The first time was an accident. Mikey Dyers was big at thirteen, from two streets over, and he hated how Steve always showed him up in class. (It wasn’t intentional, Bucky knew, but Mikey was angry about a lot of things, and Steve was an easy target.) Mikey stomped after Steve every day for a week, shouting about fairies and fags, and he knocked Steve’s sketchpad out his hands, broke his pencils, tore up his notes.
The first time was an accident. Bucky’d been holding his temper for a week, letting Steve handle it his way. “We’re growing up, Buck,” Stevie said, all solemn-eyed. “You can’t just knock ‘em down for me anymore.” Mikey Dyers was thirteen and three times Steve size, already growing into himself; Steve’d be twelve in the summer and looked more like nine. Bucky’d be twelve in three weeks, but his dad taught him to throw and take a punch.
“You can’t just knock ‘em down for me anymore,” Steve said, and the first time was an accident. It really was.
Mikey Dyers stopped struggling after Bucky slammed his head into the sidewalk. He didn’t move again at all, and Bucky waited, to see if he was faking.
Steve staggered to his feet and stumbled over, and by then, Bucky’d realized that Mikey wasn’t breathing.
He flat out panicked and demanded, “Steve, what do I do?” throwing himself off Mikey.
The first time was the only time for years.
Steve and Bucky went to the same college after graduating; them separating was never a question. Bucky’s mom mentioned, a few times, that he should branch out, maybe find more friends. He was friendly with plenty of people, and popular, but Steve was all he needed (all he wanted, to be honest, but he couldn’t see telling Mom that).
Steve said that his mom said the same, a couple of times, but he smiled at Bucky and said, “’til the end of the line, right?” and Bucky nodded, smiling, too.
“We have to,” Steve said, starting to wheeze just a little, “we have to make it so we were never here.”
It shouldn’t have worked, but there was a triple homicide five blocks over later that afternoon.
The second time was a little less accidental.
Steve hadn’t grown much, but Bucky was just under six feet, and he was still popular and well-liked, and people kept telling him to drop that stick-in-the-mud Steve Rogers, that he was such a downer, and always getting into fights.
Bucky got all sorts of dings on his academic record because of Steve Rogers, and Steve was slumped against the wall of the bar, blood on his face, glaring up at the frat boy, and Bucky grabbed the guy’s arm, throwing him away.
The guy was drunk, barely staying on his feet, slurring out all sorts of things that Bucky might have been able to brush off if Steve could stand up straight.
Dad taught him to take and throw a punch, and a lot more besides; he’d been a SEAL, once, but he never talked about it, except when he coached Bucky through moves that were more than enough for a drunk kid.
Bucky blinked and the guy wasn’t moving anymore, on the ground with Bucky kneeling over him. “Oh, shit,” he said because the guy had been with friends, and they’d probably be looking for him any second now, and he wasn’t breathing –
“Bucky,” Steve said.
He scrambled off the guy and went to help Steve.
The second time, their saving grace was that nobody remembered Steve’s argument with the frat boy.
They weren’t even questioned during the course of the investigation.
Bucky was quiet for a few weeks, and Steve was pensive. Bucky focused on his coursework, didn’t raise his hand in class, didn’t go out when invited, skipped his weekly coffee with the pretty TA.
Steve finally sat him down and said, “I have an idea.”
After Steve had laid everything out, Points A through J, with a few Sub-points and an alternate Point E, Bucky asked, “Why?”
It took Steve a couple minutes, tapping his thin fingers on his thighs, licking his bottom lip, before he said, “Watching you with that guy, it was… it felt amazing.” He peered up at Bucky through his insanely long eyelashes, and he said, “If you don’t want to, Buck, I’ll never bring it up again.”
Bucky took a deep breath and slowly let it out. And then, “Stevie,” he said, “tell me the whole thing again.”
The third time was planned out, start to finish, and by the end, Steve was gasping for breath, hands clutching at Bucky, pressing messy kisses to his face and neck, and Bucky felt alive.
The third time, they cleaned everything up and Steve had somewhere to dump the body.
The third time was the beginning.
Steve and Bucky officially started dating their junior year of college. Steve was a business major, with a minor in art history, and Bucky was in mechanical engineering. Neither of their mothers talked about them finding other partners, and there weren’t any fights after the first semester of their sophomore year.
They got an apartment off-campus together and Steve found a job in a computer lab in the main library while Bucky picked up work at a coffee shop down the street from their place. Bucky moved his study group to the shop for the free pastries (they’d have been thrown away, anyway) and he bought Steve breakfast there every morning, and he was getting As in all his classes, and Steve had a 4.0, too, and life seemed to finally be taking off.
After he finished a major project, just after Easter their junior year, Steve smiled at Bucky and crawled into his lap and whispered Points A through H into the skin at the base of his throat.
During the summer between junior and senior year, Bucky took a kick-boxing class while Steve studied up on poisons. Steve planned on getting a master’s; he eventually talked Bucky around to it, too.
At the gym, Bucky met and befriended Tim Dugan and Jim Morita – it was Dugan’s gym and Morita was on leave from the Marines. They both gave him fighting tips and Morita even took him to a local gun range, just for the hell of it. He started going weekly after that because shooting was fun.
Two weeks before the semester started up, they took Bucky’s dad’s old Buick (the only thing he left to Bucky) and hit the road. Out in the middle of nowhere, as they passed the sixth hitchhiker, Steve nodded, so Bucky pulled over.
As his elective his senior year, Bucky took French. He’d already had Russian to fill his foreign language credits, but French looked like it might be fun. Professor Dernier said there would be a major project toward the end and to pick their partners by the end of Friday’s class, so Bucky turned to the guy next to him, held out a hand, and said, “Partners?”
The guy shrugged and shook his hand. “Fine with me. Gabe Jones.”
Gabe was a good guy, and he already spoke German fluently, so while Steve was tied up in his assignments Bucky traded Russian for German. Part of him wished he’d focused on languages instead of engineering, but he figured the engineering would let him go further.
Gabe’s good friend Monty Falsworth invited Bucky to his end of the semester rager and of course Bucky brought Steve, who decided to involve himself when one of the dude-bros started harassing a girl, but this time, when Bucky pulled the guy off, he had Gabe and Falsworth backing him up, so the guy melted away without fighting.
Falsworth laughed, and he and Gabe went back to their conversation, but Bucky still felt tension thrumming through him. He looked at Steve, and Steve looked at him, and they left, holding hands, fingers squeezing each other so hard it hurt.
The sixth time was pure opportunity, not planned out anywhere near as thoroughly as Steve would’ve liked. It was also the first one where he got involved in more than just watching, and Bucky was pretty sure it was the hottest thing he’d ever seen in his life.
The seventh time happened the summer after graduation, the eighth over Christmas break their first year in their respective Master’s programs, the ninth the first week in June, and the tenth as Steve’s 24th birthday present. It was the first where Bucky planned everything out, so it was a bit messier than any of Steve’s.
After the clean up, back in the safety of their apartment, with Bucky curled around Steve, Steve said, “We need to take a break. I’ve been studying up on everyone who’s gotten caught, and we need to stop for awhile.” His fingers were warm, tangled up with Bucky’s, his body so frail against Bucky’s, and Bucky nodded, head resting on Steve’s.
“Whatever you think is best, Stevie,” he murmured. “This is your game.”
The tenth time was the last time for years.
Steve and Bucky got married when they were 28, two weeks after attending their high school reunion. Bucky was working at a well-respected company and Steve was managing a non-profit that helped veterans. Bucky still kept in touch with Gabe, and he still went to Dugan’s gym, and most days, he thought he was pretty lucky.
Other days, he wanted to kill someone.
For their honeymoon, Steve and Bucky took a week for a road trip, and on the way out of town, Steve told Bucky Points A through K.
(“Hey, Banner,” Romanoff said to her partner, “take a look at this. Might be a serial.”
“Carter,” Director Fury said, “you and Coulson’ll be liaising with the locals for this. Take Banner and Romanoff, too, since they’re the lucky ones who spotted this bastard.”
Chief Phillips told Barton and Wilson, “The feds are coming down for this shitshow. Play nice and get this wrapped up as quickly as you can.”
As they left his office, Phillips shouted, “Odinson! Get your brother talking to his contacts! There’s gotta be someone out there who knows something.”
Odinson popped in to say, “Yes, sir,” before popping back out to call up his criminal brother. (Ex-criminal, Odinson always stressed, but Phillips would believe that after pigs were filling the skies.)
They were talking about it on every channel – Bucky flipped through them all before calling, “Steve, get in here!”
“What’s up?” Steve asked, hurrying in, before he froze, watching the screen.
“They found Stark’s body,” Bucky said.
Steve said, “Fuck.”)