Like most stories that turn out this way, it all begins with a lie.
A harmless lie, in Bucky’s defense. Not one that could’ve ever hurt anybody – a white lie, let’s call it that. And it hadn’t been premeditated or anything; it just sort of… comes out. Because his parents’ twenty-fifth wedding anniversary is coming up, and that means a week with the family – his family that he hasn’t seen in a while and then also the entire family that he hasn’t seen in years that would be at the actual celebration. You know, the ones who pinch your cheeks - even though Bucky’s twenty-four now and doesn’t even have the baby fat to scrounge up anymore to justify that sort of thing anyways. The relatives who, if they remember, send you Christmas cards or a Facebook message on your birthday but other than that, you don’t really ever talk to them.
Bucky’s close with his family; has been ever since they’d adopted him and Rebecca when they were kids. He loves them and sure, there’s a part of him that’s looking forward to seeing them again, don’t get him wrong. After all, it’s August now and the last time he made a trip to Shelbyville was back in May for Mother’s Day (and Annie Proctor was never above the good old mother’s guilt trip to have her entire family under one roof every year for that special day).
It was just… he’d known what was coming, because it was always the same thing.
“Why don’t you have a girlfriend yet?”
“When are you going to find a nice boy to settle down with?”
“Are we ever going to have grandchildren?”
“Well yes, we know we have three other kids; we can count. Still. Grandchildren?”
“Well, you could always adopt.”
“You’re such a catch, James – I just don’t understand why you won’t let yourself get involved in anything serious.”
“Maybe if you cut your hair and people could see your handsome face…”
“Are you going to bring someone special this time?”
It mostly came from his mother – who Bucky knows means well – but his sister is responsible for a fair portion of the blame, too. She’s a little shit, no matter how much Bucky loves her, and she likes to instigate because she knows how much Bucky just loves those conversations. Even his father brings it up now and again; those throwaway inquiries as to why Bucky never seems to be tied down. Sometimes they suspect that he is and he’s just hiding the person from the family.
That’s not the case, and that’s exactly what Bucky always tells them. Always. Every single time they talk, in fact. (Because that is literally how often they ask, even if it’s the quick and subtle, “So, anyone new if your life lately?” during phone calls.)
If he was seeing someone, he wouldn’t hide it. Sure, his family is a little… what’s a delicate way of putting it…? Unique; out there – very open and welcoming but they’re all loud and they can talk your ear off if you let them. Bucky accepts it because, hell, he’s just as bad – but he knows not everyone can handle them in large doses. The last time he tried bringing a friend with him for a visit, yeah, they fell in love with his family, but they also needed to find gaps to run off and hide for a breather.
Bucky’s family has a bit of a way with making you feel a little too loved, bless them; their hearts are all in the right places, at least.
He’s just never in a relationship, and he doesn’t see the big deal with that. Honestly, he’s not even halfway thirty yet – why does he need to settle down, get married, and have kids? He’s always been more of the independent type, which is why he’d moved out heading into his first year of college. He hadn’t picked New York because he deliberately wanted to get away, not at all. He’d just always dreamed of living there Unfortunately it made visiting home a little harder, yeah, but it also gave him the opportunity to begin the brand new chapter of his life on his own terms.
He doesn’t have time for relationships – not with how busy things are for him. He has his own place and he pays his own bills and if he’s not working, he’s spending time with friends. Bucky thinks he has a pretty good handle on his life and has his affairs all in order. He reminds himself that they don’t mean to come across overbearing every. Time. They ask. But can’t they just be proud of him for what he has accomplished and stop putting so much importance on the fact that he’s doing it all solo?
So when his mom calls, Bucky’s distracted in the kitchen, trying to make himself dinner with his cell phone pressed between his shoulder and his cheek after a long day at the office (the lawyer he’s the assistant for is a complete, demanding dick). He’s already only half-listening. Annie’s going over the details of the trip again: they’ll be meeting that upcoming weekend up in Nashville where the family cottage is… Bucky’ll use his vacation time to stay the week… Their anniversary is on the 18th, which is a Thursday, and the dinner and reception will be held at so-and-so place at such-and-such time (which Bucky doesn’t really think he needs to be reminded of, since he’ll just be heading there with his family anyways), etc. Bucky makes the mistake of reminding her that he’d pre-ordered the chicken…
Which is apparently the perfect gateway into asking, “Will you be bringing a date? You said you’d get back to us the last time we spoke, in case we needed to order something for them, but then you never called us back with the info.”
Bucky’s trying to juggle the conversation with not adding too much spice to his stir fry sauce, so he just replies distractedly that, no, he isn’t bringing anybody. They should be used to this, but of course they never are. It only leads into another discussion where she’s drilling him with question after question; the ones that Bucky can’t get that frustrated with because she asks them so damn lovingly – because she’s just worried about her son dying alone, he guesses. So he doesn’t get impatient with her; he just rolls his eyes a lot, in the privacy of his own space where she can’t see.
“Mom, it’s really not a big deal,” he repeats for what feels like the billionth time. He grabs some of the chili flakes and sprinkles them into his personal concoction on the stove. Switching his phone to the other ear, he continues, “I told you before, I don’t need to bring a date. I’ll be fine on my own.”
“You always come by yourself, sweetie. We just thought that if you had someone special in your life right now or something, you’d have more fun with the extra company.”
“Mom, I’m not seeing anyone, same as before,” he insists, and Jesus, he’s trying so hard to not be huffing like a child at this conversation. “You asked me last time and the time before that, and you’ll ask me again in a few days, and my answer is still going to be the same.”
All that leads to is a repeat of every ‘motherly’ talk he’s ever gotten from her regarding this issue. Bucky just stands his ground, stays calm, remembers that she’s coming from a good place, she’s coming from a good place, woosa, woosa… and repeats over and over that he’s ‘just too busy right now and it’s really not a big deal.’ Eventually, he has to go when the phone call distracts him and he accidentally fucks up his recipe by adding far too much spice. He mutters a curse under his breath and hastily says goodbye, love you too, I’ll call you in a couple days.
It’s later that evening when it happens – the lie that sets the whole thing into motion. Bucky’s watching TV on the couch, finally unwinding with a cold beer in his hand, when Rebecca calls. They usually just text, so Bucky figures it must be some sort of emergency. But nah, apparently she’s just calling to greet him with, “Do you have any friends?”
“I’m starting to think you don’t have any friends,” Becca goads casually; annoyingly, in that way reserved specifically for little sisters. Bucky pictures her looking at her nails with an amused little smile on her face. “Do you need me to make a few calls and set you up on some Man Dates?”
“I have friends, Becks,” Bucky replies flatly.
“Aww, that’s cute,” she says. “Hang up, I’m gonna FaceTime you.”
She hangs up. He sighs, picking up the remote and muting the show he’d been watching. So much for getting to have a relaxing night before bed. Seconds later, sure enough, she calls him back using FaceTime, so Bucky accepts it. Rebecca is sitting in her room, staring at the screen with a grin on her face. Holding up his phone in front of him, Bucky asks, “Okay, what.”
“Turn your phone from side to side,” she instructs.
“Just do it – side to side.”
Bucky does, confused. When the camera’s back on him, Rebecca fakes a serious look and asks, “Is that them? They look nice – can you put it back on the one to your left? I didn’t get to say hi!”
Unimpressed, Bucky rolls his eyes and then snaps back, “My friends ain’t imaginary, smartass.”
“Ooh, ‘ain’t’ – lookit you, all hoity-toity New Yorker.”
“I’m hanging up now,” Bucky says, reaching back for the remote and already looking back to the TV.
“Oh, quit being so uptight,” his sister huffs, dropping the act. She readjusts on her bed so her knees are tucked up beneath her chin and says, “Mom’s really hoping you’ll change your mind and bring someone when you come visit.”
“Well, hate to disappoint, but once again that will not be happening,” Bucky mutters, still staring at the screen while he browses the guide. He shoots Rebecca a side glance. “Not that my dating life is any of your business – you’re not even old enough for boys yet.”
“I’m going into my graduating year of high school.”
“Not old enough for boys,” Bucky repeats, drawing out each word and interrupting her.
She rolls her eyes. “Just throw on a white collar and join the priesthood, why don’t ya? Seriously, at this point that’d probably come as less of a shock than you actually dating someone. Least then, mom would stop getting her hopes up.”
Bucky throws his free hand into the air. “Why does everyone care so much about who I date?”
His sister throws up her index finger in front of the screen. “Ah – but that would actually have to mean you do date, which you don’t. It’s more like, why does everyone care that you’re repressing your newfound relationship to the ‘Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ’ and just don’t feel you can tell us. Do you need a copy of the Bible? We might have one sitting around in the attic somewhere.”
“I’m not joining the priesthood, Rebecca. We’re not even religious.”
“Did you join a cult?” she asks with mock sympathy. “Are you a scientologist now or something?”
“Scientologists can still date,” he points out.
Rebecca’s face falls flat. “Okay, seriously, not helping your cause right now.”
Bucky presses his lips in a tight line and shakes his head. All he can think of to reply is, “Yeah, well, even if I was dating someone, it’s not like it’d be anyone’s business.”
“But you’re not, so it’s okay,” she pushes.
Bucky stares directly at her, frowning. She’s always been the master of reverse-psychology. Either that, or Bucky’s just always been a sucker the second she uses it. “How would you know?” he asks, feeling suddenly weirdly defensive. It’s one thing when he’s the one having to insist that he’s single and it’s purely by choice, but it’s another thing entirely when someone starts making it sound like maybe it’s for a different reason – commitment issues, a phobia, Bucky having something wrong with him… He’s running through every single thing she could mean by her comment in his mind.
Rebecca shrugs. “Because I know you by now? Because you’re my brother? Because you never seem to be dating somebody? Take your pick,” she sing-songs. “And you’re sure you’re not just saving yourself for Jesus?”
Bucky isn’t sure why he does it; why this conversation is suddenly the conversation to break the hump on the camel’s back. But without preamble he’s saying, “Well for your information, genius, I do happen to be dating somebody,” before he even realizes what just happened.
The face on his screen pauses, like she didn’t hear him correctly, and then Rebecca scoffs out a laugh. “Yeah, okay,” she replies skeptically. “You’re gonna have to do better than that. April Fools was months ago.”
“Well, believe it,” Bucky retorts, and he knows he should stop talking but now that the words are coming out they don’t seem to know how to stop. “‘Cause it’s true – I just didn’t say anythin’ because we haven’t been seeing each other all that long, so I wasn’t planning on bringing him to something where he’d be meeting my whole entire family.”
‘Him?’Okay, sure, apparently Bucky has a boyfriend now. He’ll run with it if it’ll get them off his back.
Now his little sister is staring hard at the screen. She keeps narrowing her eyes and raising her eyebrows, like she’s trying to translate her brother’s tone and figure out whether he’s full of it or not. “So you’ve got a boyfriend,” she says after a few seconds of silence. She sounds halfway between calling bullshit and sounding unsure.
“Yes,” Bucky sighs. He needs this conversation to end.
“Uh-huh. Okay, what’s his name?”
Bucky stammers for a second and then covers with, “None of your business, Booger.”
She scowls at him, always having hated that childhood nicknamed he’d saddled her with. “I knew it, you’re so full of shit,” she replies, and now a tiny, satisfied smirk tugs up one corner of her mouth. She and Bucky look so much alike when they both smile like that.
“Hey, don’t give me that look – I taught you that look.”
“Just admit that you lied and I promise I won’t hang it over your head when I see you,” she says, her voice rising into that deceivingly sweet pitch. He should just throw in the towel and accept defeat, but the Barnes-Proctor family is nothing if not a little proud. So he should just admit to the lie but of course he doesn’t.
“Too bad for you, I wasn’t lying,” he insists.
“Really,” Rebecca challenges, narrowing her brown eyes again. “Fine, prove it.”
“I don’t have to ‘prove’ anything.”
“Oh, okay. Hey, do you smell that?”
Rebecca starts sniffing with genuine concern, her brows furrowing. “No, seriously, Buck, I think I actually smell something.”
Bucky’s previous annoyance immediately vanishes. He frowns and asks, “What’s it smell like? Gas or something? Maybe you should go tell dad about it.”
She sniffs loudly a few more times. “No… No, it’s not gas,” she muses. “I think it’s the smell of--” She looks directly into the camera and finishes smugly, “your pants on fire.”
Bucky’s mouth drops open and he rolls his eyes with a groan, as Rebecca starts cackling with laughter. “Bucky, just admit that you’re full of shit,” she encourages him, but it’s far less judgemental now. He knows she’s caught him, which only makes him desperate to fight harder to prove that she’s wrong. He also realizes he isn’t really fond of this idea that they might think he’s incapable of dating. He could very well date if he wanted to; it’s not like there is something actually wrongwith him.
His brain has evidently decided that right now, Bucky’s going to be the King of bad ideas, because he speaks once again without giving it proper thought, and blurts out, “Okay, fine; you want proof? I’ll give you proof.”
That makes Rebecca stop laughing. She regards him for a solid minute or so – just staring at him while she once again tries to put her finger on whether or not she should call another round of bullshit. Then she says, “Fine. Prove it. In person.”
“Fine,” Bucky snaps.
“Bring him to the cottage and for the anniversary party.”
“I’m hanging up now,” Bucky repeats.
“I’m going to tell mom,” Rebecca grins. “Since you have nothing to hide and all. She’s going to pee her pants. I’m not responsible for cleaning up the mess.”
“Fine!” Bucky says loudly, three-hundred percent done with the conversation, because she’s going to tell their mom? He’s starting to realize how deep he’s just dug himself, and he doesn’t know what else he’s supposed to say now. All he can do is wonder where he put the shovel.
Rebecca laughs and does a horrible mimic of Bucky’s tone when she replies, “Fine” again, too.
“Sweet dreams. Bye Bucky’s friends!” she pretends to call out, bringing her face closer to the screen. She starts making kissing noises when Bucky ends the video call. His hand thunks down next to his leg and he stares ahead, trying to make sense of what just happened.
He’d been gimmicked. He’d been gimmicked by his teenage sister, that’s what happened. And now apparently he had some made-up boyfriend who would be joining him in just a few days for a week at his family’s cottage… As his date to a big family event…
Less than a minute later, his phone vibrates. Bucky looks down to it but doesn't unlock the screen. Becca really does work fast. The message preview shows that it's a text from his mom. All it says is: '!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! <3 <3 <3'
Bucky knows that Natasha already has plans (a date, to be specific, and given how few of those she goes out on, Bucky knows better than to interfere), so the next night, it’s Steve who comes to the rescue. Steve’s one of those guys who, by association, can make anyone within a ten mile radius smile – he’s just got that easy-going, laid back nature to him that’s addictive. Bucky met him during his second year of college. Steve was in his first year, and whereas Bucky was taking Business, Steve was studying a Double Major in Art History. Ironic, Bucky always thought – how perfectly their post-secondary paths defined their contrasting personalities more simply than a long-winded introduction ever could.
One of the best things about Steve is that when someone talks, he always listens. In fact, he’s one of the few people who never seems to get bored or tired of hearing a person – like Bucky, for instance – go on and on about the same sorts of things. He doesn’t plaster on a fake smile and do mental math until it’s over. So long as your lips are moving and something’s bothering you, he’s all ears and it’s nothing but one hundred percent genuine interest.
Steve Rogers is a good fit for Bucky in terms of a yin and yang friendship because he’s the calm to Bucky’s storm – and Bucky’s storm always seems to be ten seconds away from brewing. He hadn’t always been like this. He can remember a time when he’d been just as carefree and lighthearted. But then school happened and responsibilities happened, and Bucky’s always been the type to place so much more expectation on his shoulders than was ever necessary. He knows his family never expected him to graduate a year shy with Honours – nor did they ever make him feel like they’d love him less if he didn’t have a career and a place of his own by the age he’s at now.
Bucky hardly ever wears anything shy of a long-sleeved shirt in public. But every morning before he showers, he catches a glimpse of that left arm of his in the mirror – and every gnarl of scar tissue, twisted and lining around the limb and shoulder, is a constant reminder to him of the mistakes he’d made in his youth. Bucky hates seeing therapists, but the last one he’d ever taken the time to sit down with wasn’t far off when they’d concluded that the accident in question… when Bucky was seventeen and had drunk and drove, totalling his parents’ car with Rebecca with him inside of it… resulting in his left arm needing two surgeries, skin grafts, and left with nothing less than a fuck-ton of nerve damage (whereas, thank god, Becca had only walked away with a broken wrist)… That is the one point in Bucky’s life that he can’t seem to get over. That doctor had taken a guess that Bucky’s Type A behaviour now has everything to do with his inability to forgive himself for how he’d behaved back then. Bucky knew she was right. He stopped going to see her anyways.
Steve, though… Steve’s never gotten impatient with Bucky or tired of him. Sure, sometimes he gives him this amused sort of smile and chuckles that the brunet needs to lighten up or calm down, but comments like those are only ever said with love. In the five years they’ve known each other, they’ve become just as much each other’s confidant and rock as they’ve become the other’s best friend. It’s just that, he’s never met a single member of Bucky’s family. But that’s just the result of constant poor timing, as well as the fact that almost every odd time his family would make the trip to New York, it would be over holidays that had Steve visiting his own distant relatives on the Brooklyn side. His family knows of Steve – they just don’t know Steve.
This, funny enough, turns out to be the greatest thing to have ever fallen into Bucky’s favour.
Steve’s sprawled out on his back across Bucky’s bed, a box of chicken fried rice from the Chinese they’d ordered still in his hand. He feeds himself expertly with a pair of chopsticks and munches away as he listens to Bucky rant about his current predicament, pacing the bedroom as he’s been doing for the last hour and a half. Bucky explains everything and gives himself the chance to rant a little bit, and all the while, Steve just watches with that tiny, amused grin. He’s always known better than to cut in and start giving his two cents before he knows for sure that Bucky’s done. So this entire time, he’s done nothing but stay silent and use his mouth only to chow down on dinner.
“I don’t understand why they always seem to care so much about my love life!” Bucky exclaims, probably for about the thirtieth time. Shaking his head and pacing faster, he throws his hands in the air and repeats for about the thirty-seventh time, “I mean, there’s nothing wrong with me. I date – I do date.” Pausing, he takes a few quick breaths and then looks to Steve in confusion. “Right?”
Steve shrugs. “I dunno,” he answers nonchalantly, peering back into the carton and digging around with the chopsticks, trying to find more chicken. “I think I only ever remember seeing you go out with, like… one person, since I’ve known you? Maybe two?”
“Really? Who was the second?” Bucky asks with genuine curiosity.
Steve grins at him and gives him a knowing look. “See?”
Bucky’s shoulders sag as he visibly deflates. “I just don’t understand what the big fuckin’ deal is – so I don’t date, who cares? It ain’t like I’ve been actively avoiding it or some shit, I’m just busy is all.”
He holds out his hand mid-stride, making a grabby motion. Steve hands over the fried rice and then props his head up in his hand to continue watching. Now speaking with his mouth full, Bucky goes back to pacing and letting off his copious amounts of steam. When he’s finished, he plops down onto the side of his bed with a huff, handing the rice back over to the blond. Steve takes it and looks at him expectantly, waiting for Bucky to meet his eyes and give him the go-ahead to speak.
“Oh, yeah, I’m done,” Bucky says quickly, waving halfheartedly with his hand.
“Okay,” Steve says, sitting up and crossing his legs. It’s always funny seeing someone of his large stature positioning himself like an excited child because, well, he is large. He’d been the Captain of the college’s football team, after all, and that hadn’t come from a shortage of intense daily workouts. Somehow though, the guy always seems to be able to eat whatever he wants without it ever damaging his perfect figure. Bucky’s always been a tiny bit envious.
“First of all, I get why the whole thing’s frustrating for you, but I think you’re makin’ this so much more complicated than it needs to be,” Steve starts.
Bucky raises an eyebrow his way, which earns him an exasperated little chuckle when he apparently hasn’t caught the memo that Steve feels is completely obvious. Pointing the chopsticks at him, he says, “You just gotta get a friend to go with you and pretend to be your beau for the week, and then make some excuse up afterwards of why you two had to break up. Bing, bang, boom – problem solved.”
Bucky scrunches his nose up, taking that suggestion in. He supposes it’s not the worst idea he’s ever heard. In fact… it’s sort of brilliant, actually.
“Only one problem,” he says, his hope immediately vanishing. He sighs. “I’m heading up there in two days – sort of short notice, dontcha think? Asking someone to take a whole week off just to come play ‘pretend boyfriends’ with me seems like sort of a long shot.”
Steve hums in thought, flopping back down on the bed. He taps his feet rhythmically off of the mattress and makes little noises through his mouth, before popping his lips and asking, “How about Tony?”
Bucky barks out a curt laugh. “With his sense of humour? He’d either go offending my parents or get so humiliated after Becca handed his ass to him that he’d spoil the whole thing in the name of vengeance.”
Steve chuckles; he knows Tony well enough, too, to know that Bucky’s got a good point. “Okay, umm… Sam?”
“Mm-mm,” Bucky says, shaking his head. “He’s got a midterm next week. He’s like one semester away from getting his Masters, huh?”
“No fuckin’ kidding,” Steve replies with surprise.
“Yeah. Great for him – not so great for me right now.”
Steve’s brows furrow in concentration while he appears to wrack his brain. Then they nearly shoot up to his hairline when he casually asks, as if he’s solved the entire puzzle, “How about Natasha?”
Bucky just stares at him; waits for the punchline. But no, uh, okay, apparently Steve’s being serious.
“Yeah, no, you’re right, she’s the perfect solution,” Bucky says slowly, speaking to Steve as if he was an idiot. “Natasha’s the most obvious choice to introduce to my family as my new boyfriend. Fuck, how the hell didn’t I think of that?”
Snorting, Steve rolls his eyes. Picking at the rice again, he gives another one of those lazy, jaunty shrugs and replies, “I dunno, man; dress her up and she’d still probably make the best-looking dude out of all of your options.”
“Not exactly givin’ me all that much confidence right now, Rogers.”
“She’d definitely still make the best impression,” the blond adds. He mutters to himself something about how she’ll get a kick out of that, before pulling out his phone and, from the looks of it, shooting her a text. The entire time his thumbs tap away, he’s got a dopey little half-smile on his face. Steve finds anything hilarious – particularly himself.
“She’s on a date,” Bucky reminds him.
“So? She can text me when she’s done.” Steve drops his phone beside him when he’s finished and then lets out a small breath; baby blues roaming back over to Bucky’s profile. Bucky’s chewing his lip in thought and doesn’t realize his friend’s staring. Steve gets a small smile and brings one hand behind his head, using it as a cushion. Nudging Bucky with his toe, that’s when he says, “Well… what about me?”
“Hmm?” Bucky snaps from his thoughts, turning to look at him.
Steve laughs. “I said, what about me? M’starting to get a bit offended that I wasn’t even a consideration – do I smell or something?”
Bucky rolls his eyes and shoves his leg before stealing back the carton of rice. After swallowing a few small mouthfuls, he shrugs himself; dark brows slightly creased. “I dunno; just didn’t think you’d be interested or I thought you’d have offered by now.”
“Oh, so I’m supposed to be a mind reader – that it?” Steve teases.
“Fuck off,” Bucky says, smiling. He hands back the rice so he can wander into the living room and return with the slightly larger carton of chicken balls. Placing it between them on the bed, Bucky sits back down and pops one of them into his mouth. He notices Steve’s still staring with that boyish grin, so Bucky swallows and then asks, “You’re serious? You’d be cool with that?”
“Yeah,” Steve says casually, pushing himself up so he can get himself in on the chicken ball action. “We just hired on a trainee over at the pub, so we’re overstaffed at the moment as it is. Boss-Man owes me a favour anyways, so, yeah, it’s cool, I can help.”
When Steve flashes him that million-dollar smile again before picking up the carton to sift through with his fingers and dig out the perfect chicken ball, Bucky can’t help but swallow again. This time, it feels much more like a nervous gulp.
Because it hadn’t necessarily been that Bucky had simply not thought to ask Steve for his help. More accurately, it had been a very deliberate choice – stemming from the secret that Bucky’s been so damn good at hiding for the past five years…
Just how bad of a crush he’s always had on Steve Rogers.