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Life is better with kittens

Chapter Text

Kittens.

There are kittens.

There are kittens everywhere.

This is awesome!

Bucky and Steve are at the animal shelter to pick a kitten, a kitten that will be theirs forever. A nice fluffy kitten.

Bucky’s therapist has recommended it for him as a way to continue to make progress on touch. Right now he can touch Steve and Becca, and that’s about it. Everyone else makes him jump three feet in the air if they come within a foot of him.

But kittens, he can touch kittens. He has talked to his therapist several times about the day the animal shelter brought kittens to the hospital. It was before he knew Steve well enough to be able to touch him. But Steve had been the one that encouraged him to enter the pen with the kittens.

Bucky was a bit scared of those kittens, but he really wanted to touch one. He had seen one that was sleeping and decided it was docile enough to try touching. When he did, it was the softest and fluffiest thing he thinks he had ever touched in his life.

When Bucky’s therapist had first recommended getting a cat, he thought it was a great idea, but he was scared to ask Steve. But Steve, as it turned out, loved the idea. He also remembers the kittens as a warm highlight to their time in the hospital.

They had done their research to make sure they would make good cat owners. They knew that they needed at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, they shouldn’t be declawed, and there were a list of reasons not to let them roam free outside.

They also found an in depth blog about cat food, and how most cheap cat foods are made with components like grains that the cats can’t digest. The blog recommended feeding cats raw wet food, whole mice, bones to chew on, or even make your own food from ground up organ meat. They had gone to a local specialty pet store and bought some freeze-dried raw food and several toys for the cat they didn’t even have yet.

Now they are at the animal shelter surrounded by kittens.

How does one choose a kitten? There are too many and they’re all so cute.

Steve dives right in and starts playing with all the kittens. Bucky hangs back a bit, surveying the scene before he joins him. Steve has found a toy that an orange kitten has attached itself to. They are playing a game of tug-a-war.

Bucky sits down next to Steve. “How do we pick one,” Bucky whispers in his ear. Bucky can speak a lot more now than he used to, but he is still nervous about talking in front of strangers. He often opts to whisper to Steve or to use sign language.

“I don’t know, Buck,” he replies. “Just roam around until you find one you like.”

Bucky gets up and surveys the room. Just like the first time he was in a room full of kittens, he searches for one that is docile and sleeping. He finds one curled up in a cat bed. He goes over to pet it.

He tries to think of the kitten as something like a stuffed animal, something that would not, could not reach out a hurt him. But the kitten was alive and had a mind of its own. The cat wakes up as Bucky’s pets it and starts to move.

The kitten is black with white paws and chest. The kitten stretches and exposes its white underbelly. It seems to be calling to Bucky, and he wants to touch it. But he is still a bit wary of its claws. He could Steve out the corner of his eye, who was playing the part of a cat tree as active kittens climbed all over him. Though he tried not to show it, Steve would wince every now and then when a particularly sharp claw dug into him. Bucky wanted to avoid being ensnared in the little black kitten’s grasp if he could.

But the cat’s belly looked so soft, he had to give it a try. He inched his hand closer to the kitten, bit by bit. Finally, he reaches the soft belly of the cat. The kitten, still adorably sleepy, gave one more small stretch and then let Bucky keep stroking him. Bucky closed his eyes for a moment and just soaked it in.

Suddenly, the cat had had enough and decides to get up. It crawls over Bucky’s lap and rubs all over him. Bucky lifts his hands in the air, not knowing quite what to do with this, but lets the cat do what it wants. Soon it leaves his lap and pounces on a nearby toy, a little ball with a bell inside. The kitten bats it around and chases after it.

“Found one you like?” Steve asks him as he comes over with the orange cat in his arms.

“I don’t know,” he replies. “It’s adorable.” Steve puts down the orange kitten and it immediately starts playing with the black and white one.

Soon the woman working at the shelter comes over to them. “You finding any you like?”

“Yeah,” Steve replies. He points to the two playing kittens. “These two have caught our eye.”

“Good choice. They are two of my favorite. They’re brothers too.”

Bucky perks up at this and gives Steve a look.

“I know what you’re thinking Bucky, and no.” Steve tells him.

Bucky starts signing to Steve. “But we can’t separate them,”

“We came here to get one cat, not two,” Steve tells him.

Bucky gives him a puppy dog look that he knows works well on Steve. “Please,” he says.

Steve looks over at the two cats. They’re still roughhousing and being absolutely adorable. “I suppose it would be mean to separate them,” Steve finally says. Bucky grins at him. He knew he could crack Steve. He loves cats and would probably take home all of them if he could.

“Great,” the shelter employee says. “I can start drafting up some paperwork.”

“Wait,” Steve says, “What are their names?”

“This litter was named after musicians whose name starts with an E. The orange one is Elton and the black and white one is Elvis.”

Bucky frowns. Those are terrible names, and a horrible naming scheme. “We’ll have to change that,” he signs.

Steve signs back. “It’s not so bad. Elvis is a cute name.”

Bucky glares at him. “Really?” he says. “It’s terrible.”

“Fine,” Steve says. He turns to the woman and smiles. She didn’t and “We’re going to take them both.”

Bucky grins and looks over to the kittens. They have stops playing and the orange one has wandered off. He goes over to the black one “Elvis” and braves picking it up. He settles in Bucky’s arms and purrs. Bucky can’t believe this cat will be his for life. He’s so excited. This is going to be great.

Chapter Text

On the walk home, the cats are not very happy. They're each in their own crate, and they are meowing the most pathetic noises. Bucky is looking at every person they past, certain that they think them cat abusers.

“Walk faster,” Bucky tells Steve.

“I’m going as fast as I can. What’s your rush?”

Bucky doesn’t want to admit to being paranoid, so he says nothing.

“Let’s think of something to name them to pass the time,” Steve suggests. “Do you have any ideas?”

“Fluffy?” Bucky supplies.

“That’s worse than Elton,” Steve says sounded disgusted. “We got to think of something original.”

“Do they need names?” Bucky asks.

“What are we supposed to do when we call them. ‘Here kitty?’”

“Sure,” Bucky answers. He knows they need names, but he’s no good at picking them.

“Well my cat’s getting a name,” Steve announces.

“Your cat?” Bucky asks.

“Well they’re our cats, but I picked out this one,” Steve gestures to the crate with the orange cat inside, “And you picked out that one. I don’t know, I kind of figured we’d be closer to the ones we picked. So this is my cat, and that ones yours. Is that alright?”

Bucky doesn’t care, Steve can think about it however he likes. “Sure,” he tells Steve.

“So back to the names,” Steve says getting back to business. “Mine looks like a tiger.”

“Not really,” Bucky says.

“What do you mean? He’s got orange stripes,” Steve protests.

“But not black ones,” Bucky counters.

“Whatever,” Steve ignores him. “I think he looks like a tiger. So he should be named after a tiger. Got any ideas of fictional tigers we could name him after?”

“Tigger, from Winnie the Pooh,” Bucky suggests.

“Nah,” Steve disagrees. “That’s too on the nose.” He thinks about it for a while, searching his brain. “Ooh,” he finally says, “How about Hobbes from the cartoon strip Calvin and Hobbes. Do you remember those? I loved them as a kid.”

“I liked them,” Bucky says. He more than liked them. He would go straight for the funny pages in the newspaper specifically to read them.

“That’s it then,” Steve says. He holds up the crate containing his cat. “I declare this cat is named Hobbes.”

Bucky laughs at Steve’s absurd behavior. Steve can be quite strange, but Bucky loves it.

“We still need a name for your cat,” Steve says.

“I don’t care,” Bucky tells him.

“We could make them a pair and call him Calvin.”

Calvin and Hobbes. He supposes it works. “Sure, why not.”

They finally get home and let the kittens out of their crates. The two kittens immediately bound out of their crates and into their new environment. They spread out and explore every corner. Hobbes seems to be the braver of the two, jumping up on every surface and sniffing everything, while Calvin stays close to the floor and makes a circuit of the living room.

As soon as Hobbes has sufficiently explored the room, he starts rubbing up against Bucky. “Should we feed them?” Bucky asks Steve.

“Sure,” Steve replies. He goes to get the food from the kitchen. As soon as Steve lifts up the food bowl, both cats come running. “I think they like food,” he says.

“Good,” Bucky signs. “Food motivated cats will do what you want as long as you have treats.”

Later, after the cats have had their fill of treats, they find the soft comfy bed and promptly fall asleep.

“They’re adorable,” Bucky says.

“Yeah,” Steve agrees. “This was a great idea, Buck.” He puts his arm around Bucky as they stare at the sleeping cats. Bucky melts into the touch. Steve is every bit as adorable as the cats.

 


 

 

“How do we go to bed?” Bucky asks later that night. The cats haven’t moved from the bed. They are still sleeping, and somehow they look even more adorable than they did before.

“We kick them off,” Steve answers.

Bucky looks appalled. “We can’t do that,” he says. He turns to Steve and gives him a pleading look.

“You want to snuggle with the cats, don’t you?” Steve asks him. Bucky only gives him a smile as an answer. “Fine,” Steve says somewhat exasperated. “But there’s one problem. There is no more room on the bed.” The kittens have chosen the exact center of the bed to sleep on. They can’t get two people into the full sized bed without jostling the cats.

“We get in very carefully,” Bucky suggests. Bucky demonstrates by getting into the bed first. He steps over Calvin to get into the upper center of the bed. He then puts his legs under the covers and slowly slides them down into the space between Calvin and Hobbes. “See,” he says. The cats haven’t moved more than a few inches of readjusting.

“Now where am I supposed to sleep,” Steve asks. There’s not much more room on the bed. Bucky points to the edge of the bed on the other side of Hobbes. There is just enough room for a person right on the edge. Steve sighs but humors Bucky anyways.

He opens the covers from the side of the bed and carefully slips in. He’s almost, but not quite, hanging off the edge.

“Scoot in,” Bucky suggests. Steve slowly moves closer until he’s more fully on the bed, and he’s nestled close to Hobbes. The cat stretches and then readjusts to get even closer to Steve. Bucky moves in so he’s on the other side of the cat. Calvin is plastered to his back.

Bucky stares at Steve with a big smile on his face. “This really was a great idea,” Steve says. “I’m really glad we did this.” Bucky just nestles farther into his pillow with a smile on his face as an answer. He closes his eyes and tries to go to sleep.

Bucky wishes he could snuggle with Steve and the cats at the same time, but that will have to wait for another day.

Chapter Text

“These cats are a menace.” Steve says the next day.

He and Bucky are lying in bed at the crack of dawn being pestered by the cats. The kittens are crawling all over them and meowing with their little kitten cries.

“What do they want?” Steve asks.

“Food?” Bucky suggests.

“Why do they want it at the ass end of morning?” Steve replies.

Bucky giggles, then recoils sharply as Calvin licks him in the ear.

“I guess we better feed them,” Steve says.

“You do it,” Bucky says and rolls over and smushes his face into the pillow.

“Jerk,” Steve says and lightly shoves him on the shoulder, but he gets up anyway. Bucky hears him go into the kitchen and the meowing follows him.

Soon he returns and crawls back into bed. He comes up behind Bucky and slides his arms around him. Bucky smiles and leans back into Steve. Comforted by Steve’s touch and wrapped in his warmth, he falls asleep again.

 


 

Later that day Nat and Clint come over to play with the kittens. The cats respond to the new people by immediately crawling all over them.

“Agh,” Clint says as Calvin’s claws go straight through his jeans. “What are these claws made of, adamantium?” He tries to pry the kitten off of him, but his claws are stuck in good. Nat laughs at him until Hobbes tries to use her leg as a scratching post.

“I guess we need to trim them,” Steve says.

“You think?” Clint shoots back.

“They need to play,” Bucky signs to him. “That’s why they are acting like this.”

“Then where are their toys?” Clint asks. “Let’s get some energy out of them.”

Bucky leads Clint over to their massive pile of toys. They may have gone overboard with the toys, but they wanted to make sure they had every type of toy available in case the kittens didn’t like some of them.

Clint pulls out a teaser with brightly colored bird feathers on the end of it. The cats immediately respond. Clint finds a relatively open space in the living room and starts moving the teaser about. The cats start chasing after it. Hobbes does a particularly impressive backflip to catch the fake bird in his mouth. He lets it go to chase after it again. Calvin gets the toy next and pulls it out of Clint’s hands and takes it into the bedroom.

“What’s he doing?” Clint asks.

“Claiming the toy,” Nat replies. “He caught it, so it’s his now.”

Without the toy to distract him, Hobbes immediately starts climbing over Bucky.

“So how are you guys doing,” Nat says, changing the subject.

“Really great,” Steve tells her enthusiastically. “I’ve been getting a lot of commissions, so I’ve been drawing like crazy. I haven’t hit any creative blocks in a while, so things are good.”

“How about you Bucky?” Clint asks.

“Better,” he responds. He starts signing next because he has a lot to say. It’s easier for him to sign, so when he wants to say a lot he switches to sign. “My therapist from the hospital, Sam, opened up a private practice on the side, so I’ve been able to go see him.”

“I think I remember you saying that last time I saw you. You like him as a therapist?”

“I spent a year with him when I was inpatient and we established a good rapport,” Bucky responds. “Without Sam I’d probably still be in the hospital.” He looks to Steve. “Of course, the same could be said of Steve.” Steve smiles back at him shyly. Steve always complains that Bucky gives him too much credit, but Bucky knows the truth. He might never have come out of his shell if it weren’t for Steve.

“Alright, what are you all saying?” Nat asks. She’s the only one in the room who doesn’t know sign language. She had been busying herself by playing with Calvin who had come back into the living room, but now she wants to know what Steve’s expression is about.

“Bucky’s just telling us about his doctor,” Clint translates. “Things are going well,” he summarizes.

“Great,” Nat says. She never knows what to say about Bucky or Steve’s therapy. But she’s glad that they’re getting help, Bucky knows that much.

“What about you two?” Steve asks. “How are things going now that you’re living together?”

Nat and Clint look at each other then back at Steve. “It’s, uh…” Nat starts hesitantly. “It’s fine.”

Steve looks puzzled. “What does that mean?”

Clint jumps in. “We’ve had our ups and downs. Some disagreements about living arrangements. But we’ve mostly worked it out now.”

“That’s good, I guess,” Steve says for lack of anything else to say.

“What about you two,” Nat says. “Now that we’ve been honest, can you two say that it’s been nothing but bliss since you moved in.”

Bucky looks to Steve. They’ve not had any arguments, everything’s been fine.

Steve answers Nat’s question for him. “Yeah, it’s been great. But we’ve been mostly focused on getting ready for the cats since we moved in, so we haven’t had time to argue about anything.

Bucky frowns. “You think we’re going to argue later?” he asks Steve.

“No, I don’t think we’re going to argue. But everyone has some growing pains when they first move in. Maybe we’ll be lucky and we’ll skip it, but I’m not positive.”

Bucky picks up a cat, grumpy. He doesn’t want to there to be any problems with Steve. And now they’re disagreeing on whether or not they’ll disagree. Bucky supposes he already lost that argument.

“Well,” Nat says trying to change the subject. “Your cats are adorable.”

“Yes,” Steve agrees. “Bucky and I really love them. Except at five in the morning when they’re annoying as hell. I hope that’s not going to be a regular thing.”

Nat laughs. She has a cat of her own, so she knows what Steve is talking about. “Better get used to it.”

Chapter Text

Scratches on his feet. He can’t breathe. What’s next? How will he be hurt?

“Bucky!” He hears the voice, but it sounds far away. It calls again. “Bucky wake up!”

It’s Steve, it’s his voice. He’s with his boyfriend, he’s safe. Slowly Bucky comes back to consciousness.

“Breathe slowly,” Steve tells him. Bucky tries, but his breathing is still panicked. He follows the rise and fall of Steve’s bare chest and tries to match it.

“What happened?” he asks, signing. He often can’t speak after nightmares and panic attacks.

Steve replies, “Calvin attacked your feet while you were sleeping.”

Bucky groans. “A cat gave me a panic attack?”

“It’s understandable,” Steve tells him.

“Not really,” he says aloud angrily. He is upset with himself for being set off by such a little thing. “Where are the cats now?”

“I don’t know. I saw Calvin sprinting off.”

“Let’s go find them.” Bucky says. He wants to do something, anything to keep his mind off his dream. He’s been getting better and better, which just makes him that much more frustrated when he has a panic attack. He wants to be free of them, but he knows that might never happen.

They search the house and can’t find either of the kittens. It’s like they just disappeared.

“They have to be here somewhere,” Steve says. He starts looking in every nook in the house, starting behind the couch. Bucky goes to look in the second bedroom. He crouches down and looks under the bed. There they are, both Calvin and Hobbes. The bed is positioned up against the wall, and the cats are both hiding along that fall wall, way out of reach.

Steve is still stumbling around in the other room. Bucky supposes he should call out to Steve, but he can’t bring himself to do it. So he gets up slowly and walks out to the living room. He gets Steve’s attention and points to the bedroom.

“They’re in there?” Steve asks. Bucky nods, then starts signing. “Under the bed.”

Steve goes to investigate. He crouches down to look under the bed and he also sees the cats. “Well, they’re not coming out of there for a while. We should leave them there so as to not scare them any more.”

Bucky stares at the bed, and even though he can’t see them right now, he can envision the cats curled up and shaking, all because of him.

“I scared them,” Bucky says.

“You didn’t mean to. They’re cats, they’ll get over it quickly enough.”

“I hate this.”

“I know you do Bucky,” Steve says. “But we can’t do anything about it right now. Come on, let’s go back to bed.”

Bucky avoids looking at Steve in the eye. “I think I want to stay here.” This is why they got the second bedroom in the first place. Bucky is usually good with Steve’s touch, but after panic attacks he sometimes can’t. Sometimes a good hug from Steve is all he needs, but other times he can’t bear to touch him. This is one of the latter.

“That’s OK Bucky. I understand,” Steve tells him. Steve is so accommodating, but Bucky hates doing this to him.

“Thank you,” Bucky signs still not really looking at him. Steve gives him a small smile and leaves the room.

Bucky sighs and flops down on the bed. He considers briefly moving to the couch to give the cats some space, but decides they have enough space under the bed. They can stay there as long as they need.

He doesn’t think that he’s going to get much more sleep tonight. His dream had been vivid and he can’t get it out of his head. He thought he was being attacked, and all because a small little kitten wanted to play. Why did Calvin think that his toes were a good object to hunt? Is this going to keep happening? What if they can’t keep the cats because his panic attacks scare them to death?

Maybe they weren’t actually ready to get kittens. Bucky had suggested the idea to Steve when he thought he was doing well enough for it. But will he ever be well enough?

Bucky knows he is overreacting. Steve had said that the cats would calm down soon enough. Bucky has to believe in that.

He’s just so frustrated. He’s angry with himself for letting such a small thing get to him.

He lies there staring at the ceiling, trying to banish images from his head. Suddenly he feels something touch his leg, and he almost jumps out of bed. Then he remembers the cats. It’s Calvin. The softness of his fur is what kept Bucky from bolting at the touch. Calvin is rubbing up against him, climbing up his body.

When the cat reaches his chest, he plops down and curls into a ball, making sure as much of his skin is touching Bucky as possible.

Bucky can’t believe that this cat, that was scared of him just a few minutes ago, is now seeking his comfort. He hesitantly pets Calvin and the cat begins to purr. He carefully rearranges himself into a more comfortable position, and lies his head down close to the purring kitten.

He’s not sure if this is a good idea. This is the cat that set off his panic attack. He should be locking the cat out of the bedroom rather than curling up with it. But he can’t help but forgive the cute little bugger and try this again.

Bucky keeps petting the kitten until he falls asleep, good thoughts on his mind.

Chapter Text

“Can you place my trains over there,” Wanda gestures during game night at Steve and Bucky’s place. Calvin is fast asleep on her lap and she doesn’t want to move him. They are playing Ticket to Ride, and Wanda just got the cards she needed to place trains from LA to Phoenix.

Bucky takes the trains from in front of her and places them on the board. He checks on Calvin, who is dosing peacefully. Calvin likes to plaster himself to people’s laps and never get up. He and Steve have been spoiling him by not moving him until their legs fall asleep. It seems Wanda has been suckered into doing the same thing.

Bucky still isn’t as comfortable with Phil and Wanda as he is with Clint and Natasha. They have game night once a week, rotating who hosts it, but he still hasn’t gotten used to it yet. He wants to like Steve’s friends, and he’s certainly not bringing any of his own to the relationship, but he’s still a bit reserved when interacting with these two. Thankfully, board games are the universal icebreaker, and he always feels more comfortable once the game begins. Right now Bucky’s more focused on his strategy than on his comfort level.

“I love the new place,” Phil remarks after he takes his turn. “How are you settling in?”

“Really well,” Steve replies. Bucky thinks about the nightmare he had two nights ago. So far, that has been only real hiccup. Everything else has gone extremely smoothly.

“But I want to hear about you,” Steve continues. “With the move and everything, we haven’t caught up in a while. We’ve been talking about ourselves and the kittens all night. What have you been up to Phil?”

“I’ve just been busy at work,” Phil says rather modestly. “You wouldn’t want to hear about that.”

“Of course we would,” Wanda disagrees. “You’re not working yourself into the ground again are you?” Phil had suffered from panic attacks last year due to work stress, but he got himself under control a while ago.

“No, actually things are really great. I just got a promotion.”

“That’s great news,” Steve says. “Why didn’t you tell us sooner. We should be celebrating.”

“No, no,” Phil says waving them off. “No celebrating, it’s nothing big.”

“So what’s the new gig?” Wanda asks.

“I’m managing a new team,” he replies. “They’re a great group of people. I got to pick many of them myself. That includes my right hand woman, Melinda May. She’s the best. I worked with her a while back, but then she got transferred to another division. When I started this new team, I asked for her specifically and they agreed.”

“What makes her so special?” Steve asks.

“The thing that you’ll love about her. She de-stresses me. She takes everything off my shoulders that doesn’t need my immediate attention. She organizes my work in the most efficient manner. She’s a little testy with people, but she’s a life saver.”

“Well I’m glad you have her on your team then,” Steve says.

“Me too,” Bucky speaks up. It’s the first thing he’s said in about half and hour, and he can see Steve trying not to make a big deal about it, playing it cool by reaching over to pet Calvin on Wanda’s lap.

“What about you?” Steve asks Wanda. “Anything new in your life?”

“Maybe,” Wanda says and smiles.

“This is going to be good,” Steve says. She and Steve have a rapport that Bucky doesn’t understand yet.

“Well don’t get too excited,” Wanda warns, “But I maybe started dating someone.”

Bucky can tell that Steve has already gotten too excited. He is just about to jump up from his chair. Bucky can tell he has just about a million questions.

Phil gets to it first though. “What do you mean, maybe?” he asks.

“Well, he’s a strange guy. We’ve started spending a lot of time together, and I think there is more to it than just friends, but I haven’t outright asked.”

Steve starts spitting out questions at her, rapid fire. “What’s his name? Where did you meet him? What’s he like?”

“Woah, there,” Wanda says. “Slow down.” Steve is sitting at the edge of his chair. Calvin has woken up in the excitement and jumped down off of Wanda’s lap. “You lost me a cat.”

“I’ll go get you another if you answer me.” Steve gets up and heads for Hobbes, who is lying on the couch.

Wanda obliges him. “His name is Victor Shade. We met at work. A lot of people think he’s a robot, but I know that he’s got a good heart, he’s just not very good at showing it. Hence the weird situation I find myself in. He keeps inviting me places, but they never end up feeling like real dates. I don’t know if I’m missing something or what.”

Steve comes back to the table with Hobbes and hands her the kitten. “If you need the clarification, just ask.”

Wanda takes the cat and tries to put him in her lap. “I was going to, but I keep chickening out at the last minute.”

“I agree,” Phil says. “It’s best to just get it out into the open. No reason for you to dance around it.

“All right,” Wanda says, still struggling with the cat, “I’ll ask him next time I see him.”

With that she lets go of the struggling Hobbes. The cat, who had been perfectly happy on the couch, does not apparently want to be on her lap. Bucky is just about to warn her that it looks like he’ll bolt, when he launches off her lap.

And lands straight onto to game board. Train pieces go flying everywhere. Everyone just sits there in shock for a minute staring at the ruined game board with an orange cat standing in the middle of it. Hobbes, oblivious to the problem, just sits down and starts licking himself.

“We were done, right?” Steve asks.

Chapter Text

Bucky heads back from the pet food store with an armful of bags. He can never go into the store and just get food. He always walks past the toy aisle and has to stop. So one of his arms is holding a bag full of toys, while the other is holding the food he actually went out to get.

It took a while before Bucky was comfortable going out alone. For the longest time he was afraid of being abducted again. He would watch every person go by with suspicion and be paranoid by time he got home. When he lived with his sister, they had to practice going on longer and longer walks until he felt comfortable with the idea of going out alone even for a few minutes. He then had to build himself up to longer journeys, until he could get to the point where he could go to the store by himself.

He hasn’t told anyone, but he still rushes a bit on the way to the store. Once in their local pet food store though, he can feel himself relax. He knows everyone who works there now, so he doesn’t have to spend his time checking out every last stranger. He can take his time looking over cat toys instead of rushing out.

Now that’s he’s back on the street though, he is rushing once again. He just wants to be home where Steve is drawing at his desk.

When he opens the door though, Steve is up and talking on the phone. He is also bating away both of the cats who are trying to climb all over him. Bucky’s entrance distracts them for a minute, and Steve holds his hand over the phone’s pickup and mouths “help me.”

Bucky puts down the groceries and picks up the cats, one in each hand, and heads for the back bedroom. They both let out a chorus of pleas in response. Steve grimaces and places his hand back on the phone.

He’s too late though, because he soon apologizes to whoever is on the phone for the noise. “Sorry, that’s just my cats,” Steve says. “I work from home, and they’re a little worked up right now.”

Bucky takes the cats to the back room and closes the door to give Steve some privacy for his call. He doesn’t know what that was about, but he’s fairly sure it’s work related. Bucky gets out a toy from one of the bag he was carrying and tosses it towards the kittens he just released. They both chase after it immediately.

About ten minutes later, Bucky is playing tug-a-war with Hobbes when Steve opens the door. “Sorry about that,” he says. “Thanks for distracting the kittens.”

“Who was that?” Bucky asks, intensely curious now.

“Timely comics,” Steve tells him excitedly. “I sent them my portfolio on a whim last week. And now they actually want to give me a trial.”

Bucky smiles brightly at this. He knows that Steve has always had a dream of drawing for comic books, but Bucky has never seen him actually pursue it. It’s great that he’s trying it now.

“They’re going to send me a script and have me draw a few pages for them. If they like them they’re going to hire me on to do a book.”

“That’s amazing!” Bucky replies, forgetting Hobbes who runs off with the toy in victory.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” Steve says as he sits down on the floor next to Bucky. He scoops up Calvin and drops him on his lap and starts petting him.

Bucky just smiles at him. Steve can never believe his own success, but Bucky knows how good he is.

“This is a bit different than what I thought I’d be doing,” Steve says contemplatively.

Bucky frowns at him. “What do you mean?” he signs to Steve. He thought that Steve had always wanted to draw comics.

“I just mean that I had given up the idea of a comic book artist. I had started to think of other career paths. You remember that I was thinking of going back to school to become an art therapist?”

“Yes, you said you wanted to give back since you were helped so much.” Bucky remembers.

“Yeah, well, I haven’t forgotten about that either. I still want to do that.” Steve looks like he’s being torn about the two career paths.

“You can still do that later,” Bucky suggests.

“You’re right,” Steve agrees. “I don’t have to give up on that. Plus, I’m getting ahead of myself.” Steve picks up Calvin and stands up. “I haven’t gotten the job yet.”

“You’ll get it,” Bucky tells him. “Your work is great.”

“Thanks, Buck, but I need to convince more than just my boyfriend of that.” Steve smiles at him. He knows he’s not supposed to speak poorly of his talent in front of Bucky. That’s an agreement they made a while ago, but Steve sometimes needs reminding of it.

“I’ll be at their headquarters all day tomorrow,” Steve tells him. “You’ll be OK here with the cats alone?”

Bucky stands up to join Steve. “I’ll be OK,” he signs. He doesn’t like to be alone in the apartment for too long, but now that they have the cats, he thinks he’ll be distracted enough to be just fine.

“I’m really nervous,” Steve admits. Bucky doesn’t blame him. Interviewing for a dream job can be extremely stressful.

“You’re going to be great,” Bucky says to him, speaking to show Steve the confidence in his voice. “Your work speaks for itself.”

“I hope you’re right,” Steve replies.

Chapter Text

“My cat is dying,” Bucky spits out into the phone. He hates the phone. It’s worse than speaking in person. But Hobbes is sick and he needs to be taken to the vet.

Hobbes has started coughing. He’s been doing it all day. Bucky is pretty sure that cats are not supposed to cough. It’s a hacking cough like he’s trying to get something out of his lungs. Plus he threw up last night and wouldn’t eat his breakfast this morning. Considering how much that cat likes his food, Bucky is pretty sure that Hobbes is dying.

“Okay,” the woman on the phone says. She’s the secretary at their vet and she’s probably doesn’t know what to make of Bucky’s announcement. “I’m assuming it’s an emergency. Would you like to take in your cat right away?”

“Yes,” Bucky replies curtly.

“We have an opening today at 2 pm. Would that work?”

“Yes,” Bucky replies again.

“Can I ask who to make the appointment for?”

“Hobbes,” Bucky tells her.

“Is that your last name?” the secretary asks.”

Shit. She needs his name, not the cat’s. “No, Barnes,” he tells her. Bucky is about out of words. He hopes this conversation ends soon.

Steve is at his interview with Timely comics. Bucky doesn’t want to disturb him. So here he is, talking on the phone with the vet. He’s scared, but Hobbes needs him, so he’s powering through.

“I can’t find you in our system,” the woman tells him. Can you spell the name for me?”

Bucky forgot, it’s probably under Steve’s name. “Try Rogers.”

“Ah, here we are. Steven?”

“Yes.”

“I see, Calvin and Hobbes. The appointment is for Hobbes then.”

“Yes.” Bucky wishes she would stop asking him questions.

“We’ll see you at two then?”

“Yes,” he says and hangs up the phone. He breathes deeply. He probably shouldn’t have hung up on her, but he could take it anymore.

Hobbes coughs again. How is he supposed to wait until 2pm to take him into the vet? The cat is dying right now before his eyes.

Bucky takes a deep breath again. He’s overreacting again. Hobbes will probably last a few hours. Then he’ll have to take him in and talk to the vet. More talking. Shit.

Hobbes coughs again. Bucky gets out his phone. If he takes a video of Hobbes, maybe he won’t have to go into a lengthy discussion about what’s wrong. He could just show the vet the video. He goes over to Hobbes again and starts taking a video. Of course Hobbes doesn’t cooperate and cough again. Bucky stops the video and starts pacing.

After a few minutes, Hobbes starts hacking away. Bucky rushes over and takes the video. It’s a testament to how bad Hobbes must feel that he doesn’t run away at Bucky’s rushed behavior. He’s been sitting in that corner for the last half hour and hasn’t moved.

Two hours later, after much fretting on Bucky’s part, he realizes that he has to get Hobbes into the crate. He hasn’t had to do that yet. Steve did it for him the last time they took the cats to the vet. He remembers it was quite hard. Hobbes especially had run away and hid, and then flailed quite a bit before they got him into the crate.

Bucky gets out the crate and Hobbes immediately goes into the other room. But he’s not up to running right now, so it is relatively easy for Bucky to catch him. That’s doesn’t stop the flailing though, and Bucky gets several scratches before he successfully gets him into the crate.

The walk to the vet is full of cat cries and more hacking coughs. Bucky walks as quickly as he can. He spends the whole walk worrying about having to talk to the vet. He’s so worrying that he doesn’t know if he can get any words out. He wishes again that Steve were here.

He opens the door to the vet’s office and the secretary he talked on the phone with greets him. There is no one else in the waiting room, so she figures out quickly who he is.

“You must be Steven Rogers,” she says. Bucky just nods and lets the wrong name go. It’s inconsequential and doesn’t want to speak right now. “Have a seat. The doctor will be right out.” He’s so glad that he managed to get through that interaction without having to speak.

A few minutes later he is ushered into an exam room and the vet meets him there. “What seems to be the problem with Hobbes today?” she asks him.

Bucky doesn’t say a word, but gets out his phone. He pulls up the video of Hobbes coughing and shows it to the vet.

“Hobbes has been coughing, huh?” she asks. “How long has he been doing it?”

Bucky swallows. He did his talking to strangers for the day. He doesn’t want to keep going. But Hobbes is sick, he reminds himself. “Today,” he replies.

The vet seems to recognize his discomfort and thankfully proceeds to ask him yes or no questions. “Has he been eating?” Bucky shakes his head. “Has he ever done this before,” Bucky shakes his head again. “Well, lets take a look a the poor guy, shall we?” She goes to open the crate and slowly pulls Hobbes out.

Now that they are at the vet, Hobbes of course does not cough at all. Bucky is glad that he decided to take the video since Hobbes isn’t showing any symptoms at all in front of the vet.

The vet takes her stethoscope and starts to listen to the cat’s chest. “He’s definitely got some labored breathing. She moves the stethoscope again and listens. “I could take a fecal sample, but I think it’s unnecessary and will just spook Hobbes. I believe he has lungworm.”

Bucky raises his eyebrows in a questioning manner. He has no idea what lungworm is.

“Lungworm, as you might guess from the name, are worms that lodge themselves in the lungs. They are relatively easy to get. If your cat likes to chase down flies and eat them, he could easily get lungworm that way.”

Hobbes loves to chase flies. Bucky doesn’t know if he’s ever seen him eat the fly afterwards, but since they don’t see dead flies all over the apartment, it’s likely that he is eating them. Bucky nods several times to the vet to indicate that that is a likely scenario.

“It’s a pretty simple fix too. I’ll give you a broad spectrum antibiotic and he’ll be fine in a few days.”

Thank god. Bucky didn’t want to have to explain to Steve that his cat was dying. Now he’ll be able to go home with good news.

Bucky is exhausted from the day of talking to strangers, but he also feels a sense of accomplishment. He got through this trying day all on his own. He didn’t need Steve to do anything for him. Bucky thinks that Steve would be proud of him. Hell, he’s proud of himself.

Chapter Text

“Arg!” Bucky exclaims. How do you get a cat to take medicine? This is the most impossible task that Bucky has ever attempted.

Steve is no help. He’s just standing there watching the affair, laughing his ass off at Bucky.

The medicine is an oral liquid he has to feed to Hobbes three times a day. It must taste horrible, because Hobbes does his best to spit it out, and he’s really good at it too. Half of the medicine has gotten on Bucky at this point.

The nurse at the vet’s office explained to him how to administer the medicine, but it’s not as easy as she made it seem. He is supposed to use the syringe to shoot the liquid into the back of the cat’s throat, but he still manages to spit it out somehow. Not to mention the constant squirming. Hobbes is very good at slipping out of his grip.

And Steve is still just standing there laughing at him.

“A little help?” Bucky asks him.

“I guess I could,” he says. He comes over to help, but Hobbes manages to get out of Bucky’s grip before Steve gets there. Bucky just slumps down in exhaustion, covered in the medicine that Hobbes spit out at him.

Eventually they get Hobbes back under their control. Bucky holds his back legs with one arm and Steve holds his front. Bucky uses his free arm to open Hobbes’s mouth and Steve shoot the liquid straight down his throat. They immediately release the cat and he shoots away. He stands in the living room and moves his tongue around trying to get the nasty tasting medicine from the back of his mouth. He isn’t successful this time, and Bucky calls it a win.

Steve turns to Bucky. “You know I’m proud of you for all you did today, right?”

Bucky just smiles in return.

 


 

This is payback, it must be. The kittens won’t let them sleep. It’s 3am and the cats have been crawling all over them for an hour. They finally got up and locked them out of the room, but now they are scratching at the door, and it doesn’t let up.

“Don’t they ever sleep?” Steve asks.

“They sleep during the day,” Bucky responds.

“Then maybe we should too if this keeps up.” Bucky just rolls over and puts a pillow over his head. “It’s your turn to go feed them,” Steve says. “Or play with them. Whatever it is that they want.”

They just want attention. Well maybe Hobbes wants food. Now that he’s feeling better again, he’s back to his normal habits of eating, which include trying to steal Calvin’s food if he isn’t watched.

Bucky gets up and opens the door. The kittens immediately swarm him and rub up against his legs. He goes to the kitchen and gets them their food. They probably shouldn’t be giving in and feeding them at this hour, but they need to sleep. Hobbes dives into his food bowl the second it is placed on the floor. Calvin waits a bit more patiently for his as Bucky opens the second can.

He waits while they eat. Recently they have had to stay by the food bowls and squirt Hobbes with the spray bottle if he tries to steal Calvin’s food. Calvin will just let him in and stare at his food pathetically while it gets eaten in front of him. Hobbes needs human intervention to keep him from being an ass. It’s fine normally, but at three in the morning, Bucky just wants to go back to sleep.

When they finish, Bucky goes back to the bedroom, closes the door on the cats and crawls back into bed with Steve. He curls around him and places his head on Steve’s chest. Steve responds by putting his near arm around him.

Only moments after Bucky lies his head down, there is a scratching at the door. He moans. He doesn’t want to have to get up again.

“Your turn,” he tells Steve.

“No fair,” Steve says. “It’s your night.”

Bucky grumbles but grudgingly gets up anyways. He opens the door to find Calvin on the other side. The cat once again rubs up against his legs, then leads him out into the living room. Once there, he sits on his favorite toy and meows.

“Fine,” Bucky relents and picks up the toy. He tiredly picks it up and throws it to the other side of the room. Calvin rushes after it and pounces.

You’re lucky you are cute, Bucky thinks. He can forgive the little buggers anything if they just act cute afterwards. The kittens are growing up, but they haven’t lost any of their cuteness yet.

After the cat gets tired, he goes back to the bedroom once more. He slips under the covers and curls himself around Steve once more.

“Ugh,” Steve says to him. “Your toes are cold.”

Bucky smiles into the back of Steve’s neck. Steve doesn’t have a right to complain about his feet when he was the one that made Bucky get up in the first place. In response to Steve’s comment, he makes sure that he gets more surface area of his feet to contact Steve’s skin.

“Ack! You bastard.” Bucky smiles again, but pulls away his feet. He knows Steve is just playing. Steve can never stay mad at him when they are cuddling. Bucky supposes it is like the cats. As long as he is cute, Steve will forgive him anything.

Speaking of the cats, one of them jumps up on the bed. Bucky peeks one eye open to see that it is Calvin. He really hopes that the cat is done playing now. He doesn’t think he can get out of bed again. Plus he’s really comfortable wrapped around Steve.

Thankfully, the cat isn’t there to play. He settles down on the bed, right on top of Bucky’s frozen feet. Calvin is warm, and perfect for heating his feet back up. Bucky falls asleep that way, warmed by Steve at his front, and Calvin at his feet.

Chapter Text

“Calvin’s taken to knocking over water glasses. He doesn’t try to drink the water, he just knocks it over for no reason.”

Bucky is relaying all the recent cat stories to Sam during their session. The translator is speaking aloud everything that Bucky is signing. Bucky hated having a translator at first, because he wasn’t comfortable with having a stranger in the room during his private therapy sessions. But soon he learned to ignore the person and just think of them as his voice. It’s much easier for him to speak in sign language, so he gets a lot more done in his sessions with Sam when the translator is there. Often he talks more than usual because it seems so easy.

“I’m happy to hear about all your kitten adventures, Bucky, but I’m not sure it is the best use of your time here.”

Bucky hates when Sam says things like this that he knows are true, but he doesn’t want to hear. He would much rather sit here and talk about the cats than really talk about how he’s been doing.

“It’s just, it’s important to me now. And it does have to do with my recovery. I’m happy. Kittens are my biggest worry most days. I never thought that I’d be so happy that I only had to worry about kittens.”

“That’s really great to hear, Bucky,” Sam says. “But isn’t there anything else you would like to talk to me about?”

There is actually, but it’s hard to bring up. Bucky looks at the translator briefly, remembering that he is there.

Sam doesn’t miss the look. “There is something on your mind, isn’t there?”

Bucky sighs. He might as well get this over with. “It’s about Steve,” he says. “Don’t get me wrong, everything is going great with him. Actually everything is pretty much perfect.”

“Except?” Sam prompts.

“I feel we’ve reached a plateau in our relationship,” Bucky tells him. “Everything is going great, and I don’t want to ruin that, but we aren’t going any further.”

“And what do you attribute that to?” Sam asks him.

“It’s my fault. I can’t get past certain things. And Steve is so accommodating. He would wait forever for me.”

“Is that a bad thing?” Sam probes.

“No,” Bucky tells him. “Except he doesn’t push me to go further. Maybe I need the push.”

“Why this sudden interest in making more progress?” Sam asks. Bucky can be stubborn about trying new things, so Sam is curious about what set this off.

“It’s the kittens. It just seems so normal. But every day I’m reminded that I’m not normal. I just want to be able to kiss my boyfriend. I want to not have nightmares that leave me unable to touch him afterwards. Steve deserves better.”

“Do you think that Steve would say the same thing?”

“No, but that’s because Steve’s an idiot who doesn’t understand his own worth.” Bucky actually smiles at this. Steve still thinks down on himself sometimes, and Bucky hates that he does that, but he’s reminded of all the times that he gets to encourage Steve, let him know what’s he’s worth. They’re some of his favorite moments that usually lead to some prime snuggling. If only it would lead to making out.

“I want to be sure. Do you want to move forward for yourself, or because you think that you need to do it for Steve?”

“Honestly, a little of both. But I really do want to do it for me. I want to be able to do the things that normal couples do.”

“Well, the first obvious step is to talk to Steve,” Sam tells him. “You two should sit down and have a conversation about how to move forward in your relationship.”

“That’s going to be awkward. ‘Hey Steve, I want to kiss you.’”

“What’s wrong with saying that?” Sam asks, completely serious.

“What? That’s what you want me to say?”

“You can phrase it any way you like. But if that’s the crux of the problem, you can go ahead and say it that way.” Sam pauses to let this sink in.

“OK,” Bucky says warily. He doesn’t think that conversation is going to go well. It’s too awkward a situation. “What if Steve doesn’t want to?”

“Are you really worried about that?” Sam asks him.

“I don’t know. He’s always so careful around me. Sometimes too careful. He might not want to push our relationship forward.”

“What would you do if that were to happen?” Sam always asks questions like this. What would be the worse thing? What is he dreading would happen?

Bucky sighs. He knows what Sam is getting at. His fear is that asking Steve about this and Steve rejecting him would put strain on their relationship. But he knows Steve well, and even if he rejects him, things will turn out OK.

“I’d asks him why,” Bucky tells Sam, the answer that he thinks Sam wants to hear.

“Would you really?” Sam can see right through him when he gives answers like this.

“I’d try,” Bucky answers honestly. He really would be curious about why Steve wouldn’t want to kiss him. But he’s thinking about a hypothetical situation that might not even happen. Maybe Steve will want to kiss him too.

That paralyzes Bucky with fear. As much as he wants a normal relationship, he doesn’t know if he’s ready. He’s not even sure exactly what the problem is. He trusts Steve to touch him; a kiss is not that much different. But in his limited experience, kissing leads to sex, and he knows he is not ready for that.

Of course he is getting ahead of himself. He knows that Steve would stop whenever Bucky asked him to. If he thinks about how caring Steve is, he is less scared about it.

“OK,” Bucky says. “I’ll talk to Steve about it.”

Chapter Text

Bucky is sitting on the couch stroking a kitten. He and Steve are watching TV, each one of them with a cat in their laps.

They usually cuddle when they watch TV, but Steve always waits for Bucky to initiate the touch. Today he wasn’t able to go directly into Steve’s embrace, so he picked up a kitten instead.

Bucky isn’t really paying attention to what’s playing on TV. Some crime drama that Steve likes. Instead he is thinking about his conversation with Sam. He wants to talk to Steve about their relationship, but it scares him. He spends the time in front of the TV thinking about what he’s going to say, about how to phrase it right. It doesn’t help that sign language phrasing is a bit off. He may have to speak aloud, but that just makes it even scarier.

Scenarios pass through Bucky’s mind. What if Steve doesn’t want to take things further? Bucky supposes that things would just go back to normal, but it would make him sad if Steve didn’t want more.

Of course there is also the other side of it. He doesn’t want Steve to be wanting more and not getting it for so long. They’ve been dating a year and they haven’t even kissed. How long is it going to be before they have sex? How fair is it to make Steve wait so long?

He needs to calm down, and the best way to do that is to cuddle with Steve. However, his nerves are on edge, and he doesn’t know if he can.

Bucky slowly scoots closer to Steve, careful to not knock over the sleeping cat in his lap. Steve, as patient as always, just stays still and waits for Bucky to make contact. But he can’t. His heart is beating faster with his thoughts whirling in his mind.

He settles for simply laying his head on Steve’s shoulder, no more contact then that. He sees Steve smile, and that makes him relax.

The show ends and Bucky lifts up his head. Steve turns to him. “I’m about ready to go to bed. Are you going to join me?” Steve is giving him the option of sleeping in the second bedroom since he wasn’t up for snuggling on the couch.

Bucky straightens up and readies himself to start this conversation with Steve. “I want to talk to you,” he says.

Steve gives him a quizzical look and turns his body to fully face Bucky. “Sure Buck. What do you want to talk about?”

“Us,” Bucky says aloud. He not very encouraged by Steve’s expression, which is still looking very confused.

“OK,” Steve says slowly. “Anything in particular?”

Bucky tries to get the resolve to speak to Steve aloud, but he’s just not able to right now. He switches back to sign language. “I want to try to move forward.”

“Forward?” Steve asks. “What does that mean?”

Bucky feels frustrated. For all his planning of this conversation, he still doesn’t know what to say. “I don’t know. I want more.”

Steve frowns. “Are you not happy with how things are going?” He looks a bit hurt. Bucky is screwing this up already.

“I want to kiss you,” he blurts out suddenly. That’s exactly what he told Sam that he didn’t want to say, and here he is saying it to Steve. He puts his head in his hands to hide from Steve’s reaction.

“Look at me Bucky,” Steve tells him. His voice is lighthearted, and Bucky thinks that this all might be OK. He looks up to see that Steve is smiling at him. That’s a good sign.

“Is that what this is about,” Steve asks. Bucky nods his head slowly. “I would love to kiss you too, Bucky. But I’m also OK if you’re not ready.”

“I’m just frustrated,” Bucky signs. “I want to be able to kiss my boyfriend. To put an arm around him during a movie. But I can’t always do that, and it bothers me.”

“Well it doesn’t bother me,” Steve tells him. “Whether you need space or you need me to comfort you, I’m OK with either one. If you want to kiss me, I’d be happy, but if you can’t, I’ll be just as happy.”

“Are you sure?” Bucky asks. “You’ll be happy with either one.”

“Yes, Bucky,” Steve says. “You have no idea how happy I’ve been this past year with you. I don’t need anything more physical to be happy with you. If that’s what you want though, we can ‘move forward’ as you said.”

“I’m happy too,” Bucky tells him. “I don’t want you to think that I’m not. I just want to be normal.”

“You shouldn’t worry about that so much, Buck,” Steve tells him. “There’s no sense in striving to be ‘normal.’ You’ll never get there. You are who you are, and that is a person that I love.”

Bucky smiles, his heart swelling with love for Steve. “Thank you,” he says. Then aloud, “I love you too.” This makes Steve smile back. They just sit there for a minute grinning like idiots.

Bucky breaks the moment by signing to Steve. “I do want to kiss you. But I can’t do it tonight.” He’s still all wired up from anticipation of this conversation. He’s so glad that it went as well as it did, but that hasn’t calmed him down all the way.

“That’s fine,” Steve says. “I’m tired anyway. Let’s go to bed.” He gets up and starts heading to the bedroom. He stops at the doorway. “Are you coming, or…” Or going to the other bedroom, he leaves unsaid.

Bucky thinks about he for a moment, and decides that he wants to be with Steve right now. He doesn’t want to be alone in the second bedroom, ruminating over this conversation.

He nods to Steve and gets up, following him into their shared bedroom. Steve gets into bed first while Bucky changes into his bedclothes. He follows Steve a moment later, but doesn’t snuggle up to him. He lies on his side of the bed and stares at the ceiling.

Steve wants to kiss him too. He didn’t reject the idea. Bucky may not be able to do it right now, but sometime soon they will try.

Chapter Text

Bucky sits at the computer with a kitten on his lap. Calvin is always glued to someone’s lap, and today it’s Bucky. Steve is drawing in the back bedroom where the light is the best. Bucky is here looking for a job.

He has no idea what he is doing. He’s never had a job before and doesn’t know where to begin. He hasn’t even finished high school, so he doesn’t have many qualifications to work with. He doesn’t even know what kind of job he wants. There’s so much to choose from that it’s paralyzing. Even ignoring his lack of a high school diploma, he doesn’t know what he would want to do.

Bucky doesn’t have to work. He’s got the money that Becca won for him in a civil suit. She sued the hell out of that bastard who took him, and Bucky got a large chunk of his assets. So he’s got the money to live off of for quite a while, even considering his medical bills for all his therapy. But he wants to find a job. It’s one of those normal things that people do that he wants to have as well. If only it weren’t so difficult to choose.

“Ugh,” he exclaims looking through job ads on craigslist. Nothing he sees looks even mildly appealing.

Steve has a nice job. He gets to work from home and work at his own pace. But Steve has talent and an education, and Bucky has nothing. He could never get a cushy job like Steve has.

He also has to think about the limitations from his PTSD. He can’t do anything in an environment that could set off a panic attack. Even shaking hands with someone leaves Bucky on edge. He wouldn’t be able to work with people, so that eliminates a bunch of obvious jobs like being a waiter or retail clerk. Loud noises are also a problem, so no factory or construction jobs. There’s not much left for someone without a good education.

Steve had told him to think about what he used to like to do when he was younger. That didn’t help much. He was a math nerd. But he only got up to trigonometry in school.

There was one other thing that he did. He used to write stories. They were nothing much, just stupid Sci-fi stories. He never showed them to anyone, but he always did enjoy writing them. Being a math nerd though, writing wasn’t really his forte. He did well enough in English class to scrape by, but he didn’t do any better than that. His teachers were never impressed with his writing skills. But then those were boring essays on literature, not fiction. Having never showed his writing to anyone else, he doesn’t know what people would think.

There’s also the problem of Bucky not having anything to say. They say, “write what you know,” but Bucky spent seven years away from the world. He doesn’t know anything. No one would be interested in anything he has to say.

But that doesn’t mean he can’t try. Writing isn’t really a job per se, but it would keep him busy. He probably won’t ever get published, but maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe all he needs is something to keep his mind busy.

He abandons craigslist and opens up a word document. He stares at the blank page for a long time before typing anything. He thinks back to the Sci-fi stories he wrote as a teenager. They seem a little childish to him now. If he’s going to have a chance and being published he needs to write about something new.

But all he knows about is the hospital. And Steve. That makes him smile. He could write a dumb story about being stupidly in love with that dork.

He could write about his time spent captive. That would be unique. But Bucky wouldn’t be able to do it. Not only could he not physically type the words, he would never want the world to know what happened to him. Steve knows some of it since he helped translate some of his sessions with Sam. But he doesn’t know it all. Bucky held some of it back because he didn’t want Steve to know. Even Sam doesn’t know everything.

But that part is not his whole story. He had a long time spent in recovery. Hell, he’s still in recovery. And the best part of that story is Steve. He was there for Bucky when he needed someone. And he’s never left his side since. Bucky smiles again thinking about Steve. The hospital doesn’t seem so bad if he thinks only of the time he was there with Steve.

He hates that Steve had to be there though. Bucky often rubs his hands over Steve’s scars and wonders what would have happened if Steve had been successful. Steve never says anything when he does this. He wish he knew was Steve was thinking so that he could assuage his negative thoughts. Steve is the greatest person he knows, and yet he can’t see it for himself.

Maybe if he were to write it down, Steve could see himself through Bucky’s eyes. Suddenly the act of writing about his life seems much more enticing. He probably wouldn’t show it to anyone but Steve, but he now feels like he has to do this. His boyfriend deserves to be shown how special he is. Since Bucky can’t always do that with touch and the spoken word, he can try his hand at writing.

Steeled by determination he goes back to the blank word document and starts writing. He starts his story right when Steve gets to the hospital. And this story is going to have a happy ending goddammit.

Chapter Text

Bucky stares at the ceiling in the middle of the night. He can’t sleep. Steve is next to him snoring lightly and looking peaceful. Bucky’s dream was not bad enough to wake him up. But now Bucky can’t go back to sleep.

He hates his dreams. He handles them better now than he used to, but they still always leave him in a state of panic. He and Sam have been working on techniques to control his panic attacks, but it’s still frustrating that he has to do it at all.

Bucky gets up. His dream has left residual memories that he doesn’t want to see, and staring at the ceiling isn’t going to help banish them from his mind. He goes out to the living room to find the cats curled up on the couch. He sits down next to one of them and starts petting him. It’s comforting and soon he relaxes.

Even though he got up with care, his leaving apparently woke up Steve because he stumbles out into the living room. “Buck?” he asks groggily. “You alright?”

“Yes,” Bucky tells him. “I just couldn’t sleep.”

“Did you have a dream?”

Bucky bows his head. He’s still embarrassed that he hasn’t gotten past his nightmares. “Yes,” he tells Steve, “But it wasn’t that bad.”

Steve comes and sits down next to him on the couch, a cat between them. “That’s good to hear,” he says. “Anything I can do?”

“No,” Bucky says sadly. “I’m mostly over it.”

“You want to come back to bed then?” Steve asks hopefully.

“Not yet,” Bucky says. He doesn’t think he can go back to sleep yet.

“Well I’m up now,” Steve says. “You want to talk about anything?”

Bucky doesn’t know exactly how to put into words what he wants to say. He switches to sign language to make it easier. “I was just thinking.” He sighs, trying to phrase it right. “I want to try to do more normal things.”

“What do you think is normal?” Steve asks him. Bucky knows what he is getting at, that there is no “normal.” They’ve had this conversation before.

“Getting a job is a first step,” he says.

“I thought you decided on writing?” Steve asks curiously. They had talked about it the day before and Steve had thought it was a great idea. Bucky didn’t tell him what story he was working on. He wasn’t sure if he would chicken out before showing it to Steve.

“I did, but I can try real jobs too. I’m just not ready.”

“And that’s OK, Buck. You can take your time. No need to rush into things.”

“You’re probably right,” he admits, and looks at his lap. “There is one normal thing I think I’m ready for though.” He looks up at Steve hesitantly before he goes on.

“What’s that?” Steve asks.

Bucky pauses and takes a deep breath. “I want to kiss you.”

Steve blushes and looks away. He’s so cute like that, but Bucky doesn’t want him to be nervous. Bucky is nervous enough for the both of them.

“You sure you’re ready?” Steve asks, just about a whisper.

“Please don’t ask me that,” Bucky signs angrily. “I said I wanted it because I’m ready. But if you don’t want to…”

“No, no,” Steve stops him. “I want to.” He blushes again at his eagerness. “I just didn’t want to push you.”

“I love that about you, Steve, but I’m the one who brought it up, so you’re not pushing me into anything.”

“Alright,” Steve says with hesitation. “When do you want to do this? Now?”

“Sure, why not?” Bucky says aloud.

“Um…OK?” Steve says slowly.

“Steve. If you don’t want to, it’s OK.”

“It’s not that. I’m just nervous. Remember that I’ve never kissed anyone before.”

Bucky knew that, but he also doesn’t remember being that nervous for his first kiss. He has to remind himself that Steve’s a different person, and he can be really unsure of himself.

“It’ll be OK, Steve. There’s nothing to it.”

Steve steels himself and straightens his back. “OK. Let’s do this,” he says with as much confidence as he can muster.

Now that he’s convinced Steve, he finds he’s getting nervous himself. He pushes it down though because he’s wanted this for a long time. He can’t back out now.

Bucky gently pushes the cat out of the way and it jumps off the couch. He scoots closer to Steve and swallows once to push down his nerves. His heart is beating fast and he has to use his breathing techniques to get it under control.

Steve licks his lips in anticipation. He just waits there for Bucky to make the first move. Bucky shifts on the couch again to get closer and reaches out with his hand. He cups Steve’s cheek and just holds his hand there for a minute. He gently rubs at the hairs on the back of Steve’s neck, the comforting gesture calming them both.

He takes another deep breath in and slowly pulls Steve’s head towards him. He parts his lips just a bit and carefully places them on Steve’s. Steve doesn’t open his mouth at first, but soon melts a bit into Bucky’s touch and parts them ever so slightly. Bucky can taste him and opens his mouth more. He darts out his tongue to slip past Steve’s parted lips.

Bucky is loving this. He thought that he would have problems, but he never should have worried. Steve is so sweet and moves so slowly, letting Bucky take the reigns.

Steve moans just a bit and shifts his position. He reaches out and puts his arms around Bucky’s neck. He softly pulls him in closer so that their mouths are more firmly pressed together. Bucky tilts his head and moves in deeper.

At just like that memories flash into his mind. He throws himself out of Steve’s grip and practically falls off the couch until he catches himself. One of the cats gets spooked and runs off.

“I’m sorry,” he tells Steve. “I’m so sorry.”

“It’s OK, Bucky,” Steve responds. “I understand.”

“Well I don’t!” Bucky yells. He didn’t mean to explode at Steve and tears start coming to his eyes.

“Oh, Buck.” Steve comes over to him, but doesn’t touch him in case he’s not ready for it. “It’s just our first try. It’ll get better.”

“Will it?” Bucky asks. The tears start falling now. “What if it doesn’t?”

“Then that will be fine too.” Bucky needs to hear it, but he can’t quite believe it yet. He sees that Steve has opened up his arms to him, and he moves to tuck himself inside Steve’s embrace. Steve folds his arms around him and rubs his back.

“I just want to be able to kiss you,” Bucky sniffles into his shirt. “I really thought I could.”

“Well you did. I’d call that a kiss. Sure, you pulled away, but we were actually kissing before that.”

That’s a good point. It did work for a little while. “I just don’t understand what the problem is. It’s not like he…” Bucky breaks off. He can’t go there. Not right now.

He feels Steve stiffen a bit. He knows what Bucky was going to say. “It doesn’t have to make sense. It just is.” That doesn’t make him feel any better. But he’s tired of trying to understand what sets him off. It seems like it’s everything.

“Was it good?” Bucky says, referring to the kiss.

“It was great, Buck,” Steve tells him. “An almost perfect first kiss.”

That’s good. At least Steve seems happy with what he got even if Bucky is disappointed.

Steve lies down and brings Bucky with him. They lie together like that while Bucky gets his crying under control. When he does, he’s exhausted. He falls asleep in Steve’s arms.

Chapter Text

Bucky doesn’t know how he ended up here, but all he wants to do is go home. Steve is waiting in the reception area for him, and Bucky knows that he will go home with him anytime he wants, but somehow it would feel like a failure if he left early. So here he sits, silently waiting for this to be over.

He’s in a group therapy session. Sam recommended it to him, and he was very much opposed. But somehow Steve managed to talk him into going at least once. Group therapy was were Steve met Wanda and Phil, and Bucky knows that Steve got a lot out of the experience, but it’s just not for him. It took forever for him to open up to Sam. How is he supposed to open up to a group of strangers?

Sam told him that he doesn’t have to share right away, or even ever. Just listening to others can be helpful as well. Sam said that it is beneficial to hear that other people have had similar experiences and that they are in recovery as well. It will help Bucky feel less alone. But Bucky’s is feeling more alone than ever.

The group is specifically for survivors of trauma, but that covers a lot of a lot of areas. There are several war vets here, something that Bucky can’t relate to at all. Many of the other traumas are so unlike what Bucky has gone through that he doesn’t feel that he fits in at all.

Right now there is a man, Bruce, who is sharing his experience. He was in a physics lab when an experiment that he designed blew up, injuring him, but killing his graduate student.

“I just feel so angry all the time,” Bruce tells them. “It was my fault. I build the equipment and designed the experiment. I should have been more careful. And Paul. It should have been me. If anyone were to die, it shouldn’t have been him.

“So I feel angry at myself, angry at God, angry at the shoddy workmanship. Just altogether angry. It’s tearing me apart. It’s turning me into a monster. It’s ruining my relationship with my wife, Betty. I need to get over it before it consumes me.”

“Anger is a common response to trauma,” the therapist tells them all. “Anger helps us cope with life’s stresses, giving us the energy to keep going. But in recovery, the anger prevents us from moving forward. Aggression can become a problem in every day life. One of the things we will be working on in this group are strategies to control your anger.

Bucky thinks about anger. His main symptom of his PTSD is fear, but he does feel anger towards the man who held him captive. But Bucky doesn’t feel that he needs to get over it the way that Bruce does. That bastard deserves to be hated until the end of time. There is no reason to let that go.

Is Bucky angry with himself? Sure there are times. Long ago he blamed himself for everything that happened, the way that Bruce is describing. But thanks to Sam and to Steve, he has mostly gotten past that. He knows now that there is nothing that he could have done to change his situation.

“Is there anyone else who would like to share their experiences with anger?” the therapist asks.

A man who spoke up in the beginning of the session grunts and raises his hand. The man, Logan, is a war vet that has had trouble adjusting to everyday life since returning home. He is one of the people that Bucky feels he has the least in common with. The man is brisk and surly. He talks about his time in war like it was nothing to be traumatized over. He had said that he doesn’t understand why he is having problems now that he is home, since he didn’t have a particular problem with war when he was abroad. Bucky doesn’t understand that. He can’t see how anyone could have taken to violence as easily as this man did. Bucky is slightly afraid of him.

Logan speaks up without waiting to be called on. “I’m angry at everything,” he says. “I was never a particularly level headed person, but it’s gotten much worse lately. Everyone bothers me. I feel no connection to them, so I end up treating everyone like shit. I have had trouble making any connections, even friendly acquaintances since I’ve been back. I haven’t even kept in touch with my squad mates.”

Bucky has had trouble making friends outside of Steve as well, but he thinks that his problem is different from Logan’s. Logan, it sounds like, has kept himself apart from people because he doesn’t like them. Bucky’s problem is that he is scared of them. He knows that people like Phil and Wanda are lovely people, they must be if Steve is friends with them, but he is still scared to make contact with strange people. And if he’s honest, Bucky is angry with himself for not being able to just interact like a normal person.

And there is his anger. He didn’t recognize it until this moment. He is angry with himself every time he fails at something that should be simple. Like the other night when he was trying to kiss Steve. Everything had been going great, then all of a sudden it wasn’t. He was thinking too much. He was thinking about how he could fail, and that made it so that he did.

He’s so pissed off that he wasn’t able to do something he thought he was ready for. And even worse, he ruined Steve’s first kiss. As much as Steve denies that it was ruined, Bucky thinks that Steve just doesn’t have a good comparison. Bucky’s a mess, and Steve deserves better. The anger is boiling up again, and Bucky once again wants nothing more than to be out of here.

The session finally ends and Bucky bolts out of the room to find Steve waiting for him.

“How’d it go?” Steve asks him with a bright smile.

Bucky grumbles back, “I don’t want to go again,” he says and flees the building, hoping that Steve is right behind him.

Chapter Text

“They get more adorable by the day,” Bucky tells Clint while intermittently petting a kitten. Clint has the other one climbing all over his lap and rubbing up against him.

“Does it want something?” Clint asks of the cat in this lap. Bucky can hear from across the couch that the kitten is purring loudly and he keeps walking back and forth.

“It’s close to their dinner time. Calvin just wants his dinner a bit early. He always tries to do that by being as cute as possible. Sometimes it works.”

Steve’s out at another meeting with Timely Comics and Clint has come over to keep Bucky company. Bucky is relaxed with Clint because they can sign together. He’s more comfortable with Clint than any of Steve’s other friends.

“So, how is life with Nat?” Bucky asks. “Last time we saw you, things were a bit rough.”

“Everything is sliding into place now.” Clint tells him. “We’ve worked out the kinks and things are much smoother now.”

“That’s good,” Bucky says. “How’d you end up working out your differences?”

“Patience and lots of compromise,” Clint says. “It helps that whenever we fight we just end up in bed together.”

Bucky looks away. He fights down his emotions over what Clint just said. He’s reminded that Clint has a normal life and a normal relationship with his girlfriend, something he’s been unable to have with Steve.

“Shit,” Clint says aloud, since Bucky’s not looking at him anymore. “I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault that things between me and Steve are so fucked up,” Bucky signs angrily.

“Don’t say that,” Clint signs back. “Things between you and Steve seem so ridiculously perfect. It honestly makes me jealous.”

Bucky wishes that were true, but he knows it’s not.

“How are things going?” Clint tries to change the subject. “Are you still the happiest couple in the history of ever.”

Bucky sighs, thinking of the other night when he tried to kiss Steve. No, things are not going as smoothly as they could be. Bucky has been trying to work himself up to trying again, but he keeps psyching himself out, assuming that it will go as badly as last time. He can’t have another failure.

“I guess not,” Clint says, reading Bucky’s expression. “Wanna tell me what’s wrong?”

“It’s just…” Bucky begins. “I want the kind of things that you and Nat have. I want to pursue a more intimate relationship with Steve. But I’m scared out of my mind.”

“Hmm,” Clint hums aloud. “I don’t know what to say. What seems to be the problem with that?” Bucky lifts an eyebrow incredulously. “Except for the obvious.”

Clint doesn’t know everything that happened to Bucky, but he knows enough. Bucky admitted to being sexually assaulted when he was trying to explain why he and Steve are the way that they are. But he doesn’t know how bad it really was.

“I tried to kiss Steve the other night,” Bucky admits, cringing a bit at the thought of it.

Clint perks up at this, sitting straight and disrupting the cat that had settled on his lap. “Tried?” he asks with interest.

Bucky sighs again. “Yes, tried. It didn’t go as well as I hoped.”

“What happened?”

“Well, we kissed,” Bucky starts. “Then I had a flashback and pulled away.

Clint seems to ignore the last part, and gets giddy. “You guys kissed! I have to tell Nat. Is that OK?”

“Uh… sure?” Bucky replies. He doesn’t know how he feels about Clint spreading this information, but he supposes if he’s willing to tell Clint about it, it probably OK that he tells Nat.

“So what triggered the flashback?” Clint asks.

“I don’t really know,” Bucky responds. “It was going great on minute, then Bam! Flashback.”

“Dude, that sucks,” Clint sympathizes.

“I want to try again, but I’m so afraid that it’s just going to happen again. I don’t know how to make it any better the second time. And I’m so worked up about it.”

“You could always get drunk,” Clint suggests.

“Uh…” Bucky doesn’t really know what to say to that. “Steve and I don’t really drink. You know, because of our meds.”

“Right, right,” Clint remembers quickly. “Terrible idea. Forget I said anything.” He goes back to signing. “Drinking never solves anything. You certainly don’t want to rely on it. Really, forget it.”

But Bucky can’t really get the idea out of his head. Steve doesn’t drink, and Bucky’s not supposed to on his meds. Plus, alcohol can make depression and PTSD worse. He worries about how the alcohol might affect his flashbacks, and he would have less control over his panic attacks. But if it would help him relax around Steve, wouldn’t it be worth a try?

But Bucky hasn’t gotten drunk since a teenage party he went to once in high school. He’s and adult now, he’s actually allowed to drink. It’s strange to him that he hasn’t tried it at all.

His meds are the biggest factor. Steve once mixed his depression meds and alcohol, and he ended up in the hospital. But he could refrain from taking them for a day or two and then try drinking. This sounds like a terrible idea, as Clint says, but he can’t stop thinking about it.

Clint sees the wheels turning in Bucky’s head and he quickly tries to change topics. “Anything else going on in your life?” he asks.

Bucky gets his head back into the conversation and answers Clint. “I’ve been thinking about getting a job.”

“Really?” Clint says. “That sounds like a great idea. What do you want to do?”

“That’s the problem,” Bucky tells him. “I have no idea what I want to do. Plus my options are limited because of my panic attacks and lack of an education.”

“Right, you never finished high school,” Clint knows that, but doesn’t know why. “That’s easily enough fixed though. You could get your GED.”

“Yeah?” Bucky asks. “How do I do that?”

“You just take a test,” Clint says. “Of course you have to learn all the material first, but you’re a smart guy, you could probably teach yourself. Just get some textbooks and read through them. Steve could help you on anything you get stuck on. Math is probably the hardest thing to teach yourself.”

Bucky perks up a bit at that. “Not for me. I was a math nerd. Teaching myself math would be a breeze.”

“Well there you go,” Clint says. “I bet you teach yourself other subjects as well.”

Bucky loves the idea. Learning would keep him busy and he would be one step closer to getting a good job.

“Thanks Clint, that’s a great idea. I’m going to do it.”

Chapter Text

Bucky is drunk. This was a terrible idea. He’s just barely staving off the panic attacks that threaten to overtake him. Steve’s at the store and Bucky downed a bunch of whiskey so he’d be drunk by time Steve got back, but now, with his head spinning, he’s hating himself for the dumb move.

Steve’s going to be able to tell when he gets home. He’s going to be mad. God Bucky is a dumbass. If even Clint thought it was a bad idea, he should have listened.

Maybe he can hide it. Bucky practices acting sober. He makes his movements as deliberate as possible and keeps his eyes focused on one spot so the room doesn’t spin as much. If he doesn’t get up and keeps from talking too much, he may just be able to pass. Then he can wait to sober up before Steve notices something is wrong. He just hopes that doesn’t take too long.

Bucky hears the key in the lock and almost jumps off the couch. He calms he breathing and waits for Steve to come in. Steve gets through the door slowly, carrying a load of groceries. He’s got cat litter in one hand, and he’s straining to hold all the other groceries in the other. Bucky realizes at once that his plan to stay on the couch isn’t going to work.

“Can you help me with these?” Steve asks him. Bucky smiles while internally freaking out. He gets up slowly and moves with care. If he can just not stumble. Steve has no reason to suspect that he would be drunk.

They unload the groceries in silence, Bucky worrying the whole time. But there is nothing to worry about apparently, because he gets through the exercise with no problems. Steve seems to be in his own head, probably still thinking about the comic that’s been on his mind all week.

After they’re done, they go to eat a premade dinner while sitting on the couch watching TV. Bucky can’t pay attention to whatever’s on. Instead he curls up into Steve’s embrace and thinks about kissing Steve.

The longer he sits there the more encouraged he is to try again. The alcohol is indeed making him relaxed, and his earlier panic is receding.

As soon as the show they are watching is over, Bucky picks up the remote and turns off the TV. Steve looks at him questioningly since they usually watch TV for much longer.

“You want something, Buck?” Steve asks.

Bucky just looks at him and licks his lips. “You,” he replies.

Steve immediately blushes and looks at his lap. Bucky’s worried for a split second that Steve doesn’t actually want to kiss him again, the last time being so disastrous, but he looks up again with a big smile on his face that he looks like he is trying to hide.

Bucky, feeling daring, gets up and swings a leg around Steve so that he is sitting in Steve’s lap, staring at him. Steve looks up at him looking extremely shocked.

“What are you doing?” he asks in a whisper.

“I was going to kiss you,” Bucky responds. “Is that OK?”

Steve swallows, but nods his head vigorously.

Bucky smiles. He is so relaxed and happy that he knows he can do it this time. He sits down further into Steve’s lap and reaches out to Steve’s face to pull him closer. Their lips meet gently, closed mouths at first. Then Steve moves first to open his mouth and let Bucky in. Bucky delves into Steve’s mouth, but slowly, wanting to make this as perfect for Steve as possible.

It’s going perfectly. His mind is clear and he knows that there won’t be any flashbacks tonight.

But all too soon, Steve is the one to pull away. “Bucky?” he asks with his brow furrowed. “Why do you taste like alcohol?”

Bucky’s world comes crashing down. He got caught. He should have realized that he would still taste like whiskey. He should have brushed it teeth or something. But even their dinner didn’t mask it completely.

Bucky gets off of Steve’s lap and flops back down on the couch. “I had some whiskey to calm my nerves.”

“Bucky! What the hell? You shouldn’t be doing that.”

“I just wanted to relax enough to be able to kiss you. It worked didn’t it?”

“I don’t want you doing that for me,” Steve says. “You shouldn’t be relying on alcohol. And your meds! You can’t mix them.”

“I didn’t take them today,” Bucky tells him.

“One day isn’t enough,” Steve says. “They stay in your system.” Steve is really starting to get worked up now. “Do I have to remind you that I know the consequences of mixing alcohol and meds?” He unconsciously looks down and rubs the scars on his wrists.

Bucky grabs Steve’s arms in his hands and rubs his thumbs over the scars. “No, you don’t have to remind me. I’m sorry, I fucked up. I just wanted to be normal for a hot minute. I knew it was a bad idea the second I did it. But it did work.”

“I don’t want it working like that,” Steve tells him. “I spent too long during my depression drowning out my problems with alcohol. I can’t sit here and watch you do the same thing. I thought we had agreed not to drink at all.”

“No,” Bucky says starting to get angry. “You agreed, and I went along. You have to let me make my own mistakes. Everybody makes some bad decisions with alcohol once in a while. I know you have. Why can’t I have my turn?”

Steve is getting angry too now and he raises his voice. “How dare you. You think that my past mistakes give you the right to do it too, and in front of me. Do you know what kind of memories this brings up? I can’t believe that you would think this was a good idea for even a second.”

“Well I’m sorry for trying something new. You’re willing to just sit here and let our relationship stagnate forever. I love that you’re patient with me Steve, but you’re getting on my nerves. I want more, and it seems that you don’t want to.”

“Fuck you,” Steve says standing up now. “You are telling me that I’ve been too good of a boyfriend for not pushing you? That this is somehow my fault? That’s such bullshit, Bucky. You need to take responsibility for your actions.”

“You think I don’t?” Bucky says standing up as well. “I’m acutely aware that I’m the problem with this relationship.” Tears start to come to his eyes. “I just wanted to take action and do something about it. And I don’t appreciate being yelled and made to feel guilty about it.” With that he can’t take it anymore and flees to the second bedroom. He slams the door and lets his tears fall.

Chapter Text

In the middle of the night, Bucky is all too sober, and the fight he had with Steve flashes through his mind. He stares at the ceiling, listening to the cats play with each other in the living room, and wondering if Steve is hating him right now.

He certainly deserves it. He was the one who made the mistake, and he yelled at Steve and dragged up a lot of bad memories for him. He would blame the alcohol, but he knows it’s not the truth. It was his fault. He wasn’t thinking properly when he decided to drink.

He also can’t claim it to be a spur of the moment decision. He had plenty of opportunities to stop himself. When he bought the bottle of whiskey, when he purposely hid it from Steve, when he took the first drink. He could have stopped any of those times, but he went ahead instead.

And now he’s ruined Steve’s second kiss. Steve wouldn’t admit that the first was ruined, but Bucky’s certain that he’ll think this one was.

Finally, he can’t stand staring at the ceiling any longer and gets up to grab a glass of water from the kitchen. When he gets as far as the living room, he sees that Steve is on the couch. They stare at each other solemnly before Bucky gets the courage go sit next to Steve on the couch.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers. “I was wrong.”

Steve doesn’t say anything back for a long time. Eventually he turns to look at Bucky. “You really upset me,” he says quietly.

“I’m sorry,” Bucky repeats.

“I don’t want you to be sorry. I just want it to not happen again.”

“It won’t,” Bucky promises. “I made a mistake. I won’t repeat it.”

“That’s good to hear,” Steve says. He doesn’t say anything else for a while, and Bucky doesn’t know what he could say to fill the silence. “I’m going back to bed,” Steve announces and gets up. He walks over to their shared bedroom. “You’re welcome to join me,” he says softly, stopping in the doorway.

Bucky nods, so relieved to hear that. “Soon,” he says, and watches Steve slip into the darkness of their bedroom.

 


 

“What am I supposed to draw?” Steve says the next day, freaking out in front of Bucky. Bucky is trying to read an extremely dry history book for his GED, and Steve’s pacing is not helping.

Things are a little strained today since their fight last night, but they’ve amazingly been able to get back into a rhythm, Bucky studying, and Steve drawing.

“I thought you had plenty of ideas?” Bucky says. Steve had been talking his ear off nonstop since he got the script of the test comic.

“They’re all bullshit. They’re too childish. This is an adult comic book. I need to draw something more sophisticated.”

“I’m confused,” Bucky says. “Doesn’t the script tell you what to draw?”

“Only broad parameters. I have a lot of leeway. It’s why I need this test before they’ll give me the book. I’ve never done a comic before, and while I know the style, they don’t know how I’ll work with open-ended directions like this. I don’t know how to start.”

“You know what I do when I get writer’s block?” Bucky signs. “I just write one thing down. Anything. Doesn’t matter if it is the beginning middle or end of the chapter, I just write down one idea. That idea leads to another, which leads to another, and so on. Pretty soon the whole chapter is outlined.”

“That’s great, Buck, but why are you telling me this?”

“You could try it with drawing. Just sketch one idea, any idea, and go from there.

Steve stops pacing to look at his blank piece of paper. “I suppose I have at least one idea,” he says. He goes to sit down. “Mind if I draw out here?” he asks Bucky. “I want to be close to your bright ideas and encouragement.”

Bucky smiles. He’s glad that Steve wants to still be around him after their fight. “Of course,” he says, and goes back to his book as Steve sits down to start sketching.

He draws for an hour, never slowing down. By the time that Bucky looks over, Steve has filled out several pages of doodling, and one that looks like a complete pencil sketch of a comic book page.

Steve finally looks up from his drawing around dinnertime. “How’s your drawing going?” Bucky asks.

“Brilliant,” Steve says with enthusiasm. “That idea of yours was great. Thanks.”

Bucky smiles, happy to have helped.

“How is your writing going?” Steve asks.

Bucky smiles wider. “Great!” he says happily. He’s at the part in his story when the kittens come to the hospital. It’s such a happy memory that Bucky could write about it all day. In fact he had, yesterday.

“I see you typing furiously all the time. You must be really productive.”

Bucky has gotten through the story quite fast, but he also knows the truth about how productive he’s really been. He wants to get the story out so fast that his writing is likely atrocious. It will need a lot of editing before he turns it in to something worth reading.

“I’m so curious about it. I wish you would let me read some of it.” Bucky shakes his head. He’s not letting Steve read a single page of it until it is completely finished. Steve already knows this, but he keeps trying to get Bucky to relent to his pestering. But Bucky is firm about this one.

“No reading until it’s done,” Bucky tells him one more. Steve pouts a bit, but says no more.

Chapter Text

Bucky and Steve decide that the best thing to do for their relationship is to go see Sam together. Sam is the voice of reason, and they’re both worried that they won’t be able to get past they’re recent problems without some help.

“Bucky,” Sam says at the beginning of the session. “Why don’t you tell us what the problem is?”

Bucky starts signing. The interpreter is gone this time since Steve can understand him and tell Sam what he says. It’s a little weird to talk about his problems with Steve through Steve, but it is better than talking about his relationship issues through a stranger.

“He says that he wants to move forward,” Steve translates for Sam. “That someday he wants to…” Steve stops. He starts blushing hard, turning a bright shade of pink before he continues. “Someday he wants to be able to have sex with his boyfriend,” Steve says a little meekly, his voice cracking.

“And is that a problem for you,” Sam asks Steve.

“Oh, no,” Steve replies, both to Sam and to Bucky. “I’d…” he blushes even harder, if that is even possible. “I’d like that too. Someday. But I don’t want to push Bucky.”

Bucky starts signing again, this time with a lot of emphasis on his words.

“Bucky says that he wants to be pushed,” Steve translates again. “He thinks it is the only way that we will move forward.”

“What do you think about that suggestion?” Sam asks.

“I’m just afraid,” Steve says. “The first time we kissed you had a flashback,” he says speaking to Bucky directly.

Bucky signs back, mad this time. “I didn’t lie,” Steve responds.

“Woah,” Sam says, “Back up for me. Remember I can’t understand unless you translate.”

“Sorry,” Steve bows his head, but there is a set to his teeth from what Bucky said to him. “Bucky called me a liar. I had told him that I didn’t have a problem with the flashback, that it didn’t ruin my first kiss like he was worried about. And that’s true. It didn’t bother me. We had a great kiss. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t worry about the aftermath. I don’t want him to have to suffer panic attacks just to please me.”

“From what Bucky has said so far, it doesn’t sound like he is doing it solely to please you,” Sam says, always so careful to listen to their meaning behind their words. “Would you say that is accurate, Bucky?”

Bucky signs yes, a sign that Sam knows. But then he goes on to elaborate. “He says he wants it for himself as well,” Steve says. “I know that, Bucky. You have made that clear. I suppose I haven’t really been listening though. I thought that I knew best.”

“Communication is key,” Sam says. “It sounds like Bucky has been trying to tell you what he wants. It’s wise of you to realize that you may not have been paying close enough attention. What do you think you will make of this information, now that you have it?”

Steve looks down at his lap. “I want to move forward too. But I’m also scared. And not just because I’m worried about you. To be honest, this has a lot to do my insecurities as well.”

Bucky signs to Steve. “What do you mean?”

“I’m so scared. I don’t know what I’m doing. You act like kissing and sex and everything is natural, and that you are the only one who is having problems with it. But it doesn’t seem natural to me. I have never gone as far with anyone as I have with you. And we haven’t even done much yet, but I still feel paralyzed. I feel that I’m going to mess this up.”

Bucky looks confused. He knew that Steve was unpracticed at relationships, but this level of concern is new to him.

“You really feel that way?” Bucky asks. “What is there to worry about? Don’t you trust me?”

“Of course I trust you,” Steve has stopped bothering to translate Bucky’s words, but it seems that Sam is staying out of it for now, letting them air out their problems to each other. “But you have more experience. I don’t know how to live up to that.”

“You have nothing to live up to,” Bucky tells him. “Sure, I had a sexual relationship in high school. But I wasn’t in love then. Everything with you is better.”

Steve looks away shyly. His eyes are a bit moist, but at least no tears threaten to fall. “I love you too,” he says. “That’s the problem. I want it to be good for you. Especially after everything you’ve been through. If you really want to pursue a sexual relationship with me, I want to be able to show you how great it can be. But I don’t know how to do it. I’ll just mess it up.”

Bucky waves his hand in front of Steve to get his attention so that he can sign again. “You can’t possibly do that. Like I said, everything with you is better than I could ever have imagined. In that way, I’m not as experienced as you would think.” Steve is staring intently into his eyes now, actually listening to what Bucky has to say on the matter.

“But I don’t know what I’m doing,” Steve protests.

“If that’s the problem, I can take the lead. It worked with our kiss, didn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Steve says, almost dreamily. “It was really good. I was scared, but it turned out well.”

“See,” Buck signs. “You don’t have to worry about anything. I’ll take care of you.”

Steve smiles shyly and looks at his lap for a second. When he looks back up, he’s got a grin that Bucky knows he is trying to contain, but can’t.

“I trust you,” he says. Bucky beams back at him.

Sam, seeing that the two of them seem to have worked something out, chimes in. “Have we reached some sort of agreement?”

“I think so,” Steve replies. “I’m going to let Bucky take the lead. I’m going to trust him to know his own boundaries, and I’m going trust him to guide me.” He turns back to Bucky. “I’m going to need you to be patient with me though, in case I’m not ready.”

Bucky smiles. “You’ve been patient with me. So very patient. Of course I can return the favor.”

Chapter Text

Wanda, Phil, Nat and Clint have all come over for board game night. It’s rare that the entire group comes together, but Steve always seems excited to see all his friends at once.

Bucky is trying not to freak out. He’s been around this group before, but this time Wanda has brought her boyfriend, Victor Shade. Bucky doesn’t do well with strange men, and he’s not too happy to have him in his apartment, which is supposed to be a safe place.

So Bucky focuses on the kittens. They are excited by all the new people to play with, and are climbing on the laps of everyone who sits down. Hobbes finds Victor and starts rubbing up against him.

“What is it doing?” Victor asks, raising his hands up to avoid touching the cat.

Steve laughs. “He likes you,” he says. “He’s just getting to know you.”

“Uh, I don’t know how I feel about this,” Victor tells them.

“You don’t like cats?” Wanda inquires.

“I don’t know,” he replies. “I haven’t been around them much.”

Calvin sees that all the attention is on Victor now, and goes to plant himself right on top of him.

“Now there’s two of them,” he remarks quite coolly, but still obviously not sure what to make of his situation.

“You can pet him,” Clint suggests.

Victor takes one finger and tries petting the Calvin, but he’s poking him more than really petting. Calvin looks up at him, obviously annoyed, but settles back down again, ignoring the stupid human who doesn’t know how to pet properly, but at least has a warm lap.

“Looks like Calvin has settled in,” Steve announces. “We can move the game over to the coffee table so Victor doesn’t have to move.” Bucky snickers. Steve is loving the situation Victor is in. How could someone not enjoy being smothered in love by the cats?

“Uh…” Victor starts.

“Great idea,” Wanda declares. She’s on Steve’s side with this.

Soon they bring over Dominion and set it up on the coffee table by the couch. Everyone brings chairs so they’re all sitting around the table. The game’s not specifically designed for seven, but they bend the rules a bit to make it work.

Bucky, as usual, is quiet during the game. He keeps his eye on Victor the entire time, but the man doesn’t move from his spot, still penned in by the kittens. Steve sees him staring and gives him significant glances, willing him to cut it out. He tries, but his eyes keep coming back to Victor. It’s not doing much for his nerves.

Even worse, as the game goes on and Victor feels more comfortable with the cats, he reaches over to where Wanda his sitting next to him and takes her hand. He starts petting her skin, rubbing smoothly up a down. Bucky can’t help but stare now.

Steve kicks him under the table and he looks away. Apparently it is his turn, and he completely didn’t notice.

He brings himself back to the conversation. Clint has been talking about the vacation he and Nat just took. If Bucky remembers correctly, they were planning on renting a secluded cabin in the woods by a lake. They wanted to get away from the city and focus on their relationship.

“It was great,” Clint tells them all while Nat is focusing on what cards she is going to play. “We spent all day at the lake, and then had all night for, well… you know…”

Nat smacks him on the arm to stop him from talking, but not before Steve turns a deep shade of pink. He usually loves it how Steve blushes at the mention of sex, but right now Bucky is just pissed at Clint. He doesn’t want to hear about their love life when he’s having problems with his own.

He focuses back on Wanda and Victor. Wanda now has her hand over Victor’s, keeping it where it’s placed on her arm. He is stroking the skin at her wrist with his thumb.

He’s had enough. He gets up and heads straight for his bedroom. The cats spring up and follow his movement, heading straight into the bedroom with him. He closes the door, sits on the bed and tries to breathe.

“Is something wrong,” he hears Phil say, muffled through the door.

“No,” Steve replies. “He sometime just needs to be alone.” There is a sad note in his voice, and Bucky feels like he’s let Steve down. He knows that Steve understands, but he doesn’t want to make a scene in front of his friends. “I’ll go check in on him in a little while.”

Bucky sits down on the bed and the cats come up to join them. He absentmindedly pets them while staring off into space. He calms himself down with all the techniques he’s learned over the years.

What had set him off? Just seeing Clint and Nat, Wanda and Victor, he feels left out. He wants so badly to have the same relationship with Steve. If he wants it so badly, why can’t he just do it? Just kiss Steve and not freak out?

Steve knocks on the door and slips into the room quietly. The room is still dark; Bucky didn’t bother to turn on the light. Steve sits down softly next to him on the bed.

“Anything I can do?” Steve asks. He knows better than to ask if Bucky is all right. Bucky shakes his head. Steve can’t help. He just needs some time. “What was it that set you off?”

“Dunno,” he whispers back, “Everything.”

Steve glances at him, takes in his body posture and moves closer. He can tell with one look that Bucky won’t move away from him, that closeness is what he needs right now. Steve puts one arm around Bucky and leans his head on his shoulder.

“We need a break. Get away from everything, everyone.” Steve rubs up and down Bucky’s arm. Bucky closes his eyes and takes it in. This is exactly what he wanted from Steve in this moment, this bit of comfort. He leans into the touch.

“What do you mean?” he asks.

“Clint wouldn’t stop talking about that cabin,” Steve replies. “He suggested that we go. It would be nice, to get away from the city. It would be just you and me.”

Just the two of them. No other people to make him feel like he’s anything less than normal. And he could get Steve all to himself. Maybe in the romantic setting they could try kissing again. Bucky smiles at that idea. He reaches up and cards his hands through Steve’s hair from where he’s still resting his head on Bucky’s shoulder.

“Sure,” Bucky says. “Let’s do that.”

Chapter Text

Bucky gets talked into going to another group session. He keeps reminding himself that Steve is in the other room waiting for him, that everything will be OK.

They serve coffee before the session starts. He grabs himself a cup, sure to keep away from the people chatting in front of the table. Bucky has no desire to get to know anyone better. He doesn’t want to reveal how much worse he is than everyone else.

But he doesn’t get his wish, because as he’s absentmindedly pouring sugar into his coffee, a man comes straight over to him.

“Hey,” the man starts. “I recognize you from a few sessions ago. I didn’t think you’d be coming back the way that you booked it out of here at the end.”

Bucky recognizes the guy as the man with the anger issues, Bruce. He doesn’t want to have anything to do with a strange man who may snap at him at any moment. So he just stands there, subconsciously looking for exits.

“I’m glad you came back,” Bruce continues, oblivious to Bucky’s discomfort. He doesn’t even seem put-off by his lack of reply. “I know these sessions can be scary at first, but they really help a lot of people.” He smiles, but Bucky doesn’t find it comforting at all. He just wants out of there.

“You seem the shy type,” Bruce goes on. “You don’t have to share. Just listen for a while, see how other people are dealing with their traumas. It does a world of good.”

Bucky puts down his coffee and bolts. There was nothing particularly wrong with Bruce’s pleasant conversation, but he was too close, and wouldn’t back off. Not that Bucky told him too, but he was hoping his silence would be a clue.

He goes straight out the door to the waiting room outside where Steve is sitting. Steve is sketching in his notebook with his headphones on and doesn’t see Bucky come out of the room. Bucky gets his attention by sitting down right next to him.

Steve takes his headphones off and looks concerned. “You OK?” he asks. “You were only in there for a few minutes. Something set you off?”

Bucky loves how concerned Steve is for him rather than being upset that Bucky didn’t give it the shot he promised. “I can’t do this,” he tells Steve quietly.

“Why not?” Steve asks, nothing but kindness in his voice.

Bucky shakes his head. “Too many strangers,” he replies.

Steve sighs, but it is with kindness, not exasperation. “Want me to go with you?” he asks softly. “We could sit in the back. You don’t have to talk to anyone.”

Bucky takes a deep breath. He knows that Steve really wants him to give this a try, and Bucky didn’t really give it much time. As Bruce said, just listening would be helpful.

“I’ll give it try,” he says.

“We can leave whenever you want to,” Steve tells him. “Just give me a tap on the shoulder and we’ll be out the door in no time.”

Bucky smiles. He loves that Steve is willing to let him bolt again if he feels uncomfortable. But Bucky wants to actually give this a longer try this time. As long as strangers don’t come up to him again, he’ll be fine. Steve will be a buffer for him.

Bucky gets up and extends his hand to Steve. He takes it and lets Bucky pull him up out of his seat. Bucky doesn’t let go. He wants Steve’s warm presence by his side.

They enter the room again and find the session is already in progress. They slip into the back row, which is deserted, and settle in. Bucky holds on to Steve’s hand, and turns his attention to the therapist who is speaking.

“Would anyone like to start us off?” the therapist asks. A woman in the front row shakily raises her hand. Bucky doesn’t remember her being here last time he attended. “Please,” the therapist gives her the floor. “Come up and tell us about yourself.”

The woman stands up and faces the rest of the room. “I’d rather not give you my name,” the woman starts off.

“That’s absolutely fine,” the therapist says from his chair. “You can just tell us what you want to.”

The woman clears her throat. “I was raped a few weeks ago.”

Bucky clenches his hand around Steve’s. Steve looks at him with concern, but just squeezes back lightly. The firm pressure gives Bucky comfort and he breathes in as slowly as he can. He finds he actually wants to hear what this woman has to say.

“I was jogging, early in the morning,” she tells them. “I took a shortcut through a park. I shouldn’t have done it, but I wasn’t thinking. I was grabbed by a man, and he…” She doesn’t need to go on. The audience knows what she was going to say.

She clears her throat again. Bucky knows that she is trying to push down her emotions so she can get out what she has to say. “I’m scared of men now. I can’t be alone with a strange man anymore. I actually feel better in crowds, knowing that I’m safe with all the people about. But being alone with a man scares me to death. I start shaking and I feel like I’m going to faint.”

Bucky listens intently. He finally feels that he can connect with someone in this room. He knows exactly what this woman is talking about. He doesn’t feel better in crowds, but he doesn’t like strange men, just like she says. The earlier incident with Bruce confirms that.

He looks over to where Bruce is sitting. The man is actually staring back at him. Bruce turns away as soon as he is caught looking. Bucky thinks that he probably is connecting the pieces. He may not know Bucky’s past, but he likely sees what he did wrong to make him bolt.

Bucky closes his eyes and feels Steve’s hand in his. Steve, the man that not only can he feel completely comfortable being alone with, but he can touch as well. He feels so lucky to have Steve in his life.

The woman goes on. “I don’t even feel comfortable around my boyfriend anymore,” she says. “I can stand to be alone with him, but I rarely even want him to touch me. We haven’t had sex since it happened. I’m afraid that he is going to leave me.”

Bucky rubs his thumb over Steve’s hand and looks over to his boyfriend. Steve looks back at him, and there is a sadness in his eyes. He’s likely thinking about how similar this woman’s story is to Bucky’s.

But Bucky smiles at Steve. Despite listening to this difficult subject, his heart feels light. Even though Bucky has had so many problems due to his trauma, he managed to find Steve. And Steve would never leave him just because of what he’s going through. Steve understands and has the patience of a saint.

Bucky’s heart beats strongly with love for this man at his side. He thinks he is going to cry, but not because of what he is hearing, but because of how much he loves this tiny man who took a chance on him.

He can’t help himself. He leans over and leaves a small peck on Steve’s cheek. Steve blushes, but he’s smiling brightly. If they weren’t in public, Bucky would be kissing him senseless. And not because he feels like he has to perform, but because he’s so much in love.

Chapter Text

They end up at the cabin by the lake that Clint and Nat recommended. Those two are looking after their kittens so they can take time away from the city. They’ve been here two days, Saturday and today, and they haven’t seen another soul. Bucky feels lighter than he has in months, free from other people. But he’s glad that he’s not completely alone. Being with Steve is what really makes this vacation worth it. That man makes him so happy.

Bucky finds it strange that this time away in the cabin is as relaxing as it is. He and Steve haven’t done much more than they usually do at home. Aside from swimming in the lake, they spent a good bit of their time playing board games. Steve even let them play Uno, a rare occasion since Bucky always beats him so badly. It’s really pathetic how horrible Steve is at Uno, but Bucky loves to crush him. Steve gets so frustrated, but it’s in an adorable way, not that he’s really mad.

After a swim in the lake, the two of them smell like lake water. “Mind if I take the first shower?” Steve asks. Bucky waves his hand in the direction of the bathroom, allowing his boyfriend to take first crack at the shower.

Bucky’s been drinking in the sight of Steve without a shirt on all weekend. Sure, he sees Steve in nothing but his boxers every night when they go to bed, but somehow it is different during the daytime. Out here with just the two of them, Steve seems more confident in his body. He doesn’t try to cover himself up. Even his scars are on full display, and he doesn’t seem to care. He loves seeing this attitude in Steve.

Bucky loves the way that Steve looks, but he can’t convince his boyfriend of that. The man has too many insecurities, built up over the years of rejections and teasing from asshats who can’t see how beautiful he is.

He hears the shower turn on and the sound of Steve’s stepping in. He fantasizes for a minute about joining his boyfriend. He would love to take in the sight of him completely naked, and rub his hands all over him in the warm spray of the water.

Bucky jolts himself out of the dream before he gets too excited. He knows it is just a fantasy, knows that he is not ready for that. But someday. Someday he will be able to do it. He knows it now. He has complete confidence that he will get there.

The shower turns off, breaking Bucky from his thoughts. Steve opens the door, letting a burst of steam escape the bathroom. “You’re turn”, he says. He’s wrapped in only a towel, and Bucky stares at him as he heads to the bedroom to get dressed.

Bucky shakes his head and gets back to the present. He jumps up and heads to the bathroom. He takes the quickest shower possible, simply rinsing the grimy lake water off of himself and getting out.

When he gets dresses he finds Steve waiting on the couch for him. “Come sit,” Steve gestures to the spot next to him. Bucky hurriedly joins him on the couch and slips into his waiting arms. Steve unfortunately put a shirt back on, but he is warm to the touch, and Bucky can feel the water on his neck from his dripping hair.

“This was a really nice idea,” Steve says of their time in the cabin. “I’m really glad we did this. What about you?”

Bucky hums his assent into Steve’s neck. Steve rubs his hand up at down Bucky’s arm. Bucky is so comfortable, he could fall asleep. But he doesn’t want to sleep. He wants to talk to Steve about something. He feels so comfortable in this empty cabin with just the two of them that he has no problems speaking.

“I had a revelation,” he tells Steve.

“Oh?” Steve responds.

“Yeah. About us.” Bucky tips his head up so that he can see Steve’s expression. Steve is just waiting patiently to hear what Bucky has to say. “I’ve been thinking about it all wrong. I’ve been so worried about how I need to perform.”

“You don’t need to perform for me, Buck,” Steve tells him.

Bucky smiles back at him. “I know.” He snuggles back into Steve’s embrace. “But that was the aspect that I was worried about. How I wouldn’t be able to kiss you or have sex because of flashbacks.”

“And that’s not a problem now?” Steve asks curiously.

“I’m getting to that,” Bucky says. “But first, I just want to say that I think that this has been part of your issue too.” He stops to let Steve contemplate this. “You said you were scared because you’ve never had a sexual relationship before. Worried that you would do something wrong. In other words, you were worried about performing too.”

He pauses again and hopes that he didn’t offend Steve by saying that. Steve looks out into space. “Huh,” he finally says. “I guess you’ve got me pegged.” He looks back at Bucky. “So what’s this revelation?”

“That it doesn’t matter. Because I’m so in love with you. We should just wait until the moment takes us. And if we fumble around and screw up a bit, it’s fine. I know that it won’t ruin what we have.”

“Of course it won’t,” Steve says.

“You say that about me screwing up, but it’s the same for you, Steve. You can’t do anything that would make me think less of you.”

Steve kisses Bucky’s forehead. “I love you,” he mumbles into Bucky’s skin. “I told you I’d trust you in this.”

“Good,” Bucky states. “Because I want to kiss you so badly right now.” He feels Steve smile into his forehead. “Is that alright?” Bucky asks.

“Of course,” Steve replies. “Stop talking and lets see where this moment takes us, just like you said.”

Bucky grins and gets himself out of Steve’s embrace so that they’re face to face. Steve actually takes the initiative and cups Bucky’s face in his hand. Bucky leans into it for a second, before leaning away so he can close the gap between their mouths. He delves in right away. He taps into the love he feels for Steve, and it’s all he can think about. No flashbacks, no psyching himself out. No room in his head and heart for anything but Steve.

Steve moans into the kiss, obviously enjoying it as much as Bucky is. Bucky pulls him closer and deepens the kiss. Steve surprises him and echoes the move that Bucky made when he was drunk. He gets onto Bucky’s lap and starts kissing Bucky with everything he’s got. They clack teeth and few times and bump noses, but neither of them is paying much attention.

Bucky hopes he isn’t going to far, but he grabs Steve’s ass and pulls him closer. Steve is wearing thin shorts, so Bucky can everything. He suddenly wishes that he could be touching skin, and so he releases Steve’s ass to get his fingers underneath Steve’s shirt. He traces Steve’s spine, knot by knot, and pulls him closer again. Steve moans and falls further onto Bucky.

Steve surprises Bucky by breaking the kiss long enough to get his shirt off. Bucky stares at the beautiful pale skins for a moment before he leans in and starts sucking at one of Steve’s nipples. Steve gives a surprises yelp, but soon he’s leaning into it. He starts pulling at Bucky’s shirt and they’re breaking apart once more to let Steve take it off. Steve starts rubbing his chest and soon they’re back to kissing fervently.

Bucky can’t believe how well this is going. He thought he was going to get a light kiss, but now they’re making out passionately in a romantic cabin and neither of them is freaking out in the slightest.

He pulls Steve closer by the ass again and this time Steve’s crotch rubs against his leg. He can feel that Steve is getting hard. Steve gasps at the touch and grabs at the back of Bucky’s neck. Bucky looks up to find Steve looking extremely embarrassed, but Bucky just kisses the expression off his face. He pulls Steve closer and does it again. Bucky’s not hard himself, but he’s glad that Steve is enjoying himself so much. He wants his boyfriend to get lost in the feeling and get away from the doubting thoughts in his head.

Bucky thought he would be scared of touching another man again, but he finds he wants to grab Steve’s dick and pump it until he gets off. Before he knows what he is doing, he’s getting his hand down between them. He touches Steve outside his shorts.

Steve yelps and pulls back. He’s panting and flushed. “Maybe not that,” he says. “Not yet.”

“Of course baby,” Bucky tells him. “Whatever you want.” He smiles at him to let him know that it’s completely OK.

“I’m just not ready,” Steve says.

“Can we go back to kissing?” Bucky asks hopefully, “Or do you need to cool off?”

“We can go back to kissing,” Steve says. “But maybe slower?”

“Slower it is,” Bucky agrees, and leans to give Steve a very slow kiss, showing him how good it can be to take things slow as well. Steve smiles into the kiss, knowing exactly what Bucky is doing.

He gets off of Bucky’s lap though, and sits back down next to him. Bucky doesn’t know how much times passes while they explore each other’s mouths slowly and tenderly.

Chapter Text

They start kissing all the time. Their usual nightly routine of Netflix or board games is forgotten in favor of making out on the couch.

The kittens are quite confused by this new behavior. Often, when Steve and Bucky are sprawled out on the couch exploring each other’s bodies and mouths, a kitten will jump on top of them, looking for attention. They just laugh it off, sometimes stopping to play with the poor neglected kitten, other times knocking off the cat so they can get back to what they were doing.

In the two weeks since the cabin, they haven’t gone any further than heavy make out sessions. Bucky has been sure to keep his hands in the appropriate places, waiting for Steve to make the first move.

They have talked about the next step. Not without much blushing from Steve, but they did talk about it. “What’s the problem?” Bucky asks. “You seemed really into it. I could feel how excited you were.”

Steve turns a deep shade of red. “I was, but….” He can’t seem to go on.

“This isn’t about performance is it?” Bucky asks. “Because I thought we’d talked about that.”

“It’s not quite that,” Steve says. “I just don’t want to move too fast. We’ve been taking it slow, and I like that. We don’t need to rush into anything.”

Bucky kisses Steve quickly. “Whatever you want.” He smiles at Steve, who gives a shy smile back. “I’m not exactly sure I’m ready either,” Bucky admits. “I was just so sucked up into the moment. But thinking about it, you’re right, it may be too fast.”

 


 

He tells Sam about the new development in his relationship with Steve. He was expecting that Sam would get excited, the way that Steve tells him that Nat was when he told her about it. But Sam just keeps his annoying therapist cool. He doesn’t look disappointed, but he’s not excited either.

“How do you feel about it?” he asks, an annoying therapist question.

“Great,” Buck signs through the interpreter. “I didn’t think that we’d get here so quickly. But everything about it is perfect.”

“That’s good to hear,” Sam says, still more monotone than excited. “I just want to make sure that you aren’t taking things too quickly.”

Bucky groans. Of course Sam would asks that. “We’ve talked, every step of the way,” Bucky assures him. “I haven’t had any panic attacks or flashbacks. Hell, my nightmares have lessened. I think it’s because a major fear of mine is gone.”

“I’m glad you faced your fear, Bucky, but I need you to know that it might not be completely gone.”

“Do you have to ruin everything?” Bucky asks him.

“You are coming off the high of your success. And the honeymoon period of this new aspect of your relationship. I don’t want you to crash and burn because you weren’t prepared.”

“Prepared for what?” Bucky asks, annoyed.

“That your panic attacks may not be gone. I don’t want you to freak out if you have one while you are kissing your boyfriend. It may still happen again. And it’s OK if it does.”

Bucky sighs. “I know,” he tells Sam. “I don’t see how it could happen now that I’m so comfortable with Steve, but I know in the back of my mind that I won’t be completely free of this.”

“And you know that it’s OK if you do have another panic attack when you’re with Steve.”

“I’ll be disappointed, but I know that Steve will understand.”

 


 

When Bucky gets home from his therapy session, he immediately knows something is different with Steve. He’s all excited and full of bubbly energy.

“What’s up?” Bucky signs when he gets in the door.

“Timely called,” Steve replies. “They offered me the comic!” Steve rocks up and down on the balls of his feet. It looks like he is trying hard to contain himself from actually jumping around.

“That’s great!” Bucky exclaims. He’s across the room in a second and gives Steve a big hug. He can feel Steve buzzing with excitement as he hugs back with enthusiasm.

Steve pulls back so he can speak to Bucky better. “They liked the test comic I did. I can’t believe it. I was convinced that I wouldn’t get it.”

“That’s because you don’t have enough faith in yourself,” Bucky tells him. “I knew you had the talent to get it.”

Steve blushes. “Thanks, Bucky. You gave me the confidence to do it, you know. I’m not sure I would have been able to do it without you.”

“You did it all on your own,” Bucky tells him. “I just nudged you.”

“Well, thanks anyway,” Steve says. He smiles big and wide.

Bucky loves to see Steve so happy. He wishes that Steve could be this excited everyday. He leans down and gives Steve a peck on his smiling lips. Steve, not content with such a small kiss, pulls him back down again and kisses him deeper. Bucky can still feel him smiling into the kiss, and it makes Bucky smile back.

Suddenly, Steve is pulling him backwards, towards the bedroom. Bucky is surprised, but happy to comply. They’ve been sticking to the couch for their make-out sessions to keep everything kosher. But if Steve wants to move this to the bedroom, that’s all right with him. He shakes a bit with excitement, not sure where Steve wants to takes this tonight.

Steve backs up until he hits the bed, then disengages from Bucky and scrambles up it. Once he gets situated, he reaches up to pull Bucky down to him. Bucky complies happily and is soon stretched out on top of Steve. He kisses the life out of his boyfriend and gets his hands all over him, careful to stay above the waist for now.

He pulls away for just a second. “Where do you want to take this Steve?” he asks.

Steve blushes and bites his lip. “I don’t know,” he replies. “Let’s just see what happens.”

That’s fine with him.

Chapter Text

They don’t have sex, but it was a close thing. Steve was obviously hard and rubbing up against Bucky. It was turning Bucky on so much. But Steve had pulled away in the end and took a breather to calm down. Once he had, they curled up together and fell asleep.

Bucky was somewhat relieved to tell the truth. He was certainly enjoying himself, but not as much as Steve was. He was having a more difficult time getting hard. He was certainly turned on by his boyfriend’s enthusiasm, but his body wasn’t responding the way he wanted it too. He’s afraid there is still some lingering fear that is stopping him.

Steve however didn’t seem to notice or at least didn’t bring it up. Bucky is confident that he pulled away because of his own fears, and not because he worried about Bucky. They had talked about this, and Steve had agreed to let Bucky decide for himself when or if he needed to stop.

 


 

Bucky decided for himself that he was ready to attend another group therapy session. This time he asked Steve to come with him the entire time. Steve was slightly reluctant because he felt he was intruding, listening to all the stories of trauma survivors when he wasn’t one himself. But he did want to be there to support Bucky, so he agreed.

“You have gone through a trauma,” Bucky tells him to make him feel better about attending the session. “The loss of your mother at such a young age caused your first bout of depression.”

“That’s nothing like what you went through,” Steve counters. “Or that woman the last session.”

“My case is extreme,” Bucky says sadly. “But that doesn’t lessen what you went through. Everybody there is there for different reasons.”

So Steve agrees to go with him and they walk into the session room together, hand in hand. Bucky guides them to the back row again. He’s not ready to sit closer to the other participants. He releases Steve’s hand though. He can get through this without constant contact. That is unless someone starts talking about being raped again. He might need Steve’s comfort for that. Thankfully, that’s why he’s here.

The session starts quite peacefully, not too triggering. A war vet gets up and talks about how he gets panic attacks in public places, always on the lookout for the enemy. He can’t take the subway at all because he hates being locked in with so many people.

Bucky can relate. He can’t take the subway either because it is too likely that a stranger would touch him. So he walks. That may never go away. Bucky sympathizes with this man and hopes that he will be able to get over his fear. Bucky doesn’t think that he ever will.

Next the woman from last time gets up again. Bucky starts breathing fast. He really doesn’t want to hear what she has to say this time. He already went through this.

After she introduces herself, sans a name, she launches right into her problem. “My boyfriend broke up with me,” she tells them succinctly. “He told me that I should have gotten over it by now. He thinks that somehow a rape isn’t traumatizing enough to still have so many problems.”

Bucky clenches his fists. This guy sounds like an asshole.

A different woman in the audience speaks up and says some of what Bucky is thinking. “What does he know?” she says. “Has he ever been raped? If he couldn’t be there while you were working out your problems, it sounds like you are better off without the guy.”

Steve nods his head emphatically in agreement. Bucky loves this man.

“I’m trying to tell myself that,” the woman says. “But we had been together for two years. I can’t believe he would dump me just a month and a half after what happened. I can’t help thinking that it is my fault, that I am taking too long to get myself back together. Maybe I’m wallowing in self-pity instead of moving on.”

Logan, the gruff war vet, actually speaks up in defense of this woman. “That’s bullshit,” he tells her. “Everyone takes the time they need to get better. It’s different for everyone. And I can guarantee that most people in this room have taken much more time than a measly month to get better.” He looks around the room. “Raise of hands. How many people here have been in recovery for much longer than a month.”

Two-thirds of the room raises their hands. Bucky shyly raises his hand as well, his first bit of participation he has shown. Surprisingly, Steve raises his hand also, but unlike Bucky, raises it highly and confidently. Bucky smiles. Of course Steve would want to show this woman that she is not alone.

“Thanks, everyone,” she tells them. “I know I shouldn’t internalize what he told me during a breakup, but it can be hard.”

The first woman from the audience speaks up again. “You can do it. I have faith in you girl.”

The unnamed woman speaking smiles. “Thank you,” she says again and sits back down.

A few other people get up and speak about various problems. Many of the new people are having a hard time getting back to their lives. Their normal routines have been disrupted and it is hard to get back into the swing of things. Bucky is glad that he had his time in the hospital to adjust before he got back into the real world. The hospital was a safe environment, and the days were structured for him. When he got out, he had Becca and Steve to look out for him.

After the session, Steve convinces him to mill around a bit longer, maybe talk to someone. After last time with Bruce, he doesn’t want to, but if he knows that Steve wants to talk to people. Maybe if he looks like he doesn’t want to talk, people will avoid him. He puts on his best angry glare. Steve doesn’t look impressed, but he lets it go.

Just as Bucky feared, Bruce comes up to him again. But thankfully he goes to Steve first. “I’m Bruce,” he introduces himself to Steve and holds out his hand. Steve shakes it and gives Bruce a kind smile.

“Good to meet you, Bruce,” he says. “I’m Steve.”

“Are you here with this young man,” he says, gesturing to Bucky. Bucky hides behind Steve, not meeting Bruce’s eyes.

“Yeah,” Steve says brightly, ignoring Bucky’s discomfort. Steve wants him to mingle with people in the group, even if it pushes him past his comfort limit. “This is my boyfriend, Bucky.”

“Bucky, huh,” Bruce says. “I actually came over to apologize to him.”

“Really?” Steve says. Bucky hadn’t told him why he bolted last time. “What for?”

“I think I scared him off,” he says. “I didn’t read his body language properly. I didn’t realize until later that he might not be comfortable talking to strangers.”

“Bucky’s shy around new people,” Steve confirms. “He stays pretty silent until he knows you better.” That’s understating it, but accurate enough.

“Well I’m glad he came back,” Bruce tells them. He turns to address Bucky directly. “Several people here have problems speaking up about what brings them here. It is OK to be shy. As I said before, just listening is helpful. Since you’re back, I assume think you are getting some benefit out of it.”

Bucky looks up at him, and actually nods his head. Steve looks really proud of him for just that level of interaction. Or maybe it’s because he finally agreed that this was helping him.

“I hope that you continue to come, Bucky,” Bruce goes on. “I’ll get out of your hair now.” He and Steve exchange polite goodbyes, and then he is gone. Bucky can breathe again.

“See,” Steve says, turning back to Bucky. “That’s wasn’t so bad. He was really nice.” Bucky gives him an unimpressed look and turns back to his coffee.

“Can we go home now?” he signs.

“Sure, Buck,” Steve agrees. “You gave it a good shot.”

Chapter Text

Bucky’s psychiatrist gives him a new anti-anxiety drug, fresh on the market. It is supposed to help reduce his panic attacks and nightmares. What is actually does is free him of anxiety all day long. He feels freer and more open than he has in years. This is truly a wonder drug.

Steve notices the change in him, but he’s not as excited about it as Bucky is. He’s happy that Bucky is feeling well, but he worries that this is just a side effect of the drug that will wear off over time.

But Bucky plans to take full advantage of this feeling as long it’s around. So when they go to game night at Phil’s place, Bucky plans to be as sociable as possible.

“Hi,” he greets Phil after he opens the door. Phil looks a bit taken aback at Bucky’s unusual upbeat behavior, but cheerfully greets him back and lets them into the apartment.

Wanda is already there, thankfully without her boyfriend this time. Bucky knows that is probably his fault, that his behavior last time probably kept Wanda from inviting him. But he’s still glad that he’s not here. Just Wanda and Phil to interact with. Bucky knows them well enough by now, but he feels they don’t know him very well. He barely speaks to them, and most of what they know of him comes from Steve.

Bucky gives a wave to Wanda and he comes in the room. He sits down in a chair at the kitchen table where they usually play their games.

“What are we playing today?” Steve asks.

“Small World,” Phil replies and holds out the box for Steve to take a look. “I just recently bought it. You’re the first ones I’ll have played it with.

They start the game and Bucky feels really relaxed. He doesn’t do well at the game, and he can’t quite figure out why, but it doesn’t stress him out.

“How was your vacation?” Wanda asks. They haven’t seen each other since they’ve been back and Wanda is itching to know how it was.

“Great,” Bucky replies first. Everyone turns to look at him, surprised that he offered up information without needed to. It makes him feel a bit self-conscious, but he’s still in a good mood, so he doesn’t let it get him down.

“It was really relaxing to get away for a bit,” Steve tells them. “I love the city, but sometimes it can be too much. We spent just the perfect amount of time away to take a break and just start to miss the city when we left.”

“I should take a vacation,” Phil says. “I’ve got plenty of leave days.”

“You should,” Wanda says. “That’s a great idea. You work too hard.”

“I just can’t see taking that much time off,” Phil replies. “They need me in the office.”

“They need you functioning too,” Steve says. “You need time off to reset and get back to peak productivity.”

“You’re making sense,” Phil says. “But I still don’t want to leave my co-workers without a leader.” He turns to Bucky. “What about you? Do you want to chime in and gang up on me as well.”

Phil usually doesn’t talk to him directly, or at least doesn’t ask questions that require replies. But perhaps he picked up on Bucky’s good mood and hopes that he will be able to answer.

“You should go,” Bucky says confidently, yet quietly.

“Well that’s it,” Phil says. “I’m outvoted.”

“Yeah,” Steve says rolling his eyes. “We really had to push you to take a vacation.”

“That’s what I’ll tell my team anyways.”

 


 

On the way home, Bucky is still bounding with energy.

“You were really outgoing today,” Steve says. “I’m really proud of you.”

“These meds are great,” Bucky replies.

“I’m sure it’s not just the meds, Buck,” Steve says. “You have worked hard to get here. Remember that.”

“But I feel so different, so confident,” Bucky says.

“That’s great,” Steve says. “I’m glad you found something that’s working for you.”

Bucky, still full of energy, is practically skipping down the street. “Come on, Steve,” he says, several feet ahead.

“What’s your rush, Bucky?”

Bucky stops and gets closer to Steve so that he can whisper. “Maybe I just want to get home so that I can get you naked,” he says enticingly.

Steve blushes hard. “Oh My God, Bucky!” he says. “What’s with you?”

“I just want to take advantage of this good mood I’m in.”

Steve frowns. “Uh, Buck?”

“Yeah?” Bucky asks, a little worried about what Steve’s about to say.

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” he tells Bucky.

“What do you mean?” Bucky asks. “Why not?”

“Well, you said the meds are giving you a lot of pep,” Steve starts. “I’m just worried that you’re still adjusting to them. I don’t want you to rush into anything, then regret it when the meds stabilize in your system.”

Bucky understands what he’s saying, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t pout a bit at this. “Aww, Steve. Why do you have to get all rational on me?”

Steve smiles. “Then you get what I’m saying?”

“Yeah,” Bucky says regretfully. “Doesn’t mean I like it, but you’re probably right.”

“Sorry, Buck. I just think this is the right thing to do.”

“Can we still make out?” Bucky asks hopefully.

“Sure,” Steve says laughing. “Clothes on.”

Bucky takes off again. “Then what are we waiting for?” he asks. “Come on!”

Chapter Text

Steve and Bucky go to the ballet to see Nat perform. She has a solo part in all three acts of Raymonda. It’s a big step up for her coming from the corps. So naturally, Steve is super excited for her and wants to go. Bucky is nervous about the crowds, but he wants to get out and do something more interesting than a night of Netflix. Steve told him he didn’t have to go, but Bucky wants to do this. He wants to take Steve out on a date. He can do this.

So they end up at the show, Bucky glued to Steve’s side, avoiding the crowds of people. They’ve gotten him an aisle seat so that he doesn’t feel pinned in and he can leave if he gets overwhelmed. But once the lights go down, he gets drawn into the ballet that he forgets the people around him. The only person he is still aware of is Steve. He can feel the excitement coming off of Steve and hears the loud applause from him. He loves that Steve is enjoying himself so much. Bucky is having a good time as well.

Nat is beautiful when she comes on to do her solo. She’s got on a pale green tutu that compliments her red hair that is tied up in a tight bun. She moves with such grace, it looks like she is hardly working at all. When she takes her bow, Steve stands up and claps as loudly as his small hands can muster.

After the show, Steve and Bucky go backstage to congratulate Nat on a wonderful performance. “You were brilliant!” Steve says after he finishes hugging her.

“It was flawless,” Clint says coming up behind her and putting an arm around his girlfriend. He is accompanied by Tony.

“How would you know?” Nat asks. “You wouldn’t know the difference between a good performance and a terrible one.”

“I’d like to think I’ve picked up a thing or two since I started working here,” Clint says, offended. Clint works as the lighting engineer. He’s told Bucky that his job is to make the dancers look beautiful, which is easy since they do most of the work on their own.

“Well I know what I’m talking about,” Tony chips in, “And you were lovely my dear.” Nat blushes but smiles brightly. Tony is her boss, in charge of managing the ballet, and he certainly does know what he’s talking about.

“The whole production was brilliant,” Steve tells them all enthusiastically.

“Thank God,” Tony says, looking exasperated. “The whole thing was a nightmare.”

“It wasn’t that bad,” Nat says.

“Not on your end,” Tony tells her. “All you had to do was dance. I had to deal with angry ballerinas.”

“What was the problem?” Steve asks curiously. He hasn’t heard any complaints from Nat.

“We are seriously understaffed in the accounting department at the moment. It led to some late paychecks to the dancers. Some of them were in an uproar. Threatened to quit the show if it didn’t get fixed. We had to promise to hire new staff as soon as we could.”

“You know,” Clint starts, “Bucky is looking for a job.” Everyone turns to look at Bucky, and he shrinks a bit at the attention.

“Yeah?” Tony asks. “You any good at math?”

Bucky doesn’t answer; he can’t while he’s being put on the spot. Thankfully Clint anticipates this and answers for him. “He used to be a math nerd. Isn’t that right Bucky?” Bucky nods strongly once to indicate that it’s true.

“Great, you’re hired.”

“What?” The word slips out of Bucky’s mouth in shock.

“I need people ASAP,” Tony tells him. “I’ll take anyone.”

Bucky clears his throat. He has to explain to Tony that he’s not qualified. “I don’t even have a high school diploma.” His words come out as a barely audible whisper, but at least he gets it out.

“No problem,” Tony says. “Diplomas are bullshit anyways. I have a data entry position that would be perfect. You don’t need any prior training. If you’ve got a head for numbers, you’ll understand it right away.”

“What do you say, Bucky?” Clint asks brightly. He obviously likes his idea.

Bucky thinks about it. He could give it a shot. If it doesn’t work out for him, he could always quit. He kind of doesn’t want to let Clint down. And Steve would be proud of him if he got a real job.

He nods his head to show he’ll do it.

“Great!” Tony exclaims, clapping he hands together. “It’s settled then. Can you start Monday?” Bucky nods his head again, this time a little more unsure. Tony ignores the hesitancy. “Perfect. Find me in my office at 9 AM sharp and I’ll get you situated.”

 


 

“You’re really taking the job?” Steve asks as the walk home.

“Sure,” Bucky says. He tries to act more confident than he feels.

“What about writing? And studying for your GED?” Steve asks.

“I can still do those,” Bucky says. “What, don’t you want me to take the job?”

“Oh, I didn’t mean to make you think you shouldn’t,” Steve hurriedly tells him. “It’s up to you, but I think it’s a great idea. I just didn’t want you to lose sight of the other things you wanted to do.”

“I think I’ll ask to work part time,” Bucky says. “At least at first. I do really want to keep working on my GED.” And writing. He’s really getting into his story; he doesn’t want to give that up.

“That’s perfect,” Steve says. “That way you can ease into it.”

Bucky smiles tentatively. “You really think it’s a good idea? With all my issues?”

“Buck, you do realize how far you’ve come, right? I think you’re ready for this.”

Bucky smiles brighter. If Steve has faith in him, he thinks he can have faith in himself.

Chapter Text

Bucky walks to his first day his first job, nervous as hell. He’s thrumming with nervous energy, and has no way to release it. It’s taking everything he’s got to restrain himself from turning around and running back home. But he steels himself and walks into the Ballet studio.

He knows where Tony’s office is. He got directions from Nat so that he wouldn’t have to ask anyone when he got there. He goes straight to the back of the building and turns left. An office with Tony’s name on the door is right where it should be. Bucky hesitates outside the office for a minute before he takes a deep breath and knocks on the door.

“Come on in,” Tony calls. Bucky opens the door and sees Tony sitting at an extremely messy desk. “Come sit down,” Tony says as he gestures to the chair in front of the desk. “Honestly, I wasn’t sure if you’d show up. But I’m so glad you did. We desperately need the help.”

Tony starts typing on his computer. “We haven’t worked out the details yet. Can you work a forty hour week?”

“Um…” Bucky reminds himself that Tony is far from threatening before he can get himself to talk. “I was hoping for part time.”

“Sure, sure,” Tony replies. “Like I said, we’ll take anything. Just half time would be extremely helpful. How about Monday, Wednesday, and half day on Thursday?”

That sounds exactly what Bucky wants. “OK,” he says with actual excitement. This wasn’t as hard as he expected.

“Alright then,” Tony says, standing up. “Let’s get you introduced to the department.”

Bucky grows cold. He hadn’t thought about the fact that he’d have to meet new people and interact with them everyday. It’s obvious now, but he’s still scared stiff.

Tony walks him down the winding corridors until Bucky thinks that he might be lost. No way to escape. Finally he opens the door to a thankfully spacious room with five different cubicles. Bucky can see from here that only two of them are occupied.

“Guys,” Tony announces to the room. “Come meet your new co-worker.” Bucky shrinks back as a skinny looking kid bounds up from his chair, full of energy. Another man, closer to the door, gets up more slowly. He’s well over 6 feet tall and has an imposing build. Bucky curls in on himself and tries to hide as much as he can. It doesn’t work as both of the men are staring right at him.

“Welcome,” the larger man says while extending his arm to shake. “I’m Thor, head of the accounting department.” Bucky actually steps back to put Tony in between himself and the huge man.

Tony pushes down Thor’s arm. “Bucky here doesn’t like touching people. Or speaking. But Nat and Clint both vouch for him being a great guy. Just watch out for his boundaries.”

Bucky is slightly embarrassed that Tony has to list his weaknesses to his new boss, but also grateful that he spelled it out. It will help avoid some problems in the future.

“Alright,” Thor says with a smile. “Bucky, was it? This job doesn’t require any contact, and not much speaking, so you’ll do just fine here.”

Bucky breathes a sigh of relief. This guy seems to get it. Despite his imposing physique, he seems kind and understanding.

The second man in the office is bouncing up and down a bit on the balls of his feet. Bucky turns his gaze toward him. He’s got a nagging feeling at the back of his head that this kid could pounce at any moment. He pushes the feeling down, reminding himself that it’ll be ok.

Thor sees his attention turn to the other man. “This here is Peter,” he says. “He’s a little energetic, but he’s a good kid.”

“Hey, man,” Peter says. He doesn’t hold out his hand to shake, but gives a tiny wave instead. “Welcome. We need help bad. I’ll be showing you what we need done today.”

Bucky gives a small wave back with a smile. The kid seems nice, even if he does need to cut out the coffee.

Tony leaves him to get acquainted with Thor and Peter. Bucky wishes he would have stayed longer, until Bucky got situated, but he understands that he has a job to do and can’t babysit Bucky. He needs to step up and face this himself.

Peter walks him through some simple stuff for his first day. It’s mostly just filling out spreadsheets and doing some simple math on the columns. Bucky’s math skills are up to par. He always like math, and it’s the first subject he’s been brushing up on for his GED.

He picks up the work quickly. Peter doesn’t expect much from him except to do as he says for the first few training worksheets. He doesn’t even expect Bucky to speak at all, which is such a relief.

Soon Peter feels ready to leave Bucky on his own. “You can send me the spreadsheets once you’re done, I’ll take a look at them to make sure they’re correct before sending them on to Thor. If you have any questions, you can IM me.”

Instant messaging instead of talking? Bucky is starting to love this kid. So far, his first day is going way better than expected.

Chapter Text

“Welcome,” Becca says as she opens the door and lets Steve and Bucky inside. She opens her arms for a hug and Bucky easily puts his arms around his sister. She is the only one other than Steve that he can touch easily, so he welcomes the contact.

“Come in, come in,” Becca tells them, shooing them farther into the house. “I’ve got dinner almost ready.”

Steve and Bucky go straight to the dining room and immediately notice the elaborate setup before them. “What’s all this?” Steve asks.

“Only the best for my baby brother,” she replies. “And of course you too,” she amends quickly. “But today we’re celebrating Bucky’s new job. It’s a special occasion.”

“You didn’t have to,” Bucky signs, slightly embarrassed at the attention.

“I rarely entertain,” Becca tells them. “Indulge me. I needed any excuse.”

Bucky and Steve sit down at the table while Becca goes to the kitchen to finish up their meal. “This is too much,” Bucky signs to Steve so that Becca won’t hear. “It’s not that big a deal.”

“Yes it is,” Steve signs back. “You should be proud of your new job, and the fact that you’ve been sticking with it even though it’s scary. Your sister understands how important this is. It’s a big step in your recovery.”

Bucky starts to sign his protest, but Becca comes back into the room with the food, and he guiltily puts his hands down. Becca doesn’t notice, or at least doesn’t comment on their secret conversation.

“Dig in,” Becca says, gesturing towards the large array of food, way too much for three people. “The food’s not going to eat itself.”

The meal is exceptional. Bucky didn’t know that Becca could cook so well. He wonders where she learned it, since she certainly hadn’t picked it up from their mother. He didn’t mind his mother’s food when he was a kid, but as an adult he sampled other meals and figured out that he had been eating bland foods all his life. At least it was better than hospital food.

“So how’s the job going?” Becca asks after they had put food on their plates.

“Good,” Bucky responds tersely.

“Just good?” Becca says. “You want to elaborate on that?”

“God, I feel like a teenager again.” She sounds just like mom did when he was a surly teen who usually gave one-word answers at the dinner table.

“Well if you’re going to answer like a teenager…” Becca starts.

“Ugh, fine,” he relents. “It is going well. I do mostly busy work, but it keeps me occupied.”

“How are your coworkers?”

“They’re actually really nice,” Bucky responds. “I don’t talk to them much though.”

“Why not?”

Bucky just stares at her. What does she think? He barely talks to anyone.

“You should get to know your colleagues better,” Becca tells him. “You will feel more comfortable over time.”

“Yeah, that’s what Sam said,” Bucky says. “So I went to lunch with them yesterday.”

“Really?” Becca says brightly. “How’d that go?”

“Fine,” Bucky says, back to one-word answers. “I didn’t say anything, just listened.”

“Well that’s a start,” Becca tells him.

Next she turns her attention to Steve. “How’s your working going?” she asks him.

Steve pushes some peas around on his plate. “I, uh… it’s ok,” he says uncertainly. “I’ve got this new book and the responsibility is kind of freaking me out.”

“Is the work hard?” Becca asks him.

“It’s not really that,” Steve explains. “I have the skill to do the art, it’s the pressure of coming up with new exciting ideas that the writer and editor will like. They’ve already sent a few pages back to me. It’s stressful.”

“Steve does great work,” Bucky tells his sister. “He just needs to believe in himself.”

Steve looks at his plate. “Bucky is too kind.”

“I think that Bucky wouldn’t lie to you,” Becca says. “I’m sure if he thinks it’s good, then it is.”

Steve looks up at her and gives a shy smile. “Thanks,” he tells her.

“I’d love to see your work someday,” Becca says.

“The first issue is coming out next week,” Steve tells her. “I can get you a copy.”

“That’d be great.”

Becca suddenly turns to Bucky. “Oh, I almost forgot,” she says. “I looked into GED classes for you.”

“Classes?” Bucky asks. He had been planning to just study by himself. Though he admits that his motivation is hard to keep up when there is no one to answer to.

“Yeah,” she says. “There are night classes you can take. I’ve got all the information for you.”

“I don’t know about classes,” Bucky says. “There are too many people.”

Steve takes this moment to chime in. “You’ve been doing so well at work. And you go to group meetings. I bet you can do this too.”

“You come with me to those group meetings,” Bucky interjects. “And there are only two people in my office.”

“You’re selling yourself short,” Becca says. “You’ve been doing so well. You don’t have to go to the classes if you don’t want to, but don’t not go just because you think you can’t.”

Bucky sighs. With Becca and Steve on the same side, he’s going to lose this argument. “Fine,” he says. “I could try going to one class.”

Becca smiles and bounces a bit in her seat. “Yay,” she says brightly, “Good on you.”

Steve smiles at him too. If he can make the two people closest to him happy, than it is worth giving it a try.

Chapter Text

Bucky swivels in his office chair a couple times. He’s got a stack of paper Thor gave him he needs to get through, but his eyes need a break. Staring at the computer screen all day is not good for anyone. Bucky’s glad he is only part time.

He’s happy to have the work, but man is it boring. The only thing it does do well is keep him occupied. The accounting department is still understaffed (they haven’t hired anyone other than Bucky yet) so there is a boatload of work to do. Unfortunately, it is all tedious busy work, and Bucky could use a break.

An instant message pops up on his screen. [Parker: Hey] Bucky just stares at it for a second, not sure if he is supposed to respond. While he contemplates, another IM rolls in. [Parker: Are you as bored as I am?] With this Peter pops his head over the cubicle barrier between them and smiles. Bucky looks over to their boss, Thor, but he’s got his head turned the other way, engrossed in whatever he’s working on.

Bucky is still nervous about talking through the IM. It should be simple for him, at least much easier than talking out loud, but somehow his brain still know it’s communicating with a relative stranger and shuts down. He slowly types out a short response. [Barnes: Yes] He’s not sure that this is what the company instant messaging system is supposed to be used for, but he also doubts anyone is checking.

[Parker: My back hurts from hunching over the computer. And my pinky.]

[Barnes: Your pinky?]

[Parker: Sure, from holding shift down to type the special characters. You don’t get this problem?]

[Barnes: No] This kid was a bit weird. But talking to him was something to do that wasn’t typing in ten million numbers all before lunch.

[Parker: Well my fingers are cramping and I need a break. Wanna take your 15 with me?]

Bucky pauses. He hadn’t really spent that much time with Peter. At work they mostly keep their heads down and focus, and they rarely take their breaks at the same time. He went to lunch with Peter and Thor once, and it was awkward the whole time. At least Bucky thought so, since he didn’t say two words the entire time.

His pause must have gone on too long, because Peter is sending him another message. [Parker: Or not, that’s cool.]

Bucky kicks himself. He wants to be accepted in the office, and blowing off his colleagues isn’t a great strategy. Bucky responds as quickly as he can type. [Barnes: Sure]

[Parker: :)]

Peter stands up and walks over to Thor. “Hey big guy, Bucky and I are gonna take 15, that cool?”

Thor turns around from what he was working on. “Of course friend,” he replies in that strange Norwegian accent of his. “You are entitled to a break. Feel free to take it when you please.”

“Cool,” Peter shoots back and takes off. Bucky trails behind him. He doesn’t even know where they are going. Peter takes him snaking through the building and up the stairs. When they reach the roof access level, Bucky slows down. There’s a big sign saying the alarm will sound if the door is opened.

“It’s fine,” Peter says when he sees Bucky slow down. “I come up here all the time.” He opens the door, and just as he said, no alarm sounded. Bucky still thinks they’re not supposed to be here though.

The roof access door opens up to a large expanse of graveled roof, with one lone lounge chair. The building is not very high, and the view is mostly of the parking lot, but Bucky feels like they’ve gotten away from all the people in the building, and he likes that feeling. He hadn’t realized he had been concerned with everyone else until he knew they were gone.

He’s still standing by the door by the time Peter makes it over to the chair. “Come on,” he shouts, “I don’t bite. I’ll even give you the chair. I don’t mind sitting on the ground.” Bucky hesitates for a moment before walking over. He doesn’t like being alone with strange men, but Peter’s not quite a stranger, and he’s not that threatening looking either. Bucky thinks he’s just out of High School, and he has a slim build. So Bucky steels himself and walks over to the chair and sits down.

Peter sits on gravel and leans back to face the sun. Bucky does likewise in the chair and closes his eyes briefly before he’s opening them again to keep and eye on Peter.

“Don’t you just love that,” Peter starts. “I can’t stand those fluorescents in there. I come up here for breaks quite a lot.” Bucky just nods his head to show he is still listening. “Don’t talk much, do you?” Peter remarks. Bucky bows his head down a bit in shame and shakes his head. “That’s cool,” Peter replies, “I can talk enough for two people. In fact it’s hard to get me to shut up sometimes.”

Bucky laughs a little. The kid is speaking at a million miles per hour and Bucky is quite convinced he could fill the empty space himself. But Bucky wanted to try to talk. That is why he came up here with Peter in the first place, to get to know his coworker a bit better.

“Maybe you should slow down on the coffee,” Bucky manages to pitch in to the conversation.

“Ha, god no,” Peter replies, seemingly happy to have him contribute. “Coffee is the only thing keeping me going. I practically mainline the stuff ‘cause I don’t get much sleep.”

“Why not?” Bucky asks.

“’Cause my mind is going to fast. I’ve got too many things I want to do. I’ve been playing around with this new material that is super strong and…” he looks over to Bucky, “… and you probably don’t care. I’ll stop talking now.” Peter shut up and looked over to the sun again.

Bucky actually is quite interested in what the kid has to say. But he can see that Peter likely has trained himself to keep all that excitement inside because most people don’t care to listen to technobabble. “Tell me,” Bucky says.

Peter looks over at Bucky with hope in his face, “Really?” he asks. Bucky nods once, emphatically. “Cool man,” Peter says and jumps up and launches into an explanation of this new material he is attempting to manufacture on his own, and in his aunt’s basement too. It’s really interesting even if Bucky doesn’t grasp everything Peter is telling him. He loves watching how excited Peter is, and the excitement is catching. Soon Bucky feels quite at peace here on the roof alone with Peter. Maybe he can do this after all.

Chapter Text

It’s game night at their apartment, and the cats, as usual, distract Wanda from the game. “Why won’t he chase the toy?” she asks instead of playing her turn in Munchkin. She’s trying to get Calvin interested in the teaser toy. He’s watching her very carefully, but not pouncing. Hobbes, on the other hand, is dead to the world asleep in the cat bed.

“They are getting older,” Steve explains to her. “They are starting to get picky about their toys instead of playing with everything in sight. Bucky turns to Steve and signs a suggestion to him. “Yeah good idea, Buck,” he replies out loud.

He talks as he walks to the cupboard above the refrigerator. He’s too short and has to get out the stepladder. “Hobbes will only play with toys that have catnip in them. He’s a total druggy. Calvin, however, will play with anything, but gets bored with it after 20 minutes. We have to keep rotating toys to keep him interested.” He grabs a toy out of the cupboard, something bright pink with a bell on the end. Calvin perks up immediately. “Bucky was nice enough to suggest we get out another toy for you.” He brings back the toy to Wanda and attaches it to the end of the wand she is holding.

She gives the teaser an experimental flick, and Calvin goes racing off after it. Wanda giggles with joy. “Thank you guys. I could just watch these two play all day long.”

“Perhaps you should take your turn though,” Phil suggests. “We’ve been waiting.”

“Whoops, sorry,” Wanda apologizes as she rushes back to the table. She quickly kicks down the door, doesn’t find a monster, loots the room, and rushes back to the cats.

“I see we’ve got your full attention,” Phil says dryly. “I’m tempted to curse you just to force you back over here.”

“You wouldn’t,” Wanda gasps.

“Don’t test me,” Phil warns. “I’m meaner than I look.”

“Fine,” Wanda relents, and returns to the table. Calvin promptly picks up the abandoned toy in his mouth, drags it to the kitchen, and sits on it, claiming it as conquered. “So what’s new?” she asks excitedly.

“Bucky got a job,” Steve supplies.

“That’s great,” Phil replies. “What do you do?” he asks Bucky.

Bucky hasn’t spoken yet tonight, so he’s a little startled that Phil addressed him directly, but after the good week he’s had at work, he feels that he can respond.

“Data entry,” he responds quietly. “It’s only part-time.”

“That’s great,” Phil says, looking much more thrilled with the idea of a boring job than Bucky would expect. “I started in data entry, worked my way up.”

“How do you like it?” Wanda asks.

“It’s boring, but I’m happy to have the work.” Bucky thinks back to the other day with Peter on the roof and smiles. He suddenly finds himself wanting to tell Wanda and Phil so much more than he is able to articulate right now, so he switches to sign language and lets Steve translate for him.

“I like my coworker, Peter. He’s high-strung and a bit crazy, but he’s a good kid. He seems really bright. I don’t know what he’s doing at this simple job. My boss, Thor, seems nice too, even though he’s big and scary looking, but I haven’t gotten to know him well yet.”

“Seems like you’re settling in though,” Wanda interjects.

“Yeah,” Bucky agrees, “It’s a lot less scary now that I’ve been there for a little while.”

“Well, that’s fun,” Wanda remarks, rubbing her hands together. “Anything else new?”

“It’s your turn again,” Phil reminds her.

“Thank you Phil, but I was asking Bucky.” Bucky laughs a little at Phil’s annoyance, but graciously lets Wanda take her turn before answering, least she get distracted again.

“Yes, actually,” Bucky signs. “My sister helped me sign up for GED classes.”

“That’s great!” Wanda exclaims. “I loved school. Total nerd. Though everyone called me a goth for my fashion sense. What subjects are you going to start with?”

“Trigonometry first. Math was my best subject and that’s where I left off.”

“That’s when you dropped out of high school?” Wanda asks.

Steve and Bucky look at each other warily, not sure how to proceed. “Kind of,” Bucky signs and Steve translates. Wanda and Phil don’t know Bucky’s story, and he’s not going to share it any time soon. It’s the kind of thing that colors the way you look at a person, and he’s still not that comfortable with the two of them.

Wanda, however, does not pick up on their cues and keeps delving deeper. “If you don’t mind me asking, why did you drop out?”

Bucky’s heartbeat and breathing pick up quickly and he rapidly responds aloud. “I don’t want to talk about it.” It’s much louder than he normally speaks and Wanda finally senses his discomfort.

“Sorry,” she says, fidgeting a bit, “I didn’t mean to pry. I can be a bit too nosy.”

“It’s OK,” Steve assures her, looking to Bucky to make sure it really is OK. Bucky is getting his breathing under control, and he’s not sure Wanda and Phil even noticed quite how worked up he got. Steve knows the signs and certainly picked up on it. “It’s just a sore subject,” Steve continues, “The important thing is that Bucky is going back to school now and he’ll get his GED soon.”

“Well,” Phil starts, clearly looking to lighten the mood a bit, “When do you start?”

Bucky goes back to signing, and lets Steve do the talking. “Tuesday,” he informs them. “Classes are Tuesday and Thursdays.”

“I’m cursing you, Wanda,” Phil declares. “With a chicken on your head.”

“What?” she cried out. “What did I ever do to you?”

“You didn’t pay attention to the game, for one,” Phil responds. “Someone had to drag you back to the task at hand.”

Wanda sullenly accepts her chicken helmet curse and settles in to really pay attention to the game.

Chapter Text

Bucky nervously walks to the local community college for his first GED class. His heart is beating fast, and it makes his feet move faster, despite the fact that he wants to be moving slower. He is excited for the class, but his nerves are outweighing his excitement at the moment.

He’s glad Becca set up these classes for him. He had been trying to study on his own, but without a structured curriculum, he had been floundering a bit. He often found distractions, and without someone to answer to, there were no consequences.

Bucky smiles thinking about his biggest distraction: Steve. He and Steve had been exploring the more physical aspects of their relationship lately, and it certainly is a good distraction. He can’t believe how they’ve progressed so quickly. He still has to stop too often for his liking, but he’s mostly gotten over the brain block that was stopping him before.

Thinking about Steve calms him down, but as he reaches the steps of the college, his heartbeat picks up again. He has to keep reminding himself that this is no different than group therapy in the number of strangers that will be there. He can just sit in the back and doesn’t have to say anything. He takes a few deep breaths and goes inside.

Once inside, he is shocked at how much the building looks like a high school. Somehow he thought a college would look different. But here he is in a long hallway lined with classrooms. He finds his room quickly and sneaks into the back.

It’s still a few minutes until the class officially starts, and the room is only half full. He sits, hunched in his chair, watching the other students file in. Bucky is surprised at the diversity of people walking into the classroom. One middle-aged man Bucky assumed was the teacher at first ends up sitting down with the rest of the students.

When the students have mostly settled down and the clock on the wall reaches the top of the hour, a man in his late-twenties walks into the room and takes position at the front of the class.

“Welcome, all,” he starts, “To Trigonometry. I know many of you are here as a requirement, and not because you are fond of math. But I swear to you, trigonometry is nothing to be scared of.” A small chuckle moves across the room. “Now we have a lot to cover in the coming weeks, so I will be moving at a decent pace, but don’t let that keep you from asking questions. I want everyone on the same page as we move forward.” And with that he launched straight into the first lesson.

 


 

“How was your first class?” Steve asks him when he gets back home.

“Good,” Bucky replies, “If a bit slow.”

“How do you mean?” Steve probes.

“The first class was mostly a review of fundamental Algebra that will be needed as a prerequisite,” Bucky tells him. “I already covered that stuff in my own studies.”

“Well, not everyone is a math wiz like you,” Steve says with a tone of pride for his boyfriend’s talents.

“I know,” Bucky admits. “A lot of people hate math, though I can’t fathom why. It is such a perfect subject. You learn a set of rules, and once you know them, they are true in every situation. There’s no ambiguity. What’s so hard about that?”

“I think it is learning the rules that is the hard part,” Steve tells him. “At least it was for me. Math wasn’t interesting to me, so I didn’t care to learn a set of boring rules. I admit that my math notebook had more doodles than equations.”

Bucky laughs warm-heartedly. “I’m sure it did,” he smiles at his boyfriend. But his smile drops slowly as he steels himself to admit something else. “I almost didn’t go today,” he confesses. “I was so scared I turned around twice before I managed to convince myself to go.”

“But you went,” Steve confirms. “So what made decide to go in the end?”

“Not sure,” Bucky thinks about it. “I guess it was a couple of things. I didn’t want to let you and Becca down. But I also didn’t want to let myself down. I knew I could do it if I wanted it bad enough. Eventually, I was just curious as to what the class would be like.”

“I’m proud of you, you know,” Steve tells him as he steps up and puts his arm around Bucky’s waist. “You’re doing something you want, even though it was hard for you.” He leans up and gives Bucky a kiss.

“Mmm,” Bucky murmurs into the kiss happily. Then he pulls away leaving a slightly confused Steve behind. “Hold that thought,” he tells him, “I’ve got homework to do.”

“Nerd,” Steve calls him lovingly as Bucky bounds away to do his math homework.

Chapter Text

When Bucky gets home from work, Steve is in the back room, presumably finishing up an art project for a client. So Bucky settles down in the living room to do some homework for his trig class. He likes doing his homework, like a nerd Steve would say, and quickly gets lost in the problems. He doesn’t even notice how much time passes until he has finished the problem set and looks up at the clock. That’s when he realizes that Steve hasn’t come out of the back room yet. That is strange for Steve, since he usually greets Bucky when he comes home.

Assuming Steve was so lost in his work that he didn’t hear him come in, Bucky calls out for him. “Steve,” he half yells, “You there?”

“Um,” Steve says uncertainly, “I’m here.”

Bucky doesn’t like the tone of his voice and he’s starting to get worried. “Can I come back?” he calls.

“Uh, just wait a second” Steve responds. Bucky hears some rustling, getting ever curious as to what is going on.

Finally Steve emerges from the back room with a paper bag in his hands. His head is hung low and he’s not meeting Bucky’s eyes.

“What’s the matter Steve?” Bucky asks quietly. “You’re starting to scare me a little.”

Steve gives a pained laugh and holds up the paper bag. “I need you to take this from me.”

Bucky hesitantly takes the bag, fearing what it is. He hasn’t seen Steve like this since the hospital, and he is really worried. “What is it?” he asks.

“Just open it,” Steve replies, “And dump it out for me.”

Bucky opens the bag to find a bottle of vodka. “Aww, Steve, you’ve been so good.”

“I didn’t drink any, but I did buy the bottle with the intention of drinking.”

Bucky walks over to the sink to dump out the contents of the bottle. True to Steve’s word, the seal hasn’t been broken and the bottle is full. When that is done he goes over to Steve, who has slumped on the couch, making himself as small as possible. Bucky sits down and puts his arm around Steve so he can lean against him.

“To start off, I’m not mad at you. We all have our slip ups,” Bucky tells him as he rubs his hand up and down Steve’s far arm and hugging him closer.

“I’m mad at myself,” Steve says into Bucky’s shoulder. A small sniffle is threatening to begin turn into larger sobs.

“Don’t be,” Bucky says. “You did the right thing bringing it to me.” Bucky lets Steve settle with those words for a moment before he continues. “Do you want to tell me what brought this on?”

Steve sighs and extracts himself from Bucky’s embrace so he can speak more clearly. “It’s the comic book,” he starts. “I’m so stressed out about it. I do more worrying than actual drawing. I sketch and sketch and end up throwing everything out. The deadline is approaching and I have nothing. It feels like there is a weight on my chest and I can’t breathe. I wake up in the middle of the night and just have this sense of impending doom. It feels like the deadline is already tomorrow and I don’t have anything to turn in. It’s like those high school dreams where you show up and you haven’t done the assignment, except it’s all the time, while I’m awake.” Steve takes a deep breath after that long diatribe. “It can’t do this anymore,” he says more quietly.

Bucky takes him in his arms once more and rubs his back while tears leak out Steve’s eyes. “Why’d you buy the alcohol?” he asks.

“It helps,” Steve answers. “At least it did before when I used to drink. It damps down the feeling for a while so I can get some peace.”

“But it is only temporary,” Bucky reminds him. “And it certainly doesn’t help you do your work, does it.”

“No,” Steve says. “But for awhile I forget that I need to, or at least I don’t care.”

“And when you wake up in the morning you are one step closer to the deadline with nothing to show for it,” Bucky tells him. “So in the end, it seems like it is a bad solution.”

“Of course it is,” Steve agrees, “But in the moment it seems like the right one. At least the easiest one.” He snuggles closer to Bucky. “I don’t want to turn to alcohol to feel better. And I realized today after I came home from the liquor store that I didn’t have to. I saw all the small touches in the house that reminded me that you live here, and I knew I could turn to you. I was embarrassed to confess this to you, but I knew you would be there for me.”

Bucky squeezes Steve a little tighter. “Of course I’ll always be there for you.” He lets that sit for a little longer before he continues. “I’m not the only one you can talk to.”

“I know,” Steve says with a little annoyance, “I’ll talk to my therapist.”

“Sure, that’s a first step,” Bucky tells him. “But it’s not all you can do.”

“Oh,” Steve inquires with a skeptical look, “What else should I do?”

“First off, talk to me more.”

Steve turns his eyes down, “I know, I’m sorry.”

“Second,” Bucky continues, “You can talk to Phil. He knows a lot about beating work stress.”

“I don’t want to bother him,” Steve says

“He’s your friend,” Bucky reminds him. “He wouldn’t be bothered.”

“OK,” Steve agrees, “I call him tomorrow.”

“Good,” Bucky nods. “And lastly, I think you should consider going to a stress related group therapy.”

“Ugh, no,” Steve extricates himself from Bucky’s arms. “I go to enough therapy as it is.”

“And right now you need more,” Bucky says confidently. “I won’t sit here and let you stress out until you land back in the hospital.”

“I don’t have time,” Steve tries.

“If you have time to worry, you have time for therapy,” Bucky responds.

“That doesn’t even make sense,” Steve complains.

“How about this then,” Bucky tries again. “You make me go to group therapy, so you should practice what you preach.” Bucky smiles, knowing he’s won.

“Fine,” Steve says through gritted teeth. “I’ll give it a try.”

Chapter Text

[Parker: You seem sad :( ]

Peter’s message pops up on Bucky’s screen while he was staring blankly at it during work. He has work to do, but he can’t seem to get himself to do it. He keeps thinking back to Steve last night. He’s so worried about him. They have found a therapy group for Steve to go to and he’ll start tomorrow, but Bucky still worries about him until then.

Steve has been the one who was so strict about the no alcohol policy. Bucky doesn’t understand why he would turn to it now. He knows the comic is stressing him out, but he should have come to talk to Bucky about it before it got so bad. Thankfully, Steve didn’t drink any of it, so Bucky knows he still has some restraint.

[Barnes: It’s nothing.]

[Parker: Wanna go up to the roof?]

[Barnes: God, yes.]

“Hey, boss,” Peter calls out to Thor.

“Yes you two can take a break now,” Thor answers, anticipating what Peter was going to ask. Peter and Bucky have been taking most of their breaks together recently so Thor is used to the question.

“Come on then,” Peter says to Bucky. He takes his bag with him and Peter doesn’t comment. He sometimes brings food to the roof, so it isn’t strange, but Bucky has a surprise today.

As they make their way down the winding hallways to the roof, Bucky thinks about the strange friendship he’s made with Peter. Bucky is still mostly silent around him, even on the roof, so Peter has to do most of the talking. The kid doesn’t seem to mind though, and has plenty to talk about.

They arrive at the roof and settle into their two chairs. After the first time Bucky came up here, a second chair joined the first. Peter says someone was just throwing out a perfectly good chair and he snatched it up. Bucky’s not sure about the “perfectly good” statement. It’s a cloth fold up chair that sags a bit, smells some, and is a tad raggedy around the edges, but it suits him just fine.

“Saw you staring at your computer,” Peter says to him, “Thought you could use a change of pace.”

“Thanks,” Bucky murmurs back. He certainly needed to do something that wasn’t staring at spreadsheets. The spreadsheets weren’t keeping his worries at bay.

“Wanna tell me what’s up?” Peter asks. Bucky shrugs and then shakes his head. He doesn’t want to explain what’s going on to the kid. It’s too personal, and it would take too many words. “That’s cool,” Peter continues, “Want me to distract you then?”

Bucky shakes his head and holds up his hand to indicate that Peter should wait. He digs around in his bag and pulls something out.

“Uno!” Peter exclaims taking the pack of cards from Bucky, “I haven’t played in years. This’ll get your mind off of whatever’s bumming you out.”

Bucky smiles. He wasn’t sure that Peter would want to play with him, but he felt he had to bring something to their friendship that wasn’t him just sitting around while Peter talked at him. And Peter is right; this will keep his mind off of his worries.

They play a few rounds (and Bucky wins each one), and by the end he’s feeling much lighter and much closer to Peter. He’s glad he’s made a friend here at work.

 


 

“How’d work go? Steve asks when Bucky gets home. Bucky is relieved to see that he seems to be doing well, and is definitely sober. He’s sitting on the couch, apparently scribbling through some ideas.

“Good,” he replies tersely. He had to talk to Thor about latest accounts and he’s out of words for the day.

He unpacks his bag and puts Uno back on the shelf with their large collection of games. “Hey,” Steve stops him. “Why did you bring that to work? They pay you to play games now,” he teases.

“I played with Peter during our break,” Bucky signs back. “I can’t always talk to him, so I thought it would help bridge the gap.”

“That’s a great idea,” Steve says.

“I know. It’s your idea, dumbass.”

“Right,” Steve says slapping himself on the forehead. Bucky of course is referring to the hospital, when Steve played game after game with him before he could talk, and it led to them becoming great friends.

Bucky smiles at Steve and comes over to the couch where he is sitting. “Thank you,” Bucky says and gives Steve a quick kiss.

“For what?” he asks, looking genuinely confused.

Bucky leans back a bit so he can switch back to sign. “For talking to me even though I couldn’t talk back. For being a persistent son of a bitch.” He smiles. “I think about you when Peter talks to me during our breaks. He’s patient, and doesn’t care if I don’t say a word, but listens closely if I do.”

“He sounds like a good friend then,” Steve says. “I’m glad you have someone at work like that.”

“Me too,” Bucky signs and settles back into the couch, peaking over at some of Steve’s drawings.

“You should invite him over to game night!” Steve declares suddenly.

Bucky’s eyes widen. The thought of two different friend groups interacting is a little scary. Nat and Clint barely mesh with Wanda and Phil. “I don’t know,” he signs. “I’m not sure I’m ready for that. We just barely started becoming friends.”

“That’s fair,” Steve says. “But don’t be scared of inviting him. You can wait to see how things go with Peter for a while longer, but when you feel comfortable, you should definitely invite him over. He like games, right?”

“He seemed enthusiastic about Uno,” Bucky replies. “But it’s hard to tell with him because he’s excited about everything.”

“He sounds like fun,” Steve says. “I can’t wait to meet him.”

With Steve sounding like it’s a foregone conclusion that Peter will be joining them at some point, Bucky gives in and resolves to invite him some time soon.

Chapter Text

Bucky drops Steve off at his group therapy as he makes his way to his own.

“Have fun,” Steve tells him, giving him a kiss on the cheek.

“Fun?” Bucky signs back incredulously. Group therapy is anything but fun to him.

“Well, you know what I mean. Don’t start any fights, and try not to run away before the end. You know, fun.”

Bucky mimes laugher. He’s not having a good day for speaking, so he doesn’t have high hopes for group today.

He does, however, feel that he is ready to attend group alone. He’s been doing so well at work and in his classes that he feels he can do it. Group therapy is scarier because of the topics that come up, but the people don’t scare him the way they once did.

Plus, Steve needs this time to attend his own group therapy. Bucky’s problems are usually so much more acute, that sometimes Steve’s own problems get neglected. It’s easy to forget that they met in the same hospital, both going through particularly rough patches in their lives. It took the stunt with the alcohol for Bucky to realize that Steve needs some attention right now, and that means Bucky needs to get his shit together and go to group therapy on his own.

When he arrives, people are still milling around the coffee table getting drinks and snacks like usual. He finds a corner and gives a death glare to anyone who even thinks about approaching him. He needs to be alone today to get through this.

As he’s looking around the room, he notices two people who are signing to one another. He tries not to eavesdrop on the conversation, as would be easy to do, but it looks like an innocent enough conversation, so he ends up watching them. Eventually, they say their goodbyes, peck each other on the lips and part.

Bucky debates for a minute or two while the woman left behind quietly sips her coffee. It would be easier to just stay where he is, but part of getting his shit together is actually talking to someone in group. Someone who signs would be a big help. So he steels himself and walks over to her.

She turns to him with an inviting smile when he arrives. “Hi, I’m Bucky” he signs to her. “I saw you signing earlier. Are you deaf or hard of hearing?”

The woman signs back to him in kind. “Hi, I’m Sheri. I’m not, but my partner is deaf. What about you.”

“I’m not deaf, but I have trouble speaking sometimes. Signing is easier on days like today where it feels like my words get stuck in my throat.”

“That must make it hard to share during group therapy.” Sheri sympathizes.

You bet, Bucky thinks. “That’s one reason I haven’t shared anything yet. I’ve just been listening.”

“That’s only one reason?” Sheri asks?

“I’m not ready.” Bucky bows his head. He’s not sure he’ll ever be ready to share to a group, even a group as sympathetic as a bunch of trauma survivors.

“Well if you want, I could translate for you, give you a voice,” she offers. “Only if you want. No pressure.”

Bucky thinks about it for a while. Today, his first step in getting his shit together was just supposed to be arriving on his own without Steve holding his hand. Then he went further and spoke to this woman. Now he’s considering addressing the whole group. It may be a step too far, but he’s feeling bold today.

“Sure,” he tells her, “Why not.

The bell rings indicating the session is about to begin. Sheri talks to him as they walk into the room. “It’s ok to back out. I’ll sit next to you, and if you decide to address the group I’ll come with you to the front of the room. If you don’t want to do it, just don’t raise your hand.” Bucky nods to indicate he understands.

Group starts and first thing the therapist does is ask if anyone new would like to introduce themselves. Bucky’s not technically new, but he’s never introduced himself. He resolves to get this over with quickly before he loses his nerve, so he raises his hand. The therapist doesn’t see, probably because he hasn’t raised it high, so Sheri raises her hand high as she can and points it down to Bucky. It calls attention to the therapist and she calls them to the front. She doesn’t question it when Sheri and Bucky come up together.

Bucky breathes in hard, about ready to jump out of his skin. The room is silent waiting for him to start, but they let him take his time. He turns to Sheri, making it easier by just looking at her.

“Hi, my name is Bucky,” he starts and Sheri starts to translate for him. “I’ve been here a few times, but I’ve never shared. I have trouble speaking most of the time. Sheri here is kind enough to translate for me.”

He takes a deep breath before moving on. “I’m not ready to share my story. I’ll just say that I went through a prolonged trauma and it has been really hard getting over it. I don’t deal with it well most days. I was hospitalized for a long time. The only thing keeping me sane right now is my wonderful and patient boyfriend.

“Listening to you all has been a help too. Knowing that I’m not alone and seeing you all recover is very helpful.

“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t ask me any questions. You can try talking to me, but I can’t guarantee that I’ll always respond. I’m not trying to be rude, I just physically can’t some days.” He looks over to Bruce who he knows he was blatantly rude to at least once, but the man looks like he understands. “Thank you for letting me lurk in the back for so long.”

He thanks Sheri and goes back to his seat while the room claps their welcome and the therapist tells him he’s brave. He spends the rest of the session staring at the floor, but at least he did it.

Chapter Text

When Bucky picks Steve up from his group therapy later, it’s with a big hug. He’s so worn out from the evening that he just needs to hold Steve for a little while and remember that things are good now.

When they part, Steve asks him how his therapy went. “Good, actually,” he tells Steve. “I met someone who can sign, and she helped me introduce myself to the group.”

Steve jumps straight in the air at this revelation. “Oh my god, really! You stood up in front of the group and introduced yourself? What did you say? How did it go?”

Steve can’t stop talking for the life of him. Bucky patiently waits him out until Steve is ready to listen to a response via sign language. Walking and talking isn’t that easy even when you are paying attention.

“I just said my name, not much else. You don’t need to get all excited.”

“Who was this woman you met?” Steve asks.

“Her name is Sheri. I don’t really know that much about her. We didn’t sit around and trade our traumas. We just shared some pleasantries and then she offered to translate for me. She’s not hard of hearing herself, she can sign because of her partner.”

Bucky continues answering Steve’s questions until they get home. It’s not until they get in the door that he realizes that Steve hasn’t shared anything about his own therapy.

“Hey,” he stops Steve when they get in the door, “How did your therapy go?”

Steve sighs. “Not as well as yours,” he replies. “I don’t really want to talk about it.”

“I’m here if you do though,” Bucky makes sure he knows.

“I just cried a whole bunch, it wasn’t a big deal.”

Bucky goes over to Steve and gives him the biggest hug, complete with an extra squeeze at the end so he knows he means it. “It’s a big deal to me. Want to tell me what happened?”

Steve sits down on the couch and Bucky follows. “I just let out a bunch of pent up emotions that were swirling around because of stress. I’m worried the comic won’t get done in time. Everyone there was telling me I need to take a break. Phil has been telling me the same thing. But I don’t have time for a break.”

He rubs at his face with his hands before he continues. “This comic has been a dream of mine for a long time, and now I’m ruining it.”

“Relax,” Bucky tells him, pulling his hands down from his face. “You aren’t ruining anything. The pages I’ve seen have been phenomenal. The feedback you’ve been getting from Timely is nothing but positive. I don’t know why you think it’s not good enough.”

“It hasn’t all be positive,” Steve counters. “That editor, Rumlow, he didn’t like a few of the pages.”

“That guy’s an ass. Just looking for anything to harshly criticize. Everyone else loves you. You are working yourself into the ground for no reason.”

“But the deadlines are harsh,” Steve tells him. “Even if I rush it’s not good enough.”

“You’ll just have to be better at accepting your first draft as good enough. Don’t throw things away until you get feedback from your editors.”

Steve sighs again. “You’re right, I know you’re right. But I can’t shake the feeling that I’m messing up a big opportunity right now.”

Bucky slings an arm around Steve. “You aren’t messing anything up, Ok? You need to take a break and relax.”

Steve leans into the touch. “Sure,” he says. “You know what would relax me?”

“A blowjob from your boyfriend?”

“Why it’s like you read my mind.” Steve chuckles. “In all seriousness, are you offering?”

“Not tonight, honey, but there’s other more vanilla things we could try.”

Steve turns to Bucky. “Like?”

Bucky kisses Steve deeply before he pulls back to sign some more. “Well, for starters I’d like to take you back to our bedroom and get your clothes off.”

Steve shoots up off the couch like something bit him on the ass. “I’m up for that.” He extends a hand to Bucky. “What are you waiting for?”

Bucky chuckles at him and follows his boyfriend into the bedroom. They kick the cats off the bed then get on themselves. Now that they are in the bedroom, Bucky gets a little nervous.

Steve sees his nerves and takes things slow. He kisses Bucky softly and plays with the hem of his shirt. “Can I?” he asks. Bucky nods and Steve takes off his shirt. Bucky follows by taking off Steve’s. He lays Steve down on the bed and kisses him from above so they are skin-to-skin. He rubs one hand down Steve’s side, making him shiver. He experiments by shifting his hips down on top of Steve’s, and feels that Steve is starting to respond to their movements. He smiles into their next kiss. He then shifts down on the bed and looks Steve in the eyes as he plays with the buckle on his pants. “This OK?” he asks, and Steve nods vigorously.  

Steve lifts his hips to allow Bucky to pull down his pants. Through his boxers, his arousal is evident. Bucky takes off his own pants and joins Steve back on the bed. Now there is nothing between them except the fabric of their underwear. Bucky shifts his hips to rub against Steve, and his boyfriend moans at the contact and shift his own hips up off the bed to follow.

It’s been a while since they’ve gotten this far in bed, and Bucky is starting to get nervous again. He holds his hips back out of reach, but leans down and kisses Steve. Steve, anxious for more contact, reaches up with both arms and pulls Bucky back down again. The motion surprises Bucky and he flings himself back to the end of the bed.

“I’m sorry,” Steve frantically apologizes, “I didn’t mean to manhandle you like that.”

“It’s OK,” Bucky signs as he tries to get his heartbeat under control. “But maybe that’s enough for tonight.”

“I’m sorry,” Steve says again. “I was enjoying myself too much to pay attention.”

Bucky smiles shyly. “I was enjoying it too. I’m sorry you have to deal with my crap.

“We’ve been over this, it’s OK. I understand.” Steve slowly makes his way over to the end of the bed where Bucky has mostly gotten himself under control. “You still good for some cuddling?” he asks as he rubs his hand down Bucky’s arm. Bucky nods and smiles. “Good. ‘Cause that’s all I really need tonight.”

Bucky opens the door to let the cats back in and crawls back into bed with Steve. He takes his place behind his boyfriend and hugs him close to his chest.

“Thank you for understanding, Steve,” Bucky breathes into his neck.

“Always,” Steve replies as they drift off to sleep.

Chapter Text

“How’s life treating you?” Clint asks Bucky as they absently play Uno, finally abandoning the game. Clint is playing hooky from work having called in sick. Since it is Bucky’s day off of work, Clint came over to hang out. Steve, having actual work to do, is in the back room drawing.

“It’s fine,” Bucky replies in sign language. They’re both signing, partially so they don’t bother Steve while he works, but also because it’s easier for both of them. Bucky has trouble speaking and Clint has trouble hearing, so it works for them. Clint being able to sign is why Bucky considers him the closest out of Steve’s friends.

“Come on, I want more juicy detail than that,” Clint signs. “How’s work? School? Your sex life?” Bucky throws a couch pillow at him and Clint just laughs it off. “Seriously, give me something.”

“Work is good,” Bucky admits. “I actually made a friend.”

“Really?” Clint asks, genuinely surprised. “Who?”

“Peter,” Bucky tells him.

“Parker?” Clint laughs. “That kid’s a spaz.”

Bucky throws a second pillow at him. “Don’t say that about him. Especially not to his face. I’m going to invite him to the next game night.”

“Wow, that’s commitment right there,” Clint teases. Bucky is out of pillows to throw, so he just flicks Clint off.

“Anyways, you asked about school,” Bucky says changing the subject. “I’m kind of kicking ass at Trig.”

“Dude, that’s awesome,” Clint says excitedly. “Are you teacher’s pet?”

Bucky just glowers at him. “No,” he replies. “I was actually struggling a bit in the beginning. It’d been so long since I had taken high school math that I was a bit rusty. But I wasn’t the only one in that situation. There are people in my class much older than me, and I don’t think they’ve seen in inside of a classroom since high school either.”

“So how’d you get past it?” Clint asks. “Did you form a study group like in that show ‘Community’?”

“God no,” Bucky replies. “I’m not comfortable enough for that yet. I just studied hard. It wasn’t that difficult, since math is my favorite subject. Steve says I’m a natural. I just bought an old algebra textbook and brushed up on a few concepts and I was good to go. Now I’m acing the class.”

“And now you’re well on your way to being teacher’s pet,”

“Shut up,” Bucky says, but without any real heat. “Why do you keep saying that?”

“Sorry dude, I just hated the kids in high school who got straight A’s. I was always struggling to keep up. Didn’t mean to rain on your parade.”

“It’s OK,” Bucky assures him. “I didn’t get straight A’s in high school. I just got A’s in math. And sometimes Science. But I was right there with you for English, History, and worst of all, Spanish.”

“Good to know,” Clint says. “Now don’t have to stuff you into a locker.”

“I’m going to have to take those classes eventually to get my GED. Oh shit!” Bucky says just realizing something. “Do I have to take a foreign language? How am going to do that?”

“Whoa,” Clint tries to calm him down. “I think sign language counts.”

“Oh, thank god.” Bucky starts breathing again. “So what about you? Why are you playing hooky today?”

“Just needed a break.” Bucky gives him a look of disbelief and he cracks. “OK, I needed a break from Nat.”

“From Nat? Why?”

Clint sighs. “It’s nothing really, it’s just we live together and work together, we see each other all the time. Sometimes it’s nice to just get away for awhile.”

“Does she know that you’re not really sick?” Bucky asks him with a stern look.

“Oh yeah, she knows. I told her I needed a ‘mental health day’ and she was fine with it. She totally understands.” He sighs. “I love that woman.” He stares dopily into the distance. “See, I’m cured already.”

“I wish my mental health was so easily curable.” Bucky signs.

“Oh sorry, I guess I need a better name for ‘mental health day’,” Clint apologizes.

“It’s OK,” Bucky tells him. “I just want to get back to normal faster.”

“You’ll get there,” Clint assures him. “Don’t worry about it.”

“Yeah, I’m just impatient.”

“Anything happen recently that’s making you impatient?” Clint asks.

Bucky sighs and looks back towards the back room where Steve is drawing. He knows that Steve can’t overhear them while they sign, but he checks anyways. “It’s nothing really. Just last night…” He trails off and looks to the back room again.

“Ah,” Clint says a little puffed up in the chest. “You’re finally getting to my last question: How’s your sex life?”

Bucky ducks his head and blushes, hard.

“So, details, details,” Clint orders.

“No details,” Bucky shoots back. “I’m going to be as vague as possible.”

“You’re no fun,” Clint pouts, but he’s still smiling. “So, vague descriptions, please”

“OK.” Bucky takes a breath and steels himself to talk about it. “Things in the, um, bedroom, are fine.”

Clint fans himself. “Oh my, my delicate sensibilities!” he jokes.

Bucky grabs one of the couch pillows from off the floor and smacks Clint in the face. “This is hard for me you jackass.” Clint looks sorry and sits on his hands, a sign he is going to listen and take this seriously. “Things are actually going well in that department. My flashbacks are at a minimum and Steve and I have been stepping things up. But last night…” he trails off again. He feels he needs to tell someone who is not his boyfriend. Steve is great and extremely patient, sometimes that’s not what he wants. “I thought we could take it another step, but it didn’t work out. I had to stop Steve just when things were getting good. It’s so frustrating. I just want to be normal and have normal sex with my boyfriend.”

“Normal is bullshit,” Clint tells him. “Never try to be normal. If you need to go at a slow pace, then that’s what you need to do. Don’t rush it. I bet Steve’s been telling you the same thing.”

“Steve has the patience of a saint.”

“Then it sounds like you should listen to him.”

For once, Clint actually has some good advice.

Chapter Text

“Wow, look at all the games you’ve got!” Peter seems genuinely excited while he peruses their collection of games.

Bucky is beaming. He’s happy to have brought someone to game night himself. Everyone else here, Clint, Nat, Phil and Wanda, are friends Steve made. Sure Bucky has become friends with them too, but now he has a friend of his own to bring. Maybe that’s the reason Bucky’s having a good day and having no trouble speaking in front of the group.

Peter isn’t shy at all about meeting new people. Bucky thinks that’s one reason they get along so well. Peter can do all the talking in a conversation if need be. Peter came in and shook everyone’s hand and constantly babbled. But now he’s ignoring everyone to get a good look at the games.

“Ooh, Dead of Winter. I’ve been wanting to play that. But Catan is a classic. And Ticket to Ride!”

“All those game have player limits below seven,” Steve says. “Actually, most of our games do. We might have to split into two groups.”

“Or,” Nat chips in, “We could play the game we brought.” She reaches into her bag and brings out a huge game with monsters and a dark green theme on the cover. “It supports up to eight players.”

“What is it,” Steve says, taking the box from her.

“Arkham Horror,” she replies. “It’s an H. P. Lovecraftian horror game where you have to defeat big monsters like Cthulhu.”

“Cool. That sounds like fun,” Peter chimes in.

“I don’t know,” Steve says warily. “That sounds scary.”

“That’s part of the fun, Steve,” Nat continues.

“We could always play Uno,” Bucky chips in.

The room collectively groans. They know that Bucky always wins at Uno.

“Arkham Horror it is,” Nat announces as she starts opening the box and taking out all the pieces. Steve groans, but this time he is the only one.

Bucky goes up to his boyfriend to reassure him. “It can’t be that scary, and I’ll be here if you need to hold my hand.”

Steve looks up and him and smiles. “Thanks, Buck. You’re always here when I need you.”

They look back to the game being unpacked. There appear to be a lot of pieces. “How complicated is this game?” Wanda asks.

“Pretty complicated if you don’t know what you’re doing,” Clint supplies. “But Nat and I understand the game now and we can help you along.”

“I love learning new games,” Peter says excitedly. “Where’s the instruction booklet?” Clint hands over a very thick booklet. “Oh, this might take me a while.”

“We’ll walk you through it,” Nat says. “You can learn by playing.”

“Alright,” Phil says. “Sounds good to me. Let’s get started.”

The game turns out to be a lot longer than predicted, but everyone is determined to defeat the big bad, which turns out to be the Elder Thing. They all stay until midnight, when Peter lands the final blow and they defeat the monster.

As they all file out to leave once the game is put away, Peter pulls Bucky aside. “This was loads of fun,” Peter tells him. “You’re going to invite me again, right?”

“Of course,” Bucky tells him. “You’re part of the group now.”

“Awesome!” Peter exclaims. Quieter he says, “I don’t really have a lot of friends right now. All my high school friends went to college and I kind of feel left behind. Coming here tonight made me happier than I’ve been in a while.”

“Then you’ll definitely be included in future game nights. I think everyone here liked you.”

“Really! That’s awesome.” Peter looks like he’s about to do a backflip, and Bucky is grateful he restrains himself.

Soon Peter is out the door with the rest of them and Steve and Bucky are alone in the apartment once again. Steve yawns, which almost gets Bucky going as well. “It’s late. I’m tired. You coming to bed?”

“Sure thing,” Bucky replies. They go off in separate directions to get ready for bed, brushing their teeth and changing into sleep clothes. They meet back up at the bed and try not to disturb Hobbes as they climb in.

“You had a good day today,” Steve mentions. “You were interacting with Phil and Wanda much more than usual and you were talking quite a bit.”

“I did have a good day. I felt comfortable.” Bucky pauses hoping he’ll get the answer he wants from the question he’s about to ask. “Peter said he had fun. Is it OK if he comes back for future game nights?”

“Of course. He was a good addition to the team. He’s smart and a team player.”

Bucky let’s out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. “Good,” is all he says.

“Were you worried about that?” Steve asks.

“Not really. But I promised him he’d be invited back, and I’d like to have him here as well.”

“You really like this kid,” Steve remarks. “Should I be jealous?”

“What, no!” Bucky exclaims. “It’s not like that at all. I just enjoy having a friend.”

“You have friends,” Steve tells him. “Everyone who just left is your friend.”

“But they were your friends first. Peter is the only friend I’ve brought to the table.” Bucky sighs. “I don’t know why that is important to me, but it is.”

“I understand,” Steve tells him while rubbing his arms, and then yawns again.

“Thanks, Steve,” Bucky says. “Now go to sleep. You sound like you’re about to pass out any second.”

Steve is snoring before Bucky even finishes the sentence.

Chapter Text

“English,” Bucky complains. “It’s English, Steve. I can’t do this.”

“Of course you can,” Steve tells him. “English isn’t so scary. Trig is much worse.”

“Not for me,” Bucky throws back at him. “Math is easy, languages are hard. Analyzing metaphors in classic literature is not my cup of tea.”

“That’s why you have a teacher, to get you through it,” Steve says.

“There is a participation portion to the final grade. What am I going to do if they make me do an oral presentation? I’m going to fail this class.” Bucky slumps down on the couch and pets a cat sleeping on the back cushions.

Steve sits down next to him. “No you’re not. I’m sure you can get an exemption for orals, if you even have any, and participation is only 10% of the grade. If you can’t get yourself to speak in class, then you might not get an A, but you won’t fail.”

Bucky sticks his face into the cat’s fur. He doesn’t want to take this English class, but it’s part of his GED curriculum and he can’t skip it. Trig was easy, he got an A without even trying. Now he knows he’ll just mess up this class and ruin everything.

“I can’t do it,” he says as soon as he lifts his head from the sleeping cat. “I just can’t.”

“You won’t know if you don’t try,” Steve tells him. Bucky gives him a skeptical look, but Steve continues. “You know I’ve learned a lot from my anxiety group therapy. One thing I’ve learned a lot of people do is run from something because they have a fear of failure. They don’t want to fail, so they don’t even try. It holds people back from doing a lot of things they want to do.”

“But I don’t want to take an English class,” Bucky says.

“But you do want to get your GED,” Steve tells him. “And to do that you need to take this English class. You have to at least try to get what you want.”

“You don’t understand though. I don’t just fear I’ll fail, I know I’ll fail,” Bucky counters.

“You don’t know that until you try,” Steve repeats. “That’s just your anxiety talking.” Steve grabs Bucky’s hands and holds them in his. “Look, I know you’re scared, but I’ll help you with the class. I can even come with you and translate if you need me to. And I know you’re a perfectionist like me, but it’s OK if you don’t get an A in the class.”

Bucky looks at their hands intertwined instead of Steve’s face. “Did this advice from your group therapy help with your anxiety over the comic?”

“Yes, it did,” Steve says proudly. “I realized that I was afraid that no one would like my comic, so I was driving myself insane trying to make it perfect. And since there is no such thing, I was starting to unravel and miss deadlines. I wouldn’t turn in my work because I thought it wasn’t good enough. Now I just give it to my editor when the time is up, because I know I’ve done my best, and I shouldn’t chase perfection.”

“So you’re doing better now?” Bucky asks.

“Oh yes,” Steve replies. “I’m making deadlines without overworking myself and not driving myself crazy with perfectionism. And, my editor loves my work.”

Bucky sighs. “I suppose if it works for you, it can work for me.” He finally looks up at Steve. He sees concern and love etched into Steve’s face. “I’ll try to take that damn English class. But I won’t pretend to like it.”

Steve laughs. “You can complain as much as you like until it’s over. As long as you actually take the class.”

Bucky pulls Steve into a hug. “You’re so good for me, Steve. Why does it seem like you have all the answers?”

“I don’t have all the answers,” he replies. “Not by a long shot. And if you hadn’t pushed me to go to group therapy, I wouldn’t have any answers at all for you tonight. I’d also still be going slowly crazy over my comic.”

“So we’re a good team then?” Bucky asks.

“Definitely a good team,” Steve answers.

“I’m so glad you came up to me in the hospital,” Bucky says releasing Steve and getting a bit teary eyed. “I might still be there today if you hadn’t.”

“I don’t think that’s true,” Steve says. “You would have gotten out without me.”

“I’ve been kinda keeping this a secret, but you know that book I’m working on, it’s about us, in the hospital.” Bucky’s tears leak a little and he wipes them away. “Writing it has really made me appreciate the role you played in my recovery.”

“So that’s what you’ve been furiously working on,” Steve says. “Can I read it?”

“Not yet,” Bucky answers. “It’s not done. I was going to give it to you as a present when it was finished. Now I’ve ruined the secret. I just wanted you to know that I don’t take you for granted. Every day you are there, helping me.”

“You help me too, Buck,” Steve tells him. “It’s not like I get nothing out of the deal.”

“I know,” Bucky answers. “But I’m still glad to have you in my life.” He folds his legs under him and goes back to petting the cat. “I still don’t want to take that stupid English class, but I will, for you.”

“No, Buck,” Steve says. “Do it for yourself.”

Bucky laughs. “I think I said that wrong. I’ll do it because of you. Because you showed me I was just running away from something scary. You give me the courage to face what I don’t want to face. It was the same in the hospital. I was avoiding talking about what happened to me so strongly I was a complete mute. Until you.”

“That really means a lot to me to hear you say that,” Steve says. “But you can’t discount the hard work you did to get better. It wasn’t all me. It was your courage.”

“I think I can actually believe that now,” Bucky says. “But you helped so much. I think all I’m trying to say is that I’m glad I have you in my life.”

Steve pulls him in for another hug. “Me too, Buck. Me too.”

Chapter Text

“Is there something on your mind?” Sam asks during their next therapy session.

“Yes,” Bucky responds aloud.

“Then why don’t you share it with me?” Sam asks.

Bucky stares at the interpreter. He’s discussed so many private and sensitive things in front of the man, but he doesn’t want to discuss this. It seems like an invasion of privacy.

Sam sees where his gaze has landed. “Would you like the interpreter to leave the room for a while?” he asks.

“Yes,” Bucky responds tersely.

“If he does leave, will you be able to speak with me?”

“I’m having a good day,” Bucky tell him, meaning he is able to speak to Sam aloud.

“Alright, Jonathan, would you mind stepping outside,” Sam asks the interpreter. The man leaves the room without complaint and goes to sit out in the hallway. When the door closes Sam turns back to Bucky. “What seems to be the problem?”

Bucky takes a deep breath. He can do this; he needs answers Sam might be able to provide. “It’s about Steve, about him being my boyfriend.”

“OK. Would you like to clarify that statement?”

“I want to talk about how I can’t ‘go all the way’ with Steve.”

“I’m not sure I understand what you mean.”

Bucky huffs. He suspects that Sam is playing dumb to get him to say it out loud. “I want to have sex with Steve,” he blurts out as fast as he can.

“OK,” Sam says. “Why don’t you?”

“You’re not listening to what I’m saying,” Bucky says frustrated. “I can’t.”

“Why not?” Sam asks.

“’Cause when we try I have a flashback or I can’t get it up, or something will stop us,” Bucky explains. “I’m ready to have sex with my boyfriend, but I’m so fucked up I can’t follow through.”

“How does that make you feel when you have a flashback or something else stops you?”

Sam is always talking about using feeling words. “I feel frustrated,” he says. “I feel like I’m ready, but I can’t ‘seal the deal’ as it were.”

“I understand that can feel frustrating, but maybe you’re not ready, and that’s OK,” Sam explains. “You’ve gone a long way already, you might just need a little more time.”

“I really feel like I’m ready though. When I think about having sex with Steve, it turns me on instead of scares me. It’s just in practice that everything goes to hell.”

“Have you masturbated to thoughts of having sex with Steve?”

Bucky hides his head in his hands. “This is so embarrassing,” he mutters.

“What was that?” Sam leans in. “You know you can talk about anything with me.”

“Fine. Yes, I have,” Bucky says quickly.

“And were you able to get off doing that?” Sam asks straightforwardly.

“Yes,” Bucky admits. “Well, sometimes. Not every time.”

“And when you can’t finish, what stops you?”

“Same thing as when I’m with Steve,” Bucky says. “Flashbacks or I just can’t stay hard.”

“So it’s not Steve doing anything wrong,” Sam surmises. “Then I think you still need time.”

“Time for what?” Bucky asks frustrated.

“The flashbacks will lessen over time,” Sam tells him. “They already have, haven’t they? You just need to give it a little longer before you dive into sex.”

“I’m not diving into anything,” Bucky protests. “I’ve been with Steve for nearly two years. It’s not fair to him to make him wait this long.”

“Says who?” Sam interjects.

“I don’t know,” Bucky says. “Everyone. No one waits this long in relationships these days.”

“Is Steve saying it?” Sam asks pointedly.

“No,” Bucky admits. “But I don’t want him stuck with a freak who cannot have sex.”

“I think you should listen to Steve, and not to what you think society says about relationships. Every relationship is different, and you’ve got a really healthy one with Steve. You don’t need to push so hard to be where you think you should be. Just take it one day at a time, and you’ll know when you’re ready. Truly ready.”

“But,” Bucky protests, “What if Steve leaves me because it is taking so long?”

“Do you really think that he would do that?” Sam asks.

“No,” Bucky says tentatively.

“I don’t think so either,” Sam tells him. “How’s your relationship going?”

“We’re doing really well, except for the sex,” Bucky says. “We’re both attending our group therapies, and we’re really happy. Plus, we’re cat parents together. We could never split them up by breaking up.”

“Staying together for the cats, huh?” Sam chuckles. “But seriously, it sounds like things are going really well. So there is no need to get yourself so worked up about this issue.”

“But normal people would be having sex by now,” Bucky points out.

“You want to talk about normal?” Sam asks. “Most quote ‘normal’ people do take time, even years, before having sex in their first relationship.”

“Yeah, but those people are usually teenagers when they have their first relationship,” Bucky counters. “And I had no problem ‘diving in’ as you said when I was young.”

“Remember that you were just a teenager when you were taken. So this is your first relationship since being just a kid,” Sam pauses to let that sink in. “And I recall Steve telling me that this is his first serious relationship too. He told you right here in my office that he doesn’t mind waiting.”

“I know he doesn’t,” Bucky says. “But it’s more than just being normal. I guess that’s just an excuse.” Bucky sighs. “I still remember a time when sex felt good. I want to feel that again. And I want to share that with Steve.”

“Like I said,” Sam tells him, “Just give it time. You’ll get there.”

Chapter Text

Bucky is typing furiously on his laptop when Steve comes home from the pet store. “I got those catnip toys that Hobbes loves so much,” Steve tells him.

“Uh huh,” Buck mumbles without looking up from his laptop. “Thanks.”

“I gotta say, Bucky, it’s nice to see you so engaged in your English homework,” Steve says. Bucky stops typing and looks up guiltily. “You’re not working on your English homework, are you?”

“No,” Bucky admits.

“Then what’s got you so enthralled?” Steve tries to take a peek at the laptop but Bucky shuts it so he can’t see.

“I’m working on my story,” Bucky says. “Now that I’ve told you about it, I have to finish it so I can give it to you.”

“What about your essay on Crime and Punishment?” Steve asks.

“It’s partway done,” Bucky tells him. “It’s not due until Wednesday anyway. I’ve got time.”

“I could help you with the essay if you need it,” Steve says.

“Thanks, Steve, but I think I’ve got this one. I just needed a break.”

“Well I suppose I should let you get back to your story then,” Steve says and starts to walk away towards the back bedroom.

“Hey Steve,” Bucky calls. “You don’t have to go. I was just passing the time until you showed up anyways. I was finishing up a sentence when you walked in the door.” Bucky beckons Steve to come join him on the couch. “I want to spend some time with you.”

“Oh really?” Steve says. “What do you want to do?”

“Something normal,” Bucky says. After his therapy session with Sam this morning, he wants to feel like a regular couple. “What do normal couples do?”

“You want to go on a date?” Steve asks for clarification.

“Yeah!” Bucky says excitedly. “Dinner and a movie. How about it?”

“It’s two pm,” Steve reminds him. “It’s a little early for dinner.”

“Movie and dinner then,” Bucky says. “It’s better in that order anyway so you can talk about the movie.”

“Alright,” Steve says standing up, “Let’s do it. We’ve been a little cooped up lately.”

“My therapist would approve,” Bucky says.

They grab their jackets and head out the door without even looking at what movies are playing. The walk to the theater is nice as the fall breeze blows lightly around them. When they arrive, they choose whatever move is playing next.

The movie turns out to be a god-awful horror movie. Steve and Bucky laugh their way through the first half. This apparently bothers the two other people in the theater, because and usher comes and tells them to be quiet. They promise to shut up and then settle down to actually watch the stupid movie they paid for.

When this becomes supremely boring, Bucky yawns, stretches his arms, and lays one on the back of Steve’s chair. “What are you doing?” Steve asks.

“I know another thing bad horror movies are good for,” Bucky says.

“Oh, yeah?” Steve says. “What’s that?”

“Foolin’ around,” Bucky says

“Come on, Bucky,” Steve protests, “We’re not in high school. We can fool around in our apartment where we’ll be alone.”

“Being in public is half the fun,” Bucky tells him.

“I’m guessing you’ve done this before?” Steve asks him.

“Sure. I gave my date a handjob in a movie theater once in high school.”

“Oh my god!” Steve exclaims. “You’re not doing that to me in public.”

“I didn’t think you’d be up for that,” Bucky chuckles. “I just want to make out a little.”

“Sure, this is so romantic,” Steve says dryly.

“Well it would have been if you had let me pull out my moves,” Bucky protests.

“You’ve got moves?” Steve asks. “Why don’t you show them to me?”

Bucky smiles and turns back to the movie. He doesn’t look at Steve as he repeats the yawn and stretch move. He slowly moves his arm down from the back of the chair to Steve shoulders. Steve stares at him when he does it, but lets the arm stay there as he goes back to watching the movie.

They stay like that for a little while until Bucky leans in and kisses the underside of Steve’s jaw. He licks and sucks and Steve tips his head to the side to give him more access. Soon he starts trailing kisses up Steve’s face until he slowly turns Steve’s head to get access to his mouth. They kiss softly at first, then slowly deeper until their tongues are brushing.

Soon they are full on making out in a dark movie theater like a couple of horny teenagers. Bucky smiles into the kiss. “What is it?” Steve whispers.

“I’m just so happy,” Bucky replies. “This is so normal.”

“This is not normal for me,” Steve responds.

“Then lets get back to normalizing it for you,” Bucky says smugly.

“God,” Steve breathes. “You’re so dorky,” and dives back into the kiss.

All too soon they’re caught by the usher who politely asks them to leave. They grab their coats and book it out of there. Bucky is in high spirits and starts laughing as soon as they leave the theater.

“I don’t know why you’re laughing,” says Steve, who nevertheless has a smile on his face. “That was so embarrassing.”

“No it wasn’t,” he disagrees. “It was hilarious. Did you see that guy’s face?”

“Well I’m glad you had fun,” Steve says sullenly.

“Aw, baby,” Bucky says, “Didn’t you have fun?”

“Actually, I did,” Steve admits. “Right up until we got caught. In fact,” he leers at Bucky, “I was hoping we could skip the dinner part of our date and go back to our apartment to pick up where we left off.”

“I do declare,” Bucky says with a fake southern accent, “Are you propositioning me?”

Steve walks off in the direction of their apartment without dignifying that with a response. “Are you coming or not?” he calls. Bucky hurries to catch up with him.

Chapter Text

Bucky gives his sister Becca a big hug when she opens the door. They don’t see enough of each other, which Bucky feels guilty about since she moved closer just for him. That’s why he came over for lunch today without Steve so the two of them could talk.

“How you doing today little brother?” Becca asks him.

“It’s a good day,” he replies. “I’ve been having them more and more lately.”

“That’s great,” she tells him. “I’m happy to hear the sound of your voice.” Bucky knows what she means. While it was nice of Becca to learn sign language so they could communicate in the early days of his recovery, it’s better to be able to speak to her normally.

Becca welcomes him into her house. They go into the kitchen where she has already prepared sandwiches for them both. “I feel like I haven’t seen you in so long. How’s school going?”

“Trig was fun,” Bucky answers.

“But you’ve moved on to English, correct? How do you like that?” Becca inquires.

“Ugh.” Bucky flops into his seat at the table. “It’s not my forte.”

“You used to love reading, I remember that,” Becca says with a frown.

“I do love reading, and I’ve even gotten into writing,” Bucky tells her. “But I hate writing essays about literature. I swear they have us overanalyzing the books, seeing metaphors and foreshadowing the authors didn’t even put in intentionally. It’s just a class in learning how to bullshit.”

“Then you should be good at that,” Becca says snarkily.

“Haha,” Bucky deadpans. “There’s also a participation portion of the final grade.”

“Oh,” Becca says seriously. “I’m sorry.”

“It gets worse,” he tells her. “I have to do a group project. I’m meeting up with three classmates and we’re supposed to discuss Ethan Frome, the worst book on the planet.”

“Are you prepared for meeting with strangers?” Becca asks concerned.

“Well Steve offered to come with me to translate,” Bucky says. “But really I think I need him for moral support more than as a translator.”

“With Steve there you should be fine,” Becca says. “You two make a great pair. I notice you are able to handle a lot more when Steve is there.”

“Yeah,” Bucky says, “Steve is great. He helps me when I lose my courage. I’m still nervous though. But we’re meeting in a public place and Steve will be there.” He takes a deep breath in. “I should be fine.”

“You don’t sound convinced,” Becca observes.

“I’m not, but I’m going to do it anyways. I need to push past the fear in moments like these.”

“That sounds like a lesson from therapy,” Becca remarks. “How’s that going for you?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Bucky says shortly.

“Can you at least tell me if it’s going well?” she asks tentatively. “I want to make sure I’m getting my money’s worth.”

“Just because you pay for my sessions, doesn’t mean you have to right to know what happens in them.” Bucky folds his arms in frustration and stares at his sister with pinched eyes.

“I’m not asking you to recap anything that was said in a session,” Becca starts her apology with her hands up. “I was just asking for a yea or nay on your therapist. I want to make sure you’re getting the best care, and if your sessions aren’t going well, then we could switch therapists.”

“No, Sam is great,” Bucky tells her. “I don’t want to switch therapists.”

“OK, OK,” Becca says. “I won’t make you switch therapists. He’s helping you then?”

“Look at me,” Bucky says while opening his arms to show himself off. “I’m having a conversation without switching to sign language or clamming up. This is a good day, but I’m definitely doing better overall.”

“That’s really good to hear,” Becca says.

“In fact, Sam wants to switch to having sessions only once a week,” Bucky tells her.

“Really? You’re doing that well?” Becca asks.

“Well, kinda,” Bucky replies. “It’s only once a week, but he wants us to have longer sessions so we can tackle bigger issues.”

“That’s good then,” Becca says. After seeing Bucky’s face she adds, “Isn’t it?”

“It’s not going to be fun,” Bucky replies.

“I don’t think therapy is supposed to be fun,” Becca tells him.

“You know what I mean,” Bucky says exasperated. “He’s going to push me really hard because he thinks I can take it now.”

“Well I still think that’s a good sign,” Becca says.

“Enough about me,” Bucky changes the subject. “We never talk about you.”

“My life’s boring,” Becca deflects. “You don’t want to hear about boring legal stuff.”

“If it’s a part of your life I want to hear about it,” Bucky insists. “How is work going?”

“Great, actually,” she says. “My performance has gotten notice. I actually just got offered a promotion.”

“That’s great!” Bucky says. “Why wouldn’t you want to tell me about that?”

“Because I’m not going to take it,” Becca replies.

“You’re not?” Bucky says confused. “Why wouldn’t you?”

“Because it would mean moving back upstate,” Becca admits. “And I don’t want to live so far away from you.”

“Aw, Becks. You don’t have to do that for me,” Bucky tells her. “I love having you so close, but I don’t want to step in the way of your future. I’m doing better now. You don’t have to keep a close eye on me.”

“It’s not a problem, Bucky,” she says. “Family is important, and you’re the only family I have left. My job’s not more important that being with you.”

“You’ve already sacrificed so much for me,” Bucky says. “You don’t have to do it again. You can take the job if you want it.”

“Thanks, but I’d rather stay here,” Becca tells him, “I love my current position anyways.” She stands up and comes over to give Bucky a hug. “I love you little brother, and I’m not going anywhere.”

Bucky’s eyes mist over as he hugs his sister back. “Thank you, Becca. I’m glad you’re staying.”

Chapter Text

Bucky wakes up in the second bedroom where he had gone after his nightmare last night. It was a bad one, and Bucky doesn’t want to do anything but stay under the covers, and maybe go back to sleep. But he has work today. The thought of going in makes him pull the covers back over his head. He feels like crying, but the tears don’t come.

He pulls out his phone and opens up his email. He drafts an email to Thor saying that he’s too sick to coming into work. He hesitates before hitting send. He doesn’t want to lie to his boss, but he is sick in a way. He needs the day off to recuperate. He knows that he wouldn’t be able to focus anyway, so he hits send and tries to go back to sleep.

Sleep doesn’t take him, and soon there is a light knock on the door. “Bucky?” Steve calls. “Can I come in?” Bucky doesn’t answer, but Steve is expecting that. “I’m going to come in, OK?” He opens the door slowly and sees Bucky still lying in bed. He goes over and sits on the bed next to him. “Everything alright? You haven’t gotten up to get ready for work.”

Bucky pulls his hands out of the covers enough so that he can sign. “I’m not going in. I called in sick.”

Steve looks worried. “You nightmare was that bad?” Bucky nods and throws the covers back over himself, leaving only his head exposed. “Going to work might be good for you. Take your mind off of it. You sure you don’t want to go?” Bucky nods again. “OK,” Steve says. “You can take a day off if you want. I’ll leave you alone, but I’m coming back with lunch, and you’re going to eat it.”

Bucky throws he covers over his head and Steve takes that as a sign that he should get going. He leaves the room and carefully closes the door. When Bucky is alone again he can breathe a bit easier. He curls up under the covers and drifts off to sleep.

He wakes again with the memory of the nightmare still fresh in his mind. This time he does cry, but he does it softly. He doesn’t want Steve to come in and see him like this. He hasn’t had a nightmare this bad in a long time, and he doesn’t want his boyfriend to think that he’s backsliding.

He gets himself back under control before Steve comes in for lunch. “You skipped breakfast, so you must be hungry,” he tells Bucky. “I want you to eat this even if you’re not feeling like it.”

“It’s OK, I’ll eat, you don’t have to worry,” Bucky signs after he props himself up in a sitting position. He starts eating the grilled cheese sandwich Steve brought right away so Steve can see he’s not lying.

With the door open now, both Calvin and Hobbes decide to see why the second bedroom is suddenly so interesting for their owners. Hobbes jumps up onto the bed and sniffs Bucky’s lunch while Calvin winds his way around Steve’s legs. “Shall I lock you in with the cats, or leave the door open so they can wander in and out?”

“Please close the door,” Bucky signs. He doesn’t want Steve to hear if he starts crying again.

“OK,” Steve says. “I hope you’ll come out before dinner.”

“I’ll try,” Bucky tells him. Steve smiles at him and closes the door as he leaves.

Calvin jumps up onto the bed to join Hobbes, and after sniffing each other for a bit, they both settle down and go to sleep. Bucky cracks a tiny smile at the cats, then lies down to sleep again. Sleep doesn’t come to him, but he stays there with his eyes closed trying to think of anything other than his nightmare.

When he gives up and moves into a sitting position, he sees that Hobbes has stretched out on his back, still dead asleep and cute as hell. Bucky pulls out his phone and snaps a picture. He pulls up his gallery of pictures to see the one he just took. It’s super cute and he wants to show Steve. He’s still not up to leaving the room, but he texts Steve the picture. Steve texts back immediately with a smiley face.

Bucky starts perusing his gallery of pictures on his phone. Almost all of them are pictures of the cats, mostly of them sleeping, one or two of them playing, and a couple of pictures of Steve holding one of them. He swipes all the way to the beginning and sees the pictures of them when they were kittens. He had forgotten that they had been so small.

Staring at his phone, Bucky does something he never thought he’d do. He installs instagram. He opens it up, makes the username calvinandhobbeskittens and posts the very first picture he has of the tiny kittens they brought home so many months ago.

He rubs Hobbes’s belly and the cat stretches out more and then rolls over. Bucky smiles and takes another photo. Next he switches to text and starts a group message. He messages all his friends and tells them about his new instagram account.

Bucky hears Steve’s phone go off in the living room. He gets up and opens the door a crack and peeks out. Steve is on the couch, looking at his phone and smiling. Bucky decides to finally come out and he goes to join Steve on the couch.

Steve looks up when Bucky enters the room. “It’s nice to see you,” he says. “I was starting to think you wouldn’t come out at all.” Steve holds up his phone. “I’m following you on instagram now. You’re posting pictures of the cats?”

“Yes,” Bucky signs. “Is it ok if I post the ones with you in them?”

“Sure, Buck,” Steve says. “I don’t mind. I’m curious though, what made you do this?”

“The cats are cute, and they make me happy,” Bucky tells him. “I thought starting this account would be something fun that would help me in my bad moods.”

“Well, it seems to be working already,” Steve remarks. “You’ve come out of your room.”

“It was time,” Bucky says. “I hope I didn’t worry you too much.”

“I understand when you need time to yourself,” Steve says. “But I like seeing you back out here. You feeling better?”

“A little,” Bucky admits. “I’m still really tired, but if I can get some sleep tonight, I’d like to go back to work tomorrow.”

“That’s good,” Steve says. “Can I give you a hug?”

Bucky nods. Steve puts his arms around him and lightly hugs him. It feels so good after a day cooped up alone. He hugs Steve back tighter, inviting him follow suit. He does, and they stay that way for a while, Bucky’s head on Steve’s shoulder and Steve occasionally rubbing his back. It’s a nice way to end a shitty day.

Chapter Text

Bucky takes the long way home from work so he can stop by the specialty pet store and pick up some toys and treats for the kittens. He’s lost in thought when he hears a voice.

“Hey.”

He doesn’t know anyone in this neighborhood, so he assumes it was meant for someone else and keep walking.

“Hey. Hey you.”

Bucky finally looks up to see where the voice is coming from and it’s a man in a white SUV staring right at him. Fear grips him. He tries to calm himself down. The man is probably just looking for directions, but Bucky can help but imagine worst-case scenarios.

“How you doing?” the man asks.

Bucky just looks at him puzzled. He doesn’t seem to be stopping to ask for directions, so he just ignores the man and keeps walking.

“I said, how you doing?”

He looks up to see the man is now driving slowly and following him down the block in his car. Other cars are driving around him and he doesn’t seem to care about them at all. Bucky’s heart goes into overdrive. Nothing good can come of this.

“You shy? That’s OK with me, babe.”

Bucky looks around trying to find a way to get away from the man. There are no side alleys on he can turn down, and he wouldn’t trust going down one anyway. There could be worse things when you’re out of plain sight. But here he was in public, and no one was even slightly bothered by this man’s harassment.

“Why don’t I treat you to a movie?”

The man is still slowly driving down the street parallel to Bucky ignoring all the cars backing up behind him. Bucky grips his shopping bag tightly and just stares straight ahead. He tries to tell himself that nothing will happen in broad daylight with so many people around, but he also doesn’t want this man to follow him all the way home.

“Fine. I’ll see you around.”

Bucky risks a look at the man to see him turning the car around and driving off the other way. He breathes a sigh of relief and steps up his pace as he heads home.

The trip is a nightmare. Every time he hears a car pull up or someone shouts, Bucky assumes the man is back and goes into a panic. His heart can’t take much more of this, so he’s happy to see the front stoop of his building. He practically runs the last half block and up the stairs to his apartment.

When he gets in the door he goes straight back to the back room where he knows Steve’ll be working. He doesn’t normally disturb Steve when he comes back early on his half days, but he needs him right now, and he’s learned that sometimes it is OK to need Steve.

He opens the door, rushes to Steve, and practically picks him up out of his chair as he gives him a big hug. “Hey, Buck, what’s the matter.” Bucky doesn’t know if he can speak right now but he doesn’t want to pull back in order to sign, so he just hugs Steve tighter. “You’re starting to worry me now, Buck.” He knows that Steve can feel him shaking.

Bucky pulls back and looks into Steve’s ocean blue eyes. He takes a deep breath and tries to clam down. “I got harassed,” Bucky admits.

“What? Where? When?” Steve asks frantically.

“On the way home, by a creep in an SUV,” Bucky tells him.

“Gosh, I’m so sorry,” Steve says. He puts his arms around Bucky again and rubs his back. “Are you OK?”

“I will be,” Bucky answers. He relaxes into Steve as he realizes it’s the truth. He can handle this with Steve around. “I was so scared,” Bucky tells him.

“That’s understandable,” Steve says. Bucky pulls away and goes to sit on the bed. It is occupied by Hobbes, so he picks him up and buries his face in Hobbes’s fur. Steve comes and sits down next to him. “After what you’ve been through, that’s got to be nerve wracking.”

“It was,” Bucky says. “I was comforted that there were other people around, so he probably wouldn’t try anything. But I was also shocked that no one seemed disturbed by that creep. Everyone just ignored him.”

“Well you know city dwellers,” Steve sighs. “They just mind their own business. But I’m glad you’re OK. He didn’t follow you home, did he.”

“No,” Bucky replies. “He drove off before I got here. I just ignored him until he got frustrated. I actually wasn’t harassed for long. I don’t know why I’m freaking out so much.”

“I think you do know why,” Steve counters. “After what happened to you.”

“But that was so long ago, I thought I was over it.” Bucky sighs and lets Hobbes jump off his lap.

“Buck, I don’t think that you’ll ever get over that,” Steve tells him. “And that’s OK. Being afraid of street harassers is perfectly normal.”

Bucky takes a shaky breath in. “I guess this is one more thing I’ll have to work on with Sam.”

“As long as you’re OK,” Steve says. “I couldn’t deal with you getting hurt again.”

Bucky lays his head down on Steve’s lap and Steve runs his fingers through his hair. “No one hurt me, I was just uncomfortable with the situation. You don’t have to worry about me.”

“I will always worry about you, ‘cause I love you,” Steve replies. “And I don’t want you to have to go through things like this.”

Bucky smiles up at Steve. “Thanks. But you can’t protect me from everything. I need to live my life, and sometimes that means being harassed.”

“That’s quite a good attitude you have about this,” Steve says. “I know how much it bothered you, so why the shift?”

“I guess I’m learning something from Sam after all,” Bucky tells him. “It’s over, and I can’t change what happened, so I’m not going to let it keep me from living my life. There was a time when I would have hidden away after something like this, but I’m done with that. Fuck that creep. He’s not going to control my life.”

“I’m proud of you, Bucky.” Steve keeps running his fingers through Bucky’s hair. “I don’t know if I would keep my cool so well.”

“Oh, don’t get me wrong, my heart is still pounding in my chest,” Bucky admits. “But tomorrow I’m going to go to my English class, and I won’t let this stop me.” He stops for a minute and looks up at Steve. “But I may ask you to walk me to class.”

“Of course, Buck,” Steve replies earnestly. “Anything you need.”

Chapter Text

“So I know you’re not too into surprises,” Bucky tells Steve one evening. “So I thought I should warn you.”

Warily Steve looks up from his book. “Warn me about what, Buck?”

“I invited everyone over for a party celebrating your comic release,” Bucky explains.

“Oh? When’s the party?”

“About five minutes from now.”

“What?” Steve exclaims. “That counts as a surprise, Bucky.” He gets up off the couch, heads for the bedroom, and starts muttering to himself. “I need to take a shower. No, there’s no time. But I need to change.” He starts stripping his lounging clothes as he enters the bedroom, and Bucky does his best not to sneak a peak.

The doorbell rings a few minutes early and Bucky hears Steve curse. He opens the door to find Nat and Clint. “I brought vodka,” Nat declares as she holds up a bottle of clear liquid.

“We can’t drink,” Bucky reminds her.

“I know, but I can,” Nat replies. Steve finally emerges from the bedroom looking hastily groomed. “Steve! Congratulations!” Nat comes as gives him a big hug, nearly lifting him off the ground. “I hope you have a copy to show all of us.”

“Uh, somewhere.” Steve starts looking around the living room like he misplaced his keys. Bucky saves him by producing a clean copy of the first issue of The Winter Soldier, illustrated entirely by Steve Rogers.

“Ooh, gimme,” Clint says as he makes grabbing gestures towards the comic.

“Oh no,” Nat warns. “I’m his best friend, I get to read it first.”

From seemingly out of nowhere, Bucky produces yet another copy of the comic and hands it over to Clint. “Where’d you get that?” Steve asks.

“I may have bought 10 copies from the comic book store,” Bucky answers sheepishly.

Steve goes over to Bucky and gives him a hug. “I love you,” he says.

“I’m proud of you, and I wanted to support you,” Bucky says, still wrapped up in the hug from Steve.

“Thank you for this,” Steve tells him.

“The party hasn’t even really started yet.” The doorbell rings again and they separate from each other so Bucky can answer the door.

The guests come in one at a time until everyone has arrived. Bucky gives each person their own copy of the comic as they come in. Soon they have a full living room of people perusing the comic.

“This is really good,” Wanda says flipping through the pages. “The art is a blend of traditional style with something wholly your own.”

“Thanks,” Steve says shyly. “I didn’t know you knew comics that well.”

“I’m a nerd, Steve, I do read comics,” she tells him. “And this is really good.”

“Well some credit goes to the writer. I wouldn’t have anything to draw if it weren’t for his good story ideas.”

“Why don’t you tell us about the story,” Phil suggests.

“OK,” Steve gets excited. “I won’t spoil the details, but basically…” and then he launches off into the story of The Winter Soldier, a character the starts out as the villain until you learn that he brainwashed and forced to commit terrible acts. When and old friend helps him get his memories back, he is horrified by what he’s done and tries to atone by fighting the bad guys. “The character is really complex and nuanced, which gives me plenty of opportunity to try new things in my art.”

“That sounds really great,” Nat says. “I know you love it when you’re challenged.”

“Well this book almost overwhelmed me,” Steve admits. “It was really hard to find a style that would work with the story, and I was never satisfied with my finished products. But I went back to group therapy and it’s really been working out for me.”

They chat about the new comic for seemingly hours. Nat breaks out the vodka, and everyone but Steve and Bucky takes a glass of it. Soon everyone is happily tipsy and Steve and Bucky are just happily snuggling on the couch watching everyone.

Nat declares that everyone is tipsy enough that they have to play Cards Against Humanity. So they bring out the deck and start a game. Laughter soon fills the apartment as the most outrageous card combinations are read aloud.

Soon though it is time to go. But before people leave, Steve gets up to make an announcement. “Thank you all for coming tonight,” he starts. “Bucky may have sprung this surprise on me, but it was a good surprise. I’m happy to have such good friends as you all.”

“Steve,” Nat responds. “You’re the glue that holds this group together. We’re all here for you, and want to support you.” She gives him another hug while everyone else nods along in agreement. “We’re so happy for your accomplishment. We don’t need an excuse to come hang out with you, but we’re happy to be celebrating.”

“I think you’ve celebrated a bit too much,” Clint says. “You’re never this sappy when you’re sober.”

“I’m not sappy, you take that back.” Clint just laughs and gets out of Nat’s reach.

“I wanted to say something too,” Bucky says hesitantly. “As long as we’re being sappy.”

“Sure, Buck,” Steve says. “Go ahead.”

“I used to think of most of you as Steve’s friends. But now I think of you as my friends as well, and that’s a great feeling. I feel comfortable talking to you all now when I didn’t before. Sorry it took me so long to get here.”

“You don’t have to apologize,” Steve tells him.

“Aww, I’m feeling a group hug coming on,” Clint says.

“No one wants to group hug,” Nat disagrees.

In the end they all hug each other individually. Bucky is glad they didn’t do the group hug. He might have felt overwhelmed. But hugging each one of his friends is nice. No one rejected him, so now he’s got a core group of friends he feels really comfortable with. His smile is bright and doesn’t go away even after everyone has left.

Chapter Text

“This is so cool,” Peter exclaims the next day at work as he’s reading a copy of The Winter Solider. They’re sitting on their rooftop oasis during their break while Bucky shows Peter the new comic. “Your boyfriend is so talented. I mean the color work alone is stunning.”

“I wish he could hear you say that,” Bucky says. “He’s so unsure of himself sometimes. He could use the positive reinforcement.”

“I read a lot of comics, and this is really good,” Peter tells him.

“I should have invited you to the party last night,” Bucky says to himself. “I’m sorry I didn’t. I didn’t know if you were close enough to Steve to want to come, but I should have at least asked.”

“No worries man,” Peter says, still flipping through the pages. “I was having my own party last night.”

“Oh?” Bucky perks up. “What was the occasion?”

“I got accepted to NYU. I’m going to start college next semester.” Peter beams likes it’s Christmas. “Most of my friends have already gone to college, but I needed to save up some money first. But this job has allowed me to collect enough of a savings to finally go myself. As long as I continue to live at home that is.”

“That’s great,” Bucky says excitedly. “I’m so happy for you.”

“There’s one thing you’re not going to like though, Bucky.” Peter pauses before continuing. “I’m going to quit this job.” He cringes when he sees Bucky’s face drop. “I need to take classes during the day, so this nine to five job isn’t going to work for me anymore. I know you don’t like change, but it’ll be OK.”

“I understand,” Bucky says morosely. “But I just got comfortable talking to you. Who am I going to talk to now?”

“I spoke with Thor, and apparently he’s hired a few more people,” Peter explains. “They should start around the time I leave.”

“What?” Bucky panics. “That’s even worse. I don’t want there to be new people to interact with. I barely get along with Thor, how am I going to meet new people?”

“It didn’t take that long for us to get to know each other,” Peter tries to calm him down. “Once we did you came right out of your shell.”

“But that’s ‘cause you’re weird, and talked to me even when I didn’t talk back,” Bucky tells him. “No one else is going to be that patient with me.”

“OK, I’m going to ignore that you just called me weird,” Peter says. “But you gotta calm down man. There is literally nothing to panic about. You won’t know what these new people will be like until you meet them. If they’re total dicks, you can just ignore them.”

Bucky admits defeat and slumps back into his chair. “I don’t like change.”

“I know you don’t,” Peter says. “But it’s a fact of life and you need to not panic every time something changes in your life. You got through our initial awkwardness, you’ll get through this too.”

 


 

When he gets home that night, Steve is waiting for him with his GED course catalog. “Have you picked a history class yet?” he asks. “History of the Americas sounds more interesting than U.S. History. They actually teach you about South America too.”

“I only need a U.S. History class to pass my GED,” Bucky says sullenly.

Steve looks up from the course catalog to take in Bucky’s mood. “What’s wrong? You don’t seem happy right now.”

Bucky plops down on the couch next to Steve and absentmindedly scratches Calvin behind the ears. “Peter is leaving work. He’s going to NYU next semester.”

“I’m sorry he’s leaving, but that’s exciting for him, isn’t it?”

“I’m happy for him, but they’re replacing him with a few new people,” Bucky explains. “We finally won’t be understaffed, but it won’t be the comfortingly small department I’m used to.”

“I see the problem,” Steve says. “This is pushing you past your comfort zone.”

“Yeah,” Bucky admits. “I’m worried about having strangers in the office.”

“Peter and Thor were once strangers,” Steve points out.

“And I was worried about them too,” Bucky tells him. “Just because they turned out all right doesn’t mean the next people will as well.”

“Well then, just worry about it forever,” Steve suggests. “I’m sure losing sleep will change the situation.”

“Don’t get snarky with me,” Bucky says, offended.

“I’m just trying to push you past that comfort zone,” Steve says “You’ve done a great job recently of doing things that scare you. But you’ve gotten comfortable again and you need a little push. Worrying about it won’t change anything, so don’t worry.”

“You sound like my therapist,” Bucky grumbles.

“Well when you take me to sessions with him, something must rub off on me,” Steve grins. “You know Sam is usually right about these things.”

“You’re not Sam, or a licensed therapist.” Bucky points out.

“No, but I’m your boyfriend. You can take my advice or you can leave it. I’d prefer that you get a good night sleep so I can cuddle with you in the morning.”

Bucky laughs. “I see you have selfish motives.”

“Indeed I do,” Steve admits. “Now if you’re quite done stressing about things you can’t change, come over here and pick a history class.”

Bucky sidles up to Steve and falls into his arms. He gets the course catalog situated so they both can read it. “Now what were you saying about the History of the Americas?”

Chapter Text

“I’m bored,” Steve announces from the couch where he’s looking at Bucky across the room upside down practically melting off the couch.

“Good for you,” Bucky says dryly, “I’m studying.”

“It’s history,” Steve says, “Aren’t you bored too?”

“Actually, this is quite interesting, if you’d let me read it,” Bucky informs him. “You’re the one who had me sign up for this class, and now you’re complaining that I like it.”

“I’m not complaining that you like it,” Steve disagrees. “I was just hoping you’d be as bored as me so we could do something fun.”

“Don’t you have work to do?” Bucky asks.

“I don’t have any current commissions, and I’m waiting for proofs of my latest comic,” Steve tells him. “I’ve got nothing to do.” He gives Bucky his most charming smile. “Please entertain me.”

“Go play with the cats,” Bucky suggests, not even looking up from his book.

“It’s the middle of the day,” Steve says. “They’re both sleeping.”

“Go take pictures of them sleeping then,” Bucky says. “You can put them on my instagram.”

“Come on,” Steve pleads. “Let’s get out of the house and do something fun.”

Bucky finally looks up from his history textbook and considers Steve. “If I went with you to the park, would you let me read?”

Steve jumps up and down, “Yes, I promise.”

“OK then,” Bucky says. “Go get us something to eat and I’ll join you at the park.”

Steve practically runs for the kitchen so he can pack up snacks to eat at the park. Then he grabs a blanket from the hall closet. “All ready,” he says once this is done.

Bucky chuckles at his enthusiasm, but grabs his textbook and his coat and follows Steve out the door. They walk the couple of blocks to the nearest park in happy silence. When they arrive they see that it’s not too crowded. The air is a bit brisk, but there are a few scattered couples lying around. They find a spot to lay out their blanket and sit down.

“Now you are going to let me read, aren’t you?” Bucky inquires.

“Of course,” Steve replies. “After we eat though.”

Bucky chuckles, but accepts the food that Steve has brought. They chat for a little while before Bucky really has to get to his reading. Steve stretches out on the blanket and puts his head on Bucky’s lap as Bucky begins to read his textbook. Every once in a while, Bucky cards his hand through Steve’s hair and Steve slowly drifts off to sleep.

When Bucky finishes the chapter he was assigned in the textbook, he looks down to see his boyfriend fast asleep on his lap. He glances around him, and seeing no one looking their way, he wakes Steve up with a quick kiss. Steve smiles and pulls Bucky down for a deeper kiss without even opening his eyes. But Bucky pulls away.

“What’s wrong?” Steve asks, frowning.

“Nothing,” Bucky replies. “I just don’t want to do this in public.”

Steve outright laughs. “What about the movie theater? You seemed to have no problem with public displays of affection then.”

“That was different,” Bucky tells him. “It was dark, we were anonymous. Here it’s too public. People will see.”

“See what?” Steve asks. “A man kissing his boyfriend?”

“Yes,” Bucky hisses. “That.”

Steve sits up and regards him. “Bucky, are you afraid of acting too gay in public?”

Bucky rubs the back of his neck. “No. I mean we hold hands all the time.”

“But we don’t kiss in public,” Steve says. “What is the problem you have with it?”

“I just don’t want strangers to know I’m gay,” Bucky admits.

“Why?” Steve asks. “I thought you were pretty confident about your sexuality.”

“Well, what if one of them is a creep?” Bucky says. “What if I get followed and assaulted because someone saw me kiss you?”

“You’re not talking about getting beat up, are you?” Steve asks. Bucky shakes his head. “You think you’re more likely to get raped if you’re gay in public?”

“Kinda?” Bucky answers.

“Why?”

“Do I have to answer this?” Bucky asks.

“No,” Steve tells him. “But I’d like it if you did.”

Bucky takes a deep breath. “The guy who took me…” he stops and sees Steve realize how hard this is for him. “He said he chose me because I was gay. That I’d like it.”

Steve grits his teeth. “It’s a good thing that guy’s in jail, or else I’d kill him.”

“Steve, don’t,” Bucky warns.

“You know he was just manipulating you, right?” Steve says. “That guy is a grade A asshole, and everything he said to you was just a way to get you to do what he wanted you to do.”

“You’re not my therapist, Steve,” Bucky says. “Don’t try to fix this.”

“I’m sorry, Bucky,” Steve apologizes. “I didn’t mean it like that.” He gives Bucky a hug and Bucky holds on tight.

“I know,” Bucky responds. “I just didn’t want to bring that up. It ruined a perfect day.”

“Nothing’s ruined,” Steve disagrees. “And it’s a good thing that I know where you’re coming from. I won’t push you on the PDA front.” Bucky nods his acknowledgement. “Will you talk to Sam about this though?”

“Sure,” Bucky says. “If you want me too.”

“I think it would be good,” Steve tells him. “Like you said, I’m not your therapist, but I want you to not have to be afraid anymore.”

“I’ll talk to Sam,” Bucky says. “I promise.”

“Good. Now let’s go home. We can play Uno.”

“You’re just trying to appease me now,” Bucky complains.

“Is it working?” Steve asks with a laugh. “Come on.” He pulls Bucky up from their blanket and gathers up their stuff. “If you don’t want to play Uno, we could watch a movie and snuggle up together.”

“I’d like that,” Bucky replies, finally smiling again.

Chapter Text

“Bucko, Pete, come out of your spidey holes and meet the new people,” Tony announces as he loudly enters the accounting department. Peter and Bucky cautiously poke their heads up out of their cubicles and look around. Tony and Thor are standing by the entrance with two new people. Dread pools in Bucky’s stomach.

They make their way to the front of the office to greet the newcomers. Peter is a solid presence at Bucky’s side. He doesn’t leave the office for another week, and he promised he’d help Bucky adjust.

“This here,” Tony gestures to the man next to him, “Is my very best friend in the whole world, Rhodey. He actually quit his old job when he heard we needed help.”

“Well it might have helped that you offered me more money,” Rhodey comments.

“You mean you didn’t just do it for me?” Tony fakes being hurt by the news. “We needed help bad. I’m willing to shell out more money for the best.”

“And this,” Thor chimes in, “Is my little brother Loki.”

“Wow,” Peter whispers to Bucky, “Nepotism really does work.” Bucky smiles and nods his head. But he can’t complain. He’s only here because he knows Nat and Clint.

“Loki’s going to be taking over for Peter in data entry,” Thor continues. “I was hoping the two of you could show him around.”

Bucky freezes. It’s what he’s been dreading, interacting with the new people. “Sure thing,” Peter chimes in, taking the burden off Bucky. He smiles at Peter to let him know his thanks. “Why don’t you take about one step over here? These are the cubicles for the data entry team, which is just Bucky and me.”

“Wow, glamorous,” Loki says sarcastically.

“This place has been my entire existence for the better part of a year,” Peter explains. “Have more respect.”

“Sorry,” Loki says, not getting the joke. “Didn’t mean to offend.”

“Just joking with you,” Peter assures him. “This place is a dump. But it let me afford college, so I’ll have fond memories.”

“What about you,” Loki says looking at Bucky. “I didn’t quite catch your name.” Bucky opens his mouth to responds, but closes it again quickly when he realizes he’s unable to say anything. Something about Loki unnerves him, and he’s frozen up.

“That’s Bucky,” Peter chimes right in. “He probably won’t talk much until he gets to know you better.”

“How am I supposed to work with him if he doesn’t speak?” Loki asks.

“He responds to instant messages,” Peter says on Bucky’s behalf. “Here, I’ll show you how the interoffice system works.” Peter sits down next to Loki who is in front of the screen to show him how the system works and what his responsibilities will be. Bucky goes back to work, so thankful that Peter was willing to take over the job of showing Loki around.

The rest of the day passes slowly. Bucky hides in his cubicle and just gets his work done without thinking about Rhodey or Loki. Peter sends him a few messages when he can, but Bucky doesn’t respond.

[Parker: How you holding up?]

[Parker: You’re going to have to talk to this guy eventually. Best to jump right in.]

[Parker: You going to be OK?]

[Parker: Are you ignoring me too?]

[Parker: OK, this guy’s kind of a pompous ass.]

Bucky laughs a little at the last message, and another one quickly arrives

[Parker: Ah ha. I heard you laugh. You are still alive.]

Bucky sends Peter an emoji to let him know that, yes, he is still alive. It brightens his day a little, but he’s still a little freaked at the new people. But like Peter said, he’s going to have to learn to speak to them at some point.

 


 

Bucky is still shaken by time he gets home. His whole day has been thrown off and he feels unstable. Steve notices something is off the second he walks in the door.

“Hey, Bucky. Is something wrong?”

Bucky realizes at that moment that he can’t speak, so he puts down his work bag so that he can sign. “I’m OK, I just had a rough day at work.”

Steve’s up immediately and guiding Bucky down to the couch to rest. “What happened?”

“The new people showed up. The one taking over Peter’s position isn’t very nice.”

Steve looks ready to fight. “Did he do anything to you?” he asks angrily.

“No,” Bucky admits. “I just didn’t get a good impression from him. He kind of spoke around me when he found out I wouldn’t talk to him right away. Peter kept trying to stand up for me, but I don’t think the guy had any patience for me.”

“I’m sorry,” Steve says. “I know Peter has been really great for you, I was hoping his replacement would be just as understanding. Maybe it’s not that bad. Maybe this guy just has to warm up to you.”

“Maybe,” Bucky says hesitantly. “I just got the feeling that he was really creepy. I don’t think that vibe will go away with time.”

“You don’t always like the people you work with,” Steve says. “Fact of life. I hate that one editor, Rumlow, but I still have to work with him and respond to his harsh criticisms. You just have to make the best of a bad situation. Don’t let him intimidate you.”

“Easier said than done,” Bucky complains. “I’m intimidated by most people most of the time. And this guy’s creepy.”

“Just do your best,” Steve says. “It may take time to be comfortable, but don’t go quitting your job because of one creepy dude.”

“I won’t quit,” Bucky signs a little more confidently. “I like this job. I like Peter and Thor and even Tony. And my new supervisor, Tony’s friend Rhodey, he seemed nice enough.” He takes a break, sighs, and starts signing again. “It’s just this one guy. I won’t let him push me off my turf.”

“That’s the right attitude,” Steve says and he gathers up Bucky in his arms and gives him a long hug. Bucky melts right into it. It’s exactly what he needed.

Chapter Text

“Come on, stay still.” Bucky points the camera on his phone towards Calvin, but the little black cat won’t face forwards for long enough to get a picture. “Please, just stop moving your head.”

“Are you talking to the cats?” Steve asks as he walks in the room.

“He won’t listen,” Bucky says as he tries again. He takes a few pictures in rapid succession, but they all turn out blurry. “Ugh!” Bucky throws the phone onto the couch and collapses on the floor where he is. Calvin scampers off.

“Are you OK?” Steve asks. “You seem a little on edge.”

“I’m just frustrated because the cats won’t cooperate for the camera. I need new material for my instagram account. But they’re damnable beasts who don’t listen.”

“Are you sure that’s all it is?” Steve asks him, slightly concerned now.

Bucky runs his hands through his hair. He’s still lying on the ground, so the motion only makes it messier. “I’m just frustrated all around. Peter is leaving work tomorrow and I still can’t speak to the new guy, Loki. My history class, that you encouraged me to sign up for, is harder than I thought it would be. Now I’m worried I won’t pass the test to get my GED. And to top it all off I’m sexually frustrated.”

Steve gets a little red at that last comment, but ignores it, focusing on the others. “You’ll get used to Loki, it’s just a matter of time,” he reassures Bucky. “You’re a good student, so you’ll make it past this class, and you’ll definitely get your GED.”

“I’m not so sure about any of that,” Bucky responds.

“Would it help if you got your mind off of it?”

“What do you have in mind?” Bucky asks. “Because if you suggest we try to have sex, I’ll refer you to my previous comment I noticed you ignored.”

“No, no! That’s not what I meant,” Steve assured him. “I don’t think you’re in the right mind frame for that. I was going to suggest we invite Nat and Clint over for dinner.”

“Oh,” Bucky says feeling a little embarrassed. “That would be alright.”

“OK, I’ll give them a call,” Steve says and goes back into the bedroom to get his cell phone. “You can help me cook too,” he says when he gets back to the living room. “That should help you keep busy.”

About an hour later, Nat and Clint show up with a cheesecake. Bucky answers the door as Steve is still cooking the pasta sauce. “You guys didn’t have to bring this,” Bucky says politely.

“It’s not for you,” Nat says. “I brought it for myself. Be nice to me and you can have some too.”

“We have Steve’s homemade pasta sauce,” Bucky tells her.

“OK, you can have some.” She hands Bucky the cheesecake and he goes to put it in the refrigerator while also checking on Steve.

“How’s it coming,” Bucky asks. He kind of stands there awkwardly, not having anything to do while the sauce slowly simmers.

“It should be ready soon,” Steve says. “Go on out there and entertain our guests while I finish up in here.”

“You want me to go talk to them alone?” Bucky angrily whispers to Steve.

Steve just laughs at him. “They’re our friends. I think you can handle that.”

Bucky huffs off to the living room where Nat and Clint await. They’ve already settled down on the couch, so Bucky takes a side chair. “So how have you been?” he asks, cringing a bit at how boring and cliché he sounds.

“We’ve been good,” Nat says. “A little stressed maybe,” she admits. “There’s a big show coming up, and everyone at work is scrambling to get things done on time.”

“I didn’t know you had a show coming up,” Steve says as he comes into the room with the food, having caught the last bit of the conversation. “Bucky didn’t tell me that.” He looks pointedly at Bucky to convey that this is something he should have done.

“I didn’t know either,” Bucky says. “I just type in numbers into a computer program. No one tells me about shows.”

“And it’s obviously been far too long since we seen each other if we haven’t told you yet,” Clint adds.

“Do you need help with the food, Steve?” Nat asks. She gets up and helps him bring the food out and Clint and Bucky sit down at the table.

“Thank you both for coming on short notice,” Steve says.

“No problem,” Nat replies. “We love seeing you guys. Was there a special reason you invited us last minute?”

“This one was being grumpy,” Steve says indicating Bucky.

“Hey,” Bucky complains.

“Of course you thought of me to cheer him up,” Clint says ignoring Nat when she glares at him. “I’m the best at getting people to feel better.”

“I think you mean ‘we’,” Nat says, kicking him under the table. “They called us both over here.”

“I see you two are enjoying domestic bliss,” Bucky snarks.

“Not as much as you two seem to,” Nat observes. “You two are the most perfect, well adjusted couple on the planet.”

“Us? Well adjusted?” Bucky challenges. “You’ve got to be joking.”

“Sure, you’ve got your ups and downs too, but as a couple you’re more stable than Clint and I,” Nat explains.

“I think I just got insulted,” Clint notices.

“I insulted both of us,” Nat says to smooth things over.

“Well alright then,” Clint says. “I guess that’s OK.” He turns to Steve and Bucky. “She’s right though. You two are schmoopy all the time.”

Steve looks at Bucky and smiles. “Well, we might not be as well adjusted as you think we are. But we’re happy, so that has to count for something.”

Bucky smiles back. “I guess we are happy. I think I forgot that for a bit tonight. Thanks guys.”

“Glad we could be of service,” Clint says, digging into the pasta.

Chapter Text

Bucky paces nervously in front of his professor’s office. They took their last exam this week, and their professor said they could come early today to get their exam grades before the final grades are posted online. A few students are milling around waiting for the professor to show up. Bucky is here because he’s certain that he’s screwed up the test. He has to know as soon as he can what the outcome will be.

Other than his pride, it’s not really important what grade he gets. Since he’s just going for his GED, his GPA doesn’t matter. He can retake U.S. History to get the information he needs for the test. But Bucky doesn’t want to fail this class. He worked hard, and if he fails, it doesn’t bode well for how he’ll do on the GED test.

The professor arrives and the students start clamoring to get their tests. The professor makes them all form a line so he can get to them in an orderly fashion. Bucky takes his place in the back of the line, content to let people clear out before he has to speak to the professor.

When he gets to the front of the line, he’s sweating profusely, nerves getting to him. “Name?” his professor asks.

“James Barnes,” Bucky quietly replies.

“Barnes…” his professor says while rifling through papers. “Ah, here it is. Congratulations, James.” He hands over the test and Bucky gets a good look at the grade written in red ink at the top of the page.

He got an A.

He got an A! Bucky can’t keep the smile off his face and even manages to thank his professor before wandering off down the hall in a daze.

He can’t believe it. If he can get an A on this test, then he should be able to pass the test to get his GED. In fact, he may even take it early. The requirements say you only need a 60% to pass. That means he could skip a few classes if he passes the rest of the test with flying colors.

He still wants to be more up to date in math, even if it’s not a requirement. Maybe he could even be promoted at work if he has a better math education. His excitement at getting to take another math class seeps into his step and he ends up half skipping home. As soon as he gets there, he finds his course catalog and flips through it to the math section. Pre-calculus should be the next course if he follows the path given in the handbook.

“What’s got you so excited?” Steve asks as he steps into the living room.

Bucky gets up and sort of jumps around in place. “I passed my history class.”

“That’s great, Buck,” Steve says with a smile. “You were worried about nothing. I knew you could do it.”

“Yes, yes. You were right all along,” Bucky admits. “Don’t ruin my fun.”

“OK,” Steve appeases him. “I won’t say I told you so.” He spies the course catalog sitting on the coffee table. “You looking for another course?”

Bucky lights up. “I was thinking that I could take another math class. I’m up to pre-calculus. I don’t think that’s necessary for the GED, but I want to take it anyways. Or I could take a statistics course. But I kind of want to take calculus eventually. It sounds like fun.”

Steve smiles fondly. “I love seeing you so excited about something. Why you’re excited about math, I don’t get, but I’m happy you’re excited.”

Bucky smiles, and then cocks his head thinking. “Come here,” he tells Steve. He sits down on the couch, and Steve comes over to meet him. “I’m really happy right now,” Bucky says.

“I can see that,” Steve returns.

“You make me happy too,” Bucky tells him. “Much more than getting an A on a test. You’re important to me. I love having someone to share my happiness with. I want to show you how much I appreciate you.”

“Oh?” Steve asks. “How are you going to do that?”

“Like this,” Bucky says, and then leans in to give Steve a soft kiss. Steve closes his eyes and melts into it.

“That was nice,” Steve says when it’s over.

“I want more,” Bucky says, barely above a whisper. “A lot more.”

“Oh,” Steve says dumbfounded. “Are you ready for that?”

“It’s time,” Bucky says. “Remember when we couldn’t even do this? Remember when I couldn’t even let you touch me. All things change with time. And now, I’m ready.”

Steve looks concerned. “If we do this, I want you to know that we can stop at any time.”

“I know, Steve, we’ve been over this before,” Bucky says with a little frustration.

“It’s just you can say you’re ready all you want,” Steve continues, “But if you find in the moment that you’re not, it’s OK.”

Bucky reaches out and takes Steve’s hand. “Steve, I love what you’re trying to do, but I understand all that. You’ve been very accommodating. But you’re kind of ruining the mood.”

“Oh, sorry.” Steve looks abashed. “How can I fix that?”

Bucky smiles. “Just kiss me again.”

“OK,” Steve says, and leans in again for another kiss. This time Bucky doesn’t keep it so chaste. He opens his mouth and licks into Steve’s to get him to open his. Soon they’re making out heavily on the couch. Steve moves to get his arms around Bucky, and Bucky shifts so Steve can climb into his lap. Bucky rucks up Steve’s shirt, and quickly gets it off him. They part for a moment, both panting into each other’s mouths. “Bedroom?” Steve asks. Bucky nods, and all but picks Steve up and sets him down on the ground. They head for the bedroom and close the door behind them.

Chapter Text

Bucky sends Clint a message the next day.

[Bucky: Hey. Can we talk?]

[Clint: Sure, shoot]

[Bucky: No I mean in person]

[Clint: Yeah, I can be there in 10]

[Bucky: Thanks]

Clint arrives in almost exactly ten minutes, meaning he didn’t take any time to get out the door of his apartment. “What’s wrong?” he signs as soon as he gets let in the door. “Why isn’t Steve here?”

“Nothing’s wrong. And Steve is at a work meeting discussing his latest comic,” Bucky explains.

“Nothing’s wrong. Then why did I just rush over here?” Clint asks aloud.

“I just wanted to talk to you about something,” Bucky signs. “You didn’t have to rush over here.”

“Don’t you normally do your talking with your boy, Steve?” Clint asks.

“You’re my friend. I talk to you too,” Bucky says indignantly. “And also I want to talk about Steve.”

“Trouble in paradise?” Clint asks.

“No, nothing is wrong with our relationship. Everything is going great,” Bucky tells him.

“Then what’s with the four alarm fire?” Clint asks him. “You’re saying everything is great, but you needed to talk, in person, about Steve. What’s up?”

“You’re my friend, I wanted to talk about…what happened last night.”

Clint leans forwards. “Oh?” he says. “What happened last night?”

Bucky hesitates. “Steve and I… we moved things to the next level.”

Clint leans back again in frustration. “I literally have no idea what that means. You shouldn’t speak in metaphors around me. Come on, you’re going to have to spit it out eventually. Just say it.”

Bucky raises his hands to sign back, but puts his hands back down again. Maybe calling Clint over was a bad idea. “We had sex, OK?” Bucky signs quickly.

Clint responds by jumping off the couch, arms in the air. “Huzzah! This is great news. Can I tell Nat?”

“Would it be OK if you didn’t?” Bucky asks. “She should hear it from Steve if she hears about it at all. I just wanted to tell someone.”

“I’m so excited for you,” Clint says. “So… how was it? Details please.”

“Why do you always want details?” Bucky asks. “Is Nat refusing to have sex with you or something? Don’t live vicariously through me.”

“No, that’s just what bros talk about, isn’t it?” Clint says. “I don’t really have any other bros I talk about sex with, so I don’t know. But that’s a thing, guys talking about sex.”

“Then tell me details about you and Nat,” Bucky challenges.

“OK. So last night I was down on my knees and…”

“Oh my god, stop,” Bucky yells at him. “I don’t really want to know.”

“You asked,” Clint shrugs. “You gotta give me something though. It was good at least.”

Bucky smiles with a faraway look. “Yeah, it was good. It’s so much better when you’re in love.”

“Aww, you’re too cute,” Clint tells him. “No flashbacks or anything? I know that was a problem for you before.”

“No, nothing like that,” Bucky says. “I’ve been working with my therapist about issues that are triggering my flashbacks and panics attacks. I’ve seen a noticeable reduction in attacks.”

“That’s excellent,” Clint says. “Seems like things are really working out for you.”

“I’m the happiest I’ve ever been,” Bucky admits. “And not just because of the sex. Things are going well in school, and my bad days are getting fewer. And even though I’m struggling a bit at work with the new people coming in, I’m overall doing well there too. I was thinking I could even get a promotion after I get my GED and take a few more math classes.”

“That’s really great, Bucky. I’m so happy for you.”

“Thanks,” Bucky signs while smiling brightly. “How about you and Nat? How are things going?”

“Well last night I was down on my knees and…”

“Oh my god, don’t start that again.” Bucky shields his eyes so he doesn’t have to see Clint signing anything more graphic.

“OK, OK,” Clint says to get him to lower his hands from his eyes. “I’ll be serious.” He switches to sign when Bucky can see him again. “Things have been rocky for us since we moved in together, but honestly we’re doing well. What I was trying to describe to you was our hot make up sex we had after a fight. Our fights don’t last long, aren’t very heated, and always end up in sex. So I’m not too worried about us. I’ve got a gorgeous lady that I love, and I don’t think she’s going anywhere, so I’m happy.”

“I don’t understand you two,” Bucky tells him, “But if you’re happy, then I’m happy for you. You both deserve the best.”

“As do you and Steve,” Clint says. “I can’t believe how perfect your relationship is. You don’t ever seem to fight, and you’re so completely in love. I’m glad you have each other.”

“I might still be in the hospital if it weren’t for Steve,” Bucky says sadly.

“I don’t think that’s true, but he is a good grounding influence on you,” Clint tells him.

The key sounds in the door and they both immediately stop signing with guilty looks on their faces. Steve comes in the front door and takes in the two of them. “What’s going on here,” he asks. “What you talking about.”

“Nothing,” Bucky returns, still signing from habit. “I just invited Clint over to chat. We’re not talking about anything in particular.”

“Sure you aren’t,” Steve says. “You don’t have to tell me what you’re talking about if you don’t want to.” He comes over to where Bucky is sitting, leans down and gives him a peck on the cheek. Bucky, not content with just a peck, pulls him down for a filthy, passionate kiss. Steve straightens up, and you can see his blush go all the way down his neck. “I’ll just be in the back,” he tells them. “I’ve got more work to do. You can continue your conversation about nothing.” He turns and goes down the hall.

“That was hot,” Clint remarks. “You don’t have to give me details for me to know you had hot hot sex last night.”

Bucky just buries his face in his hands to hide his own blush.

Chapter Text

“I don’t want to get out of bed,” Bucky complains. He and Steve are tangled up in each other in bed enjoying a lazy weekend morning. They normally wouldn't stay in bed this late, but they were up late last night.

“You have homework to do,” Steve points out. “And it’s almost noon, we’ve been lazy enough. I have work I need to do. I just got the script for the new comic; I want to get a head start on the drawing.”

“Fine. Just five more minutes.” Bucky buries his face in Steve’s neck and shuts his eyes to the world.

Steve strokes his back and chuckles. Bucky groans at the movement, which jostles him, and Steve only laughs harder. “You can have your five minutes,” he says.

A mew at the door disagrees with him. Soon scratching and a sad yowl follow it. “I think the cats are saying it is breakfast time,” Steve says. This sentence is punctuated by a growl of his stomach. “I think my stomach is saying the same thing. Come on.” He starts to get up.

“But you promised five minutes,” Bucky whines. He pulls Steve back down in bed again and lies on top of him so he can’t get up.

“I guess I’m a dirty liar then,” Steve tells him. “Come on. We’ve been in bed all morning.” He shoves Bucky off of him and starts to get up.

Bucky rolls onto his back and looks at Steve who is getting out of the bed. “Yes. But we haven’t been sleeping all morning.” This prompts Steve to blush, but he proceeds at putting on some clothes.

“Get ready. I’m going to feed the cats,” Steve says. He heads for the door and opens it to find two hungry kittens who immediately start winding their way around his legs. “Hungry, aren’t you boys?” he asks the cats. Plaintive mews answer him.

Bucky pulls on a pair of boxer shorts and a t-shirt and follows Steve into the kitchen. There he sees his boyfriend dolling out portions of food for the cats. He squeezes by him and goes to the fridge for eggs. “You really going to get work done today?” he asks as he cracks the eggs into a frying pan. “It’s the weekend. We could go out, do something fun.”

“I read the script last night for the new comic and I’ve got ideas popping out of my head,” Steve explains. “I want to get some sketches down on paper before I forget.”

“You won’t be at that all day, will you?” Bucky asks, hoping it won’t be true.

“Why? You got something you want to do?” Steve asks.

“I’ve got someone I want to do,” Bucky says playfully. Steve blushes at the words and Bucky feels kind of bad, but only a little. Someone needs to get that boy used to dirty talk. “No seriously, it’s the weekend, we should relax or do something fun.”

“I’ll take a break,” Steve promises. “In the meantime, I know you have homework to do.” He takes a plate of eggs from Bucky and sits down at the table.

“It’s pre-calc,” Bucky says. “It’s easy.”

“If you say so,” Steve answers. Bucky knows Steve doesn’t understand his love of math and how simple this high school math is for him. It certainly won’t take all day to finish the problem set he has assigned to him.

A few hours later, Steve comes out to the living room where Bucky’s got his head stuck in a math book, jotting down equations. “Hey, I thought I’d take a break now,” Steve says. “What did you have in mind to do today?”

Bucky looks up from his book and grins. “I was planning to go back to bed.”

“A nap?” Steve asks. “How can you still be tired?”

“Oh I wasn’t planning on sleeping,” Bucky says.

Steve gets bright red and ducks his head. “Oh,” he says shyly. Bucky smiles warmly at his boyfriend. The man is almost 26 and he’s still shy when talking about sex. “OK,” Steve says more confidently and finally meeting Bucky’s eyes.

Bucky jumps off the couch and pulls Steve along with him on his way to the bedroom.

 


 

“Don’t you think this is a problem?” Steve asks later while they’re still in bed. “We’re, uh, in bed a lot.” This has been a consistent theme of the last few days, and it’s starting to get a bit ridiculous how much time they spend in bed.

“We’re basically honeymooning,” Bucky says. “We’re supposed to be stupidly horny. It’ll fade after a while and things will go back to normal, except with more sex.”

“You seem confident that’s going to happen,” Steve observes. “Is this what happened with your last boyfriend.”

Bucky laughs. “Absolutely not. I was a stupid, horny teenager then, and I wasn’t in love. Now I’m a wiser man. I’m not confident about what will happen. That’s just what people say isn’t it.”

“Well I don’t know what people say, I’m just worried we’ll never get anything done,” Steve says. “As much as I enjoy this, and believe me I do, I do have responsibilities.”

“Ha!” Bucky exclaims. “We’re not that bad.” He runs his hand once down Steve side. “Fine. I’ll let you get back to work.”

“We don’t have to go back to work right away,” Steve says while scooting closer to Bucky.

“Is that so?” Bucky asks. He pulls Steve in so their bodies are flush together. Steve tips his head back and moans. “I suppose we have some more time.”

“Sure,” Steve says quickly. “A little time off is good for us.” Bucky chuckles and then brings Steve in for a kiss.

 

Chapter Text

At his next group therapy session, Bucky waits by the coffee table to see if Sheri will come today. He’s been itching to speak up in group, but he doesn’t know if he can do it. He wants Sheri’s sign language skills as a back up so he can still tell his story.

He’s been so happy with Steve lately, that he wants to share that progress with the group. When he hears stories from others that show how much better they’ve gotten, he feels hope for the future. He wants to be able to give that to other people as well.

It probably won’t go over as well if he still has to hide behind an interpreter, so he’s going to try to address the group himself. He still wants Sheri as a safety net though, just in case. He tries to spot her in the crowd.

He finally sees her come in a few minutes later with her partner. Bucky knows the man is deaf, so he uses sign language when he addresses them. “Hi Sheri,” he begins. “I was hoping you could help me again today.”

Sure, Bucky,” she replies. “This is my partner, David. David, this is Bucky.” The two shake hands in greeting. “How can I help?” she asks.

I want to try addressing the group today. I want to do it without signing, but in case I can’t, I was hoping you would be willing to step in as interpreter.”

That’s great that you’re going to try to do it without signing,” Sheri says. “But if you need me, I’ll of course be there for you.” She turns to David. “Group is about to start. I’ll see you when it’s over.” She kisses him goodbye and he leaves. “Shall we?” she asks pointing to the room where people are beginning to file in.

Bucky guides them to the front of the room so he won’t hide in the back as usual. His heart starts to pound when he thinks about standing up in front of everyone and speaking, but he does some deep breathing like Sam taught him, and he eventually calms himself down.

Group begins, and as usual the person leading it asks if anyone has anything new to share. Bucky raises his hand, shaking the whole way. He's called up to the front, and Sheri looks to him to see if he needs her help. He waves her away. He is determined to do this himself.

He stands in front of everyone, and voice shaking, he speaks as loudly as he can. “Hello, I'm Bucky.” He pauses and a few people greet him back. “This is really hard for me to do. I don't like talking to strangers. But I've been making progress in my recovery and my therapist says it would be good for me to speak up in group.

“I don't want to talk about what happened to me. That would be too much. I just want to share how I've been doing. I know it helps me to hear how other people are able to move on, so I thought I'd give back by speaking up.

“My progress has been slow, glacial at times. But I've been working with my therapist and my boyfriend and I have made progress. Me standing up here now speaking to you is a sign of that. I just got over a huge hurtle in my recovery and it has made me really happy. It's personal, so I won't share. Just know that whatever that thing is that you think you'll never get past, it is possible to get past it.

"When I look back at how I was two years ago, the progress is outstanding. I'm not fully recovered, I may never be, but I'm happy with the progress I've made. It's more than I ever expected. And I could never have done it without the support of the people around me. My boyfriend, my friends, my therapist, and my sister. They've all been there for me, and I feel so blessed. After all the shit that happened to me, I never thought I would feel like I'm lucky. But lately that's how I feel. I'm so lucky to have people in my life who truly care for my wellbeing."

He stands there awkwardly after this speech for a minute. “That's all,” he concludes and goes to sit back down. There's a smattering of applause and Sheri greets him back at his seat and tells him he did such a great job. He feels a little burnt out from speaking so much, but he's proud of himself for getting it all out.

He spaces out for much of the rest of group. When it's over, he says goodbye to Sheri and heads for the doors. He doesn't want anyone pulling him over and telling him he did a good job or was so brave or some shit like that. He just wants to get out of there.

Steve is waiting at the entrance to the room where group is held. Bucky goes straight up to him and throws himself into Steve's arms. He just stands there for a moment while Steve rubs his back up and down. “Hard session?” Steve asks.

He pulls back so he can sign to his boyfriend. He's done talking for the night. “No, it was good. But I spoke in front of the group and now I'm kind of regretting it.”

“Why are you regretting it?” Steve asks him. “I thought you had been wanting to do it for a while.”

Yes,” Bucky admits. “But I feel like I overextended myself.” He goes back into Steve's waiting arms. “I just want to go home,” he whispers to Steve.

 

Chapter Text

Bucky goes back to work on Monday for his first day without Peter being there. It's weird to think that strange, hyperactive kid won't be in the cubicle next to his anymore. Instead it will be occupied by Loki, who Bucky hasn't been able to talk to yet. He's dreading this.

When he arrives, Loki hasn't come in yet, so he breathes a sigh of relief that he gets to temporarily avoid the man. He sits down in his cubicle and opens the latest spreadsheet he's been working on. It's not long though before he gets a ping from the intraoffice messaging system.

[Rhodes: Thor told me this is the best way to communicate with you.]

[Barnes: It is, thank you.]

[Rhodes: I've got a project for you. It needs two sets of eyes, so you'll have to work with the new guy, Loki.]

Bucky groans. He was hoping to avoiding interacting with Loki today, and now he has to work closely with him. Rhodey outlines what they have to do, and Bucky is relieved to hear that it is something he can do without speaking directly to Loki, as long as they use the messaging system.

Loki strolls into work 20 minutes late and sits down at his desk like it personally offended him. Bucky sneaks a peak at Loki and internally starts freaking out. This guy has such an attitude, he doesn't know how he'll do taking directions from Bucky. But Bucky steels himself and sends a message to Loki.

[Barnes: Loki, Rhodey gave us an assignment and we have to work together.]

It takes quite some time for Loki to reply, and when he does, it's not a good sign.

[Laufeyson: I have other work left over from last week.]

[Barnes: This takes precedence.]

Loki stands up and looks at Bucky over the partition. “Fine,” he says with all the loathing he can muster. “What's this new assignment?”

Bucky goes back to the computer to type out his reply.

[Barnes: It's easier if I just type it to you.]

Loki bends down to look at his computer screen then stands back up. “No, it would be easier if you just told me what our assignment is.” Bucky shakes his head. Loki sighs and grips the partition a little harder than necessary. “What's wrong with you? Why can't you just speak like a normal person?”

Bucky's hand starts to shake a little bit, but he determined to stand his ground on this one. He's in the right, and he knows it. Loki is just being an ass. He takes a minute to collect his breath and starts typing again.

[Barnes: I have a disability. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, I can ask for reasonable accommodation to help with my work. Using the messaging system instead of speaking is my reasonable accommodation. Everyone else in the office uses it to speak to me, you can too.]

Thor finally notices Loki standing up and speaking over the cubicle walls and comes over to investigate. “Everything ok here?”

Loki stands up for himself. “I just don't understand how I can work with someone I can't talk to,” he says petulantly.

“You can use the messaging system,” Thor says calmly. Apparently he's had some experience working with his little brother's moods.

“That's a cumbersome way to communicate,” Loki says.

“Look, Loki, I know you're new, but you're going to have to get used to the way we do things around here,” Thor tells him. “Barnes is a good worker, and has more experience than you do. You are to listen to him and use the damn messaging system, because that's how we best function as a team.” Loki starts to shrink in on himself during this dressing down. “Now I believe Rhodey gave the two of you a task. You should be working on that instead of getting into a spat. So sit down and listen to what Barnes tells you to do.”

“OK,” Loki says very quietly and sits back down in his chair.

[Laufeyson: What do we need to get accomplished?]

Bucky smiles as he starts typing out the instructions for today's work. Loki was being an ass, but Bucky stood his ground. And Thor defended him too. All around it wasn't so bad.

 


 

 

Bucky goes home that night in high spirits. He and Loki worked together just fine after he started using the messaging system. They got their work done well before the end of the day, and Rhodey was pleased with them.

He comes in the front door with a whistle on his lips. “What's got you in good spirits?” Steve asks from the living room.

“I was able to work with the new guy today,” Bucky replies.

“The one with an attitude problem who rubs you the wrong way?”

“Yeah, that one,” Bucky answers. “Thor spoke to him when he was giving me lip. It worked and Loki started using the messaging system to talk to me. We actually got a lot of work done.”

“I now have a lot more respect for Thor,” Steve says. “Good for him.”

“That's not the best part,” Bucky continues. “Before he even came over, I stood my ground and didn't let Loki intimidate me.”

“That's great, Bucky.” Steve stands up and gives him a hug. “I knew you could do it.”

Bucky smiles brightly while he hugs Steve back. He feels like he could do anything now. He pulls back and gives Steve a deep kiss. Steve responds in kind and starts backing towards the bedroom. Bucky grins into their kiss and follows.

 

Chapter Text

“Bucky, Steve! I'm so glad you're here,” Peter all but shouts when he opens the door to his apartment. Bucky would have thought that the kid had gotten into the alcohol if he didn't already know this was Peter's default setting.

They've arrived at a party held for Peter to congratulate him on finally going to college. Steve and Peter are the only people that Bucky knows at this party, and it's been worrying him all day. He clings to Steve as his lifeline amongst all these people he doesn't know.

“Come in meet everyone,” Peter says as he guides them inside. A group of people has already collected around the coffee table on various couches and chairs. Peter goes around and points at everyone while saying their names. “This is Mary Jane, Gwen, Harry, Ned, and Liz.” Bucky can't remember who is who, they all go by in a blur.

“Hi everyone,” Steve cheerfully chimes in. “I'm Steve and this is Bucky.” Steve finishes by gesturing towards him. Bucky just clings closer to Steve.

“Bucky,” Mary Jane jumps in, “You the one who works with Peter, aren't you?”

Bucky nods his head, but doesn't say anything. Peter actually comes to the rescue. “Bucky will need some time to adjust before you'll get him to say much, so don't pressure him.”

“That's fine if you need more time,” Liz says. “New places and people can be a little daunting. Why don't you sit down and just listen to the conversation for a while.” She gestures to two empty chairs in the living room.

“Thanks, Liz,” Steve says cheerfully. “That's kind of you.” He goes to sit down and Bucky scrambles after him.

“I'm surprised you came,” Peter tells them. “I'm glad, just surprised.” He turns towards the rest of the group. “Bucky made working at that boring job so much more fun. He claims it's not boring, but it was driving me insane until Bucky showed up.” He turns back to Bucky. “I'm sorry I left you. But I needed to go to college eventually.”

“Yeah,” Harry says. “We all left for college ages ago. We're just back for the holiday break. We're glad Peter is finally joining the ranks of us college folks.”

“That place is going to be dull without me, huh?” Peter says. “That new guy, Loki, didn't exactly seem like a barrel of laughs. How's it going with him anyways.”

Bucky looks petrified at the direct question, and turns to Steve with his wide eyes pleading him to help him out. “Bucky is doing just fine,” Steve says proudly. “Loki was being an ass, and Bucky stood up to him. It helped that Thor backed Bucky instead of his brother, but what matters is that Loki is now working well with Bucky instead of making a stink.”

“That's great, Bucky,” Peter says excitedly. “What was he complaining about this time?”

“He didn't want to use the messaging system to talk to Bucky,” Steve tells them. “Even though it's Bucky's right to use assistant services for his disability.”

“It wasn't that hard to use the messaging system to talk to you when I worked there,” Peter contributes. “That guy was just being a self-entitled asshat.”

Bucky laughs and Steve looks at him curiously. Likely he didn't expect Bucky to make such an outward display so early in the night.

“So enough about work,” Peter says. “Let's get this party started. “What do you want to do? I vote board games.”

“Then it's board games,” Ned says. “It's your party after all.”

“Good point, I guess I'm picking,” Peter says. “For this many people, Cards Against Humanity is a good bet.” He pulls out the game from his closet and brings it over to the table and his waiting guests.

The choice of game is a good one, and soon has everyone, including Bucky, laughing and having fun. Bucky can participate easily, though Steve has to read his card aloud when it's his turn. Soon Bucky is relaxing and isn't so attached to Steve.

The game ends with some spectacularly disgusting, but hilarious, combination of cards that has everyone rolling on the floor with laughter. It's so funny they have to end the game there to leave it on a high note. They pick themselves up and start counting their cards to determine the winner.

“Ok, so far the highest number of cards is eight,” Peter announces. “How many do you have, Steve?”

“Three,” Steve says a little dejectedly. He never did like losing by a large amount.

“How about Bucky?” Peter asks.

“Eleven,” Bucky surprises himself by speaking up.

“Oh, ho!” Peter exclaims. “The silent threat. Great job, Bucky.” Several people congratulate him and he smiles and nods back his thanks.

“On that note, I think it's time for us to leave,” Mary Jane says. She gets up and hugs Peter. “Congratulations again for becoming a college student. We're all real proud of you.” The rest of the crowd murmurs similar statements and start filing out the door. Bucky hold Steve back, because he wants to talk to Peter once everyone is gone.

“Thanks for coming,” Peter says once the place is empty save him, Bucky, and Steve. “I know how hard it was for you, but I was glad you were here.”

“I'm glad I came too. Sorry I was silent the whole time,” Bucky says.

“No one cared,” Peter assures him. “My friends are cool about it.”

“I really miss you at the office,” Bucky changes subjects. “It's not the same without you.”

“Of course not, I'm one of a kind.” Peter says. “More seriously though, if you ever need to get away from Loki, I left the chairs up on the roof. You can go there to be alone.”

“Thanks, man,” Bucky says. He pulls Peter into a hug and Peter hugs him back. “Congratulations again. I wish you the best of luck.”

 

Chapter Text

“I was thinking of taking the GED test early,” Bucky tells Becca when he and Steve are having dinner at her place.

“Are you sure that's wise?” Becca asks. “I thought you hadn't taken enough classes yet.”

“I've taken enough english, history, and math classes to pass those sections. I haven't taken a science course since high school biology, but I only need to pass. I don't lose anything by taking it early. If I fail, I'll keep taking classes and try again later.”

“Wouldn't you rather be more prepared?” Becca asks.

“Oh, he's preparing alright,” Steve tells her. “He checked out just about every GED test prep book the library has, and he's been going through them every night.”

Bucky looks a little embarrassed, but he doesn't deny it. “They have practice tests in them. I've taken a few and I've passed. The math section is ridiculously easy.”

“For you maybe,” Steve says.

“It's all basic stuff. They don't even ask trigonometry questions. Is this all the math you need in the world?”

“It's all the math I need,” Steve answers.

“It's pathetic,” Bucky grumbles.

“You're such a nerd, little brother,” Becca laughs. “The GED is supposed to test basic concepts. Just because you're ahead in math doesn't mean the whole world is. I agree that maybe some more math skills would help, but not everyone needs calculus.”

“I'm not talking about calculus, just simple trigonometry,” Bucky says. “Why didn't anyone tell me I didn't need to take that class to get a GED?”

“Because you were so excited to take it,” Steve says. Bucky glares at him and he hold his hands up. “I was just kidding. I didn't know what would be on the test.”

“I didn't know either,” Becca agrees. “But aren't you glad you took the class?”

“I loved it,” Bucky admits, “But I thought I was taking classes for the GED.”

“Back to the subject of taking classes,” Becca says, “Don't you think you should take a science class before taking the test?”

“I'll admit, that might be useful,” Bucky agrees, “But I don't think I need it. I have enough basic science knowledge to skate by.”

“It might be fun though,” Steve says. “I thought you liked science as well as math.”

“I do like science, and maybe I'll take another science class anyways, but I don't need to do it before taking the test.” Bucky takes a sip of water before continuing on. “That does bring me to another subject.”

“Why do I think I'm not going to like this?” Becca asks, looking her brother over.

“It's not bad, I just need your permission,” Bucky says, trying to calm her down. “You're paying for my education, which I greatly appreciate.” He takes a moment to smile at her. She does not smile back. “I wanted to take more classes at the community college, maybe even go for an associates degree.”

“Why are you worried about asking me that?” Becca says cheerfully. “I'd love to see you continue your education.”

“Really?” Bucky asks. He's grinning from side to side.

“But that starts with a high school education,” Becca tells him. “I still think that you should take more classes before you take the test.”

“I don't need your permission to take the test,” Bucky says defiantly. “I can pay for it myself.”

“I'm not trying to tell you what to do,” Becca says. “I'm just offering my opinion. You should be as prepared as you can be.”

“I've got nothing to lose by taking the test,” Bucky says. “I can always take it again if I fail.”

Becca sighs and puts her utensils down. “I can see I'm not going to change your mind about this.”

“Nope,” Bucky says.

“So I won't bother trying any longer. Do as you wish.” Becca picks up her fork and starts eating again.

Bucky looks at his sister a little nervously. “I didn't mean to upset you,” he says.

“You didn't,” Becca says. “I'm just realizing my little brother has grown up and can make his own decisions without me. I'm happy for you, but I'm also a little sad. You don't need me anymore. I think this is what parents feel with their children grow up.”

“I need you Becks,” Bucky tells her. “You just don't need to hold my hand anymore. Doesn't that lift a burden off your shoulders?”

“I never minded caring for you, Bucky,” she says. She's stopped eating again and is starting to look a little sad. “After mom died, I thought I was alone. Caring for you brought joy back into my life. Now I feel a little cast off. You don't need me, I'm just in the way.”

“That's not true,” Bucky says. He gets out of his chair and hugs his sister immediately. He pulls back so he can look her in the face. “I'm sorry you feel that way. I'm still in your life. I'm probably always going to need you in some ways. But I can make decisions for myself, and that's a good thing. I'll still call you when I need someone to talk to. I'll still listen when you give advice, even if I don't take it. You're the only family I have left. I'll always need you.”

Becca hugs her brother again, this time with tears in her eyes. “Mom would be so proud of you, you know.”

“I hope so,” Bucky responds, now tearing up himself. He looks at Steve, who is shuffling peas around on his plate trying not to interrupt the family moment. “I wish you had met her, Steve. She would've made sure you were good for me.” Steve smiles at him and he turns back to Becca. “You've done a good job taking over for mom. But you can stop being a mother to me now, and be my sister again.”

“I don't know how to do that,” Becca admits.

“Just be there for me when I need you,” Bucky says. “I know you know how to do that.”

 

Chapter Text

Bucky's at work when a message pops up for him on his computer.

[Odinson: Bucky, can we talk in person? Only if you're up for it.]

Bucky doesn't usually have to talk to Thor in person, so he's a bit nervous about this. But today has been a good day so far, so he thinks he's able to talk to his boss.

[Barnes: Sure, I'll come right over.]

Bucky takes the couple of steps over to Thor's section of the accounting department. “What is this about?” he asks nervously.

“Nothing bad, I assure you,” Thor says. “I just heard through the grapevine that you are planning on taking the High School equivalency exam soon.”

“Yeah, I am,” Bucky confirms. “Where did you hear that?” It's not like he was trying to hide it, but he hadn't told anyone from work.

“Well I heard it from Tony who heard it from Clint who heard it from Nat.”

“And Nat probably got it from my boyfriend,” Bucky finishes.

“Well I brought you over here to tell you that if you pass, we can give you a promotion,” Thor says. “How would you like to work full time?”

“Wow, that's excellent,” Bucky tells him. “But I haven't even passed yet. And even if I do, I will still be taking classes to get my associates degree. I don't know if I'll have the time to extend my hours.”

“You can take classes at night,” Thor says. “We could really use the help. You're a good worker and we're still understaffed.”

“I really appreciate this, but I'm not sure I'll even pass,” Bucky explains. “I'm taking the test without taking all the classes I need. If I don't pass I won't try again until I've completed them, which might take a while.”

“Well take all the time you need,” Thor says. “When you pass the test we'll talk again about that promotion. But I'm sure you'll pass. You're a smart guy.”

“Thanks,” Bucky says. He walks back to his work station feeling conflicted. He wants to be able to work full time, but he's not sure if he can handle it. Balancing work and school is challenging as it is.

He mulls it over all day long. His work is easy enough today that he doesn't have to pay full attention. He really feels the need to talk to Steve, maybe Sam too. This is a decision he shouldn't take lightly. He shakes his head to clear his thoughts. He's getting ahead of himself. He hasn't even taken the test yet, much less passed.

He gets home and Steve's still in the back working. He doesn't want to disturb his boyfriend, so he opens up a GED test prep book and starts studying. He can wait to ask Steve's opinion. He gets absorbed by the work and doesn't even notice the time flying by until a cat lands right on his book. “Shoo, Hobbes,” he says as he tries to get the cat to jump off his book on his own.

“What has Hobbes done now?” Steve asks, coming into the room.

Bucky looks up and smiles at Steve. “He's just 'helping' me study.” He points to the book with the cat sitting proudly on it. The orange fluff ball is purring now that he's got the attention of both his people.

“How's that going, by the way?” Steve asks.

“It was going really well,” Bucky says. “Hey, I wanted to talk to you about something.”

“Ok, shoot.”

“Thor said I could get a promotion if I pass my test,” Bucky says.

“That's excellent!” Steve exclaims.

“Don't celebrate yet,” Bucky says. “I'm not even sure if I'll take it.”

“Why wouldn't you?”

“Because it involves switching to full time,” Bucky explains. “I still want to go for my associates degree, and I don't know if I'm mentally stable enough to handle both school and full time work.”

“Don't say that,” Steve says. “You've been doing so well. You're talking more, you have fewer nightmares. You handle school and part time work very well. A few more hours of work isn't going to throw you off.”

“You think?” Bucky asks.

“Yeah, I really do,” Steve says. “You don't have to ask me. You know you've been doing well lately.”

“I suppose so,” Bucky replies. “But I don't know how the added stress will affect me. Maybe I should talk to Sam about this.”

“That's never a bad idea, but ultimately the decision is yours,” Steve tells him. “Sam's probably going to say the same thing I am. That you should trust your gut and do what you want to without worrying about what might happen.”

“I do really want the promotion,” Bucky says. “Maybe Loki would even listen to me without a threat from Thor.”

Steve laughs. “Is that the only reason?”

“No,” Bucky says. “If I take on a full time job, it will be like I'm recovered enough to act like a real adult. It's significant.”

“You don't need your job to mark your recovery,” Steve says.

“Yeah, I know, but having a job does make me feel better,” Bucky says. “Maybe doing it full time will help even more.”

“That's the right attitude,” Steve tells him.

“But I'm getting ahead of myself,” Bucky says. “Again. I need to pass the test first.” He looks back at his book on which Hobbes is now lounging. “If I can get my book back without pissing off a cat.”

“Good luck with that.”

 

Chapter Text

“You've got this,” Steve tells Bucky. They're standing outside the examination room before Bucky takes his High School equivalency exam. Bucky is pacing and generally being nervous. “You've studied so hard, I know you can do this.”

They got there early so that Bucky could blow off some steam before the test started, but now he's just working himself up. The pacing is not helping, so Steve makes him stop.

“I'm just nervous. You know how I can get,” Bucky says.

“And I'm trying to calm you down by telling you there is nothing to be nervous about,” Steve says, putting a hand on Bucky's shoulder to steady him. “Is it working?”

“Just having you here is a blessing,” Bucky tells him. “I'd be a wreck without you. Thank you for coming.”

“I wouldn't miss it,” Steve says. He brought his sketch pad and is prepared to sit outside the exam room for the next several hours. He swore to Bucky that he could work just as well here as he could at home, since he would just be sketching ideas for the next issue of his comic. Only then would Bucky allow him to come, but it was obvious to Steve that he was glad Steve was going to be with him.

“But now I have to go into that room alone,” Bucky continues. “And thinking about that makes me nervous again.” He goes back to the pacing. Steve gives up trying to stop him.

“What for?” Steve asks. “It's not like you have to interact with anyone. Everyone will have their heads down looking at their own tests, including you. You just have to pretend that it's one of your practice tests.”

“But it's not a practice test,” Bucky says, “And I'm not in our living room. This is the real thing and there's going to be a room full of strangers all around me.”

“Strangers who are there to take the test just like you are,” Steve reasons. “They're not there to hurt you. I promise that you'll be as safe in that room as you would be in our living room.”

Bucky hugs Steve and holds it for a while. “Thank you.” He disengages himself from his boyfriend. “I'm going in now. See you in a few hours.”

“Good luck!” Steve calls as Bucky enters the room. The place is huge and Bucky marvels at it's size. There are rows and rows of desks. He finds one near the back and sits down. His every instinct is telling him to get out of here, but he firmly plants himself into his seat and doesn't leave. He doesn't want to disappoint Steve, but more importantly, he doesn't want to disappoint himself.

More people file into the room and Bucky grips the desk, trying not to be afraid of all the strangers. His heart is racing, so he does some breathing exercises Sam taught him to calm down.

Eventually everyone is seated and the exams are passed out. He sharpens his number two pencil and waits for the instruction to open the booklet. When it comes, he takes a deep breath and begins.

 


 

Several hours later, Bucky comes bounding out of the exam room looking for Steve. His boyfriend spots him first and comes over to where he is. “How'd it go?” Steve asks.

Bucky responds by giving Steve a huge hug and lifting him up a little bit off the floor. “Great!” he replies. “I really think that I passed. The math was super easy, and the rest went about as well as I could have hoped. I wasn't really stumped on anything.”

“That's awesome,” Steve tells him.

“I won't know if I passed or not for a little while,” Bucky says. “But at least it's over.”

“Well congratulations,” Steve says. “Whether or not you passed I'm proud of you.”

“Thanks,” Bucky replies, “But I really want to go home now.”

“Of course,” Steve says. “Did the test stress you out?”

“Well yes,” Bucky says, “But that's not why I want to go home. Or not the only reason.”

“Why then?” Steve asks.

“Because I want to have lots of sex with you to celebrate,” Bucky announces.

Steve blushes and looks around to see if anyone has heard the comment. “Geez, don't say things like that in public.”

“Well I wasn't kidding, that's my plan for the rest of the day,” Bucky says.

“The rest of the day?” Steve asks. “It's only two o'clock.”

“And we still have to get home, so let's get a move on,” Bucky says, grabbing Steve's hand and dragging him towards the bus stop.

“You're serious, aren't you?” Steve asks.

“Yep,” Bucky tells him, still moving quickly and pulling his boyfriend along. “Why? Are you not on board with this idea?”

“Oh it sounds like it could be fun,” Steve says. “But maybe not all day. The cats at least would be jealous if we didn't stop to play with them.”

“Let them get jealous,” Bucky says. “They get enough attention as it is.”

The bus arrives and they get on, selecting two seats together. “We've still got a long bus ride home,” Steve says. “Why don't you get some rest? We can finish this conversation when we're back home.”

“Alright,” Bucky agrees, and puts his head on Steve's shoulder. It's not long before he's drifting off. All the nervous energy from the test is gone, and he's tired enough to fall asleep right there on a bus full of strangers. He doesn't even think about the progress he's had to make to do such a thing. He just drifts off to sleep, confident that Steve will protect him.

 

Chapter Text

“So, you've requested I get rid of the interpreter entirely,” Sam says during one of their therapy sessions. Bucky's seated in a comfortable chair in front of Sam's desk.

“I don't need him anymore,” Bucky replies quickly. “I can speak to people I know almost every day now. I think I know you well enough to go without the interpreter.”

“That's really great progress,” Sam says, smiling. “You should be proud of yourself.”

“I am,” Bucky replies. He sits back in his chair and smiles too. “It feels good.”

“I'm glad you're acknowledging your progress,” Sam says. “You have a habit of ignoring it.”

Bucky looks chagrined. “I know, but it's hard not to see this as a great step forward. I want to thank you Sam for helping me get here.”

“No problem. But you know you deserve most of the credit. You had to work very hard to get here, I just helped you along.”

“I suppose,” Bucky says. He's not convinced of his own role in his recovery, attributing all his progress to Sam and Steve.

“I know you hate these therapy sessions,” Sam says. “But you've actually been one of my best patients at applying the techniques we talk about outside of session.”

“That's because they actually help,” Bucky admits. “Especially when I have a panic attack or a bad nightmare, what you've taught me helps calm me down.”

“That's good to hear,” Sam tells him. “Now, on to today's session. Is there anything in particular that you wanted to talk about.”

Bucky leans forward. “Yes,” he says. “I've been wanting to talk to you for a few days now. My boss offered me a promotion if I get my High School Equivalency, but it would be full-time. Do you think I can handle the stress of full-time work plus school?”

“Only you can know the answer to that,” Sam replies. Bucky groans. He hates that reply. “I'm serious,” Sam continues. “But we can talk through it if you'd like.”

“Yes, I really need advice,” Bucky says. “I'm torn about what to do. I don't want to quit taking classes, but a promotion would be nice.”

“How important is work vs. school?” Sam asks. “Does one of them stand out as being more significant to your life?”

“Probably school right now,” Bucky answers reluctantly. “But it would be nice to have the promotion. It would make me feel like I can get by on my own.”

“It's ok to need a little financial help from your sister,” Sam says. “You're doing great these days, but you're still not one hundred percent, and that's ok.”

“I know, but I want to be doing better,” Bucky tells him.

“What does 'better' look like to you?” Sam asks.

“A job, school, being able to pay for things myself.” Bucky runs his fingers through his hair. “Not having nightmares, or panic attacks. Being able to talk to strangers. I want all of that.”

“And I think you'll be able to have all of that, it will just take time,” Sam says. “You need to take it one step at a time.”

Bucky sighs. “So you don't think I should have a full-time job and go to school?”

“I'm not saying that, but I think you are,” Sam says.

“But I need that promotion to be able to pay my fair share of rent,” Bucky says.

“I think you should do what you want to do,” Sam says, “And not what you think you should do. What do you want to do? Work full-time, or go to school?”

Bucky contemplates for a minute before he gives his honest answer. “School is more import right now. It's what I want to do. Work is secondary.”

“So, have you come to your decision then?” Sam asks.

“Yes,” Bucky says. “I'm going to turn down the promotion. I want to focus on school. It makes me happy to learn. Maybe I'll start working full-time when I get my associates degree.”

“It sounds like you've known the decision the entire time,” Sam notices. “You didn't need me to come to this conclusion.”

“Yeah, I guess I knew that the promotion was too much,” Bucky says. “That's why I asked you if I could handle it. I knew that I couldn't.”

“It's not that you can't handle it,” Sam says. “It's more that you should focus on one thing at a time, and right now for you that's school.”

“Thanks Sam, I really needed to hear that,” Bucky says. “I've just needed to talk it out to realize what I wanted.”

“You deserve to have what you want,” Sam says. “I think you've earned that. As for the other things you listed that would make you 'better', we'll get to that eventually. I have full confidence that we'll get you somewhere that you think is 'better'.”

“You think you can cure my panic attacks and nightmares?” Bucky asks hopefully.

“Haven't they decreased in frequency over time?” Sam says. “I can't guarantee that we'll get rid of your nightmares completely, but we can make them infrequent.”

“That would be nice,” Bucky says. “How are we going to do that?”

“By talking, mostly,” Sam says. “But it starts with you controlling yourself during panic attacks and after nightmares. Have you been using the latest breathing exercises I taught you last session?”

“Yes, I used them when I was panicking about my test,” Bucky says. “I worked really well.”

“Good, then we'll keep working with that.”

“Anything to keep from talking about my past,” Bucky mutters.

“Oh, we'll get to that,” Sam says. “I know you hate it, but talking helps. But breathing exercises first. Let's practice.”

 

Chapter Text

Bucky takes the crate out from the storage closet and Hobbes runs for his life. Bucky groans. “This would be easier if you didn't hate the carrier so much,” he calls towards the cat.

Steve comes into the room and looks around. “Where's Hobbes?” he asks.

“He bolted, I don't know where,” Bucky says.

“You should have taken the crate out last night, let him get used to it,” Steve tells him.

“Hey, you forgot too, don't blame this on me,” Bucky complains.

Steve sighs. “Let's just find him.” They search the apartment from top to bottom and come up with nothing. “He's got to be here somewhere.” Steve gets down on his hands and knees and looks under the bed. “Found him,” he calls.

Bucky comes into the room, sees where Steve is looking, and groans again. “He's under the bed?”

“Yup,” Steve replies. “He's in the direct center where he knows nobody can get to him.”

“Let's try the treats,” Bucky says.

“He's not going to fall for that,” Steve warns, but gets out the treats anyway.

Bucky throws a treat at Hobbes and the cat eats it. He throws one closer to the edge of the bed, and Hobbes doesn't move. He tries again, unsuccessfully.

Steve bends down to inspect the line of untouched treats. “We're going to have to move the bed.”

Bucky grumbles something indistinct, but helps Steve move furniture away from the bed so they can move it. He then helps pick up the bed and move it to the other end of the room. Once it is moved, they bend down to get Hobbes. “That blasted cat!” Bucky yells. Hobbes has moved along with the bed so that he's still in the direct center. “What if we tip the bed over?”

“It's too heavy for us to do that,” Steve says. “Let's just take the mattress off, and we can poke him through the slots in the bed frame.”

They take the mattress off and now they can see Hobbes, hunched down under the bed. He notices his cover is blown, but still doesn't move. Bucky pokes at Hobbes through the slots in the bed frame and nudges him until he moves to the edge of the bed where Steve can grab ahold of him.

“I've got him,” Steve cries. “Go get the carrier, quickly.”

Bucky goes into the living room to get the crate and comes back in record speed. Steve is holding a spitting mad cat. They both work to get Hobbes into the crate before someone gets there eyes scratched out.

“Alright,” Bucky says, sitting down as if that production wore him out. “One down, one to go.”

“Hopefully Calvin will be easier,” Steve says, looking around the mess of their bedroom.

Calvin is indeed easier. He's sitting by the crate like it's nothing, apparently not scared of it at all. That all changes when Bucky scoops up the cat and puts him in the crate. Then he starts yelling at the top of his lungs.

“Great, now it sounds like we're murdering our cat,” Bucky says.

“Let's just get to the vet as quickly as we can,” Steve suggests.

They speed walk down the street to the vet. It's only a couple of blocks, but Calvin yells the entire way there. Once they arrive however, Calvin doesn't make a sound. It's as if he doesn't want the vet to know that he's there.

Steve goes up to the receptionist to check them in and soon they are taken to an exam room where they can open up the crates. The cats bolt out of their carriers and start exploring the room, sniffing every corner.

The vet comes in and Bucky stiffens. He remembers having to take Hobbes to the vet on his own when he was barely able to speak. He grabs Steve's hand, and his boyfriend takes it gladly.

“You have two handsome boys here,” the vet says. “They look well cared for.” Bucky beams. He's glad that he can be trusted to keep the animals alive and healthy.

The vet weighs them and checks them over from top to bottom. The cats are grumpy about it, but they're not too perturbed. All in all it's a pretty easy visit.

“Hobbes will need to get his teeth cleaned soon,” the vet announces. “His gums are showing signs of gingivitis. That means first we need to do a blood test to see if he can go under anesthesia.”

“You have to draw blood from Hobbes?” Steve asks. Bucky tightens his grip on Steve's hand.

“It's very simple,” the vet says. “My techs do it all the time.”

Steve looks to Bucky to check. Bucky is nervous about it, but he nods his head. “Ok, we'll do that,” Steve tells the vet.

“Great. My techs will be out shortly.”

They wait for the vet techs to come out. “Hobbes isn't going to like this,” Bucky tells Steve.

“I know,” Steve says, giving Bucky's hand a squeeze. “It'll be alright.”

The vet techs come out, one with a blanket the other with a needle. “We just need to wrap mister Hobbes up in the blanket to get his blood drawn,” one of them says. “Like a burrito, so he doesn't scratch anyone.”

Bucky nods and hears Steve give a confirmation. The technician goes up to Hobbes with the blanket and scoops him up. In seconds she has the cat wrapped up in the blanket. She bring him back to the exam table. The other tech takes one leg out of the burrito and soaks it in alcohol until the vein is visible. Hobbes starts up his meowing.

“Are you sure he's ok?” Bucky asks.

“We do this all the time,” the tech answers. “He's not happy, but he'll be fine.” The tech takes out her needle and Bucky flinches. The needle goes in and Hobbes's mews don't change. “See, he doesn't even feel it. He just didn't like the wetness of the alcohol.” Bucky relaxes, but still holds onto Steve.

When the techs are done, they release Hobbes, who jumps to the floor and immediately starts licking off the liquid on his leg. Hobbes always does like being clean. Bucky leans down and scratches his neck. Hobbes leans into it. He's ok and Bucky can breathe now.

“You're all set to go,” the tech says. “But Hobbes'll have to come back in a few weeks for the teeth cleaning.”

Bucky turns to Steve, breathing a sigh of relief. “Let's go home,” he says.

 

Chapter Text

“Congrats little brother,” Becca says as she walks in the door. She's last to the party and gives Bucky a big hug when she sees him.

“Welcome,” Bucky tells her. “Everyone is already gathered. Food is on it's way here now. Come in, let me take your coat.”

“You're being so eloquent,” Becca observes. “Is this what a high school diploma gets you.”

“It's a high school equivalency, and yes, my English classes have improved my speech. Money well spent.”

“Truly, I think it's getting the GED that makes him talk so much,” Steve says over Bucky's shoulder. “I think it's gone to his head.”

“I'm allowed to enjoy this,” Bucky complains. “If it makes me talk more, so what.”

Nat comes over and joins the conversation. “He's been the chattiest I've ever seen him in the half hour I've been here,” she says. “It's definitely going to his head. But I think that's a good thing. A little self confidence never hurt anyone.”

“Thank you, Natasha,” Bucky interjects. “I think.”

“Come in,” Steve says to everyone still huddled in the hallway. “We've got some board games ready to go.”

They step into the living room, which is packed to it's capacity. Nat and Clint have claimed one corner of the couch, while Wanda and Phil are sitting on the floor around the coffee table. They are setting up Settlers of Catan with Peter's help, standing over them and directing them how to set up the game.

“We've got too many people to play Catan,” Clint notices. “We'll either have to play on teams or split up into different groups to play different games.”

“Bucky and I own the expansion pack to Catan, so that gets us to six players. Only two people will have to play on teams,” Steve remarks. “Bucky and I can be a team.”

“Nat and I will be a team,” Clint offers. “She's better at this game than me, so we'll surely win.”

“Nobody can beat Steve at this game,” Bucky counters.

“Thanks,” Peter says cheerfully, “Now we know who to gang up on.”

“Great, thanks Bucky,” Steve groans.

“I was just sticking up for you, honey,” Bucky protests.

The game progresses quickly, and in the end it does turn into a competition between Steve and Bucky's team and Nat and Clint's team. They're both ruthless and no one else will trade with them. The robber keeps being placed on the six of wheat they both share, foiling their plans and keeping everyone else in the game for a little longer. Eventually, Steve and Bucky 4:1 trade ore for wheat and win the game with one final city.

“Good game everyone,” Phil says earnestly, even though he only managed four points in the game. But I feel we should switch to something less competitive.”

Steve offers the selection of games they have on their bookshelf. They play Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, Forbidden Island, and Pandemic. By the end, they're all exhausted and want to play something easy.

“There's always Uno,” Bucky suggests hopefully.

Everyone groans. They know that Bucky dominates at that game. “I actually brought a game by the makers of Uno,” Wanda chips in. “It's called Phase Ten. It's like Rummy, but with added complications. It's fun.”

“I know how to play Rummy,” Becca says. She's been a little lost at all these complicated games. “I used to kick Bucky's ass back when we were kids.”

“You wish,” Bucky calls back. “I gave as good as I got.”

They pull out the game and soon they're all fully into it. They skip Bucky at every chance, until it's clear he's getting frustrated and they stop. They switch to targeting Becca, who wasn't kidding about her prowess at Rummy. Still she wins the game with ease, laughing at them for trying to take her down.

“I should have never invited you,” Bucky grumbles. “You're evil.”

“You know you want me here little brother,” she shoots back. Bucky ducks his head, because yes, he is glad his sister came to celebrate with him.

“I think that's enough for me,” Phil announces, stretching his arms above his head.

“Night's still young,” Bucky complains.

“I enjoyed this evening, but I'm old and need to turn in,” Phil tells him. “Congratulations again Bucky. This truly is a great accomplishment.”

“Thanks,” Bucky says tersely, more shy than he's been all night.

Wanda and Becca also claim they need to be up early tomorrow and make their leave. Becca stops by the door so she can talk to Bucky. First she envelopes him in a big hug. “I'm so proud of you. I know things haven't be easy for you, but you've made the best of your circumstances and have gotten so far.”

“Thank you, Becks. I really appreciate you saying that.” Becca hugs her younger brother again and makes her way back into the night.

Bucky looks over the remains of the party. Nat, Clint, Peter and Steve. “You all up for more games?” he asks.

“Of course,” Peter says excitedly.

They play more games, and eventually land on Uno, where Bucky promptly kicks all their asses.

“I thought there was supposed to be more luck in this game,” Clint complains.

“I know, right,” Steve says. “I don't know how he consistently does this to us.”

“Ok, new rule, no more Uno,” Clint declares.

“Nope,” Bucky pronounces. “It's my party and I'll do what I want to.”

“I think it's 'cry if I want to',” Nat interrupts. “Do you feel like crying?”

“Not after kicking your butts,” he grins. “One more?” The collective groan drowns him out and he gets the picture.

“I think it's time to head out as well,” Nat says. “It's past midnight.”

“If everyone else is leaving, it's time for me to make my exit,” Peter declares.

“It's like you don't even want to be here,” Bucky frowns.

“No, we don't. That's why we stayed for seven hours,” Clint deadpans.

Steve elbows Bucky in the ribs and he gets his best host face on. “Thank you all for coming to my party.”

“It's been a real treat seeing you happy,” Nat observes. “It's not everyday that you talk for an entire night.”

Bucky blushes, but doesn't say anything further. “Have a nice night,” Steve says for him.

They close the door and they are alone in the apartment. Bucky sighs and turns to Steve. “Well that was nice.”

“Nice?” Steve asks incredulously. “Do you realize how chipper you were the entire night? You were chatty and calm and laughed at people's dumb jokes. It was amazing!”

Bucky leans down and kisses Steve, soft and slow. “You're amazing,” he drawls.

“I'm being serious,” Steve said. “That was the most interaction you've had in a long while and you handled it flawlessly.” Steve puts his hands on his hips. “I don't think I have to worry about you anymore. You aren't allowed to complain about social situations at all.”

Bucky groans. “But this was just an outlier. I was happy.”

“If you can handle a big group of people, you can handle anything,” Steve holds firm.

Bucky wraps his arms around Steve and pulls him close. “You know, you're right. With you by my side, I feel like I could conquer mountains. The world is at my fingertips, and it's all because you decided to befriend a total stranger who wouldn't even speak to you.”

“Most of it is on you,” Steve counters. “I just helped a little.”

Bucky kisses Steve briefly. “You helped a lot. And I love you for it.”

“You love me for all sorts of reasons,” Steve says.

“You're goddamned right.”