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A Four-Letter Word

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Date has become a four-letter word. Date night has become the equivalent of I’ll be right back; it ends in blood, sweat and tears, without any enjoyable bodily fluids.

“I love you so much,” says Bucky, fiercely, growling the words out from somewhere deep in his throat. “And so help me, god, I am taking you on a -”

“Don’t say it,” says Steve, clamping his hand over Bucky’s mouth. “Don’t say-”

Their phones both ring.

No.

Their phones both alarm, loudly and discordantly, as though there’s an imminent nuclear meltdown.

There probably is an imminent nuclear meltdown.

There’d better be, Bucky thinks savagely. He’ll accept no lesser cause for another case of blue balls.

.

“I need a catchphrase,” says Bucky. “If I’m gonna be your sidekick for ever.”

They’re leaning against the wall of a recently caved-in mining tunnel.

Steve speaks into the radio at his wrist. “Yeah, that’s right. Level minus eight. Just a little deeper.”

“I’ll show you just a little deeper,” says Bucky, disconsolately.
.

Even though everyone knows that Steve and Bucky live together in a one-bedroom apartment, they don’t seem to know it.

Steve’s not sure why, precisely. For a while, Clint seemed convinced that super soldiers didn’t require sleep so much as defrosting, and Steve’s pretty sure Tony’s to blame for that one.

The only person who seems to have a handle on their relationship is Sam but that’s hardly surprising. Sam saw Steve at his very worst during their search for Bucky and doesn’t hold it against either of them.

“Penny for your thoughts,” says Bucky, chucking Steve under the chin before he frowns. “Can’t believe they still say that. I mean, inflation-”

Steve raises a smile, excavating it from the depths of their decades-old shared love. They’re both exhausted and covered in a thin film of sweat and dust.

“Do you think we can skip the debrief and just go-”

.

It turns out that home is another four-letter word. Their attempt to walk out, brazen and heroic, is foiled at the very first hurdle when Pepper invites them to stay for dinner and both Bucky and Steve are powerless in the face of such earnest hospitality.

“We’ll slip out early,” says Steve, mouthing at Bucky’s hair in the elevator. Pepper has gone to wrangle more superheroes (all of whom are powerless in the face - )

“We’ll say you’ve got a belly ache,” says Steve.

Bucky growls. “I’ll show you belly ache-”

“Who’s belly-aching?” asks Tony, brightly, as the elevator doors slide open to reveal him in all his bruised and battered glory. “Great day at the office, you guys. Only six hours since the last work-related injury. Want a drink?”

“I’ll show you work-related injury,” says Bucky, low and fierce to Tony’s back.

“Bucky, no,” says Steve.

“What? I mean, most of him is bruised anyway. What’s one more concussion?”

Steve honestly, genuinely looks as though he’s considering it for a moment but then he shakes his head. “No.”

“Aw, c’mon, Cap. Just one drink. I’m, like, a day from developing an enzyme to knock your liver on its ass.”

“When did you become a biochemist, Stark?” asks Bucky. He’d bet Steve’s changing his mind about that concussion.

.

It’s been a long day. It’s actually been a fifty-four hour day. They’re in medical, being patched up, which is mostly a race against time for any medic treating Steve just to document his injuries before they heal.

“Mustn’t grumble,” says Steve. He picked that up from Peggy and all that British propaganda about stiff upper lips during the war. He looks white as a sheet. “If we were doctors, this would be no big deal.”

“We’re not doctors, though,” says Bucky, as his blood pressure’s being checked by a medic. “Aside from Banner, I mean. And we’re saving lives. Ouch. I mean-” Bucky scowls at the doctor and she scowls back.

Steve sighs just as his phone rings again.

“Run away with me,” says Bucky, urgently, but Steve takes the call anyway.

“Of course, Mr President. Just doing my job-”

“I’ll show you job,” says Bucky, throwing himself down on the examination bench.

.

“What do you mean Clint and Natasha got compassionate leave? Are they even boning?” asks Bucky.

He is appalled. Legitimately and completely appalled.

“There’s a form,” says Steve. “Well, there’re eighteen forms, some of them in triplicate. But there’s a way, Buck. There’s a way.”

“Fuck, Steve, I love-”

.

It turns out that love is another four-letter word.

This time, it’s not even HYDRA. It’s wannabe-HYDRA. It’s HYDRA-lite. Their uniforms might resemble HYDRA uniforms but they’re all incredibly young and very disorganised and easily traced thanks to their active Twitter account. They scatter like kids caught smoking behind the gym.

(“Cut off one head-”

“That’s plagiarism, buddy,” says Sam, strong-arming a pimply-faced teenager and accidentally shoving his face into a wall. “Have you heard of intellectual property or does Tumblr not cover that shit?”)

Bucky turns to Steve who’s got a worried expression on his face.

“Think these kids are a front, Buck.”

“I’ll show you affront,” says Bucky. He tries to remember what Steve looks like naked.

.

“Would you boys like to-”

No,” says Steve. “No, thank you, Ms Potts. It’s just. I haven’t seen the inside of my apartment in about three weeks. I kinda want to get back-”

“Yes,” says Bucky, nodding fervently. “Need to see if the plants have died or if the dirty dishes have come alive. They could be marching on Manhattan as we speak.”

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like to stay here, Sergeant?” asks Pepper. “I mean, Captain Rogers’ apartment’s pretty small and that couch is only a little IKEA thing-”

“IKEA,” says Clint, reverently, as he passes by. He blinks. “I don’t know why I feel the sudden need to fistbump Thor.”

“Did you and Natalia have a nice holiday?” asks Bucky, through gritted teeth.

Oh yes,” says Clint, misty-eyed. “Mexico. There was an actual Mexican stand-off.”

Captain Rogers, says JARVIS, chiming in like a malevolent ceiling-fairy. There’s a call for you from Director Coulson. He says it’s urgent.

“No, Steve, no,” says Bucky.

“Sorry, I gotta take this.”

.

It’s been four weeks. Bucky’s not sure he remembers the apartment.

“No, seriously, Steve. I feel my amnesia acting up-”

“There, there, old man,” says Clint, thumping him on the shoulder.

Sharon walks into the debriefing room and Steve lights up.

Bucky’s not jealous. Of course he’s not jealous. There is absolutely no reason to be jealous of the young, beautiful lady agent who could probably break his bionic arm with the force of her entirely-human will alone.

“I pushed your papers through with Deputy Director Hill.”

“That’s what she said,” mutters Bucky as he doodles on the minutes for today’s meeting.

He’s detailing exactly what he’s going to do to organisations that deliberately and maybe knowingly deprive him of alone-time with his boyfriend, in a complex code of Cyrillic and Latin alphabets and -

“Is that a stick-figure with a knife?” asks Clint.

“Yes,” says Bucky, darkly. “My therapist recommended art as a communication tool instead of stabbing.”

“Oh,” says Clint. “Good.” None-too-subtly, he shifts his chair away from Bucky.

“So, Captain Rogers and Sergeant Barnes-”

“Have a week of long-overdue leave, actually,” says Steve, from Bucky’s right. “So if you’ll excuse us-”

He pushes papers into the centre of the table. Some of them are in triplicate. Bucky’s heart does a waltz, as Steve’s hand curves around the back of his neck.

“So, we’re just gonna head back to Brooklyn,” says Steve.

“Maybe slap an ol’ Do Not Disturb sign on the Williamsburg Bridge,” says Sam. He winks at Steve and Steve grins back.

Bucky’s head is all white noise. He thinks he might be getting what he wants but he’s afraid to make any sudden movements in case someone declares DEFCON 1. Slowly and inexorably, Steve tugs at the back of his collar and Bucky stands up, obediently.

“So we’ll just be going,” says Bucky. “To Brooklyn. Which is off-limits to every last one of you. Except Sam. We like him.”

“Kinky,” says Clint. “That a regular thing?”

“Goodbye, Barton,” says Steve. “Agents,” he says, nodding at everyone sitting around the table, his head bobbing like a turkey spared the slaughter.

Bucky’s only dimly aware of Steve’s hand on his ass, guiding him out of the room, and even less aware of Stark’s voice rising in outrage as the door closes behind them.

(“Wait. You fuckers all knew about the geriatric sexcapades?)

“I’ll show you geriatric sexcapades,” says Bucky.

Steve laughs, a little hysterically, but they can see the front doors of Stark Tower and it looks like they might actually make it.