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Riley's

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It’s going to be one hell of a storm. Bucky knows it because all the shelters in this part of town are full, and on a warm summer’s night that only happens when the homeless folks get worried. Considering the locale, worried takes a lot.

Bucky isn’t really homeless. He has a room in a halfway house for disabled vets. He eats there most days, and reads his mail, and showers, but when it comes to sleeping he’d rather be on a park bench or an anonymous cot than anywhere near his new ‘home’.

The halfway house is loud and the walls are paper thin and that grates on his nerves. On the few nights when he does sleep there, he’s never sure what’s worse: his own nightmares or the nightmares of everyone around him.

Maybe he’s ungrateful, but what exactly does he have to be grateful for?

He’s got no friends anymore except Steve and there’s no way he’s gonna burden Stevie with more of his dysfunction. Steve does enough already. Tries at least once a month to get Bucky to move in with him. Takes him to the movies to cheer him up when Bucky fucks up another job interview. Talks to Bucky’s caseworker more often than Bucky does, to make sure he keeps his place in line for the prosthetic arm insurance has been dicking around on.

Bucky’s tried to push Steve away more times than he can count but Steve Rogers is an immoveable pain in the ass when he wants to be so mostly Bucky’s given up on that front.

The food line shifts forward.

Bucky shivers against the wind and watches as a sudden gust lifts dust and litter and leaves into miniature tornadoes. A woman with children steps up behind him and Bucky motions her ahead. An old, wrinkled man shuffles up next. Bucky steps aside to let him go as well, and when the man sees Bucky’s pinned-up jacket he smiles a mostly toothless grin and holds up a hand that’s missing the middle three fingers.

“Normandy,” the man says, his eyes crinkling a little around the edges as he smiles.

“Afghanistan,” Bucky says after a pause.

He hates this. Not the man. The man is fine. The man means no harm. The man had left some fingers on a beach and Bucky had left his arm in the desert, and now here they are waiting for a handout from a church that serves a God who had abandoned them. Bucky can’t stand it.

“Sorry, man. Gotta go,” Bucky mumbles, turning to walk away and hoping the old-timer doesn’t blame himself for Bucky’s abrupt departure. He just can’t do this today. No one’s fault but his own.

“Hey!” a young woman’s voice calls after him. “Hey, sir? Wait!”

Bucky stops and turns, confused and not too happy about it. “I wasn’t bothering anyone.”

“Oh, I didn’t think you were,” the young woman says. She tucks a long strand of her dark hair behind her ear, though it does little good as the wind blows it right back out, smacking around in every direction. “You left the line.”

“That against the law or something?”

“I’m probably the last person you should ask about what’s legal,” she says. “I’m kind of working here for court-mandated community service. I tazed some grabby asshole and now I’m serving soup three nights a week. Go figure. I’m Darcy by the way.”

“Something I can do for you, Darcy?” Bucky asks. “I’m not looking to be anyone’s charity case.”

“Just-- I wanted to give you this,” Darcy says, digging a crisp red business card out of her jacket pocket. “There’s a bar down the street, and if the soup kitchen ever runs out of food or if people show up early or late, we give them these cards and they can get a meal there.”

Bucky takes the card and glances it over.

Riley’s it says in thick script at the top. There’s an address, phone number and website underneath it, and a small rainbow flag at the bottom of each corner. It looks legit.

“Why?”

There’s no such thing as a free meal. Bucky knows this all too well. Someone hands you free food and then best case scenario is they take your picture and use you in their latest fundraising newsletter as a charity case, or worst case scenario-- they’re looking for a drug mule or a handjob in the alley.

Bucky’s heard it all from his time in various shelters and he doesn’t want any part of it.

“I saw you let those people go ahead of you,” Darcy says, interrupting his thoughts. “You deserve some good karma, is all. Plus, the food at Riley’s is way better than what you’re gonna get from the church. And the owner’s a cool guy. Everybody likes Sam.”

Once upon a time maybe, he’d have believed he had good karma coming to him. Back when he was in college and studying to be an accountant. Before Steve had enlisted. Before Bucky decided to follow him. When he’d bothered to shave, and his hair was shorter, and he had two arms. But not now. He tries to hand her back the card and she takes a step backward.

“If this is some kind of prank--” Bucky says.

“It’s not,” Darcy insists. She shoves her hands in her pockets so the card’s got nowhere to go. “Sometimes people are nice. Deal with it.”

Thunder rumbles in the distance and there’s a hint of rain in the air. The storm isn’t far off, and if he goes to the stupid restaurant and eats slow he might avoid the worst of the weather. Cold, wet socks are the worst.

“Fine,” he grumbles, since the girl is still watching him intently. “You’ve done your community service. I’ll go.”

“Good! You won’t regret it,” Darcy says, ducking to the side as another gust of wind sends a scattering of papers their way. “Oh, and have a good night, sir. Sorry you’re homeless!”

She jogs off back to her ‘volunteer’ work and Bucky heads down the street toward Riley’s. He doesn’t really know what to make of his interaction with Darcy, but at least it’s over. There are whole days that go by where he doesn’t need to say more than a dozen words, and that’s for the better. What would he even say anymore if people talked to him on a regular basis?

The restaurant isn’t hard to find. It’s on the first level of a three-story brick building, and there’s a brightly painted sign that says Riley’s above the door. Large rainbow flags hang on either side of the entrance, an echo of the business card. The menu posted on the big picture window only lists a few options, but they look appetizing enough that Bucky wishes he had the money to order whatever he wants and not just whatever this place decides to give him.

He steps inside and bells jingle above his head. The bartender smiles at him brightly from behind the long, wooden counter. The man is about his age, with brown skin and the kind of body that speaks of long morning jogs and a whole lot of pull ups. Bucky shifts his eyes away to take in the rest of the bar before he’s called out for staring.

There are drink glasses and liquor bottles lining the wall behind the man, and beer taps below. There’s also a bright, neon sign that says Stark Industries that looks more than a little out of place. The bar is all done up in brick and dark wood, and despite the dark color of the walls there’s still an airy feel about the space. A small stage sits off to the right. There’s a jukebox, too, over in the other corner, and it’s casting a rainbow of lights on the floor and wall surrounding it.

There are two sets of men eating together, and a group of women playing darts next to a sign for a unisex bathroom. An older couple is eating at a table near the stage, chatting with a man at the next table over as he finishes his drink.

“Come on in,” the guy behind the bar calls. “If that wind picks up any more, the door’s gonna fly off the hinges.”

Bucky walks inside, pulls the door shut behind him and feels embarrassed by the card he’d been given. This place is way too nice for the likes of him and for the first time in awhile, that’s upsetting. He calculates how much change he has in his pockets, and wonders if he can buy a glass of tea and then leave with his dignity intact, but it’s too late. The counter guy spots the card in his hand.

“I see you were down the street. Have a seat wherever, I’ll be right with you.”

Bucky hesitates, then sits down at a table for two by the window. Out of habit he takes the seat that puts the missing arm out of view. If he stays away from the other patrons, he might avoid the inevitable looks of pity he hates so damn much. He relaxes a little when the bar man approaches with a menu and a glass of water, so to anyone looking he’ll appear to be a customer just like everyone else.

“Pick anything you like,” the man says. “The whole menu, plus water, tea, and soda are on the house.”

Bucky gets the implication there. They aren’t giving out free booze. He doesn’t care. He’s mostly just surprised he isn’t being handed a peanut butter sandwich and sent on his way.

“I’m Sam,” the man adds, as he puts the water down on the table and holds out his hand to shake Bucky’s. “When you’re ready to order, just holler or wave or make some awkward eye contact or something.”

Sam smiles at him in a way that’s genuine and makes Bucky feel oddly at ease, and Bucky puts together what Darcy said. The owner’s a cool guy. Everybody likes Sam. Now Bucky can see why.

“Thanks, I will,” Bucky says.

He takes his time with the menu as he watches the rain begin to fall. He’s not going to be a jerk and stretch this out until they close, but he isn’t going to rush things either. It’s been a long time since he’s had the chance to eat a real, sit-down meal. He wants to enjoy it.

Sam comes back over to refill his water glass a few minutes later and Bucky holds out the menu.

“Is this a hint I should hurry?” Bucky asks, not meaning it to sound quite as grumpy as it does.

“Take your time, man,” Sam says while collecting the menu. “We’re open until midnight on weeknights and I’m slow about locking up.”

Bucky feels a little bad about being rude, he’s just not sure how this is supposed to work. Well-dressed people on the street don’t usually look at him, and they definitely don’t talk to him. Now two strangers have been decent to him on the same night. This goes well past drug-muling and into organ-stealing territory.

“I’ll have the bacon cheeseburger with fries,” Bucky says. “And a tea.”

“Sweet or regular?” Sam says.

“Sweet,” Bucky says, not needing even a second to think about it.

“Good choice,” Sam says. “I’ll have it out as soon as it’s up. Try to save some room for dessert, too. Nick makes the best apple dumplings in DC.”

Bucky nods in agreement and then turns his head to look out the window before Sam tries to draw him into more conversation. It’s not that he doesn’t appreciate the kindness. He just knows it’s stupid to get used to this. He’ll save room, though, like Sam suggested. Bucky hasn’t had an apple dumpling in 20-some years, but he’s sure he’ll still like them.

The meal turns out to be the best thing that’s happened to Bucky in a year. Not that it’s been a great year, but still. It’s a rarity to feel full and sated, and the next time he has five dollars he might say to hell with making it stretch and buy himself another one of these amazing apple dumplings. That’s how good they are.

It’s nearing 9, and Bucky is still scraping his fork across the bottom of the bowl, hoping to catch the last hints of cinnamon there.

“Told you they were the best in DC,” Sam says. “Mind if I sit?”

The bar had emptied out during a lull in the storm and Bucky is now the only customer.

“It’s your bar,” Bucky says. Sam doesn’t sit, and Bucky feels another pang of guilt. “Go ahead. Sit. This was all very good. Thank you.”

He means it. And he means it about more than just the food. It’s nice to feel normal for once. Nice not to worry he’s going to be run out of the restaurant for looking out of place. Good that Sam didn’t rearrange the silverware for him all to one side like he’s some kind of cripple incapable of reaching over a plate.

“I should be going,” Bucky adds as an afterthought.

“If you want,” Sam says. “But the worst of the storm hasn’t hit yet, so if you want to hang out, feel free. We’ll probably get a few more stragglers before close but it ain’t gonna be busy.”

Bucky considers it. The rain is falling in sheets against the windows and if that’s not the worst of it, he’s pretty sure he doesn’t want to be outside when the worst comes. But it’s hard not to be suspicious of this level of kindness. Good shit never comes for free.

“I’m not gonna have to blow you for all this, am I?” Bucky asks, because he figures he might as well toss that out there and get it out of the way. “Or run some package for you to across town?”

“No,” Sam says. “Absolutely not. This meal has no strings attached. None.”

Sam says it with such conviction it’s impossible not to believe him.

They chat for a few minutes more. Sam never asks Bucky about his arm or his situation or his housing status. It’s a nice change, since for the most part, the people who do speak to Bucky (doctors, social workers, police officers) reduce him to those three topics alone.

It’s while they’re talking that someone new walks into the bar through the kitchen door and the guy’s balancing two plates of food, silverware, a laptop, a phone and a steaming cup of coffee.

“You talking to yourself again, Sam?”

Bucky glances at the exit because he’s pretty sure the safest thing to do at this point would be to go running out into the rain. The new guy’s arms define the idea of gym bro. Gym bros do not take kindly to the actively homeless. Ever. Even bros that hang out in gay bars.

“Still one customer left,” Sam says. For his part he doesn’t seem concerned for Bucky’s safety, though he does do something kind of odd. He shifts his chair very deliberately around so he can see them both at once. “This is Clint. He lives in one of the rooms upstairs, and helps out every now and then when he's not busy with his day job. Total walking disaster...”

“Hey, am not!” Clint complains, then as if on cue, the fork he’s got balancing on his plate teeters off the edge and goes clanging to the floor despite Clint’s best efforts to recover it in mid-air.

Sam makes a gesture like ‘told you.’

“I was just going,” Bucky says.

“Wait! Don’t leave on my account,” Clint says urgently, as he leans down to pick up his fork while keeping every other item in his hands perfectly still. His movements are so careful and precise it’s like watching a contortionist. “Really, please don’t go. Nick won’t mind if I eat in the kitchen.”

Clint is looking at Bucky in a hopeful sort of way that makes Bucky feel all kinds of awkward. There’s no judgement that he can sense. No disgust. Just... maybe a quiet desperation not to be the guy who ran off the one-armed homeless dude.

Which is better than being an asshole bro, at least.

“I’m not homeless,” Bucky interjects, about a minute too late, considering Sam had brought it up before Clint had appeared. “If that’s what you think. I have a home. A halfway house. I hate it there, but it’s a roof and a bed.”

“If you hate it there, it might not be home,” Sam points out.

“I wasn’t trying to scam you out of a meal,” Bucky says, like they’re having two entirely different conversations. He’s feeling guilty, now. Knowing how it must look. He’s got a place to sleep and a place to eat and he’s lining up for a soup kitchen instead.

“You came in with the card,” Sam says simply. “If ex-President Obama walked in here with that card, he’d get a meal on the house. It isn’t about the money.”

The door to the kitchen swings open wide right then, hitting the wall with a crack, as a tall black man with an eyepatch and an apron steps out. “If that no good, cheating son of a bitch shows his face in here, he’s getting tossed out on his ass,” the man says, matter-of-factly. “Username Chicago2DC my left eye. It’s Obama.”

“Nick’s got a Fantasy Baseball nemesis,” Sam explains. “He’s convinced it’s Obama. I don’t even try to reason with him anymore.”

“It’s Obama,” Nick insists. “You think just because he lived in the White House for eight years he didn’t have access to Yahoo sports? He’s got insider information. He’s cheating.”

“This conversation is as bananas now as it was the last time we had it,” Sam says, rolling his eyes dramatically. “Did you need something?”

“Yes. I need you or Clint to stare at a light bulb while I go flip some switches on the circuit breaker.”

“Clint’s eating,” Clint protests. As if to prove his point, he shoves a fork (the floor fork) full of food into his mouth.

“I’ll see what I can do,” Sam says. “And hey-- I didn’t catch your name?”

Bucky considers lying but a name is a small price to pay for all this food.

“Bucky.”

“Bucky, it was a pleasure meeting you. Don’t feel like you need to rush off while I’m gone. Stay as long as you want.”

“It was good meeting you, too,” Bucky agrees. He’s surprised to realize how much he means it.

Sam turns, and Bucky tries not to be too obvious as he gets a glimpse of the curve of Sam’s ass in his jeans as he exits through the kitchen door. He looks away quickly only to notice that Clint’s watching, too.

“If you like what you see, you better give him your number tonight,” Clint says. “With an ass like that he’s never single for long.”

Bucky lets Clint’s words hang in the air because he’s got no idea how to respond. Bucky’s social skills ran out hours ago.

“Sorry,” Clint adds quickly. “If-- that was super gay. And you’re not gay. And I made it awkward? It looked like you looked but you were probably just doing something straight like noticing his... shoes. Or his jeans. Straight people do tha--”

“I’m gay,” Bucky interrupts, to stop Clint’s rambling before Clint says something well and truly stupid. “And I’m not offended.”

It’s been a long time since Bucky’s said it out loud, because who the fuck cares about Bucky’s preferences at this point. Still, it was worth throwing it out there to see the look of relief in Clint’s eyes.

“I’m also not gonna give him my number,” Bucky says.

Partly because the only phone he’s got access to is in the common room at the halfway house and also because who is he kidding? Sam’s not gonna be interested. That’s not how reality works.

Thunder crashes outside, and Bucky startles. Clint doesn’t flinch.

“I don’t think the storm is gonna ease up for another couple of hours. If you want a ride back to your place, Nick’s got a car I can borrow once I finish my dinner,” Clint says.

“You give a lot of rides to strangers?” Bucky asks, giving Clint a look of disapproval he can’t hide. “You should maybe watch the news, or something. You and Sam.”

Clint shrugs and laughs good-naturedly. “We get by.”

“I should rob you just to prove a point,” Bucky frowns.

Clint considers it. “If you need money that bad, I just might let you.”

Bucky is not impressed. “Look, I should go. It’s weird sitting around watchin’ you eat.”

“Then don’t watch,” Clint says. “You want another apple dumpling?”

Bucky almost says no. Intends to say no. Has every intention of saying no.

“Yeah, sure, why not?”

Damn it.

Clint is on his feet before Bucky can headdesk at his own sudden and irritating desire for company. Or maybe it’s just the apple dumplings are that good. Bucky doesn’t even know.

Clint returns in under a minute with a tray that’s carrying an apple dumpling, a side of ice cream, a glass of milk, a fork and a napkin. He’s also wearing bright purple hearing aids in both ears. Which makes a lot of the odd things from the evening make sense. Why Sam had turned so Clint could see his face. Why the thunder hadn’t made Clint jump. The intent way Clint kept staring at his mouth.

Bucky doesn’t avert his eyes away from the hearing aids because god knows he hates when people refuse to look at his lack of arm. Clint notices Bucky’s stare and smiles.

“Lost partial hearing in Iraq. I can hear some without the aids but it's easier when I can watch your lips move. That’s not gonna work as well when you’re chowing down on dessert.”

Bucky nods. “I like the purple.”

“Tell Sam that,” Clint says. “He called them gaudy.”

Clint sits the tray of food down in front of Bucky, and Bucky stares.

“I’m not exactly an accountant or anything,” Bucky says, “but it seems like Sam probably shouldn’t empty out the fridge for every bum off the street if he wants to stay in business.”

“Sam’s not gonna let people go hungry,” Clint says. “And the food is all paid for by that sign up there above the bar. Stark Industries rents the wall space, Sam uses the rent money to cover any meals he gives out, and he donates the rest to the shelter down the street at the end of every month.”

“And Tony Stark just does that out of the goodness of his heart?” Bucky asks, shaking his head in doubt.

“His best friend has a room upstairs,” Clint explains. “A guy named Rhodey. He was in the Air Force with Sam, and he’s only in town two or three times a month so he keeps a crash pad here. Stark comes down from New York whenever Rhodey’s in town. Sometimes even when he isn't.”

“What’s that have to do with the neon sign?”

“Sam doesn’t talk about it. I figure it doesn’t really matter since it means people get food on the house and Sam can stay in business,” Clint says.

“I’ve walked into the Twilight Zone,” Bucky says.

“Stark’s not a bad guy once you get past the song and dance,” Clint insists.

“If he was singing and dancing, I’m sure we’d get on fine,” Bucky counters as the kitchen door swings open. “It’s the making weapons, then acting surprised when they end up pointed back at American troops that I’ve got a problem with.”

“Tony’s got a problem with that, too,” Sam says, as he enters. “He’s doing what he can to make things right.”

Clint looks thoughtful. “I’m usually the last one to defend Stark and he’s got plenty of solid flaws-- but not caring about what happens with those weapons is not one of them.”

All three men turn to stare at the Stark Industries sign.

“This isn’t about my arm,” Bucky says. He can’t help but assume that’s how it must sound.

“I didn’t say it was,” Clint says.

“That’s not how I lost it,” Bucky continues. “It was an accident-- not some Stark missile.”

“You don’t owe us an explanation,” Sam says.

“And you can feel free to ignore me,” Clint adds. “Ask Sam-- I’m a huge pain.”

“He is,” Sam agrees. “Though I’m mostly stuck on the part where you’re defending Tony now, Barton. He’s going to love that.”

Clint wads up a napkin and tosses it at Sam’s face. It hits him square between the eyes.

“Don’t tell him,” Clint groans. “I’ll never hear the end of it.”

“I keep telling you he’s got a video camera rigged up in that sign,” Sam teases. “Tony sits at home, all alone, watchin’ our sorry asses wipe down tables every night. He’s lonely. He’d probably take you on a date if you asked real nice.”

“Yeah, I’ll get right on that,” Clint laughs, while flipping Sam the bird.

“What about you, Bucky?” Sam says. “Want me to set you up with a lonely billionaire?”

Coming from anyone else that would sound like straight-up mocking, but Sam sounds sincere as hell.

“Yeah, I’m sure he’s into one-armed hobos. I read that in last month’s Forbes, I think,” Bucky says, rolling his eyes.

“I like you,” Sam says. “You call it like you see it. You need to come by more often.”

“I’m pretty sure your free meals aren’t meant to be a regular thing,” Bucky points out. “At least not if you want to stay in business.”

“Let me worry about my finances,” Sam says. “You worry about getting back here next Thursday night. We’re having a pre-Pride party. We’ll shut the place down early, Nick’ll set up the whole bar full of food, and you can meet everyone.”

“I wouldn’t fit in,” Bucky says, shaking his head. “And it’s not exactly a barrel of laughs when someone gets drunk and starts asking about my arm.”

“No pressure,” Sam says, holding his hands up in surrender. “But don’t let not fitting in be the reason you won’t show. Me, Nick, Rhodey and Clint are all vets. Me, Nick, Clint and a couple others have spent time in shelters. Outside of a halfway house for veterans you aren’t gonna find people with more shared life experience, and you’ve already said you aren’t overly fond of that scene. Try ours.”

“Plus, if anyone says anything rude about your arm, I’ll throw them out on their ass,” Clint says matter-of-factly. “Though I don’t think anybody will. They don’t say shit about my hear aids.”

“There’s no point in arguing,” Sam says. “You ate the apple dumplings; you’re gonna be back.”

“The secret ingredient is...” Clint looks around and drops his voice low, "crack.”

He says it with such a serious face that for a second Bucky stares at him in confusion, and then Clint and Sam both start cracking up. It even draws a grudging smile from Bucky.

“Fine. I’ll come to your party, but I’m bringing a friend. And it’s on you if I make it all awkward and shit.”

“You won’t,” Sam insists. “Next Thursday. Eight pm. Come ready to eat.”

Bucky looks doubtful as he nods, then drags his spoon through the last remnants of his second dessert. “There better be apple dumplings.”

“A whole pan, just for you.”

Chapter Text

“I got invited to a party,” Bucky says into the phone.

There’s silence on the other end of the line, and then Steve’s voice comes through, rushing to fill it.

“That’s great, Buck!”

“I’m only going to go if you come with me," Bucky insists. "And I don’t even know if they really want me there or if they’re just crazy, or out to put me on ice and steal my kidney.”

“Where’d you meet these people?” Steve’s voice is skeptical now. All the happiness gone in an instant.

“Ignore me, they’re fine,” Bucky sighs. “M’just not used to people being decent anymore. They were nice, and they’ve got a bar down the street from the Magnolia Shelter. Riley’s. You ever heard of it?”

“Sounds familiar but I don’t know why. Was it any good?”

“The food was incredible,” Bucky admits. “Best I’ve had in a long time. And the company wasn’t terrible.”

“You had company?” Steve asks. Bucky can hear how carefully Steve tries to sound interested but not too interested. Like Bucky’s some kind of baby deer he’s trying not to spook.

Bucky takes in a slow breath, focusing on all the good reasons he has to invite Steve along and trying hard not to be annoyed. Steve means well. Bucky knows that.

“The owner of the bar, Sam. He was nice. And there was another guy, Clint. He wasn’t bad to talk to, either.”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement but Bucky still wasn’t 100% sure the invitation to the party was a real invitation. They weren’t gonna steal any of his organs but it might have been given out of pity, and if he got the feeling that was it, he wouldn’t stay.

“What night?” Steve asks.

“Thursday. Eight o’clock. It’s pre-Pride or something.”

“Want to meet at your place and walk?” Steve asks.

Bucky rarely allows Steve anywhere near the halfway house. It’s on a rough street in an even rougher neighborhood, and Bucky can’t shake the thought that Steve’s gonna get himself stabbed trying to break up a drug deal or talk a prostitute into a safer profession. Steve’s like that. Always looking to save somebody.

But Thursday it’ll still be light out and Bucky can sit on the porch and keep watch up and down the street.

“I’ll see you here at 7:30,” Buck agrees.

“I’ll be there.”

 

****

Sam keeps his word. When Bucky and Steve show up Thursday, right at 8 pm, there’s a pan of apple dumplings waiting for them. They're displayed on a table of their own with a handwritten sign taped next to them that says in thick rainbow lettering “BUCKY’S DUMPLINGS DON’T FUCKING TOUCH. ~MGMT

Which puts Bucky at ease a little, even if it makes him wonder what he’s gotten himself into with this crowd.

“How many times have you met these people?” Steve leans in to ask.

“Just the once,” Bucky whispers.

“I think you were right. I think they want your kidneys,” Steve whispers back. His grin says otherwise.

Bucky elbows Steve in the chest to stop him from looking so damn pleased and then looks around the bar for Sam or Clint. Someone's put a whole lot of work into making Riley's festive, and rainbow flags and colored bead necklaces hang from the walls and drape over the parts of the bar not covered with food. There are maybe 20ish people milling around, all chatting and laughing and looking generally friendly. It's not hard to blend in.

Bucky’d showered and shaved earlier, and he’s wearing a new-to-him thrifted tshirt and some decently tight jeans. He has on a pair of Adidas that Steve had bought him while he was still recovering in Walter Reed and that have barely been worn. And even if it took longer than Bucky will admit, he’d managed to pull his hair back in a messy bun that is passable for fashion.

With any luck, all eyes will be on Steve (eyes are always on Steve) and Bucky can go unnoticed.

“Hey! You came!” Darcy shouts from across the bar. She pulls the girl whose hand she’s holding along behind her to greet him at the door. “This is the guy me and Clint were hoping would show,” she says to her friend, gesturing toward Bucky with the beer bottle in her hand. “Wanda, meet the hot guy from last week. Hot guy, this is my girlfriend Wanda. And oh my gosh you brought a second hot guy! Look at you!”

Her eyes are locked on Steve’s chest.

For a split second, Bucky is pissed because it feels like this is where it’s revealed this was all a joke, but no-- she seems absolutely sincere. Both about how happy she is that he’s there and about how attractive she finds Steve. Bucky would blame it on the alcohol but Darcy had given him nearly the same impression when he met her sober at the food kitchen.

“Bucky,” Bucky manages to get out. “My name’s Bucky.”

“I know,” Darcy says, as she beams at him. “It’s on the dumpling sign. Think of 'Hot Guy' as like a nickname.”

“It’s nice to meet you Bucky,” Wanda says, a hint of an accent in her words. “Please excuse Darcy. I am always reminding her to use her manners.”

Wanda lightly raps Darcy on the rear, and Darcy giggles.

“Sorrrrrrry,” Darcy singsongs. Then stage whispers “I’m not sorry. You’re both really hot.”

Wanda makes a face and seems about to say something more when Sam steps out from the kitchen and spots them.

“Pietro’s looking for you two,” Sam calls to the women. “Something about helping you with the lemonade?”

“Don’t touch it, you nuisance!” Wanda yells, and then both women take off running and laughing toward the kitchen.

“Hey Bucky, glad you could make it,” Sam greets as he walks over to join them. “And that you brought a friend.”

“Sam, Steve. Steve, Sam,” Bucky introduces.

Steve sticks out his hand for a handshake. “It’s good to meet you. Thanks for the invitation.”

“The more the merrier," Sam assures him. "I’m just glad you decided to give us a chance.”

“You had me at dumplings,” Bucky says, feeling less tense now that it’s obvious the invitation wasn’t a prank. “I wasn’t expecting the table of honor.”

“Yeah, sorry about that,” Sam says. “Clint made the sign because he thinks he’s funny. And then once it had a sign, Darcy thought it needed a table, and it turned into a thing.”

“What if I hadn’t shown?” Bucky asks.

“I’d owe Nick ten bucks, and Clint would be on a dumpling high for a week,” Sam says. “You want some real dinner before you tackle that pan of sugar?”

Bucky’d only gotten a glimpse of the bar where all the food was set up, but it looked incredible.

“Dinner,” Bucky says.

“Captain Rogers?” a woman asks from behind them. She’s short and pretty, with dark red hair that falls in curls a little below her chin. Her eyes crinkle at the edges when she smiles. “I thought I recognized you when you walked in. We met last year at the Festival for the Arts.”

“Natasha, right? I remember you,” Steve says. And boy does Bucky recognize that expression. Steve remembers her all right. “That must be why this place sounded familiar.”

“I’ll leave you two to catch up,” Bucky says. He’s got no intention of being the third wheel to the bedroom eyes the two of them are giving each other.

“Good call,” Sam says, clapping Bucky on the back. “Looks like they’re gonna end up last in line and you don’t want to be back there with them. It might seem like a lot of food, but this crowd can eat.”

Sam’s not kidding about the amount of food, both in volume and variety. There’s fried chicken, baked mac and cheese, corn pudding, macaroni salad, collard greens, biscuits, fried okra, deviled eggs and mashed sweet potatoes.

Bucky’s pretty sure he’s died and gone to heaven except for the part where it’s inevitably awkward being a one-armed guy at a buffet. He can either hold a plate or a serving spoon to dish food out. Never both at once.

But tonight it isn’t an issue since Nick stands behind the bar, an imposing presence that apparently gives zero shits about the quantity of food requested. At least judging by the argument he’s having with the guy ahead of them in line.

“You’ve got bird bones, Rhodes,” Nick says. “My grandma’s mac and cheese is going to fix that. Take your plate, sit your ass down and eat your fucking dinner.”

“You kiss your mama with that mouth?” Rhodes asks Nick.

“Where do you think he learned to cuss?” the man next to Rhodes asks.

Nick’s gruffness mellows as he nods in agreement. The memory of his mother must be a good one since he gives Rhodes an actual smile before slapping on another serving of macaroni to his dish. “I could pile this on all night, Colonel.”

Rhodey jerks his plate back and laughs. “You’re impossible, you know that?”

“Hey Chef! We’d like some service here!” Clint interrupts loudly, as he comes up behind Sam and Bucky and slaps the wooden bar a few times. “And someone find the owner of this place so I can complain.”

Clint’s outburst has everyone in the buffet line turning to look at them.

“Owner’s out back, getting blown in the alley,” Nick says.

“Feel free to write your complaint on a napkin, though, and shove it up your ass,” Sam adds with a smirk.

“That’s the kind of customer service I can get behind,” Rhodes laughs.

Bucky turns to look at him and it’s then that he realizes the guy standing next to Rhodes is Tony Freaking Stark. Not that Bucky’d doubted when Clint had mentioned that Stark came around, but there are a lot less valets/security guards/camera flashes/expensive watches than Bucky expects to accompany a billionaire.

If anything, Stark looks... normal. Handsome, too, there's no doubt about that. Especially the longer Bucky looks. If it weren't for the Stark name and all that comes with it, Bucky could definitely see himself developing a crush. Stark's wearing a faded t-shirt and jeans, and there's an inch wide strip of skin showing where his shirt doesn't quite meet the denim and that is unfairly attractive. Stark’s leaning against Rhodes and he looks content to be there. Comfortable. Tired. Safe.

“Guys, I want you to meet Bucky. Bucky, this is Colonel James Rhodes, but we call him Rhodey. And this is Tony Stark.”

Stark pulls away from Rhodey to straighten up and seems to take a second or two to compose into a version of himself that Bucky finds far more familiar. The Tony Stark from TV. Bucky doesn’t like it. The slightly sleepy version was way better.

“Dr. Tony Stark,” Tony corrects with a smirk at Sam. “You don’t get to give Rhodey a title and then leave off mine.” His attention switches to Bucky and Tony’s eyes sweep over him. They linger a second on his face. “You’re the Bucky who got a table full of dumplings? You’re going to have to tell me how you did it because I have slept with everyone in this bar, and no one’s handing me a prize.”

“Maybe that’s your problem, right there,” Bucky says. “You ever heard of playing hard to get?”

“Playing hard’s never been my problem, sailor.” Tony’s smile is so instantly charming and his voice is so full of hot, filthy intentions that, for a second, it catches Bucky off-guard.

Bucky knows charisma. Hell, back in the day he’d made his way through more than one scrape on charm alone. This is a whole different ballgame. But sailor? Really? Do people say that outside of shitty 40’s war movies?

“I’m not big on boats,” Bucky says slowly. “Good try, though.” He shifts so he’s no longer looking at Stark and his attention is back on the food. “Nick, I’ll have what Rhodey had.”

“Shut down,” Rhodey laughs gleefully.

“You want a bandaid for that burn?” Sam asks Stark with a huge grin.

Tony ignores them and steps back into Bucky’s view. His smile softens into something more sincere. He leans in so only Bucky can hear and well-- there's something really intimate about getting close to a person you've only ever seen on a screen.

“I didn’t mean to overstep,” Tony says, and damn if he doesn’t sound like he means it. “You need a date for those dumplings though, I’m all yours.”

It’s unfair, really, that someone should be able to go from an asshole one minute to somebody Bucky wouldn't hate gettin' to know in the next. It makes his head spin a little, not knowing which one's the real Stark, and that makes it easier to resist the invitation. Well, that and there’s no such fairy tale as The Prince and the One-Armed Pauper.

“Not tonight,” Bucky says quietly, since Stark’s still standing close. “Better luck next time, sailor.”

Tony’s mouth quirks up a little on one side, like he likes Bucky's joke.

“C’mon Tones,” Rhodey says, putting a hand on the small of Tony’s back to guide him out of Bucky’s way. “I need to sit down before my bird bones crack under the weight of this plate. Nice to meet you, Bucky. Hope we start seeing you around.”

Bucky nods and watches the men step away before he holds up his plate for Nick.

“Don’t mind Tony,” Clint says, as Nick starts piling food on Bucky’s plate.

“I didn’t,” Bucky says.

“I mean about the sex thing,” Clint says. “He hasn’t slept with the whole bar. I’m not sure he’s slept with anyone who’s in the bar right now, actually. Is Victor here?”

“Haven’t seen him,” Nick says gruffly. His face takes on the glower Bucky’s so far only seen reserved for Obama. It makes him wonder what the hell Victor did to earn that glare and if possibly the man is being served in the stew.

Sam turns to Bucky, looking a little sheepish. “I forgot what a mess my friends are when they’re all in one room. I didn’t invite you tonight to be anyone’s one-night-stand.”

“Didn’t think you did,” Bucky assures him as Nick plops down two pieces of chicken on his plate. “I figured it was a pity invite. That’s about as far from a hookup as you get.”

“Wait-- I didn’t say hooking up is off the table,” Sam says. “Just that that wasn’t an ulterior motive. If you’re interested, there are plenty of people in this room who’d be interested too. Strike up a conversation and you might be surprised.”

Bucky looks doubtful. “You’re all batshit.”

“That’s the best thing about us,” Clint says.

“Run while you can,” Nick mutters.

He puts down several deviled eggs on Bucky’s plate and then grabs a spoon to add some mac and cheese.

“Speaking of running, I’m gonna run out and pick up Katie-Kate,” Clint says, as he reaches across the bar to snatch a deviled egg for himself.

Fury’s faster and smacks Clint hard on the knuckles with his spoon.

“Awwww... spoon,” Clint whines. Pain doesn’t stop him from pulling his knuckles to his mouth and licking at the cheese the utensil left behind.

“Get a plate or get out of my line,” Fury warns, as he reaches for a fresh serving spoon.

“One egg?” Clint asks.

Bucky’s waiting for Clint to get another hand smack, but Nick just grabs one of the deviled eggs and flings it up in the air. Clint catches it expertly in his mouth once it arcs down and then gives a theatrical half bow.

“Bebackinafew,” he says around his full mouth before swallowing his half egg, whole. “Don’t let anybody start on darts without me.”

“They won’t,” Sams says. “They want to put bets on how many people you can beat in a row.”

Clint laughs. “The only safe bet is that I’ll win every time.”

“You play darts?” Bucky asks.

Sam shakes his head vehemently. “He’s a hustler, Bucky. If he asks you to play, you should run.”

“It takes money to bet,” Bucky says. “So gambling’s kind of out of the question.”

“I’ll spot you a twenty,” Nick says, then keeps on talking before Bucky can argue. “Now get out of my line before your food gets cold and I’ve got to put a boot up your ass. Both of you.”

They step away quickly. Bucky’s head is reeling from all the humanity and now he’s faced with a new problem. Most tables have at least two empty chairs available but Bucky really needs a minute before more social interaction.

“There’s an empty table over by the door. Want to sit there?” Sam asks.

“Yes,” Bucky says, relieved not to be forced into awkward conversation with a stranger while he’s trying to eat.

Bucky sits down his plate when they reach the table and then takes a seat. Sam puts down his plate but doesn’t sit.

“We’ve got beer, soda, sweet tea and some kind of vodka lemonade Darcy and Wanda put together. Any of that sound good?”

“Beer works,” Bucky says.

Sam nods and then walks across the bar to step behind the counter.

Bucky takes a couple of slow breaths as he watches Sam pour them each a beer from the taps. He’s really not sure why his brain keeps insisting every social situation is fight or flight. There is absolutely nothing about Riley’s that’s creepy or strange. Everyone’s been nice. Everyone seems to want him here. Maybe that’s why it’s all so hard for him to trust.

Sam returns and puts a beer down in front of Bucky before taking a seat..

“So how’s life?” Sam asks.

“Not one for small talk, huh?” Bucky observes.

“My bad,” Sam says. “We can start smaller. How ‘bout baseball? You like the Nationals?”

“Did you really pick the one topic more depressing than my life right now? It’s not even July yet and Jones and Rodriguez are in the middle of career slumps, the mascot could bat better cleanup than McGhee and their bullpen is spent. Should I go on?”

“Nooooo, I think you covered it all,” Sam laughs. “You wanna throw me a lifeline here? Give me a safe topic?”

Bucky thinks for a second. “Why’d you name this place Riley’s?”

“Ouch,” Sam winces. “Not a safe topic.”

“Maybe we should stick to the weather,” Bucky says, after he swallows a bite of his mac and cheese. It’s as amazing as everything else Bucky’s tried at the bar so far. “I told you I’m not good at parties.”

“You’re fine. And I didn’t say I wouldn’t answer. It’s just... not gonna make this conversation any cheerier. You up for it?”

“I asked, didn’t I?”

Sam nods. “You did. Remember that.” He takes a long, slow drink of his beer before he speaks. “This bar is named after my first boyfriend. We enlisted together out of high school. Found love in a hopeless place. Had a couple happy years, then one night we were out on a mission and he got shot out of the sky. There was nothing I could do but watch.”

“Shit,” Bucky says. “That sucks. M’sorry.”

“He’d have loved this place,” Sam’s says simply. “There’s a picture of him behind the bar in case you ever want to pay your respects.”

“Or thank him for my burger,” Bucky says.

Sam chuckles at that. “He’d have liked you. You’re honest.”

“It’s not honesty,” Bucky says. “It’s a low tolerance for bullshit.”

“And you don’t think you’ll fit in here,” Sam says, giving Bucky a look that says he’s dead wrong. “I give it two weeks and you’ll replace me as Nick’s favorite.”

“Nick’s got favorites?” Bucky asks.

They both turn to look at Nick, who’s scooping out food for a couple of twenty-something with a look of angry concentration most people reserve for slashing tires.

“Well-- he’s got people he tolerates better than others,” Sam laughs.

The rest of the conversation goes more smoothly after that. Sam does most of the talking and Bucky’s content to listen. They clean their plates as instructed. Bucky eats every last bite.

“You up for seconds?” Sam asks.

“I don’t think I should have finished the firsts,” Bucky says.

“Come on then-- we can drop off our plates in the kitchen and I’ll give you the nickel tour.”

Bucky’s definitely curious to see the rest of Riley’s so he doesn’t argue. Just nods, and picks up his plate to follow after Sam.

The kitchen is exactly what Bucky expects. Immaculately clean, and well loved. The pots, pans, utensils and various other cooking implements are hung up or put away with military precision. There are long shelves of spices lining the space closest to the grill and in the window a few planters of fresh herbs.

“Nick runs a tight ship back here, but if you look around long enough you’ll see signs of life.”

There’s definitely been some commotion around the giant, bright orange Thermos cooler that’s labeled “GAYMONADE” on a piece of duct tape.

“Darcy?” Bucky guesses.

“Or Pietro. He’s Wanda’s twin brother. Between the three of them and Clint, there’s never a dull moment around this place.”

Bucky can’t decide if that’s something he’d like or if it sounds like a nightmare. Both feel true, in a way.

“This is the staff bathroom,” Sam points out. “Those stairs there lead to the basement, and these stairs are the back way up to the apartments.”

“You live here?” Bucky asks.

“Yep. Me and Clint both. Plus the twins, a guy you haven't met yet named Luke, Rhodey, and that redhead, Natasha, who nabbed your friend.”

“I’m sure Steve was more than willing to be nabbed,” Bucky says.

“Nat has that effect on people.” There’s something in Sam’s voice that Bucky doesn’t miss.

“You too?”

“Once upon a time,” Sam says. “And every once in a while still, if neither of us are seeing anyone. It’s harder now, since Pietro and Wanda think it’s hysterical to bang on the ceiling if they think there’s a chance we’re getting up to anything fun. They live right below her.”

“And here I’d have thought Clint would be the problem.”

“Well, they’re his kids, so I don’t doubt he puts them up to it,” Sam says.

“His kids?”

Unless Clint’s a good ten to twenty years older than he looks, the math doesn’t work out.

“They’re adopted,” Sam clarifies, catching the confusion on Bucky’s face. “Clint met them when they were 16 through some rec center classes he taught and he got them out of a tough situation. They lived with him for a couple years after that but now they have their own place across the hall.”

“Huh,” Bucky says.

There really isn’t much else to say. Sam and Clint aren’t out to steal his organs. They really are good people. Good people who do decent shit out of the kindness of their hearts. And here Bucky’d spent a long time thinking Steve was one-of-a-kind like that.

“You up for introductions or do you need to call it a night?” Sam asks. “I know this has got to be a lot.”

Bucky considers it. Sam’s right, it’s already been a lot to take in. But he’s also safe and full of good food and if he goes back to the halfway house now it’s going to seem depressingly quiet after this. Plus he still has no idea where Steve’s run off to.

“You get the dumplings either way,” Sam adds.

“I’ll stick around for a bit,” Bucky says. “I guess if I’m going to stop by sometimes I ought to meet the regulars.”

“I know you won’t believe me when I say this-- but you’re gonna fit right in.”

Chapter Text

“I’ll stick around for a bit,” Bucky says. “I guess if I’m going to stop by sometimes I ought to meet the regulars.”

“I know you won’t believe me when I say this-- but you’re gonna fit right in.”

*

Sam and Bucky have just returned to the bar area when Clint and a dark-haired woman (had he called her Katie-Kate?) yank open the front door. They’re laughing and elbowing each other and it’s clearly some sort of race because they’re both fighting to be the first all the way through to the inside.

“Winner!” Clint cheers, as he hip checks his opponent into the frame. “First through the door. Champion of the world!”

“You cheated!” the woman protests, giving him a harder hip check of her own. It sends Clint tipping to the right.

“In what world is pointing out a Corgi cheating?” Clint laughs, as he rights himself.

“It was a fire hydrant!” she argues. “You can’t yell Corgi when there’s no Corgi! That’s grounds for divorce.” She takes a big step away as she turns her back on him. “Never speak to me or my fake Corgi son again!”

“They’re the weirdest people you’re gonna meet tonight,” Sam assures Bucky, gesturing toward the scene ahead of them. “Once you get past Clint and Kate, the rest are easy.”

Kate gives them a passing smile as she skips over to join the younger crowd near the stage, then takes a seat on the lap of a dark-haired woman who looks a year or two older than the rest. The two women start kissing almost immediately. No one at the table seems to notice.

“Bucky!” Darcy greets, turning all attention toward him and Sam. “Come sit with us!”

“Ohhhhhh no,” Sam says. “I’m not throwing Bucky to you wolves. We’re just here to make introductions. Bucky, you’ve already met Darcy and Wanda. This is Wanda’s brother Pietro.”

Sam points to the young man sitting next to Wanda who gives him a quick wave and a bright smile. Bucky can see the resemblance between the twins, although Pietro’s hair is nearly so blond it looks silver in the light and Wanda’s hair falls in long auburn waves.

“Nice to meet you,” Pietro greets.

“America’s the one under Kate,” Sam says.

America pauses from her public display of affection long enough to lean around Kate and give Bucky a nod. “Hey.”

“Then that’s Peter.”

A kid who barely looks old enough to be drinking looks up and waves shyly. “Hi.”

“This is MJ.” MJ’s wearing a button that proclaims THEY/THEM in bold letters and reading a book at the table. At their name they look up and give Bucky a once-over and then a wave. “Yo.”

“And this one is…” Sam trails off like he’s trying to put a name to the face.

“Ned!” a kid in a fedora and about fifty rainbow bead necklaces announces cheerfully. “I’m new, too,” he directs toward Bucky. “This is my first Pride!”

“Never would have guessed,” Bucky says dryly.

Ned couldn’t have more clearly been going to his first Pride if he’d installed a flashing rainbow arrow above his head.

“No one cares you’re a Pride virgin,” MJ scolds.

“Jokes on you cause I’m an every kind of virgin,” Ned retorts with a bright grin. He throws up two fingers in a V. “Big V and proud.”

“Thatta boy,” Sam says, giving the kid a pat on the shoulder. “Own it.”

“You should tell Peter that!” Ned says. “I tried to make it a club and he won’t be the Vice-President.”

“I’ll be the Vice-President,” MJ says, throwing up a set of V fingers of their own. “Aces represent!”

“Peter can be the Treasurer,” Kate suggests.

“Not if he’s still getting a B in Finance he can’t,” MJ quips.

“Don’t say that too loud,” Peter groans. “Tony’s gonna hear you.”

“That’s why you should all eat fast,” Pietro chimes in. “So we can move along and have our fun away from the ears of the old people.”

“I’ll show you old,” Sam laughs.

“Bucky, you should come with us!” Darcy says excitedly. “We’re going to Club Beats!”

“I’m gonna pass,” Bucky says, trying to suppress a full body shudder at the thought of stepping one foot into that place.

It’s like no one at Riley’s gets exactly how much he doesn’t belong here. He’d kind of assumed at least the college students would be assholes. But no. They’re nice. So nice they’re all going to end up gracing the side of milk cartons by the time the night’s over.

“You all do know not to accept drinks from strangers, right?” Bucky asks. “And that if you see someone put their hands close to your glass you--” Bucky pauses when he realizes Peter and Ned are looking at him like he’s got the kind of answers that are going to save them from a world of hurt and well... hurt’s gonna happen no matter what he says. Also Sam might not appreciate Bucky tellin’ them to stab people. “You buy yourself a new drink. From a bottle. Bottles are harder to drug. And they make better weapons.”

“Cooool,” Ned says quietly.

Peter and MJ both lift their bottles and shift their grip on them experimentally. It’s clear neither of them have attempted that before.

“I’m a kickboxer and Kate’s a black belt and neither of us are drinking tonight,” America says, looking at Bucky with dark, serious eyes. “We’ll get everyone back in one piece.”

There’s a chorus of promises and reassurances around the table that they’re all planning to be extra careful and safe.

“In case any of you don’t know where to find them,” Sam adds, “Condoms, gloves and dental dams are in a bowl under the bar. Metro cards are next to the register. Take what you need. And unless you want Nick on your asses, no one leaves Riley’s before he serves up dessert. Got it?”

That gets all of them chattering excitedly to each other and Sam takes the chance to lead Bucky away from the table for a mostly painless exit.

“You sure you’re not up for Club Beats?” Sam asks with a knowing grin. “Wouldn’t want you to feel like you’re stuck here with us old people.”

“I don’t think I was ever that young,” Bucky says.

“You’re telling me,” Sam says. “I just turned 32 last month. I should not feel ancient.”

Bucky glances back at the table. Is that really what life used to be like back in Brooklyn? He hasn’t thought about it in ages, but he supposes yes. There really was a time when smiles were that easy. When Pride was a big fucking deal.

Bucky almost smiles thinking about his and Steve’s first Pride. “When I was their age, my biggest problem was keeping Steve out of trouble for an entire night out on the town. He must have got his ass kicked behind every bodega in Brooklyn.”

“The Steve you brought in with you?” Sam asks skeptically.

“He wasn’t always built like a tank,” Bucky says. “When we were teenagers he was 90 pounds of fists and fury. He’d pick a fight with a fence post if he thought it was lookin’ at him wrong.”

Sam laughs. “That I’d have loved to see. Riley was always the one with the temper between the two of us. He never even had to go looking for trouble. Trouble could always find him.” Sam pauses, and Bucky’s worried the memories have Sam upset but no-- he’s looking over toward Bucky’s table. “Speaking of troublemakers... every time I look over at them, Rhodey and Tony are about a foot closer to your dumplings.”

They do seem to be drifting in that direction.

Out of the corner of his eye, Bucky sees Clint gesture wildly toward the men in the universal hand motion for “stop-- they’re onto you” and both Rhodey and Tony freeze in place and act as if each has told the funniest joke they’ve ever heard. Clint laughs his way over to join them, and all three take another step toward the table.

“Those shits are gonna be at it all night unless we handle it like adults,” Sam sighs. “You wanna help me set them straight?”

The Gathering of Impressionable Youths are still right behind them and if Bucky doesn’t go with Sam there’s a chance Darcy’s gonna invite him back for more conversation. Dumpling defending it is.

“You’ve got eight degrees between the three of you and not one of you can read a sign?” Sam asks as he positions himself between Rhodey, Tony, Clint and the dumpling table.

“To be fair, five of those are Tony’s,” Clint points out.

“And the sign says we can’t touch,” Rhodey protests. “It doesn’t say anything about looking.”

“Question for clarification,” Tony chimes in. “When the sign says touch-- is that limited to humans? Or are drones included? Asking for a friend.”

“Bucky-- there’s only one thing that’s going to stop them,” Sam says seriously. “You’re gonna have to lick the dumplings. All of them.”

Bucky turns to stare at Sam incredulously. He expects Sam to laugh or say he’s joking but Sam’s just looking at him like this is a real, valid plan.

“What?” Bucky hisses.

“You gotta lick them,” Clint agrees. “Didn’t you have brothers or sisters or cousins?”

“Tony’s got a weird thing about not eating foods that have been licked,” Rhodey explains. “And without his drone, me and Clint aren’t getting past the sign.”

“It’s not a weird thing about licking,” Tony protests. “It’s basic sanitation. And for the record, my only hangup is tongues on food. There are plenty of other things people have licked that I’m all too happy to get my mouth on.”

All three of them start cracking up. Sam crosses his arms.

“You’re gonna talk that filth right here? Right in front of these dumplings?” Sam asks.

“I’m not going to lick them,” Bucky says.

Sam turns to mock-glare at him. “Et tu, Bucky?”

Bucky shrugs. “Seems unsanitary.”

“You’ve lost him, Wilson. He’s my friend now,” Tony declares. “I claim him.”

“You’re trying to call dibs? Really?” Sam asks.

“You better watch out, Sam, or Tony’s gonna lick your new friend,” Rhodey laughs.

Bucky’s torn between taking a full step back to put himself safely out of licking distance and standing stone still while watching these idiots argue, like he’s hosting some kind of nature documentary on the weird ass friendship rituals of normal(?) adult males.

“Lewis! Rhodes! Barton! Wilson! Get your asses over here. Time to bring out dessert!” Nick bellows.

“Why don’t you hold that thought?” Sam asks. “We’ve been summoned.”

Bucky gets the feeling a summons from Nick is one of those things no one in the bar would dare to ignore. Sam, Clint and Rhodey walk toward the kitchen and Bucky takes a slow step backward. It puts him next to the front door and Tony must misinterpret the move as an attempt to escape because his eyes go all wide and sorry shaped.

“Shit, don’t go,” Tony says, putting up both his hands in surrender. “I’m not going to lick you against your will. Nick made us all promise we’d be on our best behavior if you showed up tonight.”

“This is your best behavior?” Bucky asks, raising an eyebrow.

“It’s still early.”

“Look, if you really want a dumpling that bad, you can have one,” Bucky says. “I’m not going to eat the whole pan myself.”

“You could eat them all yourself though,” Tony says. “They stay fresh for a week if you keep them in the fridge.”

Bucky thinks of the communal fridge in the halfway house and how there’s no chance that if he leaves them in there overnight there will be any left by morning. No one in the house is gonna respect a sign with his name on it. He’d be surprised if anyone in the house knows he goes by Bucky.

“Not really an option,” Bucky says irritably.

He’s got nothing else to say, either. He’s not about to reveal anything that personal to a stranger and Tony’s just staring at him expectantly, like he’s trying to put together a puzzle when he doesn’t have all the pieces.

So there’s just silence for a bit until Tony cracks.

“Hey... If I made you uncomfortable just now-- or if it was what I said earlier when I was flirting... that’s just a thing I do. I wasn’t trying to make things awkward for you or get in your pants,” Tony explains.

“Yeah, obviously,” Bucky says.

Tony looks thoroughly confused and then his eyes go not too subtly to Bucky’s missing limb.

“You think people aren’t going to flirt with you because of that?” He nods his head toward Bucky’s shoulder.

Bucky glares. “I expect not.”

“Expectations are unreliable,” Tony says. “People usually expect me to be taller.”

“I expected you to be a dick.”

A flicker of something distinctly wounded crosses Tony’s features. It’s gone a second later, but it’s enough that Bucky feels a nudge of guilt.

“I’m not sayin’ you are one,” he clarifies. “Just that that’s what I was expecting.”

“Well, like I said, it’s still early.” Tony’s tone is chilly.

He glances back toward the kitchen, as if he’s willing Rhodey to come back out and save him.

This is exactly why Bucky doesn’t talk to people or come to parties. An apology at this point is going to sound insincere. So they’re stuck in mutual, uncomfortable silence while they wait for their friends. Bucky turns away.

It’s a good thing he does. It means Bucky’s looking outside when a man stops and pauses in front of the front window. A man who looks nervous and world-weary as he runs a hand through his messy curls. Bucky notices he’s got a small red card, cradled in his palm.

“Shit, he’s got a card,” Bucky says. “A red card.”

“Who?” Tony asks.

“The guy outside. He just walked up and he’s got one of the meal cards Sam hands out.”

The bar may be closed but Bucky can’t imagine any scenario where Sam would let a person go hungry. Or Clint, or Nick.

“Let him in,” Tony urges.

The homeless man glances up and sees both Tony and Bucky looking at him and starts to edge backward.

Bucky pushes open the door with a too heavy bang and it makes the guy jump. “Hey-- Ummm-- You should come in,” Bucky says. “Get something to eat.”

Smooth. He really should have known better. The best (or worst) part of being homeless is the invisibility factor. And having that yanked away-- it’s unnerving at best. People aren’t supposed to see you. They don’t want to see you. And it’s confusing when they do. Bucky’s probably given this poor guy all the scare he needs to burn through whatever courage it took to step up to the door in the first place.

“It’s okay,” the stranger hedges. “If you’re having a party I wouldn’t want to impose.”

“It’s no imposition,” Tony says as he comes up to stand a little closer to Bucky. He’s pulled on a ballcap he must have had in his back pocket and he’s tugged it down over his eyes to hide his face a little. It’s not a bad plan. Tony Stark would make for an intimidating welcome wagon even for someone not looking for a handout. “Please, come in,” Tony continues. “The owner’s in the kitchen, but I can get you seated and Bucky can get you a plate. We’ve got way more food than we can eat. You’d be doing us a favor by staying.”

Bucky’s surprised to find that Tony sounds absolutely sincere. And more, he’s seeing the man in front of him. Making eye contact, and giving him a reassuring smile. Maybe it’s all a show, except-- well, who’s he putting on a show for here?

In Bucky’s experience, most people would have been relieved to let the guy walk. Let Sam deal with him some other night.

“Here, you can sit at this table, and I’ll keep you company if you don’t mind,” Tony says. “Unless you want me to go grab the food?” he directs to Bucky.

Then Bucky’s faced with the choice between one-handed food fetching or making small talk with a complete stranger, and well-- he really sucks at small talk, so he turns toward the buffet.

“You allergic to anything?” Bucky asks over his shoulder.

The man winces. “I’m a vegetarian,” he says apologetically.

“That shouldn’t be hard,” Bucky says.

He is wrong. It is so damn hard. It takes Bucky the whole way to the buffet to realize he’s got no clue if Nick’s made the green beans with bacon grease or put chicken stock in the mac and cheese. Basically every food is a possibly-not-vegetarian mistake waiting to happen. He glances back at the table. Tony’s talking a mile a minute and the homeless guy looks a little overwhelmed maybe, but he’s also laughing, and he looks more at ease by the second.

Tony Stark. Not a dick. Huh.

Thankfully, Bucky’s saved from possibly feeding the vegetarian any meat by the kitchen door swinging open. Sam comes through carrying pies, followed by Rhodey with brownies, then Clint with more pies, and Darcy with a cake.

“Doctor Banner!” Darcy greets. “You showed! Just let me sit these down!”

She’s shouting that toward the (apparently not homeless) man who is sitting with Tony. Tony looks as surprised as Bucky.

Nick approaches the buffet and extends his hand out for the plate Bucky’s holding.

“This for the new guy or for you?” Nick asks.

Bucky’s no longer the new guy here. God, does that make him a regular?

“New guy,” Bucky says after a beat. “He’s a vegetarian.”

Nick simply nods once and fills the plate to near overflowing. Apparently there was more vegetarian stuff than Bucky’d have guessed. Nick hands the plate back, and manages to tuck the napkin and fork into Bucky’s one-handed grasp as well.

“Thank you,” Bucky says.

“Thank me later,” Nick says. “ After you’ve tasted the Atlantic Beach Pie. And I better see you eating your dumplings, too.”

“Not sure how I’m gonna make all that fit,” Bucky says.

Nick looks at him like he’s just said the stupidest thing he’s ever heard. “You stay late. You eat with intention.”

“Yes, sir,” Bucky agrees. There’s really no other option.

Bucky gets to the table at the same time as Darcy.

“Guys, this is Dr. Banner! He’s the physics professor I’m TAing for this semester. He just moved here from Oregon.”

Darcy leans down against the table. “Dr. Banner, this is Tony Stark-- I know science people get starstruck around him, but you shouldn’t because he’s not even a little bit cool and he’s tragically single and all his jokes are dad jokes.” She gestures to Bucky. “And this hot guy here is Bucky. As far as I can tell, he’s single too, and those are his dumplings.”

Bruce glances over at the next table over. He smiles when he reads the sign. “Guess I know who to make friends with first.”

“My jokes are not dad jokes,” Tony complains, as he pulls off his hat.

“Earlier when Pietro asked you about that car maintenance book you were reading, you said it was about anti-gravity. Because you couldn’t put it down,” Darcy says.

Bruce laughs, and even Bucky can’t suppress a small smile.

“If you two are going to laugh at that then you deserve each other,” Darcy groans. “Anyway, eat, Professor. Make friends,” she says, gesturing around the bar. “Get laid. That’s why I invited you.”

Bruce’s eyes grow wide. “Thanks Darcy. I think.”

“You’ll definitely be thanking me later,” she says, as Clint comes to join them at the table. “Clint, meet Bruce Banner. Bruce-- this is my friend Clint.”

The emphasis there is unmissable. If she’s playing matchmaker, this is the match she’s hoping to make.

She bounces off back to her friends and Bruce stares after her. “Is she always this...”

“Spirited?” Tony fills in, as he pats at his hat-smushed hair.

“Yeah,” Clint agrees. “She’s non-stop. But she means well.”

Rhodey and Sam come back and drag chairs over to the table to join them.

Tony handles the introductions this time. And weird as it is, Bucky gets lumped in like he’s been around for years. Somehow he is One of The Gang. That hasn’t happened since basic training and it kicks up some hesitant warmth he wasn’t expecting or looking to rekindle.

He doesn’t know these people and these people don’t know him. When they do... are they gonna still feel so inclined to have him around? Maybe. Maybe not.

“You wanna try some pie or want me to plate up one of your dumplings for you?” Sam asks, shaking Bucky from his thoughts.

“Pie now, dumplings later,” Bucky says after a few seconds of consideration. “Nick told me to try the Atlantic Beach first.”

“Can’t go wrong there,” Sam says. “Wanna move to a different table to eat? You’re looking a little crowded.”

It’s a valid observation. Sam doesn’t miss much.

“We can move,” Bucky agrees.

They walk together over to the dessert table and Sam elbows around Ned, Peter and Darcy to dish out two pieces of pie. They move closer to the kitchen to eat.

“Thanks for letting Bruce in,” Sam says, once they’re settled. “You did good.”

“I saw the red card and figured that’s what you’d want,” Bucky explains.

“That’s exactly what I’d want. The closed sign is really more of a suggestion anyway.”

That comes as zero surprise. Bucky looks at the door with suspicion.

“You do have working locks though, right?” Bucky asks.

Sam laughs. “We do. And we even use them every once in a while.”

“That’s the first thing I’ve heard about this place that makes me think you’ve got any sense.”

“I know we’re a mess but it’s my mess,” Sam says. “Don’t know what I’d do without these people.”

“Then why were you so set on invitin’ me back?” Bucky asks. “Seems like you’re all set on regulars.”

Bucky still hasn’t worked that out. He’s surly and unhappy and half homeless. Sam is none of those things. What’s the appeal? What’s the angle? He’ll be on better footing if he knows.

“You see how much Nick cooks,” Sam deflects. “You’re the one doing me the favor.”

“S’not an answer,” Bucky says seriously.

Sam nods. “You’re right. It’s not.” He takes a slow breath and Bucky can see him thinking. “I guess... I see some similarities between me and you.”

“Bullshit,” Bucky insists. “Try again.”

“It’s not bullshit,” Sam disagrees. “When I left the Air Force, Riley’d been dead for three months. If he could’ve survived for three more months, he’d have been out with me. We had big plans. To move in together. To buy a bar. To live our dream. Then he was gone and it hurt like hell and I didn’t have a whole lot left to live for.”

Sam dips his fork back into his pie and takes a bite and Bucky stays silent because Sam’s offering up a whole lot of truth and it doesn’t sound like he’s finished.

“I was surviving,” Sam continues. “I didn’t realize at the time how much bravery it took to just to get up in the morning. But I know it now. And I have mad respect for anyone who’s fighting that fight. That’s the kind of person I want around Riley’s. That’s the reason I asked you back.”

“I don’t need rescuing,” Bucky says.

“Then it’s a good thing I’ve got no intention of rescuing you,” Sam says. “That’s one of those things a person’s got to do for themself.”

Bucky takes a bite of pie. “It’s like Steve’s been tutorin’ you on how to give a speech.”

“Sounds like a smart guy,” Sam says with a smirk. “And speak of the devil...”

Sam nods toward the kitchen door. Natasha and Steve emerge, looking happy and glowy and obviously sexed. Steve glances around like he’s expecting to get called out but Natasha clearly gives no shits. She marches over to their table and takes a seat between Bucky and Sam.

Now I’ve worked up an appetite,” she declares. She seems nothing but pleased when she turns her face toward Bucky. “Thanks for letting me steal your date. I only marked him up a little. Nothing that’ll show by morning.”

Steve sits down opposite her and, satisfied no imminent razzing is headed his way, he relaxes into his chair.

“Stevie’s all yours,” Bucky assures her. “Keep him as long as you can stand him. I only brought him cause if I didn’t I’d have to spend the whole day tomorrow giving him the play by play of everyone I met. Like he was my mom.”

Steve glowers in the way that always means ‘two can play this game asshole.”

“Bucky’s just too embarrassed to tell ya the real reason he brought me tonight was in case you all started bein’ mean to him,” Steve says in a fake whisper. “He gets his feelings hurt real easy.”

And Bucky’s got to choose whether to protest or go with it, and since protesting would give Steve way too much satisfaction, Bucky just nods in agreement.

“It’s true,” he says. “You’ve never been shamed for being rude till you’ve been shamed by Steve Rogers. He’s one ruler short of turnin’ into our kindergarten teacher, Sister Angelina.”

“Is it kinky I think that sounds kind of hot?” Natasha asks.

“Guess that depends on if it’s the ruler or the nun’s get-up that gets you going,” Bucky retorts.

Natasha twirls a curl around her finger. “What if it’s both?”

“Then you two sound perfect for each other,” Bucky says.

When did he remember how to do this? Talk. Flirt? He’s not interested in women but he’s never minded charming them. Apparently he hadn’t lost that ability along with his arm.

“You hear that?” Natasha asks Steve. “We didn’t need to race down here to check on him. Clint would have brought us up dinner and we could have eaten it without pants.”

“Clint’s occupied,” Sam says, nodding over to where he and Bruce are deep in conversation.

“Then I would have texted our room service order to you,” Natasha says plainly. “And if you were quick about it we might have even let you stay to join us.”

Sam and Steve both laugh at the audacity of her words but Bucky doesn’t miss how neither seems too put off by the idea. They’re definitely given each other plenty of eyein’ over while the three of them talk.

The conversation stops when the kid table stands up and heads for the kitchen door en masse. Wanda stops by the table.

“You heading out?” Sam asks.

“Heading upstairs to change,” Wanda clarifies. “We’ll come back out to say goodbye before we go.”

Bucky finishes his last bite of pie and he’s all too happy to let Sam, Steve and Natasha chat while he lets his mind wander. When he’s sitting with them, there’s no pressure to talk. There’s no pressure to appear social. It takes a magic kind of bar that drops Your Kind of People right down at your table. And now that Bucky’s heard (and believes) Sam’s reasoning for asking him around, he does feel better. That was a big unknown that’s got a solid answer.

About ten minutes later, the younger group comes trampling back into the main bar area. They are definitely, obviously, going out looking for a good time.

“Oh Lord, that’s a lot of glitter,” Sam says in a low voice.

Almost all of it is on Ned.

“I think he looks like a beautiful disco ball,” Natasha insists.

“I’m going to be sweeping that shit up for a week,” Sam adds.

The group has the attention of most of the bar, and since there are a lot of goodnights and goodbyes to be said, they split off in different directions. Kate and America head behind the counter to stuff prophylactics and metrocards in their purses. Wanda and Darcy head for Clint and Peter, MJ, and Ned go speak with Tony, who is sitting nearby with Rhodey and who pulls out his wallet immediately.

He hands them each a couple of twenties.

“Put it in your shoe,” Bucky hears Tony say. “That way if you lose everything else, you’ve still got cab money to get back here. Old trick I learned in my party days.”

Ned raises his hand.

“Ned, you don’t need to raise your hand. You can just talk to me, you know that right?”

“What if we lose our shoes?” Ned asks.

“Obviously, there are some things you shouldn’t lose,” Tony explains, with a sort of gentle patience that’s clearly taking some effort to maintain. “Your shoes being one of them. Or I don’t know, put it in your socks. That’s up to you. Just put it somewhere you won’t lose it. And text me if you need anything, any time of night.”

All three nod. Tony reaches for Peter to pull him into a side hug.

Sam must notice Bucky watching because he leans over to speak to him quietly.

“Weird, right? Seeing Tony go all mother hen? That’s not what sells newspapers though.”

“You don’t gotta try to sell me on him,” Bucky says, in the same quiet voice. “I know I said I wasn’t his biggest fan but I’m not going to be a jerk to his face.”

“Wasn’t trying to sell you anything,” Sam says. “You just looked curious. Or concerned? Your face can be kind of hard to read.”

“I call it his resting murder face,” Steve chimes in with his own loud whisper.

“I call you my resting murder face,” Bucky replies maturely. And then flips Steve off with his one good hand. “He doesn’t match up with the Tony Stark on TV.”

“Peter’s his godson,” Sam explains. “When his parents were killed in an accident a couple of years back, Tony stepped in. Kept it out of the papers because Pete didn’t need that kind of attention, even if it would have been good press for Stark Industries.”

Bucky doesn’t respond. He’s too busy double checking his assessments of Stark. Because the thing is-- most people at Riley’s have turned out to be exactly what they seem. And that’s safe. Bucky likes safe.

What gets in his brain and itches is when a person ought to be one way and then they are very much someway else. It’s unpredictable and unpredictable is bad.

The news and the gossip rags churn out one very consistent narrative about billionaire-weapons-maker Tony Stark. But the Tony here at Riley’s has: paid rent on a sign above the bar so he could buy homeless people free meals. Flirted (openly and poorly) with Bucky and not given him one hint of pity. Been kind to Bruce before he knew Bruce was some fancy professor and not a bum off the street. And taken a shine to an orphan who he’d shielded from fame.

None of this shit adds up. So which is the real Stark?

Until he’s got the variables sorted, the room’s gonna feel closed in. He decides to make a strategic retreat.

“M’ gonna get some air,” Bucky tells his table.

“It’s quieter out back,” Sam says.

Steve gives Bucky a look-- one look-- that screams ‘I’m gonna follow’ and Bucky stares him down. Don’t you fucking dare.

It says a lot about how far they’ve come in the past year that Steve does keep his ass in his seat when Bucky stands to leave.

He walks through the kitchen, only a little weirded out that in under a week he went from not knowing this bar existed to being allowed free roam of the place. He steps out through the screen door to the alley, and finds that he isn’t alone. Pietro’s there, taking quick drags off a stub of a cigarette to finish it off. He flicks it into a sand-filled bucket, which sits outside the back door apparently for that purpose.

“You smoke?” Pietro asks.

“If you’re offering,” Bucky replies.

He doesn’t often, mostly because Steve’s asthma had kept him away from the habit as a teenager and he never really picked it up as an adult. But from time to time, it’s the kind of vice he doesn’t mind indulging.

Pietro wedges out a pack from his back pocket and offers them to Bucky. They’re slightly smushed, and he’s usually not big on accepting shit from strangers, but Pietro’s not pinging as a threat. Bucky pulls one out from the bunch and holds it out for Pietro to light.

“I’ve got to go before Wanda comes looking for me. See you around?”

“Probably,” Bucky says. It’s not a commitment. Just a fact that Bucky’s slowly coming to grips with.

Pietro disappears inside and Bucky leans against the wall and takes in a deep breath of cigarette smoke. He listens out toward the main road for the sounds of cars and people passing by, conscious of the dark and the vigilance it requires.

For nine months, he’s walked in dark alleys and kept to the back streets. He’s wandered through parks and stood in line at soup kitchens and through all of that time, he felt like that was exactly where he belonged. Now suddenly it’s all gone sideways.

He isn’t sure he belongs at Riley’s, but he is equally unsure that he wants to go back to the way things have been.

The screen door springs open.

“Sorry. Didn’t know anyone was out here.” It’s Stark. Of course it is.

“You can join me,” Bucky says. “I don’t own the alley.”

Tony keeps his hand on the door and doesn’t move in either direction.

“You’re gonna let the moths in if you leave it open like that,” Bucky points out.

“Shit,” Tony swears. He finally takes a step out into the alley and the door swings shut behind him. “You don’t have a cigarette I could bum, do you?”

“Got this one from one of the kids.” Bucky isn’t going to rat out Pietro specifically.

“Eh, probably better if I don’t. Rhodey’ll be pissed if his couch ends up smelling like smoke.”

“Why don’t you just stay in a hotel?” Bucky asks. “Ain’t like you’re hurting for cash.”

He shouldn’t poke at this. He probably ought to go back inside, where Sam and Steve are waiting. But he doesn’t, because Tony’s right here, and Bucky’s got questions. A couple of answers will go a long way toward giving him peace of mind.

“Rhodey’s sofa’s more comfortable than the mattresses at the Four Seasons.”

Tony’s being evasive. Strike one.

“Why’d you come outside?” Bucky asks. What he doesn't ask is did you follow me? even if it seems to hang in the air unspoken just the same.

“For the same reason you find anyone hanging out in an alley after dark,” Tony non-answers. Strike two.

Bucky switches tactics.

“Looking for a blow job?” Bucky asks. If he throws Tony off his game he might default to answers that are more sincere.

It works. Tony looks like he’s about to say something smart ass then pauses and gives it some thought.

“I was looking for quiet,” Tony says. “Why-- were you out here looking for a blow job?”

Bucky’s willing to hand over truth for the truth.

“Parties are loud,” Bucky explains. “Alleys aren’t.”

Tony nods. He leans against the wall a few feet from Bucky and turns his head out toward the street. Bucky can tell Tony’s listening. He’s too tense to be relaxed. He’s vigilant. He came for quiet but he’s still on guard.

They stand in silence for about a minute when Bucky reaches over his cigarette. Wordlessly, Tony accepts it and takes a slow drag before passing it back.

“Thanks.”

More quiet. Bucky doesn’t offer him another smoke because there’s not that much left and he’s not even sure what possessed him to offer the first one. Or, yes, he supposes he does.

“Did Sam tell you I came in with a red card?” Bucky asks.

“No,” Tony says. There’s no trace of deception in the simple answer. “But I figured you might have seen one before when you recognized the card Banner brought in.”

“I’m not homeless,” Bucky says.

“Neither’s Bruce,” Tony points out. “I don’t know how it was explained to you but those cards are for anyone who could use a meal for whatever the reason. Not just the homeless. I had a... thing... happen a couple of years ago. A shitty thing. And nothing was going to fix it when it was over or make it go away. But a cheeseburger was a start.”

“A cheeseburger,” Bucky repeats.

Tony turns to look him in the eyes. “That’s all the red cards were ever meant to be. A way to make the world suck a little less.”

Bucky considers that. “Guess I’ve got you to thank for my dinner then.”

“That’s all Sam’s doing,” Tony deflects. “I just rent the wall space.”

“You don’t want the credit?”

Tony shrugs. “I’d rather you wait to thank me for dinner until I’ve actually bought you one. Or you know... breakfast?”

Bucky looks at him incredulously. Tony’s no longer registering as a threat, but interacting with him is still wildly confusing. “Are you really hitting on me again?”

“You told me I might have better luck if I tried again later,” Tony reminds him.

“Yeah, but I didn’t figure you’d try,” Bucky says, because Tony is baffling. “Not unless it was to put on a show.”

“So where’d I go wrong?”

“Flirting with me in the first place, for starters,” Bucky says, a little extra slow so Tony gets it this time. “If this is some slumming it phase you’re goin’ through-- that’s not gonna work for me.”

“You’re far from slumming it,” Tony says. “I have slummed it before hard. Almost always with reporters. You aren’t a reporter, are you?”

“Do I look like a reporter to you?” Bucky asks. “How’my even gonna type?”

“One handed, I presume,” Tony says. “The same way you do everything else.”

Bucky narrows his eyes. He does not want to be charmed by Tony. Even if Stark is awfully easy on the eyes. And if him bein’ a little batshit might not be a bad thing since that’s about the only way somebody’s gonna put up with Bucky’s issues. And there’s something undeniably appealing about the way Tony’s not tiptoeing around the arm thing like other people do.

On paper Stark is an absolute no. In reality-- he’s something else.

“Your flirting could use some work,” Bucky suggests. “That sailor line was crap. Claiming to have slept with the whole bar is about on par with licking dumplings when it comes to basic sanitation. You want me to go on?”

“I do, actually.”

Bucky rolls his eyes. “I can’t see why--”

His rant is cut short by the screen door swinging open. Clint stands there grinning like he heard more than just a little bit of their conversation.

“Darts are about to start,” Clint says. “Unless you two wanna keep up this hate-sex vibe you’ve got going on, and then I’ll leave you to it.”

“I wanna throw darts,” Bucky says resolutely.

“Me too,” Tony agrees. “Though after Clint kicks our asses, maybe we can pick back up where we left off?”

“Not gonna happen,” Bucky says.

Tony’s smile fades a little and Bucky realizes how that sounded and waits till Clint’s turned his back on them to reply.

“I didn’t mean about the talking. If you really want to chat me up, go right ahead and try. I meant about the darts. I won’t lose.”

“Barton’s good,” Tony warns him.

Bucky shrugs. “So am I.”

Chapter Text

Some new faces have joined the party while Bucky and Tony were outside. Thankfully Bucky’s not forced into any more introductions on the way to play darts. Clint seems way too excited to stop for chit chat and he’s the one leading the way. The bounce in his step tells Bucky that Clint’s probably every bit as good as he thinks he is. Bucky is still gonna be better.

“I was hoping Clint could lure you back,” Sam says, when he steps up beside Bucky. “The tournament’s twenty dollars to enter but Nick already threw yours in with instructions to pay him back out of your winnings. Third place earns a 20 back, second place wins 40, and the winner gets the rest. The house tosses in an extra hundred to make it interesting. You up for it?”

There are at least 10 people standing in the group handing over cash to Nick, so that’s gonna be at least 200 if he wins. When he wins.

“I’m in,” Bucky agrees.

Sam claps his hands to get everyone’s attention and rattles off the rules. They’ll play standard 301 for the first sets of one-on-one rounds and then the final two players will switch to cricket.

Tony’s up first, so Bucky joins Steve off to the side.

“You ready to kick some ass?” Steve asks. He’s tipsy and he’s gesturing with a bottle of beer which he attempts to offer Bucky by shoving it near his face. “Want some?”

Bucky swats away his hand. “Think I’ll hold off on drinking any more until after I win.”

Alcohol was definitely going to be the downfall of whoever was currently up against Tony. The woman kept leaning to the right every time she aimed, like she was seeing more than one dartboard up on the wall.

“Natasha and Sam are putting their money on Clint,” Steve continues. “I told them-- bad idea. It’s always a bad idea to bet against you. You’re the best.”

“No. What you should tell them is that I suck because the more money they bet against me the more you’re going to win,” Bucky reminds him.

“Riiiiiight,” Steve says. Then adds much more loudly, “Sorry Bucky! You just suck. No use in even trying.”

Bucky shakes his head and can’t stop from smiling. Drunk Steve is a sight to behold. Sam and Natasha are only a few feet away and they both turn to look at them, with matching smiles of amusement.

“He does. Suck. Bad,” Steve continues. “It’s just embarrassing when he gets goin’”

Steve sways a little on his feet and Bucky catches him. “Probably should have warned you that Stevie here’s a light weight.”

“Am not,” Steve protests.

“How many does this bottle make?” Bucky asks.

“Three and a half.”

“Maybe we should get you a chair,” Sam says.

Steve makes to protest and ends up putting almost all his weight against Bucky.

“God, you’re heavy,” Bucky complains.

Natasha lifts the bottle out of Steve’s hands.

“I can’t have you too drunk to walk the stairs later,” she says. “Time to slow down.”

Steve only sulks for a few seconds before he appears to put that all toegher, and then he seems much more content to give up his beer and sit in the chair Sam pulls over. Natasha plops down in Steve’s lap and takes a swig from her stolen bottle.

“Much better,” she declares.

“Wouldn’t it be cheaper for you to keep pouring from the keg?” Bucky asks Sam.

Earlier that’s what Sam was doing but now looking around, people have bottles of the fancy stuff and there’s easy access to the beer fridge behind the bar.

“You keep worrying about my finances I’m going to start making you keep the books,” Sam warns.

“You should!” Steve says. “Bucky was only a semester short of his degree in accounting.”

Bucky squints at Steve. “That was a long time ago.”

“Seriously?” Sam asks.

Bucky glances toward the door. He’s not gonna storm out, but he wishes Steve could learn to keep his trap shut.

“That so hard to believe?” Bucky asks Sam. He knows he sounds angry. He is a little angry. Just not at Sam. At being reminded of all this, ever. Steve knows better.

And at least he knows he fucked up, because he looks all kinds of apologetic. “Sorry, Buck,” he says quietly. “I’m just proud. You know that.”

Leave it to Steve to be proud of a college drop-out and mean it.

“It explains all the questions about how I afford to run the restaurant,” Sam says simply. “And I’m not joking about the books. Lord knows I could use the help.”

“Why are you making that face?” Natasha asks, waving her beer at Bucky. “You’re smart at math and now we know it. What does that change?”

“I get to decide when I tell people my life story,” Bucky says. “Even if there’s a lot worse things for people to know than that I’m a math nerd.”

Bucky’s not ashamed of being good at something. It’s just he’s supposed to be inconspicuous and when Steve goes spouting stuff off about his past it makes him feel uncomfortably seen.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Sam says. “And sorry if I made it weird asking you to look at the books. You're right, by the way, about having people drink beer from the tap when I’m throwing a party. I usually do. But you see that black guy over there sitting with Tony and Rhodey?”

Bucky turns to look. Two well-dressed men have joined Tony and Rhodey at a table, and the black guy in question is so ridiculously attractive Bucky figures Tony isn’t gonna have any reason to say one more word to Bucky for the rest of the night.

“That’s T’Challa,” Sam says. “Rhodey’s boyfriend and the richest guy I know.”

That takes Bucky a second because Tony’s top-level loaded.

“Yeah, I know, right?” Sam asks, when he sees Bucky work that out. “He’s the Wakandan Ambassador and his family owns the rights to all the vibranium mines in their country. He walked in tonight and insisted all the drinks were on him.”

“Well shit,” Bucky says. “What’ve you got on the top shelf?”

He’s relieved the conversation has moved on from him, which was probably Sam’s intention in the first place. Sam is definitely movin’ up Bucky’s list of people who he can tolerate. Never mind that the list only had one name on it until last week.

“At RIley’s it’s not about the top shelf,” Natasha says. “You’ve got to ask what they keep in the back.”

“I tell you what,” Sam says. “Win or lose, when you’re done with darts, I’ll hook you up right.”

As if on cue, Nick calls Bucky’s name. “Barnes. You’re up!”

“Best of luck,” Sam offers.

“Break a leg,” Natasha says.

“Don’t forget to suck,” Steve whispers. He still looks apologetic and Bucky gives his shoulder a light shove as he walks past.

“Punk,” Bucky teases.

“Jerk,” Steve replies.

For Bucky’s first round of darts he’s up against a big guy named Luke, the only resident of the Riley’s building he’s yet to meet and someone who could be mistaken for an NFL linebacker easy.

“I’m Luke Cage. And you must be the famous Bucky I’ve heard so much about,” Luke says, with an easy smile. “It’s nice to meet you, man. Sorry it’s right when I’m about to beat you at darts.”

He holds out a hand and Bucky shakes it.

“Is there anyone Darcy didn’t tell about me?” Bucky asks. He can’t even be mad. It’s borderline ridiculous at this point.

“I doubt it. My daughter’s 8 months old and I heard Darcy telling her about some guy she and Clint had met.”

Bucky laughs. “I don’t even know what to do with that.”

They pick up their darts and walk back toward the throw line.

“Darcy babysits for cheap so I let her say what she wants,” Luke shrugs.

“In these first games red leads off,” Nick says from the side. “Bucky, that’s you.”

 

From the very start it’s an easy win. It’s not that Luke’s bad, it’s just that Bucky is a whole lot better. He’s careful not to be showy about it though. He could go for more doubles and triples than he does. Instead he sticks to throwing bullseyes, which is plenty to win the game and nothing that’s going to tip off Clint that he’s going to kick his ass.

Bucky figures it’s all about strategy. Do as little as possible to win, and then your final opponent will have no idea what’s coming.

Luke takes the loss in stride and Bucky finds he’s actually looking forward to getting to know Luke better. He keeps waiting to meet a jackass at Riley’s since there’s always at least one and he knows from experience if there’s not, that might just mean you’re it.

Bucky needs to stick close if he’s going to size up his opponents and Sam, Steve and Natasha have moved to the far end of the bar so for lack of any better options he goes to sit with Tony. At least Tony’s not a complete unknown.

“Saw you won your round,” Bucky says.

“I did,” Tony agrees. “And it looks like we’ll be up against each other next time,” he says, nodding to the chalkboard where Nick is filling in names.

“I’ll try not to beat you too badly,” Bucky says.

Tony’s grin at Bucky’s teasing is worth the decision to walk over.

“Are you going to introduce us, Tony?” T’Challa asks. “Or should we introduce ourselves?”

“I was getting there,” Tony says. “Bucky, this is T’Challa, Rhodey’s sugar daddy.” T’Challa’s got his arm around Rhodey who raises an eyebrow at his best friend. Tony smiles at him innocently and then half-heartedly gestures across the table. “And that’s Victor.”

Nothing. No description for Victor and no smile either. The sentence dangles in the air.

Victor looks Bucky up and down and leaves absolutely no doubt with the slight curl of his lip that he finds Bucky lacking. So he’s finally found the asshole. It’s actually kind of a relief.

It’s also not a surprise. Victor’s the one Clint said had slept with Tony. And he’s also the one that put that look of contempt on Nick’s face earlier. Now Bucky can see why.

“Nice to meet you,” Bucky says politely. Because he’s not an asshole and his mother raised him with a couple of manners he decides to dust off now and then.

“It’s nice to meet you, too,” T’Challa says politely. “You must have considerable experience with darts.”

“Some,” Bucky confirms.

In reality he’d grown up with a dartboard in his bedroom and a best friend whose asthma kept them housebound for months out of the year. Steve would come over to Bucky’s and spend hours sketching comics in his notebook while Bucky practiced his aim. By the time he got to college he could hustle just about anyone he met in a bar, and by the time he got to the Army he hadn’t met a person who could beat him yet.

That’s all on a need-to-know basis though, and none of these people to know.

“Good thing you weren’t left handed,” Victor drawls, like he’s saying something extra clever.

“What is wrong with you?” Tony turns and growls.

“Not cool, man,” Rhodey protests.

“Bucky, I’m sorry-- Victor’s an ass,” Tony adds.

Victor looks positively shocked anyone might have taken his words for rudeness. “What? I didn’t mean any offense in pointing out the obvious.”

T’challa doesn’t say a word to defend him just watches it all unfold. (Which Bucky appreciates.)

“It’s fine,” Bucky says calmly. Hopefully so calmly that it’s obvious he couldn’t give one fuck and not obvious at all that Victor better stay out of the way of the darts. “It’s not the first time someone’s made the comment. Or the tenth.”

Unoriginal assholes are a dime a dozen.

“I need a drink,” Tony says, standing. “Bucky, come with?”

It’s such an obvious retreat Bucky’s half tempted to say nah, I’ll stay. Because he would stay. A vaguely worded non-insult is way more in his comfort zone than a bar filled with people who want to be his friend. But Tony looks genuinely upset and the last thing Bucky needs is for Tony to go talk to Sam or Steve and tell them what happened, because Steve’s drunk so that’s not gonna be pretty.

He wasn’t joking about the shaming abilities of a nun.

“Sure,” Bucky says, then adds to the rest of the table. “See you around.”

He follows after Tony before there’s time for anyone to say anything else, and thankfully Tony walks them toward the beer fridge so they aren’t close enough for Steve to pick up that anything’s wrong.

“I’m sorry Victor’s a dick. It’s not you.”

“It’s not a big deal,” Bucky insists. “Really. I get that all the time. We didn’t need to walk off.”

“I needed to walk off,” Tony says. “He’s being an ass because he’s jealous. He knows you’re my type.”

So far the only thing he knows about Tony’s type is that it includes Victor and apparently him.

“You’ve got a weird type,” Bucky says.

“Says you,” Tony disagrees. “Dark hair. Light eyes. Muscles.”

“One arm?” Bucky deadpans.

“I don’t have strong opinions on limb counts,” Tony says. “Frankly, if you’re going with a more is better philosophy you’ll end up in tentacle territory eventually, and that is so not my kink.”

Bucky stares at Tony like he’s the one who’s grown tentacles. If it was anyone else he’d call bullshit but Tony seems oddly sincere. And Bucky can sniff out pity from a mile away and this ain’t that. He’s so stuck on replaying the last few sentences he forgets it’s his turn to talk. Tony goes ahead and fills in the silence.

“So like I was saying, before you got all interrupty-- Victor’s a dick to anyone I show the littlest bit of interest. If he hadn’t said something about your arm it would have been about your hair or your shoes or your accent. He just picks something and goes after it. It’s great it didn’t bother you. My last date wasn’t so forgiving.”

“What’s wrong with my hair?” Bucky asks, deliberately side-stepping the mine field of Tony comparing whatever this is to a date.

“Nothing,” Tony emphasizes. “It’s gorgeous. I mean-- I’m betting it’s even better when it’s out of the rubber band and framing your face-- that is a kink of mine, by the way. Longer hair. And that’s probablt not... you know... relevant to this conversation but I feel like you should know it anyway..”

Tony takes a bottle of beer out of the fridge and uses the opener mounted to the wall to flick off the cap.

“You want one?” Tony asks.

“I’m not drinking till I’m done with darts. And if you’re throwing against me next, you might want to hold off, too.”

Tony chuckles and then puts the bottle to his lips, tilts back his head and takes several enormous swigs. “I do it better when I’m drunk.”

He doesn’t. Bucky beats him handily. (Ha) It certainly doesn’t help Tony’s game that he splits his time between glaring eye daggers at Victor and vocally appreciating Bucky’s ass. At first Bucky thought it might be a ploy to distract him but by the end he’s pretty sure Tony really is just that appreciative of his rear.

Clint wins his next round just as easily. The third round is the last before it’s down to the final four, and against Bucky and Clint both win. Clint by showing off like he’s in the center ring of a circus; Bucky by choosing the easiest shots and keeping the score close until he can’t afford to take any more chances and winning out.

The final match for Bucky puts him up against T’challa and Clint will throw against a friend of Luke’s who’s also new to Riley’s: Elektra.

“Cool name,” Clint complains. “Why can’t I have a cool name?”

“If it makes you feel any better, my parents named me Elijah,” Elektra laughs. “So imagine their surprise.”

“Elektra suits you better,” T’Challa says.

“You,” Bucky says to Clint, “look exactly like a Clint.”

“Says the guy who looks like a Bucky,” Clint laughs.

“Fine,” Bucky says with an exasperated smile. “Guess you’ve got a point.”

Nick whistles shrilly to get the attention of the bar. “Time to place your bets. Write your name, your bet amount, and your top 3 in order then stick it in the jar. You bet once. If I catch you cheating and betting more than once you forfeit your money and I show you the door. The money will be pooled, and the cash will be split according to the size of the bets between anyone who gets them all correct. If no one gets them all right, the money will be split between all the people who guessed the top two in order. If no one gets that right, you lose your money and I treat my husband to a night on the town.”

Sam hefts over a giant pickle jar and sits it on the table next to where Nick’s standing. Natasha slaps down some pens and scraps of paper. It looks like every last person in the bar moves in to hand over money and write names on a slip.

Once that’s all done, Nick calls for them to start.

Elektra’s good but Clint mops the floor with her. He’s less showy about it, too. More set on winning quickly.

Bucky is similarly serious business. T’Challa’s an excellent darts player but he’s not quite at Bucky’s level.

T’Challa ends up beating Elektra to take third place and the final match begins.

“The game is Cricket,” Fury announces. “The object being to close the numbers 20, 19, 18, 17, 16, 15 and the bull’s-eye in any order before your opponent. First to do it wins. House rules say you throw one dart a turn and order is decided by a flip of the coin. Barton, you’ve been coming round the longest so you call it.”

Natasha steps forward with a silver dollar in her hand. She looks at Clint and when he nods she flicks it in the air.

“Tails never fails!” Clint calls. “Tails!

Natasha catches it and then opens her hand to show it to Nick.

“Heads!” Nick announces.

Clint groans dramatically. “Ahhhhh coin, nooooo.”

“S’wat you get for basin’ your luck on a nursery rhyme,” Bucky says.

“I’ll have you know I base 100% of my important life choices on nursery rhymes. And I do okay.”

“I watched you eat dinner with a fork you dropped on the floor of a bar and wiped off on your pants,” Bucky points out.

“This is Riley’s,” Clint protests. “And I’m not dead from Floor Herpes yet. So who’s guess who’s laughing now?” In case Bucky’s curious, Clint points at himself.

“You are a disaster,” Bucky laughs. “And that’s coming from me.”

“A disaster who is about to kick your ass at darts,” Clint says.

“You better bring it,” Bucky says.

Clint’s smile says he gets the quote. “Oh, it’s already been broughtten.”

The rules of Cricket are simple and by going first, Bucky’s guaranteed to win if he just doesn’t miss. And he can do that. He’s been doing it all night.

They get into a quick rhythm and now that it’d down to the end Clint can’t seem to stop showing off. No matter what Bucky hits, that’s where Clint’s gonna aim on his turn. And just like Bucky, Clint doesn’t miss. For only being a crowd of about twenty, it gets noisy. Noise ain’t always Bucky’s friend but throwing darts is. That’s his calm place. And nothing-- not the yelling and cheering, or Clint’s antics, or all the money Natasha’s counting over on the counter is going to distract him.

He’s on a mission. Hit the right number with every dart, every time.

Clint matches him throw for throw.

And then they’re to the end. One dart for Bucky and one for Clint. The only thing left for Bucky to hit is the bull’s-eye. And that one Bucky could throw in his sleep.

“Hey, let’s have a little quiet here!” Sam shouts about the noise.

Which-- is not actually helpful. The sudden drop from loud to soft sets Bucky’s ears ringing. He doesn’t protest he just wishes Sam hadn’t tried to help. There’s so much focus on him. Only him. And he knows most of the bar chose Clint as the winner so there’s a lot of money about to be lost.

Bucky stills his mind. It doesn’t matter. None of it matters. The only thing that matters is the mission. Hit the right number with every dart, every time.

He throws his last dart.

Bull’s-eye.

The noise comes back in a rush. There’s cheering all around and Steve’s beaming and rushing toward him to grab him in a crushing hug. Clint slaps him on the back.

“Shit you are good!” he exclaims. “So good, holy crap. That was amazing! I mean, I hate to lose but if I’m gonna lose-- daaaaaaaamn.”

Natasha sweeps in to console Clint as Sam and Tony both join Clint and Steve.

“That was awesome,” Steve praises. “God, I wish the guys were here. Dum Dum would’ve shit a brick. That was so intense!”

Bucky notices Steve’s got himself another bottle of beer which makes sense. Four-Beer-Steve is the one who starts taking the Lord’s name in vain.

“I did okay,” Bucky agrees.

“Better than okay,” Tony says, stepping up to join them. “It’s not every day you see someone beat the Amazing Hawkeye.”

“The Amazing What-Now?” Steve asks.

“Clint grew up in a circus,” Sam says. And then when he sees the skepticism on Bucky’s face he adds, “I shit you not. That was his stage name. He’s amazing with darts but if you ever want to see something incredible you ought to see him with a bow and arrow.”

Bucky looks to Tony for confirmation. “Oh, it is so true. There’s footage on youtube.”

“Bucky,” Nicky says, interrupting as he elbows through the crowd. “Your tournament winnings.” Nick hands him a small stack of money. “220.”

Bucky uses his thumb to nudge off the 20 on top. “For what I owe you.”

Nick takes it without protest and give Bucky an approving nod.

“I’ve got cash for you two, too,” Nick says. “You were the only two to get the winning order right.”

“Me and Sam?” Steve asks.

“You and Stark,” Nick clarifies. “You two were the only two to guess the top three.”

Nick walks off, and Bucky looks back to Tony. “You bet on me?”

“After all your talk in the alley I’d have been an idiot to bet against you,” Tony points out.

“That and you were looking for a reason to chat me up later,” Bucky says.

Tony laughs. “You have anything else you want to yell at me about?”

“Get this man a drink!” Clint announces, as he returns to Bucky’s side. “And tell me you’ll play me another game of darts.”

“Looking to lose again?” Bucky asks.

“Not regulation darts,” Clint says. “Play me at HORSE? I’ve got to see if you’re that good from anywhere in the bar.”

“You’re not gonna drink and throw darts in here every which way,” Sam says. “So you drink or you dart. One or the other.”

Clint looks at Bucky hopefully and Bucky sighs. “One game,” he agrees. “Then I’ll take you up on the drink.”

“Best. Loss. Ever.” Clint enthuses.

Sam draws Steve and Tony into a conversation and Natasha wanders off to help Nick divvy up the cash. Clint trots over to gather up some darts, and after that, Bucky kind of loses track of what’s going on around him. It’s unusual for that to happen, even places he ought to feel perfectly safe. But whether it’s Steve’s presence, or Clint’s antics, or Sam’s calm, or just Riley’s magic, Bucky’s able to relax and focus solely on the game.

It was totally fair to ask them to stay sober. Clint’s completely bananas with his trick shots. They throw from on top of the bar. They throw standing on a chair and balancing on one leg. And they even manage to climb from the bar to the low rafters and hang down from their knees upside down.

It’s the first time Bucky misses the bullseye.

They lose track of the letter system sometime around HOR and after that it’s all for fun. They play for almost an hour before Natasha walks over and stands in front of them arms crossed.

“Enough,” she says. “People are getting too drunk to stay out of your way. Hand over the darts.”

“AwwwwwNat,” Clint pouts.

She holds out her hand. Clint hands over his dart. Bucky does, too.

“You both have handsome men waiting for you. T’Challa bought us a bar full of alcohol. What are you waiting for?”

Clint’s eyes go wide, like he had completely forgotten he’d spent the earlier part of the night flirting with bruce. “Shit,” he says. “Later, Bucky!”

Bucky glances around the bar and spots Tony, who’s sitting at a table with Bruce, T’Challa and Rhodey. He’s deep in conversation. He doesn’t feel bad like Clint does because it’s not like he’d ditched Tony. They hadn’t come together or anything, so whatever small pang of something Bucky feels about leaving Tony without his company is entirely misguided and a definite sign he’s not had enough beer.

Sam is all too happy to remedy that.

“You sure you don’t want a mixed drink?” he asks.

“Nah. I’m happier with this,” he says, lifting the bottle to his lips. His eyes go to Steve. “Tell me that’s not number five.”

“I don’t know where he keeps getting them,” Sam says. “Does he have a real problem or is this just you being mother hen?”

Sam’s asking seriously which means Bucky’s got to give him an honest answer. “He doesn’t drink often,” Bucky says. “Cause he gets so damn hyper the further he goes. But it’s not a problem. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen him get hung over. I think he burns through it too fast.”

“If you start thinking he needs cut off for real, tell me. I’ll handle it,” Sam assures him. “I just try to let the grownups be grownups till there’s a problem.”

Bucky nods. He can appreciate that.

Despite the noise and the strangers, Bucky’s able to relax. He and Sam chat for a long time, and he has has one more beer that he plans to nurse for the rest of the night. It’s nearing 2, so there’s not going to be that much night left.

And he’s not disappointed that Tony doesn’t come back to flirt again, he’s not. Clint had joined Bruce at the table and all five men look happily involved in whatever story Rhodey’s telling. Tony’s found another distraction and that’s fine.

At least until last call.

“Shuttin’ in down, y’all!” Sam shouts to the bar. “Text your ubers now if you’re going. If you’re staying, breakfast starts at nine and goes till the food’s gone.”

The men at Tony’s table all stand, and Rhodey is leaning sleepily against T’Challa.

“I think I’m gonna head home with T’Challa,” Rhodey says. “You gonna be okay if I go, Tones?”

Tony huffs irritably as he moves to walk and ends up balancing against one of the tabels in front of the stage. “M’not your date, honeybear. I can see myself home.”

“You go with T’Challa. We’ve got this,” Sam tells Rhodey. “You don’t see your man enough as it is.”

“Doesn’t see me enough either,” Bucky hears Tony grumble once Sam’s walked Rhodey and T’Challa out the door.

Bucky goes to sit on the table Tony’s propped himself up against. “You pout any harder your bottom lips gonna stick like that.”

“That’sstupid. I’m not pouting,” Tony says. “Just never get to see Rhodey and thought tonight--”

“It’s not even night any more. It’s almost morning,” Bucky consoles. “Come on. I’ll help you to your feet then Sam’s gonna get you up to the apartment.”

“Sam’s going to have his hands full with Clint,” Natasha says. She sounds sober at least. Steve is standing without swaying but his smile is totally dorky and definitely drunk. “And I need to get this one to bed.”

“But not for sleeping,” Steve whispers, in the loudest whisper possible.

“Yeah, you get on it buddy. Have fun,” Bucky says, rolling his eyes.

“Nick, you want to get Tony to his room?” Bucky asks.

Nick finishes wiping down the bar and drops his cloth in the bucket. “You flirt with him all night, you get to walk him home.”

“Them’s the rules,” Natasha smiles.

“Yeah, but none of you know me all that well,” Bucky says. “I could rob him. His watch has gotta be worth more than everything I own.”

“You wouldn’t rob me,” Tony says as if Bucky’s said something hugely outrageous. “Won’t even let me buy you dinner.”

“I know I wouldn’t,” Bucky agrees. “But no one here does.”

“I know you wouldn’t, Buck,” Steve chimes in. “I’ll vouch for you.”

“I could still be dangerous,” Bucky insists.

Nick pins him with a look. “Did I stutter?”

“It’s on all of you if I end up being some kind of grabby pervert,” Bucky complains.

“Yes, finally!” Tony says. “Grab anything you see that you like, baby. M’all yours.”

“Good lord,” Bucky grumbles. “Fine. But I’ve got one arm, and it’s going around your waist, and if you can’t keep your balance like that you’re going up the stairs on your hands and knees.”

“Finally a kink I’can work with!” Tony says cheerfully.

Bucky turns to complain to Sam, but Sam is trying to heft Clint into his arms bridal style so yeah, actually, Bucky got the better end of room escort duty.

Tony’s not too stumbly once he’s on his feet, and he leads Bucky in through the kitchen and up the back stairs to the third floor, and then down the hall to apartment on the end.

“Door’s unlocked,” Tony tells him.

“Why am I not surprised?” Bucky sighs.

What does catch him by surprise is that once he props Tony next to the door in order to open the damn thing, Tony leans forward and presses his forehead to Bucky’s.

“Staaaaaay,” he whines.

“I can’t,” Bucky says.

“I’ll let you fuck me,” Tony suggests.

“I’ve got no doubt that’s true,” Bucky says. “But if you’re too drunk to say no, you’re way too drunk to say yes.”

“Says who?” Tony demands.

“Says people who aren’t assholes. Come on. Time for bed.”

Tony stumbles into the apartment ahead of Bucky and walks straight for the bedroom. He collapses on the bed and rolls to his side in what might be an attempt at sexy. He ends up looking a lot more like a beached dolphin. Bucky attempts an exasperated face but ends up laughing as Tony wiggles his way up to the pillows.

“Are you supposed to be in Rhodey’s bed?” Bucky asks.

“He won’t be’shocked to find me here,” Tony slurs.

“That sounds about right,” Bucky says.

Tony toes off his shoes and gives them a clumsy kick to send them sailing off the bed.

“You good?” Bucky asks.

“Could use some company.”

“I can’t,” Bucky says. “Not tonight and not in here.”

Tony’s smile falters. Bucky really ought to just walk out the door but he doesn’t.

“You could sleep on the couch,” Tony says. “S’late. Not safe to walk home.”

Bucky shakes his head. “I’ll be fine.”

“Are you leaving because you don’t like me?”

Sometimes Bucky really hates alcohol. “That’s not it and you know it. Get some sleep, Tony. You’ll feel better in the morning.”

Tony doesn’t reply. Instead he roots around on the bed grabbing for covers and yanking them about halfway up his legs before they snag. Bucky turns off the light as he walks out then closes the bedroom door until it’s only open a crack.

He really does intend to leave. It’s not a good idea to stay in a stranger’s apartment, even at Riley’s and even if he’s invited. But he runs into a problem straight away. The apartment was unlocked when they got to it and without a key it can only be locked from the inside. So now either Bucky’s got to go disturb Tony, dig through Rhodey’s things to find a spare key, track down Sam and hope he’s got one, or leave Tony drunk and alone in an apartment that isn’t secure.

Bucky sighs and looks at the couch. It’s too late for this shit. He walks over and locks the door. Looks like he’s bunking over.

He wakes up around 7:30, and keeps his eyes shut for a few more minutes, enjoying the comfort of the couch. Tony might not have been lying when he said the sofa was more comfortable than a hotel. It’s the most comfortable thing Bucky’s slept on since he left school.

Once Bucky fully awake he figures he might as well make himself useful since he isn’t going to leave until Tony’s up and able to lock the door on his own. The apartment’s small so the bathroom is easy to find, and he freshens up as best he can, though there’s no hope for tidying up his hair. He’s not going to kill himself getting it back up in a bun, so he let’s it down and tucks one side behind his ear to at least tame it a little.

Then he heads out to the kitchen where he’s careful not to disturb anything except for the supplies he needs to make coffee. Rhodey’s got a little crappy coffee maker that looks to be about 20 years old and seems so strange when Bucky puts that together with Rhodey havin’ a rich best friend and an even richer boyfriend.

It also helps Bucky understand how Rhodey fits in around this place.

There’s noise in the bedroom, then in the hall, then a door shuts, so Tony’s definitely awake. The smell of coffee brewing can do that to just about anyone. Tony comes to find him a few minutes later. He still looks exhausted and like he’s moving a little bit on auto pilot as he drifts into the kitchen.

“Sorry if I was annoying last night or anything...” Tony trails off. He sounds shy, which is new.

“You weren’t,” Bucky says. “Just a little drunk.”

“I thought you weren’t going to stay,” Tony says.

“I wasn’t sure if you’d remember that conversation,” Bucky says. “I couldn’t figure out how to lock up without a key and I wasn’t going to leave you here drunk and alone with an unlocked door.”

“Shit, sorry,” Tony apologizes.

“You apologize a lot for someone who didn’t do anything wrong,” Bucky says, as he pours out two cups of coffee. “I coulda woke you up to make you lock it from the inside. I chose not to. How do you want this?”

“Splash of milk,” Tony says, as he moves closer to the mugs. “Thanks for not letting someone creep in here and murder me in my sleep or anything. And for stalling things out last night. You didn’t have to, by the way. I was definitely consenting. But that was still good of you.”

“If I was good, I wouldn’t have even been tempted,” Bucky says.

Which finally brings a smile to Tony’s face. “You were tempted?”

“Kind of hard not to be when the guy you’re considering hookin’ up with is telling you he’s ready and willing,” Bucky points out.

Tony picks up his mug and blows over the coffee before venturing a sip. “Was that a one-night temptation only?”

“I don’t know what it was,” Bucky admits. “I’m still here, so that’s something. I’m not looking for anything serious. If you’re okay with that then I guess it’s a we’ll see.”

Until last night, Bucky wasn’t looking for anything at all but he can’t bring himself to say no entirely because Tony’s got those gorgeous brown eyes and he’s looking unfairly good for having slept in his clothes and it’s doing all kinds of creative things to Bucky’s thought life.

“I’m in town until Sunday night, and I’m not looking for anything serious either,” Tony says. “Don’t really have the time, and even if I did, I’ve been told I’m not good at relationships. Repeatedly. Does that work for you?”

Bucky smiles at Tony’s explanation. “Well enough for now.”

Tony’s phone chirps and he pulls it out of his pocket to look at it. He doesn’t type out an answer so it must not have been too important.

“Hey, while I’ve got this out, will you give me your number?” Tony asks.

Bucky smirks into his coffee. “I don’t have one.”

“Is this one of those ask you again later things?” Tony asks, not getting it.

“It’s one of those I don’t own a cell phone things,” Bucky says.

Tony stares at him like Bucky’s just revealed he’s been hiding an extra arm this whole time.

“Are you Amish?” Tony asks.

“It’s a pain in the ass to text one handed,” Bucky says. “And there aren’t that many people who call me. If they do the can call the landline.”

“A landline,” Tony repeats, like these are words that have definitions but the totality of them all together is breaking his brain. “You’ve got to have a cell phone. I’m giving you a cell phone.”

“Steve’s been trying to give me one for more than a year and he hasn’t managed to convince me yet.”

“How else are we going to sext?” Tony asks, sounding scandalized. “And look-- you realize I own a company that makes phones? It’s not going to cost me anything. They hand them to me by the dozen and they’re already set up on the Stark satellites so there’s no service charge or anything. Peter’s got like five of them that he just takes apart and puts back together for funsies.”

There’s an adorable crease in Tony’s forehead from the pain Bucky can tell he’s feeling over Bucky’s imminent refusal. And the thing is-- it’s not that Bucky’s all that opposed to having one. It’s just that if he lets Steve buy him one then Bucky’s going to feel like he owes him, and also it feels like a way Steve can check up on him at any time which is a pity leash that Bucky won’t tolerate. But if Tony gets them for free and it’s just a way to sext. Well, it doesn’t seem like there’s any harm.

“You can lend me one for sexting,” Bucky agrees. “I don’t want you giving it to me permanently, cause even if it’s free to you I’d start feeling like I owed you. And if you go tracking me down with it, or do anything else creepy I’m gonna drop it off back here at Riley’s and that’s gonna be the end of it.”

Despite what Bucky thinks is a huge list of caveats and probably an overly harsh tone, Tony’s beaming. And he barely seems like he’s listening. He’s just typing away on his phone lookin’ like a guy who’s won the lottery.

“I’m gonna lend you the very best phone,” Tony says.

“Probably shouldn’t,” Bucky warns. “My room’s not exactly secure and using it on the street in this part of town might make it conspicuous. Give me something shitty.”

“I’m offended you think there’s a shitty StarkPhone to be had, but okay. I’ll give you a quality phone and stick it in an ugly case. Fair?”

“Fair,” Bucky says. He has the distinct feeling he did not win this conversation.

Tony’s back to typing. It’s an awful lot of words for just having a free phone sent in Bucky’s direction but Bucky is not going to get into it any further. Tony’s heard his list of demands.

Keys rattle in the door and it makes Bucky jump. Rhodey pushes it open a few seconds later.

“Since when did you start locking--” Rhodey cuts himself off when he spots Bucky and his face splits into a giant smile. “Nevermind. You’ve got company.”

“I slept on the couch,” Bucky says immediately, because that seems important.

The last thing he wants is Rhodey walking into his bedroom, seeing a mussed up bed, and thinking he and Tony’d been the ones messing it up. Or that Bucky’d taken advantage of his drunk friend.

“I couldn’t lock up and I didn’t want to leave Tony to alone here to be murdered,” Bucky adds.

Rhodey laughs. “Good man. Imma get a shower so I can get down to breakfast before the thundering herd gets to the bacon. Nice seeing you again, Bucky.”

And that’s it. No further explanations needed.

“Thanks for the couch.”

“Anytime,” Rhodey says. He disappears down the hallway to his room, and as Bucky finishes up the last of his coffee he hears more shuffling around and then the bathroom door shut.

“So I’ve got an idea,” Tony says. “And hear me out before you say no.”

Bucky squelches the urge to say no just to be contrary. “What’s this idea of yours?”

“Rhodey never showers for less than fifteen minutes and it’s usually more like twenty. Plenty of time for a blow job.”

Bucky squints in suspicion. “That-- that’s your idea?”

“So simple you can’t find a single flaw.”

“I can find a couple,” Bucky says. “But mostly if this is about the phone-- I told you I’m not going to owe you. And if that’s supposed to make me feel like I don’t owe you I’m not prostitutin’ myself for something I barely want in the first place.”

Probably should have said he wasn’t prostituting himself at all for any reason, but every word out of Tony’s mouth seems to throw Bucky for a loop.

The shower starts up in the background.

“Noooooo,” Tony says. “Not-- the blow job-- I mean-- It’s me. On my knees. Blowing you. It has nothing to do with the cell phone and everything to do with how much I want your cock in my mouth. Like right now.”

“You’re-- you’re serious--” is the only thing Bucky can word.

They’re still in the kitchen and as if to prove Bucky’s point perfectly, Tony just drops to his knees.

“Serious as a heart attack.”

“You are not good at this seduction thing,” Bucky says, fighting a smile.

“I’m excellent at this,” Tony insists. “I just don’t usually have to work so hard. You want to know what usually gets people interested?”

“I do,” Bucky agrees.

“Me being Tony Stark,” Tony deadpans. “But you’ve got to go and be a pain in the ass about it.”

“Is that why you won’t leave me alone?” Bucky asks. Not meanly. There’s acquiescence in his voice. He’s gonna do this. His cock would never forgive him if he said no. “Cause I’m a challenge?”

Tony presses a kiss to Bucky’s jeans. “When you tell me to leave you alone, full stop, I won’t offer again. But that’s not what you say.” Another kiss. “You say ‘try again later.’ You can’t blame me when I do.”

Bucky’s chest tightens with just how much his body wants this. How much he wants this. He reaches down to thread his fingers lightly through Tony’s hair.

“This is my fault?” Bucky asks.

Tony looks up at him through dark eyelashes. “Entirely.”

Bucky shivers. It’s unfair that anyone can sound that sexy when they’re on their knees.

“Go ahead,” Bucky says. “Yes, I want it.”

Tony reaches in his back pocket and pull out a wrapped condom. “You mind?”

Bucky shakes his head. “No. That’s the first hint of self-preservation I’ve seen on your part. I approve whole-heartedly.”

“Huh. So safety does it for you then?” Tony asks. “Or is it knowing Rhodey’s in the other room? Or all the sexy yelling at me in the alley last night?”

He’s jabbering, but he’s also not wasting any time getting the condom out of the wrapper, or Bucky’s button and zipper undone. Tony moves with the expertise of someone who has given plenty of blowjobs in his day and Bucky’s body responds like someone who hasn’t had one in nearly two years. He is painfully hard.

Not that he’s gone without-- his hand works fine. But his hand is never going to compare to what he’s looking at right now. Tony is breathtaking and he hasn’t even got to the good part yet. He’s just rolling the condom on, with a whole lot of groping in the process.

Bucky’s incredibly grateful the kitchen counter is behind him because desire and want and need is making him a little weak in the knees.

Once the condom is on Tony looks back up at him for confirmation and when Bucky gives him a slight nod, he leans in to take Bucky into his mouth. He’s exactly as good at this as Bucky had suspected. And that’s really about the last coherent thought he has before Tony does some kind of twisty thing with his tongue and takes him all the way to the back of his mouth and everything in Bucky’s world goes warm and hazy.

“Fuck,” Bucky mumbles.

He lets his eyes close, because he’s safe here and Tony’s mouth is perfect and honest to god it’s the best blow job Bucky’s had in his life already at 10 seconds in and that’s not just some kind of hyperbole. It’s the real solid truth.

His hand is still in Tony’s hair and he has no urge to pull or force anything because there wouldn’t be a point. You don’t mess with perfection.

There are so many good things happening all at once it’s almost hard to keep track. For one, Bucky’s brain starts to blank out. Not entirely. He can still hear the shower (and it seems important to keep an ear out for that) but otherwise he’s not entirely stuck in his own head. He’s able to focus more on his body. On the heat that seems to be flooding him and the light buzz of electricity that seems to be what his nerves are doing now. It’s not concrete. It’s not vigilance. It’s happiness or relief or something that’s remembered but not freshly familiar.

Tony doesn’t exactly slow down but for a few seconds he lets up a little, either to catch his breath or to keep Bucky from finishing too fast, and it’s appreciated. Because yeah-- too fast was going to happen if Tony’d kept things up the way he was going. And Bucky kind of wants to freeze time in a bottle and make this last longer then there’s any possible way it could.

Tony shifts a little which changes the angle and he moves a hand up which only intensifies Bucky’s need.

He opens his eyes and glances down. He really had not expected to see Tony looking up at him. And shit he looks vulnerable down there. Like he’s not sure he’s blowing Bucky’s mind and Bucky tightens his fingers in Tony’s hair a little to reassure him.

“You’re so good-- This is so good,” Bucky breathes out. Not eloquent but he gets the point across.

Which is apparently what Tony was looking for because he redoubles his efforts and from there an end is inevitable. By the time Bucky gets off, he’s not sure he could recite the alphabet if his life depended on it. He’s not 100% sure on his name.

And Tony’s not finished. He doesn’t just pull away and call it a morning. He takes his time, carefully pulling off the condom and fixing Bucky’s boxers and placing a few more lazy kisses to his thigh.

“Tony. That was--”

He’s interrupted from whatever embarrassing thing he was definitely gonna blurt out right then by Rhodey’s voice shrieking from the bathroom.

“Biiii-iiiiiig girrrrrrls. They don’t cry- yiiiii-yiiiiii. They don’t cryyyy. Biiiii-iiig girrrrrls. They don’t cry-yi!”

Rhodey’s singing. Frankie Valli. In the shower. Shrilly. At the top of his lungs. It’s so surreal Bucky chokes out a laugh. Tony starts to cackle.

“Silly boy,” Rhodey sings in a deep bass then switches immediately to a piercing falsetto for “Told my girl we had to break up!” then back to bass for “Silly Boy,” then again to falsetto for “Thought she would call my bluff!”

“He’s doing the voices--” Tony gasps. “All of them. He’s Frankie and all Four of the Seasons. I can’t.”

Tony laughs so hard he falls forward against Bucky’s legs and Bucky’s brain’s just broken and he collapses down next to him on the kitchen floor. It doesn’t stop. Rhodey keeps singing. And when the song probably ought to end he just starts again from the beginning.

Tony can’t catch his breath and Bucky is absolutely sure he hasn’t laughed this hard since junior high. He’s a mess. The condom is on the floor next to them, tied off but still there, and Tony and Bucky are leaning against each other like they’ve just been through some huge ordeal when really all it was was an orgasm and some god-awful howling on Rhodey’s part.

Bucky takes in a deep breath to try and get his laughter under control and looks at Tony.

“Well you aren’t boring,” Bucky says.

“And you aren’t wrong,” Tony agrees. “Come back tonight. 5:30. Watch the parade with me. With us. All of us.”

Bucky groans. “I can’t hear myself think with a broken brain and Rhodey seranadin’ us.”

“Then it’s a yes. Let it be a yes,” Tony urges.

They're sitting so close. Leaning so close. Bucky doesn’t let people this close.

But those eyes. And that smile. And all the rest of him...

“Fine. 5:30. I’ll be back. You aren’t headin’ down for breakfast now?”

“I’ve got work to do,” Tony sighs. “And I probably ought to get to it. But I’ll see you back here tonight. I’ll make it worth your while, sailor,” he adds with a smile.

“Told you I’m not big on boats,” Bucky insists.

“I know. But I’m big on that face you make when you’re Seriously Unimpressed,” Tony says. “The one you’re making right now.”

Bucky tries to unmake the face but it probably just makes it even worse judging by the glee in Tony’s eyes.

“I’ll be back, and you don’t have to do anything special to make it worth my while. Can’t have you puttin’ in all the effort.”

“You’re really something else,” Tony says, looking at Bucky like he’s something incredible instead of seeing him for the reluctant mess he is.

“Yeah, well,” Bucky concedes. “You’re not so bad yourself.”

Chapter Text

Nick’s in the kitchen when Bucky walks down the back stairs into the kitchen.

“Stark give you any trouble last night?” Nick asks, turning to face him.

“Not a lick,” Bucky says smartly.

Nick raises an eyebrow. Bucky realizes a beat too late and with an urgent sort of oh shit no exactly what he’d just said.

“Didn’t even notice when I stole his watch,” Bucky continues, trying to play it off. “Or when I pocketed all of Rhodey’s silverware.

“Well you showed us,” Nick deadpans. He knows. Bucky might as well have burst into the ‘I just got blown’ song. “Coffee’s out front. How do you want your eggs?”

At least Nick clearly gives no shits.

“Scrambled’s fine,” Bucky says.

Nick nods and turns back to the stove top. Dismissed without any further questions, Bucky heads out to the bar. He’s only the second person there. And of course the first is Peter.

Because the universe hates him.

Since it’d be awkward to sit alone and stare at Tony’s godson from a separate table Bucky pulls his shit together and sits down across from Peter.

Whatever smalltalk Bucky had hoped to make flies out the window when Peter looks up from his coffee and he’s got a dark purple bruise on his cheek. There’s a plastic baggie full of ice, half wrapped in a towel, sitting on the table at his elbow.

“It’s not as bad as it looks,” Peter says apologetically.

And Bucky’s got two options. Agree and move on to a safe topic cause this is not his problem, or engage and console the kid because when Bucky looks at Peter he sees an awful close match to younger Steve.

“It’ll help if you keep the ice on it.” Little beat up punk kids are his weakness. No point in trying to fight it.

Peter picks back up the towel and gingerly holds it against his face.

“What happened?” Bucky asks.

Peter’s face goes a little shuttered. Classic Steve. Which means Bucky knows exactly what to say, like this is a script and he wrote it years ago.

“I’m not trying to parent you,” Bucky says. “I’m makin’ conversation. It’s polite to ask.”

Peter settles. “I saw some guy steal a wallet outside Club Beats last night when I walked out to get some air.”

“And you stopped him with your face,” Bucky says. It’s not a question. He can see the answer.

“He wouldn’t give it back and I wouldn’t move,” Peter explains. “He punched me and ran off.”

It was like deja vous. The only difference being Steve would’ve started taunting the guy the second he tried to split, and the taunting would have been so personal-- so perfectly, ridiculously obscene, the thief would’ve stuck around to make sure Steve’s ass was well and thoroughly kicked. Doesn’t matter. Bucky doles out the same advice to Peter he always gave to Steve.

“If you’re thinkin’ of taking up work as a vigilante you gotta learn when to duck.”

Peter cracks a tiny smile which fades the instant the kitchen door swings open. Nick walks in with two plates. Both are piled with eggs, hashbrowns, bacon and some kind of pepper and onion concoction. Bucky digs in before Nick’s out the door. Peter just pokes at his eggs mournfully.

“So what’s with the doom and gloom?” Bucky asks. “You think Tony’s going to be upset?”

Peter shrugs. “He’s not going to be happy but it’s not like he’s going to freak out. It’s... there’s a bunch of interns from Stark Industries coming to DC after work tonight. Tony rented them a bus. Paid for a hotel. And I’m supposed to meet up with them.”

“I’m not seein’ what that’s got to do with your face,” Bucky says.

“I just thought... there’s a guy...” Every other word out of Peter’s mouth is a mumble. “And he barely notices me. Only if he needs a pencil or someone to double check his math. But he only ever sees me in my glasses and a labcoat and I thought tonight if I looked... normal... just my regular clothes... he’d see something else... but my eye...”

“So you’re sitting here ignoring your breakfast cause now that you’ve got a black eye someone’s going to be less interested in talking to you?” Bucky asks, as he digs into the potatoes. They’re every bit as good as they look.

“A little bit, yeah,” Peter says.

“Tell me about this kid. What’s he like?”

“Harley’s my dad’s favorite intern. By a million.”

Peter doesn’t elaborate past that and Bucky doesn’t need him to. God only knows what sort of a hellion he must be if he’s Tony’s favorite. By a million.

“Hell on wheels?” Bucky guesses.

“Yes. And I’m so not. Every time I talk to him I end up mumbling or I can’t make words work. I tried to ask him if he had an extra quarter for the snack machine but what I actually asked him was if he had an extra snack for the quarter machine and other people heard and now half the lab calls me Snacks. It’s great.”

Bucky stares into his coffee and takes a slow breath. He is not cut out for this.

“I just wish I could be more like Pietro,” Peter continues. “Or Darcy. They never go quiet when they like someone. Half the time Pietro straight up asks strangers if they want to have sex, and people say yes. I can’t do that.”

“If you’re lookin’ to me for advice you’re not gonna get very far,” Bucky insists. “I don’t talk to people when I can help it.”

“Tony seemed to think you were doing okay,” Peter points out.

“I got no clue what he was thinkin’.”

“People flirt with him all the time and he flirts back for like a second and then he moves on. But he was looking at you when I left and you’re still here and it’s kind of obvious you spent the night.”

“On Rhodey’s couch,” Bucky clarifies. Sure, Tony blew him on the way out the door but that’s not something he’s going to be telling Tony’s godson any time soon.

Luke and Rhodey walk in from the back and Bucky’s brain jumps from the blow job to the singing and he shoves a bite of bacon into his mouth.

“Good morning,” Rhodey greets them. He gives Bucky the same bright smile as before when he’d walked in and found Bucky in his apartment. Like he knows a secret and he’s incredibly pleased about it. Bucky can’t help but wonder if that shower singing wasn’t more than just a case of bad timing. It figures a friend of Tony’s would be ornery as shit.

“Nice shiner,” Luke adds toward Peter. “Keep ice on it.”

Peter lowers his head to the table and groans. Luke and Rhodey laugh and then walk to a table clear across the bar, cause unlike Bucky, they’ve apparently got some sense.

After about thirty seconds of silence Peter lifts his chin to make puppy dog eyes in Bucky’s direction. “Are you really not going to help me?”

“Don’t know what to tell ya,” Bucky insists. “I shut Tony down the first time he talked to me, then insulted him the second. The third time m’pretty sure I yelled at him. I’ve got no clue why he kept comin’ back for more.”

That much is true. Peter gives it some thought.

“So you were playing hard to get?” he asks.

“Wasn’t playing jackshit,” Bucky counters. “Didn't come here to be anything other than myself, and I don't gotta stellar track record with pullin' men. Tony's got weird taste. That isn't my fault.”

“Okaaaaaay,” Peter draws out. “So your advice is to be myself and hope Harley’s weird. Great. Even Ned says that me being myself is like the least likely way I’m going to get someone to notice me.”

“Look,” Bucky sighs. “If you think that black eye’s gonna make you less interesting to Tony’s favorite intern I think you’re missin’ the point about how attraction works. Try less hard to be who you think he wants and be yourself. Be this version of yourself,” Bucky clarifies.

Peter looks like he’s mulling it over and then he swipes a piece of bacon off of Bucky’s plate and shoves half of it into his mouth.

“Like dis?” Peter asks as he chews.

Bucky narrows his eyes. “Next hand you put on my plate’s gonna be the one you lose, kid.”

Peter’s smile brightens.

“But yeah, like that. Be a shit. See what it gets you.”

“So far what it’s got me is a black eye,” Peter reminds him.

“A black eye and a story,” Bucky says. “S’not a bad place to start.”

They’re interrupted from further conversation by a series of wolf whistles from Rhodey and Luke and a woman who’s joined them. Clint walks in from the back showered and shaved. He’s wearing fitted gray trousers, a slim-fitting button up shirt, his hearing aids and a tie. He’s clutching a giant coffee mug like it’s a life preserver.

He takes the seat at the the table with Bucky and Peter.

“You appearin’ in court today?” Bucky asks.

Knowing what he knows of Clint that seems as likely as anything.

Clint laughs. “This is what I wear to work. Doesn’t usually look so out of place when we’re all headed out at the same time, but everyone else took the day off to recover.”

“Are you out of days off?” Peter asks.

“Nah,” Clint says. “Summer’s our busy season at the rec center. All the kids are out of school and we serve a free lunch every day so it’s hopping. I feel bad leaving that much work to anyone else.”

“I forgot Sam said you have a day job,” Bucky replies.

“Yeah,” Clint says, between slow sips of coffee. “Social worker by day, bar help by night. And I teach archery on the weekends.”

“You’re a social worker?” Bucky asks, and he knows there’s disbelief in his voice

All the social workers he’s been stuck with are jaded and useless. He might not dread his every other month visits if they were more like Clint.

“Technically I’m the director of the youth center so I don’t do the typical stuff a social worker does. Not like you’re probably picturing. But I have a master’s in social work and I wouldn’t have gotten the job without the degree so it’s... kind of a thing.”

“You like it?” Bucky asks. “What you do?”

That brings a smile to Clint’s face. “I do,” Clint agrees. “Kids are great. I mean-- they’re also little shits-- but they keep us entertained. Though damn--” Clint glances at his watch. “Nick! I need a to-go cup! I’m already running late!”

Yelling for Nick seems ballsy. Bucky’s not sure he would. But a few seconds later Nick does appear, with a to-go cup of coffee and another cup that’s got slices of bacon sticking up out of the top.

“You’re the actual best,” Clint beams at him. “People say you’re not, but I know different.”

“Who says I’m not?” Nick demands.

Natasha walks in through the kitchen door and Clint points at her accusingly. Nick turns back toward her, and says something in Russian. Natasha growls something in response.

Clint raises his hands in surrender and stands up. “Totally lied there. Tasha only says good things. And now I’ve got to run.”

Natasha smirks, and waits for Clint to move, before she smacks him on the rear and then slides into his seat. WIthout missing a beat she picks up the giant mug of coffee Clint had been drinking from and takes a sip. She also picks up his fork.

“Did you drop this one?” she asks.

“Not even once,” Clint says.

Natasha looks to Peter for confirmation, and Peter nods. With that settled she begins eating what was left on Clint’s plate. Clint waves goodbye with his bacon cup, and then heads out the door.

“You didn’t want breakfast of your own?” Bucky asks.

“I don’t like wasted food,” Natasha says. “And Clint never gives himself enough time to finish. This is how we make that work.”

Bucky can’t deny it’s a smart system.

“Parker!” Nick bellows from the back. “Need you to make a delivery upstairs!”

Peter stands and picks up his mostly empty plate. “Figured that was coming,” he says. “Thanks Bucky. For listening.”

“Anytime,” Bucky says. He doesn’t mean to say it and it takes him a few long seconds to realize he means it. Peter’s a good kid. A handful, sure, but who around this place isn’t?

At least Natasha doesn’t seem inclined to force conversation on him. They sit in restful silence for nearly five minutes.

“I need a favor from you,” Natasha says quietly.

Bucky squints. “What?”

“I run a ballet school, do you know that?”

“Hadn’t heard,” Bucky says honestly.

“I just fired my receptionist. She was stealing. Now I need to find someone--”

“Did Steve put you up to this?” Bucky asks.

“No,” Natasha says firmly. “He did not. But he did tell me you don’t have a job right now, and I figured I need to grab you before Sam puts you to work on his books. It’s Monday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings, 4:00 to 9:00. You’d answer the phone, take money for classes, keep track of who’s in the building, and help me make sure only people on the pick-up list pick the students up.”

“M’not exactly seein’ myself as the ballet studio type,” Bucky says. “And those kids’ parents aren’t gonna see me that way either.”

“It’s not a ballet studio. It’s shared space,” Natasha explains. “And I’m not asking you to star in Dance Moms. I teach kids for half of what the other studios charge. The parents know me. If I say you’re safe, you’re safe, and that’s what they care about. Not about your arm. Not about your hair.”

“What’s wrong with my hair?” Bucky responds automatically.

“It’s long,” Natasha says. “That’s all.”

Bucky doesn’t respond right away. He does want a job. And damn it, now he wants this job.

“This isn’t out of pity?” Bucky asks.

Natasha looks at him like he’s stupid. It’s a look Bucky suspects she picked up from Nick (or Nick picked up from her.)

“Will you steal from me?” Natasha asks.

“No.” He wouldn’t. He knows he wouldn’t.

“Will you be on time?”

“Probably early,” Bucky says honestly. “I’ve got no where else to be.”

“Would you be intimidated by a man who comes in off the street and claims to be the father of one my students but who is not on the pick-up list?”

Bucky looks unimpressed. “You know I wouldn’t.”

“What if he got loud. Threatened to call the police?”

“Then he could call the police,” Bucky says. “I’m not turnin’ a kid over to some guy not on your list.”

“This is why I need you,” Natasha says. “Don’t make me put an ad on Craiglist. Give it a month. If you hate it I’ll find someone else.”

There’s not much to think about. He’s been half-heartedly looking for a job for months. He’s not going to get a better offer than this.

So in the course of 24 hours Bucky’s gotten a phone, a job, and a blowjob.

If he’s gonna live in the Twilight Zone he might as well enjoy it while it lasts.

“Fine. I’m in,” Bucky says.

As if summoned by good news, Steve and Sam walk in through the kitchen door. Sam’s carrying two plates piled high with food. Steve’s carrying two cups of orange juice. They are walking extremely close. We-had-sex-last-night close.

Natasha smiles coyly. “I told you we hadn’t talked about you. Where would we have found the time?”

Steve sits down next to Bucky and Sam takes the other seat at the table, and immediately they’re leaning in a little toward each other.

“Where’s Tony?” Steve asks.

“Obviously Bucky wore him out,” Sam says. “Being all grabby.”

Bucky rolls his eyes. “I was tryin’ to be the voice of reason. None of you know me.”

“I know you, Buck,” Steve protests.

“An’ you were drunk off your ass,” Bucky points out. “Not a valid opinion.”

“Nine times outta ten, I’m a better judge of your character than you are,” Steve retorts. “You’re too hard on yourself.”

“When you ought to spend that time being hard on Tony,” Sam teases.

Bucky groans because the pun is just that bad.

“Stop harassing my new receptionist,” Natasha says, as she picks up a piece of bacon off Sam’s plate.

It was worth taking the job just to see Steve try to urgently play it cool when he is anything but cool.

“Go ahead and smile, nerd,” Bucky sighs. “You’re gonna strain somethin’ holdin’ it in like that.”

“That’s amazing, Buck,” Steve gushes. “You’ll be great.”

“Of course he will,” Natasha says. “And now I won’t need to be so nice to Clint. He was my back-up plan.”

“Hey, no stealing my bar help,” Sam complains.

“You remember that the next time you’re crying into a pile of receipts,” Natasha smirks. “Bucky’s mine.”

Sam groans. Steve rubs Sam’s back consolingly and Bucky’s stuck wondering if maybe this isn’t the Twilight Zone and in reality he got hit by a bus or something and this is all some elaborate coma dream. Because that would actually make more sense than his life lately.

But the bacon tastes real.

Eventually they all finish up with breakfast, and Bucky’s itching to get home to change.

“I’m heading out,” Bucky says.

“I’ll walk with you,” Steve offers. “I need to get some work done before I come back for round two.”

“Round four,” Natasha corrects him. “Unless you want to count--”

“Nope,” Bucky interrupts. “Don’t need to hear the details.”

“You’re welcome back too, Bucky,” Sam says. “We’re all meeting up at 5:30 to go watch the parade.”

“Tony invited me,” Bucky says nonchalantly.

Though of course Steve pounces. “So you’re coming back tonight, too?”

“Unless something better comes up.”

“Then I guess we’ll see you then,” Sam says with a small smile. He’s gracious enough not to look overly pleased, unlike Steve and Natasha who both look like the cats who got the canaries.

Bucky watches as Steve kisses Natasha goodbye, and then Sam. There is a definite bounce to Steve’s step as they walk out into the mid-morning heat.

“So the three of you, huh?” Bucky asks.

Steve trips a little and Bucky enjoys that a lot.

“The three of us,” Steve agrees. “That wasn’t my intention or anything going into it but Natasha brought it up, and it’s kind of been a... fantasy of mine. I just didn’t figure it’d happen. But I don’t know how it works or if it could work and people make that joke about me being greedy when they find out I’m bi. Like I’m stealing from both teams.”

“Which is bullshit,” Bucky says. “Stealin’ from teams. Since when do you care what anyone thinks anyway?”

“I don’t,” Steve says. “Or I don’t care enough to change who I am or how I feel. It keeps going around in my mind is all. Whatever happened last night. That’s not... I mean we didn’t get around to talking about if this is going to continue. I’m trying not to get too invested.”

Bucky looks at him doubtfully. “Never met a person who gets attached as fast as you. But if it helps-- Sam doesn’t strike me as the type who’s in this for a one night stand.”

“You don’t think?”

“People don’t make googly eyes like that at their Pride trophy. Least not the morning after.”

Steve laughs. “Is that what it’s about for you and Tony? Pride trophy exchange?”

“Don’t know what the hell’s goin’ on there,” Bucky admits. “Cept that it’s casual. I’m not lookin’ for anything serious and neither is he, and even if he was... well, I’m not what he’d be looking for. This seems safe enough. Unlike you, I got no problem keepin’ him at arm’s length.”

Steve bumps into Bucky with his elbow, jostling him for what must have come across as Bucky being down on himself. It’s not self doubt, though. It’s reality. No amount of flirting is going to change what Tony is and what Bucky isn’t. Acceptable.

“I’m just glad you’re letting yourself have some fun,” Steve says. “I doubt you want to hear it but last night was the first time I’d seen you look that relaxed since... too long.”

“Steve--” Bucky starts.

“I like you exactly how you are,” Steve rushes to fill in. “I don’t sit around wishing you were like you were before. But I do wish things were easier for you, and being around Riley’s... things just seem easy. At least to me.”

Bucky lets Steve’s words hang there for a couple of steps. Thinks about how much he wants to reveal and well-- it’s Steve-- so admitting a little bit of happiness isn’t going to kill him.

“Things do seem easier there,” Bucky admits. “It’s hard not to let my guard down with Nick and Sam. I don’t see them lettin’ anything bad happen in their space. And the job’s a good thing. I don’t think Natasha hired me out of pity. I do think she needed someone and I’m not a bad fit.”

“I didn’t ask her to hire you,” Steve says. “In case you wondered. She asked me if you had a job and I told her no, but that was it.”

“I asked her myself,” Bucky says. “Needed to make sure.”

“I know you’ve got to do this on your own and in your own time,” Steve says. “It might not seem like it but I’ve been trying to push less.”

“I’ve noticed,” Bucky says. “Which reminds me. I’m gettin’ a phone. I’m gonna need one if I have a job and since I think we’re past you checkin’ in on me once an hour, I’ll give you the number once I’ve got it. ”

Steve’s momentarily speechless. He turns to look at Bucky likes he’s not sure he can trust his own ears.

“Seriously?”

“Tony pointed out we aren’t gonna be able to sext over a landline,” Bucky adds. Mostly because he wants to see what Steve’s face does with that knowledge.

Steve does not disappoint. His eyebrows so some kind of gymnastics and his mouth twitches at the corner. It’s hysterical and Bucky can’t help but laugh, right there on the street.

For the first time since his fall, Steve’s looking right at Bucky and Bucky doesn’t see worry or pity or guilt. He sees friendship and happiness and nothing else.

“So I’ll see you tonight?” Steve asks.

“Looks like,” Bucky agrees. Then he reaches out to haul Steve into a hug and he doesn’t pull away when Steve grabs him back and holds on for an awkwardly long time. Not until someone drives by and whistles.

“Sap,” Bucky teases when Steve finally lets him go.

“Takes one to know one,” Steve replies.

And then they part ways. It’s a short walk home from there.

Not everything in his life is made better by Riley’s, which is somehow comforting in a messed up kind of way. The halfway house is still a depressing shit show, and Bucky’s good mood evaporates after all of three steps inside.

A couple of the guys are sitting in the living room and Bucky’s got to pass them to get up the stairs. They never let anyone walk by without comment.

“What are you all dressed up for, Barnes?” Sitwell asks.

It’s a sad truth that seeing Bucky in jeans and t-shirt is a step up from the sweats and a hoodie he usually wears around, even on the hottest of days.

“You might almost pass for piss poor instead of drunk and homeless,” Ward laughs.

“Fuck off,” Bucky says, because that’s what he always says. It’s all any of them deserve.

“I think you’d like that too much,” Ward says. “It’s Pride weekend isn’t it? Is that why you’re trying to fit in?”

“I’m pretty sure the gay hierarchy doesn’t have a rung for armless transients,” Sitwell taunts. “Unless you’re out selling blowies. That’d be the only thing you’re good for.”

Bucky doesn’t respond. That’s what they’re after and he’s not going to give it to them.

Honestly, this is the first time that their words have fazed him in the slightest. Until Riley’s he hadn’t had reason to wonder how he looked to anyone on the outside. As he climbs the stairs it’s all he can think about. How the people at Riley’s see him. And unavoidably, what Tony sees when he looks at him. If it’s the same thing Ward and Sitwell see. If those two are the only ones honest enough to voice their thoughts outloud. The only ones rude enough not to hide their disdainful looks. Cruel enough to point out how worthless he is. As if he needs the reminding.

They aren’t necessarily wrong. Or alone in their opinions.

Bucky unlocks his door with his code (they don’t have keys because keys can be stolen) and pulls it shut behind him. It locks automatically. He still doesn’t feel safe.

It doesn’t help that he sees his bedroom with the same eyes he imagines are finding flaws in him. The scuffed up, institutionally-white walls. The grubby gray carpet. The faded red bedspread that covers a thin twin mattress. His closet full of thrift store clothes. The single framed picture on his dresser of a nephew he’s never met.

Shit his life is depressing.

He sits down hard on the bed and closes his eyes. Riley’s feels like a dream. He wishes he had some piece of it to ground himself. To help him remember that it’s all just as real as this room. He has friends, now, kind of. A job, temporarily. A ridiculously attractive man waiting for him on the other side of the next six hours.

That’s what finally eases the tension in Bucky’s chest. He lays back on his bed and keeps his eyes shut. Forces himself to picture Tony. Thinks of Tony on his knees, more specifically. Of his long eyelashes and the color of his lips and the flush in his cheeks. His mind wanders from there to more imaginative things. Himself as the one on his knees. With Tony pressed against the cabinets, his jeans undone-- pushed down below his hips.

Bucky knows Tony would smell clean. He knows his skin would be soft. He could press kisses to Tony’s hipbone and breath him in. Nip his way down. He could picture how Tony would go still. The noises he would make and the way his hips would jerk as Bucky took him in his mouth.

Outside of this beautiful mental image, Bucky’s hand went to his jeans, and he undid them clumsily, pulled out his already hard cock and started stroking himself. The incredibly attractive scene was made all the more alluring by Bucky’s concrete knowledge that he could have this.

This could be real.

Whatever is going on between him and Tony isn’t going to last long but it is definitely going to last at least another couple of days (if Bucky has any say) and in that time he can absolutely blow Tony against those cabinets, and he can reduce him to whimpers and moans, and he can swallow around him--

That’s it. That’s all for Bucky. He thrusts hard into his hand and comes for the second time in hours. Not the greatest of plans, since he’s wearing his only nice pair of jeans and it’s going to take some serious wiggling and careful movement to get out of them without making a mess. His shirt’s a lost cause. He’s gross and tired and he doesn’t give a shit about any of it because he feels like Dorothy, landing in Oz, seeing in technicolor for the first time.

That daydream was freedom. Riley’s is freedom. And all the mess that comes with it is tolerable if he can close his eyes and go somewhere else any time he wants.

It’s not Tony. A blow job hasn’t fixed his life. What’s changed is hope, and Bucky has it.

He’s not entirely sure he wants it.

Hope is painful. Hope is scary. It’s also powerful and it’s lodged itself in him like a bullet. It’s not the kind of thing he can wish away. He’s not really sure he would even if he could.

He’s never been so grateful for his private bathroom. He only needs to drop his messy clothes on the floor and step over them to go wash off. He’s had enough of thinking. The shower makes him feel more human, and Sitwell’s words are a distant memory by the time he towels off and climbs damp and naked back into his bed.

He sets his alarm clock for 4:30, closes his eyes, and he’s asleep before he takes his tenth breath.

He’s earned some rest.