, he’s really fucked.

But no, no, he thinks, it wouldn’t be as big of a deal for Bucky to take Rogers if he used a pseudonym. Right? And James makes more sense, really. Alright, alright, maybe he should google it first. Author websites always have those cheesy headshots on them, so he’ll know he’s getting the right James (or Bucky?) Barnes. Then he’ll at least know the name of the series he’s looking for, right?

Okay.

He pulls out his phone and after a quick Google search he manages to find Bucky’s professional website. The background on the site is a night sky swirling with stars. Damn this is gorgeous. He wonders who does the graphic design for him. And right there on the front page is a picture of Bucky, candid unlike most authors, his smile wide in laughter. Under, it reads: James (James. How cute.) Barnes is the author of the top-selling (Really? Damn.) LGBT young adult series Stardust-

No way. No fucking way. That series is a Big Deal. Ange loves that series.

“It’s this story of a Starboy who falls to Earth and crash lands on some New York City fire escape,” she’d raved about half way through it. “The boy that finds him nurses him back to health and teaches him about Earth culture and they have all kinds of adventures and do all kinds of cute shit and fall in love. “

She flew through the first three books in, like, a week and is dying waiting for the next one. For months after she finished the damn things she would talk them up to every fuckin’ person who came into the shop. Well, every person who would listen anyway. She’s going to freak.

Well, he was curious about Bucky’s writing, he guesses. And Ange has been prodding him to read these books for months and months and months now. Guess now’s as good a time as any, right? he thinks. Two birds, one stone and all that. First, he thinks, he has to text Angie.

[Steve: So I told you Bucky’s a writer, right?]

[Steve: Guess what he writes]

[Steve: You’ll never guess.]

[Steve: Stardust. It’s Stardust.]

He sends them rapid fire and a minute later Peggy sends him a video. It’s Angie staring at her phone in complete shock, positively shrieking. Then it pans around to an unamused Peggy who says, “You broke her.” Steve snickers and sends Peggy about a thousand of the shrugging emoji before switching back to his tablet. He buys the series and burrows into his pillows as he opens the first book and gets started.

He’s a few chapters in when Bucky makes his way into the bedroom about an hour later. “There you are,” he says, a smile playing on his lips. He climbs into bed and starts pushing through Steve’s nest of pillows, making room for himself. “Thought for sure I’d find you in the studio or somethin’. Whatcha readin’ baby?”

Steve smirks and puts his tablet down, helping his husband push pillows away and curling up against him once they’ve cleared a spot. “Oh,” he coos, “just something Angie recommended to me ages ago. Figured I’d finally get around to it, with all my free time today and all.”

“Any good?” Bucky asks, massaging small circles into the blond’s hip.

Steve snickers and presses a soft kiss to the other man’s lips, nuzzling their noses together. “You should know,” he teases, pulling back to quirk an eyebrow up at him, “you wrote it.”

Bucky balks, his face going pink instantly as he ducks his head. “You’re reading Stardust?” he asks for confirmation, not able to meet the other man’s eyes.

“Oh yeah,” Steve chuckles, taking his husband’s hand in his and lacing their fingers. He leans up and presses another kiss to his mouth. “For the record, Ange’s a big fan. She flipped when I told her. I’ll have to show you the video.”

“There’s a video?” Bucky asks, a nervous giggle escaping his lips.

“Oh, there’s a video.” Steve smirks as he quirks an eyebrow.

Bucky smiles bashfully and shakes his head. “Well, what do you think?” he asks.

“I think I get what all the hype is about,” the blond replies, squeezing his fingers gently. “I think you’re brilliant and talented and smart and funny. I think I’m the luckiest guy alive.”

Bucky chuckles and shakes his head. “Sorry baby, that title belongs to me,” he says, leaning forward to steal another kiss. “And talk about talent,” he shakes his head. “I’ve seen your work. I was even-” He turns pink again suddenly, looking down at their hands bashfully.

“You were what?” Steve asks, a smirk tugging at the corners of his lips. He brings his free hand up, tilting Bucky’s chin up so he’s forced to meet his eyes.

The brunet laughs softly, shrugging as he pulls his chin from his husband’s grip. “I dunno, I was just thinkin’…. Maybe it’s about time I got my first tattoo. If you’d do me the honor of doing it, that is.”

Steve laughs loud, his smile spreading from ear to ear. “Seriously? You’d really want me to be your first? You don’t have to say stuff like that just cuz I like your book babe.”

Bucky snorts and rolls his eyes fondly, cupping Steve’s face in his hand as he gazes into those summer sky eyes. “I would never,” he says, stealing a kiss. “I’ve seen your sketches, I’ve been to the shop a couple times. I love your work.” He presses another kiss to his husband’s lips and this time it’s deeper, passionate. He pours in all the pride and love and admiration he feels, all the things he can’t find words for. Steve moans softly into the kiss, his fingers curling against his husband’s chest. “It would be an honor to have a piece of your art on me forever,” Bucky breathes.

“Such a sweet talker,” Steve teases, smirking again as his grips Bucky’s shirt and pulls him in for another kiss.

“Just the- mmmm Stevie, fuck- just the truth,” Bucky murmurs out between kisses as the blond straddles his hips, hands traveling up the other man’s chest, pushing his shirt up as they go.

Steve laughs as his lips trail along his husband’s jaw and down his neck. “You will go to your grave trying to flatter me,” he teases him, pulling back just long enough to tug the other man’s shirt up and over his head.

“And you’ll deserve every- Ah! Every second of it,” he gasps out, letting his head tip back as Steve nips at his collarbone, sucks a mark into the crook of his neck.

“You don’t have any meetings this week, right?” Steve asks against his skin, a wicked grin on his lips. Bucky whimpers softly and shakes his head and the blond chuckles. “So then I can mark you up all I want.” He picks a spot half way up his husband’s neck and sucks hard, moaning as Bucky whimpers again and squirms under him.

Steve runs his hands down his husband’s chest again, fingers tracing along scars and muscle, thumb brushing over a nipple. He hums quietly as he sucks a dark purple mark into the other man’s skin. Under him Bucky moans and tangles his hand in his husband’s hair as the blond grinds his ass down into his husband’s lap.

“Jesus Stevie,” Bucky breathes, tugging at his hair.

Steve finally pulls back, that grin still perfectly in place. “Yeah baby?” he asks, hands already working at the button on his husband’s jeans. “Mmm that is such a pretty mark.”

“I oughta give you one,” Bucky growls, gripping the hem of Steve’s shirt and tugging it up and off. “Right where everyone at work can see it. You think Peg’d mind?”

Steve snorts, rolling his eyes as Bucky tosses his shirt across the room. “I work in a tattoo shop babe. They’d have a fucking field day.”

 

*

 

The second Steve walks in the door he knows something is wrong. His heart stops at the sight in front of him. The apartment is in shambles, their shit is thrown all over the damn place, and his first thought is that someone broke in and oh god where’s Bucky?

He drops his bag in the walkway and sprints through the apartment, his heart racing as he looks for his husband. When he makes it to their shared studio and office space he finds Bucky just sitting at his desk in front of his computer. His hands are resting on his keyboard and he looks just like he does when he’s got a bad case of writer’s block, but beyond that he looks fine. Relief floods through him for a moment, but it’s very quickly replaced by a wave of anger.

“Buck?” he asks, staring at his husband expectantly, arms crossed over his chest.

When the brunet looks up and sees the look on Steve’s face his brows furrow in confusion. “Hey baby. What’s going on?” he asks. He looks and sounds like he’s coming out of a trance and it’s kind of wigging Steve out.

He pops a hip and lets out a little ‘tch’ and gestures toward the rest of the apartment. “What the fuck happened to the house?” he asks. It comes out a little meaner than he’d meant it to, but the house is a wreck and he was scared shitless – he’s still scared shitless – and Bucky’s just fucking sitting here like nothing even happened.

“I- I have no idea!” Bucky starts timid but by the end of the sentence he’s snapping right back, face hurt and angry and still confused. “Why are you coming in here snapping at me all accusing and shit like that? What the fuck Steve?”

“What do you mean you have no idea? I’m snapping because I come home and the house is fucking torn apart and you’re nowhere to be found and my immediate fucking thought is that someone broke in and I’m gonna find your fucking corpse or something!” Steve’s shouting from the doorway now and Bucky blanches as he takes in his husband’s words. “And then, after all that, you’re just sitting here like nothing fucking happened Buck! That’s why I’m snapping at you!”

“Well I don’t know what the fuck happened!” Bucky shouts back. His face is turning red now as he jumps to his feet.

“How in the fucking hell could you not know what happened? Even if you’d left and all this happened while you were out, you would have had to walk past it all just to get back to this fucking room!” Steve flings his arms out as he talks, gesturing wildly, and it’s a miracle he doesn’t smack an arm on the doorway a couple times.

“I just… don’t fucking know!” Bucky’s hand flies to his head and tangles in his hair. “That’s it! That’s… That’s it…” He pushes past his husband and makes his way to leave, but freezes instantly when he sees the mess, hand still tangled in his hair.

Steve storms up behind him and all five feet four inches of him is seething. “What the fuck James?!”

Bucky spins around and when he looks at his husband, he’s pissed. The survival part of Steve’s instincts tell him to shrink back, back down, apologize and fucking drop it. The rest of his instincts tell him to stand his ground, and that’s what he listens to. Like a dumbass.

That’s what he’s always listened to. Like a dumbass.

But instead of doing anything, Bucky just lets his hand drop from his hair, narrows his eyes, snaps his mouth shut, and storms out of the apartment. Steve lets out a frustrated scream as the door slams behind him, but the anger drains out of him instantly. In its place, sorrow and shame and guilt seep in.

He runs to the door and flings it open, but Bucky’s gone already. And now he’s got a head start. Fuck, he thinks as he paces. How could he just let himself do that? He flew off the fucking handle. They’ve never fought before and Steve just went all out and gave him his worst like that. All because he was fucking scared. Christ.

He pulls his phone from his pocket to call Bucky and apologize. It starts ringing on his end and a couple of seconds later he hears he distinct sound of Pierce the Veil blaring from their bedroom. Circles – Bucky’s ringtone for him. Fuck!

Fuck, well Bucky can take care of himself and there’s nothing else he can do for now. He sets to work cleaning the apartment up and by the time he’s finished it’s 11:30 and Steve’s pissed again. It sure as hell doesn’t help that he’d found his very expensive drawing tablet cracked in the bag he’d dropped when he first got home. God fucking damnit. Is the thing still on warranty? He’ll have to look into it.

He doesn’t really feel like eating, so he heads straight into the shower. One of the first things he was going to do when he came home today. Probably with Bucky. It probably would have been super sexy. And now it’s an anger shower.

When he makes it back to their bedroom he’s still a little irritated, but it has mostly subsided again. So that’s something.

That is, it had. Until he sees a whole slew of texts and missed calls from Natasha.

2 missed calls from Nat

[Nat: Steven Grant fucking Rogers!]

[Nat: Yeah I called you Rogers! You don’t fucking deserve his last name right now!]

3 missed calls from Nat

[Nat: I stg answer your fucking phone you goddamn motherfucking dickwad!]

3 missed calls from Nat

He groans as the anger starts bubbling up again and he’s just about to send her a pissy text back when the damn phone starts ringing in his hand. Natasha again.

“Oh, how nice of you to finally answer your fucking phone!” she snaps at him the second he answers.

“I was in the shower, Nat. After cleaning up the fucking war zone that was my goddamn apartment! Jesus! Fuckin’ sooo-rry!”

“How fucking dare you Steven Grant!”

“We got in a fight Nat! It fucking happens! Did I overreact a little? Yeah, dude. I’m human. I was scared! I’m a man and anger is how I was taught to deal with my fear or whatever. I was gonna apologize right away, but he left his phone here when he fucking stormed out so get off my case!” He runs a tattooed hand through his hair and tugs on it, frustrated.

“Don’t make goddamn excuses!” she snaps. “And don’t try and pull that oh I’m an alpha male bullshit with me asshole! It wasn’t just a fucking fight Steve! He had a goddamn episode and you fucking screamed at him about it! It wasn’t his fucking fault!”

Steve stops dead in his tracks, his hands falling back to his side. He’s sure he looks completely bewildered and the silence stretches on for a long, awkward moment before he asks, “What the fuck are you talking about Natasha?”

Nat sighs on the other end of the line and Steve imagines her pacing. She doesn’t say anything for a long time and Steve lets out a sigh of his own, making his way to the bathroom to switch to his glasses for the night. If she’s not going to talk, he’s at least going to finish his nightly routine.

“He’s got PTSD asshole,” finally comes the response.

“How in the fuck was I supposed to know that?” Steve sighs, running a hand through his hair and staring at himself in the mirror. He scrunches up his face at himself and flips his reflection off before wandering back out of the bathroom. “He never told me. I didn’t even know he was in the damn military. Jesus.”

“He wasn’t in the military you lowlife, piece of shit excuse for a human being!” she snaps at him again.

He knows she’s just pissed, just reacting like he did with Bucky earlier, but so help him if she calls him one more fucking name- “Well which is it Tasha?”

“It’s both you unbelievable dickwad!”

He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. “Nat, PTSD is a vet thing.”

She actually legitimately shrieks and then Steve can hear the distinct flick of flint as she lights up a cigarette. “He was in a fucking plane crash Steve! It took his fucking arm and killed his entire fucking family! You think maybe, maybe that’s enough trauma to cause fucking Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? Huh?! Look it up! God! You’d think someone with as many fucking issues as you’ve got would fucking understand!”

“You know what Nat, fuck you,” he scoffs as he flicks off his bedroom light and flops down on the bed. “No matter what, I had no fucking idea. If you’re telling me he trashed the fucking apartment but it somehow wasn’t his fault, then how is it my fault that I got scared and I got pissed when I didn’t fucking know? Fuck you!”

“No, fuck you Rogers,” she breathes around a mouthful of smoke. The use of his old name like a weapon stings more than he thought it would. “He’s on his way home now. Try not to be a goddamn ass. See if you can manage that.”

“Oh I’ll manage it,” Steve mumbles, flopping onto his back, “because I’m going to be asleep. Oh, and, Nat?”

She lets out an inquisitive hum, still managing to sound pissed somehow.

“Those things’ll fucking kill you.” And then he hangs up on her. He knows she’s probably going to actually literally kill him the next time he sees her, but he’s exhausted and he’s clearly already pissed her off enough tonight. What’s one more thing?

He’s so exhausted he doesn’t even take his glasses off or hearing aids out before drifting off to sleep.

 

*

 

Steve is basically dead to the world. He’s so deep asleep he doesn’t even wake up when Bucky comes home and crawls into bed half an hour later. He doesn’t wake up when Bucky tosses and turns for hours trying to fall asleep himself. Oh no. No. What wakes Steve up at 3 AM is Bucky screaming and crying and absolutely thrashing in his sleep.

Steve shoots up and turns to Bucky, eyes wide and heart racing. He feels helpless as he watches his husband in the throes of the worst damn nightmare Steve’s ever seen. Shit! Is this what happened earlier? Was it a sleep walking thing? Jesus Christ. What the fuck is he supposed to do? He sucks in a deep breath and pushes his hair out of his face, allowing himself to the count of five to calm down. He can’t help Bucky if he works himself into a panic too.

He takes one last deep breath before leaning over Bucky, hands on his shoulders. He knows he’s no match if his husband starts to fight him in his sleep, but he has to try something. “Buck,” he tries, sliding one hand up to cup the brunet’s cheek. “Bucky… James, Jamie, baby, wake up.” He brushes his thumb over his cheek and tries to keep him steady with the other. “James, it’s Stevie. You’re safe baby. You’re at home, you’re safe. It’s just a dream. I’m sorry I shouted at you earlier, but it’s just a dream. Wake up baby,” he babbles, voice just loud enough to be heard over his husband’s sobs.

Steve’s just about to give up and switch to more desperate measures like cold water or something when Bucky lets out one final scream, his arm swinging up as if to knock the intruder off him, fist connecting with his husband’s face. Steve’s glasses shatter from the impact and shards embed themselves in his face and Bucky’s knuckles, the pain finally enough to wake him up with a jolt.

“Fuck!’ Steve shouts, doubling over right into Bucky’s lap as he cups his hands over his face. His eyes are watering and he knows the right one is going to be black and blue in the morning, but, frankly, he’s more worried about the glass shards buried in his cheeks and nose, the blood dripping down through his fingers. Frankly, he’s just glad none of them ended up in his eyes. He knows from getting into fights in school that the bleeding is all superficial, it always is with the face. He shouldn’t need stitches. Still, though, it’s not good. And all that glass in Bucky’s hand, damnit. Hopefully none of it is very deep.

At first, Bucky’s still too out of it to even realize what’s going on, looking at the back of Steve’s head confused as he sits up. But then the pain in his hand registers and he lets out a hiss.

“What the fuck?” he mumbles, his voice groggy and rough with sleep. “Steve, what’s going on?”

“You had a nightmare,” Steve groans through his hands. He’s getting used to the pain enough that the room isn’t spinning anymore but he’s still seeing stars from the hit to the nose. Fuck. He manages to push himself up, stumbling just a little and not being bothered to turn the bedroom light on as he heads to the bathroom. “C’mon, I’ve gotta look at that hand to make sure you don’t need stitches.” He motions for the brunet to follow him.

He groans as he flicks on the bathroom light, tugging the broken plastic frames from behind his ears and tossing them onto the counter. He knows there’s glass sticking out of his face and blood dripping down it and he looks like something out of a horror movie or a crime show or something, but he’s not going to be able to do shit without his contacts in, so he bites his lip and bares it as he finds them and puts them in.

Bucky stumbles in, clutching his fist to his chest, just as Steve’s blinking to adjust to the contacts. “Holy shit,” he mutters, glancing between the broken frames on the counter, his hand, and Steve’s face. Even groggy he puts the pieces together instantly. “Fuck,” he hisses. “Steve, did I…?” he hesitates, afraid of the answer he already knows he’ll get, wincing at the thought of Steve starting to shout at him again.

Steve finally manages to find his tweezers and his first aid kit and turns to his husband. “You were asleep. You were having a nightmare. You had no control over it,” he says soothingly. He doesn’t even bother cleaning himself up or pulling the glass from his own face before he turns to Bucky, holding his empty hand out. “Let me see your hand baby.”

Bucky hesitates. He flinches a little at the initial contact when he finally does hold his hand out to his husband and the blond takes it. “Stevie, your face…”

Steve waves a dismissive hand as he inspects the wounds. “Don’t worry about it. It doesn’t even hurt that bad. I want to take care of your hand first.”

“I’m so sorry,” Bucky says, and his voice sounds wrecked. “I’m such a fucking mess. God. You were all freaking out because you thought that panic attack you had was bad…” He’s near tears as he sighs and shakes his head. He doesn’t even seem fazed when Steve starts pulling the glass from his knuckles. “I should have told you… back then… about everything…“ His voice breaks and a few stray tears roll down his cheeks. “I just… it’s ruined all of my relationships. No one ever fucking believes me and, and I’d been managing it so fucking well lately. I just thought… I thought it would be okay… I didn’t want to scare you off…”

Steve feels his heart break in his chest. God, he had been such an ass and here Bucky is, apologizing to him. He was just like every other fucking asshole Bucky dated- Hell! He was like every fucking asshole he’d ever tried to date. All those douchebags who had gotten sick of his depression or his anxiety or the things he couldn’t do, how often he got sick, and just kicked him to the curb. The thought makes him want to barf. He’s going to make this right. No matter what it takes, he’s gonna fucking make this right and he’s going to start by taking care of this amazing man in front of him like a good fucking husband should.

“I believe you,” Steve says, just above a whisper. He cradles Bucky’s hand in his and cleans the wounds gently. “Please don’t apologize Buck, it’s not your fault.” He glances up at him as he drops the bloody washcloth he’d used onto the counter and wraps the brunet’s hand. “I’m the one who should be apologizing. And I am, I’m so sorry baby.” He glances up again once he’s done dressing the wound, bringing his husband’s injured hand up to kiss it gently.

Steve steps closer and Bucky flinches again, hesitating in wrapping his arm around his waist as the blond reaches up and gently wipes away his tears. He wraps his arms around his husband’s neck and looks into his eyes, letting out a soft sigh. Bucky opens his mouth to apologize again, but Steve cuts him off before he can.

“I’m so sorry,” he goes on. “I was such a fucking ass. I didn’t know what was going on and I was just so fucking scared. And I know it’s not an excuse, it’s not. I shouldn’t have started yelling. I fucking regretted it the second it came out of my damn mouth. Christ…” he trails off as Bucky’s arm drapes looser around his waist, the brunet fidgeting with the waistband of his pants. “You’re so great with all of my shit and the one time you need me, I let you down,” he rambles on. “Jesus Jamie, I’m so sorry. Can you ever forgive me?”

“Of course I can,” Bucky says, leaning forward and pressing a kiss to his forehead. “But how about we take care of your face now Stevie? Doesn’t that hurt?”

 

*

 

The next morning he looks just about as bad as he feels. Even after a shower to better clean the blood off, his face is still a wreck. His right eye is purple just like he’d expected and he’s got cuts across his cheekbones and left temple and over the bridge of his nose. Bucky teases him gently about taking a couple selfies for “drawing references”. “It’s gonna be a very unique scarring pattern,” he bullshits with a smirk. “It could make or break a character.”

A lot of eye rolling and a couple reluctant selfies later, he styles his hair and puts on something nice, kissing his husband goodbye before heading out. He stops at a flower shop and buys a dozen roses before heading uptown to Nat and Clint’s place. If he’s going to set things right, he needs to apologize to Tasha too.

“Jesus Christ, what happened to you?” Clint asks when he opens the door. Big words from someone who’s constantly covered in at least two visible bandaids. He eyes the roses in Steve’s hand and doesn’t look pissed to see him, which Steve is very grateful for. Clint is a lot of things, and thankfully two of those are understanding and patient. Franky, he’s probably the most chill person he’s ever met.

“Nothing I didn’t deserve,” Steve mutters, rubbing the back of his neck with his free hand. He opens his mouth to ask if Nat’s home, but just then she cuts him off.

“You can say that again,” she scoffs, stepping in front of her husband, eyes narrowed suspiciously as she takes in his injuries and the roses.

“For you,” Steve says, holding the flowers out to her. “To apologize. I’m sorry I was a dick last night.”

Natasha scoffs again as she swipes the flowers from his hand, inspecting them before she turns her back to him and heads into the house. “No one hangs up on me,” she says. Clint snickers and shakes his head as he and Steve follow her into the kitchen.

“I’m sorry,” Steve apologizes again, leaning against the counter. “You were just looking out for your friend, who I was also being an ass to, and I shouldn’t have gotten defensive like that. I should have shut up and listened to you and I’m sorry.”

Nat fills a vase with water and trims the bottom of the stems before setting them in it. There’s a long silence where she preens and pets the delicate petals before finally looking up at him. “I guess I was kind of a bitch about it too,” she admits, leaning against the counter. “When I found out you didn’t know, I could have handled it a little better myself.”

Steve smiles hopefully and leans against the counter across from her. “So… we’re good?” he asks.

“Are you and Bucky good?” she asks, eyeing his wounds suspiciously.

“Yeah,” Steve nods and smiles. “He had a nightmare last night and I got caught by a flailing arm trying to wake up him up. With my glasses on.”

Clint hisses and laughs, his face scrunching up in sympathy. “You gotta watch out for that, man. He’s only got one, but it’s got power behind it.”

“Yeah,” Steve snorts, “I figured that out. Now I get to explain it to my optometrist.” He hangs his head and chuckles softly. “It was probably about time to update my script anyway,” he muses.

 

*

 

Steve spends two weeks working on it, perfecting it. His friends have all approved multiple versions of it several times over by now, but it takes that second week before it really sings to him. Things start falling back into normalcy at home during that week. Bucky had been hesitant to even touch him or sleep in the same bed with him again at first, but Steve didn’t flinch and now he doesn’t hesitate anymore. More importantly, he hasn’t had any more nightmares. A fact they’re both grateful for.

When the day finally arrives he’s up way too early and tells Bucky he’s got a big piece at work that will take all day so he doesn’t worry. And boy is he glad he does, because this grand scheme of his ends up taking 12 fucking hours. About half way through it he’s grateful he’d gotten started so early. As he heads toward the subway station he sends Bucky a text.

[Steve: Hey, just letting you know I’m on my way home<3]

[Steve: Get dressed up, okay? I got us reservations somewhere really nice for dinner]

[Bucky: ????? Ooookay??????]

[Bucky: Any particular reason?]

[Bucky: I mean, you can’t be proposing. We’re kind of already married.]

Steve draws stares when he busts out laughing, but he doesn’t give a shit. He takes a screenshot of the conversation, sending it to Peggy and Sam. They’ll appreciate the pure comedic genius that is his husband.

When he gets home he finds Bucky in their bedroom, putting the finishing touches on his outfit for the night. He looks absolutely stunning, all dressed up with a tie on and everything. Steve beams at him and can’t help but chuckle at how they’ll look together, how they always look together when they’re dressed up. Bucky all proper and sweet and himself with tattoos up his neck and across his hands that even the nicest suit can’t hide. He loves it.

“You look amazing,” Steve says, a dreamy look on his face as he leans against the doorframe.

You need to change,” Bucky teases him, smirking.

Steve laughs and rolls his eyes fondly, pushing himself off the doorframe and walking over to his husband. “What, you don’t think I could go to a fancy restaurant in my ripped up shorts and this band tee?” he jokes, successfully fighting a wince as he stretches his arms out dramatically.

“I mean, I wouldn’t mind,” Bucky starts, laughing as his eyes slowly trail along the blond’s body. “You know I think you look hot in anything. But I’m not so sure they’d let you in like that, and that would kind of ruin the date I think.”

He pulls his husband into his arms and Steve’s not expecting the sting this time so he can’t stop the soft hiss and groan as he rests his hands on the brunet’s hips. He leans up to press a kiss to Bucky’s lips but the brunet holds him out at arm’s length, eyes narrowed this time as his eyes trace along his torso again.

“What’s wrong?” he asks, an equal mix of concern and suspicion in his eyes.

Steve flashes a crooked grin and steps out of Bucky’s grip. “Nothing’s wrong,” he says. “But I do have- Well, I did something. For you. To apologize for being an ass before. And to show you committed I am to this, to us, to you. To always staying by your side and supporting you, no matter what. To show you how much… how much I love you.”

“Steve, we’re already married,” Bucky says, forcing a chuckle. Steve can see the gears turning in his head and can practically hear his heart racing in his chest. “You don’t get much more committed than that… So, this fancy dinner date- ?”

“Is part of it. I just wanted to treat you.” Steve finishes, his smile widening as he lets Bucky mull it over for a second. “I did somethin’,” he repeats finally. “D’you wanna see?”

The brunet swallows hard and nods as Steve takes another step back and slips his shirt over his head.

“You didn’t,” Bucky mutters quietly, seeing the bandage across Steve’s entire chest.

“Just wait,” Steve says, shushing him happily.

He pulls the bandage off and underneath is the most beautiful chest piece Bucky’s ever seen. His favorite flower, blue hydrangeas with delicate pastel pink roses mixed in surrounding a scarily accurate anatomical heart covered in scars, a single small piece of shrapnel sticking out of it and sutures closing up one fresh wound.

Bucky gawks, tears in his eyes as he takes it all in and his breath seems to be stuck in his throat. He steps closer to his husband and splays his hand across his stomach as he tries to memorize every detail in the piece.

“Do you like it?” Steve asks, a blush creeping across his cheeks.

Bucky nods quickly as the tears start to fall. “It’s beautiful,” he breathes, hand coming up to cup his husband’s cheek as he leans forward and kisses him, hard and passionate, then soft and sweet. “I love you,” he babbles between kisses. “I love you, I love you.”

“I love you too,” Steve breathes back every time.