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Bucky Barnes Has His Shit Together (and Other Lies He Tells Himself)

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Bucky Barnes has his shit together. No one thinks he does—because he dresses like a thrift store threw up on him and he’s got that thousand-yard stare going on and he doesn’t have a job—but he totally does. Have his shit together, that is.

He does.

Take, for example, his apartment. It sits above a bakery in all its four-hundred-square-foot loft-style glory. It always smells like cinnamon rolls. He has a headboard he made out of a pallet he stole from a grocery store. His bookshelf is an old, paint-splattered ladder that he sawed in half and hung up sideways. It doesn’t have books on it, but once he gets some, he’ll have shelf space for them.

He has over six hundred followers on Pinterest.

Sure, he can’t afford nice things like internet or pants without holes in them, but he makes do. Against all odds, he has his shit together.

You know who doesn’t have his shit together?

Steve fucking Rogers.

You’d think a guy who owns one of the most successful bakeries in Brooklyn, has a million-dollar smile and that antiquated good ol’ boy charm, blond hair and blue eyes and biceps for days, would know what’s what.

But don’t let that fool you: Steve Rogers is a mess.

Like right now, for example, he’s giving Bucky that pitiful pleading look whenever he needs a favor. Why would a guy as successful as Steve Rogers—entrepreneur, property owner, number one on “Brooklyn’s 40 Under 40 Rising Stars” list—ever need a favor from Bucky Barnes?

“Please, Buck,” Steve says. A small lump of fussy flesh and big blue eyes struggles in his massive grip.

Bucky points at him. “Don’t pull the ‘Buck’ card on me.”

“It’s just an afternoon, I promise.”

Sarah cries out, frustrated with her predicament, itty bitty feeties kicking in her sparkly purple Chuck Taylors. She dramatically shifts in Steve’s arms, lifting her little hands and scrabbling at Steve’s mouth while continuing to wail. He purses his lips together.

“That’s what you said last time. And the time before that. I’m a decorated veteran, Steve, not a fucking babysitter.”

Behind them, the bakery bustles, loud with customers, Sam and Natasha managing the flow expertly and picking up the slack for their trash can of a boss.

“Okay, one,” Steve replies, and Sarah shoves her fingers right in his mouth. He sputters them out, but she’s relentless. “Please don’t drop the f-bomb in front of my daughter. And two, you’ve been using my internet every day for almost two years.”

“I’m a paying customer.”

“You buy a dollar-fifty worth of black coffee and get free refills all day. You cost me more than you purchase.”

Steve has small smears of flour on his flushed-over cheeks and dough caked in his fingernails like always. Sarah reaches up and yanks his appalling hipster glasses from his face. She hands them to Bucky.

Bucky takes them and says, “Thank you.” Then he puts them back on Steve’s face because his hands are full.

“C’mon, Buck, she loves you,” Steve adds. “It’ll be fun. We got the entire Little Bear series on DVD. You love Little Bear.”

“I regret telling you that,” Bucky says. “Where’s Peggy?”

“I don’t know, some UN thing. I don’t want to talk about it.”

About the time Bucky returned from Iraq, got a snazzy new cyborg arm, and moved into the apartment above Hearth, Peggy Carter-Rogers began the not-so-swift yet totally merciless divorce of Steve Rogers. But nobody knew at the time—Peggy included—that she had a bun in the oven, pun totally intended.

Bucky thinks that Steve may have had his shit together before, but he doesn’t anymore, and Bucky’s shit-togetherness is so new and fragile he really can’t handle taking on anyone else’s.

Not that Sarah is shit. Sarah is a precious squishy angel who laughs when Bucky blows raspberries on her tummy, but Bucky will never admit that to Steve in a million years because then he’d figure out Bucky loves the crap out of her and thus ask for even more free babysitting. Bucky wears a leather jacket. People cross the street instead of passing him on the sidewalk. More people stare at his arm than his eyes. He has a reputation to uphold.

Sarah settles for a moment before looking at Bucky with her pretty blues and holding her arms out to him, gripping and opening her hands, making little unh! sounds at him.

Without thinking, Bucky takes her from Steve’s arms because he’s an obedient sap and Sarah has him wrapped around her eensy little pink finger with the impossibly tiny knuckle wrinkles and fingernail—

Fuck.

She immediately throws her arms around his neck and settles her face against his shoulder with a contented sigh.

“We’re fighting,” Bucky tells Steve, rubbing Sarah’s back out of sheer habit. The fact that he’s already built these habits is precisely the problem.

“Great,” Steve replies, and fishes in his pocket behind his stained apron to pull out his keys. “I’ll be up a little after close. Help yourself to whatever.”

❄❅❄

Bucky grumbles as he trudges up the stairs. He continues grumbling as he turns left instead of right to go to Steve’s apartment instead of his. And he grumbles even more as he puts the key in the lock and opens the door.

Based on the dead weight on his shoulder, Sarah has already passed out for her afternoon nap.

Bucky just has that effect on people.

He had plans today, dammit. He was going to order his dollar-fifty coffee at Hearth, settle in at his favorite booth, and pin things on Pinterest. He was going to crack AutoCAD so he could start drafting some of the furniture ideas he sketched out. He was going to drink free coffee refills until his flesh hand started to shake, and then he was going to buy a fifty-cent package of broken cookies for lunch.

When Hearth closed at six, he was planning to go back to his apartment, eat leftover tuna-noodle casserole, and plan his day tomorrow.

Bucky Barnes is a busy man with a daily to-do list in his very organized Evernote system. He does not have time for laying tiny babies with feather-soft blond hair and shiny pink lips and chubby cheeks in their overpriced Ikea cribs, nor does he have time to utilize nap hour for cleaning Steve’s trainwreck of an apartment.

But that’s exactly what he does.

Because Bucky Barnes is painfully, secretly, deep-down, totally gone on Steve Rogers.

❄❅❄

Steve gets home around nine.

Bucky is reading a WWII memoir he found on Steve’s shelf—which is, unsurprisingly, comprised entirely of WWII memoirs and art books—while sprawled out on the couch.

“Sorry I’m late,” Steve says, closing the door quietly behind him. “Natasha had class and Sam had a date. Then I had to do the books and then Peggy called—”

Bucky’s gaze shoots up from his book and, yep, Steve’s eyes have that puffiness they get when he’s been crying, AKA every time he talks to Peggy.

Bucky’s heart shatters in his chest.

Good news, though, Steve has what is very obviously a giant bag of Chinese food in his hands from the place next door.

“Are you okay?” Bucky asks, getting up. He heads to the kitchen to keep himself from hugging Steve. They don’t have that kind of relationship. They don’t have any relationship at all.

Steve laughs, hollow, and sets the bag down on the counter before thumbing through the day’s mail. “Depends on your definition of ‘okay’.”

Bucky takes two plates down from the cupboards and starts plating up the food for them. Steve toes off his shoes and takes the other side of the couch. When Bucky looks up again, Steve has his face in his hands.

Bucky sets the steaming plate of General Tso’s on the coffee table and takes a seat beside him. He digs into his own plate because he’s starving and needs to fill his mouth before he goes on an anti-Peggy rant that won’t help anybody. In truth, from what Bucky can gather, she made a big decision in her mysterious career path, and that decision had the resulting fall-out of six feet of excessively handsome albeit incredibly distraught entrepreneur sitting next to him, staring mournfully at his food.

“Thanks,” Steve says to his plate. “I mean, for everything.”

They aren’t friends, Bucky reminds himself. They’re neighbors, and Bucky is both Steve’s tenant and a committed patron of Hearth. They’ve never voluntarily hung out before except for this—Bucky eating a post-babysitting dinner with Steve before heading home.

Bucky shrugs. “No problem.”

“Was she okay?” Steve finally picks up his plate. His hands tremble too much for chopsticks, so he uses a fork instead. Dried pink frosting coats the bottom of his forearm, his navy henley’s sleeves are pushed up to his elbows, a trail of flour streaks by his ear, and his hair is mussed from running his fingers through it all day. But Bucky definitely doesn’t notice any of that.

“Perfect,” Bucky says, probably too honest.

Steve nods. “Good.”

❄❅❄

Bucky looks up at the overcast sky, clouds white instead of gray. When he breathes out, a puff of condensation escapes his lips. He sticks out his tongue and a few thick snowflakes fall on it.

Then he realizes people can probably see him and he looks back down to continue his walk.

Coffee shop, check cashing place, bar, bar, bar, thrift store—

Bucky does a double-take and cups his hands around his face to look into the thrift store window. Then he jolts when he feels the harsh icy sting of his metal hand and puts it back in his pocket.

A mannequin with a Santa hat sits on display under the trail of Christmas lights hanging in the window, along with tinsel around the astroturf inlay. But what gets Bucky’s attention, what makes his eyes go wide and jaw drop—

A sewing machine. Singer. Model 6234. Older, maybe from the eighties or nineties. The handwritten sign below it reads, $75—Works like new! Patterns available.

Fuck. Bucky doesn’t have seventy-five dollars. He pulls out his wallet, thumbs past his picture of Becka—bent up and worn out because he took it with him to Iraq, just her sixth grade picture, all brown curly hair and glasses and braces but still somehow looking punk as fuck—and counts twelve dollars that has to last him a week. Then he needs to pool together December rent.

He could, feasibly, use his wit, charm, cyborg arm, sob story, and overall haunted appearance to talk the shop owner down to seventy. Maybe sixty-five if he pushed his luck.

What does he own he could sell? Nobody would buy his tacky upcycled furniture experiments. His gaudy floral couch is worthless. He needs his second-hand laptop and cell phone to pay bills and make doctor appointments and stuff. He could go without a mattress again but he really doesn’t want to. His power drill and tools are hand-me-downs and he uses them almost daily for the aforementioned tacky upcycled furniture experiments.

Which leaves…

Bucky rushes back to Hearth to make an eBay account.

❄❅❄

Steve comes by Bucky’s booth and slides a latte over to him.

“Made it by mistake,” he says, and settles in across from Bucky. “Whole instead of skim.”

Bucky looks at it. There’s a heart drawn in the foam. Then he looks at Steve, narrowing his eyes. “Thanks.”

“Whatcha doing?”

Bucky glances around. Hearth is reasonably busy, Natasha manning the counter with a kind of grace that only a ballet student could manage. Steve only talks to Bucky when he wants something, or when Bucky is ordering his coffee or cookies. They don’t do idle chatter. Steve Rogers, renowned number one “40 Under 40 Rising Star,” does not make small talk.

Steve’s interpersonal relationships include tenants, babysitters, customers, and employees. Given that Bucky is three out of four of those things, it occurs to him that he might be the closest Steve has to a friend.

“Nothing,” Bucky says, taking a sip of the latte. He feels guilty, like Steve caught him doing something wrong. Given the WWII books, Bucky guesses that Steve would look very far down his nose on what Bucky’s doing. “Where’s your spawn?”

“Angie took her to the airport to pick up Peggy.”

“That was fast.”

“There’s some more paperwork to go through. I…” Steve hesitates, picks at a lump of dried icing on the table. “I’ve decided to fight for full custody of Sarah.”

Bucky freezes, mid-sip, and lowers his cup. “Wow.”

Steve picks at the table more forcefully. “She doesn’t want to maintain a marriage while she’s out saving the world, fine. I can deal with that. But hell if I let her drag Sarah all over the damn planet. She can’t grow up in four-star hotels getting homeschooled whenever Peggy has a few hours to spare, you know? Peggy thinks she can do everything, thinks she knows what’s best for everyone, but I’m the only one convinced she can’t and she doesn’t.” His jaw clenches. He sits back in the booth, arms across his chest, and stares out the window toward the busy city street. Flurries fall but don’t stick to the autumn-warm pavement. “Sarah needs a home.”

Right there, that’s the reason that Bucky can never tell Steve to just screw off and leave him alone. And that’s kind of the reason Steve’s bakery is called Hearth. It looks like somebody’s living room circa 1940, hardwood floors and bare brick walls, smushy brown leather couches and arm chairs all over, soft yellow lighting from mismatched vintage lamps peppered around.

An old timey soda fountain sits next to the bakery display cabinets. You can sit at the counter and order phosphates and real malt milkshakes.

The menu hangs up on chalkboards, artfully decorated by Steve. There are so many weird things about the place that make it stand out: Steve opens the bakery at two a.m. on Sundays so you can work off your hangover before driving home; he has an Our Weekly Bread subscription program, artisan bread delivered to your door once a week for an annual fee; he sells his famous soup and stews on sale in frozen bulk quantities so you can just plop one in a crock pot and put it on low for a few hours.

Hearth was built to be a home for people who didn’t feel at home in theirs.

“That’s...yeah.” Bucky doesn’t really know what to say.

“Sorry,” Steve mutters, “I don’t mean to unload on you.”

Bucky stops himself from saying something crass and cheesy, like, You can unload on me any time you want, cowboy. Again, he reminds himself, they don’t have that kind of relationship.

Instead, he says, “I’m more than happy to learn about the enigmatic Steve Rogers. Did you know he’s been in Afar, the New York Times, Better Homes and Gardens, appeared on the Travel Channel three times, and he’s slated to be TIME Magazine’s person of the year?”

Steve snorts a derisive laugh. “Unless I missed a very important email, that last one isn’t true. And, c’mon, enigmatic? Look who’s talking.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You’re not bearded, tattooed, or pretentious enough to be a hipster. You walk around with a laptop that doesn’t have a case on it like some kind of nineties hacker. I hear power tools going off at all hours of the night. As far as I can tell, you subside entirely on coffee, cookies, and leftover Chinese food. And you’ve got a cybernetic ar—” He stops himself, pursing his lips shut.

Bucky waves his metal hand in front of his face and his eyes go wide. “Shit. Where’d this come from?”

Steve smiles in that crooked way that does not make Bucky’s stomach flip. “I’m glad you have a sense of humor about it.”

“Beats the alternative.”

Steve fidgets in his seat, pulls his glasses off his face and rubs them on the bottom of his—blue, two sizes two small, v-neck—t-shirt. “So I was wondering.”

Here we go. Bucky readies himself for a proposal of long-term babysitting duty.

“Would you like to come over for dinner tonight?”

Bucky’s heart literally stops. His mouth is a little open because he was getting ready to say, “As fun as babysitting your squishy, squishy lovechild is...”

When he doesn’t answer, Steve smiles the same smile he gives to customers and adds, “It’s fine. I get it. You’re busy with your...power tool hacking stuff or whatever.”

Bucky finally finds his words. “One, yes, obviously, Jesus.” He closes the eBay tab and turns his laptop around to show Steve the other tab he had open. “Two—” He points to it.

Oh man, Steve’s face. Bucky should take a fucking picture. His lips part and his eyes go all soft and he looks at the monitor the same way Bucky watches Little Bear.

He hadn’t been planning on showing this to Steve, but the more stuff he found, the more he wanted to tell Steve about, but he couldn’t find a proper opening to say, “Hey Steve, please check out my Pinterest board titled ‘Sarah’ with five hundred pins worth of pertinent baby information so I can better care for your daughter on the sporadic occasions you ask it of me.”

Because that would have been weird. This option is also pretty weird, but manageably so.

The silence goes on for longer than Bucky is comfortable with, so he spins the laptop back and says, “I might have a Pinterest addiction. And it may or may not have heavily aided in my decision to live above a hipster bakery.”

Steve scoffs. “I opened Hearth before hipsters were a thing.”

Bucky stops, stunned, jaw dropping. “Did you just say that? Did you just hipster hipsters?”

“Hipster is not a verb.”

Bucky ignores him. “That’s like...meta hipster. You’re the king of all hipsters. Nay, you are their god.”

Steve stands from the booth. “I don’t have to take this, you know. I’ve got a pot roast cooking upstairs for you.”

“Did you slaughter and eat animals before it was cool too? Did you invent fire?”

“I’m not that much older than you.” Steve pushes at his shoulder, smiling. “I’ll see you after I close up.”

Steve heads back to the kitchen and Bucky’s mind catches up to speed: heart in the (free) coffee, update on divorce news, pot roast already cooking. Steve had this whole fucking thing planned out.

Maybe he has his shit more together than Bucky thought.

❄❅❄

“How’d you know about the Afar article and Travel Channel thing?” Steve asks, reducing sauce in a cast iron pan.

Bucky sits on the counter, kicking his heels against the cupboards, watching Steve cook. “Somebody’s gotta write your Wikipedia article.”

Steve laughs. Bucky likes making him do that.

In truth, Bucky just has an insatiable need to research things. He never used to be like this. His intricate Evernote and Pinterest organizational systems are brimming with hoarded information that may never be applicable again. He just needs it.

He blames the cyborg arm, really. It made him part machine.

There are worse ways to handle his problems.

“I have another thing on Tuesday,” Steve says, making his way to the fridge. He opens it and pulls out what looks like parmesan. Bucky’s never bought a block of it like that, though. He always gets the kind in the green container that’s suspiciously never refrigerated.

“Oh yeah?” Bucky picks at the label on his beer bottle. He thought this not-date might be more awkward than it’s actually turning out to be. He’d been so nervous that he even dressed up a little, in his least-holey clothes—a gray t-shirt and a black moth-eaten cardigan that he shoved thumb-holes into to better hide his hand, washed-out jeans, and his tattered Chucks which are the only shoes he owns.

He and Sarah have that in common.

“Just a holiday thing for Food Network. Some show I’ve never heard of and a magazine article.” Steve says it so nonchalant, like being on cable TV and in magazines is a normal thing that people do. He takes the beer bottle out of Bucky’s hands and replaces it with the block of cheese and a grater. “Grate that, please.”

“I should ask the doctor to add a grater attachment to my robot arm.” Bucky twists awkwardly on the countertop so he’s grating onto a plate.

“If they can install a mixer for you, I’ll hire you at the bakery.”

“And wake up at three in the morning to make pastries for rich white people? Hell no.”

By the time dinner is done, Steve is slicing easily into a tender roast. His apartment has some kind of fancy speaker system, so soft jazz filters through the apartment. The place looks like Bucky’s, but nicer and fully renovated. Steve has marble countertops and a state-of-the-art stainless steel kitchen, matching furniture that all came in boxes instead of found on the side of the road. The glittering Brooklyn skyline paints the far wall in floor-to-ceiling windows. Bucky loves the view so much that sometimes he just sets his solitary brown folding chair in front of it and watches life pass him by.

The plates Steve is presently drizzling reduction sauce onto are some kind of fine china that he had to take down from the topmost cabinet.

The fact that Bucky is worth using Steve’s fine china does something to him, makes him think that maybe he’s worth other things too.

Steve gestures his head to a huge wall-mounted wine rack and asks, “Want to pick one out?”

“This might surprise you given my affluence and articulacy, but I don’t actually know much about wine.”

Steve glances at him—pretty blues, like Sarah’s, the kind you let yourself drown in and never look back—and sets the pan down, then pulls out a bottle from the rack, reads the label, and puts it back. He does this a half dozen times before he settles on one and hands it to Bucky to open. “Add a wine opener attachment to the list.”

“I’m not a swiss army knife,” Bucky says, fumbling in the utensil drawer for an opener.

“Yet,” Steve replies. He takes down wine glasses from the china cupboard and does that thing bartenders do, holding them up to the light to look for splotches.

In his apartment, Bucky drinks out of a single Phantom Menace themed glass that he found at Goodwill for a quarter. Qui-Gon Jinn’s lightsaber is slightly faded, but otherwise it’s mint. He can’t fathom having more than one glass, one bowl, and one set of utensils. He uses them, he washes them, he puts them away. It’s part of having his shit together—only taking exactly what he needs so he can handle it. He doesn’t let himself get overwhelmed.

Dinner is predictably and infuriatingly amazing. Bucky for the most part is involuntarily vegetarian because meat is expensive and fresh vegetables are cheap most of the year. He goes to the farmer’s market every Thursday. It makes him happy that he personally knows both his farmer (Bruce) and baker (Steve). He even knows the engineer who designed his arm (Tony). He likes affiliating himself with people who create. It reminds him that he can do more than destroy.

So, the great thing about kids is that they make great conversation topics on non-dates that would otherwise spiral you into a pit of horrendous anxiety.

They talk about Sarah. They don’t talk about Peggy. They talk about Hearth. They don’t talk about Iraq. They open another bottle of wine.

“Mmm,” Bucky says, swirling it around the way he sees people do in movies. He takes a sip and adds, “Can really taste the oxidation.”

Steve snorts into his glass.

Bucky expects dessert to be something super fancy and French that he can’t pronounce and would probably somehow eat wrong, so he’s thrilled when Steve sets a plain ol’ piece of pecan pie in front of him with a perfectly shaped scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.

Like dinner, it is also predictably and infuriatingly amazing.

Kind of like Steve.

Around a bite of pie, cheeks tinged pink from the warmth of the apartment and the booze, lips dyed a little redder than they would otherwise be, Steve asks, “Want to watch Alien?”

Bucky is so fucked.

❄❅❄

It’s one of those things. You don’t know how it happens, but one minute you’re on opposite sides of the couch, and the next you’re a little bit closer, and the next you’re nearly touching, but it’s never going to come to pass that you actually will touch unless one of you has the gall enough to make a move.

It’s one of these things too: like teen magazine “Does He Like You?” articles where all signs point to ABSOLUTELY YES but you sit there and go, “I don’t know,” and list out ten totally benign things that have nothing to do with anything, like, “He didn’t notice how extra tidy my manbun was today.”

Except with two dudes, it’s a little different, because there’s no blinking neon sign above Steve that reads I SWING BOTH WAYS, as much as Bucky wishes there were.

Bucky feels like he emanates “bi as fuck” pretty decently, at least to other folk of the vehemently queer persuasion, but a guy like Steve, in the public eye, married (technically) with a kid? One can’t really know until one makes a move on one’s couch, can one?

By the first facehugger sighting, their knees are touching, because Steve got up to refill his wine glass and sat down closer to Bucky than was strictly necessary.

Shortly after said facehugger bursts through John Hurt’s chest, Steve actually—because he’s a ninth grade boy on a date in 1952 apparently—puts his arm around Bucky.

Bucky cannot begin to inquire about the minds of straight men. Is this a friendly gesture? Just guys being dudes? Dudes being pals? Men tap each other’s asses all the time and nobody seems to think that’s gay even though it’s the gayest way they could possibly show affection aside from tonguing each other’s assholes.

Bucky settles into Steve’s embrace. His body is all hard lines but he’s actually warm and soft, and his perfectly sculpted pectoral muscle makes a fantastic pillow. Steve’s body is decidedly more comfortable than Bucky’s bed.

Even though Bucky has seen this movie approximately 1,754 times, this is the first time he’s seen it since he got his prosthetic, and the line, “Ash is a goddamn robot!” somehow manages to offend him a little. Ash is just doing what he’s programmed to do, dammit. He doesn’t know shit.

Bucky is so wrapped up in the evaluation of his solidarity toward a homicidal android and what that says about him that he doesn’t notice how Steve’s heart begins beating a little faster against his ear. So it takes him by complete surprise when Steve thumbs over Bucky’s chin, tilts it up, and kisses him.

It’s soft, at first. Just a press of lips on lips because Bucky’s just a little bit wine-buzzed and a lotta bit stunned. Steve pulls away a fraction of an inch in hesitation, probably waiting for Bucky’s thick head to get with the program.

Thankfully it does, and Bucky closes the gap between them again, kisses him a little harder. He can feel Steve sigh in relief against him, reach up and touch his hand against the side of Bucky’s neck. Bucky shifts to get a better angle while Steve runs his tongue against the seam of his lips. Bucky’s mouth parts and it’s only now that there’s some tongue action does he let himself believe Steve might be a little bit on the greater-than-Kinsey-two side of life.

And this is normally the part where Bucky’s mind would start to race—where to put my hands, is this good enough, is he enjoying it, how awkward is it gonna be when we’re not kissing and the lights are on again, is he only doing this because he’s drunk, am I only doing this because I’m drunk, ad nauseum—but Steve is so...honestly, kinda bossy, that for once Bucky just fucking goes with it.

This is how much he has his shit together: he can make out with the hottest guy he’s ever met in person, who just so happens to be one of the most successful pastry chefs alive, without freaking out about it.

The making out, against all odds, doesn’t escalate. It’s slow and sweet and rhythmic. Mindless. Blissful. Bucky could do this forever. Bucky wants to do this forever. Bucky’s new life goal is to do this forever.

Which is why he’s really surprised at himself that his flesh hand—the flesh one! traitor!—finds its way to Steve’s belt buckle. Even though it’s dark and Ripley is turning off the manual auto-destruct program of the Nostromo, Bucky can feel Steve’s little worry divot he gets between his eyebrows.

He takes Bucky’s hand and pulls it away, down his leg closer to his knee. They break apart and Steve whispers, “I’m still married.”

Bucky makes his own eyebrow-worry-divot. “You’ve been separated two years.”

“A vow is still a vow. Until the papers are signed at least.”

“But I thought Peggy was with Angie.”

That was definitely, really, absolutely the wrong thing to say.

But Steve’s made of tactful, stern stuff—he doesn’t even flinch, but if Bucky’s heart were attached to Steve’s, he’d probably feel it hurt—so all he says is, “I still don’t know that for sure.”

Bucky does, though. It’s just a feeling in his gut, and Bucky always goes with his gut. Like with the sewing machine. He doesn’t know why he needs it yet, but he knows he does.

Steve pulls Bucky close again, cuddling like they were before. Ripley makes it to the escape pod. They both fall asleep before she shoots the alien with a harpoon gun.

❄❅❄

“I see you’ve finally moved on.”

Wine headaches. Fuck. This is why Bucky hates wine.

He feels a big warm body shifting underneath him, the too-early light of day coming in the big loft windows. Groggy, mostly through the reverberation in his chest instead of waves in the air, he hears Steve say, “Peg? What’re you doing here?”

Sarah starts fussing, and Bucky sits up like a shot.

Maternal instinct, he considers it. He doesn’t have paternal instinct because he never had a father. Somewhere in the deep, dark pit of his brain, there are two sounds he moves toward before it occurs to him he’s doing it: gunfire and babies crying.

Peggy looms over them, hands on her hips, hair and makeup perfect and stylish as always, face a mask of stoicism that Bucky can’t read. He can never tell if she’s silently judging him, or amused by him, or her head is too dead-set on the big picture to even see a peon like him. She’s a larger-than-life kinda person, and as good as those are for keeping the world on track and not turning into a shit-terrible place, Bucky gets nervous around her.

“I came to drop off our daughter and found you sleeping with the babysitter. Out of all the things I thought you were, Steve, cliche has never been one of them.”

Bucky sighs. “I’m not the—”

But Sarah is still fussing, and this situation is about ten notches too awkward and tense for Bucky to handle, so he stands up, looks between them and says, “I’ll just…” before inching toward the carrier where Sarah is writhing against her straps sleepily attempting escape.

Peggy nods her assent. Steve says, “Thanks, Buck,” and Bucky makes it all the way to the nursery before he hears him tell Peggy, “How are you upset about this? You’re the one divorcing me.”

The nursery used to be half Steve’s art room and half Peggy’s office, from what Bucky can tell. An L-shaped black desk and ergonomic swivel chair are shoved aside, covered in dusty paint supplies and canvases.

Apparently Steve has some kind of fancy graduate painting degree and his art is in the Louvre or Smithsonian or some shit. Bucky wants to ask about it, but he’s passive and shy about his curiosity, especially in regards to Steve, so he makes a mental note to research it later.

Bucky takes Sarah out of her carrier. She’s wearing a little white onesie with tiny yellow duckies on it and a matching hat. Her left eye has a big residual tear-dollop in it but she seems perfectly happy now that Bucky is holding her, her pacifier making a quiet tck-tck sound while she sucks on it.

This fucking kid. Bucky is so gone.

He sets her on the changing table and changes her diaper, obnoxiously cooing at her in a way that he never would in public. The first time Steve left her with him (“Just, like, fifteen minutes, I promise,” he’d said, and ran off, leaving Bucky to wonder what kind of piss-poor father leaves his infant daughter with the scary-looking, gaunt-faced neighbor whose apartment was littered with power tools), Bucky had been scared that his cyborg arm might crush her, but he managed to take care of her one-handed (he’d gone a while without his new arm, it felt like going back to old habits), and then practiced with his physical therapist Clint by carrying, tossing, and squeeze-testing various objects: grapefruits to apples to tomatoes to water balloons.

Ah, yes, time for the ritual post-diaper raspberries. Bucky blows on her tummy until she scream-laughs like a dork, and that makes Bucky laugh, and then they’re in a ridiculous laugh-loop that always makes Bucky realize how little he laughs anymore. Becka could make him laugh until he fell into a coughing fit sometimes, she was such a funny kid. Charismatic as fuck. Charmed the daylights out of her doctors and nurses. She would have grown up to be a comedian or something.

When she died, she took all of Bucky’s laughter with her.

Bucky rolls out the floor mat with the little mobile over it and puts Sarah underneath it, then lies on the floor next to her, curled up on his side. He rattles a little stuffed banana until Sarah reaches out and grasps it.

Bucky can’t hear anything from the living room, but he’s not surprised. Steve and Peggy never raise their voices at one another. They talk to each other like they’re at a business meeting, all clipped and professional. Bucky wonders if they ever used to be relaxed together, or if the only thing they really had in common was that spark of greatness that make both of them exceptional people. He gets it, he really does—meeting someone who challenges you, makes you work toward the greatness you see in yourself, especially when you’re young. It makes you feel like you’re in love with someone when really you’re just in love with your own potential. Then you project that feeling onto someone else because you haven’t accepted it about yourself yet.

But then you grow up. And you do accept yourself. And the person who challenged you to be greater, who loved you for your potential, can no longer love you for your successes. So she falls in love with her young, peppy personal assistant instead who has an idol complex a mile wide, and Peggy mistakes being worshipped with being in love.

People grow apart. People change. People die. Relationships die. Bucky gets it. He just wishes Steve could understand too instead of blaming himself for not being good enough.

Peggy opens the door about fifteen minutes later. She kneels down beside them—even though it’s Saturday at ass-crack-of-dawn o’clock, she’s wearing what looks to be a very crisp, expensive suit—and picks up Sarah.

Bucky sits up, legs crossed, and watches while Peggy kisses her and says, “Be good for your father, darling. I’ll be back in a few days.” She hands Sarah back to Bucky and adds, “Thank you for helping Steve through this. He needs someone right now. I wish things were different.” She always talks like she’s writing corporate procedural manuals.

Bucky nods, because otherwise he’d say something passive-aggressive, because even if he’s a logical person and he knows they both have justified reasons for doing what they’re doing, Bucky’s loyalty lies with Steve. Neither of them is the bad guy here. Life just happens sometimes.

Peggy leaves the apartment, and when Bucky hears the door close behind her, he takes Sarah into the living room, where Steve is hunched over on the couch, face in his hands, shoulders shaking.

Watching grown men cry is never an easy thing, and Bucky is particularly uncomfortable with emotional expression, but he has his shit together, so he can handle this. He sits beside Steve on the couch, Sarah in his lap, who immediately reaches out to Steve and pulls at his thumb.

Steve looks at her and smiles even though his face is red and wet. Then he takes her and hugs her close to him, and Bucky puts an arm around him, and they all sit there together holding each other until things are okay again.

❄❅❄

Saturday is always Steve’s day off, and Bucky doesn’t want to seem too eager to go from neighbor-who-does-Steve-favors to whatever-the-hell-they-are-now, so he leaves Steve and Sarah to have their father-daughter bonding time and heads downstairs to Hearth to check eBay.

His item auctioned for a surprising two hundred dollars.

It’s a bittersweet feeling, but he needs that damn sewing machine. He figured out some Very Important Plans for it.

He’s only ten minutes into researching how to actually use a sewing machine when he hears an obnoxious beeping noise. It goes off twice before he realizes it’s his cell phone’s text message alert, which he never hears because nobody texts him.

LANDLORD STEVE: Unit 3C is has a leaky kitchen faucet. Help??

Below it is a fuzzy picture of an assortment of PVC pipe rings, with an ominous blob of baby finger at the corner, presumably grasping it in a fruitless attempt to acquire the phone and eat it.

Me: why dont u ask the maintenance guy?

LANDLORD STEVE: That’s literally what I’m doing.

Me: since when am i yr maintenance guy?

LANDLORD STEVE: Since something broke.

Me: howd u manage before?

LANDLORD STEVE: I don’t know Peggy did all that stuff until a few months ago. She made me submit work orders to her.

Me: so ask her???

LANDLORD STEVE: :-(

Me: omfg

Me: r u at home depo?

LANDLORD STEVE: Yes.

Me: brt

Which is how Bucky went from being Steve’s customer, to his tenant, to his babysitter, to his makeout partner, to his snuggle buddy, to his maintenance guy.

The goddamn circle of life.

❄❅❄

So it turns out kissing wasn’t a one-time thing. It’s a thing they do now. Kissing.

Steve kisses Bucky hello at the hardware store. He kisses him goodbye when Bucky goes to fix the plumbing in unit 3C. He kisses Bucky on Sunday when they pass each other in the hallway. He pads over to Bucky’s apartment at eight p.m. on Monday to kiss him goodnight.

(That time leads to a full-on makeout session in Bucky’s doorway, Bucky pressed against the doorjamb, Steve’s hard-on in his pajama pants rocking against the fly of Bucky’s jeans. Steve leaves him panting and wanting and then smiles all dark and sexy—lip between his teeth, fucking obscene is what it is—like a total fucking jackass when he heads back to his own apartment.)

If Bucky didn’t know better, he’d think Steve had a crush on him.

On Tuesday, Bucky’s alarm goes off at—fuck everything with a goddamn chainsaw—four in the morning. He rolls out of bed, takes a piss, brushes his teeth, and stumbles out of his apartment, not bothering to put on a shirt. He helps himself into Steve’s apartment. It’s dark, but the bathroom light is on, and he hears the buzz of an electric razor.

Bucky crashes on Steve’s couch and pretty much immediately falls back asleep.

Babysitting duty. He didn’t sign up for this shit.

He wakes up to a dip in the couch, big warm hand on his chest, lips at the jut of his jaw.

“You really know how to test a guy’s resolve,” Steve mutters against his throat.

Bucky’s hands move to Steve’s hair, and they’re kissing again, Steve fully dressed and on top of him, Bucky spreading his legs and sliding his thigh up to Steve’s hip on instinct.

It doesn’t matter that Bucky is half asleep, he’s rock-hard in his sweatpants, Steve shifting against him, hand gripping Bucky’s hip and digging into him like he can’t get close enough. Steve worries Bucky’s bottom lip until it hurts a little, lets go to bite and suck at Bucky’s throat.

Bucky holds back his sleep-laden moans of pleasure, but lets one loose as soon as Steve says, “Can’t keep my hands off you.”

“Not asking you to,” Bucky manages to reply, but only just, because Steve is at his mouth again, and all Bucky wants in the whole world is for Steve to touch him, to put his hand down Bucky’s pants and finish him off right there on the couch. He can feel crescent divots in his back from where Steve is clutching and clawing at him, and this might as well be a fucking dream for how turned on he is, how his mind is just blanking the fuck out for once.

Steve tears himself away and rests his forehead on Bucky’s chest, gulping steadying breaths.

Bucky runs his real hand through Steve’s hair and tries to calm himself down. Too far. Too fast. He gets it. He’s fine. Totally fine.

“Gotta go bake bread,” Steve says. Then he lifts his head and looks down Bucky’s body, face blatant with desire, and Bucky doesn’t think anyone’s ever looked at him like that before. It makes him feel the same way he did when Steve got down the nice china.

He kisses Bucky one more time, short but searing, and stands from the couch, adjusting himself.

“Text me if you need anything,” he says, taking his keys from the bowl by the door.

Bucky watches him hesitate, hand at the knob, before turning right back around and kissing Bucky one more time. Bucky smiles against his mouth, fisting the front of his shirt.

“I promise I’m leaving now,” Steve says.

“It’s the arm,” Bucky tells him. “Magnetic.”

Steve bumps into the coffee table as he walks backward toward the door, smiling like an idiot, and leaves.

An hour later, Bucky is dozing on the couch, only half-conscious of the daily smell of fresh-baked bread floating around the apartment.

❄❅❄

Bucky has far too much fun bundling Sarah up for their errands. By the time he’s done, she’s basically just a puffy ball of colors.

But it’s snowing pretty hard out and he doesn’t want her to get cold. He’s so worried that he even boots up his laptop and checks to make sure exactly how much bundling to do, finds his answer, and then pins the article just in case he forgets.

Before they leave, he takes Sarah back over to his apartment, where he pulls down a shoebox from his mostly-barren closet and puts it on the bed.

He’s always been mildly annoyed that the term “decorated veteran” is literal. He scoots around ribbons and medals until he finds a small black box. He sits Sarah on his lap and opens it for her, because it’s kind of his biggest accomplishment, and he wants to show somebody, even if she won’t remember.

He brushes his lips against her downy-soft head and says, “This is called a Purple Heart. They gave it to me because I got hurt saving some people.”

Sarah reaches out and grabs at the box. Bucky lets her feel it, and on the off-chance she ever wants to know if she’s touched a Purple Heart before, Bucky lifts up his phone and takes a selfie of them with it.

“I’ll show this to you when you’re older. Maybe you’ll think it’s cooler than I do. Maybe you’ll be a history nerd like your dad. And maybe you’ll be a great leader like your mom and have an innate appreciation for these kinds of things unlike me.”

Becka would call him a sentimental sap and/or drama queen. Becka would be right.

“Okay,” Bucky says, standing. “Time to go to the post office.”

❄❅❄

Bucky chats with the bank tellers for twenty minutes after he makes his withdrawal. He sets Sarah on the teller window and they all crowd around her and ask questions. Normally Bucky doesn’t make eye contact with people and keeps his hand in his pocket so it doesn’t scare anybody and he never smiles or says more than single-syllable responses at a time.

But Sarah brings out the best in him, he guesses. He used to be outgoing and friendly around Becka too. He knew who he was with her. Older brother. Protector. Advocate. Good. Smart. Funny. Worthy.

She was his entire foundation. He’d been an unbearable, hyperactive “behavioral problem” kid before she was born, then the second he held her little newborn body in his gangly six-year-old arms, everything fell into place. He had a sense of duty from then on out.

By the time they get to the thrift store, Bucky is convinced Sarah is magic, because the shop owner discounts the sewing machine to fifty dollars. Bucky carries it in its—faded teal blue, perfect condition—carrying case with one hand and pushes Sarah’s stroller with the other.

He drops the machine off at his place and feeds Sarah and changes her and puts her in an inside-warm amount of clothes, cooing things like, “Who’s a little diplomat? You are. That’s right. Gonna grow up and negotiate the crap outta stuff just like your ma.”

He completely forgets about the Food Network spot until he makes his way downstairs to Hearth through the kitchen entrance, Sarah on his hip.

Hearth is empty but for Steve on a stool in the middle of the room, tables and chairs all pushed to the side, bright lights in umbrellas around him, a mic clipped to his shirt. A beautiful young blonde woman sits in front of him, a clipboard on her lap, legs crossed in her tight beige pencil skirt. Two enormous cameras and cameramen stand on either side of her.

Bucky is backing up to head upstairs again when Sarah lets out a scream of excitement upon seeing her dad.

“Sorry,” Steve says, unclipping his mic, “excuse me just a minute.”

He jogs over to Bucky and Sarah, who leans forward in her rush to get to Steve, so he takes her and kisses her cheek and asks, “What’s up?”

“Nothing. I forgot you had your thing today,” Bucky says. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“It’s fine.” Steve glances back, then lowers his voice and leans in, whispering, “Can I kiss you?”

Bucky looks at the TV crew, who all pretend not to pay any attention to them but totally are. “Of course.”

Steve cups Bucky’s face in his free hand and kisses him in front of three total strangers, two cameras, and basically the entire world. Bucky isn’t sure what it means, but he can tell it’s important, so he gives it all he’s got.

Steve breaks away an inch, increasingly familiar heated gaze flicking down to Bucky’s lips. “Thanks.”

“Any time,” Bucky mutters. His knees might be jello.

Steve passes Sarah back to Bucky. She pulls on his hair, which is becoming so normal that he hardly notices anymore.

“I’ll be up in an hour. Is pizza okay for dinner?”

Bucky forces himself back toward the resident entrance before he does something stupid like kiss Steve again because his lips are the worst kind of addiction. “Is that even a question?”

❄❅❄

Once pizza has been eaten and baby has been thoroughly fed and bathed and played with and finally put to bed, Bucky uses his last bit of the day’s energy to clean up Steve’s apartment and do the dishes.

Steve watches him from the couch. “You don’t have to do that.”

“Who else is going to?” Bucky turns off the faucet and starts scrubbing the dishes in the vat of bubbles.

“I’d get to it when I have time.”

“I’ll be sure to pencil in dishes for you between baking the President’s inaugural cake and attending your gallery opening at the Met.”

Steve is a sneaky motherfucker. Without noticing, he manages to sidle up behind Bucky, hands trailing underneath Bucky’s shirt over his lower abdomen, skirting over his hip bones so that it gives him chills. He kisses behind Bucky’s ear and peppers his lips down his neck and grinds against his ass in such a filthy way that Bucky almost forgets he’s a pious, married, successful entrepreneur-baker-artist.

Whatever other snarky thing Bucky could think to say goes flying out of his head and he gasps, nearly dropping the plate in his soap-slick hands.

“You got a smart mouth, you know that, Barnes?” Steve murmurs between kisses.

Bucky tries his damnedest to keep his voice even, but he fails miserably. “So I’ve been told.”

Steve nibbles at the juncture of Bucky’s shoulder and neck, sucks his earlobe into his mouth, runs his hands up and down Bucky’s chest. And Bucky is completely fucking unraveling because he has zero self-control around Steve (who, in turn, seems to have maybe one or two self-control around Bucky). He could probably come just by rutting against the counter long enough.

But he won’t. Because that’s undignified.

“C’mon. We’ll do the dishes tomorrow. Come to bed with me,” Steve whispers in his ear.

It pains Bucky to say, “Where we’ll do what exactly?”

Steve continues grinding against him, his forehead against Bucky’s shoulder, hands clutching his hips. He makes a frustrated, defeated noise in his throat and takes a step back. “You’re right.”

And maybe Bucky is kind of a dick, because he dries his hands off, spins around and traps Steve against the other counter, his thigh between Steve’s, pressing against his erection. Steve gasps, and Bucky’s stomach does a victorious little flip. He kisses Steve, greedy, before pulling away and saying, “Just say when. I’ll wait.”

❄❅❄

Bucky lies awake in his own bed the next morning a solid four hours earlier than he usually wakes up, wondering how he went from decidedly not Steve Rogers’ friend to very-much-more-than-friends in the span of a totally random handful of days.

Maybe Bucky got hit by a bus and he’s in a coma.

Which would make a hell of a lot more sense than Steve Rogers liking him. At least beyond his mediocre babysitting and handyman services.

The longer Bucky lies in bed, the further he procrastinates. He told Steve before he left that he’d be busy today, and he just now realizes that he’s been basing his calendar entirely off of Steve and Peggy’s current custody schedule, which is appalling for two reasons: one, he didn’t know he even knew the custody schedule; and two, he is not a goddamn babysitter.

He might feel better about the term "nanny," so he makes a mental note to make a physical note in his to do list Evernote file to ask Steve if that would be okay.

He gets up to shower and calms his nerves by continually ticking off the things he is to Steve. Nanny. Handyman. Tenant. Neighbor. Customer. Maid. Makeout partner. Good. Helpful. Important. Special. Worthy.

It helps him ignore all those other things he is. Soldier. Invalid. Poor. Alone. Stupid. Weak. Broken. Useless. A burden. Nothing. No one. Should have died. Wanted to die. Want to die.

He opens his closet. Takes a deep breath. He owns five t-shirts, two sweaters, a flannel, two pair of jeans, five pairs of boxer shorts, five pairs of socks, one pair of shoes, one pair of sweatpants, one beanie, and one jacket. He’s got his dress uniform too, tucked in the back of the closet behind the other items. He put his shoebox back up from yesterday, which leaves…

His therapist taught him to recognize when he’s having an anxiety attack. His whole body is strung tight like a bow. His vision goes white at the edges. His breaths come out shallow.

But he has to do this. He just has to. For Sarah.

He has his shit together, after all. People who have their shit together can do simple things like this.

So he grits his teeth and takes down the tattered old box labeled Becka.

He doesn’t have a table, so he stacked some cement bricks he found outside and put a plank of wood across them, and set the sewing machine on top of it. He sets up his folding chair in front of his makeshift sewing table, sits down, and opens the box.

He doesn’t feel anything at first other than nostalgic familiarity, a blip of a memory about packing it six years ago. In another year, he’ll have lived more of his life without her than he did with her.

And that’s the thought that makes him hurt, so swift that he has to bite his lip to keep it from trembling as he picks up the first t-shirt. The Ramones. Faded black, soft jersey cotton, stretched at the collar. He sets it on his thigh. He blinks three times to get the saline out of his eyes. It falls to his cheeks, not quite droplets, just wetness.

The second t-shirt. Bikini Kill. Third. Nirvana. Fourth. Sleater-Kinney. Fifth. Green Day. Sixth. The Clash. Seventh. Dead Kennedys. Eighth. Misfits.

Twenty band t-shirts size small. Two Care Bear baby blankets. One teddy bear. One iPod Nano, third generation, broken. One diary he’ll never open and never part with.

He wipes the tears away with the flat of his hand, sniffling and taking a deep breath, and picks up the Misfits shirt with the fabric scissors he bought at the craft store for four dollars and nineteen cents. With his Purple Heart money he also purchased thread, batting, and three yards of plain black fabric. The total cost of his order came out to twenty-seven dollars and fifty-one cents.

He puts the t-shirt on the cardboard template he made, reminds himself he has his shit together even though he can barely see, and cuts into the fabric.

❄❅❄

Time passes. Bucky continues his regular routine, except now Steve brings him heart-foam lattes when he comes into Hearth in the morning and whatever is on special for lunch and offers so many desserts that eventually Bucky has to start saying no thank you, which...he never thought he’d be able to say no to free food. Especially world-renowned free food. He gives Bucky a credit card and tells him to buy what he needs to fix all the grounded outlets in the building. He knocks on Bucky’s door every night before bed to kiss him goodnight.

They watch old sci fi movies together sometimes and Steve falls asleep on Bucky more often than he doesn’t. Bucky takes care of Sarah and develops a mild obsession with Blue’s Clues.

It’s just so organized.

Bucky works on the blanket a little bit per day and tracks his progress on a yellow Mead legal pad with a black Pilot G2 pen, 0.7 millimeter tip.

Then comes a nightmare. Bucky wakes up with his hand over his mouth to stifle his own screaming so he won’t wake up Becka; so he won’t wake up Sarah. It takes him a few seconds to remember that Becka is dead and he’s in his own apartment and Sarah is with Peggy.

Bucky is shaking all over, sob-crying all so hard he can’t breathe, cold sweat coating his body. Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes. 32557038. 107th Infantry. Born March 10, 1990.

He doesn’t remember his nightmare. He doesn’t want to.

He looks at his clock. The red light glows 4:38. He forces himself to breathe in. Bread baking.

He gets out of bed, puts on a t-shirt and pants, and goes downstairs.

Some bluesy-sounding music is playing. A trumpet. Steve has his hands in a giant bowl, the sleeves of his shirt pushed up to his elbows, flour on his nose and a big smudge on his glasses. The kitchen—twenty-five by fifteen feet, florescent lighting, six stainless steel counters, four commercial-grade ovens, two commercial mixers, other things Bucky can’t name by sight and it bothers him—is five degrees warmer than the rest of the building, and Steve doesn’t notice Bucky until the door swings shut behind him.

Bucky’s hand trembles deep in the pocket of his sweatpants. His metal one hangs there limp but hidden in his other pocket because he doesn’t want to think about it right now. He still feels cold all over. Empty inside.

“Bucky?” Steve asks, and immediately stops what he’s doing, wipes his hands off on the towel he keeps over his shoulder. He rounds the counter and adds, “Are you okay?”

Bucky shakes his head. His therapist would be so proud.

He shouldn’t have come here. Bucky is Steve’s handyman, nanny, tenant, neighbor, customer, makeout partner—

Steve doesn’t seem to know that though because he wraps his arms around Bucky and Bucky has his face buried in Steve’s neck and is breathing in the warm yeast-and-flour smell of him and Steve is rubbing Bucky’s back like he does to Sarah but that’s impossible because Bucky doesn’t deserve that kind of love.

“It’s okay,” Steve says. “Whatever it is, it’s okay.”

He kisses Bucky’s head and holds him until things are okay again.

❄❅❄

An hour later, Bucky sits on one of the counters, swinging his feet and watching Steve work. Steve gave him a cup of coffee and it feels warm in one of Bucky’s hands.

The blues music is still playing and Steve works quickly and efficiently. Bucky watches as he pulls and rolls strands of dough, sets them up in parallel lines before folding them over each other in a braid, tucking the ends under. He sets them, one by one, on a big baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bucky didn’t know bread could be so pretty.

“What are they?” Bucky asks. It’s the first he’s spoken since he woke up.

“Challah,” Steve replies.

“Why so many?”

“It’s Friday,” Steve replies, like that explains it. He takes a layer of cellophane off another baking sheet and brushes the risen, braided loaves with egg wash. He pauses, hesitating before asking, “So...do you celebrate any holidays?”

“Not usually,” Bucky replies.

“Did you...used to?” Steve asks tentatively but casually.

“Christmas, when I was a kid.”

“Do you have any plans this year?”

“Nope.”

“No family?”

Bucky bites back his amused smile toward Steve’s failed attempt at beating around the bush. “Dad’s been MIA since day one. Mom moved to Arizona to start a new family with a guy she met on the internet. Haven’t heard from her since I shipped out. Sister’s dead.”

Steve jerks his head up, brush poised in hand. “Oh my god, I’m so sorry, Buck.”

Bucky shrugs with his real shoulder. He tells his coffee, “She was thirteen. Leukemia.”

“And you were…”

“Nineteen. And then Mom moved away. So I joined the army.”

“What was her name?”

Bucky smiles, wan. “Becka.” He hasn’t said her name out loud in a long, long time.

Steve finishes washing the loaves in silence until he sprinkles the sesame seeds on top. They fall tinny on the pan like rain.

“What about you?” Bucky asks. “Got big family plans?”

“This is the first year I don’t, actually. Peggy and I flipped a quarter. She got Christmas Eve, so she’s taking Sarah to her parents’ house for dinner.”

“And Christmas?”

Steve shrugs, grabs another handful of sesame seeds for the next loaf. “I got Christmas, so I’m not sure yet.”

“No family?”

“Not this year. My mom decided to retire and get her PhD in Irish history. She dragged my dad to Ireland where they’ve been living the past three years.”

Bucky was expecting some sob orphan story because everyone as deep and complex and interesting as Steve seems to have one, but the fact the answer is so simple and nice makes Bucky really happy that good things still happen sometimes.

“That’s...wow.”

“I get an email once a week or so from my dad begging me to put him out of his misery. He laments the great sacrifice of giving up his Mets season passes in every single one.” Steve puts the pans in the oven and turns on a timer clipped to the strap of his apron. He dips his arm in a big bucket of flour and dusts the counter with it.

“So I was wondering,” he begins, and Bucky cracks a smile.

“Mhmmmm?”

“Would you want to have dinner with me on Christmas Eve? And maybe spend Christmas together too?”

Bucky’s smile grows wider. “Thought you’d never ask.”

❄❅❄

Bucky’s sleep schedule starts conforming to Steve’s after a while—a guy can only fall asleep on you so many times before you start to feel guilty for waking him up just to cross the hall. So Bucky falls asleep early and wakes up early and maybe sometimes makes his way down to Hearth to talk to Steve while he bakes and listens to blues.

And maybe Bucky starts asking questions because he can’t stand not knowing things—

“Tell me about bread,” he says after a nightmare one morning, ritual cup of coffee in his shaking hand.

Steve glances at him from his rolling pin and, somehow, understands exactly what Bucky needs.

“Bread has four primary ingredients: flour, yeast, salt, and water. Because of its simplicity, bread can be prepared in hundreds of different ways depending on the leavening, the type of fat, and the means of baking. The basic steps to bread-making are measuring and mixing the ingredients, proofing or primary fermentation, shaping, resting, final shaping, resting again, scoring, and baking. Bread comes in differentiations of four basic shapes: baguette, boule, bâtard, and pan loaf—”

—to the point where Bucky starts helping him out here and there.

Steve stands behind him, his chin hooked over Bucky’s shoulder, teaching him how to shape a boule of brioche. His hands guide Bucky’s, stretching the top of the dough and curling it under while spinning it around slowly in their grip.

The top of it cracks and separates, but Steve smooths it out again with his thumb.

“Gotta move with the dough. Can’t force it,” he says, quiet against Bucky’s neck. The sad trumpet music plays in the background again. The snow outside in the dark of early morning stifles all other noise.

Bucky wonders if this is what being in love feels like.

❄❅❄

Natasha approaches Bucky’s table so swiftly and quietly that he startles when he notices her looming over him.

She puts a ten-dollar bill on the table and says, “Steve wants you to get a roll of dimes from the gas station next to the library.”

He glances at the bill. “Dimes come in five-dollar increments. And the nearest gas station is the one next to Starbucks.”

She stares at him, all stony blank expression and perfect posture. Jesus she’s terrifying. Steve has a thing about surrounding himself by intimidating women. “Steve says to buy yourself something. And he specifically said the gas station by the library.” Then she walks away.

“Okaaay,” he says to her back.

He goes to the gas station and waits in line behind two people, looks around idly at the candy selection, the impulse buys on the counter, the magazine rack—

Goddammit.

Steve fucking Rogers’ beautiful fucking face is staring at him from the cover of Food Network Magazine, smiling while he leans against the front window of Hearth.

Bucky grabs it up. The headline reads, “Steve Rogers: an inside look at the man behind Brooklyn’s hottest bakery.”

Before he can open it, he’s next in line, so he puts the bill on the counter and mumbles, “Roll of dimes please.”

The guy behind the counter eyes the magazine and asks, “You buying that too?”

“Yeah,” Bucky says, and the guy hands him a roll of dimes and three pennies as change.

He pockets them and steps aside to read the article.

Steve Rogers is more than your average hometown baker. He’s revolutionizing the way we look at bread.

“I was really sick as a kid,” Rogers explains during my tour of Hearth, a small bakery making big waves right in the heart of Brooklyn. “In and out of the hospital all the time. Both my parents worked, so my grandma took care of me. She made bread every morning when she woke up the way most people make coffee. Said it was her daily prayer.”

Bucky continues devouring the article and nearly blacks out when he reads:

Rogers does more than redefine bread—he’s redefining family.

Our interview gets a welcome interruption in the form of Rogers’ infant daughter, held by a young man with a prosthetic limb, a recently returned veteran, Rogers later explains. They speak for a moment in private before parting with a kiss.

I take a chance and ask if Rogers and the young man are together, and he replies with nothing short of the giddiness of a boy in love, “Not officially. Maybe by the time the article gets published.”

Bucky runs back to Hearth, through the resident entrance, into the kitchen where Steve is baking the afternoon menu. Bucky slams the magazine down on the table and explodes up a cloud of flour.

Steve doesn’t look surprised; he’s just grinning stupidly. Who in their right fucking mind would make his way into a major magazine, manipulate the interview to kiss Bucky in front of the interviewer, wait until the article gets published, find out exactly where it’s sold so Bucky will see it, and engineer a situation so Bucky does see it, just to ask Bucky out?

“Steve Rogers,” Bucky says, stepping in his space and grabbing the top of Steve’s apron, “you are a fucking mess.” Then he crushes their lips together and Steve tastes like he’s been sneaking his own Christmas candy samples and Bucky is so fucking in love he thinks he might die.

Steve smiles against his lips, pulls away an inch, and says, “But the question is, am I your mess.”

“Of course you are, you moron.” Then Bucky keeps kissing him, because he never wants to stop.

Nanny. Handyman. Tenant. Neighbor. Customer. Boyfriend. Good. Important. Special. Loved.

❄❅❄

Steve bakes a ham on Christmas Eve and they watch Die Hard and drink eggnog and get a little drunk and kiss all the way from “Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker,” to the untimely demise of Hans Gruber and the Nakatomi Plaza.

Peggy drops off Sarah at ten p.m., asleep in her carrier, and the moment is tense, but Peggy wishes them both a merry Christmas and that’s that. Bucky and Steve put her to bed and Bucky follows Steve to his bedroom and they kiss some more until they fall asleep.

For people who celebrate Christmas, waking up on Christmas morning is always its own special feeling. It’s not real excitement after a certain age, but the shadow of excitement, because you remember how it used to be. And it’s bittersweet, too, because you know that excitement still lives in other people even if it died in you a long time ago.

Sarah isn’t crying, but she’s making those little high-pitched noises that signal she’s about to start crying if Bucky doesn’t do something about it first. He looks at the clock by Steve’s bed and it’s almost seven in the morning, which is the latest Bucky has slept in weeks.

Steve stirs when Bucky does, shifts in Bucky’s embrace and mumbles, “Merry Christmas, Buck.”

“You too,” Bucky replies. “I’ll take care of Princess Squishums if you get started on breakfast?”

Steve buries his face in Bucky’s neck and pulls them closer together. “Sure, in a sec.” They kind of slowly move against each other in a way that feels good and satisfies the back of his mind because the front of his mind is too sleepy, hands running down Steve’s back, kissing any part of his skin Bucky can reach.

They eventually disentangle before it escalates. Bucky finds Sarah making little baby noises, standing up in her crib and holding onto the bars. Her little tufts of hair stick up in the exact same way Steve’s does in the morning.

Bucky gives her the banana rattle and she plays with it while he changes her, and she giggles when he blows raspberries on her tummy, and when he picks her up again, Steve is waiting in the doorway with two cups of coffee and a stupid-happy smile on his face.

For breakfast, Steve chops up the leftover ham and puts it in some omelettes with bell peppers and cheese, along with hashbrowns and bacon and everything good in the world. Bucky feeds Sarah oatmeal and she’s resentful about it, just like Bucky would be if he had to eat flavorless mush instead of bacon.

Normally, Bucky hates Christmas with the fiery passion of a thousand suns, because Becka used to love Christmas even though Bucky had been an apathetic, holier-than-thou jerk about it, and now Becka couldn’t love anything anymore. So in recent years, Bucky spent the holiday watching the twenty-four-hour marathon of A Christmas Story while getting shitfaced on gas station bourbon.

The panic and emptiness doesn’t settle over him this year, though, maybe because this is Steve’s first year living what Bucky has always called a Lost Christmas, any Christmas that feels more like a gaping wound than a holiday. The first Christmas after Becka died, Bucky was completely alone, because his mother had gone to Arizona for the winter for her first visit with her then-boyfriend. The point is, Bucky has had a lot of Lost Christmases, and he doesn’t want Steve’s first one to be a bad one.

So Bucky keeps his shit together.

Admittedly, watching Sarah alternate between putting her mouth on packages and scrabbling at them with her chubby little hands is incredibly entertaining. She wiggles around in her bouncy chair while Bucky and Steve sit cross-legged on the floor on either side of her, surrounded by mountains of presents. They take turns ripping the wrapping paper open a little more, and a little more, and make a big deal of it when they finally reveal a toy or clothes or other things she can’t be excited about yet.

Steve opens the presents from his parents while Bucky records it on Steve’s phone. They send him a Mets hoodie, the Food Network Magazine article professionally framed, a package of socks, and a card that plays a midi-tone rendition of “Silent Night.”

Once Bucky turns off the video recording, Steve says, “Your turn,” and gets up to pull out another pile of wrapped presents from underneath the tree.

“You got me stuff?” Bucky asks.

Steve hands him the first box. “Of course not. Why would I shower my new boyfriend I totally adore and who takes care of my daughter and fixes all the broken shit in my old-ass building with gifts on Christmas?”

“Your sarcasm is entirely unnecessary,” Bucky says as he rips open the gold-and-white striped package. He wonders when Steve had time to do all this, then he glares at Steve when he sees what’s inside and says, “You’re an asshole.”

Steve cackle-laughs because he thinks he’s so fucking funny.

But joke’s on him, because Bucky tears apart the box, takes out the swiss army knife, flicks it open to test the balance of it, and then starts expertly flipping it between his fingers.

“Holy crap,” Steve says. “Where’d you learn that?”

“Iraq,” Bucky replies, and it’s the first time he’s brought it up.

“Okay, okay, before you hurt somebody, jeez.” Steve pushes the next package at him and Bucky takes it, unwraps it carefully because nobody ever gets him anything and he wants to savor it.

“You can return it,” Steve says, nervous, before Bucky finishes unwrapping. “It’s more of a practicality than anything. Consider it a professional—”

“Whoa,” Bucky interrupts. “You got me an iPhone?”

Steve, relieved, replies, “And if you want to cancel your cell plan, you can go on mine. Since you’re doing the maintenance and stuff and won’t let me pay you for it, I figure it’s the least I could do.”

“That’s...quite a commitment,” Bucky tells him, stifling a smile. “It involves a contract and everything.”

Steve shrugs. “Never been afraid of commitment, surprisingly enough. But it’s up to you.”

“No, yeah, that’d be awesome actually.” He could check Pinterest from anywhere. He’d be an idiot not to accept it.

Steve hands him the next package. Bucky unwraps it to find a Macbook Pro.

“So you look like a millennial hacker,” Steve explains.

“This is insane. I can’t accept this,” says his mouth, but his brain is saying, PINTEREST ON RETINAL DISPLAY. A FUNCTIONAL TRACKPAD. A BACKSPACE KEY THAT BACKSPACES ONE HUNDRED PERCENT OF THE TIME.

“Yes you can.”

Bucky glares at him. “Alright, but that better be it.”

“Nope.” Steve gets up to pull a flat package out from behind the tree. Bucky can’t read his poker face this time, and he can’t figure out what this could possibly be that’s more important than a Macbook.

Bucky rips it open and—Jesus fuck—his eyes are watering up in a response he has exactly zero control over before he even tears the paper away.

Becka stares back at him from the framed canvas, painted from her sixth grade picture as a reference, streaks of color all over in Steve’s unique painting style for which he’s famous.

Bucky can’t speak because if he does he’s just going to sob, so Steve says, “I saw her picture in your wallet. And then I did some research, went to her school, told them the story and they gave me a copy of it. I hope it’s—”

But Bucky interrupts him by surging forward and kissing him, nearly knocking him over, messy with tears. Steve kisses him back and it’s desperate and needy and filled with all the words that Bucky could never find to say. Then Bucky pulls away and stands up and runs out of the apartment to go into his. When he comes back, package in hand, Steve is still sitting among the discarded wrapping paper looking confused and worried.

Bucky sits back down and hands him the box, chin still trembling. He got the box from Bruce at the farmer’s market, and took the Sunday funny pages from a guy who left them at his booth at Hearth. He looked up YouTube videos on how to properly wrap presents, and he wrote TO THE ROGERSES on top of it.

Steve and Sarah open the package, and Steve lifts the top of the box. He takes the quilt out with care and curiosity, unfolds it and lets Sarah grab at it while he pieces the puzzle together.

Four squares wide by five squares long, about the size of a twin bed so Sarah can grow into it, put together with the Care Bear blanket between the sections. Despite Bucky’s reservations and all the mismatched colors, it came out beautiful. It’s his new biggest accomplishment, which actually isn’t all that difficult considering his last biggest accomplishment was jumping on a bomb.

“She collected band t-shirts,” Bucky manages, swallowing down the lump in his throat. “Started listening to punk rock when she was ten. Sarah should probably start earlier though. She has a lot of catching up to do.”

“Bucky…” Steve says, awed. “This is…” He clears his throat. They’re both a mess.

Bucky takes out his phone, which is a dinosaur in comparison to his new iPhone, and shows Steve a picture of the full blanket since they’re sitting on the floor and can’t see the whole thing.

Steve looks at it and—absently or intentionally, who knows—flips to the previous picture, which happens to be of his daughter and his boyfriend and a recently sold Purple Heart.

“When did you take this?” he asks.

Bucky takes the washcloth hanging on the back of the bouncy chair and wipes at some drool on Sarah’s mouth, who is being politely oblivious to all the unbearable emotional tension in the room. “Before I sold my Purple Heart. I thought she might think it was cool someday.”

“You what?”

Bucky looks at him, confused. “What?”

“Why did you sell your Purple Heart?”

“So I could buy a sewing machine.”

Steve blinks at him, stunned. “Let me make sure I understand this,” he begins. “You sold your Purple Heart to buy a sewing machine so you could make a blanket out of your deceased little sister’s clothes to give to my daughter for Christmas?”

“Well...yeah,” Bucky says, straightening the little red and green bow on Sarah’s head to avoid looking at Steve.

“I’m in love with you.”

Bucky doesn’t have time to reply before Steve is kissing him—sometimes it feels like they’re kissing more often than they aren’t, and maybe they should work on learning how to use their words, but personally, Bucky prefers this use of his mouth over virtually any other.

They probably also shouldn’t be hardcore making out in front of a child but emotions are running pretty high right now to be honest, and sometimes these things just have to happen.

Steve breaks away and adds, “And please tell me you feel the same way because—”

“Yes, of course I do,” Bucky says, not letting go of where his hands are on the sides of Steve’s neck.

Steve takes a steadying breath. “Jesus. We’ve got to get our shit together.”

“Excuse you,” Bucky replies, and can’t be bothered to wipe away the tears on his stupid face, “I have my shit together just fine, thanks.”

❄❅❄

They drop Sarah back off at Peggy’s later that night. Bucky squeezes his hand when they see Angie with her, a glass of wine in hand, looking far too personal for a personal assistant. Bucky and Angie give each other a silent glance of solidarity at being the innocent Other People in a divorce, and they all make overly polite Christmas-themed small talk for less than a minute before Steve drags Bucky out of there.

“I have one more present for you,” Steve says as they enter Hearth instead of going upstairs. They wind their way around the kitchen to the back office, where Steve flips on a light, opens a file cabinet, and pulls out a manilla folder.

He sets it on his desk, open, so Bucky can see it.

“I have no idea what I’m looking at,” Bucky admits. It looks like a bunch of legal jargon with Peggy and Steve’s signatures at the bottom.

“The divorce is settled,” Steve says. “We came to an agreement on custody.”

Bucky doesn’t want to read thirty pages of legalese. “Which is…?”

“Peggy gets Sarah on weekends only when she’s in the states, and can take her wherever over the summer, starting the first of the year.”

“I can’t believe Peggy agreed to that.”

“Her main concern was that I couldn’t handle raising Sarah alone.”

Bucky scoffs. “Of course you could. You’ve been doing a great job so far.”

Steve smiles at him, amused. “You’re missing the point. I think you were a major determining factor for her.”

“Me? I’m just the babysitter.”

“Wow. You’re ridiculous.” He kisses Bucky—magnets, their lips are magnets, it’s the only explanation—and adds, “You’re also missing the biggest point of all.”

Bucky looks down at the stack of papers, lost.

“Divorce is settled,” Steve explains. “Vow broken.”

“Are you telling me you signed this,” Bucky checks, “two days ago? And we still haven’t had sex?”

Steve takes him by the hand and pulls him back upstairs.

They make it to the first landing of the stairwell before Steve pushes Bucky against the wall, hands sliding up his shirt and thumbing over his nipples, biting at his lips. He lifts the back of Bucky’s thighs until his legs are wrapped around Steve’s waist—all the dough-kneading does a body good—grinding together until Bucky lets out a moan while Steve bites and sucks at his neck.

“Two fucking years for this,” Steve mutters. “Christ.”

Bucky has trouble forming words, but gets out, “You only asked me out like a month ago.”

“Not exactly approachable. Always had to think up excuses to talk to you.”

“Blow me,” Bucky says, and Steve lifts him bodily off the wall to carry him up the remaining stairs.

“Okay.”

They crash into the apartment and Steve kicks the door closed behind him, wades through all the wrapping paper that nobody bothered cleaning up, and makes it to the bedroom, where he tosses Bucky on the bed and slides between his legs.

“Clothes,” Steve says, and Bucky realizes he’s still in his leather jacket and Steve is in his eight-million-dollar peacoat with his ridiculous (hot) hipster scarf, and that’s just way too many layers.

They scramble to get naked with no finesse at all—because how often does it happen that people make shit Facebook official before sex anymore? Never, at least for Bucky, not that he has the most stellar track record of relationships and/or sex partners.

They pause when they’re finally fully disrobed, and Steve has this look on his beet-red face, so Bucky asks, “What?”

“It’s probably important to mention that Peggy and I were highschool sweethearts.”

“So?”

“So I’ve never done anything with anyone else.”

“So?”

“Okay good,” and Steve tackles him back to the bed and they resume where they left off.

Steve’s body is enormous above him, rock-solid like the fucking Adonis he is and doesn’t see in himself. Bucky keeps his metal arm twisted in the sheets because it still kind of freaks him out, reaches down with his other and grips Steve’s ass, which is something he’s wanted to do since they first met. They move together, cocks lined up, sliding against one another in a way that feels natural and normal and good, but also exciting and mind-blowing and new.

“I want to do everything,” Steve says, kissing up and down Bucky’s neck, voice fucked-out in a way that Bucky has only ever imagined it. “I don’t know where to start.”

“This is good,” Bucky bites out, because he’s been waiting for this so damn long he’s not going to last anyway, so they might as well get the first one over with so they can move on faster to the second, third, fourth…

Steve takes them both in hand—dexterous, gentle, firm, baker’s hands—and fucks them both in his fist, slick and hard and so good that Bucky strains for breath.

He pulls Steve’s hair. Steve bites and sucks at his neck and collarbone so voraciously that there will probably be marks tomorrow, but the only person whose opinion Bucky cares about is the one making said marks.

“Fuck,” Steve grits out, and he curses so seldom (never), that alone shoves Bucky close to the brink. “I’m—”

“Yeah,” Bucky exhales, body going tense all over, pressure building, breath heaving, rocking his hips into Steve’s fist in a steady, shallow rhythm.

Steve twists his wrist a little and that’s all she wrote. He comes with a choked sound, hot wetness slicking his fist and toppling Bucky over the edge. Bucky lets out a sharp inhale and comes all over his stomach, body shuddering, meeting Steve’s lips out of sheer need.

Steve works them through it until all the little waves subside. Bucky rolls them over so they’re on their sides and still kissing, limbs tangled, bodies pressed together.

When they’ve settled, Steve gets a tissue and cleans them up, pulls the covers over them, and slides back into Bucky’s arms.

Muffled in his chest, he asks, sleepy, “Gotta bake the bread soon.”

“Mhm,” Bucky replies, already drifting off.

“Gotta pick up Sarah after close.”

“Mhm.”

“Gotta clean up the apartment.”

“Mhm.”

“Wanna help?”

“Mhm.”

“Good,” Steve says, and sets his alarm for four in the morning.