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To Be Vulnerable Is Needed Most Of All

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Steve's Play List:

Perturbator - Shadow Force '84
Bryan Ferry - Is Your Love Strong Enough?
Queens Of The Stone Age - I Am Designer
Nine Inch Nails - All Time Low
Depeche Mode - Enjoy The Silence
The Who - Behind Blue Eyes

 

"Ugh, this page is fucking killing me," Nat whines over Skype.

Steve smiles and sits back, looking over the page he's just pencilled, flexing the fingers of his drawing hand. "That bad?" he asks.

Natasha huffs dramatically. "I never have this kind of hassle when I colour your pages, Rogers. Honestly, Hill is a goddamn sadist and I'm her masochist, except I'm totally not getting off on this."

Nat is working as a colourist on the comic book series Steve is currently drawing and a limited series with Maria Hill, probably the most anal artist Steve has ever met, and he's pretty anal about his own work.

Steve has been working as a full-time comic artist for two years now, after about three years of working part-time in a supermarket and drawing his ass off the rest of the time, finally getting a chance to do some fill-in pages for a small comic publisher and working on a million other projects. He's been working on his first big series for the last four months with Nat. He still has to pinch himself now and again to remind himself that he's doing what he always dreamed about for a living.

Steve was reluctant to talk to Natasha Romanov when they first started working together nearly two years ago on a terrible four issue series; not because he didn't like her, but because he was too damn shy and she had a reputation for being far too cool. He had managed to stave her off with emails for as long as possible until she demanded a Skype conversation to talk about another project they'd been working on. Much to Steve's surprise, they had hit it off straight away, conversations coming easy and an online friendship had soon struck up. Nat is hilarious and blunt and it didn't take her long to figure him out and decide that they were a good working team as well as friends. He had finally met her face to face at a comic con they were both guests at and she had batted away his out-stretched hand and pulled him into a hug so hard, Steve had bitten his tongue.

Steve and Nat talk a lot over Skype while they work; being a freelance comic book artist is a great job but can get kind of cabin fever-inducing. Half the time they're online, they barely even talk, just work and occasionally remember that the other is there at the other end of the line, Nat often piping in with insults about his music tastes and Steve telling her to fuck off, but he notices that she always turns off whatever she is listening to and lets Steve play his own stuff.

Steve lives alone so Skyping and Facebook messaging (mainly with Nat and his editor, Sam,) are his main source of human contact given his heavy workload, which is pretty damn sad. Mrs Nesbit, the old lady who lives on the first floor that Steve sometimes picks up groceries for, doesn't count as she's constantly trying to set him up with her granddaughter, some Harvard student called Peggy, and every conversation he has with her always seems to steer towards that awkward subject.

"Well, the pages you'll get off of me this week are pretty simple. There's like one whole double-page spread that's just a snowfield," he replies, considering a panel.

He can hear the smile in Nat's voice when she answers. "That's what I love about you, Steve; your minimalism."

Steve laughs and picks up his mechanical pencil again. He hears clattering in the background and Clint, Natasha's husband, shouts from their kitchen.

"Tell Steve his artwork in issue 3 gave me a boner."

"Clint says you gave him a boner," Nat says nonchalantly.

"Yeah, thanks Clint," Steve shouts back.

There's some shuffling on the other end and Clint's voice, louder, at Nat's desk. "Honestly dude, that issue was like AMAZING. You are one talented son of a bitch."

Steve grins and rubs a hand on the back of his neck, "Well, it was okay but I still need to work on my - "

Clint and Nat groan together. "Rogers, for fuck's sake - take a goddamn compliment," Clint says. "Just say, "Thanks Clint." Say it."

Steve sighs and smiles. "Thanks Clint. Thank you."

"Better. Stop being so modest, you're making the rest of us assholes look bad."

There's a beat of silence and then Clint gives a laugh. "Steve, what the fuck are you listening to? It sounds like a bad 80s action film."

Nat groans. "It's that Retro New Wave junk he's obsessed with."

"Hey," Steve says mock defensively, "Perturbator and Power Glove are fucking geniuses, so you can both go and shove it." Nat and Clint snort in unison, one of the many weird symbiotic things they do that freaks Steve out.

"You just like anything that sounds like old videogame music, you uber-nerd," Nat says but not unkindly.

"Well, on that note," says Clint and Steve hears him kiss Nat. "See you later, gorgeous. You too, Nat."

Natasha tuts and Steve laughs. He hears her apartment door slam shut.

"Where's Clint off to at 9pm on a Monday night?" Steve asks, erasing a line that's a bit too wonky for his liking.

"Some bro thing at a sports bar. Guys from his archery club. He'll come home all boozy and handsy, I guarantee it. But hey, I'll take any action I can get."

Steve giggles. There's a moment of comfortable silence as they both work, listening to Steve's music, and then Nat says, way too casually, "So speaking of action - "

Steve groans and makes a face, aware that Natasha can't see it but making one anyway. "No, no we weren't speaking of action."

"Oh come on, Steve! Just tell me you've got someone interested, or have a date any time in the next century..."

Steve sighs and sits back, dropping his pencil. "No, it's all very quiet. No-one on...any horizon," he says softly and maybe a bit sadder than he'd intended.

He hears Nat give a soft sigh. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you feel bad. I just want to know that some hot guy is lusting over you in some manner."

Steve takes off his glasses and puts them on his desk, then laces his hands behind his head and stares up at his ceiling. "No, you didn't make me feel bad. It's my own fault. I've been using deadlines as an excuse to not do anything in...that department. I just...it's hard. I'm not very good at it."

"An introvert's life doesn't have to be a lonely one," Nat says. "Why not try speed-dating again? You met that Brock guy through one of those things, right?"

Steve makes a noise. "Yeah, but Brock was...he was nice and all but we didn't have anything in common really, and I think he was looking for someone a bit more...less terrified. And not such a loser."

"Steve, you're way too hard on yourself." When Steve starts to protest Nat just gets louder and talks quicker. "You're an awesome guy; you're really funny, incredibly sweet and decent, stupidly talented and you're hot, you are. I'm starting to worry that Clint wants to have sex with you because he's always saying how hot you look when there are any photos of you at a comic con online..."

Steve barks out a laugh. "Well, if you guys ever get divorced then I guess I have that option."

Nat laughs too, but then her voice softens again. "Just give yourself some credit, Rogers. People think a lot of you. You just need to start thinking a lot more of yourself."

Steve swallows the lump rising in his throat. "Thanks Nat", he says quietly. "It'll happen when it happens. I'm just not one for...casual stuff."

"You are so old-fashioned," she replies, but he can hear the fondness in her voice.

He folds his arms on his desk and rests his head on his arms. "I didn't want this conversation to end with me in self-pity mode again. I've done way too much of that lately."

"We're all allowed to wallow a bit. But hey, if it makes you feel any better, my friend Lori saw that picture of us at Insight-Con and practically blew her lady-load. She wouldn't stop asking about you. So even if YOU don't think you're sexy, the ladies do."

Steve gives a small laugh. "I'm flattered but unless she's got a huge cock, I'm not really interested."

Natasha shrieks and gives a loud cackling laugh. Steve never says stuff like that and she loves being shocked by anything dirty he says. It doesn't happen a lot.

"Holy shit, Steve!" she chokes out between laughs and Steve laughs with her for a few minutes, always pulled in by Nat's infectious giggles.

"Okay, well I guess this is as good a time as any to hang up on you," Nat says, sniffing and, Steve can visualise it, wiping away a few laugh-tears. "I can't believe I get to see you again week after next at Ultron-Con; I can't frikkin' wait. God, such a lame name for a convention."

Steve chuffs. "Yeah, I'm looking forward to 3 days of being teased by Tony."

Nat groans. "Yep, I look forward to him sleazing over everyone."

"Well, as much as I hate to say it, without Stark I wouldn't be working on this series."

Nat snorts. "Believe me, his writing isn't half as good without our artwork. Oh, which reminds me - make sure you send me anything you want printed for the con. Lori can get some stuff done on the sly where she works. You should totally reprint your Icons Of Horror posters."

"I think I will. Thanks, Nat."

Steve can hear Nat shuffling some papers about on her end. "Well, I guess I'd better go and get my lady-parts prepped for Clint's drunken return later."

Steve makes an over-exaggerated "ew" and Nat laughs. There's a beat and then: "Oh my god, is that Bryan Ferry?"

"It's from the Legend soundtrack!" Steve exclaims.

He's pretty sure Nat is rolling her eyes. "Steve, you have the worst taste in music, like ever."

Steve snorts. "You and Clint like Nickelback so I think I pretty much win this round."

Nat starts to protest and Steve cuts of Skype before she can say anything else. He smiles and immediately taps out a message to her.

captain_rogers: luv ya :)

Natasha replies almost immediately.

black_widow: you suck

***

Steve stacks his completed pages and puts them aside on his desk, ready to start inking in the morning. Sam has approved everything besides the 2 pages he pencilled today and he emails them over, knowing that Sam will call him in the morning. He's looking forward to the inking because it means he can just zone out to music or Netflix. He likes not having to think so much, especially about himself. He takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes. He knew that Nat would eventually ask him about his love life and was dreading yet another conversation about "getting out there" and all that shit. He knows he has to make an effort, but his shyness and lack of confidence always get the better of him.

He'd never been good with girls in high school, and then when he'd realised he actually liked boys, not much better with them either. Brock had been the exception; he had been funny and handsome and had seemed to genuinely like Steve, but Steve had been so wound up about what to do, how to act, it had eventually put Brock off and they'd parted ways. It had been amiable, but they hadn't been in touch since.

He switches off his laptop at about 12:30am and pads to the bathroom to brush his teeth. His one bed apartment is small but comfortable; a fortress of books, comics, DVDs, videogames and music. Someone to share it with would be nice, and he feels a pang in his chest. He glances at his reflection as he brushes; he honestly can't see any kind of hotness and thinks Nat is talking out of her ass (again). He's a bit on the lean side, gets ill way too often (considering he's alone most of the time, what is he catching from who?), hair always doing the opposite of what he wants it to do. He has nice eyes, that's about it. They're bright blue and Brock had been fond of staring into them as often as he could when they had been dating. He takes off his black-rimmed glasses as he brushes and squints at the mirror. He doesn't get any better looking.

Natasha had once sent him an email of cut-and-pasted tweets and forum comments by fan-girls about his eyes as a confidence booster and he'd grown redder and redder with each one. She had made the mistake of mentioning this to Bruce Banner, another comic artist, at a convention last year and Tony had overheard and now sang "Behind Blue Eyes" to Steve every time he saw him, crooning dramatically.

Steve sighs. It has less to do with his looks, and more to do with him. He is way too shy, easy to embarrass and blushes beet red at the drop of a hat. He wears awkward like a bad shirt.

He wipes his mouth and turns off the light, carrying a glass of water to his bedroom. He sits on his bed and picks up his journal from the side-table, starting to make a list of all the things he needs to do before Ultron-Con, not including his book deadlines. He sighs and rests his head on his pillow; not much room left for a love-life anyway.

***

"Cut the check!" Sam shouts loudly into Steve's ear when he answers his phone the next morning, almost knocking over his mug of coffee.

"Hi Sam," Steve winces, but smiles with relief because that always means that Steve has no amends to make - his pages are all approved.

"Awesome work as ever, dude," Sam says. "Holy hell, page 18? I think a bit of piss came out when I saw it."

Steve erupts into laughter and Sam laughs along with him. "But seriously, Steve - great job. You just seem to get better with each issue. I think you should be prepared to get a hell of a lot more interest in the next couple of months because this series is your ticket, I'm telling ya."

Steve huffs. "Nah, it's only because Tony Stark is writing it; it's got nothing to do with my artwork."

"Bull. Shit. Just because the guy is writing a show for AMC doesn't make him Comic Book Jesus. This book would be nothing without you." There is warmth in Sam's voice and Steve smiles and remembers Clint's not-so-subtle advice from last night.

"Thanks Sam. Natasha does a pretty good job of making my stuff look better though."

Sam gives a little laugh. "Always the gentleman. I was thinking of offering Nat a couple of covers to do, artwork and everything. What do you think?"

"I think she'd be totally into it," Steve says. Nat is an unbelievably good artist in her own right and rarely gets any other stuff to do besides colouring at the moment. Steve knows she'll jump at the chance.

"Cool." He hears Sam lean back in his squeaky chair. "So, how's things?"

Steve walks into the kitchen and puts his mug in the sink. "Yeah, pretty good. Busy, but I can't complain about that. I'm really enjoying drawing this series."

"Well, we love having you on it. You're like one of the most modest artists we've ever had. I keep expecting you to suddenly go full-on diva on us but you don't."

Steve laughs. "I don't think I'd even know how to be a diva."

"Don't do it, man. You're a nice guy who hits his deadlines and doesn't complain. It'll get you far."

Steve gives a soft laugh, wishing he could apply his professional aspects to his personal life. "I hope so."

"Okay, I need to give Nat a call and get her on these covers. Take it easy, Steve."

"Thanks Sam. Bye." Steve hangs up and leans against the sink, suddenly a bit less motivated than he was to get started on his inks. Apart from crossing the street to pick up some food from the grocery store, he hasn't left his apartment in about four days. He glances out of the window. The sky is clear and blue, just a few wisps of cloud. He slips his sneakers on and grabs his messenger bag before he can let himself change his mind. It's new comic book day and he wasn't planning on going to the comic book store until tomorrow, but screw it. He flips his laptop on stand-by, noticing a message from Natasha before he does. Maybe he'll pick her up a gift from the comic book store, just for being awesome and the only really good friend he has.

Steve locks his door and trots down the stairs. There are boxes in the second floor corridor and the door to 2E is open. Someone new must be moving in. He tries to have a look as he passes but doesn't see anyone. He collects his mail on the way out of the building and smiles as soon as he heads down the street; the day is warm and the fresh air feels good. His spirits lighten a bit. He'll let himself wallow later on.

***

It's 12:45pm by the time Steve is back at his apartment building, a third of a way through a bag of strawberry Twizzlers. He picked up a ton of new comics and a Funko Pop Tyrion Lannister for Nat, which she's been harping on about for ages. He knows she'll go ape when she sees it and gives himself a grin. He's heading up the stairs to the second floor when he hears a loud thump and someone shout: "Ah, shit! Watch out on the stairs, I dropped a fuckin' box!"

A cardboard box filled with stuff, most of it spraying out every which way, comes rolling down towards Steve and he drops his bags instinctively to grab it. The comics slide down the steps and out of the plastic bag, fanning out in the lobby, followed by his messenger bag. Luckily, the rogue box doesn't have anything breakable in it: A few books (Steve spies some Harlan Ellison), a pair of muddy sneakers, a bunch of towels and Tupperware tubs minus the lids.

Steve starts to gather the loose items and put them back in, looking up as the box's owner descends the flight of steps towards him. A guy about the same age as Steve, longish hair falling in his face, wearing a black hoodie, jeans and weirdly, bare feet. He's holding his left arm awkwardly at his waist.

"I'm so sorry, man. I was trying to carry too many at once and it just went." The guy looks up at Steve with huge grey-blue eyes, brow knitted in embarrassment.

Steve shakes his head. "It's okay, nothing breakable in here." He sets the books on top of the towels.

"I don't give a crap about this stuff. Are you okay?" He glances down the steps. "Aw, shit. You dropped all of your bags."

Steve laughs quietly, "Honestly, it's okay." He looks up at him again, and Steve's breath catches slightly as the guy's brow un-knits and he gives a relieved grin. He's...wow. He's really cute. Steve looks down quickly, hoping to God that he's not blushing and rests the box on a step. He's about to say something when the guy in the hoodie passes him on the stairs and starts to gather up Steve's comics and his messenger bag.

"I'm really sorry," he says as he picks up the books. Steve notices that he mainly uses his right hand to do it, the left arm still at his waist, a black glove covering his hand.

Steve follows him down and picks up his messenger bag. "It's really okay, please don't worry about it." He catches a whiff of something like coconut from the guy as he hands Steve his stuff.

"Cool - you like comics?" he asks, slightly more at ease. He tries to cross his right arm over his left a bit.

Steve gives a little smile. "Yeah, I uh, I draw them. For my job. I mean I read them too, but I work on a couple of books. None of these though..." Babbling. Idiot. He gives himself a mental slap.

The guy raises an eyebrow, impressed. "Seriously? Like published?"

Steve nods, instantly feeling like a hack for mentioning it and attempting to impress a perfect stranger. A very cute perfect stranger. "It's no big..." He kind of trails off.

"That's awesome! I can't draw for shit. You must be good if you earn a living from it." He relaxes a bit, resting his right hand on his hip and Steve finally realises the guy's left arm is prosthetic.

He just looks down at the comics in his hands and says, "I'm...okay, I guess."

The guy gives a warm laugh. "Wow, so much confidence." He holds out his right hand to Steve. "I just moved in to 2E. Well, almost." He indicates the box on the stairs. "I'm Bucky."

Steve takes Bucky's hand and shakes it, hoping that his own palm isn't clammy and he doesn't feel like a wet fish. "Steve. I live up in 3C." Bucky's hand is warm.

"Well, this wasn't the way I wanted to meet the neighbours but I'm glad it was you I dropped a box on and not some old lady or something. I don't think I could live with myself if I brained a senior citizen with my towels."

Steve laughs softly. They head back up the stairs and Bucky grabs the box with his right hand and hauls it up under his arm. Steve isn't sure whether to help him or not; he doesn't want to assume that Bucky needs the help, but also doesn't want to seem like a dick by not helping. They reach the landing and Steve sees more cartons just outside Bucky's door.

He immediately picks one up, heavier than the one that fell down the stairs and turns to Bucky, not wanting to just waltz into his apartment.

Bucky gives him a grateful smile and Steve feels relieved. "Thanks, man. I've been at this all morning and was slowly losing the will to live."

Steve follows him into the apartment. It's pretty much the same layout as his own place, but with a nicer couch and a green kitchen. He puts down the box with the others that have been moved in and goes back out into the hall to pick up another one. "No problem. It sucks moving in on your own; I did the same."

Bucky kicks another box through the door into the small hallway. "Yeah, I don't have any friends here really. I was in Boston before this for a bit. I'm from Brooklyn originally, though."

Steve brings in the last box and sets it down. "Yeah, me too. Never really left New York."

Bucky puts his right hand on his hip again and nods at Steve. "Thanks so much, Steve."

"No problem." He clears his throat awkwardly and indicates to the door. "I'll, uh, leave you to it." He shuffles to the door. Come on, you idiot, he hisses to himself, don't leave this hanging. Just go for it. Fucking talk to him. He turns when he gets to the door and flounders a bit.

"Um, if you need like, a cup of sugar or anything...," Yeah, smooth Steve,"...I'm just upstairs. Or y' know, not sugar but if you want...to hang out?" He just about manages to stop himself wringing out his hands.

Bucky brightens a bit. "3C, right?"

Steve hopes his smile isn't too obvious. "Yeah. I'll...see you." He exits, just managing to not walk into the door frame and pretty much runs upstairs and to his own apartment.

***

Natasha reacts as expected to the Tyrion Lannister toy, shrieking at the photo Steve sends across.

"You are too awesome, Rogers," Nat says and Steve hears exaggerated kissing noises close to the microphone of her laptop.

"No tongue," Steve says and Nat giggles.

He finally managed to get started on inking a page after the whole Bucky thing, feeling a bit light-headed and flushed when he got inside the door of his own place. Whether Bucky would actually accept his invitation to hang out was another matter but Steve just wanted to bask in the moment and feel proud that he'd actually done something. It's a small victory for him.

He hears Nat coo approvingly as Depeche Mode comes on. They work in silence for a bit.

Steve clears his throat. "So, um, I met this guy who moved in downstairs. Seems okay."

There's a beat of silence before Nat clears her own throat and says, "So, um, that was so not smooth and you are terrible at hiding the fact that you are obviously interested in some guy who just moved in downstairs."

Steve groans and Nat gives a wicked cackle. "God, Steve! So come on, who is he, is he cute, gimme."

Steve huffs a sigh. "His name is Bucky - "

"Bucky?"

" - he's...uh...very cute - "

"Bucky?"

" - and he's got a - "

"His name is Bucky?"

"YES! BUCKY! BUCKY BUCKY! It's probably a nickname, jeezuss!"

Natasha howls with laughter. "Calm down, Rogers! You'd better hope he didn't just hear you screaming his name like a maniac!"

Steve groans louder and throws his pen down. Natasha has this whole ice maiden thing going on when they're at comic cons: She greets people with a smirk and raises a casual eyebrow at comments and pretty much has people wrapped around her little finger basking in how cool she is. Yet she's a complete goofball behind closed doors. He's heard her singing along to songs off-key and in as high a pitch as she can, while him and Clint scream with laughter. She was the one who decided that anytime Clint says "It would be my genuine pleasure," (which he says a lot) he has to eat a spoonful of garlic puree. Clint often says she's wasted on being an artist and should have gone into something involving espionage or mystery shopping instead.

"Nat..."

"Okay, I'm cool. I am genuinely excited for you."

Steve picks his fine-liner back up. "Nothing's even happened. I just helped him move like four boxes into his living room."

Nat gasps. "You went into his apartment? Holy shit, this is moving too fast for me."

"Nat!"

Natasha laughs. "Oh, come on! Dude, this is amazing. You have to ask him out."

"I don't even know him!"

"That's what asking someone out is for."

"I...uh...," Steve hesitates.

"What? What?! Spit it out!"

"I told him he could borrow a cup of sugar...if he wanted."

Steve turns down the volume on his laptop to drown out Nat's laughing.

***

black_widow: Okay, I'm sorry to tease.

black_widow: Steve

black_widow: Steeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeve

captain_rogers: what

black_widow: Honestly, I think you should just go for it. You're a total a catch.

captain_rogers: I'm thinking about it

black_widow: I told Clint. He says you're too cute. He wants to eat you out with a spoon.

black_widow: eat you up with a spoon

captain_rogers: You guys are gross

captain_rogers: I'll let you know if anything happens

black_widow: You'd better!

***

Steve has just finished washing up his dinner stuff at about 7:45pm when there's a knock at his front door. His stomach flips - he never gets visitors so it could only be one person - and a for a second he isn't sure what to do, dish-towel in one hand and a plate in the other. There's another knock and Steve almost throws the plate down instead of the towel and hurries to the door, taking both with him.

Bucky is in the hall, still bare foot and in his black hoodie. He gives a little smile. "I hope your offer to hang out still stands because I don't need any sugar."

Steve steps back. "No! I mean, yeah! Come on in. Sorry, I just finished dinner." Steve holds the dish-towel and plate up as if by way of explanation.

Bucky walks in. "Damn, I knew I should have come up earlier." He stops short when he sees Steve's DVD collection. "Holy crap. I don't think I've seen that many movies, let alone own that many."

Steve closes the front door and gives a laugh. "Can you tell I don't get out much?"

"I don't either so I guess I've made the right friend." He stops again halfway over to the DVDs and points at Steve's Wii U. "Do you have Mario Kart?"

"Totally. You want to play?" Steve wonders how Bucky will use the controller with just one arm. He also wonders how he's managing to sound so calm and not blush every two seconds.

Bucky beams. "Oh, hell yes."

"Do you want a beer?" Steve walks back to the kitchen and puts the plate and dish-cloth on the counter whilst slyly checking his shirt to make sure he didn't dribble any lasagne on it.

"Jeez, I kind of feel like I've just swaggered in here and decided I want to play with all of your stuff and drink your beer and have nothing to offer in return." Bucky is stood watching Steve with both hands on his hips now, an amused grin on his face. Steve hands him a beer - Bucky takes it with his right hand - and Steve just shrugs.

"The company's good enough for me."

Bucky takes a swig of his beer and spots Steve's desk. "Oh hey, yeah. Your comics. Can I see?"

Steve rubs a hand through his hair, suddenly more self-conscious about showing Bucky his artwork than anything else. "Yeah, sure."

They walk over to Steve's desk and he quickly glances at his laptop to make sure that his earlier message thread with Nat isn't visible. Nope, Photoshop. Good.

Bucky looks down at Steve's latest page in progress. "Wow, that is...amazing," he says softly. He puts his beer down on the book shelf far away from the artwork (Steve kind of loves him for that) and scans the page.

Steve reaches for his portfolio on the bottom shelf of the bookcase. He puts it on the desk, clearing a space. Steve unzips it and then kind of flounders. "Um, this is most of my best stuff." He steps back and lets Bucky open it.

Bucky is silent as he flips the pages. There's a mixture of different work in the portfolio: Superhero pin-ups, original work, sequentials, a bit of graphic design (not Steve's strong point.) He tries not to shift nervously as Bucky stops on one his Icons Of Horror pieces - the An American Werewolf In London poster. "This is amazing," Bucky breathes. He turns to Steve, a mixture of admiration and you-said-you-were-good-but-not-this-good on his face. "You are really talented."

Steve can feel his face getting hot and is about to do his usual protesting, but he stops himself, holding Bucky's gaze for as long as he can before caving and looking down.

"Thank you," he says quietly.

Bucky taps the poster. "The bit where he gets shot in the alleyway at the end always gets me. When he kind of recognises his girlfriend for a second."

Steve nods. "Yeah, it's heartbreaking."

A notification bloops up on his laptop. Bucky closes Steve's portfolio and retrieves his beer from the bookshelf. "You want me to start up the Wii while you get that?"

Steve indicates the DVD shelf. "Cool. All the games are on the bottom left." He watches Bucky walk over and then pulls up Skype.

black_widow: Clint just ate chocolate with ketchup on it and I didn't even dare him to.

captain_rogers: he's here in my living room right now

black_widow: WTF whats going on what

captain_rogers: we'er gonna play mario kart i gotta go

black_widow: pt me on call so i can listen in

captain_rogers: get bent

black_widow: don't put me on stand-by i swear

Steve closes his laptop and heads over to the couch. Bucky is holding one of the controllers and Steve can see that he can move the fingers on his prosthetic arm. He wants to ask about it but gets the feeling that it's something Bucky should bring up without a prompt.

Bucky points to a picture of Nat and Steve propped up on his 24 box set. It's from the first comic convention they met at. Nat is draped casually across Steve's shoulder while she strikes her "cool pose" - hip jutting out, pouting, red hair flung over one shoulder -while Steve smiles crookedly, his hand on Nat's waist. "Girlfriend?" Bucky asks.

Steve huffs a laugh. "No, that's Nat, She's a comic artist too. That's her husband Clint photo-bombing us in the background. They're kind of my best friends."

Bucky nods and Steve tries not to dwell on whether Bucky might be gay. He's here because Steve invited him and that's more than he could have hoped for.

***

It ends up being a great evening; they play Mario Kart for about four hours, drink beer and talk about crap. About a million races into the game, Bucky calls Steve a punk for ramming him off of the Rainbow Road again. He gets his own back with a blue shell two races later though and howls with laughter as Steve goes from 1st place to 6th and Bucky nabs 2nd place. Steve calls him a jerk but can't stop laughing. Bucky puts his controller down and flexes his right hand.

"Oh man, I love this game so much." He glances at Steve. "You realise it was a mistake to invite me over, right? You wont get rid of me now."

Steve flashes him a grin. "Fine by me; it beats losing online all the time. I swear everyone who plays Mario Kart online does nothing but play Mario Kart online."

Steve's phone vibrates and he reaches across the coffee table to grab it. It's a text.

NAT: Are you two having sex yet?

He makes a noise in his throat and tosses the phone onto the floor.

Bucky raises an eyebrow. "Problem?"

Steve shakes his head. "Just Nat being...Nat."

The phone vibrates again and Steve sighs and picks it back up.

CLINT: Nat says don't ignore her. Did you get some?

Bucky stands up. "Can I use your bathroom?"

"Go for it," Steve says and chuckles as Bucky wobbles a bit on his way there. He hears an "Ow," as Bucky body checks the bathroom door.

Steve quickly texts Clint back.

STEVE: no, we're playing Mario Kart tell Nat to stop thinking about me having sex its gross

Steve gathers up the empty beer bottles and takes them into the kitchen. He leans against the sink for moment, happy and a little bit drunk. He hears Bucky coming out of the bathroom. He pokes his head out of the kitchen. "You want some water or something?"

Bucky walks over, both hands tucked into his hoodie pocket. "At the risk of losing any masculine credibility I may have built up during the course of the evening: Do you have any tea?" He makes a squinty face.

"I think," Steve says, rooting through a cupboard, "I have some green tea somewhere. Is that okay?"

Bucky leans against the counter with a dopey smile. "Perfect."

Steve finds the box of tea and fills the kettle. He drinks two glasses of water and leans against the fridge.

"So what do you do, like job wise?" he asks Bucky.

Bucky kind of frowns and looks down at his feet, which are dirty. "At the moment, nothing. I'm kind of between things."

Steve hopes he hasn't said something wrong and Bucky looks up and must see it on his face because he gives a little smile and says, "It's no big thing."

Steve nods and the kettle clicks. He pours the hot water into a mug and hands it to Bucky. "We should totally do this again."

"Yeah, that would be cool." Bucky goes and sits on one end of the couch. "I haven't done anything like this for ages. It's...nice."

Steve flops down on the other end of the couch. "Yeah, I don't have guests 'round often."

"What about Nat and Clint?" Bucky asks.

"They live in Milwaukee."

Bucky chuckles. "Ah."

"I see them at comic conventions which is cool. I kind of wish they lived closer. I pretty much talk to Nat every day, though - she works from home too so we kind of keep each other company. Clint does some IT thing for a job. I forget what."

"They sound pretty cool."

Steve smiles. "Yeah, they are."

There's a moment of silence and the Mario Kart title screen loops.

Bucky clears his throat. "Hey, uh, thanks again for earlier. Helping me with the boxes. I kind of...my arm gets kind of..." He glances at Steve, unable to finish his sentence.

Steve quirks up a corner of his mouth and gives a little shrug. "It was my genuine pleasure."

Bucky gives him a funny look, then his face splits into a huge smile and he laughs, deep and loud. "Who the hell says that?"

Steve starts to laugh too. "I know, right?" he says which only makes Bucky laugh harder.

When they both calm down a bit, Steve picks up the controllers and hands one to Bucky. "Come on, I'll thrash you one more time."

Bucky snorts. "Bring it."

***

It's after 2am when Bucky finally stands up and stretches. "I think I've outstayed my welcome long enough now. And beaten your ass into the ground shamelessly." He does a funny little body pop that makes Steve giggle. He gets up too and walks with Bucky to the door.

"Yeah, I need to get up early and ink a bunch of stuff to send to Nat tomorrow." He groans.

Bucky steps out into the hallway. He starts to walk backwards down the hall, hands in his hoodie pocket again. "Thanks again, Steve. Seriously."

Steve leans on the door frame. "Any time, man."

Bucky grins and disappears down the stairs, feet slapping on the wood floor.

Steve shuts the door and puts on the latch. Then he turns off the Wii U and the living room lights and heads to his room, too tired to even bother brushing his teeth. He kicks his jeans off, throws his shirt over into the hamper and crawls into bed. He checks his phone: Nothing else from Nat and Clint.

He sends them both a text.

STEVE: So, he just left

Less than 30 seconds pass before he gets two texts almost simultaneously. The bastards were actually waiting up for him.

NAT: WHAT HAPPENED

CLINT: Nat has been imagining filthy things

STEVE: We played on the Wii and drank beer and that was it

NAT: AAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGG

CLINT: So how was it?

Steve pauses for a second and can't help the huge smile that spreads across his face.

STEVE: Really really good :)