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Third Wheel

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Original art by Kelslk here.

"Is it starting to become unsettling?" Bucky asked, pretending not to notice Steve watching them from across the room with a huge smile on his face.

"Starting?" Natasha replied, reaching out to adjust his tie.

"Well, Stevie and me, you know," Bucky said, shrugging. "We always lived in each others' back pockets. And it's not like he ain't used to being a third wheel, back when he was a little guy."

"But?"

"I don't think he ever liked one of my dates before," Bucky admitted, sipping the probably-very-expensive drink in his hand. Stark galas were full of rich people that Bucky didn't especially like, but he kept showing up because it was good publicity and also the booze and snacks were free and usually top-notch.

"Well, he knew me before we met," Natasha pointed out. "Sort of," she added.

"And you never tried to set him up with anyone like my dates back when were always doing," Bucky agreed.

"Sure, let's roll with that idea," Natasha said smoothly, thinking of the dozen-odd women and handful of men she'd tried to get Steve to go out with, once upon a time. The circle of people she would actually allow to date Steve had contracted drastically after the fall of SHIELD, it was true.

"Hey," Tony Stark said as he passed, pausing to tap Natasha's elbow for her attention. "Is there a reason Steve is staring at the two of you with stars in his eyes from across the room?"

"Any closer and even he knows it'd be creepy," Natasha replied.

"Fair enough," Stark said, and wandered on.

"We gotta do something about it," Bucky said. "It's not healthy, all this vicarious living."

"For him or for you?"

"Both?" Bucky rubbed the back of his head and cast a covert glance at Steve, who was beaming. "We need to find him someone."

Natasha kissed him gently and said, "That's an excellent idea. I leave it in your hands."

***

A month later, Natasha congratulated herself on providing weeks of really excellent super-soldier themed entertainment, while Bucky paced back and forth in the living room and ranted.

"It wasn't this hard when it was the girls who were picky!" he said, throwing his hands in the air. "I mean at least when he was little he was less choosy!"

"Are you sure about that? Steve doesn't strike me as a man to let desperation get in the way of self-righteousness," she said, needling him with a grin.

"No, you're probably right, but -- twelve dates! Twenty-seven if you count the speed dating!"

The speed-dating had been glorious. Steve had been more awkward than Natasha thought was possible and had still gotten fourteen offers out of fifteen speed dates. He'd kept the sheet of phone numbers like a prized scorecard and hadn't called a single one, to Bucky's endless despair.

"I asked him if he liked boys," Bucky said darkly. "Do you have any idea what having that conversation is like when you're both from the Depression?"

"I wish you'd waited so I could have seen it," she complained.

"I think it's the first time either of us said the word 'bisexual' out loud. We both kept trying to use gestures instead. It was like a farce."

"But at least now you know his potential dating pool is wider," she said.

"I don't think that's true at all, he's just as picky about men," Bucky said morosely, dropping down onto the sofa next to her. She pulled his head over onto her shoulder and petted his hair, pleased that the new conditioner she'd slipped into his shower was making it really soft.

"Well, maybe we should narrow our criteria. Figure out what he really wants in a date," she said.

"I tried that with JARVIS. He built a whole profile, put out a couple of options. Steve said no to some and didn't want a second date with the rest."

"Anyone on the list you didn't set him up with?"

"Well, JARVIS suggested you. And me. But obviously..." Bucky sighed. "I mean obviously he does like us, just, he likes us together."

Natasha hummed thoughtfully.

"Why the noise?" Bucky asked her with a suspicious look.

"Well, he does like you and me," she said.

"We're his friends, of course he does."

"And he likes us together."

Bucky grinned and kissed her. "We make a striking couple."

"Maybe we'd make a striking triple."

The kiss stopped, awkwardly.

"You think...you and me and him?" he asked, voice slightly strangled.

"I like him. You like him. He likes us, and we know he's a good kisser."

"Yeah, but -- wait," Bucky straightened. "How do you know he's a good kisser?"

"I kissed him," she said. "Before your time. How do you?"

"Well, we had to practice on someone when we were fourteen and horny," Bucky said, then blinked. "You really think...?"

"Can it go any worse than the last month did?" she asked.

"I guess not," Bucky said thoughtfully. "And at least then he'd be standing next to us looking all goofy instead of across the room." He looked at her. "You'd be okay with that?"

"How shall I hide my sorrow at being catered to by two of the hottest men on the continent," she said in a monotone. "It will take effort, surely."

"Steve and me always did best when we were sharin'," Bucky mused. "Okay, well. If you're game, so'm I. You wanna ask him now or wait until we've, you know, done some courting? Take him to dinner a few times first? Maybe we should ease him into it."

"Do you want to spend another month coaxing him into romance?" she asked.

"Please, God, no."

"Then there's no time like the present," Natasha said. "JARVIS, where's Steve?"

"Captain Rogers has just finished swimming," JARVIS said. "If you hurry, Agent Romanoff, you may catch him in the shower."

***

Two hours later, naked and still smelling faintly of chlorine, Steve lay between them, closed his eyes blissfully, and said, "Finally."

"Finally?" Natasha asked, drowsily curled around his right side, head on one magnificent pectoral.

"I thought I was gonna have to say something myself," Steve said. "Neither'a you were taking the hint."

"The hint," Bucky repeated darkly.

"I spent literally all my time telling you how happy I was spending time with you two," Steve said. "I couldn't've made it any plainer without being indecent. And you've always been better about being indecent than me."

"You let me spend a month setting you up with people -- 'cause you didn't want to be indecent?" Bucky asked.

"Well, that and it was fun to watch you go berserk," Steve admitted.

Natasha laughed, wrapping a leg around his thigh. Bucky sighed, rolled over, pulled the pillow out from under his head, and then savagely attempted to beat Steve to death with it.

This was going to be fun.