It's Bucky who drags Steve into the little shop down in the Village during one of their rambling citywide walks. The place has blacked out windows and headless models displayed in provocative poses wearing tight leathery things. Bucky expects Steve to say Uncle and beat a hasty retreat as soon as he sees what's for sale. But he doesn't. He just walks over to a prominent shelf and takes stock of the merchandise with a thoughtful hum.
"Ah, here it is." Steve pulls the colorful blister pack off the shelf and holds it up for Bucky to see.
"That’s. Your dick," Bucky says slowly.
Cap’s Cock, the label says, alongside a crude, muscled Captain America cartoon character tossing out a salute. The dildo itself is, according to the fine print, the finest lifelike silicone. It’s big. And it’s got veins. And a suction cup at the base whose purpose takes Bucky a minute to understand.
"Yeah, it was for charity. It wasn’t comfortable but the mold process is pretty interesting." Steve weighs the box in his hand, his lips twisting to the side with an artist’s eye for critique. "I don’t think they got my skin tone right. It's more pink than that."
"Is it?" Bucky growls. "I couldn’t say." Because even after all this time, he still hasn’t seen Steve’s supersoldier cock. But apparently in this day and age anyone with $29.95 can get a decent replica. The unfairness of this is of galactic proportions.
This journey inside the blue store was supposed to be funny: make good ol’ upstanding Steve blush, show him all the gadgets and gizmos they’ve got these days, maybe give him a good idea of what men can get up to with each other. Maybe offer to show him, even.
But no. Steve is the one making Buck blush, for god’s sake.
"So, what do you think?" Steve gives him a grin and holds up the box like he’s giving it away on a game show. "In the market for a piece of an American hero?" he says, stealing from the package copy.
Bucky’s jaw ticks. “You know what?” He plucks the box from Steve’s hands. “Maybe I am.”
He heads to the register, pointedly not paying any mind to Steve's groans.
The boy at the counter rings him up dispassionately. He has a piercing in his face, which Bucky stares at a little. "Cash or credit?" he asks, pulling out a black plastic bag.
"Buck, come on," Steve says, picking his way through the crowded displays to stand beside Bucky. "Quit horsing around."
"Oh hey." The cashier points to Steve. "You're— Whoa." He points to the sex toy's package, then back at Steve. His eyes widen slightly. "You're a bestseller."
"Thanks." Steve nods. "I, uh, appreciate that."
"Can you autograph some product for the store?"
Bucky ignores the kid. "It's a free country, so they say," he tells Steve. "I got the money; I can buy whatever I want." Granted, the money's from Steve, but he called it Buck's walking-around money, so that makes it his.
"If you're trying to embarrass me—" Steve says.
"Here, I have some Sharpies. I think the silver looks cool, but hey, your call." The kid produces an array of markers in a fan on the counter.
"Who says I'm trying to embarrass you?" Bucky shoots back. "You're obviously very proud. Proud and upstanding." He waggles the box in the air to illustrate.
Steve pinches the bridge of his nose. "Look, it was Stark's idea. It was for a good cause. The news outlets had a field day for a while—you know how they love to poke fun—but then the next crisis happened and that was that. It was silly, and it was juvenile, but we raised over twelve million dollars for the Grand Central restoration."
"Also it made him, like, a total queer icon," the cashier pipes up.
Bucky turns to the kid with a glare. "Say again?"
"Yeah, like overnight. It was pretty wild. We still sell about two dozen Cap movies a week. Package deal with the toy, you get ten percent off a DVD." The kid points to the shelves behind him, which, Bucky now sees, are stuffed full of movies with titles like Land of the Cream and Star Dangled. The men on the covers are overly muscled, dyed blond, square-jawed parodies of the real Steve, all of them draped in cleancut, lithesome boys with dark hair.
Well, isn't that just perfect.
Bucky snorts. "They can't be any worse than the flicks you made back in the day," he says to Steve.
"You'd be surprised," Steve says cryptically.
Bucky forgoes the DVD deal to the disappointment of the cashier, but Steve signs the remaining dongs on the shelf, which perks him right up again. He even calls Steve 'sir' and wishes them a good day. Bucky clutches his plain black plastic bag with a frown.
Steve whistles all the way to the 1 train.
"Was anyone going to inform me of this?" Bucky asks the room at large.
Nat shrugs and turns a glossy page. "You didn't ask. Besides, that was like two years ago. Who cares?"
Steve brushes past him to snag a half-eaten carton of beef and broccoli. Damn communal living; he's using chopsticks that are covered in Nat's lipstick, for crying out loud. "I tried to tell him," he says between bites. "I thought he was going to need smelling salts when he saw it." Steve nudges Nat with his hip, and she resolutely does not move over to make room; he waits until Banner, on the other end of the sofa, gives up some space with a sigh. Steve slips in between them.
"Oh, how the tables have turned," Tony mumbles as he flicks some computerized picture in the air in front of his face. "It was only a few months ago we were making jokes about you being old-fashioned, Cap." The screens in front of him display the text of his words in near-instant subtitles.
"I don't think that was a 'you're old' joke," Clint says from his spot on the floor. He's stretching out his back, trying to reach a knot. "I think it was a joke about delicacy."
"Mayhap both," Thor opines. He tosses a dumpling in his mouth and chews loudly. "The Captain was not alone in this venture, of course."
Bucky bites back a ill-thought out retort.
Here's the situation in the Tower as far as he understands it: all the Avengers earned their own penthouse suite after some alien invasion-type thing where they held hands and sang Kumbaya and used the power of friendship or whatever to save the world. No one really took Stark up on his offer to live in the place until SHIELD fell apart, and then there was a lot of "Gosh, guess I need a place to sleep at night without the immediate threat of my throat being cut." Hence the whole clubhouse vibe. It had taken some getting used to; Bucky still wasn't sure where he fit (aside from in Steve's spare bedroom).
"Let me get this straight," Bucky says. "You all have sex toys out there with your names on them?"
Clint raises his hand in the air. "I don't. I never get the good merch."
Nat makes a circle with her thumb and finger, tapping it angrily against her other palm. "At least they didn't want to turn you into a disembodied hole," she says.
"They—? What?" Bucky asks.
"It all worked out," she assures him. "I made them do a line of bondage gear instead. Cuffs, blindfolds, that kind of thing."
"They're tasteful," Bruce says.
"Yeah, unlike the giant green—" Clint starts.
Bruce groans and rubs his chest. "Please don't."
"—Hulk anal plug," he finishes anyway.
"Hey, don't judge, birdbrain," Tony says, still focused on his little project. It looks like a spaceship. Do they have a spaceship? No one ever tells Bucky anything. Tony continues, "Besides, mine is so obviously the best, it's not fair to play the comparison game."
"Yours," Bucky says flatly.
"Mine." Tony looks up, holds his hands exactly six inches apart. "It's absolute perfection."
Bucky frowns. "But you don't have a penis. How did you model for a sex toy?"
"I do so have a penis. I designed it myself." Tony waves a hand through the spaceship model, causing it to disappear in favor of a wireframe of a very sleek, very complicated-looking...vibrator...thing. "Special occasions only. Pepper can vouch for it. The production models suffered a little in quality, though. Apparently," he waggles his hands in mock concern, "vibranium is a precious resource."
Bucky shakes his head and turns to Thor, who's still chowing down on dumplings. "And you?" he asks.
Thor swallows and says, "This preoccupation with the phallus leaves me bemused. We do not worship it in my homeworld as you do here."
"I wouldn't call it worship—" Bruce starts.
"I would," Nat retorts with a raised brow.
Thor gives her a proud nod, then turns back to Bucky. "I requested my namesake be placed on another sort of token, and so the dealers of sexual goods developed a nectar most becoming. When applied to the skin, it produces an effect not unlike—"
"Lightning, yeah, I get it." Bucky closes his eyes, counts to five. This is the future he lived to witness. Thor's got a brand of fancy lube named after him, everyone talks about humping in mixed company, and Steve's sitting there on the sofa with a big shit-eating grin on his face.
"Told you," he says around his borrowed chopsticks.
"I was gifted an abundance of this fluid, if you have need of it," Thor offers.
Bucky turns on his heel and heads back to the elevator. He needs a nap. Maybe a quick jerk. But definitely a nap.
"Wait, why did you even buy this?" Clint calls after him, shaking the Captain America dildo vigorously, if the rattling was any indication.
Bucky resolutely does not answer that.
They're all fucking shitheads. Because no one knows for sure, do they?
That said, his current shrink is actually pretty sharp. She's been with him the longest, nearly two years now. Bucky's actually gotten to a place where he can talk to her about the things that really matter.
"So you purchased the dildo in a fit of jealousy?" Dr. Patil asks him when he finally spits out the story.
Bucky groans into his hands. The sound his breath makes on the metal palm is especially soothing. "I was not jealous."
"I'm sorry," his therapist says, not unkindly. "You were describing a feeling of…?" She does this a lot, making him fill in the blanks.
"We needle each other," Bucky says instead. "Steve says 'bet you won't' and I got to say 'bet I will' and then before you know it—" He makes a gesture with both hands, like a small explosion. "That's just how we've always been."
"It's comforting to return to old habits sometimes," Patil muses. She's not writing any of this down. When Bucky comes here to her office, they just talk. He asked once if she had any recorders hidden in the room, and she'd let him sweep it himself. Yeah, she's good.
Anyway. Old habits.
"I guess that's true." Bucky picks at the old leather of his armchair.
Patil waits. She's patient too.
Bucky huffs and gives up on picking. "It pisses me off sometimes, though."
"The way we can fall back into this, like— Like nothing's changed, when we both know that's not true," Bucky says. "I know it's crazy but—"
"Ah, ah, ah?"
Bucky sighs through his nose. Patil never lets him call himself names. "I know it doesn't seem rational," he corrects himself, "but there are times when I think it shouldn't be normal. Can't be." He shakes his head. "Steve sees me as I was. But that's not me anymore."
Patil rests her fingertip on her chin. "How would you like Steve to see you?"
"I don't know. Someone else? Not just an old friend?" Bucky drums both sets of fingertips against his chair's arms. Purses his lips. It's not a secret with Patil, the way he felt about Steve. Feels, present tense, now that he's back in a place where he can feel anything. Some days he wonders if the feeling's real or if he just wanted to have something not so shitty banging around in his head that he made up a lie to tell himself. But, he figures, if he wanted to feel less shitty he'd invent a crush on someone who wasn't getting drooled over by every man in the Village. "Okay. Maybe the thing at the store was jealousy," he says at last.
"You were looking to goad your friend into a response," Patil points out. "You wanted a sense of how receptive he might be to your overtures."
"Yeah, sure." Bucky moves his palms to his thighs, rubs them up and down on his jeans. His flesh hand is sweaty but it would look weirder wiping off just the one. "But this is real life. Steve isn't going to feed me a line about getting myself the real thing. I'm not even sure he'd go for a guy." It's still weird, talking about this stuff with a lady who's old enough to be his— Well, not technically old enough. Still, there's an aunt-like quality to Patil that should preclude the discussion of Steve's still-unseen erection.
But she's good. She could make Buck spill the beans from sun-up to sun-down. She just sits and waits.
Bucky licks his dry lips. "So maybe it's time I just said something myself. You know, lay my cards out."
Patil doesn't say anything, just sits there looking at him calmly.
"What?" Bucky finally asks. "You think it's a bad idea?"
"I didn't say that."
"You looked it," he says. "Listen, I've thought this through. And if he turns me down, we can still be friends. He's not the kind of guy who'd throw that away."
"Steve certainly has been a great support for you," Patil says.
Bucky blinks. "Do you think that's why I'm hot for him? Because he saved me?"
"Again, I did not say that."
He barely hears her. "Because that's not how it is. The memories, I told you how they're coming back more clearly. I get flashes—sometimes it's just noise—but I swear I remember Steve." Bucky bites his lip, looks out the window. They're high up on the 46th floor. It's nice, seeing the sky this close. There's a picture in his brain of a square of bright blue sky framed by a window; a bed where he lay shirtless and aching; a heart filled to the brim with no one to empty itself to. "Those feelings didn't go away. They were always there, I remember."
"I see," Patil says. "So, in that regard at least, things remain the same."
Bucky turns to stare at her. He thinks about his little bedroom in the Tower, the sleep that eludes him, the thoughts of Steve that chase him into restless half-dreams. "The more things change, huh, doc?" This is a recurring theme for him: things are one way, but somehow also the opposite. Strength in vulnerability, control in letting go. Patil says it's okay if it doesn't always make sense.
She leans forward and extends her hand palm up. Some days Bucky won't take it, but she offers all the same, every time.
Today he grasps it, lets her hold his right hand in hers. Such a tiny comfort. He feels so weak like this, but he also feels better.
"Do you think I'm an—" Right, no name-calling. "Do you think I'm doing the right thing here, or should I just keep my trap shut?"
Patil squeezes his hand. "You don't need anybody's blessing, James. You are your own person."
Bucky snorts. "That's not an answer. Anyone ever tell you you'd make a good politician?"
"Now, now. No name-calling, remember?"
She shrugs while pouring milk into her cereal. They have kitchens of their own, but the communal one is always stocked. "I believe Tony will find it in a conference room. Important meeting. Thor put it on some tech startup guy's chair."
"Great." Bucky takes out his StarkPhone and types 'startup' into the search bar. Thank Christ for Wikipedia or he'd never understand half of what his teammates were saying.
A startup, it turns out, is nothing special. Knowledge gained, Bucky pulls up a barstool and watches Nat eat little crunchy corn balls. His talk with Patil is still weighing on him, especially the part about Steve not being receptive. He chances a glance at Nat, who's young and savvy and seems to know everything worth knowing. "The kid at the sex shop said lots of guys have a thing for Steve," he tells her glumly.
Natasha nods while still chewing. Once she swallows, she adds, "Women too. And others. It's a whole thing, poor bastards." Another spoonful, crunch crunch.
Buck thinks over his next move carefully. "That didn't seem to bother him," he says. "The attention from...everyone."
Crunch crunch, shrug. "It's a brave new world, Barnes. Steve's had to adjust. Took a few years and a haircut, but he did okay." She gives him a meaningful look. "Just takes time."
"So Steve never said anything about—" Bucky gestures awkwardly, his palms rolling an invisible ball between them. "It's only, people didn't talk about this stuff when we were growing up. Men and men, that is. Do you think he might not like the thought of—?"
The cereal bowl clunks onto the counter, empty. "Do you have some kind of problem with gay people?" she asks, arms folded across her chest.
"No, no, course not," Bucky says, reddening. It's always an interrogation with Natasha. "It's Steve I'm worried about. I was just wondering if the idea of a man and, you know, Steve himself—"
"James," Nat interrupts, "you really don't know?" She's wearing that smirk that says she's played him perfectly, but he doesn't get it. He just stares at her, so she snatches the StarkPhone from under his hand and starts typing.
"Hey, come on," he protests.
"Captain…America...bisexual," Nat says as she types, then shows Bucky the search results page. "Here you go. Before your time. Post-alien invasion, pre-SHIELD implosion." Bucky takes the phone from her and stares at the screen. Articles—old ones, but only by a year or so—discussing Steve, mentions of their 'friendship' complete with quote marks, blurry candid pictures of Steve with a couple different guys at a couple different restaurants. Quotes and interviews and videos, all with titles like 'Grand Old Rainbow Flag?'
"I— What?" Bucky gapes.
Nat leans across the counter and peeks over the top of the phone. "It's not really in the news anymore since Steve gave up on dating. Granted, it was a huge hassle when he first went out with guys. Cameras everywhere, debates on the morality of role models...plus they never listened when he said 'bi, not homo please' but what else is new? I tried to set him up with some nice, lowkey girls when he said he was done with men for the time being, but he just lost all interest."
Bucky keeps staring. One of these guys was a tennis star. Another was a celebrity chef. Whatever the fuck that means; he'll have to look it up later.
"Barnes?" Nat waves her hand in front of his eyes. "Should I call a medic?"
"He never told me," Bucky whispered. "Why didn't he say something?"
"Gee, maybe for the same reason you haven't told him you're super queer?"
Bucky's head whips up. "How did you—?"
"Oh please. I was a spy. I know how to assess sexual availability, and since you came here? You may as well have a giant, blinking sign hung over you that says Steve Only."
"You assessed my sexual availability?" Bucky pulls back a little.
Nat waves him off. "Don't flatter yourself. Personally, my sign says No Soliciting; it's just habit to collect information."
Bucky knows a thing or two about habits, so he can't hold that against her. He switches off the phone and sticks it back in his jeans pocket. "Think Steve can tell?" He chews his lip.
"No, he's not good at worming his way into a secret." Nat's nose scrunches up. "We should work on that. And how to assess sexual availability, I guess. God, his dates were disasters. Although," she tilts her head in thought, "that cook was nice."
"Natasha? I'm kind of in a mess here," Bucky says. "And you're not helping."
"Sorry. Helping." She widens her stance, straightens her spine. "What do you need help with?"
"Steve," he says. "Do you think he...with any of those other guys?"
"Do I think he what?" Nat raises her eyebrows wildly. "Slept with them? Maybe. Or maybe they never even kissed; who knows?"
Okay. Now he's trying really hard not to imagine Steve and some tennis player all tangled up in a nest of white sweaters and fancy shoes. God, he's so far behind.
"So what should I do?" he asks.
"Not sure. I don't really believe in love. For me," Nat says quickly. "I'm sure you really are feeling...things. I just don't have any, you know. Experience with that."
Bucky places his forehead on the countertop and groans.
"Also we're out of cereal," she adds before sweeping out of the kitchen, leaving Bucky to wallow in his misery.
"Clint?" he asks Steve as he walks into the open area that serves as their living room.
"Probably," Steve answers without looking up from his tablet. "Living with cat burglars here, it's hard to tell."
Bucky gives a half-hearted smile. He looks down at Steve sitting there, head bowed over his work, shirt sinfully tight across his shoulders. The idea of just blurting it out right then and there—"Hey Steve? I'm in love with you."—is so tempting. What would it feel like, to just throw caution to the wind like that?
His hands shake with the thought. It would feel terrifying.
He's clocked in plenty of hours imagining how things might shake out, both ways. Path One: Steve wants to be with him, and they're together, and there are a million ways Bucky can mess it up. Maybe they make it, maybe they don't. Maybe they end up getting a dog. Taking vacations in little remote towns where no one recognizes them. Buck dreams about that, but he also thinks about all the ways it could go bad right from the start.
Bucky Barnes has done so many things wrong in his time; this is one thing he needs to get right. Steve deserves better than just having a bombshell land in his lap out of the blue.
Paralyzing fear creeps in: he should've talked to Patil about this earlier. Why didn't he ask the important questions? How do people even make time these days? It can't all be like those movies Pepper and Tony like to watch. Can it?
Oh god, is he going to have to punch someone in a church before he and Steve can be together?
Bucky blinks, wobbling on his feet. Steve is staring up at him with a concerned furrow growing between his brows.
"You okay? You look a little pale."
"I'm all right," he says automatically. "Just tired."
"Session went fine?"
"Yeah. Yeah, fine." He swallows. Steve looks so good, even though he looks kind of worried, and how sad is it that it's making Bucky feel warm to know the worry is for him?
"Want to sit?" Steve pats the cushion next to him, and Bucky has to make himself look away from the spot.
This is too much right now. He should regroup. Rethink. Reevaluate. Steve likes men. And also women, but also men! And Bucky, while a man, is not a person whom Steve has ever made a move on. Okay, so while there is a mathematical chance, there is not necessarily a real chance. And Steve is also not dating anyone at all now, maybe ever, so there's that.
He may be about to torpedo their friendship for no good reason.
"You're fading out again," Steve notes.
Bucky jumps a little. "I gotta—" He doesn't even come up with a good excuse. Just leaves, with Steve calling after him, "See you later, then?"
"Sure!" he calls back before the elevator doors shut behind him.
"Come on, the sky's good today," he says. The wind carries his words away, but Bucky gets the gist.
He plunks down on the deck next to Clint, who's all tucked up on his toes, scanning the rooftops. They sit in silence for a while, nothing but the wind and very distant sounds of traffic below to keep them company. Buck appreciates that about Clint, the silence. Sometimes, with everyone jammed into this place, the Tower can feel like a frigging zoo.
"How was Patil?" Clint asks after a time. Patil's his doc too; he was the one who'd suggested her in the first place.
Bucky positions himself to face Clint a little better, then draws his fingertips from his chin to slap down on his left fist. It was the first sign Clint had taught him back when Bucky was pretty nonverbal.
"Yeah, I know that feeling," Clint muses, turning back to squint at the horizon.
Bucky pulls his hair out of his face and holds it in a loose tail so Clint has a clear view of his lips. "Sometimes I think I'm ten steps behind everybody, and then it turns out to be more like ten thousand."
Clint frowns. "What, just because Steve's dated dudes and you haven't?"
"Oh my god." Bucky covers his face with his hands, forgetting the mechanics of lip-reading for just a moment. "Is it that obvious?"
"I'm guessing you're making sad noises," Clint says. "Is there a question in there?"
Bucky composes himself enough to make a sloppy circle in front of his chest with his right hand, ending the cycle with his pointer finger raised. "Does everyone know?"
Clint clamshells his fingers to his thumb. He signs something they created amongst themselves months ago: a line drawn across his forehead with a forefinger, then coming back around to swipe another line across his throat. Shorthand for Black Widow, man. More signs follow, and Bucky is able to glean from them that the discussion stayed between Nat and Clint.
Bucky waves his hand back and forth. Sure, sure. "I get it. Natural concern for—" He doesn't say 'the recovered asset.' "The team."
Clint frowns, makes a fishhook with his finger and mimes catching it on the corner of his mouth.
Bucky shakes his head. "I don't know that one."
"Jealous," Clint says meaningfully. "That's how it feels, right? Gets right into your skin. We were worried about you."
Bucky brushes the wind-whipped hair out of his mouth. It feels strange to know people care about what happens to him beyond missions. He mutters, "It's just, Steve's been stepping out with movie stars for years, and meanwhile I haven't been kissed since the forties, you know?"
They are silent for a few moments, and Bucky is sure they have returned to their citygazing for good, but then Clint leans over and gives him a noisy kiss on the corner of his mouth. Done, he signs, dusting invisible lint from his shirt.
A short laugh escapes Bucky's lips. "Thanks," he says and signs.
"What are straight friends with no standards for?" Clint says, and they settle back into their quiet watch.
Bucky looks over his shoulder, half-expecting Steve to be there on the ladder, slack-jawed at the sight of the two of them smooching. But this isn't one of Tony and Pepper's movies, and Steve is not there, and even if he was, Bucky would have to be the biggest jerk in the world to think that making him jealous—of Clint of all people—was the way to go.
He turns back to the city and imagines that somewhere down there, amid the twinkles of lights and honking of horns, is the answer to a problem shaped like Steve Rogers.
Finally he admits he's not going back to sleep, so he rolls over and out of bed, still dressed in last night's clothes. He hasn't quite gotten the hang of sleepwear; it seems an unnecessary vulnerability. This way, he's ready for anything.
Except. Yeah, except this.
Bucky stands at the entrance to the living room and takes in Steve's big-bodied sprawl across the floor. He's on his back, hands tucked under his head, eyes closed. His chin nods a little to the rhythm of the music, which plays from some unseen speaker.
And all Buck can do for a long moment is stare at the unholy buffet Steve presents, laid out like that in his ratty running shorts and tight shirt. The dildo, he sees, has migrated from the coat rack to the windowsill, where it sits upright next to their potted plant like it's waiting to be watered too.
"Oh hey," Steve's voice says, bringing his attention back to the floor, "you didn't wear your boots to bed? That's great." He's grinning upside down at Bucky; Christ, put him on some bedsheets and this could be straight out of his nightly fantasies.
Bucky shifts on his bare feet. Yeah, he's been trying it at night, baby steps. It's nice that Steve's supportive, but the attention makes him feel jittery. "Heard music," he says, rubbing the sleep out of his eye.
"Yeah, sorry. Didn't know you were still in bed." Steve waves his hand and Jarvis—or whatever automated system is in charge of their stereo equipment—turns down the volume to almost nothing. "I'm catching up on the last few decades. This is one of Sam's playlists."
"I liked it," Bucky manages to say, then frowns down at him. "What are you doing on the floor?"
"Best way to listen." Steve pats the space next to him on the plush carpet. "Come down here, I'll show you."
Bucky considers yet another retreat, but that might raise suspicions and also he wants to lay down next to Steve and listen to his music collection. It's good to want things, Patil is always telling him. Doesn't make you selfish, just means you're a person.
So he steps down into the sunken living room and stretches out on the floor, mirroring Steve's body with his own. Their hands are close, brushing just barely with Bucky's breath. If Steve notices, he doesn't show it, just gives Buck a flash of a smile. "All right, now just relax," he says, then moves his hand away for the required gesture to raise the volume.
Every muscle in Bucky's body is straining with tension. There is no way he is going to relax like this.
The music swells again, a new song with the same chest-pounding, floaty feel to it. It makes him think of aches in his heart. He turns his cheek into the carpet to look at Steve: eyes closed again, lips parted, hands pillowing his head. Like he's communing with Mother Mary herself.
"No one sits and listens to songs anymore," Steve says. "They all do something while listening: driving, walking, washing dishes. I want to give it my full attention when I can, you know?"
Bucky gets a flash of memory as sudden as a knife in his head. There they are in Brooklyn, sprawled out on the floor, listening to the radio on a cool autumn night.
"I remember doing this when we were kids," Bucky says, quiet under the chorus. They were friends then, and by some miracle, they are friends still. Isn't that enough, he wonders. Why do you have to want so badly? Who the hell do you think you are, Barnes?
Steve turns his head and opens his eyes to meet Buck's. "You'd get a song stuck in your head and hum it day in, day out until we got sick of it." His mouth stretches into a grin, but his eyes don't look happy.
"Sorry," Bucky says automatically. The old dancehall tunes, they used to drive Steve up the wall.
"Don't be." Steve looks away, then, as the song ends, turns back to him. "Want me to play something from the good old days?" he asks. "Jarvis has just about everything in his library."
In the few seconds of silence between songs, Bucky closes his eyes and hears the brassy notes of the old standards in his head. It's there, then gone. "That's all right," he says. "I want to keep listening to this."
A new song starts up, something jazzy and built for dancing. They lay side by side, Steve bopping his head along in what looks like relative enjoyment, and Bucky wondering if their hands will touch again. They don't, but that's all right.
He swallows and listens to the girl on the radio sing about a lover she'll never have.
The place is a dump. There's heaps of machinery and metal all over. Alien music screams at top volume. Tony himself is seated on the hood of what looks like half a car. (Maybe a spaceship? They never tell him anything.) He's playing around with his computer models again, wearing those weird looking robot glasses.
"Stark?" Bucky calls.
Tony looks up, waves away the models and the screech of his music. "James Buchanan, what are you doing down here? Jarvis, I thought I said to hold all my calls."
Before Bucky can retort, he's cut off: "Mr. Barnes makes so few requests, sir, I thought it best to honor this one," the robotic voice says.
"Oh, so now we're just handing out favors to all the quiet ones? Did you give Janet my black card for the weekend or something?" Tony steps down to the floor and takes off his glasses.
"I assure you, sir, I did no such thing."
"I can leave," Bucky offers, trying his best to keep the snarl out of his voice.
Tony flaps a hand. "Already here. Lay it on me, Drago."
Great, something else to Google later. "I need to ask you about something." Bucky scratches the back of his head. "It's kind of personal."
"Oh." Tony's nose scrunches with distaste. He lets loose a put-upon sigh and plunks himself down on the tabletop to face Bucky. "Look, I get it. You've got questions about the whole trans thing. Fair warning, I'm not exactly a representative sample. I mean, uber-wealthy, for one." He makes a little swirl motion with his finger as if to encompass the Tower and everything in it. "Plus a genius. Plus devastatingly good-looking. Plus—"
"What? No. I don't—" Bucky holds up both hands to stop the outpouring of descriptors. "I mean, I wanted to ask you about Pepper."
"Pepper? My Pepper?" He frowns. "What about her?"
Bucky tries to adopt a posture of ease by crossing his arms over his chest and leaning his hip on the corner of some machine, but he only feels more anxious. "You two were friends before you started dating, right?"
Tony's face goes through a series of contortions that manages to land on 'amused.' His hands, seemingly unable to keep still, reach for two separate whirlygigs and start piecing them together. "Someone's got a crush," he sing-songs. "Who is it? Is it Romanov?"
Bucky stares at him. "Are you serious?"
Tony puts down his metal bits and places both hands on his chest defensively. "I'm not really good at picking up on emotional wavelengths. Help me out here," he says.
"Nat doesn't even like people that way!"
"Okay, see? Learning new things all the time. Jarvis, make a note please."
"Already done, sir."
"Stark, focus," Bucky snaps.
"Right, right. It's not me, is it?"
Bucky holds his head in his hands and barely stifles a groan. "Oh my god."
"But why would you come to me for advice on picking me up? Unless it was some clever ploy."
"It's not a ploy," Bucky says, throwing his arms wide. "It's Steve, okay?"
Tony's eyebrows form perfect high bridges over his wide eyes. "Oh. Oh. Yeah, I can see how that might be," he shrugs, "difficult. I mean, you and Steve are like the definition of friends.'"
"Which is why—" Bucky gestures helplessly at Tony. "I thought since you and Pepper are together, you might be able to, I don't know. Help me out."
Tony shifts his knees wider, looks up at the ceiling as if answers are painted there. "Kid, I don't know what to tell you. You look at the data; I shouldn't have been able to land a woman like Pep. It was all her. I messed up every step of the way, and she, uh—" He smiles ruefully down at the floor. "She made it all happen."
"Hmph." He's fantasized about that often enough, about waking up one day and Steve is just head over heels for him, offering him everything he's ever wanted. "I guess I could just wait for him to make a move," he says. "Waited long enough already, what's another few decades?"
"Hey, maybe you're the Pepper in this scenario," Tony says, "and Steve's the lucky bastard."
Bucky pauses for a beat in stunned silence. "Yeah, right." This may be the first time he's heard Stark say something completely nice, so it has to be a joke.
"Why not?" There's an honesty in his expression that borders on irritation with Bucky's reluctance to take the compliment. "You're a catch, Barnes."
They don't talk about Howard.
They don't talk about Maria.
They never have.
Tony lifts a single finger. "Before I got my shit together, I allowed this company to destroy entire countries. Plural. You want to join the 'I'm a piece of undeserving garbage' club? You're talking to a founding member." He shrugs. "It's not a fun place; I wouldn't recommend it."
"Yeah, I'm getting that," Bucky says.
They stand in the kind of companionable silence often shared by people who try not to contemplate their faults too often.
"Sorry I couldn't be more help," Tony finally says. "Tell you what, though: don't go to Banner with this stuff. He's terrible at listening."
Steve's door isn't locked, but if it had been, it would be splinters. Bucky barrels in to find Steve in bed, tangled up in sweat-soaked sheets, crying in his sleep.
"Stevie, wake up!" He crawls in next to Steve. It's not easy; he has to dodge a few wild elbows. "Hey, hey, it's okay! You're dreaming. It's just a dream, come on." His hands find Steve's face. Blue eyes pop open and stare at him for point-three seconds in total incomprehension.
"Just a dream," Bucky repeats.
"God," Steve pants. "Oh my god, it was so real, so—" He presses his face into Bucky's chest.
Bucky's hand comes up to cradle the back of his head. "I know. I know." And he does. He hasn't had a big, scream-yourself-awake nightmare in a few months. Steve, though—he can't seem to shake them, what with that photographic memory of his.
The thing is, the war's only a few years past for Steve. It's as fresh in his mind now as it was for the boys back in the late '40s, the ones who were trying their damnedest to pretend like everything was normal. Then pile on everything else—the battle for New York, what happened in DC, dying—and it adds up to a whole mess of things that nobody's brain, not even a supersoldier's, can make sense of at night.
"It's all right. It's fine." Bucky just keeps saying nonsense while stroking his fingers through Steve's damp hair. The guilt creeps in, that filthy feeling he gets from enjoying this closeness of Steve in his arms. He's the biggest fucking asshole in the world for this, but what can he do? Leave Steve to fend for himself, when he was there for Bucky on countless nights like this? Let him thrash in the grip of a nightmare for a few minutes longer while he finds someone else to take care of him?
Steve's grip tightens on his shirt. "Thank you," he whispers. His tremors subside as he gets his breathing back under control.
"'s nothing," Bucky says to the top of his head.
Steve turns his head to rest his cheek on top of Bucky's wildly beating heart. "No it's not."
How badly Bucky wants to just press a kiss into that fair hair and tell Steve, You're safe. I love you. But what kind of shithead chooses this moment for something like that? He can't make Steve's pain about him, can't twist this trust.
They lay there in a heap for a few more minutes. Sweat cools, pulses slow. Bucky glances at the clock on the bedside table. It's only a little after four.
"Think you can get back to sleep?" he asks.
Steve shakes his head. "Not really." Must have been a doozy of a nightmare. "I'd rather go for a walk. Want to come?" They go on walks all the time—during the day to get some fresh air, during the night when sleep is elusive or dangerous. Their last walk had taken them to that blue shop.
"Sure. Let me get my shoes." Bucky untangles himself to go, but catches a glimpse of Steve tossing the sheets aside and getting out of bed. His wet clothes—an impossible tight shirt and little shorts—are stuck to his skin.
Bucky averts his eyes as Steve reaches for a pair of jeans. "I'll just be a minute," he says, and retreats.
They walk all the way to Chinatown in complete silence. Some blocks are quiet as death, but some are just now coming to life with early-morning preparations. Steve stops at a 24-hour dumpling place, a little hole-in-the-wall that gives them six fat pieces in a white carton. They eat them with their fingers while sitting on a park bench across the street. Bucky remembers eating oysters out of these cartons along the river when he was a kid.
"I dreamt about fighting those aliens," Steve finally says. "Except one took off its mask and it was you. And then they all took off their masks. Peg, Dum-Dum, Gabe...they were all there. I had to kill you all."
It does no good to say 'well, that wasn't real' so Bucky says nothing. He puts his hand on Steve's arm and squeezes—carefully, though, because it's his left hand.
Steve puts his arm around Bucky's shoulders and flashes him that strange not-smile. "It's a weird future, Buck, but I'm glad you're in it." He squeezes him close for a second in a one-armed hug.
"Yeah," Bucky says. "Me too."
When they get home, they see the dildo has been inexplicably mounted on the Stark Industries sign in the Tower's main lobby.
"Hey, Tony told me you could use my help," he says in that aw-shucks, toe-the-ground way that Bucky cannot believe isn't an act.
"Uh." Bucky stands and shuts the fridge door. "He told me the exact opposite."
"Oh, yeah, I'm no good with the feelings and—" He makes a vague gesture, then looks around as if to ensure they're alone. They are. "And all that. But I am good at one thing, and Tony assures me this is exactly what you need."
'Cautious but intrigued' would probably best describe Bucky's state of mind. Which is why he finds himself belting into the passenger seat of one of the many roadsters in the basement garage. Bruce turns the key and the engine springs to life.
"So where are we going?" Bucky asks.
"Shopping," Bruce says.
The engine guns a little, and Bruce drives them out into the sunlight. "Really," he says.
The wind whips pretty loudly around them as they drive down 5th, so Bucky has to wait for a red light before asking, "Why?"
Bruce slides on a pair of sunglasses and gives a folksy little shrug. "After we pretty much leveled Grand Central a few years ago, Tony let me borrow some clothes. You know, on account of everything else I owned was torn to shreds or engulfed in flames." He pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose with one finger. "They were the nicest things I'd ever worn. But they didn't quite fit. Do you see where I'm going with this?"
Bucky looks down at himself: he's wearing some torn sweatpants (a casualty of his last sparring session with Steve), a too-large tee shirt with a logo on it he doesn't recognize, and his scuffed boots.
"Are you saying I look like something the cat dragged in?" he asks.
The light turns green, and Bruce has to glance quickly from the traffic to Bucky to gauge his appearance. "N-no! I mean— That's not the point. Although, sure, it might not hurt to—" He grimaces. "Listen: I spent a long time running. The first pair of new shoes Tony bought for me? It was like a physical anchor to reality. It said, okay, Banner. Here you are. You exist, and you need to wear shoes to walk into places anyway, so you may as well make them count." He gives Bucky a small smile. "It's okay to want nice things."
Bucky shifts uncomfortably in his seat. He hasn't had to think about money since he resurfaced; his room and board is taken care of since then, and now the subject makes him anxious. He steals a look at Banner's foot on the gas pedal, all decked out in a shiny brown loafer.
"I don't know if I can afford nice things," he says.
"Same here. Which is why," he digs into his back pocket and pulls out a card, "this is all on Tony."
Bucky makes a face. The buildings fly past on either side of them. "I don't know…." he says over the noise.
"Come on, Barnes! Shouldn't you look your best if you're going to snag your sweetheart?"
Bucky considers this as they cruise down the avenue. Steve does deserve the best, and if the look of those prettyboys in the papers is anything to go by, he likes men who can clean up well. Bucky could clean up well if he wants to. Maybe. Probably.
His gaze drops to the dashboard. The dildo is suction-cupped there, wobbling like a hula girl.
"Okay," he says, "who keeps sticking this thing around?"
"Hm?" Bruce looks at it as if seeing it for the first time. It's hard to tell; he's got a great innocent look. "Gosh, no idea. Weird."
They turn down a few streets, finally parking in a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood somewhere near the Bowery. Bruce locks up while Bucky climbs out of the car and looks around.
"Thought we were going shopping. Where's the department store?"
Bruce laughs. "No departments for you. Got something better." He leads the way to a brownstone, then down its basement stairs. There's a glass-paned door with no sign hung on it. A brass bell tinkles when Bruce opens it up and walks inside.
Bucky follows only because he can't think of a good excuse not to.
It smells old and familiar in the shop. Buck can see why the place appeals to Bruce: there are artfully abstract mannequins dotting the floor dressed in tweed and soft sweaters. Small piles of crisp shirts and weathered denim sit on an antique desk. There's an entire rack of handkerchiefs by the counter in a rainbow of patterns and colors.
He fingers a tag on a suit near the door. No price is listed, just a message handwritten in ink: Bespoke Check, recommended for autumn.
What the hell has he gotten himself into?
He hears soft whispers and looks up. Bruce is by the counter, speaking to the shopgirl—woman, more like, owner maybe?—and gesturing in Bucky's direction. The woman floats over to him on small, sensible feet.
"Can I help you find a particular size?" she asks.
Bucky's mouth goes dry. He hasn't had to provide his physical parameters in decades. He used to know his trouser and shirt and neck sizes like the back of his hand; now it's all been squeezed out of his head.
Probably not the same size as he used to be anyway. He's put on some muscle since those days.
"I—" he tries to say.
Bruce parries it for him. "Let's get him measured just to be sure."
The shop owner seems quietly pleased by this. She leads Bucky toward the back of the shop to a small dais in front of a velvet-flanked mirror. He's posed like a doll while she readies a soft yellow tape measure. He flinches when she wraps it first around his bicep, but Bruce just flashes him a thumbs-up and Bucky remembers this woman is about sixty-five years old. She is not a threat, nor is Bruce—at the moment—and if he's going to die, it won't be at the hands of a matronly seamstress.
She doesn't seem surprised at the construction of his left arm; maybe Bruce had warned her, or maybe it isn't the strangest thing she's ever seen in her line of work.
He stands patiently through the rest of it. Even the inseam. Bruce, meanwhile, takes a seat in an overstuffed leather chair and accepts a glass of mint water from a boy who disappears as soon as Bruce tells him he doesn't need any help himself.
A memory wriggles in Bucky's brain as the woman finishes marking down his waist size in a little notebook. He's done this before, gone to stores and got fitted for new clothes. He used to really like it too. His reflection in the mirror is dressed in washed-out whites and grays, but it hadn't always been like that. There had been a small thrill in his gut every time he managed to save up enough to buy a shirt or a coat of fine quality. He'd never been rich, but he'd had enough from time to time to really treat himself. That feeling of soft fabric and a tailored fit: yes, he had loved those little indulgences.
"So what do you think?" Bruce calls from his chair. "Any thoughts on where to start?"
"I used to wear a lot of blue," Bucky says before he knows he's going to say it. But once it's out of his mouth, he feels like it's true.
"I can see why; it suits you," the woman says. "Let me find a few things that might work."
'A few things' turns out to be damn near everything in the store. Bucky spends hours on the dais, closing the little velvet curtains between wardrobe changes, opening them back up like the petals of a flower to show Bruce the result. Bruce is a good person to shop with, Bucky quickly finds. He ooh's and aah's over most things, but shakes his head at enough to convince Bucky he really is giving his honest opinion. Suits both formal and casual, outfits both tailored and slouchy, they all get their turn.
"That's it," Bruce says when Bucky opens the curtain for what turns out to be the last time.
"What's it?" Bucky looks down at the ensemble he's wearing: well-cut jeans, a shirt he's assured is 'vintage' although that's relative, some black boots made from supple leather, a sweater with a weird crooked zipper. He feels modern in it, like he belongs in this century. Which is a nice change of pace.
"That's the outfit you should wear when you tell him," Bruce says. He makes a square with his hands and centers Bucky inside of it. "Right? I mean, it's perfect."
Bucky almost rests his hands on his hips, then self-consciously crosses his arms over his chest. Jesus, these sleeves are soft. "Why is everyone so invested in my love life, which, by the way, doesn't even exist yet?"
"We're good people. Also bored." Bruce hands Stark's credit card to the shop boy, who seems to have materialized out of thin air for the occasion. "Wrap up everything in the keep pile, Kurt."
The bags barely fit in the car's back seat. The dildo bobs and dances on the dashboard as they drive home.
Bucky stands in the privacy of his bedroom, vacillating between folding the clothes and shoving them in a drawer for a later date, or putting some on right now and getting it over with. He peers into the mirror above his dresser, naked but for his underwear, and pulls his hair back into a bun to tie it loosely. He's ready. He wants to do this. He's scared, but that's okay. Scared is normal.
"Captain Rogers is training on the 29th floor gymnasium," the robot says.
Bucky huffs. "You didn't even let me finish. I might've been asking about someone else."
"Of course, Mr. Barnes." Jarvis doesn't sound at all apologetic.
"I do have other people in my life, you know."
"Very true, sir."
"Steve isn't the end-all and be-all."
"I wouldn't dream of saying he was, sir."
"Good." Bucky bites his lip, fingers the soft fabric of his new jeans one last time before pulling them on. He can't believe he's going to ask this glorified calculator for help. "Hey Jarvis?"
"You keep track of everyone's vitals, right? Like, heart rates and that sort of thing?"
"Have you noticed—? I mean, is there ever any change in Steve's? Not during the nightmares or anything, just when we're," he shrugs at the ceiling, "talking?"
There is a small pause before Jarvis speaks again. "Mr. Barnes, there is no intelligence in the universe that can extrapolate Captain Rogers' own private thoughts, barring, of course, the invasiveness of a mind-reader. One might offer evidence for this or that conclusion, but the only way you can know for certain, I'm afraid, is to ask him."
"You're a real pill, you know that?"
"Thank you, sir."
Bucky pulls on the outfit Bruce had liked best and takes the elevator down to the gym.
Steve is working the heavy bag in the corner, his white shirt transparent with sweat. Right. Of course. Because nothing is easy or fair. He's got headphones on, probably wants to kill two birds with one stone, work out while catching up on more music.
"Stevie?" He creeps into Steve's field of vision with a wave. "You busy?"
Steve smiles and tugs the headphones out of his ears with his wrapped hands. "Buck, hey. What are you all dressed up for?" His gaze sweeps over Bucky's new threads. Bucky has too much self-control to allow a blush, but the idea of it is there, burning up in his head.
"Bruce picked it out," he says, which is not really an answer. "Listen, you got plans tonight? Want to grab a burger?"
God, why did he say 'burger' of all things? Burgers are the friendliest of all the food groups, he thinks. Nothing says Just Friends, No Romantic Feelings At All like a burger and fries.
Although everything these days has a cheap, friendly version and a more expensive, romantic version. Tony once explained that's because rich people like cheap things too, but they feel like they should spend more money on them. So maybe he can take Steve to a fancy burger joint. A place that serves wine and fries made from something other than potatoes.
Bucky thinks all these things in the split second between the time those words leave his mouth and the time it takes for Steve to give a heavy shake of his head.
"Sorry, tonight's my turn for patrol detail."
"Oh. Right." Why hadn't he checked the fucking roster? "Maybe tomorrow night, then."
"Can't," Steve says with a sigh. "I promised Carol I'd finally take those flight tests she's been hassling me about."
Okay, plan B? Is there a plan B? He could just forego the dinner entirely and tell him now. Just straight up. Just say it, Barnes. Say 'Steve, I love you.'
"Yeah, you should really learn to fly something. I think Stark's building a spaceship," he says instead.
He mentally calls himself every name that Patil would frown at.
Steve grins. "Next week, though, for sure. When things aren't so hectic."
"Yeah. For sure."
Say it, say it, say it, Christ, just say it.
Steve ducks his head a bit. "I'd, uh, ask you if you want to spar for a few minutes but you're dressed so nice. I'd hate to ruin those new shoes."
Wow, this just keeps getting better and better, doesn't it?
Retreat. It's the only option.
"Well, I'll leave you to it." Bucky turns to beat a path to the door.
He closes his eyes in a quick prayer, then turns. "Yeah?"
Steve rubs a hand through his hair, misting sweat. "Thanks."
Bucky blinks. "For what?"
"For wanting to check up on me after—" He glances away. "You know, the bad dreams. You're always there for me when it counts, so. Thank you for being such a good friend."
It takes all of Bucky's considerable training not to scream. Because this is the crux of it, isn't it? He should be proud to be Steve's friend, full stop. That should've been the greatest thing he could have aspired to, and here he is, a greedy little son of a bitch who can't be content with one miracle. Oh no, Bucky Barnes requires a series of miracles, doesn't he? Standing there in his new clothes like this is some kind of dress rehearsal to be Steve Rogers' boyfriend; what an asshole.
He feels the blood heat in his cheeks. He mumbles something like 'you're welcome' and double-times it to the elevator.
When the doors slide shut, he sees the Captain American dildo is suction-cupped directly above the numbered buttons. Bucky rips the phallus off the wall with a snarl.
He ends up taking it to his bedroom and sticking it in his sock drawer, where at least it won't mock him at inopportune times anymore.
That night, he sleeps with his new boots on.
He sits on the 67th floor window ledge because it's with only place where he knows no one will bother him. Then, of course, someone starts bothering him.
"Friend Barnes?" Thor says as he floats into view.
Bucky quells the instinct to jump a foot in the air. Not a good idea, this high up. "Geez, Thor, give a guy a heart attack."
"Apologies. I was sent to ask if you desired the company of your fellows at the dinner table, though your countenance tells me you wish to be alone with your thoughts."
"My countenance is bang on," Bucky says.
"As I suspected. The Captain occupies your mind, no doubt," Thor seems to be settling in, crossing his arms over his chest and getting comfortable mid-air. It looks kind of weird without the cape.
"So you know all about it too?"
"Aye. You've been rebuffed, then?"
"Didn't get that far. I don't think I ever will, either. Sometimes it's best to just," Bucky shrugs, "let sleeping dogs lie."
Thor nods sagely. "Tis noble to keep your peace at times, but I see no harm in declaring a truth such as this. Does it not pain you to stay silent in this matter?"
"Yeah but—" Bucky tilts his head back against the window's glass and sighs. "What's a little more?"
Thor leans forward and pinches Bucky's right arm. Hard.
"This hurt is but a small one." Thor pinches again.
"Ouch!" Bucky swats him away with his metal hand, just barely catching himself from overbalancing. "Will you—? Quit it!"
Big Asgardian fingers puppet together in preparation for a third strike. "You receive no joy from this pain?"
"Then why do you allow the pain of your heart to persist?" Thor demands. "Go to him. Confess. Be rid of this misery. And if he does not return your affections, at least your not-knowing will cease to plague you."
Bucky rubs his face. "It's not that simple."
"Make it that simple," Thor says, "or so help me, I shall throw you from this Tower to wallow elsewhere."
"Is this the Asgardian version of a pep talk?"
"Verily. Now, will you face your fear?"
Browbeaten. That's the word for it. Bucky huffs a laugh and nods. "You're right. I can't keep going on like this. I should just get it off my chest and let the chips fall where they may."
"Excellent! In celebration of your newfound resolve, I have brought you a gift," he says, and holds out a small red bottle.
Bucky takes it with a sigh. The label proclaims it to be Thunder Lube, created with the Gods in mind. "Wow. I think you're getting a little ahead of yourself, Thor."
"Perhaps." He claps a huge hand to Bucky's shoulder and gives it a friendly shake. "May you find a use for it. Some day."
Thor floats off looking regally pleased with himself. Bucky climbs back through the window and tucks his gift in his sock drawer next to the sex toy. Is it weird to own those two items in combination? Bucky tries not to think about it and instead texts Steve. Let me know when you have a minute to spare.
It's kind of their thing, so it makes sense to do this on foot, away from the Tower and the prying eyes of their supportive yet busybody friends.
Bucky wears new jeans and an old tee shirt, a compromise made after trying on three different outfits. Hair pulled back, because he has a habit of trying to hide behind it. Today he won't hide. That's all he has to do, is not hide.
It's cool out, even a little chilly, but Buck is sweating as they take a turn around the pond in Central Park. Steve looks— Christ, he looks the way he always does: effortlessly perfect. His bright eyes dart around the park with a soldier's taste for awareness and an artist's for beauty.
"Nice day," he says.
"I think I'm in love with you," Bucky answers, apropos of nothing.
Steve squints at him. "What?"
Bucky swallows. He excises the wishy-washy language: "I love you," he says, "and it's been that way for— God, a real long time."
Steve looks around the park as if searching for a hidden camera, like this is a prank and someone's just trying to get him to crack up. Finally, he seems to decide Bucky's not joking, so he takes Bucky by the elbow. "Let's sit down," he says, and leads them to the nearest open park bench.
Bucky thinks he may vomit. Steve's face is giving him nothing. For once, it's just cool marble, the perfect poker face.
"Why are you telling me this?" Steve asks as they sit.
"Why?" Bucky parrots. He doesn't understand. "Because it's the truth. And I— I thought you should know."
Steve doesn't say anything, just lifts a hand to cover his mouth, furrows his brow like he's thinking over tactics and strategy.
"And 'cause I was wondering if," Bucky nearly stutters over the words, "maybe you felt the same."
Steve drops his hands and looks at Buck the way he's looked at him a thousand times: with a lifelong fondness and concern that only Steve can muster. "Buck," he starts to say.
"You don't," Bucky says. He sees that it's true. His insides go ice cold. But it'll pass. He ducks his head. "That's fine. I figured— Shit."
Steve doesn't touch him. There isn't a hand on his shoulder, no physical comfort like Steve would normally give him. He's tactile, Steve is. But he must sense how strange such a thing would be in this instance. "Hey, look at me," he says instead.
Bucky lifts his eyes. Steve's doing that thing again where he smiles but it's sad. "I'm sorry. I've never thought about you that way," he says. "Not because— You said this started a long time ago, right? Like, back when—?"
Bucky nods miserably.
"Then you know," Steve says. "You know how it was, having a secret like that. And with me, I started noticing girls and boys, everybody, and I was scared of what that meant. You know?"
Of course he knows. How terrifying it had been to be a young man, to look at beautiful Steve, to know. To know he was done for.
Steve clears his throat. "So I put those ideas in a place I couldn't reach. It was almost like a brick wall between that and me, and I just didn't let myself think about it," Steve continues in a quiet voice. "And you. You were the only friend I had, and I wouldn't have risked that for anything." He spreads his hands in a helpless gesture. "I was so angry all the time, thinking I'd never get a chance to be honest about myself, but I thought if I could just be useful in other ways—" There's that sad smile again. "And then you wake up in the future and everything's changed on you."
"But I'm still on the other side of that wall," Bucky says, and Steve flinches visibly.
"I'm sorry," he says again. "I've just never let myself look at you like that." Bucky could stand to not hear that sentiment again. "I've known you for so long…." Steve trails off.
"It's all right. I didn't expect you to—" Fall all over me, love me, he wants to say. He can't get the words out.
"I'm not saying it's impossible," Steve says. And he slowly, carefully reaches his hand out and covers Bucky's—the right one, the one white-knuckling on top of his knee.
The ice inside him is so brittle it might shatter, so Bucky doesn't dare breathe. "What are you saying, then?" he whispers to the ground, unable to look Steve in the face.
"I don't know. Give me some time to think. It's a lot to take in and I— I need to digest all this. Is that okay?"
It's not a no. But it sure as hell isn't a yes.
Bucky nods tightly. "Fair enough," he says, because what choice does he have?
He sneaks a glance at Steve then, and he can see right there on his jerk face how he has no fucking clue what to do next. If this were a normal pour-your-heart-out walkabout, Steve would've pulled him into a tight hug by now. But now a hug is too weird.
Well, this is certainly a nightmare.
"Look," Bucky says, "whatever you decide, you're my oldest friend and I don't—" He looks away. "I can't—"
"Shut up," Steve says and tugs him in close. "Don't even think it, okay? That'll never change. I swear."
Bucky's arms go around Steve of their own volition, and his nose buries itself in Steve's shoulder. The smell of Steve's shirt and the heat of him feeds a growing ache, knowing just how hopeless it all might be—
Bucky pulls back before his vision gets a chance to blur. "Hey, why don't you head back?" he says. "I think I'll walk around a little more. Fresh air and all that."
"You sure?" Steve asks, although he seems relieved to be spared the awkward return trip together.
"Yeah, go ahead. I'll see you later." He punctuates it with a friendly slap on the arm.
Steve leaves only after making Bucky promise he won't disappear like he used to when he first came back to New York. Bucky crosses his heart. Steve walks south, and Bucky watches him until his shape is lost in the crowd.
He glances to the bench next to his, where an elderly woman is giving him a sympathetic look.
"That was painful to watch," she says.
"Yeah, thanks," he mumbles.
Bucky heads north with his hands tucked deep into his pockets and a scowl on his face.
"Hey," he says.
"Hey. So I guess Steve came back to the Tower alone about forty-five minutes ago, looking like—let me quote Nat here—he'd seen some serious shit. Did the big confession go sideways?"
Bucky dodges a pile of dog shit on the sidewalk. "Big confession? How did you—?"
"Asgardians love to gossip."
Bucky pinches the bridge of his nose and sighs. "Of course."
"Listen, I'm sorry. No one likes to be shot down."
"I wasn't shot down. Technically."
"You're going to have to elaborate," Sam says, "because I don't have a damn clue what you mean."
"The thing is—" Bucky stops at a crosswalk to wait for a light. A little kid standing with his mom on the curb stares at the flash of his metal hand. Bucky shifts the phone to his right hand, puts his left in his pocket. "I'm in limbo."
"Limbo?" Sam squawks. "You mean—? So you said the L word and he said 'Sorry, I'll have to get back to you on that?'"
"Shit." A moment of silence passes. "We need to get you a drink," Sam declares. "Where are you?"
"I don't want a damn drink, Sam. I can't even get drunk, you know that."
"Doesn't matter. Fuck it. Whiskey's on me. Where are you?"
The walk light turns white and Bucky checks the cross-street signs as he goes. "One-twentieth and fifth. Look, I'm fine, really. I just want to clear my head."
"I hear you, but you've been vetoed. I'm texting you an address right now. It'll take you about ten minutes to walk there."
"You're coming up to Harlem in ten minutes?"
"Yeah, didn't Stark tell you? We've got a new heli-cruiser type thing."
"No one tells me nothing," Bucky grumbles.
"Ten minutes. Do not mope a second more without me."
"All right, ten minutes. Sheesh."
"See you soon, shaggy," Sam says, and hangs up.
The bar, when he reaches it, doesn't look like much. It's quiet and unassuming, doesn't even have a sandwich board with daily specials on the sidewalk like the other places on the block. There aren't any people sitting outside at little cafe tables.
Inside, though, it's already a party.
"What the fuck?" Bucky stares at the assembled gang. They're all here: Nat and Thor and Sam, Tony and Pepper, Bruce and Jan. The place is empty otherwise, so they've claimed the pool table and dartboard.
Clint presses a glass into his hand and says, "The new StarkJet got us here in six, so you have some catching up to do." He claps him on the back and heads over to join Bruce at a pinball machine. Sam sidles up to take his place.
"Like it?" he asks, toasting with his cold mug of beer. "It's a pity party!"
Bucky shakes his head, unable to hide the rueful grin. "You guys are so weird."
"What? Steve looked like he needed some space, so we thought we'd come keep you company." Sam clinks the lip of his glass against Bucky's. "Also, not to get mushy or nothing, but you do know that you've got friends to lean on, right? Every damn person in this room, we've got your back. Except the bartender. He's cool, though." Sam waves to said bartender, who frowns at him in return.
Bucky thaws, relaxing into the melt. He'll be okay, whatever happens. "Thanks, Sam. This is— Thanks."
"Don't mention it."
They drink for a moment, watching Nat toss her darts with precision.
"So where the hell did you land the jet?" Bucky asks.
Looks like Steve needed some serious space.
Bucky brushes his teeth and tries not to let that thought foul up his mood. He actually feels okay, all things considered. It'd been a good night with the other Avengers. Comfortable. Loud. Fun, even. Hours of dart games, bravado bets, horsing around and laughing at everything. He isn't drunk, just warm. And that feels nice.
He can worry about Steve in the morning.
It's safe here in his home, so he takes off his boots and lines them up in his closet. His clothes are too nice to sleep in, so he sheds them and puts them in the hamper. He considers sleeping in an old tee shirt and underwear, the way normal people do. He even opens his top drawer to see what he owns that might fit the bill.
The silicone replica of Steve's cock stares back at him.
A thought creeps into Bucky's mind. A terrible, terribly exciting thought.
He slams the drawer shut. "Get ahold of yourself," he mutters. He places his palms on top of the dresser and leans there for a moment. The sex toy is just a joke. He can't seriously be thinking—
Well, that is what it's for, isn't it? To let someone indulge in a harmless little fantasy?
No. No, no, no. For one thing, he knows Steve. He's not just a fantasy, he's real. Only a pathetic asshole would use a sex toy as a replacement for him. It's too weird. It's messed up.
Seriously messed up.
Bucky opens the drawer again and peeks in.
Okay. But still. The way the Avengers have been passing this thing around, it's probably filthy. Bucky should wash it at the very least. If he's going to keep it in a drawer with his clean socks, that is.
He wraps a towel around his waist and takes it into the bathroom. He rinses it off carefully with a little soap and hot water. It's difficult not to notice the shape and weight of it in his hands, how slippery it gets in his fingers. His thumb traces a vein.
"Oh fuck," he says, because he knows where this is going. His face is already flushed at the idea. He's so hard it's making his hands shake.
Self-denial has never been Bucky's strong suit.
What would be the point of going to bed with a dripping erection and no release? Who's he trying to impress? No one's here. It wouldn't hurt anybody. He can just take care of himself, be good to himself. That's healthy, right?
Of course, he could just jerk off without the aid of Steve's lookalike dick.
He looks straight into his own eyes in the bathroom mirror. "Barnes," he says, "you deserve nice things."
And he takes the rubber cock with him to bed, kicking the door closed behind him and grabbing the bottle of Thunder Lube on the way.
He's never done this before. Fingers, sure, on special occasions when he had an itch that couldn't get scratched any other way. He remembers long, luxurious hours in his bed in Brooklyn on the rare night that Steve was at his mom's: teasing himself with his hands and letting his mind wander all sorts of places.
Took a while, after he came back. His body hadn't felt like his, so he hadn't touched it much. Then, little by little—
The memories of Steve had helped. He remembers the first time since his return that he'd gotten hard, staring at the ceiling late one night in the quiet of the Tower and thinking about the way Steve filled out his twenty-first century clothes. It was a small miracle, that erection. Well, maybe not that small.
He starts slow, familiar. He tucks the dildo under his thigh to warm it up while he gets ready. The lube startles him at first, burning hot and then leaving a tingle along his palm. It's a strange sensation on his dick, almost like it's someone else's hand on him. If he closes his eyes, he can picture that someone, so he does.
There are a million little stories he likes to tell himself about Steve when he's jerking off, but tonight he doesn't want the one where he rescues Steve from some nebulous bad guy or the one where they're stuck in an underground bunker and need to keep each other warm. Tonight's real simple. There's nothing to it, just the image of Steve coming to him in the middle of the night, crawling into bed with him, holding him close, and saying I need you, Buck.
"Need you too," Bucky breathes. His hand quickens on his cock, a filthy squish-slide that sounds muffled under the bedsheets. God, he's so hard, he's dripping.
Little more lube won't hurt. Maybe he goes overboard with it, but it feels good, all wet between his legs. Just the tip of one finger, just a little.
Please. Let me, Steve would say.
Bucky turns his head to the side, drowning a groan in his pillow. Another finger, a little deeper, in and out. Steve could have him from behind, holding him up. He swallows a noise and works his cock in tandem with his ass.
Are you ready for me?
"Yes, I want you to," Bucky gasps out. He pulls his fingers out and gropes for the toy that's pinned under his leg. It's warm and soft on the surface. If Steve's cock is only half as good as this feels pressed up against him, Bucky wouldn't complain.
Maybe he's a little too forceful at first, but it's how he'd like to imagine Steve would be. Over-eager, ready to bottom out in Bucky's body. The fake cock slides in slickly, leaving a pleasant burn in its wake. Bucky grits his teeth and fights the urge to moan.
"Christ." He takes a second. Just breathes. It's so big in him, deep and hard. He presses the suction cup on the base a little, then sucks in a lungful of air at the sensation. His own cock has flagged slightly from inattention, so he strokes himself some more, gets achingly hard again.
His eyes flutter closed. The dream of Steve, complete with all his smells and sounds, drapes over him. His imagination fills in the gaps with Steve's murmured words.
Sweetheart, you're so good.
He feels so fucking good. He doesn't want to ever come. Or maybe he wants to do this all over again as soon as he does. He can't choose, can't think, his mind—for once—is completely empty but for the singular, driving need to see this fantasy to the end.
Oh, Bucky, Steve croons in his imagination. Oh god, oh Bucky!
"Steve," he whispers to himself.
"Yes, yes, come—"
The bedroom door swings open.
Bucky freezes for .002 seconds, then takes his hands away from his cock and sex toy so fast he thinks he might actually have broken some kind of record. He lays there, panting and sweating with the bedsheet canopied between his knees, staring at Steve in the doorway.
"Were you asleep?" Steve asks. "I saw your light on. I thought I heard you say I could come in."
"What? Yeah. I—" Bucky says. He shifts slightly; the dildo is still deep in his ass, and he has to bite his lip to keep from moaning. A quick check of his lap shows that his erection isn't visible under the bunched bedsheets. For now. Holy shit, he's in so much trouble.
"Dreams?" Steve makes a sympathetic face, and it's all Bucky can do to nod like a complete putz.
How can Steve not know? Can't he smell the stink of Bucky's arousal from across the room? Jesus, of all the embarrassing—
"Mind if I sit?" Steve asks, pointing to the bed.
"Guh," Bucky says, and scoots over a little to make room. The toy grazes his prostate as he does so, and he silently curses everything under the sun.
Steve seems oblivious to his internal struggles. He sits on the edge of the mattress, giving Bucky his profile, and tangles his fingers together between his knees. "Sorry, I know it's late. I've just been thinking about what you said today. Actually I can't stop thinking about it. I walked all the way to Brooklyn and back, turning it over in my mind."
"Oh?" Bucky's voice cracks as the blunt tip of the dick inside him finds the mark again.
"I thought about all we've been through together, thought about the future. And I thought about how hard it was for me to adjust to this life at first. You know, I tried dating some people. Years ago."
"Hmm." Bucky nods, tight-lipped. He hopes it conveys 'thoughtful' and not 'on the verge of orgasmic collapse at your expense, kind of.'
Steve chuckles. "Yeah, it didn't pan out, obviously. And tonight I kept thinking, what am I looking for in a partner? I've never really asked myself that. So I thought, well, trust is a big one. Loyalty. Affection. Support—"
Bucky feels a trickle of sweat work down the side of his face. How many fucking qualities is Steve going to list!?
"Plus, not to be crude, but someone who's easy on the eyes wouldn't hurt." Steve smiles gently. "What I'm trying to say, Buck, is you've got all those things in spades. And I'd be willing to give this a shot, you and me. If that sounds good to you."
Bucky realizes his mouth's hanging open, so he closes it with a click. "That's— Wow. Steve." If he wasn't trying to hide the fact that he's rock hard under the sheets with a dildo shoved up his ass, he'd be jumping for joy. Instead, he just manages a watery grin. "That sounds great."
The smile turns on again, real this time and blindingly beautiful. "Yeah?"
"Yeah," Bucky says. There must be a word in some language for feeling relief and shame at the same time. Maybe German? Whatever it is, Bucky's feeling it now.
"I, uh." Steve looks down, licks his lips. "I'd like to take things slow, okay? It's just, you're so important to me and I don't want to mess things up by diving into something we're not ready for."
Bucky nods so hard his brain rattles. "Sure. Of course. Absolutely."
"I don't know how that's going to look, exactly. Maybe we'll start with dinner? Just the two of us, getting to know each other from another angle?" And there he is, right there in those hopeful eyes and that shy quirk of his lips: the kid Bucky fell for all those years ago.
It's almost enough to make a guy forget about the rubber cock slipping out from between his legs. "I'd like that," he says, and clenches.
"Good. Great." Steve's smile falters a little as he seems to take in Bucky's bare upper body for the first time since he came into the room. "Are you sleeping naked now?"
"What? No!" The lie is instinctive and ridiculous. "I, um, bought pajama bottoms when I was out with Bruce."
Steve's face is still alight. "Hey, that's amazing news. I'm glad you feel comfortable enough for that."
"Yeah, sure, it's the best," Bucky says, tugging at the bunched sheets in his lap jerkily. His cock doesn't seem to understand they're in a dangerous situation here; it only hears 'Steve' and 'dinner' and 'important to me' and it's as upright as ever.
"Okay. Well." Steve stares at him, his little nervous smile still playing on his lips.
Bucky stares back. "Well," he says.
"I guess I'll see you in the morning," Steve says.
"Right. Good night," Bucky says.
"Good night." Steve purses his lips, stands. Looks down at Bucky for a moment, then sits back down even closer. "You know what? I'd like to try something."
Bucky's cock is throbbing. This is the worst torture he's ever experienced, and yes, he is counting the years spent with Hydra.
"Okay?" he says while quietly going out of his mind.
"Can I kiss you good night?" Steve asks, and it's so earnest, so full of fondness, that Bucky can't even consider the alternative. He just blurts out: "Please."
Steve leans in and brushes his lips to Bucky's, soft, chaste, so sweet it makes tears prickle behind Bucky's eyes. His hand nearly comes up to touch Steve's cheek, but then he remembers where that hand has been and drops it like a rock.
"It's okay," Steve whispers against his mouth, "I've got you, Buck." And he kisses him again, deeper this time, his own big, warm hands cupping Bucky's hot face.
God, it's so good. It's bliss. But Bucky is so terrified that Steve will shift closer or the sheet will fall and he'll feel— He'll see—
But Bucky can't move for fear of coming right then and there. It happens in slow motion: Steve rising up on his knees to get a better angle, the precarious tangle of bedsheets slipping free, and Bucky laid bare in the harsh light of the bedroom lamp.
It takes a second for Steve to react. "Is that—?"
Twitching just under Bucky's tight balls, the base of the Captain America sex toy is unmistakable.
"Were you—?" Steve's face is doing a pretty good impression of a tomato.
The paralysis leaves Bucky's limbs too late, but he scrambles to cover himself anyway, then he hugs a pillow over his own red face. "I'm sorry," he says, muffled. "I'm so, so sorry. Oh my god, just leave."
"Hey, come on." Steve manages to wrestle the pillow out of his grip, but that doesn't mean he can make Bucky look him in the eye. "Why do you want me to leave?"
"So I can crawl under a rock for about a million years."
"You don't need to— Buck, everyone gets lonely sometimes."
Under the protective sheet, Bucky's cock oozes another drop of fluid. He covers his face with his metal forearm for want of a pillow. "I'm worse than lonely. It wasn't right to—to use a piece of you like that."
There's a moment of quiet where Bucky is convinced Steve is about to get up and go away as requested, but instead he receives Steve's soft touch on his lower lip, where his arm doesn't quite cover his mouth.
"Buck," he says, "please look at me."
It takes courage to move his arm and blink up at Steve. It takes guts to look into those honest eyes. Brave Bucky Barnes, stubborn to the last.
"You look beautiful," Steve says.
Steve kisses him. Kisses him again, and Bucky finally responds. His arms open to accept Steve's weight as he rolls on top of him, making a cage with his limbs around Bucky. Clothes and sheets get all rucked up together, annoyances to the last thread.
Bucky pulls away from Steve's mouth to pant for air. "What happened to slow?" he asks.
"To hell with slow," Steve growls, and dives back in. It's a race to see who can tear the clothes off Steve the fastest. In the end, it's a tie.
"W-wait, wait," Bucky gasps when Steve's hand snakes down and presses the base of the sex toy so that it slides even further in. "Don't, you'll make me—"
"Isn't that the idea?" Steve asks, sucking on his earlobe.
"Not alone, it isn't." Holy god, Steve's body feels like heaven under his hands. Is this all in his head after all?
"All right, it's okay, hold on." Steve's clever fingers find the bottle of lube that had rolled under Bucky's hip during this whole rollercoaster, and he pours some out.
"Yes, please, hurry." Bucky knows he's babbling, but he can't help it. The idea of Steve pulling that toy out of him and replacing it with his own warm, living cock is too much.
And yeah, it is pinker in person. He wraps his hand around it and smirks, shares a knowing glance with Steve. Steve laughs.
"Can I—?" he asks.
"Anything," Bucky says, and means it.
"Anything?" Steve gets a melting look on his face, kisses him fiercely. "I want to keep that in you, and I want to get you inside me." He says this against Bucky's damp cheek. "Do you want that too?"
In Bucky's wildest dreams he couldn't have imagined this. And he wants it so bad, he nods until his head almost falls off.
Steve crooks a knee up, reaches back behind himself, stays close above Bucky and kisses him while he works himself open.
"Did you think about me?" he asks, and it's an utterance both dirty and honestly curious.
"Yeah," Bucky confesses. "Never tried this thing before tonight. Wanted to feel you."
"You're feeling me now." Steve grinds down on him, his spine undulating in a perfect wave.
Bucky bites the closest part of Steve he can reach, the meat of his bicep. "Feels good," he says.
Steve gives him a parting kiss before sitting up, straddling Bucky's hips. His cock bobs all flushed and pretty against his stomach. Its duplicate is still in Bucky's ass; Steve reaches behind himself and presses the base of it carefully.
"Jesus, fuck." Bucky tries not to jump; he doesn't want to throw Steve off. "Get on me, will you?"
"What happened to all that patience?" Steve teases, and lines him up.
Bucky's vision flashes white, and then it's all pieced together: Steve sitting on his hard dick, his mismatched hands cupping his perfect hips, that beautiful red mouth open in a wide O, beloved eyes staring down at him in disbelief.
"Buck," Steve whispers. "Oh god, Bucky—"
He stares up at Steve. Words want to tumble out of his mouth, a series of I Love You's that Steve shouldn't have to answer. His eyes shut tight to keep the picture of Steve burned in his memory. He won't lose this one, not this time.
"I didn't think it would—" Steve rises up, slides back down. He's making noises better than anything Bucky could've imagined. "Buck, why did it take so long? Why didn't I see?"
"Stevie," he says, a pained whimper.
"Don't let me waste any more time," Steve says. He moves faster. "Swear you won't." His hand plays with the toy some more, pressing it into Buck in time with his thrusts.
"Fuck, I swear." He doesn't really know what he's promising, but he thinks it has something to do with keeping Steve close from now on, and that he can do.
Steve's lips are as pink as his perfect dick. "Touch me?" he asks.
May as well be a signed order instead of a question, the way Bucky snaps to it. He curls a hand around Steve's cock and strokes it, staring up at his face, using the flickers of his eyelids and the shape of his mouth to gauge his pleasure.
He prays Steve is close because the combined sensations of the toy inside him and being inside Steve are too much.
"Please," he begs, and Steve gives him what he wants, coming in thick lines on Bucky's chest and stomach.
Then Steve gives the dildo a twist, and that's it for Bucky. He spends himself into Steve while crying out his name, feeling the toy flex inside him. It's embarrassing, the way he loses control so completely, but after what Steve's already witnessed, what's a little more shame?
After Bucky catches his breath, he notices that the sheets are damp in some places, wet in others. The bottle of lube gets kicked to the floor. Steve extracts the toy from Bucky's spasming hole, way too interested in the mechanics of the act to notice Bucky's self-conscious flush. He feels empty and a little sore, but so high on endorphins that it doesn't matter. Steve sets the thing upright on the bedside table, then curls around Bucky like he's his personal pillow. Figures Steve would be a cuddler, Bucky's dazed brain supplies.
"I'd offer my bed for the night," Steve says, "but I don't want to move."
"Same here." He dares to press his nose into Steve's hair for a moment, then remembers that he's allowed, so he leaves it there. "God, you smell good."
"You too. Always thought you smelled a little like cedar," Steve says, inhaling. Bucky feels inordinately proud of this.
They're quiet for a long time, just getting their breathing back to normal. "Well," Bucky finally says.
"Well," Steve echoes, "that was...unexpected." His shoulders shake with suppressed laughter.
"Does this mean dinner's off?" Bucky asks.
"Nah." Steve pulls back to stroke a strand of hair out of Bucky's face. "We're doing this right. Out of order, maybe, but we'll get there." He kisses Bucky one more time, as tender as anything. "I want to be worth the wait for you, Buck."
"You always have been," Bucky says.
They fall asleep with Steve playing the role of octopus and Bucky, the driftwood.
"Can I help—" He blinks kohl-lined eyes at them. "You. Hey, man, you're back!"
Steve gives him a little wave.
"We sold out of that stuff you signed. Like I said, best seller," the kid gushes.
"Think your best seller can get one of those weirdo Cap movies?" Bucky asks, pointing to the DVD's behind the counter.
The cashier turns around and stares at them as if they've just appeared from thin air. "Uh, yeah," he says when he snaps out of it. "Which one would you like?"
"Do you have one called Bareback Buck-Fucking?" Steve asks with a completely straight face, the kind of face he's worn for documentaries and news interviews.
"Sure, of course." The kid reaches up on tip-toe to grab a slim case from the topmost shelf. "Popular title. It's got this guy who plays Cap's sidekick, and then there's this sexy occult potion, and—"
"Yeah, sounds like a real masterpiece," Bucky cuts him off. "How much?"
The kid places the DVD on the counter, then stares up at them, then looks back down at the DVD. On the cover, two beefy men are entwined in a fashion that could only be brought on by occult love potions. One is blond and cleancut. The other— Well, now that Bucky's wearing his hair shorter, the resemblance is striking.
"Holy—" The kid swallows, then hands it over. "It's on the house."
"That's really kind of you," Steve says, and pockets the thing with a matinee-star smile.
They leave the store hand-in-hand.
"I'm glad you finally told me about how I inspired a generation of pornographers," Bucky says as they amble down the street. "What do you say? Tonight: you, me, that dirty movie, and some popcorn?"
"Sure." Steve shrugs. "I swear I only know about them because Stark handed them out as Christmas presents one year."
"Well, God bless us," Bucky says, "every one."