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If You Fall, That's Ok (the ground will catch you)

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

Studio C was packed with dancers. They stood in scattered groups along the back of the room, stretching on the barre or against the walls while T’Challa and Maria stood at the front. The mirrored walls reflected everyone's movement as they prepared for the rehearsal. Steve sat by the wall in between ballet bags and protein shakes, stretching his calves as he listened to the pre-rehearsal announcements. 

“We go on stage in one week.” T’Challa never had to shout or raise his voice to be heard - when he spoke, everyone stopped and listened. Hailing from the African country of Wakanda, T’Challa had an accent that was distinct and lovely and Steve could listen to him explain choreography all day. When he moved around the studio, which was almost always, his dancer’s gait followed him with the stride of a panther. “Today’s rehearsal is from beginning to end. We will find out where to focus our efforts in this upcoming week. I want to see nothing less than your best.”

The Marvel Ballet had been after him for ages to choreograph something unique for the company, and T’Challa had more than delivered with a version of Swan Lake that had the swans danced by the men of the company. As T'Challa continued to speak, Steve stretched forward, reaching past his red and white star leg warmers, past his toes, as though he could stretch out his frustration with his part in the performance. He had landed a part in the corps, but not as one of the swans.

T’Challa paused, leveling his gaze at his principal dancers. In front of the group, Brock Rumlow bounced on his heels, haphazard and without rhythm as though he was trying to discharge extra nerves. Steve had noticed earlier that Rumlow had shown up without his ballet bag, and he shook his head. What was he going to do without his bag and water bottle midway through their rehearsal? Leave the room to run to the water fountain? Steve sighed and barely kept from rolling his eyes. Only Rumlow would treat a principal position like he was the one doing a favor for the company.

On the side of the room, the other principal dancer Bucky relaxed, fingertips resting on the barre as he swayed back and forth on his legs in a fluid circle of his hips. Steve couldn’t help notice but everything Bucky did - the Romanian dancer moved with a liquid grace that had, well, everyone staring.

“Rumlow.” T’Challa motioned for him to step forward and Rumlow did, his muscles tensed and coiled as he strode up and stood, waiting and watching. Rumlow’s eyes darted from T’Challa to Maria to Bucky and then back to T’Challa. “Our young prince will not be joining us for practice this morning. Take your place please.” Half to the cast, but mainly to the pianist, T’Challa added, “We’ll start from the transition to adulthood scene, when you come onto stage. Give them a couple of bars to lead in.”

“Places, everyone,” Maria commanded, the middle of the studio coming alive as dancers took their spots, setting up for the scene.

Steve went to his place, his eyes still on Bucky as he walked forward. On his right side, Natasha jabbed him in the ribs, motioning for him to pay attention to the front of the studio instead of the back. Steve turned, giving her a rueful grin. Natasha glanced back at Bucky and rolled her eyes at Steve, but said nothing, lest Maria notice their conversation and call them out with a brutal tongue lashing.

T’Challa gestured to the pianist. The music began and Rumlow strode onto the stage space, moving among the other dancers. T’Challa prowled around the edges of the space and Maria mirrored his movement, watching everyone from two directions. Steve recalled that there had been whispers that the director would drop by to watch part of the performance, to see how the show was shaping up.

“Get that leg up, Sharon,” Maria called out over the music. “Good.”

“You’re bringing your hand to her, good, then lean back, and - yes - let the moment build, and then go forward.” T’Challa gave his instructions even as they danced, though he refrained from stopping the scene. As the corps finished the scene, they exited to the sides of the studio, grabbing their water bottles and watching the next scene.

Rumlow stood alone in the middle of the studio as the piano music shifted into something mournful and dark. Peggy Carter, playing the role of the queen, approached Rumlow for the beginning of their mother and son pas de deux. At thirty, Peggy had been dancing with the company for twelve years, and Steve loved watching her elegant and powerful style. This performance was no exception. Though Maria still called out occasional corrections for Peggy, T’Challa was much more vocal with Rumlow, narrating the sequence of emotions he wanted to see expressed as the two danced.

Standing on the side of the studio with Natasha, Steve stretched to remain warm, imagining himself in the role of the prince. It wasn’t hard to see why he wasn’t standing in Rumlow’s place - Steve was one of the shortest dancers in the company. He put his hands on the barre, leaning forward, and stared at his reflection in the mirror along the back of the studio. He was a hardworking, skilled dancer, and there was always some part for him in every production. But he had been dancing for as long as he could remember, and it had been frustrating when he realized puberty was not going to provide him with a magical growth spurt into principal dancer height.

Peggy and Rumlow finished their dance, and the company worked through the next few scenes, stopping once or twice as T’Challa requested. By the end of the first act, Steve couldn't help but grin. He was looking forward to watching Bucky showcase his talents as the lead swan. It was a role that Steve was positive T’Challa had created with only Bucky in mind. The swans moved in T’Challa’s choreography with a fierce strength that Bucky’s lean, muscled frame encapsulated perfectly with his flexibility on full display.

It was so different from the original ballet, the swarm of sixty delicate swans en pointe in white tutus. Instead, T’Challa’s swans wore a costume of feathered pants that sat low on the hips, though everyone was dancing in their practice clothes today. That meant Bucky was dancing in a shirt and tights that showed off more than his costume would, and Steve allowed himself to take advantage of that fact with one or two glances. Maybe three. Natasha jabbed him in the ribs again, but she was grinning.

The swans and Rumlow were dancing across the studio now, and Steve sat with the other dancers along the perimeter to watch, the music of the piano washing over them. Steve followed Rumlow’s movement, wishing irrationally again that it was him up there now. That he was about to dance opposite Bucky, he was about to press up against his gorgeous body. And then Rumlow stopped mid-step in the middle of the studio, and Bucky nearly ran into him.

Bucky caught himself, leaning back and finding his footing with just a little stumble. "The hell was that?"

Steve was almost thankful Rumlow had given Bucky an opportunity to talk. He loved Bucky’s deep voice.

T’Challa frowned at Rumlow. “Do you have a reason for stopping? Let’s taking it back to the beginning here and - go on, take your place.”

Rumlow still didn’t move, and T’Challa covered the distance between them in three easy strides, so that he was just a foot away from him.

“If you’re going to stop, I need to know why.” His voice was calm and quiet, and the other dancers stopped and went silent, watching to see what Rumlow would do.

Rumlow paused and then grinned. It was the kind of grin that made Steve flinch a little, a sudden urge to stand in front of the other dancers as though Rumlow might attack.

“It ain’t natural,” Rumlow finally said, speaking as if he and T’Challa were old friends at brunch rather than choreographer and dancer preparing for opening night in one week. Everyone else watched, wide eyed at Rumlow's words. A few people started murmuring to the people around them. Next to Steve, Natasha frowned, pursing her lips.

“Natural.” T’Challa spoke the word in a way that invited Rumlow to continue his train of thought, and now. Steve figured that was way more leeway than Rumlow deserved.

Rumlow shrugged easily, stepping back a length and gesturing to the other swan dancers. “This is supposed to be Swan Lake. These dancers are supposed to be swans: graceful, beautiful, feminine.

At the word feminine, Bucky looked like he had gagged, but he steeled his face and put his hands on his hips while Steve all but shouted. “You can’t insult him like that.” The other dancers around him were chiming in agreement, a confused chorus of “what the hell is he thinking?” and “This is ridiculous.”

Bucky stiffened as he glared at Rumlow, taking a step forward and opening his mouth to speak, but T’Challa stepped between the two men, a hand out to Bucky to stop and his own icy glare turned full force on Rumlow. Rumlow did not seem shaken at all.

“Unnatural,” Rumlow repeated, and grinned again. He shrugged, as though this stunt wasn’t ending his entire career with the Marvel ballet.

“Leave my studio.” T’Challa didn’t raise his voice, was barely loud enough to be heard across the confusion in the studio space, but Steve still shivered at the deadly calmness.

With yet another grin, Rumlow started moving towards the door, refusing to break eye contact with T’Challa. “Whatever you say, man. I’m good, it’s all good, I’m out of here.” He got to the door and left, his footsteps quickly fading as the door closed behind him. Steve realized he didn’t even need to stop to grab his bag and knew in that moment that Rumlow had been planning this. But why now? Why wait until opening night was a week away? Steve looked around, the room in an uproar as people talked and Bucky stood in the middle of the room, alone and stunned.

Peggy was shaking her head as she looked towards Maria. “The absolute nerve! He must have been planning this for weeks.”

“Man, I can’t believe he’d do that to us!” Sam Wilson was one of the newest dancers in the company, but had already proven himself to be a hard worker and excellent dancer, and got along with everyone, except maybe Bucky on occasion. He was huffing now, throwing his hands in the air. “I talked to him this morning and he acted like everything was normal. I complimented his damn shirt.”

Sharon Carter, Peggy’s cousin and an accomplished dancer in her own right, fumed next to him. “That rat. You know, yesterday, he asked me if I’d be interested in dancing for another company if they offered me a ‘better role’ and I thought he was being hypothetical.”

“What exactly did we just see happen?” Steve glanced from T’Challa to Bucky to Natasha, and Natasha shrugged and shook her head.

“Can’t say I wouldn’t expect it from him, but I still didn’t think he’d actually do something like this,” she said, watching T’Challa, who was saying something to Bucky. It was impossible to hear a word of their quiet conversation, especially with everyone else talking. “Remember last week when he was late to class those three mornings in a row? He came in that third time and I saw him shove something from Hydra in his bag.”

The Hydra Ballet Company, a rival company in the area, was always extending feelers for talented dancers, but Steve had never thought anyone in their company would actually take them up on the offer. Yeah, Nick Fury was a bit intense as Marvel’s director, but he got the job done well. He had gotten T’Challa to choreograph for them, hadn’t he? Very few companies could claim that honor.

Across the studio, Steve saw Wanda smoldering. Pietro put a comforting hand on her shoulder and said something. It helped her to relax a little, but she was still shaking her head, her eyes casting daggers towards the door. A talented pair of siblings, they had joined the Marvel ballet when they came to America last year. Steve looked around. Everyone was in various states of denial, disbelief, and frustration.

“Rollins.” T’Challa called the name of their understudy prince who normally danced as one of the swans. “Are you still warm? Take it from the top of the scene, here then.” He gestured to the middle of the studio, turned, and headed back to the front so that he could watch.

Jack Rollins was a tall dancer, lean and intense, and he stood from his spot against the studio wall, flexing his head side to side. “Actually, sir,” he began in a calm but authoritative voice, and T’Challa knew, right then, that Rollins had no intent to dance the part as well.

“I see.” T’Challa didn’t bother to waste as much as a glare on the man. “If you’re not dancing, you’re done here. You can see yourself out.”

Rollins nodded as if acknowledging an order, and turned to leave. He did have to pick up his ballet bag, and he almost stumbled as he reached down to grab it, but then he left, letting the door slam shut behind him. That was enough for the other dancer’s voices to rise once again in a frustrated cacophony. Amidst the noise and the confusion and the anger, Steve realized with a shock like a cold bucket of water that Rumlow and Rollins had picked now because they were hoping to ruin the performance. Steve’s gaze darted to T’Challa, who was standing tall and calm like the eye of a hurricane.

Bucky and the other swans stood in the middle of the studio. Bucky fumed as a storm settled across his face. “Unnatural?” He spat the word as though it were a curse and, for the first time since Rumlow stopped dancing, T’Challa turned and looked at Bucky with a gentle smile.

“It is better we know today than on opening night.” T’Challa placed a hand on Bucky’s shoulder, and Bucky paused, his neck and back rigid, but then he sighed, his shoulders relaxing as he nodded in agreement. “Given what I assume was their plan to ruin this performance, I am actually quite surprised they didn’t back out even later. We are fortunate to have time to prepare.”

“I understand, but I just can’t-” Bucky searched for words and came up lacking. “How dare he say that, how dare he insinuate that what you’re doing is wrong!” The storm settled across Bucky’s face, his green eyes flashing like lightning.

“Quiet in the studio,” T’Challa said, gesturing around the room, his voice just short of a shout for everyone to hear over the rising anger. He waited as the noise dissipated, people turning their attention back to the front. Everyone was on their feet, glancing at each other and biting back more frustration. “We will begin from where we left off. Bucky, I apologize that you will dance your duets as solos for today’s practice.” He nodded to the pianist, who began the music. The first few bars sounded horribly loud against the now complete silence in the room.

When Bucky started dancing, a pas de deux without a partner, Steve relaxed, his shoulders dropping back down and his fists unclenching. Bucky was beautiful, adapting what would have been lifts to combinations that highlighted his skills, convincing Steve that maybe these dances were supposed to be solos.

T’Challa and Maria Hill were having a soft conversation, but even still, Maria was quick to point out corrections as needed. Steve heard some mention of guest dancers from T’Challa, and strained to pick up on the conversation, edging as far forward along the side of the room as he dared.

“Thor Odinson would be able to learn the part and he’d be a great contrast to Barnes,” Maria was saying quietly. T’Challa nodded, but then shook his head.

“We can reach out, but will they be able to expedite his visa? We are still talking about an opening night without our lead.”

“And his brother, Loki, is another option,” Maria suggested. “I will contact their managers today.”

Steve pushed their conversation out as he watched Bucky dance. He could see in his mind the steps that Rumlow would have been performing, and he mimicked the steps in his spot against the wall, in time to the music.

He could do it. He knew the steps.

Natasha must have seen his sudden, stubborn look as Steve danced in place, because she caught his eye and raised an eyebrow. Steve knew she was questioning him, was trying to remind him that he wasn’t a principal dancer , that it was just his fate to be in the corps, and he shook his head. He could at least try. He watched as Bucky danced, moving across the stage and interacting with an imaginary prince. Even with no one there to partner him, Bucky was so graceful, so intense and so beautiful. He deserved better than this. Steve set his shoulders. He would talk to T’Challa after practice.

But when the final scene of the ballet began, the group of male swans dancing across the stage in the prince’s bedroom before the final re-appearance of the lead swan, Steve had a sudden inspiration to show T’Challa, to show everyone what he was capable of. He didn’t bother to turn to Nat - he knew she would shake her head at him.

As the other swans waited at the side of the studio for their next cue, Steve set his shoulders, drawing himself up to his full height, and strode onto the studio floor.

“Rogers -” T’Challa was quick to acknowledge him and Steve looked at the choreographer, even as the piano player hesitated and missed a bar and the rest of the dancers turned and waited for T’Challa to say something else.

“I’ll stand in for the last part,” Steve offered, and T’Challa pursed his lips and nodded to the pianist. The music began again, and Steve pretended to be lying in a bed as Bucky stood behind him, ready to make his own entrance.

Steve’s heart began to rush and the room fuzzed around the edges as he realized how close to Bucky’s legs he was in this position. Heat emanated from Bucky’s legs and Steve watched beads of sweat dripping down Bucky’s back. Steve kept his hand still, managed to avoid lifting it and running it along Bucky’s back. He focused on the music, trying to will his heartbeat to a manageable speed.

Then Bucky looked down at Steve and flashed a momentary grin of thanks and Steve’s heart started racing again. Bucky stepped over him, pretending to emerge from the bed that would be on stage in the final production, and danced in time to the music as the other swans came back into the studio. Steve knew most of the final bit of the choreography, and scooted forward on the floor, pantomiming panic and fear as he fell to the floor, the other dancers circling around him to attack. He tried to read their expressions - did they accept him being here as a stand in for the last few minutes of the play? Or did they ignore him and dance as they would have regardless?

And then Bucky was nudging at his back and his arm, and Steve drew in a quick breath as he pretended to be beaten by the swans. He had forgotten what exactly was coming next. He forced his breathing back to a normal pattern and the music washed over him. If Bucky had heard the noise, he didn’t seem to acknowledge it. Steve, still lying on the studio floor, heard Bucky’s footsteps to the side and knew it was almost the cue to stand again. He didn’t dare catch Natasha’s eye, because he could already hear her voice chiding him about taking the opportunity to wrap himself around Bucky.

Steve stood, allowing Bucky to help him, and they met each other’s eyes for a short moment that felt like eternity to Steve as the music played so far away in the background. Steve lifted his legs and Bucky wrapped one arm around him and then another until he was holding Steve like precious cargo. If this were the actual performance, Bucky would have been shirtless, which was a very distracting thought. Thankfully, all Steve had do now was go back to the ground, lying down and playing at being mortally wounded. He curled up on the floor and listened to the footfalls of the other dancers, watched the beautiful way the men moved across the studio.

The music shifted, and he knew he had to get up again. He couldn’t remember the exact steps of the choreography, but he got to his knees. He reached for Bucky, knowing from years of theatre experience that even if he bungled the exact steps, he could still play the emotion needed for the scene. He reached as though his life depended on it, watching as Bucky reached across the floor for him, their hands separated by space neither could close.

Steve moved to the side of the stage, and another dancer was behind him, lifting him in the air and pantomiming an attack. Steve’s heart raced, thumped wildly in his chest and he remember the way Rumlow had been on his knees in a previous rehearsal, throwing his head back in agony as he watched the dancers attack Bucky. Steve mimicked what he remembered, and neither T’Challa nor Maria corrected him, so he kept going.

He stood, knowing the next part of the dance was to try again to reach Bucky. Pietro came from the right and stepped in front of him, knee up to knock him over. Steve hid his rueful grin as he twisted and fell to the floor - too bad he had real world experience on that motion. To Natasha’s great relief, it had been forever since he’d gotten into a fight, but the muscle memory remained.

He twisted and stood again, moving again towards the bed as the other swan dancers leapt across the studio.

“Ok, stop, go ahead there and stop.” T’Challa motioned to the pianist, who cut off the music, and Steve, positive his heart would never stop trying to escape his chest, waited for the berating he figured was coming. “Rogers.”

“Sir -” Steve said. It didn’t bother him that every eye was on him, but knowing that Bucky was looking at him had his heart fluttering. “I’d like to dance the part of the prince.”

T’Challa and Maria exchanged a glance.

“We can’t spare another one of our swans with Rollins gone.” Maria’s voice was quiet and Steve was sure only he and T’Challa could hear her.

“It’s a tight cast already,” T’Challa agreed, staring at Steve.

“No offense, but can we really have a prince who’s smaller than the dancer playing his younger self?” one of the swan dancers called out, and some of the people in the studio laughed at that. Steve saw Natasha glare across the room, but was unsure who had spoke out.

“I think it certainly beats not having a prince.” Bucky had appeared again at Steve’s side, and his voice was loud and confident and he was looking right at Steve. “And why the hell not Steve?” Bucky smiled at Steve and Steve wished he could just sit down for a second, just long enough to let the blood come back to his brain. Did Bucky know how disarming that smile was? “He’s talented enough. You’ve all been to class. You’ve seen him dance. I know I have.”

“Bucky.” The name was like an electric shock on Steve’s lips. Adrenaline rushed through his veins and he worked hard not to say something he’d regret. “Thank you.”

T’Challa was deep in thought, his hand against his chin. “We only have seven days.” He was speaking to himself, but Steve could pick up on a few of the words. “And I might have to change the choreography for the lifts. But it could work.” His voice a little louder, T’Challa added, “We’re going to have to rearrange the practice schedule. I hope you’re ready for some long days, Steve.” T’Challa turned to Bucky. “And you too. You’ll need to be there, of course.”

“I got it,” Bucky said with a grin.

Seven days up close and personal with the most breathtakingly gorgeous man in the company? Steve wasn’t sure what he had gotten himself into. But he smiled back up at Bucky, almost cautiously before turning his full attention to T’Challa. “I’ll do whatever it takes, T’Challa. You can count on that.”

“I will.” The hint of a smile danced on T’Challa’s lips. He nodded to the other dancers in the middle of the studio. “Swans, go ahead and take a few minutes. Everyone else, I want to run the opening scenes again, with Steve here. Let’s get used to our new prince.”

Natasha looked pleased from her spot against the wall, and Steve was almost boneless. I might never need to warm up again, he thought. The idea of him being the prince! He watched as the swan dancers spread out along the side of the studio, sipping at water bottles and stretching. Bucky was turned away from Steve, but Steve could see his expression reflected in the mirror. Bucky was smiling.

 

~~~

 

“I can’t believe you, Steve Rogers,” Natasha said as they exited the building several long hours later. “Going for the principal dancer role!” She grinned. “I would almost think you were in cahoots with Rumlow, just to get this opportunity.”

Steve grimaced. “Nat. That thought just makes me sick to my stomach. Did you see the way Bucky looked earlier?”

“Yeah,” she said as they walked along the sidewalk through the night air, heading down several blocks together. They passed all of the offices and shops closing for the day and the bars opening for the evening. “I don’t think he was expecting this at all.”

“None of us were.”  Steve barely noticed anything as they moved, his mind wrapped around Bucky and the events of the afternoon. He was lost in thought, replaying the way Rumlow had said unnatural and the way Bucky’s face had fallen. “I had thought it was weird Rumlow didn’t have his things with him, but you know how he is. Was.”

“Yeah.” Natasha repeated, sounding as tired as Steve felt. But she smiled as she turned to him. “Well, congratulations, Steve. You’d better get some rest.”

“Thanks, Nat. You have a good night,” Steve called as he turned down the sidewalk towards his own apartment, which was small and affordable with two tiny bedrooms. When he entered the living room, his roommate waved from where he sat on the couch, watching something sports related on the tv. It was fall, so it was probably football.

“Hey, man! How was the rehearsal?”

“Clint.” Steve shook his head as he plopped down onto the couch. “It was awful.” He glanced at the TV. Team red and yellow uniform was down by seventeen points. “Worse than whatever scoring disaster is going on there, that’s for sure.”

“Seems a little intense to be throwing around words like ‘awful’ and ‘disaster’ a week before you guys open, right?” Clint asked, cheering as someone from team blue and silver uniform caught a forty yard pass.

“Right.” Steve pulled out his laptop and set it up on the coffee table. He flipped it open and logged on. “You seen anything on twitter about it yet?”

Clint laughed. “Dude, why would I have looked?”

“I don’t know, but this is huge. Rumlow and Rollins both left the performance today. And the company.”

Eyebrow raised, Clint turned his full attention to Steve. “You’re kidding me.” Clint didn’t dance, but he performed in a circus group and he understood what it meant to lose someone a week before a show. Red and yellow uniform receiver caught an interception and took off running to screams from the televised audience, but neither Steve nor Clint noticed.

“Wish I was.” Steve paused. “But hey, good news. That means I got a promotion to principal dancer today.”

Clint stared for a moment and then a huge smile spread across his face. “Now I know you’re shitting me!”

Steve just grinned. “I kid you not. My name is gonna be on the programs, at the top of the program! Instead of tucked in alphabetically, which, might I remind you, is often near to last.”

“Well congratulations, Steve.” Clint raised his glass of water. “To your new role!”

“Thanks,” Steve said. “Now I think I’m going to take some ibuprofen and go to sleep before my body realizes how much work I’m going to have to do in the next few days.” He scanned his laptop for a few more moments. T’Challa had asked everyone to stay quiet about the situation until they had a better grip on it, and Steve didn’t see anything popping up in his newsfeed. For now. He closed the laptop and got up.

“Don’t forget to eat something,” Clint called behind him and Steve nodded, heading to the kitchen and poking around before finding some leftovers to reheat and inhale and head to bed.

It was going to be a long week.

 

  

 

Chapter Text

Peggy smiled at Steve. He pushed back the nervous grimace that wanted to surface and attempted a smile. Peggy’s brown curls were pulled back into a bun and her warm-up clothing was as gray as the rainy sky. They were practicing their scenes together that morning after class and Steve was quick to pick up on the choreography.

“You’re doing great,” she said when T’Challa gave them a moment. “You must have been watching the part very closely.”

Well, I was watching someone very closely. Steve caught his breath, every muscle in his body protesting as he bounced up and down for a moment to stay fluid. “Thanks. But I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.” And this is only the second day of learning the part.

“Rest when you can, don’t tense up, and drink plenty of fluids.” Before Peggy could give more advice, T’Challa was signaling to the pianist and striding back to his dancers.

“We’re going to start again from the beginning of the scene in your chambers, Steve.” T’Challa gestured for Steve to stand in the middle of the studio. “I need you to bring an intensity. So you’re standing there and -”

Steve took a deep breath, putting on his prince persona and beginning the scene, as T’Challa corrected while they danced.

“Look at her - just a moment - you turn away, good. No, but not like that. Stop, and let’s do it again.” T’Challa shook his head. “The audience isn’t going to buy she’s your mother if you look at her like a lovesick puppy.”

Peggy laughed gently from behind Steve. Steve didn’t have to turn around to know her eyes were sparkling with amusement.

“Right.” Steve considered the correction as he took his place, doing his best to rearrange his face into something with a little more longing and desperation. He decided to think about Bucky. The music restarted on T’Challa’s cue and Steve began again.

Before practice had started, T’Challa had gone over the tentative schedule for the upcoming week and Steve was already starting to worry he had finally bitten off more than he could chew. The endless individual practice sessions with the members of the cast. The corps practice in the afternoons stretching into the evenings. The full day he would spend practicing with Bucky.

The dress rehearsal two nights before the show.

“Stop,” T’Challa called out and Steve came out of his pirouette abruptly, T’Challa’s voice dragging his mind back to the present and his foot back to the ground. “Steve. You have to focus, and follow her across the stage.” T’Challa took a few steps, his arms out, demonstrating what he was looking for. “Understood?”

“Yes.” Steve nodded, taking his place yet again and forcing his thoughts away from his nerves and toward the scene he was practicing now. Peggy smiled at him again, and Steve relaxed, setting his shoulders. He would just have to take it one scene at a time.

 

~~~

 

Steve headed upstairs to the on-site physio studio for foam rolling session before his afternoon rehearsals. Natasha was already up there, finishing up her own rolling. She grimaced when she saw Steve and he cocked his head to the side, concerned.

“Did you see the news?” Natasha moved through the studio, passing by the massage table in the corner and through the open area for stretching. There were weights and machines on the other half of the space, and Sam and Pietro were over there doing bench presses. Pietro waved while spotting for Sam, and Sam grunted in a “eyes on my safety” sort of way.

“What news?” Steve hadn’t had time to see any news. He had gone to bed, woken up, gone to class, and then straight to practice with Peggy. He had been itching to check his phone, but hadn’t a moment to do so. And based on the way Natasha was shaking her head, he wasn’t sure he really wanted to know.

Natasha grabbed her bag from near the door, pulling out her phone and swiping to unlock the screen. “It’s all over twitter now. Hydra took Rumlow and Rollins as principals .” She spat the word out like a curse.

Steve nodded. He wasn’t surprised about them hiring the pair - he remembered the conversation about Rumlow hiding some recruitment papers in his bag. But to announce it like this? The week before Rumlow had been about to debut in a brand new production for Marvel? That didn’t sit well on Steve’s stomach.

“So, yeah. That’s their reward for trying to screw us over.” Natasha flung her phone in the bag and dug around for her protein shake. She gave the bottle a good shake before unclipping the top. “There’s an office statement from Hydra, but I haven’t looked at it yet.”

He couldn’t help himself - Steve pulled his phone out of his bag, wanting to lay his own eyes on the information. He followed a few links to get to the press release and began scrolling through. “Are you fucking kidding me?” He threw up his hand in the air, glaring at the screen as though it had personally offended him.

Sam and Pietro glanced over and Steve grimaced. Sam racked the weights he was using, and they came over to see what had upset Steve.

“Rumlow’s announced as a principal for Hydra.” Steve pointed to the screen.

Natasha, Sam, and Pietro crowded around his shoulders, looking down at the phone. Natasha narrowed her eyes as she read. “What the actual hell, Steve? This is ridiculous.”

Steve didn’t read the whole article, just skimmed over the headline and the bits and pieces. How the Marvel Ballet was destroying a classic and Rumlow reveals the favoritism shown by the director. He couldn’t help but roll his eyes. “People will see right through this, guys.” He paused. “Right?”

“Yes! This is practically slander in the form of a press release.” Pietro read over a few more lines. “They could have just announced him as their new principal dancer and been done with it.”

Sam grinned. “I think this piece of bullshit has given me the energy for another set of squats. So they’ve got that going for them.”

Natasha laughed at that, and Pietro and Sam went back to their weights.

Steve sighed, and headed over to the foam rollers, grabbing one from its stand by the wall, and going to the middle of the open space. “I don’t have time to think about it,” he said. “Every muscle in my body hurts and I have to be ready for practice this afternoon.”

Natasha nodded and took another sip of her shake. “You’ve got determination, Steve.” She joined him in the middle of the mats and went through a sequence of stretches, bending down to the ground. Her grin turned impish and she lowered her voice so that Steve had to lean in to hear. “So what are you going to do about your day with Bucky, hm?”

“Not so loud!” hissed Steve, glancing over to Sam and Pietro. Pietro was in the middle of his bench press as Sam kept a hand right near the bar, just in case. Neither of them turned to look at Steve and Natasha. “And I don’t know what you’re talking about. My day with the most amazingly hot dancer in the company will be great. It’ll be fine.”

“Right. If you don’t stare at him long enough for his pants to set on fire.” Natasha’s smile was innocent but Steve knew better. Nothing escaped her glance, not even his sideways glances at Bucky.

“Maybe he’ll be wearing shorts.” Steve grinned. He moved along the hard foam, letting it soothe out his sore legs in that so-painful-it’s-good way.

“I’m not sure that’ll help your problem at all.”

Steve shifted positions, and began rolling the other leg. “Just cut me while I’m down, why don’t you? First that press release and now this.” He let out a long, slow breath, trying to will his muscles to relax. They half-listened. “What the hell am I doing, Nat?”

She shrugged, moving into a long split and stretching forward. “Nothing less than what I would expect from you Steve.” She turned back toward him and winked. “You’re going to do great. Bucky will definitely notice you, and who knows. Maybe it’ll go where you want it to.”

Steve nodded, focusing on the foam roller and the soreness in his thighs. “Maybe. One thing at a time.” Did he believe in what he was saying? Right this moment, Steve couldn’t say.

 

~~~

 

The corps practiced choreography with Steve for the bar scene during the afternoon. Another scene down , Steve thought as he practiced being thrown out of the bar, landing in a heap without hurting himself. Sometimes, being a principal dancer wasn’t all that glamorous.

And one more session closer to spending time with Bucky.

That thought pulled Steve out of his bad mood from the earlier press release, as he considered how lucky he was to be able to dance opposite Bucky. The good mood lasted right up until the practice session let out and he ran into Bucky in the break room and then he began to panic. Bucky was sitting in one of the sturdy metal chairs, water and a snack in front of him. Steve stopped, planning to turn around and take a tactical retreat - he wasn’t ready to speak to Bucky on his own like this! Not when they were about to dance closer together than he’d ever been with him!

But before Steve could move, he noticed that Bucky was scowling at his phone. “What the fuck?” Bucky muttered, and that was enough for Steve to shake off his nerves, now certain he knew what Bucky was looking at.

“You saw the press release too?” Steve offered as he came through the door and, heart beating loud enough for the dancers in the studio two doors down to hear, sat down across from Bucky, who was wearing a loose white tank top. “That was the first thing I said when Nat showed me earlier today.” Steve kept his eyes on Bucky’s, determined to not stare at his exposed chest.

“It’s really something, you know?” Bucky fumed, looking down at the screen, scrolling to read every detail. “‘Fury won’t stop to consider the damage in reputation by performing this controversial piece.’ And ‘Rumlow admits he was never comfortable in the studio.’ I could spit.”

Steve nodded, listening as Bucky ranted. He had a feeling Bucky would have unloaded this on anyone who had happened to sit with him, but he pretended for a moment that Bucky was sharing his frustration because he trusted him. Steve studied Bucky’s face, the stormy gray eyes and furrowed brow, and his more inappropriate thoughts asked if Bucky might take that passion to the bedroom. Steve felt his cheeks flush, but it didn’t look like Bucky noticed.

“I would have considered Rumlow a friend.” Bucky stared across the room at nothing before refocusing on Steve. “I’m sorry, Steve. I’m being a little overdramatic right now.”

“When Rumlow left practice yesterday, I felt like punching him. That’s a little overdramatic too, right?” Steve tried a comforting smile, but Bucky was already back to his frustrations.

“I just thought he and I had something, you know?” Bucky sighed, almost deflating at the table, and Steve bit back anything else he was going to say as Bucky’s words stabbed him like a knife to the stomach. Bucky had wanted Rumlow ? That’s what he just said, right?

Steve could not compete with Rumlow. Rumlow, jackass that he revealed himself to be, was sinewy muscle and compact, terrible strength. Granted, he didn’t tower over Steve like some of the other dancers did, but he was a perfectly average and acceptable height. And his dark hair and dangerous amber eyes completed a look that Steve could never compare to.

“Felt like I could tell him anything and he’d be there for me. Thought we were friends,” Bucky was saying, and Steve snapped back to reality, back to staring at Bucky’s gorgeous face. He could almost dance right there. Bucky said the word friends. Crisis averted!

“I’m sorry. That had to have been a slap in the face.” His heart, thankfully, had started to calm as they talked, but then Bucky took a sip of his water, his lips wrapping around the cup and Steve was gone again.

“Enough about my gloom,” Bucky said, closing his eyes just a little as though to clear his mind. When he opened them again, he met Steve’s eyes, and leaned forward. “I can’t believe what you did yesterday.”

Steve grinned, but with too much teeth, preparing to hear Bucky tell him that what he did was ridiculous and outlandish and that he should have let T’Challa pick a new principal for the part.

“You picked right up where he left off. I’m very impressed.”

“Thanks,” Steve managed as he realized that Bucky was giving him a compliment. He realized the room was so warm all of a sudden, just really way too warm. He needed to take off his sweatshirt. Would Bucky think he was trying to seduce him? Get a grip, Rogers. You can take it off and it’s not weird. People take their sweatshirts off when they are warm all the time. He shrugged out of the sweatshirt and draped it on the chair back.

He almost swore he saw Bucky’s eyes lingering on his body. Now he knew his mind was playing tricks on him.

“It’s no secret I’ve wished I could dance as a principal for, well, years now.” Steve tugged at the hem of his tank top and smiled. “I couldn’t let a chance like this pass me by.” He paused, trying to consider his words, but they tumbled out before he could stop himself. “And it just seemed unfair that anyone’d give up a chance to partner you!”

“I know, right?” Bucky said, mock indignant. But then he scowled again, the storm settling back in his eyes, and Steve frowned, wishing he could keep those thoughts from bubbling up. He settled for taking a sip of water and watching Bucky’s lips. After a minute, Bucky spoke again. “Well, I’ve got to get going, anyhow. Getting a massage tonight, so I’ll be set for our practice tomorrow.”

Bucky stood up with a playful wink, pushing the chair back under the table, grabbing his stuff and leaving with a wave and a smile.

“See you tomorrow,” Steve said, ducking his head to hide his reddening cheeks. He shook his head - he was totally out of his league.

“There you are!”

A female voice, most definitely not Bucky’s, called out and Steve saw Darcy Lewis standing in the doorway of the break room, hands on her hips and her dark hair pulled back with a pencil through the knot.

“Here I am?” Steve looked around to make sure there was no one else in the room.

“I have been trying to get people to send you my way since about, oh, eight this morning.” Darcy sighed. “And here I am, stepping away from my work to hunt you down myself. ‘He’s at practice’ this and ‘he’s still at practice’ that. Well, if they want you to be clothed when you perform this weekend, they need to let me see how the costume fits.”

“I would certainly prefer not to debut naked.” Steve stood up and followed Darcy out of the break room.

“I don’t think anyone would complain, love.” Darcy laughed.

Steve blushed as they went down the hall to the staircase, and headed to the bottom floor of the building. Darcy’s costume room fit in between other offices, a space filled with tables piled high with fabric and dotted with sewing machines.

Darcy bustled around, pulling out the prince costumes and bringing them over. “My hope is that I can just take these in a little and call it a day, but - except for the danged uniforms - everything is fairly simple if I have to start from scratch.” She handed him his costumes on hangers and waved him to the corner with a curtain for privacy and off Steve went to try on the first one.

It was, as expected, long and baggy and made him feel like he was playing dress-up in his father’s closet. But Darcy didn’t seem distressed. She took a few measurements, put in a few pins for reference and nodded to herself. “Doesn’t look like you’ll have to be naked, after all.”

“Well, that’s a relief.” Steve headed over to the curtain to put on the next costume for the same treatment. “I don’t think Bucky’d appreciate having to lift me up with my junk in his face.” And then he winced, because he realized he had said that last bit out loud, and Darcy could certainly hear him behind the curtain.

She didn’t laugh at him, though he did hear her choke on some water. “I don’t think he’d mind that either, Steve. Give yourself some credit.”

Steve came out from behind the curtain and stood on the podium to let Darcy pin and measure. “I need to go home and get some sleep. I keep saying the first thing that comes to mind, and it’s going to get me in trouble.”

“So, you’re sweet on Bucky, hm?” Darcy asked around a mouthful of pins. Steve was impressed that none of them dropped and more impressed that he could understand her perfectly.

“Ugh,” was his eloquent response. “At this rate, everyone except him is going to know that I have a crush on him.”

“Everyone except him has a crush on him,” Darcy corrected with a laugh. One of her pins dropped to the floor. “And who knows, maybe he looks in a mirror when he -”

“Darcy!” Steve knew his cheeks were red again. “So inappropriate.” He mock scolded, but he had spent his fair share of time in Darcy’s care and knew what to expect. It was almost a relief, really, to know that someone thought Bucky might be interested in him. Besides Nat, of course, who was one of his best friends and probably required by law to be supportive in matters of the heart.

“Next costume,” Darcy said after a few more minutes of pinning. Steve complied, changed, and Darcy made her last set of measurements with a deft hand. “It looks like I’ll have the easier job of the two of us this week. I’ll have these ready for you for the dress rehearsal.”

“Thanks, Darcy.” Steve headed back behind the curtain to put his own clothes on. “And I feel like I need to be on the safe side here and spell it out that I haven’t said anything yet to him. Please don’t tell him.”

When he came out from the curtain, Darcy was already pulling thread from one of her many sets of plastic drawers on one of her several tables in the crowded room. She looked at him and nodded. “You know I can keep a secret.” She paused. “Well, except for that one time. But I said I was sorry!”

Steve nodded. “I know. Thanks for a lovely visit as always, Darcy.” He waved and headed off, ready to head home for the day.

Natasha caught him around the corner. “Oh, good, Darcy got a hold of you. She was waiting all day for you to have a free moment. I told her those were in rather short supply for you right now.”

“Just a little. But she got what she needed, so it’s all good.” Steve walked step in step with Natasha and they left the building, heading down the couple of blocks that they walked together on their way home. “Darcy more or less pried out the fact that I’m interested in Bucky.”

“Yeah?”

Steve didn’t have to look at Natasha to see her knowing grin. “Yeah. I might have said something about my junk in his face.”

Natasha stopped on the sidewalk, laughing and ignoring the dirty look other people gave them as they moved around them. “You gotta get some sleep, or you’re going to be saying that to the man himself tomorrow.” Natasha gave him a quick hug as they parted for the evening. “Rest up. You’ve got a busy day ahead.”

“And the day after, and the day after,” Steve replied. “See you tomorrow.”

He was thankful Clint was still at circus practice when he got home, because all of the talk about Bucky and being naked had certain parts of his anatomy begging for some attention, and a shower without small talk beforehand sounded really nice right about now.

As Steve stood in the shower, warm water washing over him and his thoughts of Bucky, he couldn’t help but replay the events of the day. Had Bucky been checking him out when they talked earlier? Steve decided to pretend like he had, imagining them kissing - and a bit more. As he rinsed off, he hoped his little fantasy today would help him stay professional when he was dancing with Bucky tomorrow.

Or it would make things worse. He’d just have to find out.

 

 

Chapter Text

Steve wiped sweat off of his face as he stood listening to T’Challa direct his steps. Next to him, Bucky was nodding in agreement with T’Challa’s suggestions.

T’Challa nodded to the pianist, and the familiar bars of Tchaikovsky’s composition filled studio A. Steve counted in his head as Bucky began the first part of the dance, jumping into the air with a burst of power, and Steve following behind with his best effort to match the height of Bucky’s leap.

“Much better,” T’Challa called out as they moved into the next part of the choreography.

There was no time for a satisfied smile - Steve had to keep in step with Bucky for the next four measures of music. He landed lightly on his foot, getting into position as Bucky turned and came back toward him, leaping up in time to the swell of the music.

“Let’s stop there.”

Steve frowned - he had an idea what had caused T’Challa to stop them this time. Bucky came back to the ground with a soft step, turning towards T’Challa, catching his breath as he waited for the correction.

“The problem we’re running into is this lift.” T’Challa motioned Bucky forward. “I’ll demonstrate what I want to see again.”

Bucky headed to the side of the studio, dancing into the lead up. He took a powerful leap into the air as Steve watched in awe. T’Challa supported him with ease, extending Bucky’s time in the air. “There. See, we want to get the height.”

“Right,” Steve said, setting his face in neutral to keep from betraying his exhaustion. Practicing their dances together from act two had taken up the first hour of their rehearsal. In another hour, the rest of the corps would arrive to practice the full act.

But Steve couldn’t do all of the lifts. The first few had been ok; he knew how to shift his weight and how to balance and assist Bucky, but the last ones were messing him up. Steve took a deep breath, trying to watch T’Challa and figure out how to emulate the motion, how to substitute sheer strength of will for their difference in height.

Sweat was soaking through Bucky’s t-shirt. He was just inches away from Steve, and it was a testament to Steve’s frustration that he couldn’t even spare a moment for a lewd thought.

Ok, get into position.

T’Challa counted the steps. “Five, six, seven, and -”

Move forward, arms out, step back, match his height, and -

Fuck.

Bucky stumbled, about to hit the ground as Steve tried to reach up a little higher and missed the timing, sending Bucky sprawling. He caught his balance at the last moment, avoiding a clash with the floor. “Good thing the ground was there to catch me,” he joked, but Steve couldn’t find the humor in the situation.

“Sorry.” Steve stared at the ground, half hoping it would swallow him up. This role was such a mistake, and he was risking injuring Bucky if he couldn’t do the lift right.

Bucky stood up, turned, and put his hand on Steve’s chin. He brought Steve’s gaze up gently so that they were eye to eye. “There’s nothing to apologize about,” he said, and Steve’s heart might have stopped for a beat, skin on fire where Bucky’s fingers had grazed. “We can all tell you’re trying your hardest.”

T’Challa said something from behind Bucky, but Steve’s ears were pounding, his face burning. At least he could blame the blush on the effort of practice.

“I am trying.” Steve couldn’t take his eyes off of Bucky’s. He was so damned earnest. “But you might deserve better than what I’m -”

“Steve.” T’Challa’s voice was firm. “You will continue to try your hardest and we will make this choreography work, even if I have to alter it to better fit the dynamic between you two.”

His brand new choreography, and I’m the one messing it up. Steve swallowed, and nodded, and tried to look confident. Then he thought about the press release they had read yesterday, and he set his shoulders, a little more resolved. I can’t let Hydra win.

“Let’s try it again.” He was shocked by how calm he sounded.

“Reach like you normally would,” Bucky said as they got in position. “It threw me off balance last time when you tried to go higher.”

Steve nodded again, and steadied himself, planting his feet on the floor of the studio, trying to imagine himself as a tree - strong and sturdy, and able to yield as needed. The music started up again, T’Challa counted down the steps, and Steve stumbled through the lift, Bucky catching himself once again and landing harder than he should have.

The music stopped at T’Challa’s signal, and Steve huffed. Bucky rubbed at his shoulder as he walked back over toward Steve.

“We will come back to this part. I will think on what to do here.” T’Challa’s voice was unreadable, and Steve assumed frustration and annoyance at not being able to achieve his vision. He pushed the guilt down, and got ready to start the next set of steps.

 

~~~

 

The rest of the swans filed in some thirty minutes later so that Steve could become familiar with the full blocking of the second act. T’Challa directed everyone around effortlessly, and Steve was thankful that he omitted the parts that he was struggling with, skipping over them as though they had already perfected it.

After practice ended, Steve slumped down against the wall, drinking water and fantasizing about taking a nap. Maybe taking a nap and waking up in a couple of months from now, when all of this was done and over and he could go back to dancing in the roles he was suited for. He even got as far as closing his eyes when someone sat down next to him, a warm presence on his left side.

Steve opened his eyes to see Bucky cross-legged, peering at him curiously. “Taking a nap already?”

“It’s been a long day.” Steve leaned his head on the wall and looked up. “Any other choreographer would have been yelling at me for messing those steps up.” Bucky was only inches away from him, and leaning in. Steve’s heart responded immediately, and he had to keep from biting at his lip.

“Eh.” Bucky seemed so nonchalant, so comfortable next to Steve. And now that practice was over and T’Challa was out of the room, Steve was back to breathless every time Bucky brushed against him, even if it was only accidental.

There goes my professionalism.

“He sees the effort you put in, and if I had to guess, he’d rather see us open with something slightly different than push off the opening. Can you imagine the stories that would come out then?”

“Yeah. You’re right.” Steve closed his eyes again, figuring it was better than staring. And staring was inevitable because Bucky still had a soft sheen of sweat on his back and shoulders highlighting every muscle like an invitation. Steve wanted to run his hands down those arms. It was starting to feel like this might be the reason why Steve had chosen loose sweats earlier in the morning.

“It’s one set of lifts in a two hour performance,” Bucky continued as Steve’s brain helpfully considered how gorgeous Bucky would be naked, covered in sweat and close to coming. “And, not to toot my own horn, but we look spectacular when I’m doing my lifts for you.”

But do you look in the mirror when you jerk off?

Steve cut off his thoughts as quickly as he could lest he open his mouth and let them come spilling out.

“-could send you flying if that’s what he wanted,” Bucky was saying. “And that would be just as impressive looking. I might suggest it. I mean, if we can’t make it work how it is right now.”

“I want to make it work,” Steve said. And if I can’t, maybe I should step down for someone who can.

“Alright Steve. We’ll make it work.” Bucky grinned at him, confident and sure, and Steve felt like shrinking into nothingness. Of course, he couldn’t do that, so he settled for smiling back. It felt good to have someone believe in him.

 

~~~

 

“Bucky was all over you in rehearsal,” Natasha noted around a mouthful of almonds. She and Steve were finishing lunch together in the break room. With just a few more minutes until the next set of rehearsals, the others had gotten up to get ready and they were cutting it close by having this discussion.

“It’s kind of how the choreography goes.” Steve tried to be nonchalant, even as his mind helpfully supplied him a reminder of just how many times they had been on each other. “I wouldn’t read much into it.”

“Hmmm,” was all Natasha said as she finished chewing. “But it was more than that. It was in the way he touched you when he didn’t have to.”

“He’s friendly with everyone.” Steve could almost feel Bucky’s hand against his chest, the slow, careful movement at the beginning of their dance together. Nothing but a professional and tender touch that left Steve breathless.

“Not like that, Steve.”

Steve shrugged. “Look. He all but told me yesterday that he was interested in Rumlow.”

“Really?” That had Natasha sitting forward, leaning in, and looking around the room as if now she was concerned someone else might be listening.

“He was just really upset about it.” Steve wanted to go track Rumlow down and punch him on Bucky’s behalf for causing Bucky so much pain, but he settled for fuming at his cup as though his glare could be transmitted through the liquid. “With that press release and all.”

“Yeah. I wonder if Director Fury is planning on any sort of response. It’s not his style to stay silent.”

“We’ve never had this situation before, though.” Steve finished the last of his lunch, gathering up his things to put away. “He’s so different from when Erskine was director, you know?”

“Hey, Steve -”

Natasha and Steve turned to look at the door. Sam had poked his head in, and was waving to Steve. “They’ve got a photographer in studio A looking for you. T’Challa said to join the rehearsal as soon as you’re done.”

“A photographer?” Steve glanced at Natasha, who raised an eyebrow.

“Looks like you’re going to be in an article.” Natasha stood up, putting the rest of her snack into her ballet bag. “Remember to refrain from baring your claws.”

“I’ll do my best.” Steve grinned to cover the sudden sensation of the floor falling out beneath him. He wanted to focus on dancing, not popularity and pictures. But he knew there was already speculation and talk about him taking the role of the prince online, and it would be better for him to have some control over what was out there.

“Real cute photographer,” Sam was saying to Natasha as the two of them headed out of the room and to the right, towards studio C.

Steve steeled his shoulders and headed towards studio A. If being a symbol against the Hydra Ballet Company was what they wanted him to do, he could do that.

Except when he pushed open the studio door and headed inside, it wasn’t just the photographer. Bucky was there too, in costume, sitting across from the photographer and chatting. In costume meant he was shirtless with just a pair of feathered white pants. His hair was pulled back in a flawless bun, and his dark eyeliner and mascara ensured every eye in the room was on him. He waved as Steve came through the doors.

“Steve, long time no see.” Bucky laughed a little at his joke, and gestured to a pile of neatly folded white clothes and then the photographer. “Darcy dropped off your costume, and I was just talking to Scott here about his plans for highlighting your best moves.”

The photographer nodded. With tousled brown hair and bright eyes, he was definitely up Sam’s alley. “It’s nice to meet you. Scott Lang, freelance photographer.” He held out his hand and Steve took it, shaking twice. Scott went for the third shake and then glanced down at their hands. “Sorry! It’s just so exciting to get this assignment. A brand new choreography of Swan Lake? A rival ballet company trying to undermine you guys? And I’m right here in the middle of it!”

Bucky glanced at Steve as if to say, isn’t this guy something else? But he was smiling, and Steve had a feeling Bucky appreciated Scott’s enthusiasm. Steve appreciated Bucky’s make up, the dark color contrasting his bright eyes. He tried not to stare, had to try again, finally succeeded, and turned his attention back to Scott.

“It’s good to meet you too,” Steve said, hoping the deep breath he took to steady his nerves was subtle. He grabbed his costume and headed over to the changing room just off of the studio to do a quick outfit swap. Darcy had nailed the alterations. The pants were white with just a hint of blue, and the white shirt and white suspenders fit perfectly, as did the soft brown boots. Steve smiled when he stepped out and saw himself in the mirror looking ready for a performance.

“So we’re going to be getting a couple of shots for the new posters, the programs, and they want to do an article.” Scott shifted into business mode, focusing on unpacking the last bit of his equipment as he talked. “I’m going to get some shots here, and I’ll hang around for your practice to get some action shots as well. Just pretend like I’m not here.” Scott paused. “I mean, except for when I need you to do something, of course.”

Scott grabbed his camera and waved his hand at the two of them. Bucky correctly interpreted the motion to mean go to the middle of the studio and Steve followed. He swore he could smell Bucky’s shampoo even though he was three feet away. It smelled like lavender and Steve wanted to wrap himself up in it.

He settled for standing next to Bucky as the two looked at Scott for further instruction. Scott looked at them through his camera, and then went to his lighting equipment, making a few adjustments.

“Ok. I need a couple of poses, the two of you together, of course. Then I’ll get some separate shots.”

Steve turned to look at Bucky, doing his best to avoid losing himself in Bucky’s eyes. It was hard with the way he was looking at Steve as though he was the most important person in the room. But that was just the way Bucky looked at people. Right?

“Here, like this,” Bucky said, putting an arm around Steve’s shoulders and positioning him so that he was standing in a lunge, his back towards Bucky. “Reach down and back toward my leg,” Bucky added, as he pressed up against Steve, their legs and backsides pressing together.

Steve’s breath caught - there was no way to hide it with Bucky so close to him, but he did his best to pretend he hadn’t done anything weird, and Bucky didn’t say anything. Steve reached with his arm, arching his back just a little, until his hand touched Bucky’s thigh. He felt Bucky lift one leg up and wrap it behind Steve, resting his calf along Steve’s thigh. Then Bucky stretched out his arms, reaching out behind him towards Steve and they stood together in a beautiful balance.

Steve was glad to see Scott look momentarily stunned, because he was drowning with Bucky’s legs and weight pressed so perfectly against him. His heart started racing as his body sounded the alarm that a gorgeous, half-naked man was wrapped around him.

Scott blinked and then looked down at his camera as though remembering what he was there for. “That’s perfect,” he said, finding his voice. “Steve, just bring your shoulders back a touch and look this way. Bucky, if you can lower your left arm about an inch, yes, right there.” Scott raised his camera and snapped several shots in quick succession before nodding, pleased with what they had done so far.

He directed them through a few other poses, at one point producing a black box for Steve to sit on. He had Steve sit with his arms out, looking back towards Bucky, who stood behind him, arms stretched out in his signature swan dive.

“Tilt your head back just a bit,” Scott requested, and Steve did, his head resting on the smooth expanse of Bucky’s chest. He could hear Bucky’s heartbeat, strong and maybe even a little fast. Overwhelmed, Steve closed his eyes for a moment.

The camera clicked, shot after shot, and Steve opened his eyes, his gaze lingering on the scar that spanned Bucky’s left shoulder. That scar was a reminder of the accident Bucky had been in over five years ago, a car wreck that had landed him in the hospital. No one had thought Bucky would be back to dance after that accident, but here he was.

“You guys are perfect together.”

Steve agreed with Scott, even if it was just in his dreams. Scott played with the angle of the shot for a few more moments and then nodded. “Let’s go through some of the lifts together, if you don’t mind?”

Bucky nodded, and over the next ten minutes, Steve floated through the air with him. This was so much better than practice had gone - when timing didn’t matter so much, there was no set choreography, and the two of them could get a feel for each other, literally, their bodies pressed up against each other for several minutes.

It left Steve breathless, and he could only hope that maybe Bucky felt similarly.

“You guys, these are going to be some of the best shots of my career. Wow.” Scott grinned as he clicked on the back of his camera, reviewing some of the pictures he had taken. He glanced at his watch, and winced. “Ok, but let me get you to your rehearsal now. T’Challa was, uh, very specific that I don’t keep you guys for too long.”

That sounded like T’Challa, and Steve turned to share a glance with Bucky. But Bucky was looking very serious about something, and by the time he looked up at Steve, the moment had passed. Steve felt a sudden slight chill, and he wondered if he had done something to upset Bucky somehow.

Then Bucky seemed to shake whatever was bothering him off, and he smiled at Scott. “We don’t want to risk having T’Challa tear you to pieces, so let’s go.” To Steve, he added, “guess we’ll get to practice in costume today, see how that feels a little.”

Steve just nodded, as they headed toward the doors of the studio.

Scott called out as they were leaving. “Oh, hey, and don’t leave after you guys are done with practice. My friend Luis will be interviewing you two for the article.”

“Our own article. Nice.” Bucky wasn’t running to studio C, but he wasn’t taking his time either. T’Challa had that effect on people. Steve abandoned all pretense of being able to lengthen his stride any more and broke into a light jog down the hall after Bucky, who seemed determined. “And it’s good. People deserve to hear the truth.”

Steve nodded as he slowed to a stop, letting Bucky open the studio doors in front of him, and the two of them headed inside. Steve took a moment, noticing the way everyone turned to look at the two of them, coming in in their costumes. Peggy and Sharon were smiling, Sam broke out into a grin, Wanda brightened and Pietro even clapped when they came in the room.

It warmed Steve’s heart and gave him a buzz of energy to see how they were bringing comfort to everyone, right until he remembered that he couldn’t dance the whole show yet and he was just lifting them up to let them crash down.

His feet felt heavy then, but he forced himself to move, to smile, to be a symbol of hope for his castmates.

T’Challa looked over at them, a small smile on his lips and a slow nod of approval. “The costumes look good. You two look prepared. Let’s put that to the test.”

The next few hours were tough as they went through some of the scenes that Steve had not fully learned yet. But the air of excitement and the camaraderie as everyone worked together had him committed to learning as much as he could during the session.

At the end of the practice, T’Challa was still smiling. “I’m very pleased with the progress we are making with the show. Go home, get some sleep, and show up tomorrow ready to keep this momentum going.”

Sweating and gulping down some water, Steve wanted nothing more than to change out of his costume and head home for the evening. But then Bucky waved to him from across the studio and gestured to the doors, where a shorter man with dark hair and a goatee was waiting.

Right, interview. Steve hustled over, figuring the sooner they got this over with, the sooner he could get some sleep. And if while he was sleeping, his body somehow figured out how to dance the rest of the show without problems, that would be great too.

“Luis, guys, it’s good to meet you both.” Luis stuck out his hand, and after a good handshake, the three of them headed downstairs to one of the small offices. “Fury gave me permission to use this little place here, he was all like ‘don’t mess it up, though’ and I told him there was nothing to worry about, I always put everything back in place when I’m done. You’d never know I was there.”

They sat down in Maria Hill’s office, the space decorated with a few pictures highlighting her career with principal roles in the Nutcracker and Swan Lake and more than a few other classics. Luis plopped down behind her desk as though he belonged there, and Steve and Bucky sat down in chairs next to each other.

“Fury wants me to get to the point, to really highlight what you guys are up against and what you’re doing to prepare.” Luis laced his fingers behind his head and leaned back. “Now, I’m thinking you guys will start by telling me a little bit about the scumbag who left the company. Just what you’re thinking about. Off the record, of course, before we get started.”

Steve looked at Bucky, figuring he’d follow his lead. Even though Luis didn’t say Rumlow’s name, Bucky reacted just the same - glaring at the thought and looking like he might have been sucker punched.

“The guy made a really bad decision.” Bucky crossed his arms in front of his still bare chest. Not that Steve was staring. That much.

“He was the kind of guy we all got along with ok, but looking back, I wonder if he ever really shared a personal detail with any of us,” Steve said as he searched back in his memory. “Like, it hurt, because he kept it quiet until it happened and who knows how long he was planning this.”

Bucky turned toward Steve. “He had told me about his mom, you know. That she had some medical issues and he was worried for her, but that he thought she would pull through. That she’d been through worse.”

Luis nodded, but didn’t say anything. Steve wondered how close Bucky and Rumlow had been. When the silence stretched on for several more seconds, and it became clear that Bucky wasn’t going to say anything else, Luis spoke up again. “I’m sorry man.” He pulled out a pad of paper and a pen. “I like to take notes old school, hope you guys don’t mind.”

They spent the next few minutes talking about the ballet itself, about T’Challa and his choreography, about the dedication of the other castmates.

“I’m not gonna sugarcoat it,” Luis said, nodding to Steve. “People are talking about Steve Rogers, the unknown principal. Wondering if you’re going to rise up to the role or if you’re just a placeholder until they get someone else.”

Even though Steve knew it was the truth, that they were waiting on visas from other dancers,  he still winced. He opened his mouth to say something, but heard Bucky’s voice instead. “Steve is one of the most hardworking members of our company. He works just as hard for a ‘minor’ role as he does for some of his bigger roles. I don’t understand why people have a hard time accepting that he’s going to be great in this role.”

Letting out a breath, Steve smiled gratefully at Bucky. “Thanks, Bucky. It’s definitely an honor to be dancing opposite you.” To Luis, he added, “People like to look for something or someone to tear down, and if they want that to be me, well... they’re going to have to come to the show and see for themselves. We will not fail.” I will not fail.

Luis’s pen was moving across the paper. “The chemistry between the two of you is undeniable,” he continued, as though that statement wasn’t making Steve’s cheeks heat up. “Watching during practice, I saw you each anticipate and react to each other as though you’d been partnering each other in several pieces already. I think the audience will be delighted to see that themselves.”

Bucky’s cheeks were red too, right? In the relatively dim light of the office, it was hard to say for sure, but Steve swore he saw it. “Thank you,” Steve said to Luis. “It means a lot to hear that, seeing as we’ve only had a few chances to practice together so far. We’ll be together a lot this week, ironing out bits and pieces.”

“And Steve and I have been dancing together for years, now,” Bucky added. “Just never like this.”

Steve smiled. “That’s true. We’ve been together in the company for five years now.” He thought about all of the pieces they had been in together, but they’d never really had the opportunity to work together like this.

Luis nodded, writing a few more notes, glancing over what he had written and then standing up. “I think I can really work with this. Thanks for a wonderful interview. Fury wants something by tomorrow afternoon, so I appreciate you guys making my life easier.”

“Any time,” Bucky said, shaking Luis’s hand again, and Steve did the same. Luis headed out of the office, presumably to head home and start writing. Steve looked down at himself and remembered he had to change.

“I’ve still got my clothes in the studio,” Steve said as they walked up the stairs together.

“Me too. I’ll go over with you.”

They walked in comfortable silence, Steve pondering the responses Bucky had given during the interview and remembering the way they had been skin to skin just several short hours ago. Maybe the silence wasn’t comfortable, after all. Steve didn’t want Bucky to see his blush or the threatened erection as his mind played the moments over and over.

“It sounds like Rumlow was closer to you than any of us,” Steve blurted out, an attempt to derail his current thought pattern. Then he clapped a hand to his mouth. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t talk about him.”

Bucky sighed. “It’s alright, Steve. I know you mean well. And I guess it’s true.” He went silent again, and Steve didn’t push it. They headed into the studio, grabbing their clothes and using the little changing room, both of them well versed in fast costume changes with others around. Steve fantasized for a moment that they would turn around, their eyes meeting and sparking a kiss, but he doubted Bucky felt the same.

“It’s just that, yeah, I did think we were close.” Bucky started to talk again, out of nowhere, and Steve did his best to listen and not look. “And he didn’t say a word about Hydra to me. So I guess we weren’t as close as I thought.”

Steve pulled on his shirt and his sweatshirt, and straightened his jeans. “Everyone’s got their reasons, right? Maybe he couldn’t tell you, because you were the one person he didn’t want to hurt.” The words tumbled out of his mouth and he wanted to take them back, because now it sounded like he was defending Brock Rumlow. But he couldn’t stand to see Bucky looking so upset and if it meant defending Rumlow, then here he was.

“Well, he fucked that up the moment he told me the male swans were unnatural.” Bucky spoke with so much force in his voice that Steve shivered, his brain helpfully making a note that Bucky might sound like that during sex. “If he thought for a minute that I would agree with that -”

Steve nodded. “I hear you.” He tried for some lighthearted humor, gesturing to Bucky’s costume on the bench. “Besides, those feathers seem perfectly natural to me.”

Bucky pulled a face, but he was smiling, and Steve counted it as a win. Bucky had put on his pants and a long sleeved henley, the buttons undone and showing off part of his chest. Somehow, that was just a sexy as him being shirtless. Steve wanted to put his hand on that chest, run his fingers down, wrap his arms around the small of Bucky’s back and bring him closer.

He didn’t. He wanted to, but Bucky wasn’t sending any signals and he couldn’t risk messing up, not now, not with a major performance days away. He couldn’t help the small sigh that escaped, and Bucky noticed.

“Hey, it’s alright, Steve. I promise I’m over it. Sometimes my brain and my heart don’t agree about that, but I’m getting there.”

Steve let Bucky think the sigh had been about bringing up Rumlow. The two of them left the changing room, heading out of the building and in their separate directions for their apartments. Bucky seemed to linger a moment before saying good night, and Steve wanted so badly to reach up on tip-toe, put his hands on Bucky’s face, and bring their lips together.

He didn’t. He said “good night,” and “see you tomorrow!” and waved. And then he headed home, hands in his pockets and thoughtful.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The crisp, beautiful smell of coffee lured Steve out of his warm bed the next morning. He ambled into the kitchen still in pajama pants and a t shirt, and Clint laughed with a satisfied smile on his face.

“I knew I’d get you with this blend.” He handed Steve a mug and took a sip from his own. “Was starting to think that this was it, that you were going to skip out on all your friends this morning.”

Steve groaned, not wanting to acknowledge the time. There would be no enjoying the cup of coffee - it would have to be a caffeine injection. He gulped down the warm liquid.

“It’s good,” he said, the words forming without much enthusiasm behind them. Somewhere around midnight, his brain had reminded him that he was supposed to dance the full dress rehearsal in just two days, and the resulting panic had kept him awake for longer than he wanted.

“I made you a thermos.” Clint gestured to the silver travel cup on the counter. Next to it was a big blueberry muffin.

“Clint, you are a fucking lifesaver.” Steve’s grin was genuine now as he finished his cup of coffee, feeling a little more alive, if not awake.

With a shrug, Clint turned his attention to his own coffee again. “Figured you’re trying to kill yourself for the position and I might as well take care of you a little.”

“I’m gonna have to do something for you,” Steve said. His brain wasn’t quite out of his morning fog, but the show of support brought him close. “I’ll buy you dinner next week. And you can be my plus one to the cast party after the production is done.”

“Sounds like a plan. Now go get dressed, unless you’re walking to work in those lovely pajamas.”

Steve looked at himself, then looked at the time. Cursing, he got up and ran to his room to change in a whirlwind of motion. Backstage costume changes had honed that skill, at least. Three minutes later, teeth brushed and hair combed with his fingers, he was out the door, clutching coffee and muffin to his chest.

“Morning, Steve!” Natasha’s smile felt too bright for the time of the morning, but that was just Natasha, and it wasn’t her fault he had slept in. “I thought I was going to be the last one there this morning.”

“Couldn’t sleep last night.” Steve swallowed a mouthful of muffin. “Thank god for good roommates - he made me breakfast and coffee to go.”

“Nice. Maybe I need to get a roommate,” Natasha said. She frowned. “I missed my alarm this morning.”

They hurried down the sidewalk against the chill of the morning, making it to the studio with minutes to spare, getting into position for class as Maria arched an eyebrow at them. Not technically late, but close enough to it.

The pianist began to play, Maria called out the warm ups, and Steve lost himself in class. He focused on following directions and moving, almost able to forget about the rehearsals that were coming up next as he concentrated on moving his body with precision and care. As always, Maria directed their movements in series that helped focus their attention on the dances they would be practicing for rehearsal later. By the time class ended, Steve was sweating but content, certain he was as warmed up as he could be.

Natasha grabbed her bag, slinging it over her shoulder. “See you for lunch?” she asked as she headed off to studio B for her rehearsal with the corps.

“Sounds like a plan to me.” Steve took his bag and headed to the smaller studio A, where he’d be practicing with Bucky the rest of the morning.

Bucky was already stretching alongside the mirrors as T’Challa talked in the corner with Maria. Steve heard Thor’s name mentioned and couldn’t help but wonder if they were working on that expedited visa so he would be replaced sooner rather than later. He didn’t quite know how that made him feel, so he just went to the side of the studio and started running through a few sequences of his own to stay warm.

He kept his eyes to himself, lest he start staring at the mirror image of Bucky, leg stretched out long behind him, muscles moving with control and grace. Steve remembered how Bucky had pressed against him for the pictures yesterday and he stumbled on his step, drawing a glance from T’Challa. Fuck . Steve knew he had to pull on his professional facade, but it had been a lot easier before Bucky had been half naked and wrapped around him, even if it was just for a photoshoot.

Maria finished whatever she was saying, and T’Challa nodded before coming over to Steve and Bucky. “I’ve pulled Maria from her class, and I’ve explained the areas we are having trouble with. First, let’s go through the parts that are coming together well.” He indicated the scene and position to start, and Bucky and Steve began to practice, skipping over their final lift in their last pas de deux.

“Ok, let’s stop here,” Maria called out as they started up on their next section of the dance. She walked up to Steve. “You’re about half a beat behind Bucky by this point. You have to cover the same distance, so why don’t you try pushing off a little harder on your left leg to compensate. Let’s go again.”

Steve nodded as the music started up again and he made the correction.

“Good.” It sounded like Maria smiled, but Steve was too focused on his part to confirm it with a glance. He liked her straightforward corrections.

“Stop.” Maria halted the music again and Bucky and Steve stood, catching their breath and letting Maria explain what she wanted differently.

He liked her corrections, but she was very thorough.

They practiced for a while longer, and then T’Challa gave them a five minute break. Steve headed to his water bottle against the wall, and Bucky grabbed his own water and a towel, wiping down his neck.

“You’re doing really good today, Steve,” Bucky said as they stood together.

Steve moved his hips side to side to stay warm for the lifts that they were about to practice. “Gotta catch up to you.” Steve was watching Maria and T’Challa talking across the studio, wishing he could hear their conversation. He was pretty sure they were pleased with his progress, but with only four days to go, he wasn’t sure it was going to be enough.

Bucky grabbed the barre against the wall, using it to stretch out his lower back and then his legs. “I’ve had just a few more weeks of practice. So you have to give yourself some credit.”

Steve nodded, but his heart wasn’t in the motion. Bucky was an established principal dancer who had headlined many programs. Maybe he forgot how nerve wracking his first time was.

“I know they say the trick is to imagine the audience naked.” Bucky was whispering in a conspiratorial tone, low and quiet, and Steve leaned in to hear. “But I’ve always liked to imagine I’m naked, like one of those dreams where everyone is staring.”

Steve’s eyes went wide and he blinked up at Bucky. Was he really hearing this? “Are you serious?” He couldn’t quite keep his voice down. T’Challa looked over but didn’t say anything and then went back to his conversation with Maria.

Bucky laughed. “Well, sure, why not? If they’re all focused on me naked, no one is judging my dancing.”

Several replies danced on Steve’s lips, but he bit them back, settling for shaking his head and laughing. “You are ridiculous, you know that?”

“Little bit. You’re not the first person to tell me.” Bucky paused. “Sorry, by the way. Talking about myself naked is probably a touch unprofessional.”

Steve gave Bucky a look. “Just a touch. You’re something else.”

Bucky looked pleased, but before either of them could say anything else, T’Challa was calling them back to practice, telling them to prepare for their pas de deux. Steve bit his lip, getting into position. Bucky put his water bottle back against the wall and walked out to the middle of the studio with a poise that had Steve wondering if Bucky really was that much of an exhibitionist.

Well, they did have a profession that required people watch them, so maybe it wasn’t that surprising. Steve took a deep breath as the music started up, and they began dancing.

“I want you making him look weightless here,” Maria instructed. “Put your hands down just a little lower on his hips when you start.”

Bucky nodded, his hands already back on Steve’s hips. He slid them lower, and Steve’s breath caught. Professionalism is hell, he decided. It was no problem to pretend he was panting from hard work, though, so he went with it.

And he was a professional, so he didn’t accidentally-on-purpose mess up the movement just to have Bucky put his hands on him again.

Unfortunately, Maria didn’t agree. “Steve, you need to point your toes while you’re in the air. Don’t get lazy on me.”

“Yes ma’am.” Steve apologized as he got back into position. Bucky’s hands were warm against his practice clothes, and he wanted to lean back against him. He didn’t. But he did point the hell out of his toes the next time, and Maria nodded.

“Much better.”

The music went on, Steve and Bucky dancing in time to each other, right up until it was Steve’s turn to do his lift. As expected, T’Challa was calling them to stop before he had even started.

“Let’s start by slowing the music for a minute here, and going through the larger motions, shall we?”

The slower pace gave Steve way too much time to contemplate just how badly he was going to fuck up. He gritted his teeth and gave it his all in slower motion. Bucky went up and landed off-balance.

“Steve,” Maria said as she tapped a finger to her chin. “You can’t be afraid of him. Go again.”

Afraid?  Steve grimaced. The only thing he was afraid of was letting Bucky know just how much he affected him. Well, that’s not entirely true, Steve admitted to himself. I’m terrified of letting everyone down, and failing myself. So Maria had a point, but how the hell did he fix fear?

He was pretty sure it wouldn’t involve imaging himself naked.

They practiced the part again and again, slowly and then faster, Maria giving corrections and T’Challa stepping in to demonstrate what he was looking for. When T’Challa lifted Bucky, it was raw power and talent honed through years of practice. Steve had the years of practice, and he was small but compact. He had power. Maybe he was letting his fear get the better of him, but with an entire production riding on whether on not he could learn everything in a week, he felt he was probably justified with a little bit of fear.

“We’ll give it one more go now.” T’Challa motioned for them to get in position. Steve repositioned himself in the middle of the studio. Bucky came to meet him, rubbing his shoulder.

They danced together and Steve gave it everything he had, trying to dig deep for something more. It didn’t work. He frowned as Bucky moved through the air, knowing that, while better than some of his other attempts, it still was a mess.

“That was better. Take a break.” T’Challa dismissed them with a wave. “We’ll move on to the ending when the others get here.”

Resisting the urge to tuck tail and run, Steve grabbed his water bottle and plopped down against the wall, trying to focus on the parts of the choreography that had gone well. Tried to be thankful that T’Challa hadn’t forced him to perform this part in front of everyone else yet. He sighed. He just wanted a break from the stress, a few minutes to let him clear his mind and start fresh.

When he opened his eyes, Bucky was sitting next to him, just about an inch too close. Between that and what he had said earlier - was he flirting with him?

“Sorry about that last bit there.” Bucky’s quiet voice was accompanied by those beautiful eyes, framed with long lashes.

“Don’t apologize when it’s all my fault.” Steve closed his eyes again, the beginning of a headache settling behind them.

“You really ought to give yourself more credit.” Bucky’s voice sounded far away and Steve thought for a moment he might have fallen asleep and was dreaming. “Steve, is what Maria said true? Are you afraid of me?”

Steve’s eyes snapped open. “No, Bucky, not at all.” Definitely not dreaming. Bucky looked concerned as he sat next to him, leaning in just a little closer, and Steve’s heart dropped at the thought of Bucky worrying that he was afraid of him. “Afraid of failing, yes. Afraid of you? Never.”

Bucky sat back. “Thanks. I, uh. Worried. You know you do a really good job acting when we’re practicing? You definitely portray fear and curiosity when I’m dancing, and I was starting to wonder if maybe -”

“Just acting. I promise.” Steve wanted to laugh. It felt like they should be holding hands, heads touching as they reassured each other. But they weren’t, and anyhow, even if he did make a move and even if Bucky did return the feelings, it would have been extremely uncourteous to kiss him when the other swans were starting to come into the room. But maybe they were flirting now. That warmed Steve inside, gave him another round of energy he didn’t think possible, and he was thankful for that, because they had another hour of rehearsal left before lunch break.

 

~~~

 

There were too many people in the break room eating lunch for Natasha to ask Steve any prying questions about the morning practice, so she had to settle for his shrugged shoulders and a “we might as well give it up.”

“What, the role or -” Natasha pointedly glanced over to where Bucky was eating lunch with Sam and Wanda and Pietro at another table.

“Both? Everything?” Steve followed her gaze, and couldn’t help but stare for a moment or two longer than necessary. It was just the way he did everything, from the way his head tipped back when he laughed at a joke Sam made and the way he wagged his finger at Wanda when she said something in return. “Except if I give up on the show, I’m giving up on him too, so neither.”

Natasha nodded, but before she could say anything else, Peggy dropped into one of the empty chairs at their table, holding out her phone. “Steve Rogers! If any of us knew how good you looked with Bucky, we would have all been pushing for you to dance together so much sooner!”

Steve didn’t trust himself to say something coherent, so he looked down at her phone instead. The Marvel Ballet had posted several of their photos from the photoshoot and the article Luis had written. Even on the tiny screen, Bucky looked amazing, bare chested and wrapping around Steve protectively. Did Bucky know how he was looking at the camera? Steve stared, unable to do anything else.

“Wow, Steve.” Natasha let out a low whistle.

“He’d make a mannequin look good,” Steve protested as he watched Peggy scroll through the pictures for them. He knew his face was red, but there was nothing he could do about it. Peggy raised an eyebrow and said nothing.

“Damn, guys.” That was Sam. Clearly, he had just pulled up the pictures on his phone too. Everyone in the room were starting to look on or pull out their own phone to see what the buzz was about. “Those are some great pictures.”

Bucky nodded. Other conversations in the room had died down, and Steve could hear him talking now. “I have to give the photographer credit for these. He worked with us very well. And of course, Steve.”

Feeling a little dizzy, Steve nodded. “Yeah, Scott was great.”

Sharon came through the door of the break room, holding her own phone and scowling. “Did you guys see the BS Rumlow is spewing on that article they just posted?”

“He just can’t give it a rest, can he?” Pietro rolled his eyes. Wanda nodded next to him.

Bucky’s face darkened, but he didn’t say anything.

Sam shrugged. “He’s done and gone, showed his true colors. If people want to believe him over the truth, I don’t think we’re losing anyone we care about.”

“Yeah.” Steve was glad to hear his voice wasn’t shaking, even if he felt overwhelmed by the photos, the article, and Rumlow’s name being thrown around again. “They’re going to come and see us on opening night, and we are going to show them that anything they read doesn’t come close to reality.” He looked around the room, with everyone nodding and agreeing, and felt a surge of hope that maybe he was even telling the truth.

“That’s right.” Bucky was speaking now, and Steve couldn’t tear his eyes off of him. Bucky stood up, putting his hands on the table, and making eye contact with everyone in the room. “We’re going to let everyone make their own opinions. But their opinion is going to be that the Marvel Ballet has the best damn dancers, the best choreography and no matter how hard someone tries to tear us down, we will only become better.” Everyone in the room was cheering. Bucky looked at Steve last, his gaze furious and smoldering, and Steve had to sit down, breathless and more than a little turned on.

Peggy and Natasha talked about something for the next ten minutes, but Steve didn’t hear any of it. His lunch tasted dry in his mouth. If he couldn’t perfect the choreography, he wasn’t just going to let his friends down. He was never going to be able to look Bucky in the eye again.

 

~~~

 

“I’m gonna print these pictures out and frame them. Or stick them to the refrigerator. Haven’t decided yet.” Clint had said pictures and article up on his laptop. “What is it you said you do for a living again, Steve?”

Steve rolled his eyes as he pulled a container of juice out of the fridge. “I’m not going to justify that comment with a response, Clint.”

“You say you’re a dancer, but these pictures paint the story of a Steve Rogers who smolders with this Bucky fellow, possibly for cash.”

“People pay to see our performances, so…” Steve trailed off, grinning. “And you’ve met Bucky before, at the Nutcracker last year.”

“People will pay whatever you’re charging, so you should double it.” Clint nodded, pleased with himself. “See, quality business advice right there. When can I expect my ten percent cut?”

Cup of juice in hand, Steve headed to the living room, sitting down on the couch by Clint and looking at the pictures for what felt like the hundredth time. “Look at him though.”

Clint scooted over to give Steve room. “Are you sure you won’t get jealous?”

“I just don’t understand. I’ve taken promotional pictures before. They’ve never come out like this. It can’t just be me, right? So why isn’t he saying anything to me?”

Clint didn’t laugh, but his eyes were sparkling. “Steve, you gotta think about this. What if he doesn’t realize you’re into him? Although, aside, I’m pretty sure our loaf of bread knows you’re into him, so we have to consider the possibility that he’s somewhat dense.”

“Hey!”

“He’s still hotter than the oven last week when you burned that pizza though. I’m just saying. Every time you talk about him, you get this look in your eyes.” Clint made puppy dog eyes and fluttered his eyelashes. “Don’t make that face - it’s true.” He held up his hands in appeasement before continuing. “So let’s say he has an idea that you wanna go with him. Maybe he’s keeping it professional, just like you are. There is a rather tight deadline you guys are working against, right?”

Steve nodded slowly. “Right, and the last thing we need is to figure out a relationship at the same time. When you put it like that, it feels reasonable. But I’m starting to think it’s worse trying to push it aside. I’m starting to worry I’m going to just, I don’t know, explode and start making out with him on stage or something.”

Clint grinned. “So like I said earlier, let’s talk to whoever sets your ticket prices about jacking them up a good fifty percent or so for the show you’re planning. And you know what, let’s go ahead and pencil me in for a twenty percent cut.”

“You’re exhausting. I need to get some sleep.” Steve drained the rest of the juice from his glass, bringing it to the kitchen to rinse it out in the sink. He ran the water for a few moments so it would warm up, and cleaned the cup under the stream of water. He couldn’t decide if it was better or worse if Bucky knew how he felt and just wasn’t doing anything about it.

But the way he had pressed up against him for those pictures didn’t feel like he was doing nothing.

“Hey, did I tell you I’m going to be Santa for our Christmas program this year?” Clint said as Steve put the cup up to dry.

“You most certainly did not! That’s exciting.” Steve knew Clint liked to do his circus acts in costume, and had been gunning for the Santa position since mid-July. “I’ll have to let everyone know to go see a show.”

“Great. And in return, I’ll make sure all of my friends come watch you and Bucky make out for three hours on stage. That’s the selling point, right?”

“For a select audience, yeah.” Steve shook his head and laughed.

He appreciated the way Clint had him lighthearted and happy, hoping that tonight would be a better night. Steve glanced at the photos still up on Clint’s laptop. Bucky’s chest had been so warm and smooth, his heartbeat strong and steady. He had put his hand on Steve’s leg like it was the most natural pose in the world. And he had smoldered at the camera like he could set it on fire. A familiar stirring began to rise in Steve’s pants and he bid Clint a hasty good night. At least part of tonight was guaranteed to be pleasurable.

 

 

Chapter Text

Better rested and awake before his alarm, Steve decided to head to the studio earlier, figuring he could take some time to foam roll before class started. The morning was cloudy, the sun still low in the sky and mostly hidden, so Steve put on his favorite blue long sleeved shirt and his gray sweatpants. He expected a little drizzle of rain. He didn’t expect to see Bucky on the way in. He especially didn’t expect to see Bucky in a coffee shop, at a table with Brock Rumlow.

Steve flinched at the sight like a fire put out with a sudden bucket of water. I’m dreaming, right?

“Ouch.” Steve frowned as he pinched the back of his arm. Not dreaming. I knew that. But what the actual fuck is going on?

He looked through the glass for another minute, torn between ignoring everything and heading to the studio like nothing happened or going in and figuring out just what was happening. He paused, watching as Bucky talked. His back was mostly to the window and Steve couldn’t make out a facial expression, but Rumlow’s face was in full view - that sneer and that anger. How had none of them figured out before what kind of person he was?

Rumlow’s expression changed from sneer to pinched, and Steve’s curiosity peaked. Bells on the door chimed as Steve pushed through the entrance of the coffee shop, and Bucky glanced up for a half a second. He saw Steve, and started to smile.

“Steve!”

Next to Bucky, Rumlow looked like he had swallowed a lemon. That made Steve smile. He walked up to the table, not sure of what he was going to say.

“What’s this, Bucky?” Steve gestured to Rumlow, who hadn’t said anything yet. “Are you?” Planning on leaving too? “Is everything we’ve been working for -” Steve looked at Rumlow again, the full weight of Bucky sitting here with him slamming into him like a blow to the stomach. “Are you leaving, too?” Steve realized he was blinking back tears, but he forced himself to face Bucky.

Bucky shook his head, his loose hair moving with the motion. “Fuck no, Steve. He saw me ducking in to grab a drink this morning and asked me if I had a minute to talk.”

“Wanted to apologize to him for the, ah, mess I left him with.” Rumlow spoke, but it wasn’t his usual level of confidence and arrogance. If Steve didn’t know better, he would have thought Rumlow was being sincere.

“I offered him a few minutes of my time to see if he could actually apologize,” Bucky continued, ignoring Rumlow. “He couldn’t.”

“All I’m saying is, you could make a name for yourself if you joined us,” Rumlow said. That was his regular swagger coming back through. “Think about it. Pierce’ll take you whenever you’re ready to join the best company in town.” He grabbed his coffee and left, and Steve watched the door swing shut behind him.

“I’m too young for the heart attack you just about gave me when I saw you two together.” Steve studied Bucky’s face, looked at his eyes and his lips, and saw sorrow and frustration running across his features.

“I feel dirty just talking to him,” Bucky admitted. He sighed, glancing toward the now closed door. “But I guess the thought of him actually apologizing and giving me some closure was really tempting.”

“And instead he tried to get you to leave us too!” Steve was livid, but he managed to rein it in to a more manageable level of anger, glaring in the direction Rumlow had walked off.

“I’m not leaving the production or the company,” Bucky said firmly. He grabbed his coffee and gestured to Steve. “I’ll wait for you to get your drink.”

Steve hesitated for a moment and decided Bucky didn’t need to know he only came in because he was there with Rumlow. He headed up to the counter and a few minutes later, was carrying a latte as he walked down the sidewalk toward the studio with Bucky.

The cool, almost cold morning air nipped at them as they walked on the sidewalk in silence. Steve still had a bit of adrenaline from the emotional whiplash of the morning, and it seemed like Bucky was quieter than normal. Just as gorgeous as ever, though. He was wearing dark gray, well-fitting sweatpants and an oversized, matching sweatshirt. His brown hair was loose and blowing in the wind, just waiting to be pulled up for practice.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say Rumlow likes you.” Steve found himself talking to fill the silence, and he wanted to slap a hand over his mouth when that sentence came out. But he couldn’t take it back, and Bucky was already looking at him with an unreadable expression.

Bucky’s brow furrowed and Steve realized it was a rueful look. He opened his mouth to apologize and change the topic, but Bucky spoke up first. “There was a time I would have agreed with you. But now I don’t know if I can trust my instincts on that.”

Steve’s heart dropped a little as he realized how sad Bucky seemed when he said that. “Is that the first time he’s tried to get you to join Hydra?”

“Well, he’s never said anything as straightforward as he did this morning, but he always talked like we were this team, him and me.” Bucky paused. “A team that he was in charge of, anyhow. Like I couldn’t make my own decisions. Ugh. Why did I even stop when I saw him this morning?” Bucky made a disgusted noise and Steve reached up, patting him on the shoulder.

“He’s just trying to mess with your head. He’s a jerk.” Steve tried to read into the storm on Bucky’s face. “And it’s not your fault you want to have closure. He did a really shitty thing to us. To you.”

“You keep saying that, and I keep wondering when my brain is going to accept it.” But Bucky said that with a smile, and the sun was starting to peek out from behind the clouds, and Steve took it as a win. He knew they’d need it for the morning of practice in front of him.

Thanks to the whole incident with Rumlow, Steve’s early start to the morning had turned into almost late. They got to class just in time, Steve taking a position close to Bucky. Fuck it, I’m allowed this, right? He thought as he settled into his spot. Typically the other principal dancers stood toward the front and Steve would go to the middle, not hiding at the back, but not showing off at the front either. Today, this felt right. Bucky smiled at him again, and he knew it was the right decision.

After class, Steve and Bucky broke off from the group, heading to the smaller studio A, where T’Challa was waiting.

“Good morning.” T’Challa motioned for them to come over. “I’ve gone ahead and prepared some alternative choreography for our trouble spots.” He fixed his gaze on Steve, watching him but not in a way that made Steve feel small or intimated. “I have every bit of confidence that if we had even just an additional week to work on it, you would be capable of dancing it exactly as I originally intended. However, we do not have an additional week, and we do have dress rehearsal tomorrow.”

Steve nodded, biting his lower lip for just a moment, and then shaking his head. He looked at the ground and then up at T’Challa, meeting his eyes. “No, I agree with you. And I appreciate you saying that. Because I really hate to let you down.”

T’Challa waved his hand as if dismissing the idea that Steve had let anyone down. “You have done nothing but work as hard as I have asked you to. I could be disappointed, but that would invalidate the efforts you have put forth. So instead, we will strive to make this a better performance rather than continue to push you for something that is currently out of our reach.”

Next to him, Steve could tell Bucky was upset about something - whether it was the fact that T’Challa was changing the choreography because Steve had failed them or whether it was something else, Steve was uncertain. All he knew is that Bucky’s shoulders had tensed and he was staring at T’Challa like he wanted to say something, but didn’t.

“Maybe we can practice them for a future performance then.” Steve felt that was a compromise that would help preserve the original choreography without sacrificing the opening night performance.

“Indeed.” But T’Challa was already getting into position to demonstrate the new steps for Steve and Bucky to emulate, and they watched him, mimicking the moves in turn. It wasn’t as dramatic as the lift would have been, but it was passable.

They got it on their second try, and T’Challa grinned. “There! Now let’s go back to the beginning and add this in.”

By the end of the morning, Steve was exhausted, but they had ran through the scene three times without a single mistake. The new choreography had solved the problem, but Bucky was still smoldering silently. Steve saw it in the stiffness of Bucky’s shoulders and the way his smiles weren’t reaching his eyes. Steve wasn’t sure how to react and he didn’t think T’Challa noticed. 

He sat during their break, panting, drinking water and flexing his feet to keep some movement in his legs. Unlike the other days, Bucky didn’t come over during the break. He paced alongside the barre, perhaps to stay warmed up, but to Steve, it looked a lot more like he was thinking about something. Just as Steve worked up the nerve to stand and start moving towards Bucky to ask what was up, T’Challa declared the break over and they began practicing again.

Maria came in for the next part of the practice to watch the new choreography, and she nodded in agreement as they performed it for her. “That transition is much smoother, and it brings us into the next set of steps without the jarring impact we were having in other practices. If it’s acceptable to you, T’Challa, I agree that it is the right way to go.”

Part of Steve beamed with pride to hear Maria complimenting their work. The other part of him wanted to slump over in defeat because he was unable to perform the dance the way it was supposed to be. And next to him, Bucky still said nothing.

“If we have time next week, I want to work with them to bring back the lift,” T’Challa was saying to Maria, and Steve tuned them out as he jogged to his water bottle for another quick sip.

This time, Steve almost crashed into Bucky as he turned around.

“Sorry! Didn’t realize you were there!” Steve steadied himself and then looked up at Bucky. “What do you think about the new choreography?” Will I ever learn the art of subtlety?

Bucky shrugged, the apathetic gesturing hurting Steve more than he thought it would. He wanted Bucky to be excited about their performance together, not neutral or worse, disappointed. “I think we should be trying harder, not giving up.”

Steve couldn’t quite articulate how he felt about it. “I agree, but in some ways, I - I really don’t know if I can try any harder. And I’m sorry for that, because I’m letting you down.”

“Steve.” Bucky spoke his name with a quiet intensity that had Steve locking eyes with Bucky and watching as Bucky stepped even closer, until they were inches away from each other. “You can’t really think you are letting me down.”

“He just changed the whole sequence for me, so yeah, Bucky. I do think I’m letting you guys down.” Steve knew it was dangerous for him to stay so close to Bucky, but he couldn’t bring himself to step back. Bucky had pulled his hair back for practice, but a few brown wisps hung around his face, half plastered there by sweat, and Steve almost reached out to push them back behind his ear.

“Without you stepping in like this, we wouldn’t have an opening night performance, so stop that.” Bucky was about to say something else, when T’Challa started talking at them again, and they turned to listen, the moment between them broken.

“Steve, Bucky. Let’s go through act two one more time before lunch.”

What else could they do but nod at T’Challa? Steve stepped away from Bucky to get into position and as they danced, he watched the way Bucky’s shoulders tensed.


~~~

 

“Nat, tell me about life outside of Swan Lake.” Steve dropped into the seat by the resistance machine she was using upstairs in the physio suite. “I hear people have thoughts that aren’t tarred with feathers and star extraordinarily hot dancing partners.”

“You’re missing everything,” Natasha replied immediately, pausing to concentrate, and then releasing her grip after a few minutes. “I mean, not really though. Everyone is focusing on this production right now, even in our other rehearsals. It’s a bit of a unique circumstance.”

“T’Challa changed the part for me today.” Steve frowned, avoiding eye contact with her. He hated to admit it, but everyone would know tomorrow at the dress rehearsal, so there was no point in pretending otherwise.

Natasha grimaced and gave an apologetic half-smile. “Sorry, Steve. I know you didn’t want that to happen.”

“It’s probably for the best.” Steve stretched his hands behind his head and leaned back a little, trying to act casual. “But Bucky was so upset about it that I can’t help but wish I had another couple of hours in the day to practice.”

“Well, he should understand more than anyone that not everyone can nail everything just like that.”

Natasha fell silent again as she worked against the machine, and Steve nodded without completely agreeing. Bucky had been flawless in performance after performance.

“Steven Grant Rogers!” Natasha acted as though she could hear his thoughts. The way she knew how to read people, it wasn’t far from the truth. “He practiced for more than one week for every single performance he’s ever headlined. You know you can’t compare yourself to that. And I shouldn’t have to keep saying that.”

Steve ducked his head. “Sorry. You’re right. I know you’re right. But it just doesn’t change the fact that it feels like failure, you know?”

“You’re ridiculous,” Natasha replied, focused on her task. “But in a good way, of course.” She waved him off. “Go eat something before you start afternoon rehearsals. I don’t want to be the reason you pass out from low blood sugar three hours from now.”

“I really appreciate the vote of confidence.” Steve got up and made his way to the door. “Any other tidings from the outside world?”

Natasha laughed. “They’re talking about having T’Challa choreograph the Nutcracker next. So you’d better get ready for that.”

Steve raised an eyebrow. “Could be interesting.”

 

~~~

 

“Dress rehearsal is tomorrow afternoon at 2:45pm, and plan on arriving at the theatre a half hour earlier. All morning classes are still scheduled as normal.” T’Challa ran through the list of after practice announcements before dismissing everyone from the studio.

They had spent the last hours working through the last bits of the choreography for act three and Steve leaned against the barre on the back wall of the studio, tired and sore. He waved to Sam and Wanda and Pietro as they left, and Peggy came over to him, wrapping him in a big hug.

Steve laughed as he hugged her back. “It’s too soon to celebrate!”

“Steve, I’m so proud of you.” Peggy stepped back, her hands on his shoulders, and she smiled. “Just five days ago, I was almost certain we’d have to push back our opening night, and then you stepped in and showed everyone exactly what Erskine saw in you when he pushed for you to get a principal role.”

The mention of Erskine had Steve furrowing his brow and smiling all at once. “Well, he’s not the director anymore, but I finally made it happen. I don’t think I would have gotten it in my head that I could do this if it hadn’t been for him.”

“If the dress rehearsal goes as smoothly as practice did this afternoon, we are going to absolutely blow Hydra out of the water.” Peggy winked as she took her hands off his shoulders, and picked up her ballet bag and water bottle. She wagged a finger in his direction. “Don’t think I haven’t been paying attention to the rumblings online. There are going to be some really unhappy people when you go out there and deliver the impossible.”

“I’m a little disappointed I’ll be too busy dancing to watch their disbelief in the audience,” Natasha added as she joined Steve and Peggy, her ballet bag slung over her shoulder. “I’ve done my best to mostly ignore the forums, but it’s been a little ridiculous. You’ve done amazing, Steve.”

“Thanks you guys. It means a lot to me.” Steve could almost picture opening night now. Five days ago, it was a crazy idea, a reaction with no thought behind it to Rumlow’s leaving. Today, it was so close to reality that the exhaustion and near panic had lifted from his chest - not completely, but almost.

“And the costumes aren’t nearly as bad as some people are making them out to be!” Natasha couldn’t help herself. “They weren’t a problem at all, of course, until a certain jackass left our company.”

“Isn’t that the truth?” Peggy shook her head. “I’ve been wondering why he didn’t wait until today or even tomorrow to quit.”

Natasha pulled out her phone and scrolled through the Hydra upcoming production schedule. She tapped a finger to the screen, pointing to their performances starting at the end of the month. “My guess is he left as late as he could, but he probably needed more than a week to learn his new roles with them.” She turned to Steve. “We can’t all be overachievers.”

Steve smiled at his friends, almost happy enough to ignore the fact that he couldn’t dance the original choreography. “Just an achiever,” he corrected her. “Overachiever would indicate I brought something above and beyond to the role.”

With a raised eyebrow, Peggy had a fox grin on her face. “Oh, but Steve - your chemistry with Bucky brings something above and beyond that not a single audience member will miss. In fact, I will place bets on how long it takes people to think you’re sleeping together - and not just so that you could get the part.”

Before Steve could do anything but sputter indignantly, Peggy and Natasha were waving and heading out of the studio. “Have a good evening, Steve. See you tomorrow!”

Steve watched them leave, the studio nearly empty around him as the last of the dancers grabbed their bags and headed home. Conversations faded down the hall until he couldn’t hear them any more, and he had to smile: the company had a production in place, and opening night would go on as planned.

So why did he feel so disappointed? Steve pushed the door of the studio open and headed down the hallway, more than ready to head home. Maybe take a few extra minutes in a hot shower to help his muscles relax before bed. That sounded nice.

He noticed the light was still on in the A studio, so out of curiosity he headed over to see who hadn’t gone home yet. Steve pushed open the door to see Bucky stretching up against the wall.

Bucky had shed his sweatshirt and sweatpants from earlier and was wearing a dark gray, tightly fitted t-shirt and an even tighter pair of dark red shorts. He had his back leg up in the air, one hand on the pillar next to the mirror and the other reaching up to his ankle. Strands of hair escaped his bun, falling in his face as he concentrated.

Steve stared in awe at Bucky’s flexibility, and his thoughts ran to how lovely it would be to go up to Bucky and put his hands all over his body. From his thighs to his feet, every muscle was engaged in keeping perfect balance. The stretch looked effortless. Steve knew he was staring, but goddamn did he want to help Bucky out of those tight clothes and spend a little time on his knees in front of him. He was about to tear his eyes away from the glorious sight and leave when his ballet bag slipped off his shoulder and landed with a thud.

Bucky turned and saw Steve. “Hey.”

With a meek wave, Steve grinned. “I see you didn’t want to leave either?”

Bucky nodded. He arched into the stretch, pushing just a little harder before releasing it, his leg gliding back to the ground. Steve held back a whimper as he imagined Bucky wrapping those legs around his waist. “You did great during practice this afternoon. Ready for the rehearsal tomorrow?”

“Yeah, I guess.” Steve kept his eyes fastened to Bucky’s face, the safest place to look. Professionalism. I can do this. “You did great, too.”

“Yeah. I guess.” Bucky paused, and then shook his head. “But I don’t like that he changed the choreography.”

Steve flinched. He didn’t know what to say. “I’m sorry. It’s all my fault. You don’t deserve -”

“Steve.” Bucky’s voice was quiet and firm and Steve wanted to hear him say his name again and again. “Let’s just try it again, yeah? Maybe we can still get it. There’s still time.”

“If you think we can do it, I’ll try.” Steve put his bag on the floor next to Bucky’s, and headed over to the barre for a quick warm up. His feet sounded so loud across the floor. Maybe that was his heart starting to race.

Bucky thought he could do the lift. And the last thing Steve wanted to do was let him down again, so he put his hand on the barre and went through some calf raises to bring some movement back into his body. After a few minutes, he heard Bucky coming across the studio to stand near him. Bucky took a deep inhale with every stretch and movement, and Steve realized he could listen to him breathing for ages.

I have a problem.

“There are a couple of things I think we can do.” Bucky broke the silence after a few more minutes of warm up, stepping towards the middle of the room. He pantomimed Steve’s part, pretending to lift an imaginary partner. “What if you lean back a little more like this, to really counterbalance my weight?”

Steve mimicked the movement, practicing it a few times to see how it fit into the steps. It only took a couple of tries to feel natural. Bucky watched so closely that Steve felt he was staring through his clothes, possibly through his skin and watching the moment of his bones. The scrutiny had his cheeks burning.

“That looks good, Steve. I’m going to lean in a little more from the side as well and see if that helps, ok? I want to use my good shoulder for this.”

Steve glanced at Bucky’s shoulders, the scar almost hidden by the short t-shirt sleeves. “I didn’t think you had a problem with your shoulder anymore?”

“I just want to put my best effort forward for you.” He walked up close to Steve, getting into position for them to practice the lift together. “I don’t think I’ve told you how much I appreciate everything you’ve done for this production.”

His breath catching in his chest, Steve nodded. “I’m doing what I have to. You don’t have to thank me.” Bucky was so close, and Steve watched his chest rise and fall. Don’t look lower. “And - and my motives aren’t just for the company, either.”

Bucky turned to face Steve, a familiar storm settling across his face and Steve shook his head quickly to deter any of the wrong ideas. “I wanted to have a principal role. I saw the chance when Rumlow left, and I took it. In the end, it was to help the company too, but - selfishly. I should have let someone more qualified step up.”

“You’re something else, Rogers,” Bucky replied, his smile re-emerging from behind the clouds, a beam of sunlight. “Let’s do this, ok?”

Without others around, the only sounds in the studio were their feet against the ground, their breathing synchronizing as they moved. They didn’t get it on their first try. Or their second, third, or fourth.

Steve put up a hand, wanting a quick pause. He walked in a loop, shaking out his legs and his arms. “We’re close. But I can’t figure out what I’m missing.”

“Even if we don’t get it tonight, we can practice tomorrow. And Sunday. And before the performance on Monday. And we will get it.” Bucky’s determination was set in the way he stood, hands on his hips, feet firm on the ground.

“I don’t want to have to use the changed choreography either,” Steve admitted, circling back around to his spot on the floor, trying to emulate Bucky’s confidence. “Let’s try again.”

Bucky shifted his weight, and they began the part again, dancing in sync and mirroring each other’s moves. Bucky leapt across the floor to meet Steve, and Steve planted himself like a tree, reaching for Bucky and leaning back as Bucky’s weight pressed against his body. Bucky arched his arm and shoulder, strong and steady, and for a moment, they stood as one, and then Steve carefully rotated as Bucky came out of his arms, landing lightly.

It was perfect. Steve didn’t have to look in the mirror to know it, but it did help to see it happen before his eyes. He broke out into a wide grin, stopping in the middle of the floor even as Bucky went into the next set of steps.

“I did it!” Steve’s cheerful voice rang out in the studio and he couldn’t stop grinning.

“It looked amazing,” Bucky agreed, turning back to Steve.

They stood looking at each other, and when Bucky put out his arms as if to give Steve a celebratory hug, Steve all but jumped to close the distance, arms out and around Bucky before he knew what was happening.

Just don’t kiss him. Don’t kiss him.

Steve settled for putting his head against Bucky’s shoulder, a safe distance from his mouth. Bucky’s t-shirt was dark with sweat, and Steve was sure his shirt wasn’t much better. He was probably hugging too long. It was probably getting awkward. But he breathed in one more time, and then stepped back, looking at Bucky, ready to apologize if he was upset by the lingering hug.

Bucky’s eyes were dark, his pupils dilated, and a blush dancing on his cheeks. Steve held back a whimper, because every fiber of his being wanted to take that beautiful, flushed face in his hands and bring their lips together.

He’s just thrilled that we got the move. Don’t read anything into it. Oh god, it’s been like a full minute and neither of us has said anything.

“We finally did it!” Steve’s voice was lower than he wanted, rougher than it had any right to be. He wasn’t trying to flirt, not really, but apparently his body was going to betray him.

“Steve.” Bucky said his name in a deep rumble and this time, Steve couldn’t help it. He let out a little gasp as Bucky’s voice washed over him. Bucky grinned as if confirming something, and then he leaned in, and then they were kissing.

Steve’s lips were on fire in the best possible way as Bucky kissed him with a rough intensity like a dam being released. Bucky's tongue was wet and warm and Steve parted his lips to invite him in. Steve's skin tingled as a shiver ran down his spine when Bucky wrapped his arms around him, pressing close in a way their lift could never emulate. Bucky’s chest was firm against Steve's and their hips brushed together with a flush of electricity. Steve felt a little dizzy, the barre in the back of the studio blurring before he took another breath.

Bucky broke off the kiss after a few more moments and stepped back, his hands on Steve’s shoulders, his eyes following Steve’s every movement.

“Wow,” Steve breathed out. One kiss and his knees were ready to give out on him. He needed a moment. When he looked up and saw Bucky catching his breath with both arms on the barre, he was thankful that it wasn’t just him.

“I’m sorry.” Bucky had concern etched in the corners of his eyes and his furrowed brow as he turned to look at Steve.

Steve shook his head. “No, it was good! It was great. If that’s how we’re celebrating me accomplishing that lift, I am never missing it again.”

Bucky laughed. “Uh. Well. I think I got a bit carried away. I was so excited - and it looked great, best as I could tell in the mirror.”

“What, the kiss or the lift?” Steve grinned, flashing his tongue for a brief, playful second.

“The lift.” Bucky paused. “The kiss.” They stood at the side of the studio, barely a foot between them. “I’m not sure. I closed my eyes during it.”

“Your eyes are beautiful. You should keep them open next time,” Steve said, taking half a step forward, closing the space between them again. “If there is a next time.”

Bucky got the hint and took Steve in his arms. His arms were solid and warm, and Steve wanted to stay there as long as he could. He tilted his head up, and met Bucky’s eyes. They sparkled blue and green in the gray under the studio light, and Steve watched them crinkle around the edges when Steve kissed him again, slower and more thoughtful, a brush of skin against skin.

Oh, it was nice.

When Steve stepped away this time, he did go ahead and sat down for a minute. Bucky laughed, the lovely sound filling the studio.

“Ok, but you’re making me a little weak in the knees right now,” Steve scolded. “So don’t make fun. It’s your fault!”

“Steve Rogers, the man who can dance for hours on end but needs to rest after approximately thirty seconds of kissing,” Bucky teased, and Steve reached up and pulled at his arm, trying to knock him off-balance. It didn’t quite work, but Bucky did sit down on the floor so that they were sitting across from each other.

“So you’re not yelling at me, which is great.” Steve rubbed at the back of his neck. “Uh. Not that I wanted you to. I was just worried maybe you didn’t want me to kiss you like that-”

Bucky cut him off. “I’ve been trying to keep this professional, Steve.” He paused. “And to be honest, I didn’t think it was going to be a problem at first.”

“No, that’s fine. Just hit a man while he’s down.” Steve mock teased and Bucky put his hands up.

“But when we took the pictures together, I felt something and I started to worry I wasn’t going to be able to keep up the professionalism,” Bucky said, and Steve nodded like it was the same for him, like he hadn’t been lusting after Bucky for ages.

“Where do we go from here?” Steve asked. He didn’t quite want to ask, not so soon. But they had a brand new ballet to perform in two days. He didn’t have time to wait, not with his cards out on the table.

“I absolutely want to take this somewhere.” Bucky grinned, and Steve would have agreed to anything he said. “But - maybe we focus on the production and talk it over? Wait two days?”

Steve nodded. He wasn’t completely on-board with the answer - in fact, there were parts of him that were protesting loudly - but it made sense. It was the smart, reasonable response. And what were they, if not smart and reasonable men who just happened to share the hottest kiss he had had in, well, years.

Two more days. Steve had handled five days; he could do two more. Then Bucky got up to grab his ballet bag, and he swung his hips from side to side as he walked, and Steve groaned. He put his head in his hands. Maybe he couldn’t do two more.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Maria Hill was correcting someone, Steve knew that much. He stood at the barre in his gray leggings and gray sweatshirt, sweeping his foot in time to the warm up along with everyone else in the class. And, along with everyone else, his mind was wandering to the dress rehearsal coming up that afternoon.

And Bucky. His mind was wandering to Bucky, who was standing about five people ahead of him at the barre, also moving his foot in time to the warm up. Bucky had on tight red leggings and a silver oversized sweatshirt, and was staring straight ahead, but whether he was focusing on something he saw or spacing out, Steve wasn’t sure. They hadn’t talked before class, just sort of waved at each other as they took their places seconds before Maria called out warm-ups.

Steve watched the effortless way Bucky performed, those perfect muscles encased in soft red fabric, each movement smoother than the last. It was beautiful. Maria called out the next exercise, and the class responded, though nowhere as quickly as she would have preferred.

“While we do have a rather unique situation with our upcoming production, I am not sure how failing to concentrate on the basics will serve any of you well.” Maria walked the studio as she talked, her sharp eyes noticing every misstep as she provided corrections.  

The music played as the warm-ups continued at the barre and Steve focused as best as he could. When they switched to center practice, Bucky caught Steve’s eye and winked and flashed a smile. Steve’s cheeks grew warm and he bit his lip to keep from saying something. What if someone else noticed?

Sure enough, Natasha jabbed a finger in the small of his back as she got into position with Steve and a few others. Steve didn’t turn to look at Natasha - he could already picture her raised eyebrow and subtle grin. They could talk after class; for now, he let the tempo of the music envelope his body and guide his steps as he let his thoughts meander across a range of topics, always ending up at Bucky, whose backside and legs were still on beautiful display in front of him.

Steve managed to finish class with only one misstep. When Maria dismissed them, about half the class left to go prepare for the dress rehearsal. Sharon was off to the side talking to Wanda, Sam cornered Bucky about something he wanted to get an opinion on, and Natasha grabbed Peggy before heading toward Steve. He took a swig from his water bottle, figuring it’d do him no good to try to run, not when they had that level of purpose in their step.

They were both smiling, teeth showing and eyes glinting. Steve took another drink of water. Hydration was important when dealing with Nat and Peggy.

“Let’s take a walk, Steve,” Peggy said as she came up on his left side.

Natasha flanked him on the right. “A walk sounds lovely, Peggy. What a great idea.” She glanced at Steve, as if only now noticing he was between the two of them. “Oh, hey, Steve. Do you need to say good-bye to your boyfriend before we go?”

Steve groaned even as he glanced at Bucky at the mention of the word “boyfriend.” Natasha’s grin only widened and Peggy looked pleased. Bucky was nodding to Sam, talking and gesturing about something or another. Steve swore he heard the word “Scott” once or twice.

“Where do you ladies want to walk?” Steve pretended to resign himself to his fate. The truth was that if someone was going to pry for details, he’d prefer it be them. The last time he had shared details with Darcy had been a disaster.

“We can head uptown. Enjoy the lake view. Be back in time to eat lunch before we hit the theatre for the dress rehearsal.” Natasha gestured north, and Steve let himself be led by the arm out of the building and into the cool fall day.

Leaves fell from the small trees planted in the nature strip of the sidewalk, dancing in the air as they floated down. Steve crunched over stray leaves that hadn’t been blown or swept off the sidewalks. Once Peggy judged them to be a safe distance from the studio, she turned her full attention to Steve. “Bucky winked at you, Steve. We all saw it.” We was probably just Peggy and Natasha, but Steve let the statement slide.

Natasha nodded. “What happened yesterday?” She walked without crunching leaves. “You weren’t floating on a cloud like you are now when we said good-bye, so it had to have been after practice.”

Steve knew it was pointless to draw things out. “I saw Bucky stretching in one of the other studios and, uh, stared for a few minutes.”

Peggy laughed. “Oh, of course you did Steve!”

“I know, I know. He saw me standing there and we ended up working on part of the choreography together, and -” Steve paused. He realized that they had only done the lift correctly once, and he was unsure if they were going to try it in the rehearsal today or if they would go with the new choreography. So he bit his tongue, omitting that part from his recounting. “I don’t know. All of the sudden, we were kissing.”

That got a round of applause from Natasha and an “about damn time!” from Peggy, and Steve grinned down at the sidewalk, scratching a sudden itch behind his neck.

“I thought he was looking at you differently this morning.” Natasha sounded so darn triumphant that Steve shook his head at her.

“Well, don’t get too excited. We’re waiting until after opening night to discuss where we’re going with this. We didn’t want to mess up our performance.”

Peggy looked thoughtful. They continued walking, block after block, until Natasha noted the time, and they turned to head back. The sun had taken a break behind some clouds and Steve shivered. By the time they got back, Sam was still talking with Bucky, though they had moved to the break room to eat lunch. Natasha waved and headed over to sit down while Steve grabbed his lunch bag, pulling out yogurt, granola, and fruit. He hesitated and then followed Natasha, sitting down on Sam’s other side.

“How goes it?” Steve asked, smiling at Bucky and Sam. Bucky smiled back so quickly and so easily that Steve wanted to jump around the table and say hi a little more intimately. But he reined in that train of thought and listened as Sam spoke.

“We were talking about rehearsal, but in all honestly, I was hitting Barnes up for details on Scott.”

“I called that, didn’t I?” Steve grinned. “He’s probably going to be there at the rehearsal to get some good pictures, right?”

Sam nodded. “Y’all need to help me get a moment with him.”

“Sam, you’re our best swan next to Bucky. He’ll be all over getting some close ups of you.”

“Hey, what about the rest of us swans?” Pietro called out, but he was smiling and Steve knew the ribbing was good natured. “Are we just goose food?”

“Do you want solo pictures by this photographer?” Wanda asked him. She nodded towards Sam. “Not like he does.”

Sam blushed, but he didn’t back down. “I welcome the competition, Pietro.”

Everyone was calling out and laughing, and Steve relished the moment, the way the company felt like family. The atmosphere was a lot more relaxed than it had been when Rumlow was around, and no one had realized until now just how on edge he had put people.

Steve didn’t pay attention to exactly what anyone was saying. He just looked across the table to see Bucky, and saw that he was looking back at him.

 

~~~

 

Darcy was backstage with her assistants, running from person to person, making sure each costume fit as intended, a mouth full of pins at the ready should the need arise to correct a seam or take in a side in a flurry of needlework.

Steve fiddled with the buttons of his costume, and waited in the back. He watched everyone moving around as he fussed with his costume buttons again and again, bits of the choreography imprinted in his brain jumping around in a blur of nerves.

“Wow, hi, Steve Rogers!”

Steve looked up to see Peter Parker, who was playing the young prince in the opening scenes. Ten years old and showing plenty of promise, Peter had easily won the role of the young prince for the show.

“Hey Peter,” Steve said. He stilled his feet and nervous hands. “How are you doing? How’s the tumbling practice been going for you?”

“Pretty good! Thanks! I’m kind of glad you’re dancing the role of the prince, if we’re being honest.” Peter liked to talk, and Steve didn’t mind listening. He had seen Peter showing off some of his flips earlier - he was a natural, likely able to make a name for himself someday with his acrobatics. “I was thinking that, uh, their first choice looked kind of too tough.”

“Gee, thanks. You don’t think I’m tough?” Steve ruffled Peter’s hair.

“You look plenty tough, sure, but not like you’re mad about it.” Peter shrugged. “Anyhow, I think it was a good decision!” There was a call from somewhere near the wings, and Peter turned toward it. “Whoops, time to go! Good luck - I’m looking forward to see you dancing!”

And then Peter was gone in the whirlwind of movement that was everyone preparing for dress rehearsal.  Steve took a deep breath. He enjoyed the controlled chaos, the way everyone moved and knew where to stand or at least close enough to make it work.

The Shield Theatre was a large, intimidating sort of venue. It had plush red velvet seats for hundreds and a backstage area that fit everything the company needed for the rotation of productions they performed. Even though the audience watching today was small, Director Fury would be there with T’Challa and Maria along with a few other coaches and teachers. Fury usually invited a few of the bigger sponsors to the dress rehearsal and let them see where their money was going. And any time there was an audience, the feeling backstage changed from a normal rehearsal to a charge of electricity and nerves.

The orchestra began the opening number while most of the cast milled about in the back and on the sides, waiting for their cues from one of the stage masters. On stage, Peter pretended to have a nightmare, tossing and turning on the stage bed while Bucky loomed behind the bed, a manifestation of the young prince’s dreams. The tech crew had perfected their lightening effects, setting the tone for the piece as thunder crashed behind the music.

Steve watched Peggy come onto the stage, her warm persona changing as she channeled the prince’s mother, trying to comfort her son and finding herself unable to deal with the intimacy of the moment. Peter reached for her as she exited the stage, ending the prologue of the piece.

The next scene was short as Peter was prepared for his day ahead of him by the Private Secretary and his servants. Peter had an excellent stage yawn, deployed as the servants showed him ten of the same outfits with ten of the same dance shoes to “choose” from, and the small audience laughed. Then the corps, dressed in various official costumes, flooded on the stage to emulate a day of the royal family making their appearances in a fast moving but monotonous number. Peter yawned again.

Steve waited, counting down the time until his cue to slip on the stage in Peter’s place. He straightened his coat one more time, the buttons shining under the stage lights as he took Peter’s place to become the prince all grown up.

For the next half hour, the rehearsal went smoothly, and Steve had a great time going from scene to scene. Sharon played his girlfriend, helping him enjoy a brief reprieve from his royal duties. He poured his heart into looking despondent when it was revealed that the Private Secretary was paying her off to be his girlfriend.

At the end of the act, Steve lay in a heap on the ground while Bucky and four other swans danced behind him. His only regret was that he couldn’t turn around to watch them, and the curtain went down on act one to enthusiastic applause from the little audience.

“Looking good, everyone.” T’Challa had gotten from the audience to backstage as quick as a cat. He praised the dancers, pointing out the parts that had went very smoothly and taking a few moments to note a couple of things he’d be bringing back up at rehearsal Monday. “Let’s get the swans up here.”

The swans came up, the first time everyone had seen the whole group together in full makeup and costume. It was rather intimidating when they moved as a flock and at least three of the dancers were having a good time practicing their swan arms. Pietro pretended to nip at Wanda as he passed by and she swatted his hands away. Bucky was at the rear, and the music was starting up again, which meant Steve had to get in position.

A sudden flash of fear like an icy water bucket hit Steve as he remembered that he hadn’t talked to Bucky about not using the lift during this rehearsal. He’d have to take one of their moments backstage during the scene, and he hoped there’d be enough time to explain why. Steve turned to see if Bucky was close enough for a quick whispered word, but he was too far away.

Steve swallowed back his fear and crossed into the middle of the stage, assuming his opening position while the curtain rose.

 

~~~

 

“I can’t do the lift.” Steve caught his breath in the wings, having just followed Bucky off the stage. The other swans were showcasing their skills with some solos and Steve and Bucky had a minute before they would head back out.

“What are you talking about?” Bucky looked at Steve as though he had sprouted another head. “We did it yesterday.”

“I know, but only once! What if I fail in front of the director? And T’Challa? He’s going to expect the new choreography and if I fail, he’s not only going to be annoyed that I didn’t -”

Bucky’s expression changed to a soft smile. “You’re worrying about it. I get it. We’ve only gotten it once and we tried how many times? I understand.”

Steve nodded as Bucky scooted as close as he dare with the stage crew and other performers all around. It was still close enough to feel the heat rolling off his naked chest, still close enough for Steve to see sweat tracing lines down that chest. Steve fanned himself with his hand, as though it would make a difference.

“I’ll practice it with you again, I promise.” Steve glanced towards the stage. Almost time. “And I’m positive we’d get it if we tried but - let’s just do it for the opening night and blow everyone’s minds, right?”

“That’s the kind thinking I like from you, Steve,” Bucky replied, his voice dropping low, and Steve wasn’t sure if it was because they’d been dancing and running for several minutes or because he was trying to get a rise from Steve.

Either way, Steve took a millisecond to enjoy it, before taking a step to the side to let Bucky in front for their reappearance on the stage.

 

~~~

 

Steve forced the frown off his face as they performed the altered choreography, and the frustration floated around the rest of the act, though he did his best to hide it. Certainly, when Bucky was lifting him through the air, Maria’s voice in the back of his mind reminded him to “point your toes!” and Steve couldn’t be frustrated then. He swore Bucky held on a second longer than he was supposed to.

Panting but smiling as act two came to an end, Steve wanted to go find Bucky. He knew that he was probably already in the makeup chair, taking off his swan make up and preparing for the next part of his role - that of the charming, devastatingly sexy stranger, T’Challa’s version of the black swan. Dancing the upcoming scenes in warm-ups had been tough enough, and now Bucky would be doing them in leather pants.

And he would be free to dance as suggestively as T’Challa let him. Steve looked up to the sky and said a few words, not really a prayer, but more of a plea that he was only human and it really wasn’t fair to torment him this way. The music started up for the next act, and Steve got in place on the stage next to Peggy and the rest of the dancers, all in costume for a grand ball at the palace.

A grand ball that Bucky strode into just one scene later, wearing leather pants and moving in ways that had very few people on stage having to act interested in him.

It’s a little easier to act jealous this time around, Steve realized as he watched Bucky dance with Peggy, sweeping her off of her feet and bending to kiss her hand very slowly before the dance picked up speed and he pressed up against her.

Steve shifted his weight before striding across the dance floor to confront the two, providing the final set of steps before the act ended, leaving just one more to go. Act four was one of the easiest for Steve, mostly because it involved a lot of being terrified of swans and scooting away from them on his bottom.

His back to the audience, Steve couldn’t help but smile when Bucky picked him up for the final part of the piece, having been unable to save him from the attacks of the other swans. A camera flashed from the audience, probably Scott, as Steve hung limply from Bucky. Steve fell onto his bed, pantomiming death, and the swans swooped off of the stage as Peggy came into the room one last time, playing her role perfectly: with her son now dead, she was finally able to find the emotion she couldn’t give him in life and she held Steve to her chest. Steve knew that above the bed, behind the stage window that was now lighting up, Bucky had climbed onto a platform that made him visible in the window. And there he stood, holding Peter as the young prince. The orchestra played the last lines, swelling to an emotional finish as a final curtain fell across the stage.

For such a small audience, the applause was loud. Steve smiled up at Peggy. “Wonderful job, Peggy,” he said, rolling off the bed and onto his feet, as they moved into position for the curtain call.

“Same to you, Steve. You really came through for us.”

Steve smiled again. It was hard not to, with the energy that came from completing a successful production, even just in rehearsal. He ran over to Bucky, and the two of them grinned before the curtain was raised once more, and the bows began.

Once the cast had clapped for the orchestra, the music cut off and T’Challa came forward from the audience to address them.

“Excellent work, everybody.” He applauded for a moment before giving his standard round of corrections.

Steve could see smiles and happy relief on the faces around him. It was perfect, almost, except for the part that had to be changed for him. Did the others notice it? Or were they simply happy that the production could go on as planned? He also didn’t dare turn and look at Bucky next to him, who was still emanating heat and shining with sweat in the spotlight. Steve suspected a glance would turn into a hand on the shoulder, which would easily turn into a hand running down Bucky’s back, a kiss on his cheek or his chest or -

T’Challa was still talking, and Steve did his best to listen. It was too late. T’Challa was already dismissing them for the afternoon with the admonishment to be prepared for Monday.

“So here is our new principal dancer, hmm?” That was the voice of Director Nick Fury, who stopped by the stage, a finger tapping his chin and a frown on his face. The frown was a normal expression, so Steve wasn’t worried about that.

The chin tap, though - that could be problematic.

“Aye, sir.” Steve bowed, then considered that the bow could make him look much shorter and scrunched his face for a moment before relaxing into a smile. He could sell himself as the perfect principal. And he had just finished dancing the part, so Fury either liked it or didn’t.

“Well, you’ve done an acceptable job. Thank you for stepping up for the production.”

Bucky poked him in the ribs. High praise from the director himself!

“Thank you,” Steve said. Inside, he was doing a cartwheel. One more hurdle jumped. Fury wasn’t immediately asking who would be replacing him in a week, meaning he might just get a few performances in beyond opening night.

The rest of the little audience dispersed, and, as predicted, Scott came onto the stage with his camera in tow, pulling dancers to the side to grab additional pictures. Steve went into the wings, grabbing his water, and watching everyone else. Pietro was still pretending to attack Wanda and she was still rolling her eyes and sticking out her tongue when she danced away. Natasha was conferring with Peggy and Sharon about something for the ballroom dance act. Sam was in front of Scott’s camera and Steve was pretty sure Scott had found a new favorite subject.

Steve felt Bucky come up beside him and turned as Bucky grabbing his hand. Peter Quill from the sound crew bumped Steve on his way to check a speaker, but neither Steve nor Bucky noticed. They stood there for a minute, not saying anything. Steve wanted it to mean something more, but he didn’t dare speak, instead letting the noise of the cast and crew fill the space around them.

“I think we should practice the lift tomorrow, don’t you?” Bucky said, releasing Steve’s hand and turning to face him. “You did amazing today, but I feel like we’ve failed if we don’t do the original choreography on Monday.”

Steve nodded. “I told you I’ll practice it until I’m positive we can do it.”

“And that opening night isn’t going to be too much pressure to perform?” Bucky raised an eyebrow and Steve bit his lip. He’s just not playing fair, Steve thought as blood rushed all too swiftly to his groin, his body more than happy to respond to Bucky’s less than subtle innuendo.

“You just name the time and the place and I’ll be there with a performance that will meet, probably exceed, any expectations you have.” Never let it be said that Steve Rogers didn’t give as good as he got.

Bucky broke into an excited grin, clapping a hand on Steve’s shoulder and nodding. “This, I like. Rogers, what has gotten into you?”

“Nothing, and that may be the problem,” Steve replied easily.

“Oh my god. Do you know what you are doing to me?” Bucky glanced around, to see if anyone seemed to be listening in. No one was paying them attention at the moment. Not that Steve minded any more, if he was being honest. Dress rehearsal had gone almost as good as it could have, and they were about to star in a brand new production in two days. Nothing could bring him down, except maybe a bad lift.

Steve dropped his voice a little lower. “If it’s anything like what you’ve been doing for me the past week, then yes. I know.” He thought back to the several times he had been intimate with his hand, thinking about Bucky over the last few days. “Oh, I know.” It had been a long week.

“Fair,” Bucky said. He let out a breath and tilted his head toward the stage. Steve followed his gaze to the people still in the theatre. “Let’s go see if anyone is going out tonight, what do you say?”

Steve pursed his lips, considering. It was Saturday, meaning they technically had tomorrow off. From class, anyhow. He figured Bucky would want to practice for at least part, if not most, of the morning. But he could sleep in, just a little, if needed. “Yeah, ok. Sure.” It actually sounded like a nice idea, getting to be near Bucky without the choreography looming over them.

Pietro and Wanda had already left, and Sam was sitting on a stool talking to Scott. Every now and then, Sam gestured during a story he was telling, and Scott leaned in, enthralled. Steve looked around, and saw most of the other swans had gone as well. Natasha saw Steve looking, and waved him over.

“Well done, good prince,” she greeted him with a mock curtsy, and he rolled his eyes.

“Ok, ok.” He grabbed her in a hug. “Thanks, though. I tried!”

Bucky was a step behind him. “No hugs for me? Sad.”

“I’ve got your back,” Peggy said, stepping up and offering her arms.

“Thanks, Peggy.” He looked at the others nearby. “Anyone doing anything fun tonight?”

“Two days before opening night? Dare to live dangerously.” That was Sharon, but she was laughing. She had already put on her jacket, a comfortable green windbreaker for the autumn chill.

“Well, three quarters of the company has left, I admit to that,” Bucky said. “And it looks like we’ve lost Sam for a good cause. But we’re here, so?”

In the end, they decided to head out for a drink. Steve, Peggy, Sharon, and Natasha waited for Bucky, who had the most makeup to wash off, and then they walked to a nearby little bar, a comfortable place that got just busy enough without being overcrowded.

The bar along the side was smooth polished maple with a bartender in all black, and there were some tall tables to the side, dark wood and red booths along the back, and the smallest dance floor Steve had seen in the middle. A few people were there, moving to some music while a larger crowd was gathering around the bar and ordering their first drinks of the evening. Peggy got the bartender’s attention and they grabbed their round of drinks before picking an empty half-circle booth in the corner.

Natasha went in on one side, followed by Peggy and Sharon on the end. Bucky shrugged off his jacket, hung it up on the corner of the booth, and scooted in from the other side so that he was sitting next to Natasha, leaving Steve the spot next to him. Steve’s heart started racing as he slid in, already aware of Bucky’s emanating body heat. Natasha didn’t miss a beat, and she flicked a bead of condensation off her bottle at Bucky, speaking just low enough for Bucky and Steve to hear. “You got something to tell the class, Barnes?”

Steve shared a look with Bucky. He didn’t know what Bucky considered the two of them. They hadn’t gotten that far yet. But Bucky tilted his beer to the ceiling and drank before answering. “Nothing you haven’t already figured out, Nat. And probably, if we’re being honest, less than that.”

Less than that? Steve felt a pop of rejection and frowned into his own drink, ready to get up and go if needed. What a shitty way to end the night.

“I should clarify. Less than that only because of the current time constraints we have, but hopefully more soon.” Bucky turned toward Steve, hopeful that he had said the right thing. Steve wanted to wrap his arms around Bucky and hug him. And maybe strangle him, but just a little. They were probably on their way to true love.

“You should have clarified before you gave Steve a heart attack,” Natasha noted.

Steve scoffed. “It’s not the first time he’s done that. You should have seen what happened when I saw him with Rumlow the other morning.”

That got everyone’s attention.

“Really, Bucky? Why?” That was Sharon, frowning heavily at Bucky.

“It wasn’t like that, I promise!” Bucky looked at everyone, his hands up in the “I surrender” pose, and he shifted in his seat. “He was just trying to convince me it’d be worth it to leave the company.”

Peggy raised her eyebrow. “Really. Is his head full of rocks or does he really believe the garbage they tell him over there?”

“It’s hard to say, Peggy. I never did get a chance to peek in his skull and see. He always did seem to rattle a little during practice, though, wouldn’t you say?”

Everyone laughed, and the topic almost changed back to the ballet, but then Sharon spoke up again. She wasn’t angry like before, just amused. “You would know, Bucky. You were always the closest to him, probably crushing on him cause he was exactly the type you go for - lithe and tough all at once.”

Steve was shocked to see Bucky blush. “Sharon!” Bucky shook his head. “It’s really not like that, not anymore!”

“Well of course not!” Sharon took a sip of her beer, oblivious to the way Steve’s face had fallen. “You’d be crazy to still see whatever it was you saw in him. But I remember when you were over the moon for the guy, how everything he did was a sign he liked you too. It was cute, Bucky!”

Peggy bit her lip and Natasha refrained from rolling her eyes. Bucky turned to Steve and winced when he saw the even look on Steve’s face. “It really isn’t like that, Steve.”

Natasha reached over and put her hand on Steve’s knee. “Sharon,” she said, “I don’t think it’s fair to tease Bucky for that any more, not after what Rumlow did.”

Sharon looked from Natasha to Bucky, and then nodded, blinking. “Hey, yeah, I’m sorry. I really didn’t mean anything by it!”

But Steve was done with the emotional whiplash of the evening, or at the very least, he needed to take a minute to breath. “I’m gonna head outside for a minute, I’ll be right back,” he muttered as he got up.

He didn’t turn to see if anyone followed him out, just dodged some dancing couples and headed out the door of the now-full bar and turned to the side, going over a few steps on the sidewalk, leaning against the brick of the building and sighing. His breath hung in the air, a faint mist for a moment before dissipating, just like his anger. He really couldn’t be mad at Bucky for liking someone before him, even if the someone in question was arguably a jerk.

“Hey.”

Steve looked up to see Bucky standing a couple of feet away, looking down at his feet and then mustering up the courage to look Steve in the eyes. Steve held his gaze, and waited for whatever else Bucky was going to say. It wasn’t even really a surprise to hear what Sharon said - Bucky had almost told him as much about Rumlow before. It was just the way Bucky had blushed at the mention of it tonight that had Steve seconding guessing where they were going.

Bucky took a deep breath, and then turned so that he, too, was leaning against the brick. They were side by side now, and Bucky looked up toward the sky. “I mean, you knew that I liked him before. I told you, didn’t I?”

“Kind of,” Steve admitted. He waited, letting the night air settle around them. People were walking past on the sidewalk, heading into the bar or going past to find a different place. No one was paying attention to them.

Bucky hesitated, and then started speaking, slowly at first and then picking up speed. “When I was in my accident - my arm and shoulder were horrible. Doctor said initially they thought I might have no sensation left in my arm when they looked at the x-rays and scans. Thankfully when the swelling went down, it wasn’t as bad as they feared. Still had to do a shit ton of physically therapy. I was out for a year and it was the worst year of my life.”

He turned to Steve, and Steve nodded to show he was listening. He didn’t want to force Bucky to re-live anything he didn’t want to, but he also didn’t want to cut Bucky off if there was more to be said.

“Rumlow, uh, he came and saw me at the hospital. Visited me at home. Cared about me. Y’know how some people can be when they think you’re not going to be useful to them anymore? A lot of my friends had stopped talking to me by the end of the year. Not entirely their fault - they had class and rehearsal and performances, and I tried to watch, to support them, but - it just reminded me what I might be losing forever if my shoulder didn’t get better.”

“But Rumlow was there for you,” Steve repeated slowly. “I can’t picture it, but obviously you saw a side of the guy we didn’t know.”

Bucky’s smile was rueful. “Yeah, well, you probably think I’m a pretty bad judge at character.”

“50/50, buddy.” Steve grinned. “You seem to like me alright. Which makes you a horrible judge of character.”

“Don’t you get me started!” Some of Bucky’s swagger was back, but he was still reminiscing. He paused again. “I guess I started to see something in him that maybe was there, maybe wasn’t. Or maybe Hydra promised him so much that he couldn’t see past his own ego anymore. I don’t know. But I haven’t thought about him like that in a very long while.”

“Hey. You don’t have to justify it to me,” Steve said. “But I, uh, appreciate it. Because I know it’s ridiculous, but I was feeling a little jealous.”

Bucky nodded, but he didn’t say anything else. The silence blanketed them and Steve realized for the first time that Bucky hadn’t grabbed his jacket and was outside in just his t shirt. He was starting to shiver. Steve took a step so that they were standing side by side, Steve pressed up against Bucky’s arm and chest and legs. He wrapped an arm around Bucky’s waist, and Bucky leaned against him.

“It’s the worst feeling in the world, thinking that you’re not going to be able to dance anymore.” Steve was technically talking to Bucky, but he had a feeling anyone in the company would have agreed with him. He thought about Peggy, the thousands of hours over the years that she had put in to get where she was. Natasha, who never talked about her time dancing as a child in Russia. Sam, who spoke of what he would do if he wasn’t dancing, but always referencing it in the distant future. Dancing was what they had, was wrapped around the core of themselves in a way that could never be untangled.

“At about six months out, I was pretty convinced I was going to have to go to school, get a degree in finance or something and just give up on ever being on stage again.” Bucky shook his head. “It was a rough time. Thankfully it was within the next month that my physical therapy seemed to really take hold and dancing became an option again. You actually joined the company just a few months after I got back.”

“I didn’t know it had been that soon.” Even though Steve pressed up as close to Bucky as he could, Bucky was still shivering. They had to go back in soon so he talked fast, relating a tale he had never actually told anyone before. “I had actually just gotten over pneumonia the year before. I was hospitalized for two weeks and had to do IV antibiotics at home for another two weeks before everything started to clear up. I was lying there in that damn hospital bed, thinking about my mom. She had been a professional dancer, right up until I came along with all of my health problems.

“She didn’t think twice about it, didn’t complain. Just went back to school, got her RN degree and started working as a nurse to pay for my doctor’s appointments and hospital visits. And there I was some decade later, fucking up everything she had done for me by getting sick yet again. They had me on oxygen for a few days, like I was ninety years old. The word ‘hospice’ escaped the doctor’s mouth one morning.

“It took me over a year to build up my strength and stamina after that. I had gotten an offer with the company right before I was hospitalized and I had to turn it down.”

Steve took a deep breath, and looked up at Bucky. Bucky’s eyes shone with an unspoken promise to protect him, but Steve all but pushed him back toward the door. “We should go back to the others and not be rude.”

“Steve -” Bucky planted his feet for a moment more, hugging himself to stay warm. “What I said about waiting until after opening night to talk? I was just worried that maybe you didn’t want what I want and I thought I could just put it out of my mind until after tomorrow. But clearly - I think? We’re on the same page. This isn’t just going to be some short-term fling. Right?”

When he heard those words, without hesitating, Steve went on tip-toe, tilting his head up until they were kissing. Bucky’s lips were soft and perfect. And cold. “Right,” Steve breathed out as he stepped back, giving Bucky a playful push towards the door. He couldn’t deny it - he was falling hard for Bucky.

 

 

Chapter Text

Steve didn’t wake up Sunday morning with a headache, but by ten in the morning, a dull throbbing pain had settled behind his eyes, stretching back around his head in a band of tension. It started the moment he finished reading the inflammatory article about their dress rehearsal that had gone up online two hours earlier.

“You should have woke me up when you saw this,” he grumped to Clint, who just took the laptop away from Steve and offered him a bagel instead.

“Why, so you could have been upset two hours earlier? While being two hours more tired? Thanks, but no thanks.” Clint sat down on the couch, next to Steve. The laptop was across the room now as though out of sight, out of mind would help. “Sorry, though. That’s a bad review.”

“It shouldn’t even exist.” Steve had only had two beers last night, but they had stayed up later than he normally would have. And that would have been fine, too, if it hadn’t been for this damn article just floating around on the internet, deriding his performance at the dress rehearsal and suggesting that Bucky was displeased with the show. That Bucky was considering leaving the production at the last minute. “Who would have seen the performance and known what steps I should have been dancing? It would have been someone in the company. Or Rumlow.”

“That’s some spy stuff right there,” Clint said, grabbing his mug off the coffee table and taking a deep drink. He breathed out an “ahhh” before taking another sip.

“Yeah. I guess he could have snuck into the theatre. Certainly enough people were coming and going when you consider cast, crew, and audience.” Steve took a bite of the bagel, cinnamon with cream cheese, and he sighed. “Just when I was thinking we were going to make this all work.”

“Didn’t you say you’re going to practice the part with Bucky today?”

“And tomorrow, yeah, but at this point everyone’s going to know what happened.” Steve put the bagel down so he could put his head in his hands. “I don’t even care about it, let them think what they want. But I don’t like letting the rest of my company down.”

“First off, not letting anyone down,” Clint said. “Second, we can always fall back on our original plan of having you make out with the guy for a couple hours onstage.”

That got a grin from Steve as he lifted his head back up. “Ok, yeah. I guess they’d probably find fault in that performance too, though, and I’m not ready to hear ‘ Steve Rogers could use a few more years learning the basics before attempting a professional level of making out’ and all that.”

Clint howled with laughed as Steve’s phone buzzed with a text. He picked it up, saw that Natasha had seen the article, and his frustration was renewed. “And we only changed one part of the choreography!”

“And you’re going to go practice it, and put the better part in tomorrow. There, problem solved. You owe me a nickel.” Clint looked pleased with himself for the reference.

“I still owe you dinner,” Steve said. “At this rate, I’m going to owe you a week of dinners. Thanks for the support, Clint.”

“It’s not entirely selfless!” Clint wagged a finger. “After all, you’ll probably have to walk me out of my Santa-shaped pit of despair in few weeks if I can’t get this new act to come together. I’ve been banging my head against the wall trying to figure out how to make my quiver look like a toy sack without losing my arrows in there. Don’t laugh! It’s not as easy as it seems!”

They spent some time discussing ways Clint could put his act together for the holiday-themed circus performance he would be in, and then they spent some more time discussing Bucky.

“What about you Clint? Maybe I don’t need to buy you dinner. Maybe I need to set you up with someone.”

Clint shook his head. “I don't want to be set up on any blind dates.” He tapped his hearing aid and laughed. “Now what about setting me up on a deaf date, though! So you can show me a picture of her, but don’t you dare play any audio.”

Steve got up to grab his ballet bag and head to the studio, hoping to get there before Bucky. “You’re too much, Clint. I’ll keep my ear out for you.”

 

~~~

 

Steve breathed deeply, his lungs filling with air. Counting to four with each inhale, each pause, each exhale, he raised his hands toward the studio ceiling. He lowered his hands to the ground in a swan dive, touching his palms to the floor as his hamstrings warmed to the movement.

He went through several sun salutations before going through tree for balance, triangle to open his chest and half moon just for fun. The flow of his limbs through each yoga pose felt like an invitation to dance. He had fun with a few more balance poses, appreciating that his body worked with him, and not against him like it had for so many years, growing up with illness after illness followed by that awful bout of pneumonia.

“Looking good, Rogers!” Bucky called out and Steve almost fell out of crow pose.

But he could see Bucky’s reflection against the wall watching him, and instead, Steve took a deep breath and lifted his legs up until he was in a handstand. Bucky’s reflection grinned and Steve split his legs, one forward and one backward, alternating once before arching his back and bringing both legs to the ground. He stood up and laughed when he saw his face in the mirror - red from the effort and being upside down, but it had been worth it to show off.

“In fact, you’ve given me an idea to run by T’Challa,” Bucky continued, his reflection coming closer. Steve turned around in time to face Bucky with just a foot or two of space between them. “We should do a lift with you upside down!”

“Hmm.” Steve closed his eyes and imagined Bucky lifting him up by the hips, his legs wrapping around Bucky’s shoulders. That was nice. “I think we should leave the innovation to T’Challa,” He opened his eyes and cursed his voice for betraying his thoughts, going lower with the thought of Bucky sucking him off upside down.

Bucky grinned. “He might not want to innovate with you the same way I do.” He winked and dropped his ballet bag to the floor, pushing it against the wall. He took out a water bottle and a hair tie. In one smooth movement, he was wrapping his hair around his hand and twisting the tie around it, moving his hand to reveal a perfectly imperfect bun, the kind that had just one or two wisps of hair escaping already, an innocent halo of hair around his dark eyes and knowing smile.

Steve matched Bucky’s smile, running his tongue over his lip as if he were only wetting his chapped skin and not trying to tease Bucky back. They were sort of done with professionalism, but Steve still took a deep breath to calm his racing heartbeat. “As much as I want to innovate with you, I figure we should start with practice. And I was thinking I’d try to get in some weight lifting after.”

“I agree.” Bucky was right there next to Steve, wrapping his hand around his waist and giving him a little hug. “I think we should just start with the lift, and see if we’ve still got it. And I’ll gladly accompany you to the weight room.” His hand lingered just long enough for Steve to start grinning again as Bucky got in position for their dance.

“I’m not going to be able to do the lift if I’m all worked up because of you!”

Steve focused on Bucky as they started from a point a few minutes before the lift, taking the time to reacquaint themselves with each other, picking up where they left off yesterday. It only took a few seconds for Steve to fall into that headspace, dancing opposite Bucky as their arms and legs moved in tandem across the studio.

Steve counted the steps to the lift, setting his balance low and leaning back as Bucky approached, and together, they executed a beautiful flurry of motion. Steve grinned as they danced for a few more seconds to transition out of the lift, but then he looked back and saw Bucky almost looked disappointed.

“We should have done it at the rehearsal!” Bucky sighed. “And then there wouldn’t have been any chance for that claptrap of the ‘whole ballet being changed for the new principal.’”

“Oh, you saw the article?” Steve pressed his lips together, not quite a frown, but heading there fast. Of course Bucky would have seen the article too. Who hadn’t? Someone had posted it on the most popular dancing forums.

“We only changed one thing!” Bucky threw his arms into the air, indignant.

“Yeah.” Steve didn’t know what else to say, wanted to just take the blame and absolve Bucky, but Bucky was already calming himself and shaking it off.

“It doesn’t even matter. The show tomorrow is going to be perfect. No one can say anything then.”

“Now that,” Steve said as he met Bucky’s eyes, “is a lot of pressure.” Steve wasn’t backing down, though. His gaze was steel, his heels planted.

There was something about the way Bucky looked back at him that had Steve mesmerized, unable to look away. “Steve. If you didn’t fold under the pressure of getting up in front of everyone and dancing the part just minutes after Rumlow left the room, then winning over an audience is nothing. You already have T’Challa on your side. Director Fury was impressed for chrissakes.”

“I know. I couldn’t have asked for a better reaction.” Steve saw their reflections in the mirror, so close they looked like they were touching, and he remembered how they had talked outside of the bar last night, how close he had felt to Bucky. That closeness swirled around them again, and the frustration over the article began to ease off.

“Let’s do the part again?” Bucky’s voice was determined and Steve swore he heard excitement behind it.

Steve nodded. “Ok. Yeah. At least two or three more times to make sure we’ve really got it. If you don’t mind me touching you that many times.”

Bucky grinned in delight.

They got into position and repeated the sequence, dancing together until they were both panting, sweat dotting their shirts. Steve broke away from Bucky the third time they did it successfully, grabbing his water bottle.

“I dare say we have it.” The water was refreshing and sweet, the taste of success. “Rumlow isn’t going to know what hit him.”

Bucky raised an eyebrow as he came over for a drink. “Rumlow’s gonna come see it, you think?”

“I can’t imagine him not, if we’re being honest.” Steve looked thoughtful. “I’m pretty sure he snuck in to see the dress rehearsal, and was hoping it would be a lot worse than it is. I think he’s gonna hold out hope that we fuck it up tomorrow.”

“Stone cold, Steve.” Bucky sat down, stretching his legs in wide splits and leaning over each leg in turn. “But you’re probably right.”

Steve took a few steps away and then back, pacing. “Yeah, but it doesn’t feel good. The guy was part of our team. It hurts to think about how long he was planning this.”

“You know I know how much it hurts.”

The silence blanketed over them again, settling heavy in the studio and Steve wished he could turn back time, just a few minutes, and stop bringing up Rumlow to Bucky, especially after their conversation last night.

Bucky was stretching, reaching over his right foot, and Steve studied him for a minute, eyes lingering over his muscled legs, the small of his back, his shoulders stretched taut and tense under his shirt. Steve thought about offering a back massage. They probably could both use one. Bucky straightened up and saw Steve staring. He grinned, standing up and prowling towards Steve, who stopped pacing and allowed Bucky to catch him.

Just as Bucky reached out to pull Steve closer, the door to the studio swung open as Sam came in. Steve and Bucky jumped like surprised school children, but Sam didn’t seem to notice.

“I know it’s not true,” he was saying as he stepped across the studio floor, “But I need to hear it from your own mouth, Barnes. You’re not really planning to leave the company for Hydra, are you?”

Bucky blinked. “Hell no, Sam!” He turned towards Steve, as though asking for backup. Steve nodded, taking another step back from Bucky so that they were out of ‘definitely about to kiss’ range. “I can’t stand that I even talked to Rumlow. I’m sure he knew what he was doing!”

“I know he’s a blowhard,” Sam said. “It’s just the way that people were talking and, I don’t know. After all the hard work we’ve put in with Steve, I couldn’t bear the thought of the company being let down again.”

“Anyone who thinks I would leave has no clue about me.” Bucky seemed deflated at the thought that even Sam felt the need to track him down and confirm that the spreading rumor was just that - a horrible, nasty rumor.

“He wouldn’t be in here practicing with me on a Sunday morning if there was even a grain of truth to that rubbish.” Steve couldn’t resist adding his two cents, and thankfully, Sam nodded in agreement.

“And after you got me in good with Scott, I couldn’t believe what I was reading.” Sam leaned against the wall. “This is just crazy, everything that’s happened since Rumlow left. I hate looking for hidden meaning in everyone’s moves, you know?”

“Well, no hidden motive here,” Bucky reiterated. “I sincerely can’t wait for opening night. Gonna show everyone how we step up in the face of a challenge.”

Steve leaned against the wall, now a safe distance from Bucky. “Bucky and I are going by the weight room after this if you want to join us.”

Sam considered for a moment. “I think I’m gonna go for a run and clear my head, but thanks. I’ll see you guys at class tomorrow.” Sam waved and headed back out, and Steve and Bucky exchanged glances.

“Tomorrow evening cannot come fast enough,” Steve said. He gestured to the middle of the studio. “Do you think we need to practice it again?”

Bucky glanced at the clock on the wall. “If you’re comfortable with it, I’m comfortable with it. We can run through it again tomorrow to make sure. Meantime, let’s hit the weights and then maybe have lunch?” Bucky looked so hopeful when he made the suggestion that Steve had to be sure he wasn’t daydreaming. How many times in the past few days had he thought about getting together with Bucky? And now that not only seemed like a possibility, but maybe even something more.

Steve grabbed his bag and water bottle. “Sounds like a plan to me.”

Pietro was finishing a set of squats, generic rock music blaring as Steve and Bucky walked into the weight section of the upstairs physio suite. The space was packed to the brim with various weights and bars. Pietro racked the weights, turning to wave. The mirror in front of the squat rack had given them away.

“Skipping out on us and going to Hydra, that’s the word on the street.” Pietro leveled a look at Bucky. He kept the ends of his dark hair silver, and managed to look like a disapproving parent despite Bucky being several years older than him.

“Aw, c’mon, Pietro!” Bucky pouted. “Not you too.”

Pietro waved it off, bouncing on his toes for a few seconds in between his sets. “I don’t know where people come up with these things. But they’re saying that you were talking to Rumlow just the other day.”

Bucky grumbled. “That part is technically true, but -” He glared as Pietro raised an eyebrow. “But Rumlow was just trying to get a rise out of me, and trying to get some credibility to the rumors he’s trying to start. I’m not leaving. They’d have to drag me kicking and screaming to Hydra.”

Satisfied with Bucky’s answer, Pietro nodded and then turned his attention back to the bar in front of him. Steve started setting up at a second squat rack and Bucky grabbed some weights for military presses. They lifted without talking, letting the music fill the room. Pietro finished up after another quarter hour, heading out as he wished them a good afternoon. They lifted a little while longer, working hard without overdoing it.

“Still up for lunch?” Bucky asked as Steve wiped sweat off his forehead with a towel.

Sweat dotted the edges of Steve’s hair and he was starting to think his deodorant might not be holding up. “Up for a shower,” Steve corrected, then paused as he realized the implications of his comment.

Bucky grinned. “I mean, if you think we’re already at that stage of our relationship?”

The way he said “our relationship” had Steve closing the space between them, sweaty shirts and red faces be damned. He kissed Bucky with an intensity that had Bucky pressing up against him right away. Steve ran his hand down Bucky’s back, looping his fingers around the elastic of Bucky’s shorts and pulling him in even closer.

“Yeah, I think maybe,” Steve said as he stepped back from Bucky, looking satisfied as Bucky whined, trying to close the distance between them again. “My apartment isn’t very far from here, if you’re interested?” He knew it could be risky, because Clint didn’t go out every Sunday afternoon, but it was usually the time of day that he would go out for lunch with friends or hit the grocery store.

Bucky took a step forward, until there was only fabric separating them, and Steve felt the beginning of Bucky’s erection pressing into his leg. “Yeah, I don’t think showering here would be the best idea.”

Steve’s grin turned up at the corners, a little more wicked. “Well, never say never, right?”

His mouth dropping open wide, Bucky almost squeaked. “You wouldn’t dare.”

“You’re the guy that imagines himself naked for performances,” Steve said. “Tell me that you don’t get off on the idea of someone walking in on us.” Not that Steve had been thinking about it himself, no.

Bucky bit his bottom lip. “Rogers, you have got to knock that off or I won’t be able to walk to your apartment.”

Steve tilted his head, putting his hands under his chin in a pose of pure innocence. “Just thinking out loud. We’re probably not there yet in our relationship.” He winked. Oh, but it felt good to finally have Bucky’s attention.

They made it to Steve’s empty apartment in record time, and Steve grabbed for Bucky’s shirt just as soon as he unzipped his jacket.

“What, I don’t even get the tour?” Bucky raised an eyebrow and pretended to look stern as he pulled his shirt out of Steve’s hand.

Steve waved his other hand around the room. “Here’s our all-in-one dining room, living room, kitchen and office space. Down the hall is Clint’s bedroom and mine is here to the side and here -” Steve pulled Bucky by the shirt. “Is the bathroom. It has a nice shower.”

“You don’t say.” Bucky let himself be led down the hallway and into the bathroom.

It was possibly the nicest part of the apartment - large enough by apartment standards that they could both stand comfortably in the room without someone being forced to straddle the toilet or sit on the sink. The tub was standard size, the shower curtain a pattern of birds in various states of diving and the towels soft and blue.

“Nice curtain,” Bucky said, brushed up against Steve as Steve took off his shirt and leaned into the tub to turn on the faucets.

Steve pulled the tab to start the shower and shrugged. “Clint got it. Claims it spoke to him.”

Bucky looked thoughtful. Or maybe he was just staring at Steve. “You’re lucky I don’t have ornithophobia. Would have made this whole encounter a lot different.”

The water took a few minutes to heat up, but Steve had no problem finding something to occupy their time, grabbing the hem of Bucky’s shirt and looking up at him, batting his eyelashes. “Can I help you with this now? Or is it still too soon?”

Bucky laughed. “Yeah, ok, Steve.” And yet he still gasped when Steve began pulling the shirt up inch by slow inch, bringing as much of their skin in contact as possible as slowly as possible. Bucky was warm, solid muscle, and Steve enjoyed every bit of it, running one hand along Bucky’s hip, hooking a finger on the drawstring of Bucky’s warm-up pants.

“I’ve wanted to touch you like this for a really long time,” Steve couldn’t help but admit as he stepped back. “You’re amazing.”

WIth a smile, Bucky put his hands on Steve’s hips, pulling him back so they were skin to skin. He leaned down and pressed kisses to Steve’s lips, his nose, his forehead. “Steve, you’re amazing.” Bucky tugged at elastic of Steve’s pants, pushing them down part of the way and letting gravity do the rest. Bucky’s hands were everywhere then, one on the Steve’s smooth abdomen, one trailing down Steve’s back and then down his hips, and then back up at his shoulders, Bucky tilting his head to nip at Steve’s ear.

Steve shuddered and Bucky grinned, kissing his way down the side of Steve’s neck, Steve shifting to give him plenty of access. “Water’s probably warm by now,” Steve breathed out, tugging down on Bucky’s pants and underwear together.

“After you,” Bucky replied, stepping out of the garments and standing completely naked in front of Steve.

“I’m gonna need a moment,” Steve said. The clothes Bucky wore to practice, the way he stretched and danced - it didn’t leave a lot to the imagination, but it was still nothing compared to seeing him unclothed and erect. “God damn.”

Bucky posed, putting his hand on his hip and grinning. “Anytime you’re ready. You gonna stare while the water goes cold?”

“I’m considering it, yes.” Steve pulled off his underwear, almost shy, and got into the shower.

The water was perfect, warm without scalding, and Bucky came in behind Steve. Steve handed him a washcloth as he stepped in and, Bucky raised an eyebrow.

“We’re actually showering?” Amusement shone in his eyes and rang in his voice.

“Hell yeah you’re putting some soap on your cock and washing off the sweat before I put it in my mouth,” Steve replied, with a satisfied grin as said part of Bucky’s anatomy twitched at Steve’s words.

Steve handed Bucky some body wash that smelled like cinnamon, and Bucky flipped open the top, pouring a copious amount on the washcloth. He made a show of scrubbing himself under the arms, on his chest, and was about to clean between each toe when Steve grabbed the washcloth.

“Clean enough! We can focus on this spot here,” Steve said as he lay the warm cloth over Bucky’s cock and used his fingertips to massage, gentle touches that had Bucky arching his hips towards Steve, silently hoping for more friction.

Tugging on Bucky’s hand to bring him under the water, Steve took the washcloth and hung it on a shelf before making sure that everything was well rinsed. The body wash probably didn’t taste as good as it smelled. Then he pushed Bucky out of the water and up against the cool tile before kneeling down in front of him.

Bucky bit back a groan at the sight of Steve on his knees, water hitting his back and running down his chest and legs, dripping off of his cock. And Steve grinned up at Bucky, his hands on Bucky’s hips, sliding down onto Bucky’s well-muscled and slippery wet thighs.

“These fucking thighs,” Steve said. “Do you have any clue what you do to me with them? What I want you to do to me?” He leaned in, kissing the skin where Bucky’s leg and groin met.

“Mmm, tell me.” Bucky closed his eyes, leaning his head back.

Steve didn’t need much encouragement. He ran his hand along the front of Bucky’s thigh, nipping at the sensitive skin of the inner thigh, so very close to Bucky’s cock without touching it. “I kept thinking about how much I wanted those thighs around me,” he said, his fingers climbing over where his lips had just been. “How I want them pulling me in deeper when I’ve got my cock in you.”

“Damn, Steve.” Bucky’s skin flushed red from cheeks to chest.

So it had escalated a little faster than he intended. “This is what happens when I have to wait forever and six days to lay my hands on you!” Steve looked up at Bucky though lust-hazed eyes. “I’ll take a good three quarters of the blame, but damn, Bucky. See! Two can play at that game.”

Bucky opened his mouth to say something else smart, but Steve leaned in and took his heavy cock in his mouth. One hand still playing at the muscle of Bucky’s thigh and the other coming up to tease at his balls, Steve hummed as he took a moment to become familiar with Bucky’s erection. Long and thick, he wasn’t going to be taking him all in all at once, that was for sure.

But Steve didn’t mind a challenge. He teased with his tongue and sucked, the beautiful sound of Bucky moaning setting off his own cock. Bucky had most of his weight against the tile back of the shower, and Steve took a short break to catch his breath and worship Bucky’s beautiful thighs again, kissing and licking and testing out a few more nips.

Bucky was reactive to it all, from light gasps and shivering to an outright shout when Steve took his cock back in his mouth, taking in as much as he could and moving at a pace designed to drive Bucky crazy, and fast.

“Fuck, Steve,” Bucky said, his voice rough and low, his eyes half-closed, and his body pressed against the tile because his legs sure as hell weren’t doing a good enough job to support him right this moment.

Steve, having quite a bit in his mouth, couldn’t actually reply. He hummed around Bucky’s cock and was rewarded with another groan.

“Seriously, fuck, oh my god,” Bucky panted, threading his fingers through Steve’s hair. He could have sworn Steve grinned, before slowing down and pulling back, leaving Bucky to rock his hips for more. “Please, Steve, it feels so good.”

That had Steve’s erection pulsing between his legs. Steve reached one hand down, fisting his cock and giving Bucky what he asked for, wishing he had a couple of extra hands to run along Bucky’s back and hips and thighs and chest. Steve realized he was so very close to coming, much closer than he would have thought just from listening to Bucky get sucked off.

“Just like that, please,” Bucky’s voice was wrecked, and Steve was absolutely gone. After all this time hoping and wanting and wishing that Bucky would show interest in him, and now he was standing in front of him and begging . Steve shuddered hard, his orgasm hitting him fast and sudden and refusing to let up.

Steve opened his eyes to see Bucky throwing his head back and bracing himself with a hand against the side of the shower.

“Gonna come,” he managed, giving Steve a split second of warning before he jerked once, coming with a quiet intensity while Steve held his hips. Steve felt warm cum pool in his mouth and he swallowed, easing off Bucky’s cock slowly and gently, kissing the tip and smiling when it twitched.

The bathroom was silent save for the running water and then Bucky reached down to help Steve back to his feet, and they embraced under the water. It was starting to get a little cold, but it felt nice after how heated things had gotten.

“Do you need to wash anywhere else?” Steve asked, half serious.

Bucky laughed. The sound filled the shower like bells. “Wow, Steve.”

“Gonna take that as a no and turn off the water,” Steve replied, reaching back with one hand to make good on his promise while refusing to turn away from Bucky.

The towels hung on the bar outside of the shower, ready and waiting, but Steve didn’t want to move, not yet. He wanted to stare into Bucky’s gorgeous eyes as their wet skin stuck together.

There was a knock on the bathroom door, followed by Clint’s voice. “Any damn time you’re done in there, Rogers! Some of us can’t hold our bladders for twenty-five hours, you know.”

Steve grinned and shrugged his shoulders as he grabbed a towel for Bucky and one for himself. “Hold your damn horses, Clint. Just one more minute.” He gestured for Bucky to grab his clothes and Bucky did, after wrapping the towel around his waist. In a quieter voice, he added, “Clint probably doesn’t realize you’re here, so - hope you’re ready to officially meet the roommate!”

Bucky shrugged, and his towel nearly fell off. He grabbed it and re-wrapped himself as Steve opened the bathroom door.

“About time -” Clint cut off as Steve stepped out, followed by Bucky, who waved. “Well, goddamn, Steve.” To Bucky, he added, “Glad to meet the guy my roommate hasn’t shut up about in the last, well, what? Eighteen months? Give or take a year?”

Steve turned away before Bucky could see his face start to flush. “Clint!”

Clint ignored Steve, and shook Bucky’s hand. “You must be Bucky. I was told we met last year, but I feel like you were probably wearing a lot more clothing then.”

“And you must be Clint,” Bucky replied. He looked over at Steve and grinned. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, too.”

“Just next time, let me know the dress code and I won’t come so overdressed!”

Steve groaned, taking Bucky’s hand. “C’mon. We can get dressed in my room.”

“See you guys soon? Or should I plan to wait another hour?” Clint’s grin matched Bucky’s. “Just pretend like I’m not here,” he lilted as he closed the bathroom door behind him, leaving Steve and Bucky in the hallway.

“I like him,” Bucky declared.

Steve pretend pouted. “You’re supposed to like me.”

Bucky swept Steve up in his arms and pressed a kiss against his lips. “I think I really, really do.”

“You guys better not be making out in my hallway,” Clint called from the bathroom and Steve and Bucky laughed.

“Well,” said Steve as he brought Bucky into his room so they could get dressed, “I think I really like you too.”

 

 

Chapter Text

“So everything worked out then?” Clint came out of his room the next morning and saw Steve sitting at the table, drinking coffee.

“Morning.” Steve looked up as steam wafted out of the mug. “I think so? We wanted to get sleep for today’s performance, so he went home shortly after you headed to bed. But be honest - what do you think?”

“I like him.” Clint nodded to himself as he ambled into the kitchen and pulled down a coffee cup, filling it from the coffee pot. “He was friendly, polite, and has legs so nice that I was thinking about changing teams for a bit.”

Steve’s mind helpfully replayed the events of last evening, highlighting the image of water dripping down the muscular lines of of Bucky’s thighs. “Yeah, they’re pretty nice.” He congratulated himself for sounding matter of fact and not subjecting Clint to a rambling ode to Bucky.

“And today’s the big day. Nothing in your way. You guys practiced your part, nothing left to do except amaze everyone, right?”

“I hope so.” Steve considered how he was feeling. No pounding in his head, no tightness behind his eyes, no pain in his sinuses. Shoulders relaxed, and he was breathing easy. His hands were warm around his cup of coffee, and he wasn’t trying to shred any piece of paper that came his way. “I’m feeling calmer than I would have thought, that’s for sure.”

Clint kept rummaging around in the kitchen, taking down a frying pan and getting the carton of eggs out of the fridge. “Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but maybe that’s because you’re a competent dancer about to dance a part that you’ve learned well. Gonna make some eggs, you want some?”

“Competent dancer? No, that doesn’t sound right. Eggs sound good, thanks.” Steve had another half hour before he had to leave for class. And the thought of seeing Bucky again had him excited, not worried or nervous. It felt good to not worry.

But cautiously good. Steve wasn’t going to truly let his breath out until the final curtain closed that evening. In the meantime, he ate breakfast with Clint and then headed to the studio.

 

~~~

 

Steve didn’t have time to even make eye contact with Bucky in the studio before Natasha grabbed his hand, pulling him out to the hallway. “Did you hear what happened?” Her voice was hushed as she glanced around. Most of the dancers were in the studio already, and Steve guessed by her low tone that no one else knew either.

“Obviously not, Nat, I literally just got here?” Steve looked at Natasha, whose ballet bun had about three strands of hair out of place. Whatever had happened was quite serious.

“Someone broke into the theatre and stole the swan costumes. I heard Darcy say whoever did it left sixty pairs of worn out toe shoes in their place.” She rolled her eyes.

Processing what she just said took a few seconds on Steve’s part. First, he registered that she said someone broke into the theatre. A second later, the fact that the costumes were gone hit him. “It has to be someone from Hydra,” he said without hesitation. He was ready to go across town and confront the whole damn studio by himself. This was beyond bullshit, beyond a friendly so-called prank. “But seriously, what the hell.”  He fumed, unable to formulate a better sentence.

“Darcy is meeting with T’Challa and they’re gonna go from there. Of course the police are already involved, but whether we get the costumes back by tonight? They’re going to have an impossible time pinning it on Hydra in one day.”

“And that’s all they need, is one day.” Steve didn’t spit on the floor, though he wanted to. The peaceful, easy feeling he had woken up with dissipated like fog breaking up under the hot sun. “What is their fucking problem?”

“I mean, at a guess, some people just really don’t like the idea of a male prince dancing with a male swan.” Natasha’s eye roll was full force this time. “We’re corrupting children, pushing an ‘agenda,’ making things ‘political.’ As if dance has never been political.”

“And it’s only an agenda to them.” Steve could follow her train of thought. “What are we supposed to do?”

“For now? Go to class and pretend everything is great. But I just didn’t want you blindsided if they announce anything later today. You’ve already put so much of yourself into this part.”

“Thanks, Nat.” He sighed, as she waved him to start heading back into the studio. And then he grinned. “Bucky’ll be happy to dance naked if that’s what it comes down to.”

“If that’s the case,” Natasha replied without missing a beat, “we should definitely double the ticket prices. Maybe triple them.”

Now when Steve went back to the studio, he was nervous to make eye contact with anyone. Though he was capable of pushing down emotions when needed, he still couldn’t quite shake the feeling that he should be going to costuming and helping Darcy sew twenty new pairs of shorts. He had sewn once or twice, during home ec. It was bound to come back to him, right?

“You look lost in thought.” Bucky broke Steve’s train of thought with his bright eyes and devilish smile. “Was last night that bad?”

“You know the answer to that question!” Steve smiled as Bucky grabbed his hand and held it for a moment, pulling him into a quick hug. He wasn’t sure if they were telling everyone they were together yet, and the hug was short enough to be friendly, but Steve was positive he was glowing after it.

“Can’t hurt to make sure,” Bucky said as they took positions at the front of the class and glancing toward the door.

Steve took a deep breath, holding it in for several seconds before letting it out. It was going to be a long hour and a half. Maria was about two seconds late to the studio, which didn’t bode well either. That was something everyone else noticed.

“Everything ok this morning?” Wanda was closest to the door as Maria entered and she spoke softly, her voice carrying just enough for Steve to hear.

Maria’s response was even quieter, but she smiled for a split second before gesturing to the rest of the class and starting them on a warm-up. She didn’t miss a single correction or compliment, which was reassuring if nothing else. By the time they finished their grande allegro, Steve was warm, sweating, and had almost gotten the costumes off of his mind.

Almost.

When Maria dismissed the class, Steve went over to Natasha, leaving a confused Bucky to tag along out into the hallway.

“What are you going to do, Steve?” Natasha asked as they walked down the hall and toward the stairs.

“I just want to check in and see for myself, is all.” Steve didn’t stop striding, a second wind after class.

Bucky kept pace with them, though he did glance from Natasha to Steve and back. “What are we checking in on, anyhow?”

Steve made it to the staircase first, taking the steps two at a time down to the bottom floor. “That depends on what we find, I think,” he called back up. Natasha shrugged a half-serious apology to Bucky, and the two of them came down the stairs behind him.

Darcy sat sketching at one of the long tables in her office. T’Challa stood next to her, nodding at something she added. He looked up as Steve, Natasha, and Bucky entered the room. Steve wasn’t sure what expression crossed T’Challa’s face, but he masked it well and nodded to them.

“Something you need?” he asked. “Darcy is occupied at the moment.”

“Uh,” Steve paused, and then forged ahead. What difference did it make if he wasn’t supposed to know about the costumes? He did know, and if there was a way to make things work, he needed to know that too. “We were coming to check on the costume situation. To, uh, see if there was anything we could help with.”

T’Challa raised an eyebrow, just a smidge, but enough to indicate his surprise. “We didn’t tell anyone about this.”

Bucky was looking from Natasha to Steve to T’Challa to Darcy, hoping someone would fill him in, but he stayed silent.

“I overheard you in passing.” Natasha dipped her head in a brief apology for eavesdropping.

Steve turned to Bucky, as if realizing for the first time that he had no clue what was going on. “Someone broke in and stole the swan costumes.”

“Hydra?” Bucky’s response was near-immediate. “So let’s go down there and get them back.”

“We’re working on the proper channels for that,” T’Challa said without hesitation. He knew his principal dancers. “As frustrating as the situation is, we must not do something we’d regret, something that might end up with my two principal dancers being detained by officers of the law.” He paused, letting his words settle in the air like stone. “Do I make myself clear?”

“Absolutely,” Steve said. “Which is why I want to know if you need someone to sew, or pick up fabric, or whatever we can do to make this work.”

“Go to practice, Steve.” T’Challa waved his hand toward the ceiling, gesturing to the studios above them. “Be prepared to give the best performance of your career. That is how you can make this work.”

Steve nodded, a little deflated, but understanding.

“We have it under control, I promise,” Darcy said, smiling at Steve. “If we didn’t, I wouldn’t let him turn down your offer of help.”

That placated Steve, and he nodded again, starting to turn on his heel to leave. He stopped for a moment and turned back around. “May I see what you are planning?”

Darcy and T’Challa had a conversation with their eyes, Darcy looking for permission and T’Challa pursing his lips as he looked at Steve. He waved them over. Darcy had sketched a male model who was very close to an exact match for Bucky. Steve thought it was the lovely, thick thighs that really made the comparison. The costume was simple - the model remained shirtless and shoeless, and the shorts were a bit shorter than the Bermuda length of the original costumes. Gone was the fringe and in its place was a swath of streaming tail “feathers.”

“It looks really nice.” Steve imagined how Bucky would look in the new costume. “But is it rude to say I prefer the original design?”

T’Challa laughed at that, a smile crossing his face. “As do I. The fringe on the shorts moved so well with the swans. However, that is a tricky design to replicate quickly, and this will give us some of that movement while cutting down on the sewing requirement by a good half. Correct me if I’m wrong, Darcy?”

“No, definitely true,” Darcy agreed. “Our swans will be a little more naked than expected, but -” She winked at Steve. “No one will complain, I don’t think.”

Natasha traced a finger down the front of the drawing. “Not one complaint worth listening to.”

Bucky stared down at the drawing, nodding. “We can make that work.”

“Alright. Enough distractions.” T’Challa waved them out of Darcy’s studio. “Go on up. Be ready for practice.”

“Satisfied for now?” Natasha asked as they headed back up the stairs. “Or do you insist on shouldering the entire weight of the world, lest someone have a problem that you have not personally tried to solve?”

“I just don’t like bullies.” Steve sighed. They reached the next floor and he kept going. “I’m going to go up and either get a massage or do some foam rolling. And take a couple motrin. Gotta be prepared for tonight, right?”

Bucky started to head up the stairs as well. “I’ll come with. You know, if they don’t have an opening for a massage, I could give you one -”

Natasha sighed in exaggerated exasperation. “Which means I have to come with to chaperone, lest you two try to defile a perfectly innocent massage table.”

“Did you tell her about us?” Bucky asked. He wasn’t accusatory, just curious.

“Natasha knows things about me that I don’t know,” Steve said. “I’m pretty sure that someday she’ll slip and I’ll figure out how she gets her web of information, but for now? It’s just Nat.”

For her part, Natasha just smiled as sweet as syrup.

 

~~~

 

“I’m standing here in Studio C with our unlikely principal, Steven Rogers. Big fan. Tonight’s your big debut.” Sam pretended to hold a microphone up to Steve. “Tell me, how are you feeling?”

Steve waved away the fake microphone, but he was smiling. “I’m as ready as I’ll be. Let the reviewers say what they will. I’m feeling confident in us.”

“There you have it!” Sam pocketed the pretend microphone. “But seriously. A week ago, we were all pretty sure opening night would be pushed back or who knows what, and now here we are.” A few other dancers murmured their agreement. “We all appreciate your hard work.”

“It’s no more effort than anyone else would have put into the part,” Steve said. Part of him wanted to blush at the acknowledgement, but a larger part of him remembered how he had felt watching Rumlow bring Bucky down. He would do anything to prevent the storm he had seen in Bucky’s eyes, and the frustration and, yes, the sadness. “I showed up to practice, yes, but so did everyone else here. That’s the Marvel way.”

“Damn right.” Bucky spoke the very unofficial slogan: “It doesn’t matter if you’re dead, get up and keep dancing until the music stops.”

Sam toasted Bucky with his water bottle. “I’ll drink to that!”

With the costume situation more or less under control and the company in good spirits, Steve didn’t see any reason to bring down the mood by talking about Hydra. He smiled and chatted with Wanda and Pietro, waved to Sharon and Peggy over on the other side of the studio and glanced over at Bucky, who was talking to Natasha as they both stretched against the barre.

Steve wandered in their direction. He didn’t have a big enough ego to assume they were talking about him, but it wasn’t out of the question that Nat would be sharing something embarrassing now that Bucky had taken a closer position in Steve’s life.

“...and that’s how we met,” Natasha was saying, and Steve groaned.

“Not that story!”

Bucky turned to Steve with a light in his eyes and a sparkle to his smile, and Steve forgot why he was thinking about being upset. He was about to ask Bucky if they were telling everyone they were together when T’Challa came in calm and composed, and began their rehearsal for the afternoon, going over several spots of choreography and a few full scenes before pronouncing his approval.

“I am confident we will put on an excellent production tonight.” T’Challa stood in front of the group. If he was concerned about costumes, it didn’t show up in any muscle of his face, shoulders, or legs.

“Steve,” Peggy called his name as she came up to his side. “We were going to get a bite of dinner, would you like to come? Everyone’s invited, of course.”

“Great. If Steve wants to, we’ll both go.” Bucky came up to Steve’s other side, slipping a hand around Steve’s waist.

The touch did not go unnoticed by Peggy, who burst into a brilliant smile even as Steve tried not to grin too broadly.

As they left the studio, some movement caught his eyes outside, and he looked again. There were other people of course, walking up and down the sidewalk, on their way home from work or heading out for dinner or errands.

“What’s up?” Bucky was quiet enough that no one else heard him.

Steve shook his head. “I’m seeing Rumlow in the shadows.” Bucky followed his gaze, but neither of them saw anything beyond the usual rush of people and bicyclists and blur of cars, all of those noises blending into the background.

“You said yourself you expect to see him tonight, and well, because of this morning, it makes sense you’d be on edge.”

Bucky was right, and Steve did his best to shake off his nerves. What good would worrying do? They followed Peggy and the others, enjoying a light dinner and each other’s company before heading back toward the theatre to warm up for the performance.

 

~~~

 

Walking through the narrow cinder block hallways of backstage was one of Steve’s favorite pre-performance routines. He loved how the stage looked so magnificent and big from the audience, and yet was just a fraction of the all of the space it took to put on that performance. Everything had to be stored somewhere, and the winding backstage hallways boasted doors every so often that led to various prop and costume storage and workshops.

Steve, Bucky, and Sam hung out against a side wall backstage several feet from one of the huge black curtains that hid performers in the wings. Sam had one leg up the wall, his arms stretched up to his toes. Bucky was alternating feet as he rose slowly onto his toes and back down, and Steve vibrated with energy, bouncing on the balls of his feet.

“You’re wearing me out just looking at you,” Sam noted. He pressed into his stretch for another beat and then switched, putting his left leg up.

“It is his first principal performance.” Bucky continued to rise, slow and steady and sure, before lowering back down at the same tempo. “But the nervousness will fade by the end of the first act. You’ll see - it’s just like any other performance.”

“Except on the scenes that I normally retreat to the back or the side, I’ll be front and center. With you.” Steve didn’t add his thoughts, that everyone would be comparing him to Bucky and finding him lacking, and that if he did poorly, this could easily be his last principal performance.

Bucky seemed to guess what Steve was thinking. “You’ve put in effort, you have the skills, and we are going to win over this audience and every single audience that comes see us.”

Sam nodded. “We’ve all seen you do the part now, and it looks like it was made for you. When Scott and I were -”

Steve lit up with a grin that had him forgetting to bounce. “Ah, yeah, you and Scott? What were you doing?” Sam started to blush, his cheeks darkening and his grin widening. “That’s awesome. He seems really nice.”

“Oh, he’s nice,” Sam agreed. “He didn’t believe me when I said that you two weren’t together.”

“That’s probably because he’s right,” Steve said, grabbing Bucky by the waist and pulling him close, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek.

Bucky smiled. “But to your credit, we weren’t technically together when he did our photoshoot.”

“You guys! Seriously?” Sam shook his head. “Lord, I don’t want to tell that man he was right.”

“And on that note,” Bucky glanced up at the clock on the wall. “We need to get moving and get in costume. I’ll be right behind you, Sam.”

“See you in a minute.” And then Sam was gone, heading off to the dressing rooms and Steve and Bucky were as alone as they could be in the swirl of activity backstage as props were accounted for and set pieces checked one final time.

“I’m really looking forward to doing this with you,” Bucky said, and Steve’s heart seemed to jump, missing a beat in its excitement. Bucky pulled Steve close, until nothing but fabric separated them. Steve tilted his head up, watching Bucky’s eyes under the dim light.

“Do you remember last week, when I volunteered to do the part? And you stood up for me?” Steve rested his head against Bucky’s shoulder for a moment. He heard - and felt - Bucky’s steady heartbeat, a rhythm to ground him. “It meant more to me than I could ever say.”

“I know we’ve always been friendly towards each other for the past years,” Bucky said, wrapping his arms around Steve. “It’s weird to me, now, that I never thought about you like this before.”

Steve winced, just a little. “Uh, I think there’s that whole, um, Rumlow thing.” There was that name again, always threatening to impede on their just-beginning relationship.

“Oh. Yeah.” Bucky laughed, a faraway look in his eyes as he considered what Steve said. A brush of jealousy wriggled in Steve’s stomach, before Bucky continued. “What a waste of my time! I suppose we could have gotten together ages ago if I wasn’t an idiot!”

“You’re lucky you’re very attractive and I spent about two years lusting after you.” Steve paused, his cheeks starting to burn as he recalled just how intensely he had felt. “It’s, uh, probably why my relationship with Peggy didn’t end up going anywhere.”

“A day of revelations,” Bucky said. Pietro poked his head out of the dressing room and gestured at Bucky, who seemed to remember where they were and looked up at the clock again and then towards Pietro, who was still waiting. “Shit, I’ve really got to get started on my make up!”

Steve and Bucky shared a sweet, soft kiss, and then Bucky headed off to where Sam, Pietro and the other swans were getting ready. Steve went over to another dressing room to make sure his outfits were in order, and got dressed, his fingers steady as he buttoned his jacket.

 

~~~

 

Darcy had delivered on the costumes. Though the full swan corps wouldn’t be dancing until act two, they were spread out backstage staying warm, and Steve couldn’t help but be impressed. Their temporary outfits didn’t have the same fringe as the originals, but moved with the dancers like feathers floating through the sky. He’d have to find her and ask how she did that in one day, though he suspected she had probably rounded up a small army of volunteers.

The first few bars of music wafted up from the pit, and Steve smiled, a sense of ease blending with his anticipation. He stretched down to the ground and then back up a few times, until it was time to switch spots with Peter and start his first official performance as a principal dancer.

The next half hour passed in a blur as Steve danced, confident in every part of act one. When the curtain fell for the first intermission to good applause, he was sweating and smiling and elated, even if the act did end with him being rejected by everyone and finding out that his girlfriend was being bribed to stay with him, and that the swans were haunting his every thought. Typical Swan Lake things.

Steve turned around to see Bucky smiling right back at him.

“You’re ready for this, aren’t you?” he asked.

Steve nodded. It was easier to breathe than before. “We should have told T’Challa we are going to do the original choreography.” Steve looked around. T’Challa was most likely watching from the audience. He’d find out soon enough.  

All of the swans were going through some final stretches as the music signaling the end of the intermission began, and Steve took his place just off stage. His hands were a little pale and he took a deep breath as the curtain began to rise, and then he ran on stage. The backdrop depicted the lake, and the setting was sparse with a sign that read, “Do not feed the swans.”

Beautiful, haunting music rose from the pit orchestra as Steve danced in a display of depression and anguish before turning his back to the audience and facing the lake, setting his shoulders and then running toward it to take his own life.

Three steps before the backdrop, Bucky burst onto the scene as the music swelled, knocking Steve down and standing over him in a glorious arabesque. Steve sat up, watching as Bucky danced across the stage. He didn’t have to act - the amazement Steve felt every time he watched Bucky dance was real. Bucky seemed to float when he leapt, unbound by gravity for a fraction of a second each time, his legs whipping up in the air with an effortless grace as he jumped once, twice, three times and then turned in midair. Bucky paused in a deep lunge in the middle of the stage, winding his arms in a twisting, intimidating pattern.

Steve got on his feet, tentatively chasing Bucky across the stage. Bucky pantomimed as though he would attack, warning Steve to stay back before turning and inviting him to follow, dancing just out of reach each time Steve tried to get closer. Steve loved the back and forth of it, the way they fought to understand each other, both curious but restrained. They ran off of the stage, letting the corps enter to begin their part of the piece.

In just a few moments, Steve and Bucky were back on stage again, Steve shrinking back from the flock of aggressive swans took Bucky back into their group. They stood in a diamond formation, Bucky at the front, staring down Steve as they wound their arms through the air, ready to attack. Their message was clear: he wasn't welcome here. Steve reached for Bucky and the other swans cut him off, pushing Steve back, back, back to the edge of the stage, letting Bucky leave the stage and keeping Steve trapped.

Four swans dove at him, picking him up and bringing him to the center of the stage to attack him once more. Each movement was punctuated by the frantic trill of the violin and the deep thrum of the bass drum, and then the music stopped and the swans parted to reveal Bucky at the back of the stage. He had returned for Steve.

The audience applauded as Steve and the swans froze in place for a moment, and then the music began again, a quiet lilt as Bucky crossed forward on the stage until he was just behind Steve, motioning for him to stand and face him, while the other swans swirled around the sides.

Steve reached out, putting one hand on Bucky’s waist and the other on his thigh as Bucky lifted his leg and turned toward Steve and they began their pas de deux, dancing in time to each other, Steve using an extra push off the ground to make sure he covered as much ground as Bucky. He knew his arm movements weren’t as sinuous as Bucky’s, but he projected want and need with every movement.

Bucky leaned into Steve, lifting him up on one foot for a moment before letting him back down to stage. The swans swelled between them once again and then retreated, opening the stage for Bucky to dance another solo, the stage lights highlighting the sheen of sweat on his back and chest. T’Challa’s choreography put Bucky’s strengths as a dancer on brilliant display and Steve didn’t have to glance at the audience to know they were staring enthralled at his every move.

Steve stood and danced once more with Bucky, supporting him for the moment at the height of his turn. Bucky landed like a cat on the stage and turned and lifted Steve under the arms, raising him to a glorious height as Steve kicked his legs up in the air, feeling and looking as though he were flying.

Placing a hand on Bucky’s chest, Steve leaned in and then pulled back, the dynamic between them shifting as, for the first time, Bucky leaned in to Steve, putting his head against Steve’s chest and waiting a beat before stepping back, flicking his arm at Steve as though he wasn’t sure whether to snap at Steve or taking him back in a loving embrace.

They danced around each other before doing Steve’s favorite lift, where he put an arm around Bucky’s neck and a leg around his waist and held on as Bucky spun without supporting him. Bucky let him down gently and the audience applauded as they ran off the stage and the corps began to dance again, advancing from the back of the stage and fanning out to the sides.

Sam and Pietro danced their solos in the middle of the stage, giving Steve and Bucky just a minute to catch their breath before the last part of act two - running and dancing among all the swans, chasing each other through the chaos of moving bodies and rising music, until they once again found each other in the middle, their eyes meeting and Steve holding back a grin as Bucky ran toward him, leaping high into the air. Steve leaned back and, just like they practiced with only the two of them, extended Bucky’s leap and rotated him in midair before letting him down to the ground.

As Bucky’s foot touched the stage, thunderous applause broke out and it didn’t stop as the swans and Bucky exited the stage while Steve ran down towards the lake in a recall of the beginning of the act, this time stopping with his hand raised to the sky in triumph instead of defeat.

The curtain came down on act two, and Steve turned, beaming with absolute joy as the rest of the swans came back on stage.

“Rogers! The hell was that last bit there?” Pietro looked at him with genuine amazement.

“It never looked like that when you-know-who did that,” Sam agreed, giving him a clap on the back.

“We just played with it until it was right for us.” Bucky appeared behind Steve with a towel around his shoulders and a smile.

Steve nodded, glowing with pride. The next two acts could go down in flames and it wouldn’t matter - they had nailed the hardest part of their dance together and Steve was pretty sure he was floating on air as he accompanied Bucky toward the dressing rooms. But at the last moment, Bucky veered off to the side, pulling Steve with him.

“Where are you going?” Steve knew Bucky had to wash off his swan make up - a dark black triangle on his forehead - for the next act, so they didn’t have much time for detours.

They brushed past a group of musicians heading down the hallway in the opposite direction, a couple of stagehands heading down to the ground floor for the intermission poker game, and Darcy, who was running after someone, saying something about the wrong color flowers being painted for another production. Bucky opened a door, and they ducked into a little broom closet packed with a few shelves of cleaning products, buckets sprawled out on the floor and a sink in the corner.

Bucky pulled Steve close, bringing their lips together in an intoxicating kiss as he wound a leg around Steve’s leg. Steve whined when Bucky stepped back, the sudden lack of body heat hitting him harder than he would have thought possible.

“Ok but you are just incredibly hot, and that bit at the end when we nailed the choreography -” Bucky breathed out, pressing up against Steve again, and this time he could feel Bucky’s erection against his hips.

“What am I supposed to do about that?” Steve lay a hand on the outside of Bucky’s costume, rubbing just soft enough to have Bucky grinding back against his hand. “You can’t mess up Darcy’s costume!”

Bucky fumbled for a moment, pulling the zipper and kicking down the pants in one fluid motion. Steve would have sworn he had practiced that once or fifty times. Bucky was beautiful naked, with every long and lean muscle on display from shoulders to arms to stomach and of course, his powerful thighs. How could Steve say no?

“What if someone else has the same idea and comes along here?” Steve asked, even as his hand found Bucky’s cock again, wrapping his fingers firmly around the base and pumping once or twice. Bucky’s cock twitched in his hand.

“Risk I’m willing to take!” Bucky inhaled all at once. His eyes were beautifully dark in the low light, and Steve was still riding the adrenaline of their last dance, every touch between them like a spark of electricity.

“Of course you are,” Steve said with a laugh, tightening his grip just enough to let Bucky wriggle and squirm against him, thrusting into Steve’s fist with some measure of restraint for a brief half-minute before going faster, erratic, his face red from effort as he leaned down and nipped at Steve’s neck.

Somehow, Steve managed to grab some paper towels from the sink behind them. He moved his hand for a moment and Bucky whimpered, almost frantic as he stood naked in front of Steve.

Steve pressed his lips against Bucky’s, running one hand down the warm muscle of Bucky’s back while his other hand went back to work on Bucky’s erection, helping him find a quick bit of release. Bucky shuddered as he came into the paper towels and he smiled at Steve as if in a haze.

“So nice.” Bucky closed his eyes and took a deep breath before giving himself a little shake and looked at Steve. “Thank you.” He stepped back into his costume as Steve threw out the used towels. “Did you want me to return the favor?”

“Yes, please, but maybe this evening? Since we’ve got like five minutes here and you still need to change.” Steve grinned, and Bucky nodded with a renewed excitement. As they slipped out of the closet, Steve added, “Did we just start a new intermission ritual?” They hustled back to the dressing room. “Because I don’t know if I can do that every time for you!”

“I’ll be good next time.” Bucky strode just long enough that Steve had to break into a light jog.  “Just, jesus. I wasn’t prepared for seeing you like that, Steve. And everyone in the audience loved you. I was so proud.”

Steve laughed. “Thanks. I’ll try to be less impressive next time.”

 

~~~

 

Back on stage, Bucky ran his hand down Natasha’s leg as he flung it up in the air and then dipped her low to the ground. Steve paced the stage, watching Bucky dance in his black leather pants and well-fitted dress shirt. Somehow Bucky managed to be just as intimidating and gorgeous as when he was half-naked in his swan costume. Steve wasn’t acting when he fanned himself in an anxious “is-it-hot-in-here?” moment.

The ballroom act gave the female dancers a chance to show off their skills as each one danced and flirted with Bucky. Steve doubted anyone had to act interested when Bucky turned his come hither glance at them. Wanda approached him next, rising on her toes and putting her hand on his face, dragging her fingertips across his cheek, and Steve wished he could dance her part too, if it meant more time touching Bucky.

Bucky grinned at Wanda, something halfway between a promise and a threat, and she spun into his arms, posing as he lifted her up and over his outstretched leg. She touched down on the stage like air, and Bucky turned, setting his sights on Peggy.

By the time the curtain fell on the third act, Bucky had danced with every female in the cast, danced three more solos and had an intimate dance with Steve before rejecting him, turning him away to go back to Peggy. Steve could tell from the way the audience reacted that they felt his rejection too.

When the curtain rose again on act four, the act that Steve had first attempted to perform a week ago when Rumlow quit the production, it felt like a homecoming to lie on the giant bed, eyes closed as the swans emerged from underneath it and began dancing about the stage.

Under the warm, bright lights and panting from the previous hours of dancing, Steve reached for Bucky. The reached, knowing their hands would never touch as the other swans pantomimed attacks on both of them, bringing Bucky to the ground and dragging him off, and leaving Steve motionless in the bed for Peggy to find. She cried out silently and gathered him in her arms as the audience clapped and cheered, a growing storm of applause that left Steve breathless.

The curtain fell as Steve saw people starting to stand in their seats, and he hastened off of the bed to get in position for their curtain call.

Bucky was waiting from his place in the wings at the back of the stage, looking at Steve across the stage with a fondness that had Steve back to being the light-headed boy being noticed by his crush. The curtain came up and the two of them entered from the sides and met in the middle, bowing low to great applause and a few cat calls when they held hands, stepping forward for their second bow. They lingered, holding on a moment longer as they moved to opposite sides of the stage before jogging off and letting the rest of the cast receive their well-deserved applause.

At the end, Steve came out, facing the audience on his own and finding them smiling and cheering and clapping. It was a wonderful feeling. Yes, they clapped even louder when Bucky came back on stage, but if there was someone who deserved that, it was him.

The rest of the cast came back out and they all acknowledged the orchestra as the curtain fell one last time.

And then the chaos began again.

Wanda was the first to reach Steve, nearly crushing him in a hug as she smiled at him. “That was so lovely, Steve! You did amazing.”

He smiled. “Thank you Wanda! I loved your part too.”

Peggy and Sharon were next, offering hugs and a kiss to the cheek.

“It was a pleasure to dance with you,” Sharon said, and Peggy added, “I’m looking forward to our next performance already.”

Steve hugged both of them. “You too, Sharon. And Peggy, you know you’re my best girl.”

Natasha hung back a moment, letting Pietro and Sam and the other swans take a turn to congratulate Steve before she stepped forward, wrapping her arms around him. She was grinning like a cat. “I’m so proud of you,” was all she could murmur before she buried her head in his shoulder. When she pulled away, her eyes were tinged with just the slightest bit of red and that had Steve about ready to tear up himself.

“Couldn’t have done it without all of the support you’ve given me over the years, Nat.” Steve pulled her in for another hug.

Behind him, Bucky smiled and stayed silent, knowing not to take away from their moment.

“Well.” Natasha gave herself a little shake and smiled at Steve. “You have a good night. I’ll see you in class tomorrow morning.”

At the mention of class, Steve thought about his motrin in his ballet bag and nodded. He had to remember to take a couple before bed tonight. The first night of a performance was always rough the next morning, and he suspected this would be just a little bit worse.

“Steve Rogers! Why didn’t you tell me you could do the original choreography?” That voice was T’Challa’s, and it echoed in a way that his voice rarely did, which sent a bit of a chill down Steve’s spine. But he turned to see T’Challa was smiling, eyes crinkled and wagging a finger in a mock scolding. “There I was, making peace with the changes we had done, and you two -” he paused, catching himself from whatever he was going to say and restarting. “Well done. Next time, don’t give me a heart attack in the audience.”

“Yes sir,” Steve said, and then T’Challa was hugging him too, and Steve realized how much of the last week he owed to him. “I can’t thank you enough for giving me this chance. For you giving me so much of your time this week. Thank you.”

T’Challa stepped back, nodding. “You’re welcome, Steve. I guess your little stunt at practice last week gave me a good idea that you were serious and willing to put in the time, and it paid off for all of us, didn’t it?”

Steve’s body was sore but his spirits were high as he thought about the performance they had just pulled off. “It really did.”

When T’Challa moved on to congratulate other members of the cast, Steve melted into Bucky’s arms with a full-body sigh. “We did it.”

“We did,” Bucky agreed. “And now we have a reception to attend, if you’d like to get changed for that?”

Steve nodded. “Not really, but yeah.”

Having done multiple performances as a principal dancer, Bucky was no stranger to the opening night reception thrown for the critics and other VIPs in attendance. Steve had no problem enjoying a champagne flute or two, but he wasn’t looking forward to what he expected would be a barrage of questions from the critics about the situation that put him here in the first place.

Still, he gamely changed into a well-fitted dark blue suit, and accepted Bucky’s hand as they walked down the hallway to the reception area. People were still filtering through the backstage area, so he didn’t pay much attention to anyone in particular until Brock Rumlow passed them by and he did a double take.

“You ok Steve?” Bucky stopped and watched Steve’s gaze. He didn’t have to wait for an answer - he also saw Rumlow, who was turning around and coming towards them. Bucky put his arm out, brushing Steve to the side as though to shield him from whatever was going to happen next.

Steve stepped around Bucky’s arm and forward, refusing to be pushed aside. He had a moment of regret that he was already in his nice suit, because if Rumlow let him take it outside, he’d be out there ruining the suit in a heartbeat.

“Why are you here, Rumlow?” Tension rose in Bucky’s shoulders, the storm gathering in his face.

Rumlow put two hands up, following their every move. “Hey. Take it easy there, guys. I’m not here to fight - I’m here to apologize.”

He sounded so damn sincere that Steve blinked, tapping at his ear. Clearly he was going deaf, or the anger ringing in his ears was so loud that he had misheard him. Bucky was crossing his arms over his chest, unimpressed.

“A bit late, there,” Bucky growled, and Steve took a moment to appreciate the tone of his voice before nodding in agreement, squaring out his shoulders.

“Look, I’m not going to ask for forgiveness.” Rumlow stayed a cautious distance away from the two of them. “But I am going to give my apology.”

Steve was seeing red. How dare he come and harass them like this, right after their performance? “You have a lot of nerve to come here, especially after all of the stunts you and your group pulled! The costumes alone -”

“You’ll find the costumes where they belong,” Rumlow cut in, without admitting fault. He spoke in a rush, his words halting but emphatic. “I saw the performance. I was sitting in the audience, expecting to hate it. And, um, I didn’t.” Steve rolled his eyes, but Rumlow continued. “I know it’s too late, but I realized what I was calling unnatural was - it was unfair. To you, Bucky.” He paused for a beat, and then forced himself to meet Steve’s eyes. “And you too, Steve. I let my excitement over being scouted for another company override my judgement. And I’m sorry.”

Bucky was silent, but Steve was still riding his adrenaline rush, still half-hoping to take things outside and show Rumlow just how little he cared for this apology. After all of the torment he had put Bucky through! After all of the frustration he had thrown at the company!

But even as Steve opened his mouth to call him out with some choice names, a tiny voice in the back of his head intervened, reminding him of the irony of the situation - if Rumlow hadn’t quit, Steve might have never gotten a chance with Bucky. Or to dance a principal position. “In a way, I have to thank you,” he said, his voice low and even as he worked to stay on top of his anger. “Your mistakes gave me an opportunity and - and selfishly, I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful you were an idiot. But you’re right. I can’t forgive you. You hurt us with what you did and what makes it worse is that you wanted to hurt us.”

Nodding and not saying anything else, Rumlow stood there and looked at Bucky. Steve turned to Bucky, who still hadn’t spoke. People continued to pass by, not noticing the tension in the air around their small space. Bucky’s eyes flashed once more and then the storm on his face seemed to pass.

“Thank you for apologizing.” Bucky’s voice was curt and his expression became even more neutral. “It means something to know I’m not the worst judge of character in the entire world. I’m even glad you enjoyed the performance. But you should go now.”

Rumlow opened his mouth, thought better of it, and he left, leaving Steve and Bucky staring at each other.

“So you weren’t going crazy.” Bucky peered down the hallway as they stood unmoving. Rumlow had already disappeared among the stagehands.

“Oh my god.” Steve put a hand against the wall for support. “I thought I was going to punch him.”

“Glad you didn’t do that.” Bucky looked thoughtful, standing next to Steve and putting a calm hand around his waist. “An apology. I honestly did not expect that.”

“Ugh,” was Steve’s eloquent response. He sighed. “It’s like I said. I’m thankful he was an idiot. But was it worth it? Was the pain he caused everyone worth me getting to dance the part?” Steve was silent for a beat before he looked down at the poured cement floor. “Was it worth it to finally get a chance with you?”

Bucky put a hand on Steve’s chin, gently lifting his face so that they could see eye to eye. “I’m gonna say yes, Steve. What he did sucked, but this? With us? It was absolutely worth it.”

Steve smiled, feeling rather shy under the intensity of Bucky’s eye contact. But they were here now, so what good would ruminating on how they got there do? He nodded. “Ok. Let’s go put in our appearance so we can get out of here, because I don’t want to use the broom closet for what I’ve got in mind afterward.” He winced as he thought about how Rumlow had shown up yet again. “If you’re up for it, I mean.”

“Really, Steve?” Bucky grinned and grabbed his hand again. “I couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather go home with tonight. And you look amazing in your suit.”

Bucky’s words were a warm fire in Steve’s chest and he laced his fingers through Bucky’s. “There’s no one I’d rather take home tonight either,” he said as they headed into the reception room.

People mingled in groups throughout the room with a few waiters coming through and offering drinks and hors d'oeuvres. Steve thanked a waitress as he took a champagne flute and looked around for familiar faces. There were few to be found, but T’Challa and Director Fury were near the middle of the room, surrounded by a small group of critics. Bucky headed in that direction, Steve lagging a step behind.

One of the critics was asking questions, one after another. “T’Challa, what was your inspiration for this choreography? What do you think about the reception of this piece?”

“You have seen the large wingspan of a swan, yes? It spoke to me, made me curious to investigate the swans from a masculine sort of space. As for the reception, I think the audience’s reaction speaks for itself.” T’Challa beamed with pride as he thoughtfully and thoroughly answered more questions.

Director Fury nodded. “We gave T’Challa full authority on the piece because we knew we could trust him to deliver something spectacular. Well, you saw that audience on their feet just now. I’d say he delivered.”

After they finished questioning T’Challa and the director, the critics turned to Steve and Bucky. They spent a while answering questions about their performance and the practice they put in over the last week. Then they circulated from group to group, Steve meeting some of the biggest donors to Marvel - Tony Stark and James Rhodes. He also got a chance to meet Thor Odinson, the dancer slated to rehearse with them next week and do a guest performance.

Before long, Bucky proclaimed they had spent enough time at the reception. “Not too bad, right?” He held the door open for Steve.

Steve tilted his head, as if he was considering his answer. “Not ‘our principal dancer leaves a week before the performance’ bad, that’s for sure.” He laughed as they walked down the hallway backstage. There were fewer people about now, and his laughter echoed, which made him laugh again. “That’ll be the new scale by which I judge all of my problems.”

“None of your problems are ever going to register on that scale, Steve. Where was the reception on that?”

“You’re right. It didn’t ping the scale. Everyone asked questions that I was happy to answer. I’m just thinking about how I have to get up for class in the morning and I still need to fuck you into a mattress. I’m not even picky about which one, as long as it’s clean.” Steve paused, and pretended to look around for people. “Did I say that out loud?”

Bucky raised an eyebrow as his cheeks darkened. “My apartment is closer. And no roommate.” Bucky paused. “No offense to Clint. He was lovely and we really ought to get together again soon.”

“Well, I stand by what I said.”

With a grin and a glint in his eye, Bucky all but pulled Steve out of the theatre and had them walking north for a few blocks to his apartment, a tiny little studio with a beautiful view of the city. Bucky shrugged out of his coat and took Steve’s coat and hung them up on hooks near the door.

Steve marveled at the beautiful gray tile and looked out of the window. “Oh, wow. That’s really nice.”

“The inside’s not that bad either, if you wanna look around.” Bucky gestured. “Kitchen along the back wall, dining room against this wall, and, oh yeah, bed. Right here. Kind of hard to miss.”

A dark wood and silver fabric folding screen gave a bit of privacy for the massive bed that took up good half of the apartment. Made out of the same dark wood with a gauzy silver blanket that looked cozy and warm and very stylish all at once, the bed was begging to be used. And Steve was ready to use it.

They didn’t quite made it to the bed. Steve went up on his toes, exploring Bucky’s warm, wet mouth with his tongue, sucking on the tip of his tongue and running his hands down Bucky’s back. Bucky had one hand on Steve’s hips and the other easing down the front of Steve’s pants, teasing out Steve’s hardening cock.

Bucky pressed against Steve, pushing him back against the wall. The fact that Bucky could probably lift him up, hold him against the wall and fuck him had Steve biting back a moan. Seven days ago, he wasn’t sure if Bucky would ever look at him like this, but now Bucky was breaking their kiss and leaning in to torment the soft bit of skin around Steve’s ear, licking and biting and sucking until Steve was shivering against him, a beautiful heat spreading from his face to his chest.

Thankful for the wall to help support him, Steve gave back as good as Bucky was giving. He wound his hands around Bucky’s back, taking a moment to knead the lower back muscles to drain some of the tension there before slipping one hand under the waistband of Bucky’s suit. He ran his fingers over the curve of Bucky’s ass, moving as slow as he dared, appreciating the firm and supple muscle before zeroing in on his target, that little ring of muscle that had Bucky slowing down for a moment when he touched it.

“Is this ok with you?” Steve asked, taking Bucky’s sudden lack of movement as hesitation. He drew out his hand, fingertips lingering against the warm bit of skin over Bucky’s hipbone.

“It absolutely is. Let me just get some lube!”

Bucky moved across the room in a few long, liquid steps. He grabbed a bottle of lube from the bedside table as Steve followed, and the two of them almost made it to the bed before Bucky bent down to start kissing Steve again. Steve welcomed the warm intrusion of Bucky’s tongue as he teased down Bucky’s pants. Somehow he fumbled open the lid of the lube, got a good squirt of it on his fingers, and went back to where he had been, working a finger against Bucky’s puckered entrance, pulling down Bucky’s pants and underwear with his other hand.

He was rewarded with a little exhale of air when he pressed the finger in, just a little, just teasing and playing and going slow. Bucky breathed out as though that touch was all he ever wanted, and that noise had Steve wanting to stay like that for as long as possible. He kissed Bucky’s neck and shoulders, tugging at the bottom of Bucky’s shirt. Bucky got the hint, and slipped out of his button-down shirt with a talent seen only in dancers used to extremely fast costume changes.

Steve leaned in to lavish attention on Bucky’s chest, that firm expanse of muscle that had been on display for half the evening. Steve flicked his tongue over Bucky’s nipple as he pushed his finger in deeper, and Bucky “ahhh’d,” squirming sweetly on Steve’s finger. What was there to do but to add another finger, sweeping it in slow and steady as he teased Bucky’s other nipple with his tongue.

“Really like that,” Bucky encouraged, and Steve took a deep breath to steady himself. He looked up at Bucky, who had his eyes half-closed, eyelids fluttering as Steve worked in a third finger, and nipped at Bucky’s peaked bud. Bucky pressed his lips against Steve’s neck in a kiss and groaned, a gentle vibration against Steve’s skin.

Steve had to breathe out, a slow rush of air reminding him that he shouldn’t just pull out his fingers and shove his cock in Bucky’s ass, though his body shuddered in delight at the idea. “Do you have a condom I could borrow?”

It took a minute, but Bucky threw his hand back toward the nightstand and managed to come up with a little foil square. “Don’t want it back when you’re done,” he joked, and Steve grinned, pulling out his fingers, and putting on the surprisingly nice condom, the plastic soft and very thin.

Bucky shrugged as he noticed the expression on Steve’s face. “S’worth a little more to enjoy myself.”

“Thanks. I appreciate the luxury.”

They took a moment to rearrange themselves. Steve wanted to turn Bucky around, bend him over the bed and take him from behind, but there was just too much of a height difference. Bucky got up on the bed and lay on his back, scooting his bottom just off the edge. WIth his legs slung over Steve’s shoulders and Steve standing at the side of the bed, they fit together perfectly. Steve fisted his own erection a few times before pressing up against Bucky and entering him at a pace that had Bucky going from “mmmmhmmm” to “please” to “mmm, Steve, please.”

Steve’s shirt was half unbuttoned, his chest mostly exposed, but wasn’t about to pause to take it off. He pushed his hips forward and then pulled back, loving the way Bucky’s cock twitched at the movement, even before he reached down and wrapped his fingers around it. Three or four thrusts in and Bucky’s cock was weeping precome. Steve ran his fingertips across the slit of Bucky’s cock, spreading the precome around and marveling at the beautiful shine it left on his heavy erection.

“You feel amazing,” Steve said, trying to slow his unsustainable pace and failing, enjoying the warmth and pressure too much to drag it out. “Fuck,” he panted. “You’re so fucking perfect, you know that?” Steve’s breath hitched, as he fisted Bucky’s cock in time to his rapid thrusts. A heat low in his groin burned brighter, threatening to overwhelm him. “You’re so perfect and you’re letting me fuck you and, oh god. Feels so good.”

“Just like that, Steve” Bucky rocked his hips. “Feels amazing.” He rocked his hips again, pulling Steve in deeper, and Steve moaned. Bucky’s chest was flushed, his stomach quivering as he wrapped his legs around Steve’s back.

“Beautiful.” Steve closed his eyes, trying to keep his composure for just a minute longer, to make it last just a few moments longer, but that warm, twisting fire of absolute want was snaking out into every bit of his body and he knew his orgasm was beyond unavoidable. He steadied himself between Bucky’s thighs as he came, thrusting once or twice more before going still, electrifying surges rocking through his body.

He had let go of Bucky’s cock at some point, and Bucky picked up where he left off, masturbating with Steve still deep inside him. He let out a groan and Steve felt Bucky’s muscles clamping down on his cock, an overstimulation that left sparks in his vision as Bucky came, the muscles pulsing around Steve's cock over and over again.

Steve leaned forward until he was resting against Bucky’s chest, taking a moment to regroup before slowly sliding out and taking off the now-filled condom. He tied it off, tossing it in the little trash bin nearby before splaying back out on Bucky’s chest.

Bucky’s heart beat was strong and steady, starting to slow down as the excitement ended. “Hey maybe let me clean up before we get all sticky together?” Bucky’s voice seemed far away, but Steve nodded, and rolled over. Oh, the bedding was nice. This was all really nice. Steve scooted up in the bed and spread his arms and legs out, enjoying the firm mattress as Bucky got up and wiped off.

Steve must have drifted off for a few minutes, because the next thing he knew, Bucky was pulling the blanket up over him and lying down next to him. “You don’t have to stay, Steve, but you’re more than welcome to.”

In response, Steve snuggled up against Bucky, wrapping his arms around his chest and nestling his head on his shoulder. “I’m good here, thanks,” he mumbled, still half-asleep.

He drifted off again for a few minutes, maybe longer. He wasn’t sure. He woke up again, needing to use the bathroom. Bucky was still awake, looking at his phone in the bed. When Steve finished up in the bathroom and started to settle back in the bed, the implications of him staying started to solidify.

“This is really ok with you?” Steve asked, studying Bucky. He was lying, propped up on his shoulders with a couple of pillows behind him. When Steve talked, he put down his phone and turned to look at him.

“It is,” he said. “Do you ever have a feeling that we really missed an opportunity, waiting until now to get together? I just -” he paused, and then forged ahead, meeting Steve’s eyes. “I just feel like this is where I was supposed to end up. Here with you.”

“Damn,” Steve said. He was silent for a few moments. “It feels good to me too.” Bucky’s phone vibrated and Steve laughed. “What’s good on the internet?”

Bucky grabbed his phone and looked. He grinned. “We just got our first rave review. Per the forums, ‘Bucky and Steve had such great chemistry onstage that even though I went in expecting to be disappointed, I could help but leave wanting to see the show again.’”

Steve laughed. “That’s not exactly a rave review, but I’ll take it.” He glanced at the alarm clock next to the bed. “Class is gonna suck tomorrow.”

“You’re going to do great,” Bucky said. He fiddled with his phone for a moment to silence notifications and tossed it on the night stand, turning on his side to bring Steve into his arms. “You’ve already done great. I’m seriously so impressed and proud and pleased to be calling you my boyfriend.”

Something warm and comfortable settled in Steve’s chest, something that felt a lot closer to love than he dared speak after only just getting together with Bucky. But he let the feeling wrap around his heart as Bucky turned off the lights, and the two of them fell asleep in the afterglow of a perfect opening night.

 

END

 

 

EPILOGUE 

 

Steve beamed as he waved at the standing audience, their cheers and applause loud and sustained. Another successful performance, and this time it was bittersweet; it was the last performance of the twice-extended run. And except for one week where Thor and Loki guest starred as the prince in a performance each, Steve had done every other performance, garnering excellent reviews again and again.

Next to him, Bucky grabbed his hand and they waved to the audience together. It was everything Steve loved about performing - the satisfied exhaustion in his muscles, the bright lights shining down, and the audience responding with loud applause.

As the curtain fell the final time, everyone’s attention turned to the cast party put together for that night.

“I’ve got to go run and get Clint,” Steve said as he changed back into his street clothes alongside Bucky and the others in the backstage changing room. “I promised him he could be my plus one after everything he did to support me.”

“I see how it is.” Bucky shook his head, letting down his tight bun. He combed through the thick, dark hair with his fingers, hairspray still sticking to every strand of hair. “I’ll see you back there in a few.”

Steve made his way against the flow of people heading to the reception area until he had made his way out to the bottom floor seating. Clint was milling about, talking to a few people. He waved when he saw Steve.

“I do believe I promised you a date!” Steve offered his arm, and Clint laughed.

“I’m not about to get your actual boyfriend up in arms against me! I did spend the last two hours noting just how muscular, flexible, and skilled he is.”

Steve pulled him by the hand and they headed backstage, down the cinder block hallway and through several doors until they made it to the reception area, the large open hallway packed with the cast and crew and some of their friends and family.

“Always a pleasure to see you, Clint.” Bucky stepped up to Steve, giving him a quick side hug and shaking Clint’s hand.

“Always great to see you with your clothes on, Bucky.”

“Ah, so this is your newest roommate, Steve?” Natasha showed up on Steve’s other side, nodding to Clint with a bit of a glimmer in her eyes.

“We’ve been roommates for almost two years, Nat. How have you guys not met yet?”

Natasha looked at Clint, eying him up and down. Clint grinned back. “How have we not met yet indeed.”

“Clint works at the circus,” Steve told Natasha. “He’s gonna be Santa Claus this year.”

“Hm.” Natasha considered this for a moment, before going in for the kill. “So tell me, then, Clint . Am I going on your naughty or nice list this year?”

Everyone laughed, except Clint, who fanned himself a little bit, pulling at his shirt collar in mock discomfort. “Is it hot in here, or is that just me?” He nodded to Natasha.

Congratulating himself on providing a well placed cupid’s arrow, Steve slipped away from his flirting friends with Bucky, heading farther into the hallway to see the others. They wanted to get to the back in time to hear T’Challa make his closing remarks on the performance.

“How the heck haven’t they met yet? I think I remember Clint from the Nutcracker last year, now that I think about it.” Bucky grabbed a glass of champagne from a tray and passed it to Steve before grabbing one for himself.

“Honestly? I don’t even know. I didn’t think about it. We spend all our time at the studio, so Nat hasn’t had a reason to come over. And this is the first time I’ve brought him to a cast party. I ought to do that more often.”

Bucky nodded. “Lucky me, then, that I’ve had so many reasons to come over.” He took Steve’s hand, winding their fingers together.

The throng of people was most crowded near the back, everyone jostling for a place to see T’Challa as he waved and tapped on his glass for a little bit of quiet. Just like in rehearsal, everyone settled quickly, allowing him to speak. He looked over the crowd, thoughtful.

“When I first sat down and conceived of this retelling of a classic, I wasn’t sure of all the changes I would be making. Those changes seemed to flow once I realized how the tone shifts when you have the men dance the swans. And I think we’ve all had a chance now to see just how strongly this piece has resonated with our audience. Everyone has something they yearn to break out against, whether it is their job, the relationships, or themselves.”

T’Challa paused as if considering whether to share what he was yearning for, and smiled even as his eyes began to shimmer. “Today I think about my father, who was smart, talented, and kind. I would give up quite a lot to have him here today. I just hope that I have made him proud.” He bowed his head, silent, and everyone bowed their own head in a moment of respect.

His fingers resting on the ring he wore on his hand, T’Challa continued. “I could not have had this success without all of you matching the effort I put in to this piece. Thank you for understanding how important it is to always do your best work, and, on a lighter note, I hope you all enjoy a few moments of relaxation tonight. Maria will see you in class tomorrow morning. And I will see you all again, perhaps next year when I bring my vision of the Nutcracker to life with your help.”

At that, Bucky and Steve and all the others began to clap and laugh. They had hardly finished when Director Fury came up next to T’Challa.

“I have a few things to say as well.” Director Fury nodded to the company. “You all have done a fine job with this production. It reflects the spirit and talent of the Marvel Ballet.” He nodded to T’Challa. “Of course, thank you again for giving us an opportunity to work with you.” And then he looked right at Steve, and nodded again. “And of course, Steven Rogers. It seems to me that we are a principal dancer short these days. Effective today, I’m promoting you to the ranks of our principal dancers. You’ve worked very hard for this and I think everyone will join us in saying congratulations.”

Steve could have floated in the air right then as his friends started to crowd around him, offering congratulations and pats on the back. Natasha and Clint had made their way back in time for the speeches and they were among the first to congratulate Steve.

“Well deserved!” Sam gave Steve a hand on the shoulder and next to him, Scott nodded.

“Congratulations!” Peggy’s hug was bone-crushing and full of well wishes.

“Now I shall have to listen to Pietro complain about this for a good week!” Wanda’s eyes sparkled as she congratulated Steve. “But there is always next time for him, yes?”

“I’ll fight him for that spot,” Sam promised, and Pietro threw his hands in the air in mock frustration.

“Challenge accepted.” Pietro turned to Steve. “And congratulations. You did deserve it the most.” He turned back to Sam and wagged a finger. “This time. Next time it’ll be me.”

“My money's on Sam,” Scott said, winding an arm around Sam’s waist.

“You’re like, required by law to say that. What do you think, Sharon?” Pietro glanced around, trying to find a neutral party.

“Mmmm… I think it’s gonna be close,” Sharon said as she looked at both of them, and Pietro groaned.

Wanda patted him on the back and Natasha gave him some encouraging words, and Steve turned to look at Bucky. He was looking fondly at Steve, and leaned in to kiss his cheek.

“So proud of you, Steve.”

Everyone was still laughing and chatting around them, but for the moment, all Steve could see was Bucky. He went on tiptoe, brushing his lips against Bucky’s ear as he whispered, “Thanks, Bucky. I love you.”

Bucky broke out in a wide grin, his face brightening like the sun coming out in front of a bright blue sky. “I love you too.”