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Bucky's Delivery Service

Chapter Text

   It really was the only way...

 The splash echoed across the close knit rooftops; water spattered his boots. A thin curl of smoke rose from the barrel of his gun, still raised, though the target had fallen out of sight.

  And... into the water tank, Bucky thought, shaking his head. He stared at the body bobbing up and down in the dark water, lab coat flashing white against the black. He grimaced. He knew when he pulled the trigger that the body would fall in the tank directly below. He knew that. He'd stood at just the right distance, made sure his target was close enough to the edge that he'd fall right through the hatch, the push of the bullet in his brain giving him just enough momentum.

 Bucky should have also known, then, that the splash would've been really fucking loud. Masterfully trained, expert in at least thirty tongues (thirty-three, to be exact, but who's counting?), adept marksman, extremely skilled in martial arts and hand-to-hand combat, able to adapt to his surroundings in ways that would guarantee no one would know he was even there.

 And he forgot to calculate in noise . He scrubbed his face angrily, stuffing the gun back into it's holster. He was using a silencer, for Christ's sake. He stared at the body again, at the thin wisps of hair, the bloated lab coat, the thick lenses magnifying glassy eyes.

 Zola was the last one who could find him. He'd Kill Bill ed his way through a whole list of people who could drag him back or take him out. Zola was the last on his list and he mentally checked off his name.

 He turned, then, facing the breeze. There was a faint, rhythmic crashing sound in the distance and it took him a moment to realize it was the ocean. There was a pale streak of pearl-gray lining the horizon in the distance, and he realized he'd been standing over Zola's body for a little over a quarter of an hour. Maybe he was feeling sentimental, given it was the last person he ever planned on killing. But when he looked back down at Zola, his white lab coat now stained a deep red, he felt nothing but exhilarating freedom . This life was all he'd ever known, after high school when he'd joined the army, after he was handpicked to join the secret branch of the military known as HYDRA. The longing in his chest, the thirst for freedom, slowly ebbed and he was left with a hollow feeling. This was what he'd wanted, to be out , to be free.

 But he would miss it. Of course he'd miss the job.

 He pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes, one warm and one bitingly cold. He usually could think about it without feeling anything, but lately...

  Maybe it's because I'm trying to be a decent human being, he mused. He knew he would never, on any and all accounts, be regarded as decent , considering. But it was at least fun to toss the concept around. Maybe he could even settle down somewhere, get a cat.

 He chuckled to himself, and closed his eyes. He breathed in the fresh, slightly damp and salty air, rocking back on his heels. I could get used to this...

 His eyes opened with a jolt and he slowly turned to face the crashing waves again, the silver tendrils of dawn raking their fingers through the velvet sky.

 The sun rose early here. Maybe because it's on the edge of the earth , he thought. A city floating on waves...

 It had taken him two years to find Zola in this seaside village. The doctor knew how to disappear, that was for sure. But on his search, Bucky hadn't left a single informant alive. That meant...

 He rocked back on his heels again, but this time in shock. He could disappear... right here! Here he was, planning on holing up in some poe dunk town in Arizona or Texas, maybe live in a cave, if he got desperate enough or was pushed into hiding. But everyone who knew him was dead...

  Well, not everyone . He had left that one asshole alive, but only because he had actually kind of grown on him, the bastard. He saves your life once and you can't pull the trigger while he's sleeping , he thought dejectedly. He wasn't against attacking an enemy while their back was turned. Hell, he was a sniper, attacking enemies while their back was turned was his specialty .

 Or... it was. He doubted he'd ever lose the skill, but now he realized he didn't need the skill. He could be anything he wanted now, the possibilities were endless. He snorted at the idea of becoming a pizza delivery guy, but the sound was jarring in the dead silence of early morning.

 He sighed, glancing back down at the water tank. Zola's body had floated out of sight, so he was stuck staring at an empty black rectangle. The idea of living in this small town--definitely getting a cat at some point--was appealing to him more and more the more he thought about it. But looking over his shoulder was second nature at this point, and he couldn't imagine going one day without suspecting someone of recognizing him. That was an occupational hazard, though; he'd always felt that way. But now he wanted to be left alone. For good. No one would recognize him, not here. But...

  No, they're all dead.

 He tilted his head a little, shrugging at no one in particular.

  Except for that one asshole. Otherwise, they're definitely all dead.

  Without another glance at the water tank, he kicked the trap door shut. The slamming metal shattered the peace of the early dawn, but he didn't even care. He jumped down from the raised platform and stood on the edge of the roof, staring down into the empty street below.

 He hadn't had time to actually admire the city, given he was in pursuit of Zola, but now that he could, he realized just how quaint and green it was.

 There were trees lining the streets, not skinny trees that you'd find in the city, but these were tall and full, giving the cobbled sidewalk below enough cover from the sun. The houses, all different shapes and sizes, though sharing the same red-tiled roofs, were all separated by the winding city streets, all headed downhill towards the sea.

 In every window box and backyard, there was a myriad of blooming flowers, thriving in the coastal climate. From sweet pea vines, climbing the brick face buildings, to the lupine and poppies ruling over the flowerbeds, there wasn't a spot of empty land that didn't have something growing.

 The town itself was built on and around the hills, the structures adapting to the landscape. None of the buildings matched up in height, making the city seem bent and uneven.

 The air was clean and clear and fresh, carrying the scent of growing things on the gentle breeze.

 It was quaint. And he was here. And he was definitely sick of travelling at the bottom of cargo ships or in the back of a shady pig farmer's truck.

  He planted his fists on his hips and nodded. He could definitely get used to--

 He froze. What is that? he thought, scanning the shadowed street below.

  His reverie was broken by someone whistling the distinct tune of Time After Time .

  The whistling was just beneath him by the time he leapt away from the ledge. Crouching low to the ground, he crept back to the roof's edge, peeking to the street below.

 A young guy, wearing a white Polo that Bucky suspected was two sizes too small by the way it stretched across his chest, was swinging a key ring around one long finger, whistling one of Cyndi Lauper's greatest hits (he was extremely partial to any and all of Cyndi Lauper's songs, so to him, they were all greatest hits). He bit his lip just to ensure he would not start singing along to the fantastic whistling.

 Just as he hit a particularly high note--that really shouldn't have been possible, he thought, while whistling-- he came to an abrupt stop, turning sharply on one heel. Though his view was cut off by the roof's angle, Bucky could hear the jangling of keys and saw a door swing open. The whistling became muffled and was cut off completely with the sharp slam of the door.

 Shaking his arm to loosen his sleeve and push it up his wrist, Bucky glanced down at his watch. Four o'clock on the dot. What, in God's good name, was that guy doing up at four in the A.M.?

 Bucky gripped the ledge with his metal hand and kicked off the ground, swinging his weight around so he was dangling off the roof. He let go, the air whistling past his ears, and landed with catlike agility. He bounced back on one foot and made sure to stay out of the line of sight from the building the man--whose shirt was just way too small--had gone into.

 The sign overhead just said Bakery , in a boring faded navy outlined in a just as faded maroon. White suddenly flashed in the window and Bucky hit the pavement. When he glanced up, the white was gone. He got into a crouching position again and edged closer to the window; he raised himself a fraction so he could peek inside.

 He was hit with the blinding white of the too-small Polo, but the owner of said Polo was stretched across something in front of the window. So his shirt was pulled up just enough for Bucky to see a delicious strip of toned stomach. He could hear Time After Time again, muffled through the glass.

  Home.

 It had a nice to ring to it.

Chapter Text

  Six years, three months, and six days.

 Steve's fingers thrummed rhythmically on the wooden countertop, a white puff emerging whenever he hit a bit of flour. He faced the small window, watching the passersby. Or, watching their ankles. The basement window didn't provide much of a view. He mostly liked watching the shafts of light move or disappear entirely.

  Six years, three months, and six days.

 That's how long it had been. That's how long it had been since he'd returned to town, since he'd left the academy, and since he'd inherited the bakery after his mother had died.

 There was a shrill ringing and he pushed himself off of the flour-dusted countertop, patting his hands on his dingy apron. He peeked inside the oven, checking the golden brown loaves, the tops of the crusts puffing over the edges of the pans perfectly. He gave a curt nod and, tucking his large hands in the burn-pocked oven mits, removed the pans from the oven.

  He checked his watch. Still fifteen minutes before the doors were officially opened. He had Mrs. Brinsky coming in at seven to pick up her pumpernickel braid--though her cat just died, so Steve will throw in a batch of banana nut muffins, on the house--and Mr. Botmer coming in around nine-thirty to get his usual sourdough, French, and wheatberry. Those were his only scheduled pick-ups today. However, Steve usually got around a dozen orders, more or less, a day. So while he was up at four every morning, bread rising before the sun, the real work didn't begin until business hours started.

 He gave the loaves five minutes, upturned the pans, and placed the bread in neat rows on the cooling racks. Steve watched the steam curl from the bread for a few seconds, then turned to his next task: setting the pastries out.

 This was always last on his list, since the pastries he made in the morning would be cooled just enough and fresh by the time the shop opened.

 He hoisted the basket full of pastries onto the counter, next to the register, and started placing them in the trays behind the glass display case. He reached behind him with his free hand and adjusted the volume on the radio. It had been on all morning, but he only tuned in every now and then.

 When the basket was empty and the trays were filled, he leaned back against the counter and checked his watch again. Five minutes until he opened. He scanned the walls, making sure the loaves of bread were placed neatly in their baskets lining the shelves behind the register. It was always this way, making sure everything looked nice and neat. It was something his mother prided herself on, and something that didn't go unnoticed by the customers.

 He pulled a ratty cloth from his apron and started wiping the counter, scrubbing at old spots he knew would never come out.

 Shaking the cloth out, Steve made his way to the door and flipped the sign inside.

  Open for business!

 He scanned the street oustide through the glass door, the windows on the buildings turning silver in the early morning light. Usually the students who took this route would stop in for a bite to eat, a bun or a pastry. He was pretty familiar with the usuals, and could see a couple heading towards his shop. He sidestepped around the counter, planting himself behind the register, and waited.

  Today is going to be a long day, he thought.

-x-

At half past one, Steve got a call for a four foot long baguette. At three, the same person called to change it to five feet. At four, he got an order for three dozen lemon poppyseed muffins, pick-up anywhere between seven and eleven on Monday, meaning he had to make them on his day off. And ten minutes before closing time, the bell above the door announced another patron.

 Steve, scribbling in his logbook--he never could quite figure out how to do it on his computer--was about to greet the customer, but was cut off almost immediately.

 "Hello? I ordered the phallic bread a week ago and it still hasn't been delivered to the dillhole next door?"

 Steve looked up from his log book, his pen frozen above Ms. Collins's three dozen poppyseed muffins.

 "We don't deliver," was all Steve said.

 " Well, " Sam said, hands on his hips, "I really don't know why I come here these days."

 Steve smiled, snapping the book shut. "I was just about to close, actually. Wanna get a drink after?"

 Sam nodded, looking around. "Want some help?"

 "Sure," Steve said. He didn't bother flipping the sign yet. He still had a little over eight minutes before he could actually close. "Just start dumping dishes in the sink? I'll wash the windows."

 "On it," he said, disappearing through the door leading to the cramped kitchen basement. "I'll just do 'em, I know where everything goes," his voice echoed up the stairwell.

 Steve smiled as he sprayed a soapy cleaner on the windows, which were already spotless, but it gave him something to do. He had been cleaning all through the day--he usually does--so he can get out at a little after five o'clock. But he had left some especially crusty pans lying around, after the last minute birthday cake order. He got those a lot.

 "So have you heard anything from Nat?" Steve called, wiping down the door.

 There was a clunk from downstairs before Sam's reply came. "She got in today. Where d'you think she went this time?"

 This was always an interesting topic between the two. Natasha, of course, never actually disclosed where she disappeared to for weeks at a time, so Sam and Steve could only guess.

 "I'm betting..." Steve stood up straight, adjusting the nozzle on his spray bottle. "Romania?"

 Steve could hear the creak of the sink handles. "Nigeria," Sam replied. "I bet you ten bucks."

 "You're on," Steve replied. He swiped the rag around in large circles, leaving rapidly disappearing spirals on the glass. He stepped away from the windows, and took a spot on the stairwell doorframe. "What for, do you think?"

  The tap shut off before Sam called up, "Manhunt for an escaped convict."

 "That's not that exciting," Steve said. "For a super spy, at least."

  Sam groaned. " Fine. Bonus if he's brainwashed." He re-emerged from the stairway, dark spots on his shirt from the dishwater. He was wiping his hands on his jeans. "Think she'll confirm?"

 Steve checked his watch. He kicked off the doorframe and went to flip the sign. He tossed the damp cloth onto the counter and untied his apron, hanging it on the coatrack by the front door.

  Closed!

  "Not a chance."

-x-

 "So where did you actually go?" Sam asked, leaning across the table, his voice quiet.

  Steve chuckled into his cranberry juice.

 Natasha, mango martini in hand, stared at him over the rim of her glass. She took a long sip. "Secret," was all she said.

 "Damn," Sam said, smacking the tabletop. "I was thinking Nigeria," he nodded his head at Steve, "he said Romania."

 Nat cast a sideways glance at Steve. "Close, Rogers. But not quite." She downed the rest of her martini and flagged down a waiter for another. "But I'll be grounded here for a while. Which is fine. I was thinking about getting a cat."

 "Maybe goldfish is more your speed," Steve said, setting his juice down on its coaster.

 Nat snorted, setting her empty martini glass next to the coaster Steve had put down for her. He pursed his lips but didn't say anything.

 "It's not that longterm," she said.

 "Cats can live up to fifteen years," Sam said. He sipped his beer, eyeing Natasha.

 "Really?" Nat asked, but it didn't sound like news to her. She twirled a toothpick umbrella between her fingers and pointed it at Steve. " You should get a cat."  

 This wasn't uncommon for Nat; she'd been trying to set him up with someone for years, but it never really worked out. She would eventually turn to unconventional suggestions. Last time, it was a chinchilla.

 He gave her a look . She rolled her eyes.

 "I'm just saying," she said. The waiter arrived with another martini, and she took it without really acknowledging the kid at all. "A cat's a good companion for lonely people." She looked at Sam. "Am I right?"

 This wasn't uncommon, either, for Nat to look to Sam for backup.

 It also wasn't uncommon that Sam would change the subject.

 "I'm going to the bathroom," he said, and he all but fled from their table.

  Or run away.

 "I'm not lonely," Steve said.

 Nat flicked her hair over her shoulder. "I'll believe it," she said, pouting her bottom lip, "when you don't work more than you sleep. That's what lonely people do."

 " You work more than you sleep," Steve pointed out.

 "This isn't about me," she said, shaking her head. "Besides. I'm not lonely."

 "Neither am I!"

  Nat gave him an unimpressed sigh. "I just think," she said, readjusting the coaster, "that maybe, just maybe , something other than bread and us in your life would be good. You're like an old man in retirement. Except instead of golf and CNN you have--"

 "Bread," Steve said. "And my friends . I don't need a cat. That's also something old men in retirement turn to. Animal companionship."

 Nat pursed her lips, but before she could say anything else, Sam reappeared, sporting a confused frown.

 "I just, uh..." He sighed and stared, transfixed, at the laminated tabletop. "Heard something weird. "

 "In the bathroom?" Nat asked, lifting an eyebrow.

 He nodded.

 "What was it?" Steve prodded.

 "Uh..." He scratched the back of his neck and looked at Steve. "They just found a dead guy in a water tank."

-x-

  Bucky

   Closed!

 Bucky frowned at the sign in the bakery window. He'd actually cleaned up, worn his nicest shirt--newly aqcuired at the local thrift store, it made his eyes pop something fierce--just for this moment. Just for the baker.

 And he wasn't even there .

 Granted, Bucky hadn't bothered to check the hours, though now he wasn't sure why .

 So he stood there, memorizing them. Open seven to five, Monday through Friday. Eight to four on Saturdays. Closed Sundays.

 So, he'd be back Monday. Not at seven A.M.-- god no --but maybe ten. Twelve, maybe, ask the baker out to lunch. No, no. You haven't actually met yet.

  He peered through the dark windows, but he couldn't see a thing inside. He leaned back, looking up at the sky, the twilit evening quickly fading into a deep blue.

 He was about to take off, head back to his house--he had a house now--when someone crashed into him. He opened his mouth to tell the person off, but no one was there. Until he looked down.

 It was a kid, no older than fifteen, maybe, eyes wide with excitement.

 "Sorry!" he exclaimed, gripping Bucky's shoulders as if to steady him. His face faltered, and he glanced at Bucky's left arm, before he shook his head and took off running again. Bucky stared after him, and then noticed that he wasn't the only one headed in that direction.

 The few passersby that were milling about were all being drawn to the same destination, and Bucky's stomach sunk, slowly at first, and then plummeted like a rock when he realized exactly where that was.

 It wasn't like he hadn't been expecting this. But he just didn't think he'd be there when it happened.

 There were shouts of "What is it?" and "Should we call somebody?"

 Bucky didn't mean to do it. He really didn't. It was like his mind shut off and now he was just following the energy of the crowd, until he was in the midst of it, and he was watching the officers on the roof, shining a light into the rusted water tank.

 "You know him?" Bucky could hear her ask.

 The other shook his head after he peered into the tank, a cloth pressed over his face. He backed away slowly, eyes closed. Bucky could see the shades of green, even from the street.

 "Oh my god," came a voice next to him, and he looked over to see the kid who'd almost knocked him over. He had a phone pressed to his ear, but the excitement was gone. He looked sick. "Aunt May, you won't believe this..."

 Bucky backed away, heading down the street, quickening his pace when the sirens started.

 The voices were getting louder, demanding to know how it happened and who it was.

 Bucky stuck his hands in his pockets, trying to look nonchalant and inconspicuous.

 He'd never had this worry that he'd be caught. Before, if he was able, he would hang around to see the body be discovered--if he was asked to let it be found, that is--and it was always satisfying, in a way.

 But not this. Not that he felt bad for Zola--he couldn't give less of a shit--but if he wanted to stay here, he couldn't be caught. He couldn't even be suspected , but when this investigation started, who would they look to?

 The sketchy newcomer with a metal arm.

 When he finally hit his street, he exhaled deeply and slowed his pace. Safety. Home.

 Two words that were utterly unfamiliar to him and two words he clung to the rest of the night.

-x-

Steve

 "What?" Steve and Nat asked, simultaneously.

 Steve saw something-- anger? --flicker under Nat's surprised expression, but it was so subtle, so brief, he thought maybe he'd imagined it.

 Sam nodded and slid into his booth.

 "A couple buildings down from the bakery," Sam said, looking at Steve. "They just found him."

 "Do they have any idea who it is?" Nat asked, her tone a little harsher than expected.

 Sam shrugged. "Word just got out," he said. "It's crazy, though. Right? It's crazy. Nothing like that ever happens here."

 "I mean," Steve said, tilting his head side to side, "accidents do tend to happen. Maybe he was drunk?"

 "Yeah, yeah," Sam said. He swiped a hand over his face. "But, I mean, we were just there . Like, right next to him." He shook his head and covered his mouth, sighing through his fingers.

 Nat's hands lay flat on the table. "It was probably just an accident," she said, her voice touching on reassuring, though it sounded kind of forced. "Let's change the subject, yeah?"

 Steve threw another glance at Sam and nodded. It was odd, for something like this , of this caliber, to happen in a small town where nothing happened. The news would spread like wildfire, he was sure.

 Nat gave Steve a quick smile before saying, "So, about that cat."

 Sam snorted, and rolled his eyes at Steve. But they both went along with it anyways.

 "What about a cat?" Steve asked.

 "There's a cute stray tabby by my building, she's pretty old--" Nat started, but Sam held up a finger.

 "There's a new litter of kittens by my building, most of 'em are black but some have white spots--"

 "Adopting a kitten is sentencing an older cat to death , didn't you know that?" Nat interjected, frowning at Sam.

 Steve nodded and then thrummed his fingers on the table. "I think," he said, "we should catch that old cat. I know someone who could use a friend."

 And that's what they did. They avoided the bakery--they needed milk, but just went to the local market and bought a small carton--and they coaxed the tabby out.

 Steve dropped her off at Mrs. Brinsky's on his way home.

 

-x-

 

Over the next few days, Steve saw little of Natasha or Sam, focusing on work and sleep. They were relentless in their attempts to get him to actually enjoy himself, but he found that a nice cup of tea and an old book suited him just fine. But Friday night, just as he was about to leave, there was a sharp rap on the door and the sound of faint bickering.

 Steve poked his head out of the stairwell, squinting through the dark shop, looking for the source of the noise. Flaming red hair illuminated by the streetlamps outside caught his eye. He sighed through his nose and unlocked the front door, sidestepping the two figures who pushed their way inside.

 "I was literally just about to leave," he told them, holding the door open.

 Nat was first to speak, turning on him, arms folded tightly over her chest. "We're going out." It wasn't a request.

 Sam shoved her with his shoulder, arms also folded over his chest, and nodded. "We've been trying to get you out all week, but you're boring. You don't wanna have fun. So now we're making you have fun."

 Steve just looked at the both of them, too tired to deal with them. "That kind of defeats the purpose," he said, and he spun on his heel, walking through the doorway and waiting on the other side for them to follow. They did. "And I'm the coolest guy I know. I'm tons of fun." He closed the door behind them and locked it.

 "We just can't decide where to go," Nat said, acting as if Steve hadn't spoken. "I say dancing." She jerked her head back at Sam. "He says..."

 He feigned offense. "Bonfires on the beach and a couple of Coronas is an ideal Friday night," he said, looking at Steve for support. "Where do you wanna go, man?"

 "Home," was all he said, and he headed in that direction. "You're welcome to tag along," he called back with a half-assed wave.

 He could hear their footsteps rushing to catch up with him, but then they hooked their elbows with his and started dragging him backwards. On a good day, he would have easily been able to drag them , but today he just sighed, resigned to his fate.

 "Beach," he groaned, his head lolling back so he could see where they took him.

 Once there, they put him to work on gathering firewood. He ignored their request and kicked his shoes off, plopping down in the sand.

 "You wanted to bring me out here, you can make the damn fire," he said, popping the cap off of his Corona. He tipped it back and watched as Nat directed Sam on how to actually build a proper fire. Within minutes, the small pyramid of driftwood was alight.

 "Where did you learn to build a fire that fast?" Sam asked, kicking back in the sand, putting his shoes next to Steve's.

 Nat buried the bottom of her bottle in the sand and fixed her eyes on the fire. There was a faint crack and a couple of the logs fell into the middle of the pit they dug, sparks rising into the air. "Russia," she said.

 Sam nodded with a small, "Ah."

 She nodded. "Winters there are pretty brutal, y'know? Build it fast or freeze ." She chuckled, but it seemed forced.

 "When'd you move to the States?" Sam asked. He was lying on his back, right hand under his head. Watching the stars or the smoke, Steve didn't know.

 "When I was twelve," she said. "I ditched the accent, real quick."

 Steve settled his beer next to Nat's, burying his feet in the sand. "When'd you decide to... travel for business?"

 She smirked.

 Nat kept the specifics of her job quiet, only letting them know when she was going out of town; the most information she would actually release was which continent she'd be in, and sometimes not even that.

 Sam and Steve filled in the blanks. They weren't sure when the spy speculation began, but they ran with it. Nat said she mostly did paperwork, that the most dangerous thing to ever happen to her was getting a papercut. They figured she was lying, because you're not that discreet when you're job is that boring; she knew that they suspected her of being more than a travelling businesswoman. She just didn't care.  

 "A couple of years after high school?" She phrased it as a question, then shrugged. "When'd you decide to be a cop?"

 "When I was five," Steve said, without missing a beat. He usually thought it was kind of funny, because he had known his whole life he wanted to help people and exactly how he was going to do it. But lately...

 The logs cracked, and toppled over. Natasha threw another piece of wood, this one larger than the others, into the flames and sparks burst into the air on impact.

 It's not that Steve didn't love the bakery, it was home to him, but it was never his dream to run it. Here he was, four years shy of thirty, and he's living his mother's dream. He knew she would probably want him to leave, finish up in the academy, and do what he wants. But he just can't leave the bakery. It's one of the last things he has of his mom, like a living memory.

 "And now you're a baker," Nat said. She never beat around the bush with him. She knew he wanted more. She also knew he wouldn't give the place up anytime soon. "Y'know, if you just hired someone to help," she said.

 "Delivery boy," Sam said, pointing his hand in the hair. "You can finally deliver my penis bread."

 "Can't afford it," said Steve, ignoring Sam's comment. That wasn't entirely true, but it wasn't entirely dishonest either. If he stopped eating out as often, stopped stocking his fridge full of beer, he could probably afford some kind of delivery service. He'd thought about it plenty of times. He'd even thought about renting out the tiny attic above the shop, not that it was much, but hey. He wouldn't charge much for it. In a small town by the sea, rent wasn't cheap. If he could help out even one person...

 He just couldn't find the time to put any of these thoughts into action. If he had known, when he was kid, how hard it was to run a bakery by yourself, he probably would have helped his mother more often. Not that he didn't. He learned all of her recipes and tricks, but he still had time to do his own things.

 He sighed and tipped his beer back, chugging at least half of it in one go.

 "You're working yourself too hard, Steve," Nat said. She gave him a sympathetic look. "Just think about it."

 Steve nodded. "How's work, Sam?" He didn't really want the whole night focused on his tiring work ethics. He knew they worked just as hard as he did, Sam especially--he was a rehab nurse--he didn't want to be the only focus.

 "It's good," he said. "Some guy came in today, had a metal arm. Never seen a prosthetic like it."

 Nat tilted her head. "Metal arm?" The question was simple enough, but Steve could have sworn there was an underlying tone.

 Sam sat up, dusting off the back of his head. "Yeah, it was pretty wild," he said. He rested his elbow on his upraised knee. "This patient I have, just lost his leg--diabetes, y'know--was asking him where he got it but he wouldn't say. Just said he wanted to talk to Sitwell. Problem is, he died like..." He squinted at the sky, his lips moving but no words came out. "Three, four years ago? He got pretty shaken and stormed out. It was weird but," he shrugged, "other than that, normal day. Mrs. Brinsky came in for her back," he told Steve. She was a weekly regular at his bakery. But so were a lot of the townsfolk.

 "How's she doin'?" he asked, more for polite conversation than actual interest.

 Sam made a wiggly hand gesture. "I told her water aerobics were her best bet, but she won't go for it."

 "That's Mrs. Brinsky, for you," Steve said. "How's the cat?"

 Sam nodded slowly, as if considering the question. "She named her Taffy . And she only feeds her Fancy Feast. One spoiled-ass cat."

 "She's in good hands," Nat said.

 Steve nodded and looked at her. "How's work for you ?"

 She gave him a you-know-I-won't-answer look, but opened her mouth to speak anyways. "Stuck here. Business is slow. Thinking about getting a cat," she said, lolling her head in his direction.

 "Any more news you can actually share?" Sam asked, trying to keep his tone casual, but there was a tinge of excitement in it. "I mean, no more ventures into the Savannah or anything like that?"

 Natasha snorted into her beer. "Honestly? I was told to stay put. I can't disclose why, though I wish I could. Believe me, it's more interesting than Mrs. Brinsky." She shrugged and shook her hair out of her eyes, tilting her head back. "There's a lot going on that I can't talk about. Hmm..." She looked serious all of a sudden, and looked between the both of them. "I know this is just some small beach town, nothing really happens here, but..." She bit her lip, cutting herself off.

 "Nat?" Steve asked. His brows were furrowed, his body angled towards hers.

 "What can you tell us?" Sam asked cautiously, glancing at Steve out of the corner of his eye.

 She shook her hand through her hair. "I don't know what I am actually allowed to say." She took a small sip of her beer and tacked on, "Just... be careful."

 Steve was suddenly all too aware of the darkness surrounding them.

Chapter Text

 "Even on your day off," Sam said dejectedly, shaking his head at Steve, who was busy hefting large bags of flour into the shopping cart. “Do you ever not work?”

 Steve dusted his hands on the front of his jeans and pulled the crumpled list out of his back pocket, ignoring Sam’s question.

 "Flour," he mumbled, pointing into the cart, "sugar, eggs..." With each item on the list, he pointed to the corresponding item in the cart. He tucked the list back into his pocket and grabbed the front of the cart, pulling it, and Sam, along after him. "You're taking that kite out, by the way."

 "Oh, c'mon," Sam said, putting his weight forward onto the cart's handlebar, "it's like, four dollars. I'll give it to you, right now. Look at it, Steve, it has a bird on it. It has the wings and everything."

 On their way past the dairy aisle, Steve grabbed the larger blocks of butter, dumping them onto the sacks of flour.

 "Alright, then take out the Hot Wheels," Steve said, checking his list again. He pulled the cart after him to the spices.

 "Yeah, alright," Sam grumbled, reaching into the cart, and taking the racecars out.

 He was about to put them on a passing shelf, but Steve, without turning around, said, "Where they belong."

 Sam muttered something under his breath and left, leaving Steve to pull the cart by himself. After getting copius amounts of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger--spices he was frequently running low on--he made his way to the fresh produce aisle.

 He tossed in a few bunches of bananas and two bags of green apples, making a mental note to leave the bananas on the rising racks so they would bruise sooner. After a few minutes of perusing the fruits, Sam reappeared. There was a small clunk, but when Steve looked back at Sam, he was examining a fingernail, lips puckered innocently.

 "Need anything else?" he asked, twirling his hand around, eyes trained on his finger.

 Steve squinted, his eyes roaming down to the cart. Tucked between the wired wall and the flour, was a plush black cat. The plastic bow around its neck had made the clunk.

 "Why?" Steve asked, staring at it.

 "Indulge yourself," Sam said. "I saw it and thought of you. Maybe now Nat will get off your case."

 "I'm not paying for that."

 "I'll pay."

 Steve looked back up at Sam. He was leaning on the cart again, rocking it back and forth.

 "Need anything else?" he asked.

 Steve grabbed the end of the cart and pulled. "Nope." As he stuffed the list back into his pocket, he noticed a pack of racecars tucked between the oranges. While Sam wasn't looking, he tossed them into the cart.

-x-

 Twenty minutes later, they were in the kitchen basement, stocking the large refrigerator full of ingredients.

 "What are you gonna do when we're done?" Sam asked, wiping the back of his hand across his forehead. He had just finished stowing the sacks of flour under the workbench, and was now stretching his arms over his chest. "Jesus, no wonder you're ripped."

 "That and kneading dough," Steve said from his position in front of the fridge, where he was neatly arranging the blocks of butter in small pyramids. He sighed and rocked back on his heels, using the door for support. "I dunno. Want to just walk around? I feel like stretching my legs."

 "Yeah, we can find some place to eat," Sam said. He put his hands on his hips and looked around. "Man, we're boring."

 "We're simple people," Steve said, shrugging. He closed the fridge and folded the tote bags they had brought to the store with them, tucking them between the fridge and the wall.

 "Compared to Nat," Sam said, leaning back on the counter, watching Steve nitpick around the kitchen.

 "Compared to her, we're boring," Steve said. He rearranged a few breadpans on the workbench, dusted a few crumbs from the counterspace; he knew he was nitpicking, but he hated coming into work to a messy workspace even though he leaves it in almost pristine condition. "But the most interesting man in the world compared to her is boring."

 "Oh my god, Steve, it's fine ," Sam said with a groan. He grabbed Steve's shoulder and firmly walked him towards the door. "You need to get out of here before you open ."

 Steve, on the way out, set the black cat next to the tip jar, and finally let Sam kick him out of his own bakery. He locked the door behind them.

 "East or west?" Steve asked, dropping the key back into his pocket.

 "West. Seaview is always nice," Sam replied, tucking his hands in his pockets, hoofing it in the direction of the beach.

 Steve followed suite.

 They chatted about nothing in particular, the clinic, the bakery, Nat's next rendezvous. They both kept one eye on the ground beneath them, avoiding the uneven cobblestones that could easily trip them up.

 They were walled in by buildings on either side, taking one of the narrower, bendier routes to the beach. It wound through the steeper hills, and the damp cobblestones and brick walls were carpeted with moss.

 "So, think about hiring someone yet?" Sam asked.

 "Literally all the time," Steve replied.

 Sam rolled his head to the side, looking at Steve. "Could you afford it?"

 Steve shrugged. "Maybe if I let 'em live in the attic." He rubbed the back of his neck and sighed. "I don't know. It'd be nice, I guess. I know I should get some kind of delivery service."

 "Mrs. Brinsky won't be able to move around that much anymore, I'll tell you that much," Sam said, shaking his head at the ground. "If she just tried water aerobics..."

 "Talk to her doctor?" Steve suggested.

 Sam scoffed. "Yeah, right." He shrugged. Then pointed at Steve, squinting. "Don't think I haven't. She's lived her life the same way for thirty plus years, she's not gonna change it up, no matter how much it helps."

 "We'll be like that soon enough," Steve said. His eyes shifted to look at the ground, watching the grimy stones pass beneath his feet.

 "We are like that," Sam corrected. "Delivery boy." He poked Steve in the shoulder, hard.

 "Why a boy?" Steve asked, looking up from the ground, his gaze landing on Sam.

 "Delivery man," he replied, tilting his head side to side.

 "Stop," Steve said, laughing.

 "Bus boy?"

 "You're thinking restaraunt."

 "Someone to work at the register, even if it's only a couple days a week," Sam said. They were nearing a corner, crowded with people waiting to cross the street.

 "And they could make deliveries, if need be..." Steve slowed to a halt, standing at the edge of the crowd, toying with the idea. "Yeah, I'll think about it some more."

 Sam clapped him on the shoulder. "There it is," he said. "Now, there's a shawarma place just around the corner that I wanna try out..."

 

-x-

 

Bucky

 

Laying on his stomach, Bucky watched golden shafts of light slant through the plastic blinds, moving over the dusty carpeted floor until they disappeared entirely.

 By the time he finally rolled over, the sky outside was purple.

 Aside from seeing his landlord and the delivery guy who was always five minutes late, he hadn't had any human interaction and that was exactly what he was craving.

 He was definitely not used to this. Locking himself up when all he wanted to do was hit the town.

 He wouldn't have to do it forever, and he knew that. But the cabin fever was like an itch he couldn't scratch, a constant buzzing under his skin.

 All he had to do was wait a few days, maybe another week, until the shock died down and talk of the dead body was just idle chatter, if even that.

 He could leave, find a new town. He should leave, definitely. Would he? No. Probably not. But why? For what?

 Because he didn't have to. That's why.

 Or... maybe he did. But he didn't want to.

 He has a house , and it's not terrible. There's a tiny garden outside his back door. He waters flowers now. There was always a cool breeze and it always smelled fresh and clean. When he doesn't have to lay low anymore, he can meet the townsfolk. He could get a decent job .

 Bucky was carving a new life for himself. And it would start when he walked out his front door.

 

Chapter Text

  Steve slid the large windowed box, revealing a cake covered in sugared violets, onto the counter and tapped on the register.

 "That'll be twelve-sixty," he said, smiling at the small old woman on the other side of the counter.

 Her hands shook as she reached into her weathered wallet, and she smiled back, just as warmly. "Oh, for something so beautiful, you really should charge more," she said, her voice quivering just as much as her hands.

 Steve held up his hands in defense, his usual response at the ready. "My mother charged reasonable prices for thirty years, I just do as she wishes," he said, chuckling. He got that a lot, but he hardly ever budged on the prices. Maybe if it was a wedding cake, but those were few and far between. His mother charged low prices because it was a low-income neighborhood; times have changed, and the neighborhood is much nicer than when he was a kid, but he can afford to keep the prices where they're at. The bakery got enough business that he wasn't ever worried about it.

 She was about to reply, but the bell above the door jingled loudly as it was swung open with unnecessary force. Nat, sunglasses pushed up through her hair, sauntered in, looking around as if it were her first time in the bakery. Steve raised an eyebrow at her, but gradually turned his attention back to the customer. She handed him the money, he handed her her receipt and change, which she slipped into the tip jar. Steve rushed to hold the door open for her on her way out.

 "Big tip," Nat finally said. Steve glanced into the jar; a five and three ones rested inside.

 "She's a regular," he said.

 She gave a noncommittal hum as response. "This place is darling ," she said, turning on one heel to face Steve, hands clasped in front of her. "And I love your cat." She nodded at the plush black cat on the counter, next to the tip jar.

 "Thanks," he said. He looked around, not sure where she was going with... whatever she was doing. "I don't close for another three hours." He rubbed the back of his neck, figuring she wanted him to leave so she could drag him away to meet up with Sam.

 She spread her hands in front of her and bowed, her hair brushing her knees. "I am your servant for the day," she said to the floor.

 Steve took an involuntary step back. "Huh?"

 She straightened, her hair whipping back behind her. She removed her sunglasses and tucked them into the collar of her shirt. "Where do you want me, captain ?" She smirked. She walked around the glass display cases, coming to stand behind the register. "I'll need an apron, of course."

 He blinked at her. Twice. "Of course," Steve finally managed. He grabbed a spare from the coat rack by the door and flung it at her. She caught it in one hand and draped it over her head, reaching around to tie it in back. "Aren't you working?"

 She pressed a finger to her lips. "Shh," she whispered conspiratorially. "It's my day off, so to speak. Now, where do you want me?"

 Steve blinked, looking around. "Um... there is fine. I have to whip some things up in back, so just let me know when anyone comes in..." He made his way to the stairwell, but halfway through the doorway he grabbed the doorframe and pulled himself back, leaning around the corner to look at her. "Can you sweep? The broom's over there." He pointed behind her to the broom hidden in the corner

 "Sure thing," she said, reaching for the broom.

 "And thanks," he said, his ears turning red, "for this."

 She smiled over her shoulder at him, and nodded her head at the wall. "Go be busy somewhere else," she said, not unkindly.

 He ducked through the doorway, and on his way to the workbench, pulled the trays from the racks above his head. He pressed gently into each of the small mounds of dough lining the trays, waiting for the small indent to pop out. When all of them did, he transferred the trays to the brick ovens, locking the metal grate behind them. He set the timer for thirty minutes.

 While piping pastry dough full of strawberry filling, Nat came down to the basement to watch him work. He figured she wouldn't stay up there for very long. She rested her hip against the doorframe, arms folded over her chest.

 "So, is this all you do all day?" she asked.

 Tongue sticking out in concentration, Steve muffled out an "Mmh-mm." He pulled the filling bag away with a flick, and spun the tray so he could do the other side of pastries. "What do you usually do all day?"

 Steve could see her shrug out of the corner of his eye. "Different things," was all she said

He had expected that type of response, so he didn't say anything. He stepped back from the finished pastries and checked the timer; fifteen minutes to go. He picked up the tray and opened the secondary brick oven, sliding the pastries in. He checked his watch, mentally counting when he'd need to remove them.

 "Do you ever get crazy bored?" Nat asked.

 Steve looked at her. "Bored crazy, maybe," he replied. He removed the tip from the filling bag, tossed it in the sink, and stowed the rest of the filling in the fridge. "Nah. I like working here."

 "Do what you love," she said.

 "Love what you do," Steve finished, smiling over at her. "Want a pastry? I was gonna bag the leftovers upstairs." He usually dropped pastries and breads off at the local shelter after work every day. On the rare occasion when he had time, he'd bake fresh bread and bring it down there.

 Before she could reply, the phone upstairs rang. She dashed up the stairs, before Steve could even take a step towards the door.

 She came back a few seconds later, cheese Danish in one hand, the phone pressed to her ear in the other.

 Around a mouth full of pastry, she said, "Why, yes, we do deliver. Special offer, today only." Steve vigorously started shaking his head. What was she doing?! "That's an odd request. Oh, for a friend, you say? May I have the address?" Steve was still shaking his head, and he dove for the phone. He knew she'd easily sidestep him, or just as easily hold him back. She kicked out one leg, planted her boot firmly on his chest, and pinned him against the wall. He held his hands out in surrender.

 "Yes, I'm sure they'll love it," she continued, staring at Steve. The pressure from her boot on his chest was making it a little difficult to breathe, he noticed. "I'll put the order in right away." She removed the phone from her ear and ended the call.

 "What's the order?" he asked, defeated. He wrapped his hand around her ankle and tried to move her leg; she didn't budge.

 "Pumpernickel loaf, in the shape of a penis," she said. "Delivered to their neighbor."

 Steve hung his head. "Sam."

 "The very same," she said. She popped the rest of the Danish in her mouth and licked her fingers, still staring at Steve. "How long has he been doing that?"

 "Since I've known him. I usually get a call about once a week," he replies. He tugs at her leg again. She relents and drops her foot, releasing him. He massages the boot print on his apron. "We don't deliver, by the way."

 " I do," she said, pointing at her chest.

 He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I can't pay you, you know."

 She kicked his shoe; jokingly, he knew, but he refrained from saying ow .

 "I'm not asking for money, Steve ," she chastised. "I'm here as a friend."

 They stared at each other for a few moments before Steve broke the silence.

 "This is my busiest time," he said. He checked his watch, counting down the minutes until he could remove the pastries from the oven. "You're in charge of calls. Bag up the pastries and leave them," he pointed to the workbench, "over there. And wash the windows."

 "You're really workin' me to the bone," she said, pinching his cheek as she walked by him to the stairs.

 "Shouldn't be a problem for a super spy," he said over his shoulder as he went to remove the bread from the oven.

 He glanced back at the stairs to see her give him a small wave.

 While Steve was in the basement, baking away, Natasha had recieved call after call. Steve was keeping up with the orders with ease, sending box after box of pastries and breads and cakes up to Natasha to deliver. He would man the counter, because he still had the afternoon crowd that actaully came in. She would deliver the baked goods, hot stuff first, and be back just in time for Steve to give her another load.

 "You know, this is a pretty great system," she said on her third round, pulling a bunch of one dollar bills out of her back pocket and stuffing them in the tip jar.

 Steve placed a few more boxes of foodstuffs in her arms, and shook his head. "Keep the tips."

 "Yeah, but you made this stuff," she said. She was looking at him over the tall stack of boxes in her arms.

 He just shook his head again, taking the ones out of the jar and stuffing them in her jacket pocket. "Just keep 'em." He went to hold the door open for her.

 "Whatever you say, Rogers," she said. He followed her outside to hold the car door open for her. After she set the boxes safely in the passenger seat, she gave him a mock salute and climbed into the drivers' side. "See you in a few."

 "Drive safe," he said, giving her a small wave. After she drove away, he scanned the street, looking for any possible customers. Upon discovering he was the only one around, he went back inside, making a beeline for the kitchen. He shuffled through the new list of orders and set to work.

-x-

 "So, " Sam said, sidling up to Steve in the already cramped booth, "how was work ?"

 "Your tone suggests you already know ," Steve replied. He had decided not to order anything tonight, rebelling in the only small way he could when Nat insisted they go out to celebrate. He was grateful, for sure, that Natasha--bless her--cared enough to work under Steve. He knew it was to push him to hire someone, and he was already considering it. But now customers were expecting more. So he had to put the thought into action. He inwardly groaned at the thought.

 Sam bent low over the table, leaning towards Nat. "How was work?"

 She took the pierced olive out of her martini and popped it in her mouth, sucking it off of its toothpick. "Busy," she replied, around the olive. She gave a small shrug.

 Sam sighed and sat back, hard. "Was the delivery service a go or...?" He let the question hang between them, waiting for someone to pick it up.

 "It was great," Steve sighed. "Until they expect the same thing tomorrow ... And the next day..." He gave Nat a pointed look.

 She rolled her eyes in time with an extremely dramatic sigh. "I said it was only for today," she sniped. "And besides, business was booming . Is it ever that busy outside the shop?" She pinned him down with a glare.

 Steve squirmed, trying to maintain eye contact with her. He looked down at the table in defeat. "No," he said.

 Nat smacked the tabletop, making him jump. "Pick up a 'help wanted' sign," she said, pointing at him. "And the applications will come flooding in."

 Steve nodded and looked at Sam. "Work?"

 Sam shrugged. "Nothing really interesting."

 Steve knew he was going to keep asking about his and Nat's shortlived partnership, so he stamped down the bratty snipes resting on his tongue and shot Nat an apologetic smile. She understood the unspoken apology for what it was and nodded, the corners of her mouth pulling up slightly.

 "Did you make her do the dishes?" Sam asked and tilted his head so he could look at Nat. "He always makes me do the dishes when I help."

 "You don't stick around during business hours," Steve said, shoving him with his shoulder. "And no , I made her sweep."

 "And wash the windows," Nat threw in. "And man the register and phone."

 Sam set his drink down then, gently. He closed his eyes and steepled his fingers. "And you did not, " he said, "put in my penis bread order?"

 Nat set her own drink down, next to the coaster, and steepled her own fingers. "I did."

 They stared at each other and then, simultaneously, turned on Steve.

 "I will never make your penis bread," he said, picking up Sam's drink and taking a long swig. He stood then, ignoring Sam's shocked and (feigned) hurt expression. He gave them a mock salute and turned towards the door. He stopped for a second, and turned back, bending close to Nat. He planted a quick peck on her cheek and gave her shoulder a light squeeze. "Thank you," he said quietly.

 She placed her hand over his, returning the squeeze, and smirked at him as he left.

Chapter Text

  Small town life suited Bucky. It was simple . He used to love the big city; the lights, the noise, the life. He was only the ripe old age of twenty-eight, and yet here he was. Happily retired.

 Well, happily enough. He didn't have things like golf or canasta to keep him busy. No, Bucky had been relying on his people skills to entertain him. Learning the environment from locals, born and raised. Memorizing the faces in town: tourists coming through on the days off, or the weekenders with cabins up the road in the woodsy hills northeast of the town. The locals, the ones who actually stuck around twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, he had learned almost all of them on the first day.

 His favorite place, though he has yet to actually stop in, was the local bakery just off the corner of Henderson and Main. Everyone around town just raves about the quality goods and service, run by the nice young boy whose mother had died a few years back so he took over in her stead. Had to drop out of college, or the army; details that Bucky didn't really care about. He usually--

 No. Not usually. Before he quit. Before he tried to become a decent human being. He would learn everything he could about his target, from their favorite restaraunt to what they ate for breakfast that morning. If he was having fun, he would tell the target whether they ate alone, or with their spouse, or even chatted with their cat. Only if he didn't take them out from a mile away, when--

  Stop, stop, stop.

  The local baker was not a target . There are no more targets.

  Second chance, Barnes. Second chance.

 And today, he decided, he was going to utilize the precious gift he'd given himself.

 He allowed himself to swell a bit with pride, at that. That he had given himself his own second chance. He liked to think people could do that. Take the shit they'd been given and turn it around in their favor; like years of being a highly trained assassin and turning the abilities they'd given him on them.

 Opening the top couple of buttons on the flannel he'd bought at the local thrift store, he examined his reflection in the mirror. Not too shabby, Barnes. He was used to either dressing for work or for espionage, though they sort of went hand in hand. But it was either a suit with a price range scraping just below five figures, or full body armor. Neither landed in the casual outdoorsman category. He felt... exposed. Indecent, one might say.

 He smirked at the thought. Although the look did touch a bit on the rugged side, he knew he looked approachable enough. And that was all he was aiming for. He wanted to get to know people, not pick up idle chat. Like the recent decline in the sea bass population in the area, or the dead body found in the water tank.

 His eyes roamed to his face, which could admittedly use a shave, and then ultimately landed on his hair. What a mop , he thought. He grabbed a damp lock of hair with his metal fingers, tugging on it lightly. It hadn't ever been this long before. He was used to keeping it trimmed short, both for less resistance in the field and also he looked... better. Less... homeless? He puffed out his bottom lip and tilted his head.

 Maybe the baker would take pity on him and stow him in his basement.

 He shook his head one last time, sending droplets of water in all directions, and turned from the mirror. He was done examining himself, he decided. He grabbed his keys from the table and left his shabby apartment, locking the door behind him.

  Second chance .

-x-

Steve

  "Got it?" Steve asked the two young girls who were carrying a large box between them. He had the door propped open with one foot, his hands wavering around the box, ready to catch it if it tumbled out of their hands.

 "Yes, I think so," one of them said, though it was muffled by her tongue sticking out in concentration.

 Steve glanced up at the car parked on the curb, a man who he recognized as their father, held the back door open, waiting patiently. What was his name again? he thought.

 He caught Steve's eye and smiled apologetically. "They insisted they bring it to the car themselves," he said with a shy dip of his head.

 Steve smiled and shrugged, as if to say kids will be kids .

 Just then one of the girls misstepped and the box went teetering. Steve shot his hands out, catching it just as she lost her grip. He waited for her to reaffirm her hold and stepped back, letting the door close behind him.

 "So when's your mom's birthday?" he asked one of the girls. Neither of them replied, so Steve looked at the man holding the door open. And then he remembered: Scott.

 "Today," Scott answered. He glanced into the windowed box and his mouth turned into a small o . "This only cost fifteen bucks?" His voice raised an octave or two.

 Steve held his hands up, defense at the ready again. "My mother charged decent prices for thirty years, I just do as she wishes," he said. Although, he was particularly proud of this cake. When the girls' father had made the order, the girls were shooting in their own suggestions. So, Steve had compiled them all together and created what he hoped they would love. They did.

 "You should tip him!" one of the girls called over her shoulder as they slid the cake carefully into the backseat.

 Scott gave Steve a questioning look and asked, "May I?"

 Steve paused, and then nodded. He wasn't used to people actually asking if they could tip him. His ears turned a little red as the man put a twenty in his open palm.

 His immediate reaction was that it was too much and he started speaking before he could stop himself. "Oh, really, that's too much--"

 Scott held up a hand and stuffed his wallet back into his pocket. "My family's been coming to this bakery for over twenty years. Think of it as a dollar for almost every year. It's not so much then," he said with a chuckle.

 Steve resisted saying, "That's downright cheap."

 One of the girls, however, said, "Cheapskate."

 Steve actually burst out laughing.

 Scott raised his hands in defense. "Alright, alright..." He waved goodbye and turned on the girls, saying, "Get in the car before you empty my wallet. Cassie, sit with the cake."

 Steve waved goodbye as the car pulled away from the curb and turned to head back into his shop. He just about had a heart attack when he realized someone was already in there.

 He was shocked; firstly, because he was only a few feet in front of the door and he didn't hear the bell, how the hell did this guy get in there without his knowing? There wasn't even a back door. And secondly, because maybe he was already in there and Steve had completely ignored him. He swung the door open, ushered a breathless apology, and planted himself behind the counter.

 "Can I..." He trailed off for a split second when he saw the man's left arm. He suddenly remembered Sam's story about the guy who came into the rehab center. He swallowed and finished, slightly embarrassed because this guy probably got this kind of thing all the time, "Help you?"

 The man, who had been examining the pictures on the wall opposite the register, turned and gave Steve a friendly grin. He pointed at one of the pictures--with his right hand, Steve noticed--and cocked his head to the side.

 "This you?" he asked.

 Under normal circumstances--which this totally was, Steve told himself--he would have walked around the counter immediately and gone to examine the picture to confirm if it was or wasn't him. Steve knew which picture he was talking about, though, because he got that all the time. He just liked making casual conversation; helped keep customers around and coming back for more. Delicious bread and playful banter, in equal measure.

  Yes, it definitely was him. But he couldn't get himself to move.

 He was staring, he realized. But... those eyes . Deep blue pools of pure seduction . His voice . Soft but with a gravelly edge .

 Steve swallowed, hard, and gave a sharp nod.

 The man nodded, grin turning into a curious pout.

 "Your mom?" he asked, his finger moving just a fraction to the right.

 Steve swallowed again. "Uh, yeah," he said, his voice cracking. He mentally headdesked himself into the next century. He walked around the side of the counter and went to stand next to him, to be courteous; certainly not because he wanted to stand next to the most beautiful person he'd ever seen . He leaned in close to the picture and noticed that the man had backed away, if only by a fraction; Steve could sense the underlying tension. "That was when I was a kid. My mom, uh, got this award," he pointed at the gold medal, tailed with two blue ribbons, in the frame next to the picture.

 "What for?" he asked.

 Steve stood up straight and his gaze travelled over the wall. He was aware of the man staring at him, and he tried his best not to physically squirm under the gaze.

 "Uh," he started, then cleared his throat, "Best Bakery." He nodded and laughed. "Because there's a lot to compare it to around here." He glanced over at the man, who laughed through his nose and went back to examining the wall of history.

 "You were a beanpole," he said.

 Steve actually snorted. He was used to people saying "You were so little!" or "Wow, you sure grew!" but this guy didn't hold back.

 "Yeah, freak growth spurt when I was like sixteen," said Steve. He didn't feel like keeping up the usual chat with this guy. If he tried talking about the weather or decline in sea bass in the area, he was almost positive this guy would walk out. So cracking jokes at his own expense was worth staring into those-- oh, shoot, did he ask me something?

 "Huh?" Steve asked lamely. He turned his head to look at him and came face-to-face with him. The guy had stepped so close into Steve's personal space that their noses were almost touching.

 "I said ," he said in time with an extremely dramatic eyeroll, "how long have you lived here?"

 "My whole life," Steve replied, but his voice came out little more than a squeak.

 The man nodded, curious pout back, and stepped away.

 Steve didn't know what else to do. He held out his hand and said, "Steve."

 Steve noticed that his eyes widened just slightly, and then his gaze flicked down to Steve's outstretched hand. In a slight panic, Steve doublechecked that he held out his right hand. He had.

 "Bucky," he said, and took Steve's hand in a firm grip. He held it for a few seconds, just staring at Steve, and Steve stared back. He wasn't sure what Bucky-- that's such a cute name but do your parents hate you-- was doing, but he didn't want it to stop. Or, he did, since he was incredibly uncomfortable. He just didn't want Bucky to leave.

 But after a few more moments, Bucky dropped his hand with a smirk and grabbed a loaf of bread, wrapped in brown paper and neatly tied off with twine, and walked up to the counter. Steve stared after him and suddenly remembered, oh right, this is my bakery and he wants to buy bread . So he quickly stepped behind the counter, ignoring the blush creeping up his neck.

 "You didn't have to hold my hand so long, y'know," Bucky said, plopping the bread on the counter and pulling out a twenty, sliding it, slowly, towards Steve.

 Steve blinked. "Uh." Brilliant. "Sorry."

 Bucky shrugged, smirking. Steve was starting to question Bucky's ethics.

 "Cute cat," Bucky said, glancing at the stuffed black cat from Sam.

 Steve mumbled a "Thank you," swiped the bill off the counter, and tapped the keys on the register. He pulled out the seventeen dollars and fifty cents and placed it onto the counter, purposefully avoiding Bucky's outstretched palm.

 Bucky blinked down at the change on the counter, and his smirk was replaced with a shit eating grin. He picked up the tip jar and Steve was worried he was just going to walk away with it, but he just held it to the lip of the counter and swiped the change into the mouth of the jar--with his left hand, Steve noted--the metal plating scraping loudly against the wood grain.

 Steve wasn't sure what game they were playing right then, but all he knew was he wanted to win. But he was almost entirely sure that he lost.

 "Have a good day," Bucky said, putting the jar back in its spot and swiping his bread off the counter. The bell above the door rang loudly through the shop, cut off immediately by the door closing itself automatically. Bucky turned, his body framed by the floor-to-ceiling glass door, and winked.

 Steve raised his hand and gave a small wave. Bucky threw his head back and cackled.

 Watching him retreat, shaking his head and still laughing, Steve wondered what the hell just happened and when the hell he was going to see Bucky again.

Chapter Text

Bucky   

  Bucky tried. He really, really tried.

 But the baker was hot and bothered and he made it so easy .

 Bucky had, actually, planned on flying below the radar but the baker. The stupid, gorgeous baker. That was it. Bucky was a stonecold killer, how could this stupid baker-- Steve, he reminded himself -- ruin his resolve?

  Oh, yeah , Bucky thought. He's a good boy that wears tight shirts. As if it wasn't bad enough that he was blond.

 He was a problem that Bucky didn't actually want to solve. He wanted to make it worse . Make it such a huge problem that, whoops, now they have to be problems together .

 Of course, the baker-- Steve --didn't want literal human garbage like him. So Bucky would admire the problem from a safe distance, poking the fire every now and then to watch sparks fly.

 He snorted, and cracked his eyes open. The ceiling fan above his bed spun lazily, creating a slight draft that kept the air from sitting still. He sighed and sat up with a groan, resting his elbow on an upraised knee.

 He was sore from walking around all day, admiring the sights, catching snippets of conversation, introducing himself as Bucky and not James.

 "Who the hell is James?" he muttered to himself. He stared at the eggshell blue blanket underneath him, the worn fabric bunched up under his legs.

 He was used to this, immersing himself in a city. That was always his favorite part of the job; learning the language and the culture, the mannerisms of the locals. But this wasn't Europe; he wasn't in Bucharest or Berlin. He was in a small beach town and small towns he was not used to. It was easy enough to read, figure out the terrain and the general attitude of the population. This place was a hodgepodge of people who grew up here, but their parents were from somewhere else--usually Midwest, by what he could tell--or people who retired and moved to get that seafront yard.

 There were the odd few, like the redhead who worked for the government--FBI, he figured, but still couldn't tell since he hadn't actually met her--or the rich folks who lived past the woods. He made a mental note to avoid both.

 Before, he would introduce himself as James. That's what he was told to do. No one had ever known him as Bucky, not since he joined HYDRA.

 Bucky blinked.

 He stood, then, purposefully avoiding his gaze in the mirror.

  Time for another walk , he thought.

-x-

Steve

 Four A.M. was Steve's favorite time of day, even if the day technically hadn't started yet. The sky was still black, so the stars were still out. But the edge of steel gray on the horizon cut through the peaceful focus, almost grounding him. It also helped push away the thought that he was up at such an ungodly hour and running on caffeine.

 He liked the fact that he had the whole town to himself. Nobody was out at daybreak. The streets were empty and the birds didn't whistle their own tune for another half an hour, so he just had the sound of the surf and his own footsteps. Or, if he was feeling chipper enough, he would start whistling before the birds. Usually eighties rock ballads were his go to, but today...

 He clung to the hot thermos in his hand like a lifeline, taking slow sips every now and then, the black coffee jolting him awake in little bursts. He never drank black coffee, only when he was dead on his feet.

 He didn't even notice when he walked by the bakery until his foot fell hard a few inches below the sidewalk. He stared down at the ground, offended at the sudden step down, when an odd smell hit him. He didn't recognize it at first, not until he turned and saw it.

 It was like a bucket of ice water had been dumped over his head; he didn't even remember dropping the thermos. He just knew he had to get to the building, it wasn't far, maybe someone else knows about it, too...

 Such was not the case. When he got to the building, he skittered to a stop. The streets were devoid of movement, except for the house now sending up plumes of thick, black smoke. It was a small single story, sandwiched between two larger houses. They were all seperated by wide alleys, the gaps pouring out smoke in thick clouds.

 Steve leapt up the stairs of the house on the left, banged on the door, shouting something about calling nine-one-one. Probably. He was now running on caffeine and adrenaline and everything was crystal clear and extremely hazy at the same time.

 And then, because curse his damned hero complex, he kicked down the door of the burning building and ran inside.

 Upon entering, he was hit with deathly dry heat, smoke smothering him and filling his lungs. He pulled the collar of his shirt up over his mouth and nose, squinting through the haze and the bright flames, looking for any sign of life. The structure was already starting to give way, the beams in the low ceiling exposed and glowing.

 He kicked open the first door he saw. On the other side was a bedroom, empty, except for the bed and a small pile of clothes; all currently being turned to ash. He backed out of the room, looking around for another door. There were two. He went for the closest one first, but was met with a collapsing roof, flames bursting on impact. He raised his arms over his head, instictively, and was met with searing pain.

 He leapt away, keeping his head covered. He looked through the spaces in the smoldering beams, trying to get a good look inside the room. It was a bathroom, the clawfoot tub charred black.

  Empty.

 He spun around, searching for the other door. Why is it so hard to breathe? he thought angrily. If his lungs just worked --

  Oh. Right.

 Mouth covered again, he plowed through the last door. A kitchen. Steve knew the moment he saw it, the gaping hole in the ceiling, above the oven, that this was where the fire had started. He also knew the room was empty. The whole house was. He searched frantically one last time, eyes raking the kitchen. There was another loud crack and he looked up just in time to see the roof cave in completely, crushing him--

 He felt something cool and hard wrap around his middle and yank him back, and he briefly remembered the dancing frog who was yanked off of the stage by a shepherding hook.

  Hello my baby, hello my honey, hello my ragtime gal...

 Eyes screwed tight, he didn't realize he hadn't actually died when he hit the ground. No, the ground wasn't that soft... It didn't "oomph" either.

 Steve slowly opened his eyes, which were now watering from the smoke, and looked over his shoulder at...

 "Bucky?" He didn't register the fact that he was on top of him. Or that Bucky was having a hard time breathing.

 "Hey," he managed to grunt out. He unwrapped his metal arm-- dancing frog , Steve thought with a grimace--and was patiently waiting for Steve to roll off of him. He was staring up at the sky, unblinking.

 "Oh, right," he said when he finally caught on. "Sorry." He felt the need to apologize for being on him first before actually rolling off of him. When he did, he was acutely aware that Bucky winced when he rolled over his arm. Steve stopped himself from saying sorry again.

 "Tell me," Bucky said, looking up at Steve from his position on the ground. "Why did you kick my door down?"

 Steve blinked. Was he serious?   "I thought someone was in trouble," he said, but he realized he phrased it like a question.

 "I saved you from my burning house," Bucky said, sitting up with a grunt. "F.Y.I.."

 "I didn't know it was your house," Steve said. Why did he suddenly feel like he needed to explain why he was trying to save lives?

 Bucky looked up through his lashes at Steve, and then at his house. "It's not much of a house now."

 Steve followed his gaze. The fire had leveled the house to the ground by now--when had the fire department gotten there?--the charred beams looked like giant burned matches, sticking into the air but thinned and wilting, breaking under their own weight.

 Steve didn't know why he said what he said next. It was probably because Bucky was now homeless-- or it was the eyes-- and Steve had the capacity to be an extremely generous person-- definitely the eyes . But also Bucky saved his life. He didn't feel like he owed him a debt. He was more of a pay-it-forward kind of guy, anyways. And here he was, paying it forward, but also paying it back.

 "Need a place to stay?" Steve asked.

 Bucky's eyes snapped open. "What?"

 "A place to stay," Steve repeated. He thought he'd bow out under Bucky's stare, but he was finding it oddly... encouraging. He really wanted to help him, now. "Permanent or not, I don't care. But there's an attic above the shop, it needs to be cleaned out and it's pretty small, but I can take the day. Won't cost much either." He shrugged like it was no big deal offering a home to a complete stranger.

 Bucky blinked. Twice. "What?"

 Steve sat down next to him, facing away from the house, giving Bucky his full attention. "You don't have a house."

 Bucky nodded.

 "I'm offering you a room."

 He nodded again, albeit more hesitantly.

 Steve was about to say something about getting him some water when Bucky's eyes widened again. Steve hadn't noticed that his gaze had wandered to his arms and when Steve glanced down, his expression mirrored Bucky's.

 "You're hurt," Bucky blurted, but he sounded only mildly concerned.

 Steve blinked. "Well, look at that," he murmured, lifting his arms to better look at the shining pink flesh.

 "I'll go get a nurse or something," Bucky said, standing and leaving before Steve could object. He watched Bucky head towards the paramedics-- when had they even shown up? --when he heard a familiar voice.

  "Steve? Hey, man," came Sam's voice.

 Steve whipped his head around to find Sam jogging over to him.

 "Hey," Steve said. He pushed himself off of the ground and dusted the seat of his pants.

 Sam, breathing heavily, clapped Steve on the shoulder. "How you doing? Jesus, man, what happened?"

 Steve explained the events of the fire.

 When Steve had finished, Sam forced a bottle of water into his palm, and glared at Steve pointedly until he drank it.

 After a few slow, painful gulps--he hadn't realized how sore his throat was from the smoke until he finished talking--Steve lowered the bottle and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. He glanced down at his arms, and winced. They weren't terrible burns, but they stung like hell.

 "You look like shit," Sam said, nodding in a strangely admiring way.

 "Wish I could say the same," Steve said, laughed, then coughed. Sam wasn't wearing his nursing uniform, but a leather jacket and a loosefitting V-neck. Steve always made a point to tell Sam that he was his fashion icon and Sam always made it a point to tell Steve never to dress like him.

 Sam clapped his shoulder and frowned. "You have a hero complex, man," he said.

 Steve glanced around, looking for a silver glint or saphire blue eyes.

 "Lookin' for the guy who lived here?" Sam asked.

 Steve nodded, then realized he probably looked kind of pathetic.

 Sam shrugged, pushing himself up from his crouching position. "He was talking to the fire captain earlier. He was waiting for you, I think," Sam said, smirking at Steve.

 Steve sighed and motioned at the ambulance van.

 "He was supposed to get an EMT," Steve mumbled.

 "Well," was all Sam said, following Steve.

 Steve looked around for the sun and realized that it was barely over the horizon.

 "What time is it?" he asked, his thoughts immediately jumping to the bakery, and then the fire, and then Bucky, and...

" Oh ," he said, slowing to a stop before Sam even glanced at his watch.

 " What? " Sam asked, mimicking Steve's tone.

 Steve's mouth snapped closed with a click. He shrugged like he forgot and continued walking.

 " Oh , no," Sam said, about to grab Steve's arm but stopped at the last second. "What's up?" His tone did not suggest any leighway.

 Steve tried to rub the back of his neck, but the stinging in his arms was constricting his movements. He sighed. Would he even be able to work with these injuries?

 "Walk and talk, please," Steve said, "I'm kind of suffering."

 "Yeah, yeah," Sam said, rolling his eyes but he pushed Steve forward a little faster.

 "So you know how I said i might rent out the attic?" Steve asked, avoiding Sam's gaze, but watching the sky, still gray with early morning.

 "Uh-huh," Sam said, like he was waiting for Steve to make his point. His step faltered. " Hero complex ."

 Steve rolled his head to the side so he could look at his friend. "You say that like it's a bad thing," he said.

 Sam pinched the bridge of his nose, and Steve finally noticed the bags under his eyes.

 "How did you know I was here?" Steve suddenly asked, and then he noticed Sam's attire, and it had looked clean and crisp at first glance but now he noticed it was disheveled and Sam suddenly looked exhausted .

 "Saw the smoke from the clinic," Sam said, and it looked like he was stifling a yawn. "I was there all night."

 "How come?"

 Sam shrugged. "Paperwork. Now," he grabbed Steve's shoulder and turned him sharply so they were facing each other. Sam pointed his finger in Steve's face, and with each word he spoke he enunciated with a shove of his finger. "You don't even know the guy."

 "I can rent out to strangers," Steve said with an eyeroll.

 "We were under the impression you would rent out to someone who worked there," Sam said, not enunciating as much with his pointing finger but his grip on Steve's shoulder tightened.

 "Maybe he'll help out," Steve offered. He knew he couldn't assume that, but it just slipped out.

 "You can't assume that," Sam said, shaking his head. Steve glanced around to make sure no one was listening. That's when he saw Bucky over by the ambulance, chatting it up with one of the nurses.

 "Can you accuse me of being an idiot while they're healing my wounds?" Steve asked, his gaze not breaking from the van.

 Sam followed his point of interest and did a doubletake. "That's the guy with the arm!"

 It was almost, almost , as if Bucky had heard. His head tilted in their direction ever so slightly.

 "I can't slap you for that," Steve said, nodding down at his arms. "But shut up ."

 "Right, right," Sam said. " Dude... Huh." His shoulders rolled a little with the huff. "Small world."

 "Small town ," Steve corrected, leaving Sam behind so he could finally be taken care of.

-x-

 

 In all honesty, the burns were not that bad. At least, that's what the medic had said, and Sam nodded his approval, as if that settled it.

 They covered his arms in ointment and wrapped them, but told him he wouldn't be able to knead any dough for a day or two. They laughed, goodnaturedly, Steve was sure, but he panicked. Silently, but it was there. When's the last time I even took a day off?

 He blinked, surprised, because no less than two hours ago he'd said he would take a day off so he could help Bucky clean his attic .

  Oh.

 He forgot again.

 Bucky had wandered off by the time Steve and Sam had gotten to the EMT's, and Steve couldn't help but feel avoided . He didn't even know the guy--he winced when he remembered Sam's words--but he had offered to let him live in his attic. Maybe he was offended? But it was all Steve had to offer, really. It's not like he didn't expect Bucky to be able to afford a new place almost immediately, but just for some sort of comfort. Like he had somewhere to go without having to worry about being able to move in today or in a month. Steve knew the town; availability when it came to rent was sparce.

 And here he was, laying this--albeit dusty--cheap room at his feet. Hell, if Bucky didn't have a job, Steve might've hired him on the spot, no rent. It's not like he wouldn't pay him, but just less if he lived above the shop.

 It was a fair deal, he figured.

 And then he started to wonder...

  Did Bucky have a job? He had twenty dollars to spare, but that didn't mean much. He afforded that house, which had to be at least, at least , a thousand a month. It was a one story, open floor plan...

 He could have money stored away.

 Was he just coming up with excuses not to hire Bucky?

 Steve looked up when the EMT patted his arm, letting him know he was all good. Steve gave him a nod, and he stood, exiting the back of the van.

 Sam was leaning against the side of the van, staring across the lot. Steve followed his gaze and saw Bucky, hands in his pockets, watching the smoke curl up from the remnants of his house.

  How long had he even lived there?

-x-

Bucky

Not even a whole month , Bucky thought, staring at the pile of ash that was his house less than three hours ago.

 He couldn't help but feel some sort of grim satisfaction. That fire wasn't meant to scare him, or intimidate him. It was meant to kill him. He knew that the second he saw the smoke.

 And he had conveniently decided to take a walk. If anyone asked, he would say he knew, for sure, that someone was going to try to kill him. But of course he didn't. He just wanted to not think and the night sky was the perfect opportunity to not think .

 So he walked a few blocks away, definitely not by the bakery, definitely hoping to not bump into Steve.

 He raked a hand through his hair, dusty and dry from the ash. It was weird timing. All of it. The walk, the fire, Steve...

 What would have happened if he hadn't been there?

 Bucky frowned, raking his hand through his hair again. He hated the feeling of it. It was making him angry and he was fueling the fire and he didn't know why.

 Steve would have died, Bucky had no doubt. He didn't feel like the guy owed him anything, he didn't believe in paying debts. If he did...

 A burned down house is not even close to what he owes the universe.

 He sighed and looked up, watching the sunrise cut through the morning fog. He should probably skip town. That would be the safest course of action if he really didn't want to kill anybody anymore. And he didn't. But he felt threatened and instead of feeling scared, like a normal person would, he was furious.

 He did not come all this way to be killed in a fire. He did not come all this way to be scared into hiding, which is admittedly what he was doing in the first place, but not again.

 He liked the town. Not enough to want to risk dying over it, but he really didn't feel like leaving. The thought of it sapped every ounce of energy he had and he squatted down, braced his weight on his metal arm and fell to the ground with a soft thud .

  Need a place to stay?

 Bucky looked around, his eyes landing on Steve, who was already watching him. Bucky nodded, hoping Steve would catch on, because lord knows this kid probably didn't understand any universal signals.

 But Steve nodded back, and he smiled, and then looked utterly offended when his friend smacked him upside the head.

 Bucky decided then that leaving that one asshole alive was the dumbest shit he'd ever done, but at least now he knew who to look for.

Chapter Text

Steve

  The heavy wooden door creaked open, carving a wide arc in the thick carpet of dust.

 Steve coughed, waving his hand in front of his face.

 "I, uh," he shuffled from one foot to the other, watching Bucky's guarded expression, "don't come up here very often."

 "You don't say," Bucky said, his head turning in a slow counter clockwise circle as he examined the room.

 The attic was full of a lot of his mother's things; aged dressers, broken chairs, tables, chests full of her old clothes and knick knacks. There was a thick coating of dust on everything, except for the spiderwebs garlanding the ceiling. The sunlight shafting in through the rotary windows illuminated the disturbed dust motes, and left patterns of the woodworking in the glass on the floor.

 "There's an old bed in here, somewhere," Steve said, motioning at all the junk. "And you can have the dresser. And whatever else, honestly."

 "Where are you gonna put all this stuff?" Bucky asked.

 Steve gripped the broom in his hands, and started sweeping a path through the dust. "Giving it away," he said. He had planned on going through all of his mother's old things ages ago, but, of course, he never got around to it. "Take what you want. Clothes go to the shelter, everything else can go to the thrift store." He cleared a narrow path to one of the windows, and --with some serious effort--swung it open.

 "Should we have masks?" Bucky asked warily.

 "Probably," Steve said, shrugging. He followed his path back to Bucky and thrust the broom into his hands; it made a loud clack! when it hit Bucky's metal palm. Steve ignored it, figuring Bucky would, too. "I'll start going through her stuff."

 Bucky's eyebrows pulled together, slightly, and he twisted his hands around the broom handle nervously. "Whose stuff is all this?"

 Steve glanced away. "My mom's." He was suddenly very interested in an old table; he pushed it gently with his finger and it wobbled precariously.

 "Steve, I can find some other--"

 "I'll go get some trash bags," Steve blurted, pushing past Bucky. Steve took the steps two at a time and reemerged inside the sunlit bakery. It felt odd, that he wasn't trapped in the kitchen and instead was cleaning out all of his mother's things. He really had meant to do this years ago. He didn't really feel attached to her possessions, he had the bakery and that was more than enough. It just felt... wrong , somehow. Though he could still imagine his mother, shaking her head and laughing because Steve, you goober, it's just stuff .

 He huffed and went down to the kitchen, pulling a few heavy duty trash bags from the cupboard. When he returned to the attic, Bucky wasn't sweeping but going through one of the old chests, sorting through what looked like old photo albums.

 Steve tossed the bags aside and went to stand beside Bucky, glancing into the box.

 "I forgot about these," Steve said, reaching inside and pulling out a small black photo album; the word family was stamped on the cover in small gold lettering. He cracked it open.

 "That your dad?" Bucky asked, looking away from the large book he held open to glance at Steve's.

 Steve nodded, running his finger over the image of his father in the picture. "He died, when I was real young," he said.

 He flipped through the book, and sure enough, his father stopped appearing in the photos. The rest of the pictures were of him and his mother, mostly at the bakery but some at the beach. She was a head or so taller than Steve was in the last picture. Steve remembered the day that picture was taken. It was just after she had received the award so she closed the bakery early and they went to the beach to celebrate. She had made them both tuna sandwiches and insisted that it wasn't a real tuna sandwich if it didn't get just a little bit of sand in it. In the picture, she was hugging Steve to her side, and had one hand holding her sun hat to her head; they were both smiling and their clothes were soaked from the waist down.

 "She's pretty," Bucky said, nodding down at the picture when Steve looked up at him. Steve appreciated that he didn't refer to her in past tense. "What's her name?"

 "Sarah," Steve said quietly. They both gave the moment the silence it deserved, and then Steve placed the album back into the chest, breaking apart their reverie. He made a mental note to move all of the albums inside to a smaller box that would take up less space in his apartment than this monster.

 Bucky looked like he wasn't sure what to do with himself, so Steve suggested he clear the spiderwebs.

 "But if there are still spiders there," Steve said, heaving the chest of photo albums aside so he could get to the others underneath it, "just put 'em outside."

 Bucky froze, turning to look at Steve, broom suspended in the air. "You're kidding."

 Steve just shook his head. "Nope." He cracked another chest open, this one full of his mother's clothes. He had hoped they would still smell like her, six years later, but they just smelled musty and old. He grabbed handfuls and started stuffing them into a trash bag.

 Even though he wasn't exactly enjoying himself, he appreciated the easy silence between the two. He didn't feel the need to force casual conversation, just like when he'd first met Bucky. He figured Bucky wasn't much of a talker, just the kind of person to throw enough sarcasm into the mix to keep it interesting.

 After emptying out three chests, Steve was going to suggest they take a break when there was a crash and a very loud string of profanities.

 Steve spun around, expecting to find Bucky sprawled on the ground, but instead found him standing outside the doorway, eyes wide and glued to the ceiling. Steve followed his line of sight.

 He couldn't help it. He barked a laugh before he could even stop himself. Dangling from the ceiling was a small, black spider, spinning on its' silk thread.

 When he looked back at Bucky, it was like he could feel his eyes burning a hole right through his skull.

 Steve cleared his throat. "I'll, uh, get it," he said, turning around before Bucky saw him laugh again. He slipped a picture from one of the albums and grabbed a vase from the dresser.

 

 -x-

 

Bucky

 Bucky glowered at Steve from the doorway, but practically fell down the stairs when he came near him with the spider. He didn't dare let Steve walk past him with that thing, so he booked it to the first floor bakery and gave Steve a wide girth.

  I killed people for a living, Bucky thought bitterly, glaring through the window as Steve deposited the parasite on the sidewalk. Just give me a lighter and some hairspray .

 The bell above the door rang as Steve walked back in, but Bucky's glare froze him on the spot. Bucky didn't actually mean for Steve to catch him glaring, again, but figured it added dramatic effect. He turned and leapt back up the stairs.

 "Not a word," he says in a sing-song voice, "or I'll break your legs."

 He heard a muffled, "Noted," from the bottom of the stairwell.

 Bucky gave the ceiling another combover, declaring it spider-free, and turned to face Steve, hands on his hips.

 "What now, oh captain, my captain?" Bucky asked, and appreciated the bored look Steve gave him.

 Steve looked around, his eyes landing on the dresser tucked in the corner. "Want that?"

 Bucky shrugged. "Sure."

 "Then empty it out," was all Steve said before he went back to clearing out the chests.

 "Yes, sir," Bucky said, and he rolled his sleeves up before edging his way around a rusty, misplaced furnace.  

 "You can have anything in here," Steve reminded him. "Except for--"

 "The clothes," Bucky said, pulling open the top drawer of the dresser. It was full of books. "What do you wanna do with these?" He pulled a book, Moby Dick, out of the drawer and held it up for Steve to see.

 "Oh," Steve said. He stared at it for a few moments. "How many are there?"

 Bucky counted the books in the drawer. "Twenty...six," he said, his eyes rolling back to look at Steve.

 "Just..." Steve looked around and waved his hand in the general direction of a table by Bucky. "Put 'em over there. I'll go through them in a bit."

 Bucky nodded in response and started stacking the books on the table. He kept glancing back at Steve, who was starting to decelerate in going through his mother's things, examining an article of clothing or an old piece of jewelry more closely.

 Bucky wanted to say We can take a break or We can do this later , but he couldn't get the words out. Steve had insisted that he was going to do this anyway, and that he really didn't mind, but Bucky could feel the change in mood the longer they worked and the silence that was once comfortable was now heavy and gray.

 The dresser now empty, Bucky began working on stacking the furniture he wouldn't be taking by the door. He wanted to ask how they were actually going to transport all of this but didn't feel like breaking Steve's morose trance.

 After a few minutes, though, Steve stood from the ground and dusted off his knees. He cleared his throat and examined the pile Bucky was creating.

 "Most of this is broken," Bucky said, tossing a table on top of the now teetering mountain of broken furniture. "The bed's still good, and I took a couple of chairs, a coffee table. The desk, too." He shrugged.

 Steve nodded and looked around the room. "All in a good day's work," he said, smiling. "I'll fetch my truck, for that," he nodded at the furniture, "and I've got some heavy-duty cleaning supplies. You'll want them," he added after catching Bucky's indignant pout.

 "I'll kick it until you get back," Bucky said, nudging the table he'd decided to keep out of the way. He grabbed the mattress and ripped the plastic off of it, tossed it onto the rickety bedframe, and sat on the edge. He pat the mattress and looked up at Steve. He had to bite his lip to resist the urge to invite him into bed.

 Of course, the lip bite was ostentaciously seductive and Bucky appreciated the blush that was creeping up Steve's collar.

 "Right, uh" Steve said and he turned and headed for the door, "I'll get the truck."

 Bucky watched Steve retreat, with every mannerism of a dog fleeing with its tail tucked between its legs, and looked around the attic. The space was small, but quaint in an old-fashioned sort of way. It was good enough for Bucky.

 He fell back against the mattress and tucked one arm beneath his head.

  Tight shirts, blond, Bucky thought, and he drives a truck.

 He threw a hand over his face and groaned.

 

Chapter Text

   Bucky lay awake in his new bed, staring out of the small window at the silvery wisps of clouds passing below the moon.

 He liked it here. Not just the town, but the small attic. It smelled like baking bread and it was comfortable and warm, and he can't remember the last time he felt this... relaxed .

 He didn't want to sleep. He wanted to bathe in this new feeling of peace, listening to the faint creaks and groans of the old buildings, the trees rustling outside. He did wonder whether it was someone else trying to kill him, trying to get into his tiny attic, but he didn't care.

 He felt safe, and his bed was like a giant marshmallow, and he would see Steve in the morning. He acknowledged the moment for what it was: important, because this is what he wanted, this is what he fought like hell to get to.

 And that one damn asshole, if he was trying to get inside at that precise moment, would just have to wait until morning.

 

-x-

 

 It was, unfortunately, early morning when Bucky heard it: the creak of a floorboard downstairs.

 He was on high alert in an instant, his body becoming rigid and his senses sharpening despite having just woken up.

 Burying his hand under his pillow for his knife, he suddenly became panicked. It's not here. And then he remembered, across the room, in the pockets of his jeans, draped across the chair. He had felt too safe, too comfortable to even worry about the knife. So he grabbed the closest thing he could, from a box he has yet to unpack: a large cast-iron skillet. He twirled it in his hand a couple of times, getting used to the awkward weight, and he slowly, silently crept towards the door.

 He bit the inside of his cheek when the door hinges creaked, but there was no responding sound coming from downstairs, so he continued forward.

 When he reached the bottom of the stairwell, the only thing he noticed that was different was the light coming from the basement.

  What the hell? he thought, and crept forward silently, constantly scanning the dark corners hidden in shadows, or the large front windows, letting in faint light from the streetlamps.

 He peeked down into the basement, but couldn't see a thing.

  Fuck it, he thought, and he charged downstairs, pan at the ready.

 He was met with a resounding shriek and a puff of flour in the face.

 "What the--?" Bucky started.

 "Oh my god--" came the other voice.

 " Steve? " Bucky asked, blinking flour out of his eyes, skillet still at the ready.

 Steve stood there, sporting a garrish blue button up--Bucky was sure if Steve just took a deep enough breath, buttons would start popping off--hands covering his mouth, his blue eyes wide.

 "Iforgotyoulivedhere," he exhaled. He was staring at Bucky while Bucky stared back.

 Bucky let out the breath he was holding. "Holy shit ," he sighed, and he set the skillet down and then pulled his shirt up over his face, wiping the flour off.

 Steve made a weird sound at the back of his throat.

 "What time is it?" Bucky asked, pulling his shirt back down over his stomach.

 Steve's eyes followed his every move, hands still covering his mouth.

 His gaze darted back up to Bucky's face, still bearing that deer-in-the-headlights look, and he lowered his hands, which Bucky just realized were powdery white. There were dusty streaks of flour around Steve's mouth.

 "Four," he said, but his voice was little more than a squeak.

 Bucky suddenly felt awful .

 "Fuck, Steve, I--" He cut himself off and swiped his hands through his hair. "Shit, I'm sorry. I mean, I totally forgot you come to work at four."

 "That's better than forgetting I exist," Steve said, starting to relax a little bit. He had noticed the flour, too, and he scrubbed the apron in his hands over his face. "Sorry, for freaking you out." His cheeks were starting to burn red.

 "No, no, it's-- It's fine." Bucky sighed and placed his hands on his hips, his eyes sweeping around the kitchen. "Um... need any help?"

 Steve blanched. "W-what?"

 Bucky's gaze--and he did it deliberately, because he wanted to keep that blush there as long as fucking possible--drifted slowly over Steve's stomach, then his chest, and then finally landed on his face. The kid was as red as a tomato and Bucky was loving every second of it.

 Bucky leaned forward, and reiterated as slowly as possible, " Help ."

 Steve blinked. "Oh, oh. Um." He scratched the back of his neck and looked around, his eyes landing on a small stack of papers on the workbench. "Actually..."

 Bucky smirked and leaned back, resting his hip against the countertop.

 Steve shuffled through the stack of papers and pulled one out, his eyes scanning it from top to bottom a few times before he whistled. "I gotta make a cake, and I forgot to do it yesterday," he said, his eyebrows furrowed.

 "Yesterday," Bucky repeated, his eyebrows slowly pulling together. "Yesterday when you helped me move in?"

 Steve nodded, still looking at the small slip of paper in his hands. "Yep."

 "Shit, did I fuck up your schedule?" Bucky asked.

 Steve shrugged and set the stack of papers aside, pulled his apron on, and rolled his sleeves up. Bucky's mouth watered.

 "Can you knead dough?" Steve asked, and he nodded his chin at Bucky's left arm.

 Bucky's eyes travelled back and forth between the two, his arm and Steve, and he shrugged noncommittally.

 "Never tried?" Bucky said, but phrased it like a question.

 "Yeah..." Steve looked around and then snapped his fingers. "I'll give you an easy job--"

 "Hey, now," Bucky said, but Steve ignored him and continued.

 "So you don't mess up my bread or your arm," he said, and he pulled a few trays from the fridge and slid them onto the counter towards Bucky. "You're gonna wash these."

 "You want me to wash your dough," Bucky said, making sure he heard Steve right.

 Steve lifted an eyebrow. "Yes?"

 Bucky pointed at the sink, giving Steve a questioning look, like you sure there, buddy?

 Then Steve laughed. "No, don't do that," he said. Bucky watched as Steve grabbed a bowl, a carton of eggs, a pitcher of milk, and a pastry brush and set them on the counter. "Seperate the yolks, add a tablespoon of milk for every egg, and then brush these." He pointed at the mounds of dough on the trays. "But do each one three times, and take a thirty second break between each washing." And then he walked away, mumbling something about powdered sugar and food coloring.

 Bucky hadn't thought Steve would actually put him to work, just ask him to sweep, maybe, since there was a bit of a flour-y mess on the floor. But Steve ignored it and made his cake while Bucky brushed at least four dozen lumps of dough.

 Steve never came over to tell him he was doing it wrong, which he had expected since he was making a mess , but simply worked. Bucky decided he was no fun in the kitchen, unless he was scared shitless, but he had no intention of recreating that scenario.

 He had tried to make idle conversation, every ten minutes or so, but Steve would usually just stop responding and when Bucky looked over at him just to make sure he hadn't pissed him off, Steve's tongue was sticking out in concentration. Bucky thought it was maybe the cutest thing he'd ever seen.

 After using up all of the egg wash, Bucky could feel his eyelids start to droop but he just watched Steve work. He was very meticulous, from the way he spun the cake pans to pour the batter in at the right angle, to the position he set them in in the brick ovens--which Bucky could not believe, this place was so authentic , it was unreal--but Bucky especially liked watching him make the frosting. He made it all from scratch and would try and perfect the colors and the flavor, his eyes lighting up just a tad when he added the right amount of food coloring. Bucky just about jumped his bones when he held a spoon--that he had already licked, the bastard-- out to Bucky, covered in a sea green frosting.

 Of course, because Bucky didn't have the capacity to be anything less than a complete shit, he wrapped his tongue around the spoon and lapped the frosting up. He had some resolve, he decided, because he didn't maintain eye contact with a blustering Steve the whole time.

 Steve eventually turned on the radio upstairs, and the sound travelled quite well to the basement, and they hummed along to eighties hits--although Bucky got the feeling that they were both holding back, especially when any Cyndi Lauper song came on (there were quite a few), but he figured neither of them had the pipes to actually sound good and weren't quite comfortable enough with each other to sound terrible--while Steve carved the cakes and Bucky watched.

 But, of course, because all good things come to an end and all that, Steve noticed that Bucky was practically dead on his feet.

 "Go to bed, Bucky," he said, setting the final layer on top of the three-tiered cake.

 "Nah," Bucky said and he couldn't believe that a yawn slipped out at that precise moment.

 Steve gave him a pointed look and then turned his back on him.

 Bucky stifled another yawn and grumbled, "Good night."

 To which Steve responded, in a sing-song voice, "Good morning."

Chapter Text

  "So you have the stranger with the metal arm living in your attic?"

 Natasha had taken Steve out to dinner on her night off, but Steve was unaware that she hadn't even invited Sam. He suddenly felt like he jumped into the firing line. She had asked him about work, as always, and he asked her, as always. He knew she would eventually bring up Bucky--he figured Sam had spilled the beans the second he left Steve's company--he just hadn't expected her to be so... hostile.

 "Uh, yeah," Steve replied, hiding behind his menu, "yeah, pretty much."

 A perfectly manicured finger curled over the top of his menu and jerked it down. Nat gave him a look .

 "Metal arm," was all she said. "I tell you to be careful and you just, you..." She trailed off and buried her face in her hands. "You're an idiot."

 Steve watched her for a few moments before he lay his menu down flat and reached across the table to touch her arm.

 "I can take care of myself," he said. "And besides, he needed a place to stay. I wasn't just gonna leave him there."

 "Right," she said, dragging her hands off her face, rolling her eyes down to his hand on her arm. "Because you don't owe him anything."

 Steve slumped back in his seat. "He did save my life," he muttered. He felt like a child being scolded by their mother.

 "From his house," she said. "Does anyone even know how the fire started? It was oddly... contained. " Her tone implied she knew exactly how the fire had started.

 Steve just shrugged and traced his finger around a ring on the table.   

 She watched him, lips pursed, her chin resting on her steepled fingers.

 They were quiet for a few minutes, Steve pretending to look over the menu, Natasha watching him with narrowed eyes.

 "I just worry," she finally said with a sigh, her hands falling flat on the table as she fell back against the cracked rubber bench. "You're my boy."

 Steve snorted a laugh and felt the tension ebb away. "Don't tell that to Sam," he said.

 Nat jokingly kicked him under the table. "You're both my boys," she said. Just then the waiter brought their drinks and they ordered their food. She took a few sips of her raspberry lemonade before asking, "When do I get to meet him?"

 Steve chewed on his straw. "Whenever you want," he said with a shrug.

 "What's his name?"

 Steve looked away, knowing exactly how she was going to react. "Bucky."

 He looked back to see her snort and spill her drink down her front.

 "Oh my god," she said, staring at Steve with a mixture of shock and amusement.

 Steve tossed his napkin at her and she dabbed at her shirt, still staring at Steve.

 "That's not, like, a nickname? It's really his name?" she asked.

 "Uh, I think so," he said. He realized he didn't actually know his full name. Nat realized that, too.

 "Oh my god , Steve, you don't even know his whole name?"

 He shrugged noncommittally and his gaze travelled around the room, looking anywhere but at her.

 " Steve ." She dropped the napkin on the table. "Where does he work?"

 Steve groaned and put his forehead on the table. "I don't know."

 "These are important questions you ask your tenant before they move in," she said. "How much are you charging him?"

 He shrugged again. "Haven't figured it out yet," he mumbled against the tabletop. "I definitely thought about all of this, by the way, I just never... asked."

 Nat just sighed. "You gotta lay this stuff out. Like, now."

 It was his turn to give her a look. "I know , Nat," he said, trying very hard not to sound like a petulant child; Nat's expression suggested try harder . "Look, it might not even work out and it's not permanent. I mean, you've seen the attic. No one wants to live there, but it's what I have. He's going to be there, tomorrow, if you want to stop by and--" He stopped himself from saying check him out and instead finished with, " Scope him out." It was probably better, he figured.

 "Scope him out," she repeated. She gave him a pointed glance before she took a large sip of her drink. "Have you..."

 "Don't," Steve said, almost pleading, "don't say it."

 " Scoped him out?" she asked, smirking at him.

 "If it helps, I was going to say check him out," Steve said, and then wondered why he even said that.

 "Right, right," she said, nodding in mock seriousness. "Because 'scope' is much better."

 "Just come by tomorrow," he grumbled, "if you want to meet him."

 She just snorted into her drink.

 

-x-

 

Natasha did not, in fact, come by the next day to scope out Steve's new tenant.

 

Chapter Text

Bucky

  Of course the first thing Bucky had done when he even entered the building was map his escape routes six ways from Sunday. He was a little less than pleased to find out that the attic only had one way in (or out), and no way in hell could he fit through those windows. He decided the worst of it was that the bakery itself only had one exit--unless he counted the large front windows (he did)--and that he had no way of getting to it except through his only exit. It was less than ideal but, at least, it was cheap.

 Which led to another problem that he had: lack of income. He had money saved up in a few offshore accounts, of course; more cash than he knew what to do with. But he had no way of explaining that to Steve. He was under the impression that Bucky had a job, a steady income; he had neither. Bucky had told him he worked nights--only after learning the bakery's hours and Steve's schedule--at the docks. So he would just hoof it around town during the day and then hole up when Steve left, avoiding the public eye, where he could be spotted not working.

 He was starting to notice--whether it was a good thing or not, he didn't know--that he was becoming somewhat the talk of the town. He could hear the conversations drift up from the bakery, locals asking Steve about the man with the metal arm he had saved from the fire--Bucky scoffed at that and wondered just what Steve had been telling these people--but Steve hadn't said a word. He was very good at deflecting questions, Bucky thought.

 Bucky was starting to wonder if Steve knew that Bucky preferred to fly below the radar, even though Bucky hadn't really tried to go unnoticed. He was out and about most of the time anyways. He wanted to be known, but his unusual appearance and sudden arrival had left something to be desired with the townsfolk. So not only was he known, he was now local gossip.

 This was certainly new to him. Before, when he did what he did, he usually kept the metal arm hidden. For some reason he didn't feel the need to worry about the stares or the whispers. He was ready to use his usual story whenever anyone asked about the strange prosthetic: war vet, this is a new cybernetic arm that the government is trying out. It wasn't entirely dishonest. He did serve in the military, and it is a new cybernetic prosthetic that the government was trying out. It just wasn't the US government that was tinkering with amputee veterans.

 But, to his dissatisfaction, nobody had actually asked about his arm. He was approached by strangers, asking if he was new in town and where he moved from-- yes and New York --but either everyone here was extremely polite or pitied him and didn't want him to feel bad.

 He knew it was the latter. It always was, when no one pried, but he wanted people to ask. He wanted that story to spread. Not that he was strange , or that he was becoming a local oddity.

 He wanted, more than anything, he realized, for Steve to ask. He would even go so far as to stop using his right hand completely and make sure Steve noticed, but the guy just looked elsewhere. He wasn't even obvious about it, made it look like glancing from Bucky's arm to his face the most natural thing. But Bucky knew. And Steve knew that Bucky knew. But he still never asked and Bucky was sure it was because Steve thought he felt bad about it, like he was ashamed of it. And it wasn't that he was totally wrong, but Bucky didn't feel one way or the other about his arm. It just was to him. Because he had gotten this on a particularly difficult job and had a split second decision to make. Whether he made the right choice or not, he wasn't sure, but he didn't care. He didn't then and he didn't now.

 "Hey, Bucky?"

 Bucky cracked open one eye and turned his head towards the door.

 "Mnnf?" he managed to grunt out. He sat up when Steve poked his head in, and smirked when he saw the streak of flour on his cheek.

 "What?" Steve asked, and when Bucky pointed to his own cheek, Steve blushed and dipped his head as he wiped it off. "Sorry."

 Bucky shook his head and stretched, making sure his shirt lifted a little. Steve's glance downwards did not go unnoticed.

 "What's up?" he asked, pulling his shirt straight. He ran a hand through his hair and yawned.

 Steve pushed the door open and invited himself in. "Oh, uh. You're leaving soon, right?" Steve asked.

 Bucky paused and was about to ask what Steve was talking about, but stopped himself short.

  Right, he thought, working man.

  "Uh, yeah, why?"

 "I was just gonna ask if you wanted to come out with me and a couple of friends," he replied, seemingly uncomfortable. "But you're working, so it's fine..."

 Bucky blinked. This was a first. He'd been living above Steve's bakery for almost a week, and they had fallen into a routine pretty quickly. Steve would get in at around four A.M.--Bucky cringed at the memory of the first night when he had almost clocked Steve with the frying pan--and Bucky would head to the bathroom downstairs and shower, staying out of Steve's way while he worked. He stuck around the basement for a while the first couple of days, but Steve was no fun when he was working, so he mostly kept to himself and meandered around town, waiting until Steve left. He always got back just in time to see Steve off, and then he would pretend to get ready for work.

 It wasn't a great system, but it worked; for now anyways.

 "I mean, I can take the night off," Bucky said, shrugging one shoulder.

 "Oh, it's not, it's uh..." Steve stumbled over his words and bit his lip to cut himself off. "It's not that important, really."

 "They won't miss me," Bucky said, rolling out of bed. "Besides, I could use a day off." Sure.

 Steve blinked. "I'll..." He glanced around the room, then back at Bucky. "You sure?"

 Bucky dug around in the top drawer of the old dresser for a fresh shirt, one that he thought showed off his shoulders pretty well, and stripped off his rumpled one. He was aware of Steve's eyes on him, and relished every second of it. He could practically feel Steve silently mourning when he slipped the button-up on. He idly wondered what he thought of the scarring on his shoulder, but didn't feel like actually asking.

 He turned and checked his hair in the small mirror he'd nicked from Steve's mom's stuff, and nodded at Steve's reflection. "I wouldn't mind meeting your friends," he said.

 "One of them might not make it." Steve said. "She's pretty busy."

 Bucky raised an eyebrow. Steve sounded relieved, almost.

 "I feel like I'm introducing you to my parents," Steve said, stuffing one hand in his pocket and leaning against the door frame.

 "Huh," was all Bucky said, swallowing the comment that he liked to suck his boyfriend's dick at least once before he met his parents. He spun on one heel and held his arms out, making a show of his outfit--which he was admittedly proud of. "How do I look?"

 "Approachable," Steve said with an almost admiring nod.

 Bucky snapped and shot a finger pistol at him. "Not sure what you mean by that, but I'll take it." He grabbed his jacket from the chair by the door and walked past Steve.

-x-

Steve

 "The man, the myth, the legend," Sam said, clapping Steve on the shoulder, and gesturing his drink towards Bucky.

 Steve cringed. "Uh, yeah," he said, and he could feel Bucky smirk at the blush climbing up his neck. "This is--"

 Bucky beat him to the punch. He held out his right hand and Sam shook it, both of them keeping a firm grip.

 "I'm Bucky," he said, giving a curt nod.

 "Sam," Sam said, releasing his hand and falling back in his seat. " So ."

 Steve side-eyed Sam. He had absolutely no idea where this was going, but was just glad that--

 "Hi, boys." There she was. Natasha, hair pulled back in a tight bun, leather jacket draped over one arm, smiled down at Steve. She rested her hip against the booth, on Bucky's side.

 Steve could feel the color drain from his face. His head whipped around to look at Sam.

 "I didn't think--"

 Sam's expression was guarded, and he just looked down at his nails, flipping his hand around nonchalantly.

 "Oh my god--"

  "You did say friends ," Bucky said quietly, leaning over the table, enunciating the 's'.

 Steve's eyes slowly drifted towards Bucky and he swallowed, hard, when he saw Natasha wink at Sam.

 Sam pushed Steve out of the booth and pat the now-empty seat next to him, bowing his head towards the unoccupied seat next to Bucky when Steve gave him a bewildered look.

 He reluctantly took it, avoiding Bucky's gaze.

 Bucky, of course, seemed to be quite amused.

  "This is Natasha," Steve mumbled, nodding his chin towards Nat, who was now seated comfortably next to Sam, looking extremely smug. "Who I thought was away on business."

 "Oh, I was," she said, nodding. "I'm home early." She spread her hands on the table and turned her head, ever so slightly, to look at Bucky. She smiled. "Hi."

 He gave a small wave. "Hey." They stared at each other; for longer than was necessary, Steve was almost certain.

 Steve wasn't sure what was happening but he didn't like the look on Nat's face.

 "How do you like living above the bakery?" she asked, leaning back against the bench, elbowing Sam a little so he'd give her more room.

 He obliged and then nodded his head at Steve. "He bug the hell outta you yet?"

 Steve eyes narrowed slightly but he didn't say anything; he was genuinely curious about Bucky's answer.

 Bucky just shrugged and leaned back against the bench as well, his left hand staying in his lap. "He's not too bad." He rolled his head to the side and smirked at Steve.

 Steve appreciated the answer, and the smirk.

 Sam nodded and then turned towards Nat, nudging her with his elbow. "So, where'd you go this time?"

 And then the strangest thing happened. Nat looked directly at Bucky and said, "Germany. Berlin, actually." Her smile was sweet as syrup.

 Steve and Sam gaped at her. They hadn't even guessed yet.

 Bucky stared at Nat, wearing an almost bored expression, before he leaned forward on the table, resting his chin in his right hand. "What were you doing there?"

 She shrugged dramatically, and then looked back at Sam while she answered his question. "Work things. Did you know the German who died here was actually not German, but Swiss?"

 "I did not know that," Sam said, and his eyes shot to Steve: what the hell?

 "Did you get fired?" Steve asked, leaning over the table and eyeing Natasha.

 "Like, that's why you're actually saying anything?" Sam asked, elbow resting on the table, turning to face her.

 She shrugged dramatically again. "No," was all she said, and then the waiter brought their drinks and she asked Sam about Mrs. Brinsky and she asked Steve about the bakery and she asked Bucky about how he liked the town and where he was from. She didn't leave an opening for anyone else to ask her anymore questions.

-x-

 "So," Steve said, once he and Bucky were walking back to the bakery.

 "They're nice," Bucky said, hands in his pockets. Steve noticed he didn't watch the ground, but walked along the uneven stones with ease.

 "Do you know Nat?" Steve asked. He had meant to work up to that question, but it'd been bugging him too much. She never just told them where she went.

 Bucky looked shocked, for a split second, before he shook his head. "No, she's cute, though," he said.

 Steve looked away. "Yeah."

 "Are you two...?"

 Steve had to physically stop himself from blanching. "God, no, she'd snap me like a toothpick."

 Bucky just nodded with a small, "Ah."

 "She's not dating anyone," Steve said. And then it hit him. Was she... flirting with Bucky? It was odd, but he realized he'd never seen Nat actually hit on anyone before. He thought she'd be... smoother?

 Bucky hissed through his teeth. "Nah. I, uh, don't swing that way," he said, looking at Steve. Almost expectantly.

 Steve was so grateful for the moonless night he almost fell to his knees. The heat that rushed to his face was unbearable .

 But he didn't say anything. Maybe he should have. Say something like, "Yeah, no, I'm kind of a double whammy, yunno?" Oh, no, don't say that. "I swing both ways?" That would be better.

 But he just nodded with a small hum, and watched the stones underneath his feet.

Chapter Text

  Natasha Romanoff was a lot of things, including--but not limited to--being incredibly resourceful, incredibly gorgeous , and also incredibly dangerous. Only one of those things was common knowledge in the small seaside town she'd decided to hunker down in. She could still remember, clear as day, when she'd told Director Fury that she planned on working out of a village .

 "Natasha," he had said, standing over his desk, fingers spread on the wood grain, "you're at the top of you're unit. You have the freedom to relocate wherever you want. And you want to move--"

 "To a small town by the sea, yes," she had said. She wanted what she wanted, and she was prepared to fight tooth and nail for this simple request. Though she was sure she wouldn't have to. "You'll still be able to call me out and I'll still get the job done, Nick." She was the only one allowed to call him Nick.

 He gave her a leveled look before tapping the keys on his computer. "Figured you were more of an east coast," he muttered before he hit enter.

 That was four years ago, after she had stopped by in this town to find one Jasper Sitwell. She had found him, easily enough. Just asked where he was and locals had pointed her in the direction of the cemetery. She was even nice enough to bring him flowers.

 Of course Sitwell's death was sketchy, but that's not why she was sent here. She knew immediately that his fatal car crash was the work of HYDRA. She'd been tailing them so long she hadn't even second guessed it.

 No, she was sent here because Sitwell settled down, worked at some rehab clinic. She just hadn't actually known he was six feet under. After some digging in the local library, she had found the old newspapers and that's when she knew. She recognized the shot out engine, the smashed skull. If you knew where to look, all signs pointed to HYDRA.

  She visited the cemetery a few times after that, and always brought him flowers. She wasn't sure why she did it. She was supposed to be the one to take this guy out, but yet here she was, using up the rest of her time in the small town to bring flowers to her target.

 And on her last visit, on her last day in coastal paradise--though her next mission was in Greece, so she wasn't complaining--she saw him, a guy kneeling in front of the simplest headstone, by far, in the cemetery, talking quietly and laughing at old memories. She could just make out the name Sarah from where she was standing.

 To this day, she still doesn't know why she did what she did. It was turning out to be a weird couple of days for Natasha.

 "Who was she?" she asked quietly, kneeling down next to him. The flowers she had brought for Sitwell were still clutched in her hands.

 He flinched at her words, but he responded, just as quietly, "Sarah." And he gave her a goofy smile and motioned at the grave.

 "I can read, " she says, smiling. "I was just being nice." She looked at the dates under Sarah Rogers . She died two years ago. "Your mom?"

 He nods, and his eyes flick down to the bouquet in her hands. "Were you visiting someone?" he asks.

 She shrugs. "I never knew him, but yeah," she says. "He's been getting my flowers all week. But I think she'd appreciate them more." She placed the flowers in front of the stone.

He just stared at them, his expression a mix of awe and gratitude. "Thank you."

 Natasha nodded and then stood, touching his shoulder gently. She turned to walk away, but stopped when he spoke.

 "I'm Steve," he says, and he looks up at her then. She had the sudden urge to smooth his hair.

 "Natasha," she says.

 "You new in town?" Steve asks.

 She tilts her head to the side, gives a little shrug, smiles. "Just visiting."

 Steve nods and looks back at the grave. "How d'you like the town?"

 A lot of people have asked her that, during her stay. "A town with an ocean view is always nice," she says. She sticks her hands in her pockets and shifts her weight to one foot.

 "Very nice," he says, smiling. He slapped his hands on his thighs and sighs. " Well ," he pushes himself up from the ground and suddenly he's towering over Natasha and she's craning her neck to look up at him, "I should get going. It was nice to meet you, Natasha."

 "Anytime," she says, slightly breathless, still staring up at him. She knew he was tall , but this is a skyscraper, not a human being. "See you 'round."

 "I'll walk you out," he says, nodding his head towards the gate.

 "Yeah," she said, shaking her head slightly, "yeah, alright."

 He takes slow strides so she doesn't have to keep up with him.

 "How long you lived here?" she asked, reading the names on passing gravestones.

 "My whole life," he said. She saw him shrug out of the corner of her eye. "My mom ran the bakery in town, and when she died, I took over."

 "Is that...fun?" she asked, squinting over at him. It didn't sound ideal, but she also travelled for work--to put it lightly--so it wasn't much in comparison.

 He looked down at her, smiling, but it was genuine. She thought he'd respond with something like, "God, no, but it'd make ma happy," but he just looked up at the clouds, hands in his pockets, smiling.

 "I like it," he said. And then they were at the gates, and he was walking away, waving over his shoulder at her, and he said, "Thanks for the flowers."

 She said, "Anytime." She liked it here, she decided.

 -x-

 Natasha watched the dock workers milling about, leaning against the sea-worn warehouse, a cigarette dangling precariously between her fingers.

 "Um, Miss...?"

 "Romanoff," Natasha replied, taking a slow drag from the cigarette. She rolled her head in the direction of the voice, and blew the smoke out threw her nose. "Did you find anything?"

 The man before her, squat and heavy, his shirt oil stained and his fingers cracked and calloused, shifted from foot to foot, gripping a hardhat and twisting it nervously. He would not look at her face, just the cracked asphalt at her feet.

 He shook his head and sputtered, "N-no, Miss Romanoff, there's no James Barnes working 'ere, never 'as been," he said, his thick Irish accent clipping his words.

 She gave him a small, appreciative nod before he skittered away. She dropped the lit cigarette, smothered it with her boot heel, and kicked off the wall. She knew there wouldn't be anything, because James Barnes doesn't work at the docks. She knows he probably has millions saved up in offshore accounts, because if his job is anything like hers (it is) and he's smart like she is (he is), then it's paid well and that's exactly what he did. And that means he doesn't need an actual  job to stay in that shithole of a living space, just a couple hundred every month. Hell, he probably had everything he needed in that house. Too bad it's nothing but ash now , she thought, somewhat smugly.

 She stopped in her tracks, illuminated by the old streetlight above, circled in a yellow cone of flickering light.

  That's what doesn't add up. If Barnes is still working with HYDRA, why was HYDRA sent to take him out? But maybe it wasn't HYDRA... Barnes is one of the deadliest assassins in HYDRA history, he probably has no shortage of enemies. But then what was he doing here? That can't be a coincidence, holing up in the same small town that his pursuer is currently residing in.

  But maybe he doesn't know, she thinks. She looks up at the moths fluttering around the streetlight, knocking into each other clumsily. Maybe he's not...

 She cut the train of thought off almost as quick as it had started. Steve may see the best in anybody, even scum like Barnes, but Natasha's not looking for the best in people. She's looking for a threat. Her job is to read people and so far Barnes is as transparent as a brick wall. She has no idea what he's planning or what he's even doing here. If he wanted her dead, she would be dead.

 She smirked. I'd like to see him try , she thought.

 So far, she's reported nothing back. And Fury wasn't suspicious at all; it wasn't uncommon for Natasha to go quiet for a few days, or even an entire mission. So they don't even know that HYDRA's deadliest asset is here, in this town, living above her best friend's bakery. They just know that this was his last known location. Because Natasha had no doubt that Barnes killed Zola, but she just didn't know why . Or, she had her suspicions, she just wasn't sure what to do with them.

 She had been tracking the blood trail he'd left behind, starting with the dead politician in DC and travelling down a long list of known HYDRA operatives--and those who had, shockingly, been revealed when it became clear that the Winter Soldier had taken them out--and it had only led her to believe one thing: he was trying to get out. But here he was, and here she was, and she didn't know what to make of him.

 Natasha pressed her fingers into her temples and leaned back against the streetlamp.

 She sighed through her nose and muttered, " Shit. "

Chapter Text

Bucky

 "See you later," Bucky called down the stairs as Steve was getting ready to leave.

 "Have a good day at work!" Steve called back.

 Bucky loved the domesticity of Steve, his whole honey-I'm-home mentality.

 "Yes, dear," Bucky said. He snickered when the door closed, rather loudly. He waited for the sound of the lock clicking before he kicked his shoes off and fell back on his bed. He had plans. Big plans involving not moving for approximately ten hours.

 He was asleep for all of twenty minutes when the lock clicked downstairs. He froze.

  No. No way.

 "Hey, Buck, you still here?"

 Bucky didn't move, didn't breathe.

 Steve mumbled something too quiet to carry all the way up here, and there was a loud thud, a mild curse, and the sounds of clanking metal downstairs.

 Bucky stared, wide-eyed, at the ceiling. If Steve found him here, what would he even say? I was fired ?

 But then what?

 The floorboards downstairs creaked and he almost relaxed, but then there were footsteps coming up the stairs. His stairs.

  Shit .

 He quickly scrambled out of bed, sneaking catlike along the wall where the floorboards didn't creak as much. He stood next to the door, and prayed Steve didn't swing it open with excessive force; he was quite fond of his face.

 But then the footsteps stopped, and retreated. The front door opened, closed, and was locked again.

 Bucky blinked.

 Was Steve going to invade his privacy?

  Maybe he was just checking to see if Bucky was still there?

  Maybe he was going to raid my panty drawer, he thought, smirking.

 He stepped away from the door. He didn't actually feel like staying pent up inside, but dare he even risk being seen out of the house, not working?

 Bucky waited all of five minutes before he was out the door, locking the bakery behind him--Steve had given him a key, of course (he had to wonder how much Steve actually trusted him and why )--and hoofing it to the nearest payphone.

 When he finally found it, he picked the phone up off of the receiver and tucked it between his neck and shoulder, before inserting the change and dialing the number.

 He was expecting the usual greeting, in Russian, but the voice that answered wasn't a lovely woman's voice but an automated one, in English:

 "We're sorry, the line you are trying to reach has been disconnected. Please hang up and try again."

 Bucky did just that, seven times.

 He slowly hung the phone up, for the last time, staring at the ground. That was the only way... the only way for him to access his funds. They send the cash... but now...

 Did that mean someone knew where he was? Did someone know he put all of his savings into those accounts?

 He was shut out. Worse than that, the number was gone. No number, no access. He had no way of getting in touch and no money to physically travel over there.

 Not that he needed money; he'd survived on less. But now...

 Now that he was actually trying to make a life, he felt suddenly vulnerable. Like he couldn't do the things that he knew he could. He felt like an exposed nerve, because someone knows .

 His head snapped up.

  That one asshole .

 The fire, the accounts... Someone was trying to wipe him out.

 That was his cue to leave, get the hell out of dodge. And here he was, stubbornly digging his heels in because no, this was his town now and his bakery and his attic and he doesn't want to leave. Except he had just lost millions. He was penniless.

 "Oh, god," he moaned, and he fell back against the brownstone building behind him. He dug the heels of his palms into his eyes and took deep breaths; in... and out. In... and out.

 He had no more cash. Whatever he had left after the fire he gave to Steve; it was only enough for a month's worth of rent.

  No, no. You're well-equipped for this sort of thing. Remember Mumbai?

 He took another deep breath. He just had to tell Steve... Tell him what? That he was fired? What did he expect Steve to do about it?

 Well, he'd have to tell him anyways... When he actually got a job he'd have different hours, and of course he'd have to explain that.

  Right, right. Right .

 He pushed himself off of the wall, glaring at the payphone like it was the reason for all of his troubles-- like losing millions-- before he made his way back to the bakery, planning his speech for Steve the next morning about how had lost his job and was now penniless.

  Well, shit .

 -x-

Steve

  When Steve entered the bakery the next day, it was like he could see the cloud hanging over Bucky's head. But even weirder than that was that Bucky was awake and waiting for him down in the kitchen.

 Steve opened his mouth to speak but Bucky just said, "I was fired yesterday."

 Steve blinked. "Oh."

 Bucky avoided his gaze, scowling at the ground, arms folded tightly over his chest. "I'll look for a job, a-another one, but I don't have any money right now." His scowl deepened.

 Steve swallowed. Bucky looked... scary.

 "That's fine," Steve says, trying to make his tone sound as reassuring as possible.

 Bucky just shook his head and tightened his arms around his chest.

 And then in a weird stroke of irony, Bucky looked up at him right when the lightbulb flashed over Steve's head.

 "Work here," Steve said.

 Bucky blinked. "What."

 "Work here," Steve said, with a shrug.

 "Steve," he said, like he was talking to a child who just couldn't understand how water was wet, "my pay would just go into rent. I would literally just be giving you back your money."

 Steve shrugged again, like this was the easiest thing he's ever had to think about. "No rent."

 Bucky blinked again. "What."

 Steve put his hands on his hips and leaned forward, reiterating very slowly so he made sure Bucky understood, but also copying his behavior that first morning. " No rent. "

 Bucky just stared at him, but Steve was just glad that glare was gone.

 He straightened and slipped his apron over his head, pulling trays of dough out of the fridge while talking to Bucky.

 "I wouldn't be able to pay you much, but with the free rent, that's understandable, right?" he asked, weighing a tray in each hand like he was weighing the options.

 Bucky was still just staring at him, and his expression changed into something like... admiration. Adoration, maybe?

 "You're something else, Rogers," he said. "Give me a place to stay and a job, you'd think I was completely helpless."

 Steve smirked. "Oh, you are," he said, nodding earnestly. Bucky's jaw went slack and Steve suddenly wanted to kiss that stupid look off his face. Whoa, there, buddy. Reel it in.

 " Steve ," Bucky said, shocked. "That was mean ."

 Instead of kissing that look off his face, Steve covered it up by throwing an apron at him.

 "Get to work," Steve said.

Chapter Text

Steve

  "Oh my god," Sam said, shaking his head. "You actually did it."

  They were leaning against the counter top, Bucky serving a customer at the register. They were mirroring each other's lack positions; arms folded over their chests, and one foot tucked behind the other.

 Steve knew how he felt. Bucky, metal arm and straggly hair that still worked despite the fact that he looked homeless , didn't quite fit the picturesque bakery. But he also did . But maybe that was just Steve, drawn towards the ruggedly handsome, bedraggled aesthetic that was Bucky Barnes.

 "He delivers," Steve said, and at the sudden gleam in Sam's eye, he deadpanned, "No."

 Sam shot him a look out of the corner of his eye. " Someday, " he mumbled.

 "Have a nice day," Bucky said, giving the customer a warm smile and waving goodbye. He wiped his hands down his front, blew his hair out of eyes, and turned to face the two. "What're you looking at?"

 "A ruggedly handsome delivery boy," Sam said with an appraising nod. Steve blanched a little at Sam's words, mirroring his thoughts from earlier.

 "I'm not gonna refute that," Bucky says, shrugging. At Steve's snort, he adds, "Man's got a point."

 Steve just shrugged. He wasn't going to agree nor deny, even though he definitely agreed.

 "Should we call you a delivery man ?" Sam asked, unfolding his arms and stuffing his hands in his pockets, tilting his head just a tad.

 Bucky shrugged and turned back towards the register, opening the money drawer and counting out the money the way Steve had showed him.

 "Call me whatever you want," he said, "just don't call me late for dinner."

 You could practically hear the ba-dum-tssss .

 Sam rolled his eyes toward the ceiling. "Original," he says.

 "Hey, we're still going out tonight, right?" Bucky asks suddenly, perking up at the idea.

 Sam gives Steve a pointed look, and Steve can practically feel the innuendos about to spill out of his mouth before Bucky adds, "Sam, you still comin'?" And Sam freezes, looking between the two of them.

 "I was not aware of these plans made without me," he said, giving Steve another pointed look but more out of mock irritation, "but I'm still down."

 "Nat's coming, too," Steve said. He checked his watch. "It's about closing time."

 Bucky snaps the money drawer shut. "I'll go clean up downstairs," he said, before Steve even flipped the sign, and he disappeared downstairs.

 "He's making you lazy," Sam observes.

 Steve lifts an eyebrow. "I'll have you know, I already did most of the dishes so he's not cleaning up much of anything," he says, and he reluctantly gets up from his spot to flip the sign. He turns and scans the shop; the walls have never been so empty. "We completely sold out."

 Sam looked around, as if he just realized this. "You never sell out," he said, his tone touching somewhere between shocked and amazed. "Dude, you were even baking all day."

 "I know," he said, looking around.

 "The town is quite taken with your delivery boy," Sam said.

 From downstairs, they could hear a muffled, "Delivery man ."

-x-

Bucky   

  Working at the bakery was perfect. Too perfect.

 Up at four, downstairs and straight to the kitchens, watch Steve make the dough, watch Steve knead the dough--that was his favorite part--and help Steve brush the dough. He wasn't allowed to bake as much as he was there to help set up, man the register, and make deliveries. Because Steve has a delivery service now. And that delivery service was Bucky. He liked his new job a lot more than he would ever care to admit.

 If he got too cramped in the small first-story bakery, an order would come in at just the right time, Steve would whip it up, and send Bucky on his way. He liked it. It was kind of like his old job, except he was delivering bread and not murdering people.

 The only downside was that he was upstairs while Steve was down. Steve had said he almost never stayed in the kitchen that long, but since Bucky had started working there, the goods lining the walls had sold out faster than ever and Steve could barely keep up.

 Sam joked that it was his devilishly good looks--Bucky couldn't deny that, of course--but Steve insisted it was because he was the shiny new toy. Bucky waved his metal fingers at Steve and Steve had blushed, but he didn't apologize. Bucky appreciated that.

 He was becoming close friends with Sam, as well, since he hung around the bakery just before it closed. It had taken the first couple of calls for Bucky to realize he was the one ordering the penis bread. He had actually put the order in, curious as to what Steve would do. He just said, "Tell that caller we don't deliver."

 "But we do ," Bucky said.

 "Well, tell him we don't."

 Bucky liked that Steve said we . He also kept putting the order in. He probably wasn't risking his job.

 Natasha, however...

 He had said he would avoid that one, at all costs, but he had already gone out with her, Sam, and Steve a few times. It always went down like it did the first time, they were aggressively nice to each other. He was glad that Steve was either oblivious or thought Natasha was actually flirting with him, because if he was even the slightest bit suspicious, he'd boot Bucky out. And Bucky really wanted to stick around, if only for a little while longer.

 He knew he wouldn't be able to stick around forever, not when he's being backed into a corner. Although, technically, Bucky was allowing himself to be cornered. Maybe the asshole would actually take Bucky out. It'd be nice, he thought, to stop running. But he also liked living. Or, he did now. He didn't think simple days of living above a bakery, making deliveries around town, would end up being the best days of his entire life. But here he was, loving every second of it.

 At least he knows who to look out for, so not everything is a blind curve.

 "Bucky, you ready?" Steve's voice carried up the stairwell.

 "Yeah, yeah," Bucky replied. He popped open the top three buttons of his shirt and grabbed his wallet from the bedside table. "I'm coming."

 Sam and Steve were chatting about Mrs. Brinsky--Bucky actually knew who they were talking about, she had called his arm neat--when he appeared in the doorway, tossing his jacket over his shoulder, casually modelling for them. They didn't seem to notice.

 "About damn time," Sam said, rolling his eyes. He pushed the front door open and held it for them. "So, the usual?"

 Steve locked the door. "Yep."

 Bucky fell in step between the two.

 

-x-

 

 The bar, Steve had told him, had actually burned down a few years ago and was remodeled when they rebuilt it. You could tell, when you walked in, that they had definitely left the old rustic feel of the town behind, because everything here was sleek black furniture and polished steel. It was definitely different from the restaurant they usually frequented--cracked linoleum seats, sticky tables and floors, old landscapes lining the walls--and Bucky much preferred the modern aesthetic of the bar.

 The three of them took up residence in the back of the bar, settling into the low couch that curved along with the corner of the wall. Bucky gripped a low ball glass in his right hand, sipping occasionally at the whiskey sloshing around inside.

 "She finally did it," Sam said, sinking back into the cushions, propping his drink on his leg.

 "Who did what?" Bucky asked.

 "She finally agreed to water aerobics," Sam said.

 Steve snorted. "About time. What finally made her agree to it?"

 "Who are we talking about right now?" Bucky asked, looking between the two of them.

 "Mrs. Brinsky," Steve said, leaning closer to Bucky even though he could hear him just fine. He took a sip of his cranberry juice--Bucky couldn't believe it, the first time they had gone out for drinks and Steve had gotten juice --and then leaned away again.

  He can't blame that on the alcohol , Bucky thought.

 "There she is!" Sam said suddenly, setting his drink down on the table and patting the empty spot next to him.

 Bucky and Steve looked up and there was Nat, wearing a tight fitting black dress, her hair pinned back. They all stared a fraction of a second longer than they should have.

 She grinned and sat down next to Sam, reaching back to dig the pins out of hair.

 "I'm overdressed, I know," she said with a sigh. She shook her hair out and fell back against the couch. "Work thing."

 "You look good," Bucky said, because no one else would.

 She smirked at him. "Thanks. You, too."

 Steve glanced over at him, and then cleared his throat. "How was work?"

 She held her gaze with Bucky for another moment, and then looked at Steve. "Busy." Steve gave her a nod, prompting her for more, but she just smirked, shrugged. " Very busy."

 Sam sighed. " Well , not as busy as Germany, I'm sure," he said in a vain attempt for more information. He gave Steve a pointed look, as if to say I got this and continued, "Stick around town this week?"

 Nat, in turn, gave Sam a look that said nice try .

 Bucky was grateful that Natasha never said where she went or what she was doing. He had the faintest suspicion that he had something to do with it, what with all the underlying meanings to their words. He wondered idly if she knew that someone was trying to get rid of him, if she knew who the guy was.

 The three of them chatted about work at the clinic, the bakery, Bucky giving a noncommittal hmm every now and then, nodding his head absently at something they said.

 Steve shoved his shoulder lightly, snapping Bucky out of the sleepy haze the whiskey was putting him under.

 Bucky looked up and they were all staring at him. "What?"

 Sam rolled his eyes and leaned forward on his knee, motioning in the direction of the bar with the drink in his hand. "That guy," he said, "he's been staring at you for like, ten minutes."

 Bucky blinked.

 "Look over your shoulder," Nat said, "but don't be obvious." She hid her smirk with her drink.

 He turned around and scanned the bar, not caring if he was obvious or not; Nat snorted, so he could only assume. He didn't recognize anyone, but--

   Oh my god.

  Sam and Nat were both trying--and failing--to hide their laughter.

  Oh my god.

 "So, uh... Know him?" Steve asked, clearing his throat.

 Bucky ignored Steve's underlying question-- oh my GOD --and stood abruptly.

 "No," was all he said before he practically ran to the bar.

 All Bucky could think as he forced himself to slow down, keep to a brisk walk, was I don't fucking need this, I don't fucking need this, I don't fucking need--

 And there he was. And there he was.

 "Hey! Long time, no s--!" He was cut off by Bucky grabbing him by the shoulder and forcefully pushing him towards the nearest exit.

  I don't fucking need this, not right now --

 He all but kicked him through the side door, and once they were both outside, Bucky quickly grabbed him by the back of the neck-- he didn't even try to run?-- and shoved him against the grimy brick wall.

  "Well, this is new--"

  "Clint, I swear to god," Bucky hissed through clenched teeth, "why the hell did you burn my house down? "

Chapter Text

  Clint Barton, best marksmen Bucky had ever met, even in his time with HYDRA, blinked at him.

 "I--what?" He squinted as though he couldn't hear Bucky quite right, and stuck his pinky finger in his ear; checking his hearing aids, Bucky realized. "You lost me."

 Bucky tightened his grip on Clint's shirt. "My house . You burned it down. You wiped my bank accounts." He was nose to nose with Clint, could smell the piña colada on his breath-- he would drink that-- could see every lash and pore. " Why? "

 " Someone , not me, is trying to kill you," Clint said, like it wasn't totally obvious. "Flush you out."

 Bucky leaned away, sick of the sweet pineapple smell. "I know someone is trying to kill me, Clint." He stared at his old friend, more of an acquaintence really, searching his face. It was disgustingly earnest, and it reminded him of Steve. "And you're the only one left. The only one." He pulled Clint closer, just a fraction, and then shoved him into the wall again.

 Clint winced. "It wasn't me," he insisted. "I just got here."

 Bucky stared at him. "I'm pretty sure it's you." But he let go of his shirt, and Clint staggered a little.

 Clint rubbed his chest and stared at Bucky. "No, you're not," he said. He sighed and leaned against the wall, still massaging his chest. "Fuck, that hand's solid."

 Bucky resisted the urge to stick his tongue out at him-- I am a grown man-- and instead rolled his eyes. "I killed a lot of people to get here." He let the statement hang in the air between them.

 "I know, man," he said. "But you made a lot of enemies in your, uh, line of work."

 "Yeah, but," Bucky swiped his flesh hand over his face, "I took care of them." He squinted at Clint. "Did I piss you off? I had millions saved up."

 "You're oddly conversational with someone you think is trying to kill you," Clint observed. He watched Bucky for a moment more before he said, "How long ago did your house burn down?"

 Bucky sighed and looked up. "A few weeks, maybe a month. I dunno. I kinda... lost track of time."

 Clint blinked.

 "I'm a working man now, Clint," he said, and he shrugged.

 "You were a working man before," Clint said, propping his hands on his hips. "What'd you think you were doing? Volunteering?"

 Bucky snorted. "Essentially," he said. He leaned on the wall opposite of Clint and crossed his arms over his chest. "Did you really just get here?"

 Clint nodded. "Got in this morning," he said.

 Bucky watched Clint, and then something hit him. "Why here?"

"Heard you were in town," Clint said, shrugging, "wanted to catch up."

 Bucky froze, and he fought to level his breathing out. "Heard from who?" His voice sounded eerily calm.

 Clint scratched the back of his neck and looked up, squinting. "Uh..." His hand dropped. "I don't rightly know."

 Bucky slumped against the wall. "Fuck."

 "It was just passing word, I'm pretty sure," Clint said, like it was reassuring. "I took care of whoever I heard it from, if that helps."

 It didn't.

 "Shit."

 "Uh, Bucky?"

 "Oh my god." Bucky swiped his hands through his hair. "Oh my god ." He pushed off of the wall and started pacing.

 Clint watched him, but didn't move.

 "It wasn't you?" Bucky asked, his voice cracking. Clint ignored it. "Oh my god, Clint, tell me you're the one trying to kill me."

 He laughed. "Buddy, I thought about it," he said. "You took everything from the mini fridge, cost me a fortune." His face straightened when Bucky kicked a trashcan, sending it--now heavily dented--and its contents flying.

 "I was starting to think I could have a life," Bucky said, still pacing. "All I had to do was kill you, and boom. I was home free, yunno?"

"I mean, the option's still there," Clint said, "I just don't think it'd help very much."

 Bucky ignored him, and then froze. He rushed to Clint and gripped his shoulders. "You have to remember who told you," he insisted, squeezing with his metal hand for emphasis; Clint winced. "I'm serious, I don't want to leave."

 Clint's jaw fell. "You said you were fine with living on the run!"

 Bucky's hands slid from Clint's shoulders. "I was!"

 Clint's hand flashed out and grabbed Bucky's metal wrist. "Oh my god."

 "What?" Bucky's eyes were wide; he didn't even care how desperate he sounded.

 "You..." Clint's grip slackened and he was suddenly grinning. He cupped his hand around his mouth and leaned in, whispering conspiratorially, "You met someone."

 Bucky's face fell and he was staring at Clint with an almost bored expression. "Shut up."

 "You're not denying it," Clint said, leaning back, tapping his chin. He was looking down his nose at Bucky, his lips puckered slightly.

 "I'm not confirming it, either," Bucky snapped.

 "You basically did," he said.

 Bucky sighed; he had.

 "Shut up," he reiterated.

 Clint raised his hands in mock defense, still smirking. " Fine . You want to stay . Just sit on your ass until, what? Whoever's trying to kill you does ?"

 Bucky glared at him. " No. " Just wait around until I can kill them , maybe.

 Clint gave him a leveled look. "Look," he placed his hand on Bucky's shoulder and shook him a little, "you gotta think about this. Like, have you? Because someone is trying to wipe you off the map. And you're just working ."

 "It's a good job," Bucky said in a small voice.

 "Good enough to be killed over?"

 Bucky shrugged.

 "Where do you work, anyways?"

 Bucky looked away before he mumbled, "Bakery."

 Clint barked a laugh. "Oh my god ," he said. He laughed again. "That's--oh my god, that's really cute." He wiped the corner of his eye.

 "It's not worth dying over," Bucky sighed--although he wasn't entirely sure about that--and he shook Clint's hand off of his shoulder.

 Clint put his hand back; Bucky glared at the connection. "Then what is?"

 "God, shut up," Bucky said. He stepped away and Clint's hand fell. "I like it here. I wanna stay. I'm actually sick of sleeping in caves and eating squirrels, believe it or not."

 "Squirrel isn't that bad," Clint said. "You know, for a master assassin, you kind of suck ass at disappearing. I mean, Zola escaped here. And so did you. That's like a big no-no, right?"

 " Big no-no," he said. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and looked around the alley. It was only dimly lit by the exposed bulb above the side entrance, and cast an eerie glow around them. "You been around town?"

 Clint let out a low whistle. "Very cute," he said. "Mind if I stick around?"

 Bucky froze. "Huh?"

 Clint shrugged. "You need help, right?"

 Bucky stared at him.

 "I know you're a big boy, but I feel like I owe you," he said.

 Bucky blinked, and then he laughed. "You saved me , remember?"

 "That was nothing, I just pushed you," he said. Clint poked Bucky in the chest, hard. " You took care of those goons, who were there to kill me. "

 Bucky rubbed the sore spot on his chest, his mouth slightly open in surprise. He frowned. "I didn't know that."

 Clint raised an eyebrow. "Pierce's guys. That's why you were there, right?"

 Bucky slowly shook his head. "Pierce and Rollins, that's who I was there for..." His eyes widened, just a fraction. "Who else was there?"

 Clint frowned. "Pierce wasn't there, Bucky," he said.

 "He was ," Bucky said. He rubbed his chin with his metal hand. "I saw him. But... there was someone else."

 "Rumlow," Clint said slowly, nodding and then his hand flew to his face, clamping over his mouth.

 "What?" Bucky asked, almost shouting. He glanced around the alley again, making sure no one was around before he repeated, quieter this time, "What?"

 Clint's eyebrows furrowed and he slowly moved his hand aside. "Do you know if Rumlow made it out ?"

 "I didn't even know he was there ," Bucky said, waving his hands in front of him for emphasis.

 Clint swallowed audibly. "Shit."

 "So... he was one of Pierce's?"

 "Bucky, my guy," Clint said, and he put his palms together in a prayer, giving Bucky a leveled look, "he was Pierce's main . If he's the one coming after you, he's not doing it of his own volition."

 Bucky lifted an eyebrow, waiting for Clint to continue. He didn't--Bucky assumed it was for dramatic effect--and Bucky sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Meaning?"

 Clint gave a satisfied nod and continued. " Meaning ," he said, pausing--again, for dramatic effect--and closing his eyes, "Pierce is still very much alive."

 Bucky sighed. "Shit." He scrubbed his hands over his face. " Shit. I mean, we got the hell out of dodge before I was even sure ... "

 "Yeah, but we'd both be dead had we stayed," Clint said, dropping his hands and taking position against the wall again. "But if you took everyone else out, then it's just those two. Because Rollins is for sure a goner."

 "How d'you figure?" Bucky asked.

 Clint made a finger gun and pointed it right between Bucky's eyes; he popped his lips and his arm fell to his side. "Can't seem to miss," he said.

 "Doin' my job for me, Barton," Bucky said, staring at the ground, brows still furrowed.

 "Yeah, 'cept I don't get paid," Clint said.

 "I didn't either," Bucky said. "I was kind of killing my employers. So."

 Clint nodded with a small, "Ah." He looked up, then, at the sky and smirked. "Not all of them, evidently."

 Bucky nudged the toppled trash can with the toe of his boot. "That's gonna be a problem."

 "Pal," Clint said, "it already is. But hey, at least my name's cleared."

 Bucky snorted. "Sorry."

 "Nah. Don't stress it," Clint said. He cleared his throat. "I'll help you out. If they're still around, I'm still a target."

 "I think I'm their main priority," Bucky said, and he looked up at Clint and suddenly they were back in that cramped hotel room and he was staring at the guy who'd just risked his own skin for Bucky's. "Thanks."

 Clint smiled. "No problem." He stared at Bucky and frowned. "Gotta get a respectable job now, I s'pose." And then he perked up and leaned in closer to Bucky, lowering his voice, "That bakery still hiring?"

 "Not a chance, Barton," Bucky deadpanned.

Chapter Text

  Steve stood outside the bakery, hand hovering over the door handle. His breath was coming out in white puffs, leaving a small spot of fog on the glass.

 Bucky hadn't come back last night. Steve tried his darnedest not to be like an overbearing mother--he was his employer and landlord --but he couldn't help but worry. He knew that Bucky had probably just gone home with the guy, he was just hoping--and praying--that it wasn't this home.

 Sighing, resigned to whatever fate might throw at him, he unlocked the door and stepped inside. The light was on downstairs, and he could hear water rushing through the pipes. Maybe Bucky's taking a shower, Steve thought; he desperately shoved the thought that  someone else was taking a shower to the very back of his mind.

 With each step down into the basement, Steve could feel his stomach sink lower and lower. It wasn't his place to feel even remotely jealous. He wasn't anything with Bucky, or to him. He could make his own decisions and Steve hadn't said he couldn't bring home... guests .

 On the last step, he took a deep breath and braced himself. The water stopped running and there was the faint swish of the shower curtain.

 Steve grabbed his apron and busied himself, waiting for whoever was in the bathroom to come out. He was mentally reciting his introduction-- hi I'm Bucky's boss and we're just friends oh you didn't ask that well this is weird-- when the bathroom door opened.

 "Oh," came a familiar voice.

 Steve turned and his hand gripped the counter. He was silently willing his knees not to buckle. Bucky was standing in the doorway, dripping wet, a towel just barely clinging to his hips-- dear Lord-- another, smaller towel draped over his left shoulder, covering the scarring. Steve forced his eyes not to leave Bucky's face, but Lord, did they want to wander.

 "You're late," Bucky said. He pulled the small towel off his shoulder and started towelling his hair dry.

 Steve swallowed. "Uh, yeah, sorry." His eyes flicked to a single drop of water sliding down Bucky's chest. He blinked and realized Bucky was smirking at him. Here it comes , he thought and he could feel the heat rush to his face. There it is.

 "You know," Bucky said and he wrung the damp towel in his hands, and Steve thought he was flexing more than was actually necessary, but he wasn't exactly complaining, "the blush is endearing. Honestly."

 Steve could actually feel himself dying inside. He just turned and busied himself kneading the dough, and wondered if Bucky was just screwing with him or not.

 He suddenly felt a wall of heat behind him and he faltered in pushing the dough around, but didn't stop.

 "Sorry I disappeared last night," came Bucky's voice behind him. And then he was leaning against the counter, in all his half naked glory, and crossing his arms over his chest. Steve was simultaneously crying and cheering inside. "He was an old friend."

 Steve cleared his throat and continued. "Not my business," he said.

 "Nothing happened," Bucky said quietly.

 Steve could feel those burning baby blues on him, but he didn't dare look up. Why was Bucky explaining himself to Steve? He didn't need to. He felt bad about disappearing, yes, but it really wasn't Steve's business what he did on his own time. But why did he feel the need to tell Steve that nothing had actually happened? That he had just met up with an old friend and then came home... Maybe he thought Steve disapproved of guests? But Steve couldn't care less. He really couldn't.

 So why was he pulverizing this poor dough?

 "Steve," Bucky said, and suddenly his hand was on his arm and Steve had goosebumps.

 "Hmm?" Steve didn't trust himself to open his mouth.

 "You're kind of murdering that dough," he said, laughing quietly.

 Steve suddenly hated the intimacy of the moment, but he also didn't dare break it. It was smothering and exhilarating at the same time.

 Steve stopped kneading the dough and he dared a glance at Bucky. Those blue eyes were a lot closer than he had anticipated and suddenly he couldn't see straight.

 "Not my business," Steve breathed.

 But Bucky was leaning in closer, and his breath was warm and smelled like toothpaste.

 Steve waited for Bucky to say something, anything, but he was just leaning in, closer, closer, closer, and god , Steve was being pulled in and--

 A timer rang, and Bucky tensed and backed away, throwing the towel over his shoulder. Steve sighed through his nose and stared at Bucky.

 He, stupidly, wanted to ask "What are we?" but instead he did something infinitely worse: he turned his back on Bucky and tended to the oven.

 He could hear Bucky softly pad out of the kitchen and suddenly there was no gravity and he was floating into the deep abyss, swallowed by his own regret and he could hear Natasha, somewhere in the back of his mind.

 "God, Steve, you're such a drama queen... "

 -x-

   Bucky hated it. Everything about it.

 It wasn't supposed to be awkward around Steve. But yet here he was, and he couldn't even look him in the eye.

 If Steve hadn't just... turned around and walked away, if he hadn't done that, Bucky could have then at least joked with Steve. Made fun of him, but in an endearing way. But he could hardly get through the day without scurrying away from Steve's presence. And he hated it. He'd never felt this way before, afraid that he'd fucked something up. Because he liked what he had with Steve, they're day-to-day pining. It wasn't a total commitment and then he had tried to go for it. Why did he try to go for it?

 And now here he was, lying awake in his bed, staring through the small window and wondering which was the best way to fake his death.

 He was going between spontaneous combustion and lost at sea when he heard a crash from downstairs. He jumped up and dug the knife from under his pillow, ready to fling himself at whoever was about to swing his door open.

 But there was a rhythmic knock, and a muffled, "Hi."

 Bucky crawled back into bed. "Go away," he called.

 The door was swung open and hit the wall.

 "Oh my god," Bucky groaned into his pillow. "What." It wasn't a question.

 "Heyo," came Clint's voice. "Can I crash here for the night? I still don't have a place, like I put an offer on one, but you know how it is."

 Bucky tossed a pillow on the ground.

 "Thanks," Clint said. "I brought a peace offering."

 "What did you--"

 And then there was a light thud on his bed. Bucky sat up, squinting through the darkness.

 "Oh my god."

 Clint clicked his tongue and gave Bucky a thumbs-up from the floor. "You're welcome."

 "Why? " Bucky asked. He stared at the peace offering, and it stared back.

 Clint looked up at him and Bucky could tell he was trying very hard to give him an innocent pout. Bucky thought he looked more like a suffocating fish, but didn't say anything.

 "Look at him," Clint said.

 "I am," Bucky said.

 "He's like an exact replica of that stuffed cat downstairs," Clint said.

 It took Bucky a moment to realize he meant the cat next to the tip jar.

 "What do I do with it?" he asked.

 "Him ," Clint corrected. "And I dunno. Love it, or something. He looked lonely and I was like, hey, I know somebody like that. I thought you two'd make a great pair."

 "What a team," Bucky said. He reached out and pet the small black puff's head. "It is pretty cute..."

 "Yes, he is," Clint said, rolling over, turning his back on Bucky. "Love him."

 The puff started purring and nuzzled into Bucky's metal hand. "He's making it extremely hard to hate him, that's for sure," Bucky said.

 "Yeah," Clint said. "G'night."

 "Okay, but what do I do? Doesn't he have to like, eat? Or something?"

 But he was only answered with an extremely loud--and extremely fake --snore.

 Bucky looked back down at the small black cat and sighed. "Come here," he said, and he picked him up and cradled him in the crook of his elbow, before he buried his face in his pillow. He could deal with the peace offering's necessities in the morning.

-x-

 Bucky was woken several hours later by a quick rap on his door.

 "C'mon, Buck," came Steve's voice, "you're a little late."

 "Go away," Clint mumbled from the floor.

 Bucky leapt out of bed and smothered Clint with his pillow before calling, "Yeah, I'll be right there!"

 Clint was clawing at Bucky, but he didn't get off until he was sure Steve was downstairs.

 Clint took the pillow from Bucky and fluffed it up, giving Bucky a particularly nasty glare, before crashing back down onto the floor.

 "How's Peace Offering?" Clint asked, voice slightly muffled by the pillow.

 Bucky sucked in a breath. He dug around in the sheets and was extremely relieved to find the small cat, not squished or smothered. He peeked to make sure Clint wasn't looking before planting a tiny peck on the kitten's head.

 "That's not his name, by the way," Bucky said and placed the kitten gently on his pillow.

 "What is it then?" Clint asked.

 Bucky shrugged, and then realized Clint couldn't see him. "I dunno."

 "It's gotta be cool," Clint said, pointing a finger in the air. "Like Skullcrusher or something."

 "Shut the fuck up," Bucky said, and then, after making sure the kitten was comfortable, started getting ready for work. "You're staying up here. He can't know you're here."

 Clint sat up. "What if I have to pee?"

 Bucky glanced around and then pointed to the vase sitting on his dresser. "Emergencies only."

 Clint gaped at him, the vase, then the cat on the bed. "I brought you Peace Offering!"

 "That's not his name," Bucky said, pulling his shirt off and tossing it aside. "And you decided to crash at my place, okay, there are rules."

 "What, like your ridiculously hot landlord can't know you have a guest?" Clint waggled his eyebrows. Bucky gave him a look.

 "No, he can't," Bucky said, not mentioning that he wanted his ridiculously hot landlord to be his guest.

 Clint eyed him and then nodded. "I gotcha."

 "No, you don't."

 "I do." Clint stood, dusting off the back of his pants. He bent down and swiped the pillow from the ground. He tossed it next to the kitten and fell forward onto Bucky's bed. "You got it bad."

 "I don't got anything," Bucky said. He checked his reflection in the small mirror, figuring he didn't look too bad and Steve was probably going to avoid looking at him so why should he even give a flying fuck if--

 "You got me," Clint said, and then he pointed at the cat, "and Peace Offering."

 "Stop," Bucky said. He pulled his door open, gave Clint a look that he hoped contained the message keep it the fuck down or I'll break your knees, and then he was gone.

-x-

 When Bucky came back upstairs after Steve had left, Clint bolted past him, claiming his "back teeth were floating," and he had found his sock drawer full of flour and devoid of socks.

 Clint came back, and told him, "I didn't have cat litter for Peace Offering so I stole some flour from the kitchen."

 And they spent the rest of the evening trying to think of a name for the cat, but only after they had gone to the nearest pet store and bought all the necessities and then, because Bucky couldn't not get them, tiny sweaters.

Chapter Text

    Bucky

  "This is my last delivery, then I'm off the clock," Bucky called down the stairs.

 "See you later, then," came Steve's voice from downstairs.

 Bucky hung his apron up and, three loaves of pumpernickel bread tucked under one arm, pushed the door open and hopped into Steve's truck. After the first couple of weeks of delivering on foot, Steve decided to upgrade Bucky's mode of transportation and handed the keys over. Just during work hours, of course, but Steve never used his truck anyways and decided to put it to some use.

 He stuck the key in the ignition, made sure the bread was secure, and took off in the direction of Mr. Botmer's.

 He had ulterior motives, on this particular delivery, because if he hadn't he would have returned to work and helped Steve clean up. But he had somewhere to go afterwards and he needed to get there as soon as possible.

 Usually, during the day when work was slow, Bucky and Clint would text back and forth. Today, however, the conversation was very one-sided. Clint usually responded, even if it was just a winky face, he was consistent like that. And Bucky tried not to worry, because this is Clint, and who the fuck knows? Who the fuck knows anything when it comes to Clint? Nobody, probably.

 But, just in case, Bucky was heading over to Clint's after this delivery. And if he was just passed out drunk, then Bucky would say he was bored and wanted to hang out at his place. If not, well, then...

  Bucky made the delivery--in record time, he noticed--and then gunned it to Clint's.

 He lived across town, in the more modern apartment complexes, but still shabby enough that Bucky didn't have anything to be jealous about. Bucky parked on the curb outside and looked up at Clint's window; the light was on, and the curtains were wide open.

 Nope. Definite red flag.

 He climbed out of the truck and kept one eye on the window while he walked around the side of the building, peeking around the enclosed stairwell that lead to the second-story apartments. Empty .

 Bucky sighed and climbed the stairs. He didn't know what he'd face when he got up there, and he was definitely acting against his better judgement. But he did owe Clint; he stuck around, just to help him. Although, he had something to gain as well. But Clint wasn't like that; he did genuinely care. He wouldn't have given Bucky a key if he hadn't.

 Not that he'd needed it, seeing as the door was kicked in.

 Bucky sighed again. This is gonna be fun .

 He pulled a knife from his pocket, twirling it in his hand; if he was going in blind, he wanted to go in at least with the underhand attack ready.

 He pressed himself against the wall, and dared a peek inside. The only thing he could see was the window; the curtains had been ripped down, and were pooled on the floor.

 He gently pushed the door open; it didn't make a sound.

 Clint had the exact same line of thought as Bucky when he had first moved in: oil the hinges.

 Bucky stepped over the threshold.

 There was a faint creak, and that was all the cue Bucky needed. He tossed his left arm up just as gunshots rang out, and the bullets ricocheted off of the metal plating.

 He sidestepped just as a leg was swung out, and he brought the knife down and buried it in their thigh. He was met with a resounding, solid hit to the face and doubled back with a metal elbow to their chest.

 Bucky caught a glimpse of their face before they-- she --tore the blade from her leg and lunged for him; he felt the sting of the metal on his shoulder, and felt the warmth spread from the wound. Just as she swung again, he gripped her wrist and swung her around, reaching back behind him and wrapping his hand around her neck. He was about to pull, hard, awaiting the familiar snap of a neck beneath his fingertips, when his legs buckled from underneath him and his knees hit the ground.

 He was larger and stronger, but she was smaller and quicker.

 Just as she brought the knife down again, Bucky held out his left arm; the knife deflected and slid along the metal, getting caught in the grooves. She lost her grip and the knife fell to the floor. He spun, his leg kicking out and hitting her in the small of her back; she cried out and fell forward. Bucky leapt up, wrapped his left arm around her neck, and lifted her off the ground. He pinned her arms to her back and dragged himself back to lean against the wall. She struggled against him, but he hardly noticed.

 He thought about killing her; he could snap her like a twig. But the opportunity was too good to pass up.

 "Who are you?" he asked.

 She laughed, although it was garbled.

 He tightened his grip on her arms and she hissed through her teeth.

 "Call me Dottie," she said, and her tone was attempting sultry but the pressure against her throat made her words come out in quick, raspy breaths.

 "Who sent you?"

 She tried to shake her head.

 Then he remembered. "Where's Clint?"

 "No, no, sweetie..." She laughed again.

 " Where? " he asked. She just breathed, or tried to, in and out, in and out...

 He pulled his arm tighter around her neck, and she started kicking.

 "Pierce," she rasped, and then she went limp as a rag doll, there was a crunch and Bucky realized too late what she had done. He dropped her and she hit the ground, hard. She was still smiling up at him, her body convulsing, her mouth foaming.

 And then she was still.

 There was a low whistle. Bucky looked up and there was Clint, a coffee in one hand and a newspaper in the other.

  "Hoo, boy," he said. "That's some shit, ain't it?"

-x-

Steve

  Steve wondered, for the millionth time, if he should just talk to Bucky.

  Sure, they talked, but they didn't talk .

 Because things were different, after that morning. And Steve knew both parties were accountable but also he felt like it was all his fault .

 It was just, with Bucky, things were easy. Well, they weren't easy , but Steve was finding his footing around him. Or he was. And then things had gone a step above flirting and Steve lost his foothold and he was just falling.

 For Bucky.

 He groaned and banged his head against the counter top.

 Stupid, beautiful, mysterious, edgy , and incorrigible when it came to dirty jokes, Bucky had tunneled his way into Steve's heart and Steve hated it.

  Get out .

 Nope. He was still there.

 Steve found himself, involuntarily, thinking about Bucky Barnes almost every second of every day. He didn't mean to do it. He would be working, doing dishes, frosting cupcakes, and then there he was. Bucky's stupidly handsome face would pop up and Steve would just cling to it. Because why not?

  Because you're his boss and landlord. Steve recited that same argument to himself, but it just didn't hold any weight anymore.

 Everything was so casual now. Who cares if he dated the guy who was renting the room upstairs? Except, he wasn't renting it. In exchange for working for him, Steve had lifted the rent. Bucky still got minimum wage, sure, it was all Steve could afford to give him, but even then their relationship wasn't strictly professional.

 So they could definitely be something. No problem.

 Except there was a problem and the problem was that Steve should have kissed Bucky Barnes in his kitchen in that early morning instead of prepping the oven.

 Steve sighed, heaved the large potato sack over his shoulder, and headed for the kitchen. His foot caught on the corner of the front counter, and he stumbled. Steve frowned at the bag of day-old bread that had just slipped out of his hands and crashed to the floor, its contents now strewn about.

 He bent down and started to pick up the wrapped loaves, stuffing them back into the potato sack. He was just about to head back downstairs to do some extra cleaning when he heard it: a faint thud, and then another, and another. Coming from upstairs. Steve looked up at the ceiling.

 Bucky was gone, wasn't he?

 And then there was a loud crash, and Steve raced up the stairs without a second thought. He swung the door open and looked around. The chairs were all knocked over and the vase on the dresser that once held flowers, long dead, was now smashed on the floor.

 And that's when he saw it.

 "Oh my God."

-x-

Bucky

 "Man, she did a number on you," Clint said, sipping from his steaming cup.

 Bucky held a dish towel to the shallow gash on his shoulder; he'd had worse, definitely worse, considering. But this wouldn't stop fucking bleeding and he'd already gone through five rags.

 "I think you might need stitches," Clint observed. He held out his coffee to Bucky, and Bucky took it without hesitation. Of course, it was too sweet. But also Clint was a slut for double-shot espresso. He took a few swigs, ignoring the fact that it was scorching.

  "Know her?" Bucky asked.

 Clint stared down at the body, now wrapped in a moth-eaten rug from the living room. He shrugged. "I don't think so," he said. "Dottie?"

 "Yeah." Bucky pressed the rag harder into his shoulder. "Pierce sent her."

 "Yeah? How d'you figure?"

 "Last words," he said.

 "Hell," Clint mumbled. "That answers that." He eyed Bucky and then set his coffee down. "Lemme clean you up. You look like shit."

 Bucky snorted. "I'll bet." He stared at the rug, at the tufts of brown hair sticking out of one end. "Then we get rid of her."

 "Good to be back in business," Clint said.

-x-

Steve

  Steve was flitting about the kitchen, bursting into fits of laughter every time he thought about...

He stopped sweeping the ashes out of the oven for a second. Jesus , he thought. And then he was laughing again.

  Only Bucky .

 He stayed later than he intended, and by the time he was done sweeping up the excess ash out of the oven, it was already dark outside. Tomorrow was his day off, and he wanted to clean the kitchen thoroughly before he came to work on Monday. Usually, Bucky helped him out, because he claimed he had nothing better to do. Except today he had.

 And Steve was okay with that, honestly, because he could think. About the cat. The cat that Bucky was hiding upstairs.

 He started laughing again and only stopped because the bell above the door upstairs rang.

 Steve headed up the stairs, forcing himself not to laugh , when he saw Bucky.

 Steve froze. Because what in the hell?

 "Uh," Bucky started, giving a small wave, "heyo."

 Steve's throat closed because there was so much blood. Why was there so much blood?

 "Bucky..." Steve's voice was shaking. Steve was shaking.

 "Your bread is so damn good," Bucky started, turning his head so Steve wouldn't be able to see the full extent of the bruises blooming on his face, "you wouldn't believe how many would-be bread thieves there are out there." Bucky smirked, and then winced.

 Steve snapped to attention. He rushed forward, reaching a hand out to touch Bucky's bruised and battered face. "What happened?" His tone was strict, commanding.

 "Just some punk," Bucky said quietly. He grabbed Steve's hand, gently, and lowered it, but he didn't let go. "I'm all good. I'm just going to go sleep, alright?"

 Steve frowned. " Bucky , go to the police," he said.

 Bucky tensed. "No," he said, too quickly. He cleared his throat and looked away. "Steve, it's fine. I'm fine." He stared at their hands, Steve's oddly still now.

  Steve ducked his head, trying to get Bucky to look at him. "Can I look at that, at least?" He was pointing at Bucky's shoulder.

   Bucky stared at Steve, and then sighed, resigned. "Then can I go to bed?"

  "Probably," Steve said. "Go sit in the bathroom, I'll get a first aid kit."

  "I already cleaned it," Bucky complained, but he headed for the bathroom regardless, removing his shirt in the process.

 Steve followed him down the stairs and shooed him towards the bathroom. He dug a first aid kit out of the cupboard, and followed Bucky into the cramped space.

 "Sit," Steve said.

 Bucky sat.

  Steve leaned down and was inches away from Bucky's bare chest.

 "You need stitches," he said.

  Bucky frowned. "These'll work just fine." He was talking about the butterfly bandages he'd used to hold the skin together.

  "Afraid of needles?" Steve asked, looking up through his lashes at Bucky.

  Steve watched his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed, hard.

  " No ," Bucky said. "I don't want to make the trip."

  "You need to bandage this," Steve said, pulling out a gauze pad. He held it up for Bucky to see, and Bucky's frown deepened.

  "Fine," was all he said.

  Steve wet a towel with warm water and started dabbing it around the wound, his touch feather light. Bucky watched him the whole time, but Steve didn't squirm under the gaze. In fact, he would stare right back when he had the chance.

  It almost felt like they were challenging each other, although neither said a word or made a move.

  Once Steve had secured the bandage, he moved onto the bruises on Bucky's face. He pulled a small jar of cream out of the kit and was about to apply it to the purpling skin, and then stopped.

  "May I?" Steve asked, his voice cutting through the silence.

  Bucky nodded. Steve leaned forward and softly pressed his fingers to Bucky's cheek.

  Now they were closer than ever. And Steve could smell the blood and sweat on Bucky. But neither moved closer than was necessary, and when Steve was done, he leaned away and took a deep breath.

  Once the first aid kit was all packed up, he turned to Bucky.

  "Please don't come home covered in blood ever again," he said.

  Bucky nodded. "Sorry." He didn't sound sorry at all.

  Steve felt like he should be floundering under Bucky's gaze, because he had every moment before then, why not now?

  Because Bucky was vulnerable. And his gaze, though smoldering still, seemed hesitant. Steve smiled, and Bucky smiled back, albeit weakly.

  "Can I go to bed now?" Bucky asked.

  Steve blinked. "About that."

  Bucky froze. And he looked genuinely scared .

  Steve's eyes widened when he realized what he'd done. " Oh . Oh, no. I'm not kicking you out."

  Bucky relaxed and swiped his hand through his hair, his eyes still wide. "Jesus..."

  "No, no," Steve said, shaking his head. And then he was laughing again because Bucky . "When did you get a cat?"   

Chapter Text

   Steve

   Steve flipped the sign, untying his apron and tossing it on the coatrack.

 "That was exhausting," he said with a sigh. He turned and smiled weakly at Bucky and Sam, who were both sitting behind the counter; Bucky counting out the money, Sam watching his metal hand.

 "Dude, I gotta ask," Sam said at last.

 Bucky sighed. "Fucking finally."

 "What?" Sam asked, affronted, and he looked between Steve and Bucky. Steve threw his hands up in defense.

 Bucky just rolled his eyes and continued counting. "You stare at my arm like, all the time. Everybody does, but you-- "

 "I work at a rehab center!" Sam said, tossing his hands up. "That's a crazy prostethic. I just, I gotta know. How does it work? Where'd you get it? How is it so dexterous ? I mean, it's like, above and beyond our modern technology. It's nuts, man." He folded his arms over his chest and huffed, glad he'd finally said his piece after all this time.

 Steve's gaze flicked from Bucky to Sam, but he still kept quiet; he was curious too, but he didn't have the guts to actually ask. Although, now that he realized it, maybe he should have. Bucky didn't seem ashamed or embarrassed of his arm; he just seemed like it just... was .

 Bucky set the money down and turned to face Sam, using his left arm now more than ever as he waved around for emphasis.

 "I don't know how it works, I didn't make it," he started. "I just know it's neurally linked. Like, don't ask me how, I have no fuckin' clue. I got it from a government project, helping amputee veterans."

 Steve froze. He had no clue Bucky was even a war veteran, hadn't even considered the option. He always just assumed it was an accident, like that guy from 127 Hours , or a car crash.

 Bucky caught Steve's look, but pressed on--although he did give him a small, apologetic smile, and Steve returned it--clearing his throat before he spoke again.

 "The guy who did make it is like Stephen Hawking," he said, shrugging. "Super genius. Except he's kind of an asshole, but I liked him. He would check up on me, every few months, and decided finally that I was well-adusted to the technology enough that he didn't need to maintain it as often. If something happens, I just have to call him up."

 "Okay, but," Sam started, and then he stopped. He opened and closed his mouth a few more times before finally shaking his head in defeat. "I give up. It must have cost a fortune. There's no way it'd become standard issue."

 Bucky shrugged again. "It was free," he said. And then he wiggled the fingers of his left hand. "Special treatment."

 "How long?" Steve asked. When Bucky raised a questioning brow, Steve added, "How long did you serve?"

"Two tours," Bucky said. He stared at the gleaming metal and the corners of his mouth pulled up, just a little. "Sniper, best marksman this side of the Mississippi." He smirked then, like he was remembering an inside joke, and his arm dropped.

 "How'd you lose it?" Steve asked. And the question that had been hanging off the tip of his tongue, the one he'd been so terrified to ask, was finally out there; and the look Bucky gave him was worth it.

 Bucky grinned, his eyes lighting up. "Fucking finally ," he said, his voice near shouting. "I've been waiting two months, Rogers. Two months."

 Sam snorted. "I thought you knew," he said. He shook his head. "Wanted to be nice , I'm sure."

Steve gave him a pointed look, and then urged Bucky to keep going. He was clearing bread that hadn't been sold from the shelves, and placing them on the counter; he and Bucky would take them to the shelter later that day, along with the pastries he had baking downstairs.

 "IED, me and a couple other guys," he said, and shrugged. "I got the worst of it. They're okay."

 "Shit," Sam said.

 "Got lucky," Bucky said, nodding. He turned back to the register, picking up the stack of bills and sorting through them again.

 Steve set the last of the bread on the counter, across from Bucky, and watched him. "Something like that," he said quietly.

 Bucky's gaze flicked up to his, and held him there for a few seconds. He smiled and then looked back down, the paper bills sliding through his metal fingers with ease.

 Steve shook his head a little and he remembered there was someone else there besides Bucky and himself. He looked at Sam, his fist pressed over his mouth, hiding his shit-eating grin.

 Sam's shoulders were shaking slightly, and Steve realized he was laughing.

  Oh my God , he thought.

 Sam closed his eyes and nodded, and he mouthed, "I'm done."

  OH MY GOD.

 Sam cleared his throat. "So, uh, did Nat invite you to that fair thing, too?"

 He was giving Steve an opening and Steve took it without hesitation.

 He gave Sam a small smile before he said, "You mean the strawberry festival? That we go to literally every year?"

 "We do not ," Sam said, throwing his hands in the air. Steve had the feeling Natasha had said his exact words when she had invited Sam.

 "Strawberry festival?" Bucky asked, looking up from the register. There was a fond expression on his face. "God, I love this stupid town."

 Steve lifted an eyebrow. "Meaning?"

 Bucky shrugged, then waved his hand in a circular motion like you get the gist .

 "The bakery, the cobblestone streets, the whole European village thing you guys got going," he said, snapping the money drawer shut. He turned and leaned against the counter, facing them. "And now you have a strawberry festival."

 "We've always had it," Steve said, ignoring the look Sam gave him.

 "We thrive on tradition and picturesque landscapes," Sam said, tossing up one hand in a shrug.

 Bucky took a deep breath and sighed, smiling. "Ahh, normalcy," he said. And then he furrowed his brow and fixed them both with a serious look. "I'm totally going, too, right?"

 "Um, yes," Steve said. "You don't live in this town and not go to the annual strawberry festival."

 They both ignored Sam's grunt of indignation.

-x-

Bucky

  When Steve had said that the strawberry festival was the town's pride and joy, Bucky hadn't expected much. Sure the town was cute and rustic and strived to fit the coastal paradise repertoire, but he figured Steve was glitzing it up. Bucky was looking forward to overpriced desserts and shitty tchotchkes.

 What he got , however, was far larger than he had anticipated and much more... authentic.

  The festival itself was held on a large farm, the booths with brightly colored canopies occupied an empty field and the large stonework bridge crossing over the creek. Sandwiched between a large red barn--where they were line dancing , Bucky couldn't believe it--and a pick-your-own strawberry patch was a picnic area, where families with small children were setting out lunches. There was a small yellow house off to the side, with a large red sign overhead that read "Strawberry Wine Tasting." Bucky insisted they go there first. Sam agreed.

 There was a large Ferris wheel on the edge of the open field, and he couldn't help but plot up different methods of getting Steve and himself stuck at the top. There were paper strawberry garlands hanging from every available surface, crisscrossing above their heads. People were walking their dogs and there was a band set up by the Ferris wheel, playing music that wasn't too loud when you walked by. The air smelled like fried foods and strawberries baking in the summer sun.

 Bucky was in love and soaking up every second of this stupid, adorable festival that had absolutely every reason to be the pride and joy of the town.

 "Anyone see Nat?" Steve asked, looking around at the faces in the crowd.

 Bucky turned, standing on his tiptoes, and someone tapped his shoulder. He looked down to see a head of red hair.

 "Found her," he said. He grinned down at her, and then wondered if today they were still going to be aggressively nice.

 "Hey," she said, and gave a small wave.

 Bucky rocked back onto the balls of his feet and barely lifted an eyebrow, just slightly enough for her to see. The corner of her mouth twitched upwards, infinitisemally. Bucky silently cheered.

 Nat gave Sam and Steve a small nod of acknowledgement, before looking around slowly, taking in the festivities.

 "Gotten bigger, huh?"

 Sam grumbled something under his breath but Steve nodded, letting out a low whistle.

 "Maybe I should have had a booth this year," he said. Bucky looked at him. Steve dipped his head. "I usually have a booth, set up by the food, yunno? Strawberry pastries and stuff, the people eat it up."

 " Especially ," Nat said, now arm in arm with Steve, "when said pastries and stuff are made by the town's golden boy."

 "Alright, alright," Sam said, motioning at them to shut up. "We gotta get movin'. There's a lot to do in one day. We stickin' together?"

 Nat shrugged, looking over her shoulder at the barn. "Steve wants to line dance," she said.

 "We're definitely line dancing," Bucky said, pointing at the both of them.

 Steve rolled his eyes. "It was one time, Nat," he mumbled.

 "One time too many," Sam said, and he gave Bucky a pointed look. "Don't encourage him."

 "I don't want to line dance," Steve said. He unhooked Nat's arm from his and dug around in his pocket. He pulled out a piece of paper and Bucky realized it was a map of the festival.

 "Too bad," Bucky said. He walked around to look over Steve's shoulder at the map. It was glossy and had a clean drawing of the festival from a skyward view. "Wine tasting first, right?"

 Nat crinkled her nose. "Strawberry wine?"

 Sam waved his hand at her in a shushing motion as he read over Steve's other shoulder. "You're Russian," he said. "We know you only like vodka."

 "She only gets fruity drinks," Bucky said. He pointed at a listing on the side of the map. "Where's the petting zoo?"

 "I make it my goal in life to try every delicious drink," she said. "Strawberry wine does not sound delicious."

 Steve nodded. "It does sound kinda gross," he said.

 Sam took the map from Steve and said, "The petting zoo's over there. They have sheep. We're going." He handed it to Bucky. "And wine tasting first. It's like, nine dollars. It's practically free. You can just watch us drink it. I don't care. I just want strawberry wine."

 Sam and Bucky led the way to the yellow house, Steve and Nat chatting away behind them. Steve made an effort to pet every dog they walked past, making sure to ask permission first. Sam and Nat complained, Bucky resisted the urge to start crying because holy shit this is not a normal person this is a saint .

 "Four please," Sam said, once they reached the little yellow house. Everyone coughed up the money and handed it to the woman sitting at the table outside. She gave them each a bracelet and wished them a good day and happy wine tasting.

 They walked around the small house, which was just one large room and a small bathroom; the walls had been knocked down and the ceiling beams exposed.

 There were four different tables set up, and a bar at the back. There was a mountain of empty wine glasses stacked on the bar and each table had a bottle of wine and a spit bucket.

 "Grab a wine glass, folks," the woman behind the counter said. She smiled at them as they each plucked one from the stack and then made their rounds. The first table Nat just sniffed the wine and dumped it, but Sam slurped it noisily, waving the glass around, sniffing it loudly.

 Steve gave him a bored look. "You have no idea what you're doing," he said.

 "Nope," Sam said as he downed the rest of the wine. "That's damn fine wine."

 Bucky shrugged. "Tastes like strawberry syrup," he said. He still drank the rest of it. He could at least get a little buzzed.

 Steve sipped his, and smiled at the woman holding the bottle. He asked a couple of questions, but Bucky could tell he was dying to spit out the wine. But Steve just took a couple more sips and dumped the rest into the bucket.

 They moved on to the next table. Sam did the same exact thing, but ultimately decided this was not as good as the other one because he dumped the rest. Nat sipped hers while she read the label on the bottle. Bucky emptied the glass in one swing.

 "Mellow," Steve said, shrugging. He dumped the rest into the bucket. "You're not supposed to drink all of it, you know."

 Bucky shrugged. "I can do whatever I damn well please," he said. "I paid nine dollars for this wine."

 Steve shoved him lightly, laughing, and nodded his head at the next table. They all made a unanimous decision that this wine was the worst, but Bucky still drank all of it.

 At the last table, Sam and Steve both dumped it after one sip, Steve trying very hard not to make a face. Bucky and Nat drank the whole glass.

 "It's bitter," she said with an appreciative nod. She bought three bottles.

 They left, Bucky swaying on his feet a little, and decided the next course of action.

 "I wanna see if that guy that sells patches is still here," Nat said. So they started scouring the booths, Steve toting the wine around.

 The booths were mostly handmade things, like candles, quilts, knitted hats and scarves, jams and jellies. Steve picked up a few jars of jam from Mrs. Brinsky, who had her own booth; the canopy was checkered, blue and white, and there was a painted banner that read Brinsky's Jams, Jellies, and Preserves. Bucky thought they were all the same thing, but when he tried to say that, Mrs. Brinsky, benign up until that point, and Steve were both equally offended.

 There was the occasional booth that sold antique jewelry, as well. Nat picked up a new necklace, a small gold arrow, and a pair of large gold and ruby earrings because they all insisted that they matched her hair. And then, what Bucky was looking forward to the most, the junk booths. He and Steve tried on different pairs of sunglasses while Nat perused through old movies.

  Bucky handed Steve a pair and Steve handed him one. They tried on their respective glasses, Steve's a pair of hornrimmed glasses--that showed off his cheekbones quite well, Bucky thought--and Bucky was donning bedazzled bug-eye sunglasses. They looked at each other, but didn't say anything. They traded. Bucky snorted and Steve gave an apppreciative nod; they each started looking for another pair to try on.

  Bucky was going to show Steve a particularly horrid pair of cat-eye glasses when he noticed Sam standing awfully close to him.

 "What?" Bucky asked.

 Sam just shrugged and picked through a tub full of grimy magnets.

 Bucky squinted, but showed Steve the glasses. That's when Steve's eyes went wide.

 "Oh my god," he said.

 "What?" Bucky asked, because he didn't think the glasses were that awful.

 "Um," he said. His eyes moved down Bucky's left arm, and then back up to his face.

 Bucky glanced down. He blinked.

 His arm was covered in old flower and smiley face magnets.

 He turned and looked at Sam, who was still nonchalantly perusing through the magnets. Sam glanced up.

 "Yes?"

 "I hate you," Bucky deadpanned. He held his arm out and waited for Sam to take the magnets off. He did.

 And then finally, after Nat dragged them all away from the junk booths, they found the guy that sold patches. Lots and lots of patches.

 He had three tables all set up in a row, and not a single inch was visible. The patches weren't organized, just thrown out for people to look through. And they did. All four of them dug their hands in.

 Nat had found a patch with a grim reaper on it, riding a flaming motorcycle, a vintage Halloween patch with a ghost, and a Sasquatch patch. That was her favorite.

 Bucky and Sam were pointing out different band patches, seeing who found the most. Bucky actually found a Metallica patch and picked it up immediately. Sam found a Marge Simpson patch and said, "I'm so glad I found this before you."

 Steve found a Goonies patch and handed it to Bucky, even though Bucky had never even mentioned The Goonies before. Although it was, he thought anyway, the greatest cinematic masterpiece of all time.

 Steve said, "Cyndi."

 It was all he needed to hear.

 After about fifteen minutes, Sam, Nat, and Bucky all had a sizeable amount of patches in their hands. Steve didn't have a single one.

 "I have nothing to put them on," he said.

 "You think we do?" Sam asked.

 "I have a jacket," Nat said. "It's coming together." She and Sam bought their patches and stuck them in the bag with the wine.

 "There had to have been one you liked," Bucky said after they had moved on to the next booth.

 Steve shrugged. "This one... maybe?" He was pointing to a patch of Rosie the Riveter. "But I wouldn't do anything with it." He followed Sam and Nat.

 Bucky plucked Rosie from the table and bought his patches. He jogged to catch up with them.

 "Can we do something else?" Sam asked after they had stopped off to get a bite to eat. Nat was eating a small strawberry shortcake, Steve and Bucky had gotten a box of strawberries to split, and Sam had just gotten a scoop of strawberry ice cream. "We haven't even been over the bridge yet. And I'm getting tired of looking at the same strawberry baby hats."

 "You love the strawberry baby hats," Bucky said. He bit into a strawberry and wiped the juice running down his chin.

 "Yeah, I'm getting bored of shopping," Nat said. She sucked on her fork for a moment. "Steve..." She waggled her eyebrows, smiling around her fork.

 Bucky grinned at Steve, whose lips were now red from the strawberries. Bucky stared at them a little too long, maybe.

 "No," Steve said. He bit a into a strawberry, and somehow--even though Bucky wasn't sure he was doing it on purpose because Steve was Steve and not Bucky--made it extremely sensual. Maybe it was because he was maintaining eye contact. Or maybe it was because he used his lips more than was actually necessary to eat a strawberry.

 Bucky blinked and unconciously licked his lips. "Yes," he breathed. He cleared his throat. Alright, Rogers, two can play at that game. He plucked a strawberry from the box and brought it to his mouth; he held it between his puckered lips before he bit down and pulled it out with a wet pop.

 Steve swallowed audibly. Bucky tossed the leafy top into a nearby bin, smirking.

 "Line dancing," he said in a sing-song voice. His three companions groaned.

-x-

  The barn was decorated much the same as the rest of the festival; strawberry garlands hanging from the ceiling, bales of hay lining the walls for people to sit. There were strands of lights criss-crossing above the dance floor, which was crowded with people doing the same routine dance to Billy Ray Cyrus's Achy Breaky Heart .

 Bucky grabbed Steve's arm and dragged him into the throng, Steve complaining that he "wasn't drunk enough for this," and Bucky laughing at him all the while.

 They each learned the steps pretty quickly: triple side step, pivot left, jazz square, kick ball change. At least, that's what the guy onstage was yelling into the microphone; Bucky had no clue what the fuck any of it was. He was pretty sure nobody else knew, either. They were all just copying each other's movements.

 After about ten minutes, Steve dragged Bucky away. Bucky was about to complain, but Steve pointed back to the floor. They were getting ready to square dance.

 "I thought this was line dancing!" Bucky shouted, offended at the change in venue.

 "They're all the same," Steve said. "C'mon, they're serving strawberry wine here." And he dragged Bucky over to the bar.

 Bucky was surprised that they were able to get free wine with the bracelets from the wine tasting, but certainly wasn't complaining. They both got a cup--it wasn't a glass this time around--of the bitter wine, and chatted at the bar.

 "So, how d'you like it?" Steve asked. He had to almost shout for Bucky to hear him.

 "I'm having fun," Bucky admitted. He grinned at Steve over the rim of his cup before taking a sip.

 Steve smiled, and looked down at his hands.

 Bucky bit his lip and leaned forward a little, about to say something, but thought better of it. He rocked back on his heels and knocked back the rest of the wine.

 Steve looked up, wide-eyed, at Bucky. "You're supposed to enjoy it!"

 Bucky set his empty cup on the counter. "Whiskey is the only sipping drink," he said matter-of-factly.

 "That is not true," Steve said. "And you don't even sip that."

 "Are you accusing me of being an alcoholic?" Bucky asked, pointing at Steve's nose. "Because you're probably right."

 Steve snorted, but didn't say anything. He sipped his wine pointedly.

 Bucky flagged down the bartender for a refill.

 They chatted for a while, and then eventually wandered off to find Sam and Nat, each sporting their own plastic cup, watching the dance floor.

 "How many's that?" Nat asked, nodding at Bucky's own cup.

 "Hey," Bucky said, frowning. "I won't drink anymore. Jesus."

 "I'm sleepy just from this," Steve said. He lifted his cup to his lips, but faltered at Bucky's amused expression. "What?"

 Bucky shook his head. "Nothing, nothing," he said. He situated himself next to Sam, who was leaning against the wall.

 Sam chuckled. "Like an old man," he said, shaking his head.

 Steve grumbled something too low for them to hear, and took a large swig from his cup.

 They fell silent and watched the dancers, a couple people asking Bucky and Nat if they wanted to join in--they both declined--and were almost finished with their wine when someone new took the stage, commandeering the square dance.

 Bucky's eyes grew wide.

  Holy. Shit.

 The man onstage grabbed the microphone and tipped his cowboy hat at the audience.

  "We're gonna get back into line dancing, y'all," Clint said. "I believe you're all familiar with the Cha Cha Slide ?" He was met with a resounding cheer. He gripped his belt buckle, which was a large silver-plated cutout of Texas, and started tapping his shoe; purple crocodile skin cowboy boots, spurs and all. Bucky threw a hand over his face. This was embarrassing just to watch.

  Cha Cha Slide started blaring out of the speakers and Bucky was just about to die from utter embarrassment when Sam elbowed him in the ribs.

 " Ow ," Bucky said, glaring over at him. "What?" He knew what.

 "Isn't that your, uh, buddy?" he asked. He motioned at the stage with his cup. He was trying very hard not to burst out laughing.

 " Ohhh ," Steve said. "I thought he looked familiar." Bucky could feel his soul shrivel up and die. He remembered the last time Clint had made an appearance...

 "What in God's good name is he wearing?" Nat asked. She looked mildly offended. "He does know this isn't Texas, right?"

 "Gotta appreciate the boots," Bucky mumbled before he thrust his almost-empty cup into Steve's hand and made his way towards the stage. He shoved his way through the line dancers, who were sliding to the left, and emerged right in front of Clint, who was just standing there, cha-cha-ing real smooth.

 "Clint!" he shouted. Clint had his eyes closed. He's pretty into this , Bucky thought. " Clint! "

 Clint peeked one eye open and looked down. He held the mic out at arms length and shouted back, " Bucky! " He motioned down at his outfit and raised his eyebrows, grinning.

 Bucky shook his head slowly.

 Clint's smile slowly faded. It was replaced with a scowl. "Po would appreciate it!" he shouted.

 That was the cat. Clint wouldn't budge from Peace Offering, and the cat had actually started to react to it, so Bucky settled with Po. It was decidedly better than Skullcrusher.

 Bucky jerked his head back at the barn entrance and motioned for Clint to follow him.

 Clint, albeit reluctantly, put the microphone back in the stand and followed Bucky.

 Once outside, Bucky pinched the bridge of his nose, not even able to look at Clint.

 "What the hell, Barton?" he asked.

 "I was having fun ," Clint said. "Not sipping wine, being a boring schtick ."

 "I'm not a boring schtick," Bucky said. He pressed his palms together and looked at Clint. "Look, I thought you were going to stay below the radar. That ," he motioned at Clint's... everything, "is not below the radar."

 Clint clutched his belt and leaned back against the barn wall. "I think I look rather dashing," he said. Bucky fixed him with a look and Clint rolled his eyes. "Fine. I'll lose the hat." He gripped the brim and sent it flying. Bucky watched it land about twenty feet away.

 "Were you actually aiming?" he asked. Because the hat had landed perfectly at the top of a flagpole. He assumed Clint was, in fact, actually aiming.

 "Maybe," Clint said. He started rolling his sleeves up, eyeing Bucky. "Out and about with the baker, I see."

 "He's my friend," Bucky said.

 "You don't have friends," Clint said. "'Cept me."

 "Okay," was all Bucky said.

 "Fuck you," Clint said, although his tone was light. He folded his arms over his chest. "Anything new happen yet?"

 "Po puked on my favorite shirt," Bucky said.

 Clint laughed. "Aw," he said. He looked like he actually thought it was cute.

 "I'm not gonna worry about it today," Bucky sighed. He stuck one hand in his pocket.

 Clint frowned. "No news on a body or anything?"

 Bucky looked around, just to make sure no one heard that. "No. I mean, not yet. But it's been a couple of weeks. I don't think we'll hear anything."

 "Steve still alright with Po?" Clint asked.

 Bucky snorted. "He's in love with him."

 "Bet you wish it was you ," Clint said, sneering.

 Bucky ignored the comment. "You know, the food here is pretty great." He rolled his head to the side, looking at the booths.

 "I'll bet," Clint said.

 Bucky nodded. He dug a twenty out of his pocket it and thrust it into Clint's hand. "Enjoy yourself, alright? Lots to do, plenty to eat. I'm going back inside."

 And Bucky left Clint's company.

 He bumped into Sam on his way back into the barn, but Sam grabbed his shoulders and spun him around, steering him in a completely different direction.

 "Where we going?" Bucky asked after ducking out of Sam's reach. He fell in step beside Steve.

 "Petting zoo," Nat said. She had stolen one of their strawberries and was sucking on it. She maintained eye contact with Bucky for several seconds before looking away.

 "They have sheep," Steve said. He shrugged, like he didn't know that sheep were the damned cutest animals on the god damn planet. Because they definitely were.

 -x-

Steve

  He had tried, really hard, not to watch Bucky the entire time they were at the festival. But it was just so damn hard not to. Bucky's eyes lit up at the smallest things, like a kid balancing a leaning tower of ice cream, or a scarf that was knitted to look like the inside of a watermelon--when Bucky wasn't looking, Steve had snuck a twenty under the table to the vendor and stuffed the scarf into the wine bag--or an extremely fluffy sheep.

 "Bucky," Steve said, "Bucky, no, you're going to--oh my god."

 Yup. Bucky's arm was stuck.

 "You can reach over the fence, did you know that?" Sam asked, examining Bucky's predicament.

 Nat was leaning against the fence post, watching on with slight amusement.

 Bucky was still petting the sheep through the fence with his metal hand, and the sheep was loving it.

 Steve was prying at the wires around Bucky's shoulder, but Bucky's movements were making it rather difficult.

 "This would be easier," Steve grunted, "if you stopped moving."

 "No," Bucky said, "they love me." His expression was determined as he pressed farther into the fence, scratching behind the sheep's ears.

 Sam sucked in a breath. "Someone's coming," he said. "Steve, what do we do?"

 "Nat," Steve said.

 "On it," she said. She kicked off the fence post and disappeared among the throng of children swarming around them.

 "I'm just gonna pull you out, alright?" Steve said. He grabbed Bucky's shoulders and tugged.

 "Ow," Bucky said. He looked up at Steve. "Just leave me."

 "Oh my god," Sam groaned. He rolled his eyes and dragged his hands over his face. "C'mon, move over. Here we go." Sam gripped one shoulder while Steve held the other. "Ready?"

 Steve and Bucky nodded.

 "I can't believe this is something that has actually happened in our adult lives," Sam muttered, and he gripped Bucky's shoulder tighter. "Alright, one, two, three..."

 They tugged, hard. There was a loud clang! and they all fell backwards, Bucky crushing Steve and Sam.

 "We are leaving the petting zoo," Sam said, although it was muffled by Bucky's elbow in his face.

 "I'm good with that," Steve said through Bucky's hair.

 Bucky rolled off of them, taking extra care not to bash them in the face with his left arm, and sprang up from the ground.

 He dusted himself off and grinned down at them. "Let's go on the Ferris wheel," he said.

 Steve and Sam looked at each other, and started laughing.

 "This kid," Sam said as he pushed himself into a sitting position. "Have you never been to a fair before? It's like you're trying to cram all of this in at once."

Bucky held a hand out for each of them and hauled them up off the ground. "I mean, not really. No."

 Steve and Sam glanced at each other.

 "Huh," Sam said.

 "Ferris wheel it is," Steve said, dusting off the back of his pants.

Bucky snagged Steve's arm and dragged him towards the Ferris wheel.

 "I call Steve!" he called over his shoulder to Sam.

 They passed Nat on the way out of the petting zoo, and she followed them, falling in step with Sam.

 "Where we headed now? I wanna go look at the booths again," she said. "He said," she jerked her head back in the direction she'd come from, "there's some guy eating a shitload of fried food. Like, he should be dead by now. I wanna see."

 "After the Ferris wheel," Bucky said.

 Nat started laughing. "Is he for real, Rogers?"

 Steve looked over his shoulder to respond but Bucky beat him to it.

 "Shut up," Bucky said.

 Sam and Nat opted out of the Ferris wheel, and went back to the booths, on the hunt for the mystery man eating an unnatural amount of fried food. Steve didn't actually mind, although he had an inkling that Bucky was plotting something. And that sounded so sinister,  Steve silently laughed at himself. It was probably something stupid, like maybe they'd get stuck at the top and Bucky would try and kiss him and--

  Oh.

 His eyes wandered over to Bucky's face, and landed on his lips, still stained red from the strawberries.

 He suddenly felt like shopping again, but they already had their tickets and he couldn't back out now, and oh, Bucky's grinning at him and Steve is suddenly lightheaded and maybe he should just go sit down and--

 "Tickets please," the girl manning the control booth said. Bucky handed them over and she tore them in half and dropped them in a bucket. She eyed them and shrugged. "You'll both probably fit. In you go. Have a nice ride!"

 Bucky climbed in first, leaving barely enough room for Steve.

 "Oh my god," Steve said. But he climbed in anyways. Because Bucky had never been to a fair before, probably never ridden a Ferris wheel before, and he wanted him to have fun.

 And if Bucky tried to kiss him, well, maybe Steve would beat him to it.

 The sun was starting to set now, staining the sky red. Like Bucky's lips, Steve thought.

 The wheel went around a few times, and Bucky stared out over the sea--you could see the ocean from the very top, although the setting sun made it a little difficult--and over the rows of booths which looked like a patchwork quilt from up there, but Steve kept staring at Bucky.

 He decided, in that instant, what he would do.

 "Steve," Bucky said, and those blue eyes were on him, and he was smiling with those too-red lips, and Steve's breath caught in his throat.

 "Yeah?"

 "Thanks," he said.

 And Steve felt it, a tug in his chest, and the sunset reflected off of Bucky's eyes and Steve had never felt so overcome with emotion before in his whole life.

 "Sure," he exhaled. And then he leaned forward and Bucky caught on a second before Steve had actually pressed their lips together. And then the Ferris wheel stopped, but they didn't. The angle was awkward but neither of them paid any mind. Steve thought it would be hungrier, considering they had stopped a second too soon the previous time, but this was gentle, and he hadn't expected that from Bucky. It was warm, and sweet, and Bucky's lips tasted like strawberries.

 Bucky pulled away first, and his eyes were shining. He bit his bottom lip and smiled, ducking his head a little.

 "About time."

Chapter Text

Steve

  Three months ago, had someone told him that, given those three months, he would be in love with the delivery boy living in his attic--how he still called him a delivery boy when he was older than Steve, he still didn't know, but Bucky more than appreciated it--he would've said, "I'm too busy to be in love."

 And yet here he was, pressing soft kisses to Bucky's cheek when he got back from making a delivery, or being lifted onto the kitchen counter so Bucky could kiss him while Steve was waiting for the timer to ring. It was weird, because Bucky still lived in the attic and they still had the same routine, but it was a good weird. Because while things were different--holy hell were they different--they were different in a good way. No more pining, no more flirting--because they were a thing now?--and no more, this was something Steve was especially grateful for, missed opportunities.

 If he wanted to kiss Bucky but doesn't , he doesn't have to worry that things will end there. Because he has the chance to do it whenever he wants. He had the chance before, that's true, but he didn't have to worry if the attraction was mutual or not--it was, it always was, but the doubts were there--because Bucky was his .

 His... what? They hadn't discussed that, yet. Steve didn't know if they ever would. He wouldn't mind calling Bucky his boyfriend; he'd find it the greatest damn thing, actually. He'd use the word whenever he could. But for now, right now, Steve would just revel in the fact that Bucky Barnes liked to kiss as much as he liked to breathe.

 And Steve literally meant right now .

 "Steve," Bucky whispered once he finally leaned back, lips bitten-red and wet, "Steve, there's someone upstairs."

 "Mm," was all Steve said before he pulled Bucky's lips back to his.

 Bucky fought for all of one second before he pressed himself into Steve's chest, wrapping his arms around Steve's waist.

 Steve was running his hands through Bucky's hair, tugging on it lightly. Bucky gasped into Steve's mouth and nipped at Steve's bottom lip in retaliation.

 Bucky, Steve had realized, loved when he messed with his hair. Even if they were curled up on the couch in Steve's apartment, watching a movie or doing nothing at all, Bucky would make not-so-subtle attempts at getting Steve to run his fingers through his hair. Steve, of course, obliged.

 Bucky unclasped his hands from behind Steve's back and moved them, slowly, up to Steve's face. He pulled Steve away and knocked their foreheads together lightly.

 "Seriously," he said, smiling, his voice hoarse. "I'm going up there. Your bread's almost done anyways." As if on cue, the timer rang.

 Steve hopped down from the counter and watched Bucky leave-- dear Lord, did he love watching him leave--before he slipped on the oven mitts and pulled the trays of bread from the brick oven.

 The day went on like that, with brief intervals of Bucky popping down into the kitchen; Steve put him to work, usually, even though Bucky had different intentions.

 After Bucky had put three cake pans into the oven, he watched Steve move about the kitchen. While Steve worked, he handed Bucky things; a frosting knife, plastic tubs full of sugar, cartons of heavy cream.

"Why can't I frost the cake?" Bucky asked, waving the frosting knife around.

 Steve set the electric mixer on the counter, throwing Bucky a look over his shoulder.

 Bucky sighed and handed Steve the sugar.

 "Thank you," Steve said. He dropped a few blocks of cream cheese into the bowl and poured in the entire container of sugar before he added, "And you can put on the crumb coat, if you want. But I do the pretty stuff."

 Bucky's grin grew, slow and wide. "Like me."

 Steve's face was impassive as he flicked the blender on and stared at Bucky.

 "There was an opportunity and I took it," Bucky said shamelessly.

 The fact of the matter was that they had not been intimate in any way, aside from kissing. Sure, Steve wanted to-- dear God, did he want to put his hands hands all over Bucky's body-- but they had only been together for roughly three weeks. He didn't know the rules, or if there even were any. Plus, they had been too busy --which was a flimsy excuse, and he knew it, but it was true --what with coming home late most nights, dragging Bucky with him. They had shared his bed, and Bucky was alternating between Steve's apartment and the tiny attic upstairs; Bucky had tried not to make a huge deal when Steve had put an extra toothbrush in the bathroom.

 Steve had wanted to say, "It's not like you're moving in," because he wasn't, but he thought it might wipe the smile that Bucky was trying to hide off his face. So he just stole glances at Bucky out of the corner of his eye, because Bucky reacted to small things like that; too happy, too enthusiastic, and Steve loved it.

 "Spatula," Steve said, holding out his hand.

 "Yes, doctor," Bucky said. He placed the spatula in his outstretched hand.

 Steve snorted but didn't say anything as he scraped the contents around the bottom of the bowl, then let the mixer run on medium speed. He leaned against the counter and folded his arms across his chest.

 "What time is it?" Bucky asked, taking upon it himself to check by twisting Steve's arm to look at his watch.

 "Ow."

 "Closing time," Bucky said, and he leaned up to plant a kiss on Steve's cheek. "I'll go flip the sign."

 Steve watched him leave again--because who could ever get tired of that view?--before turning his attention back to the frosting. He poured the heavy cream into the bowl, and then upped the speed to high and let it run.

 Bucky announced his return by wrapping his arms around Steve's chest, pressing his lips to Steve's neck.

They stood there like that, watching the ingredients in the bowl shift and blend. When it was done and Steve turned the blender off and pulled the bowl out of the stand, he dipped a spoon into its contents and held it out to Bucky.

 "Don't be weird," Steve said, jerking the spoon away from Bucky's outstretched hand.

 Bucky rolled his eyes but agreed nonetheless, taking the spoon from Steve. He popped it in his mouth and Steve turned away, grabbing the frosting knife and sticking it into the mountain of icing in the bowl.

 "Damn," Bucky said.

 "Good?" Steve wiped his hands down the front of his apron, making sure he had everything he needed to finish this cake.

 "Very." Bucky tossed the spoon in the sink and then, because he was weirdly accurate at timing things, slipped on the oven mitts seconds before the timer rang for the cakes to come out of the oven.

 "What now?" Bucky asked, hands on his hips, watching the steam coil from the upturned sheets of cake, the ticking timer the only sound in the kitchen.

 Steve answered by hooking his fingers into Bucky's belt loops and pulling him close, cupping his hand just beneath Bucky's jaw and pulling him up for a kiss.

 "You taste like frosting," Steve said, licking his lips after pulling back from a breathless Bucky.

 Bucky's eyes glazed over and he jerked Steve's hips towards his own before he brought Steve's mouth to his again.

 Steve buried his fingers in Bucky's hair again, ready for Bucky to retaliate by biting Steve's lip, because that's what he always did.

 But Bucky responded by dragging his hands, slowly, over Steve's back and firmly cupping his ass. Steve gasped into Bucky's mouth and he could feel Bucky's mouth curve into a smile.

 "I knew you were an ass man," Bucky whispered, and he caught Steve's bottom lip between his teeth and pulled back, just slightly, watching Steve through half-lidded eyes.

 Steve blinked, and Bucky released his lip.

 "Shut up," Steve said and he mashed his lips against Bucky's, kissing him deeply, furiously, because they crossed a line and he was sure of it. That was more physical than they had ever been and Steve wasn't sure why they were doing it in the kitchen of all places, but he sure as hell wasn't complaining because this was Bucky and God he'd wanted him for months .

 Bucky responded in earnest, but he always did, always matched Steve's energy and amplified it.

 And then their hands were roaming, learning each other's bodies by touch finally . Steve's fingers traced the muscles on Bucky's back, Bucky's metal hand was travelling down Steve's stomach, his flesh hand still massaging Steve's backside.

 Bucky hooked two fingers into Steve's waistband, and started tugging when the timer rang. They froze.

 "Is there any possible way we can just continue what we were doing?" Bucky whispered, tugging on Steve's waistband again for emphasis.

 Steve smiled and knocked his forehead against Bucky's for a moment, breathing him in, before he pecked the tip of his nose and drew back, straightening his shirt which had been pulled up to reveal his stomach.

 He could practically feel Bucky silently mourning when he said, "Nope."

 "You have an extraordinary amount of self control," Bucky said.

 "One of us has to," Steve said.

 "That's fair." Bucky raked a hand through his hair and sighed. "What do you want me to do, boss?"

 Steve pointed at the cooled cakes. "Crumb coat. Wash your hands first."

 While Bucky was rolling his sleeves up, Steve popped upstairs to turn the radio on to their favorite oldies station; George Michael's Father Figure just started playing when he went back downstairs.

 Bucky was drying his hands on a dish towel and singing along quietly, but stopped when Steve reappeared.

 "I like when you sing," Steve said, because he genuinely did and he didn't want Bucky to be embarrassed about anything around him.

 Bucky stared at Steve for a second before he smiled. He picked up the bowl and dolloped a glob of frosting onto the first cake.

 And then Steve made it his mission to get Bucky to sing.

 Which wasn't that hard at all, actually, once the chorus started.

 Once Steve started with, " I will be your father figure ," Bucky joined right in. And they sang along, Bucky frosting the cakes--not as precisely as Steve would have, but he wouldn't say anything because they weren't terrible --and Steve washing dishes, setting them aside to dry.

 "You know, Careless Whisper is okay , compared to this," Steve said, once the song had ended.

 " Father Figure is George Michael's greatest hit," Bucky said, pointing at the ceiling, indicating the radio upstairs.

 "That intro, though," Steve said, toweling a cookie sheet dry. " Careless Whisper' s intro is like..."

 "An orgasm personified as a song, we know ," Bucky said, rolling his eyes.

 "I've never said that," Steve said, setting the sheet down and moving on to a ceramic mixing bowl.

 "You thought it."

 He was not wrong.

Steve didn't respond, and Bucky smirked.

 Steve was about to set the bowl down, when Bucky made a loud, strangled sound and almost dropped the frosting.

  "What?" Steve just about screamed.

 Bucky pointed at the ceiling again and that's when it hit him.

 "Oh my god," Steve said, both in reaction to Bucky and to the song that had just started playing on the radio.

 "It's..." Bucky sniffed. "It's a miracle."

 "Buck, they play this song all the time," Steve said.

 "That's a miracle in and of itself," Bucky said. "If you don't sing along to this, I'm breaking up with you."

 Steve had a literal moment of panic, for a fraction of a second, before he realized Bucky was joking.

 Or he hoped he was, because this was Cyndi Lauper, and not even just Cyndi Lauper. It was Cyndi Lauper's greatest hit , as told by anybody ever.

 "Of course I'm going to sing," Steve said, and he set the bowl down, clearing his throat because they were about to have the duet of their lives.

 This happened, on occasion, and Steve loved it because he'd never seen Bucky so animated . He usually didn't really get into it until the chorus, but in the buildup he would do everything so dramatically.

 Like frosting the cakes; Steve didn't think he'd ever seen him do anything so sensually.

 And then, because they both knew it was coming, they each grabbed the nearest object that would suit their needs best; Bucky the frosting knife, Steve a turkey baster, and they spun to face each other.

 " If you're lost you can look and you will find me," they each sang into their stand-in microphones, too loud for the tiny kitchen, " time after time."

  Bucky fell to his knees, and he appeared to be on the brink of tears, when he belt out the final, " Time after time... " and he jumped up as if nothing had happened, returning to frosting the cakes, singing along to the next verse.

 Steve, on the other hand, was bent over the sink, laughing.

 And then the next chorus started, and Bucky was suddenly next to Steve, who was still laughing, and he hooked his elbow with Steve's and they were spinning around the center of the kitchen.

 Bucky held his frosting knife up to Steve, expecting him to sing into it, but over-swung and now there was a glob of frosting on the side of Steve's face.

 Steve blinked, and Bucky laughed.

 Until Steve wiped off the frosting and smashed it onto Bucky's nose.

 Bucky slowly lifted the frosting knife and swiped it over Steve's forehead. Steve, in turn, tried to take the knife from Bucky who held his forearm against Steve's chest, the hand gripping the knife far out of Steve's reach.

 "Alright, alright," Steve said, stepping back, wiping the frosting off of his face. "I surrender."

 Bucky frowned and wiped the frosting off his nose. "Yeah, okay," he said. And then he pounced on Steve and buried the frosting in his hair.

 "Buck, no, oh my god --"

 "Okay, okay, now I'm done," Bucky said, releasing Steve and wiping his hands on his apron. "I don't wanna get frosting in this." He lifted his left arm in a small wave.

 Steve stared at Bucky, one hand trying to get the frosting out of his hair, the other holding Bucky at bay.

 "Too bad," Steve said, and then he snatched the frosting bowl and used his hand--he didn't know what he was doing until after he'd done it--as a catapult, launching a glob of frosting straight into Bucky's chest. The next scoop hit the side of Bucky's head, and he was rearing to throw another when Bucky finally caught him by the wrist and stole the bowl away.

 "My hair ," Bucky said, and Steve really wasn't sure if he was pretending or if he was genuinely offended. And Bucky wiped the frosting off of the front of his shirt and dragged his hands down Steve's arms.

 "We are adults ," Steve said, examining his arms.

 "Yes, but we know how to have fun," Bucky said, trying to get the frosting out his hair. He had a sizeable amount in his hand and Steve was resigned when he swiped his hand across Steve's chest.

 "I was actually quite fond of this shirt," Steve said.

 "Were you?" Bucky asked, rubbing even more frosting across Steve's chest. Bucky set the bowl down and dragged his eyes over Steve, smirking. "Look at you. Good enough to eat."

 "Which one of us is going to shower first?" Steve asked, all practicality now that the fun was over. He was mentally counting how much cream cheese and heavy cream he had left to make more frosting when Bucky sidled closer to Steve, taking his hands and leaning in close.

 His tongue darted out and flicked Steve's cheek, where there was still a sizeable amount of frosting.

 "We could shower together," Bucky murmured, licking his lips.

 Steve had to force himself to look away. "If I didn't have to make more frosting, because we are currently," he swallowed and stepped back, avoiding Bucky's smoldering gaze because all he wanted to do was taste Bucky, "covered in it. Then yes, we could."

 "Just thinking about the environment," Bucky said with a shrug, smirking, dropping Steve's hands. "Save water. We are in a drought, after all."

 Steve just shook his head and picked up the discarded frosting knife.

 "I'll shower first," Bucky said with a resigned sigh, and he started peeling off his shirt before he was even in the bathroom.

 Steve set the frosting knife in the sink, waiting for the creak of the pipes.

 When he was sure the shower was running, he set about making more frosting. It wasn't until he had put the ingredients on the counter when he realized that he had done it again; he actually had missed another opportunity. Just because Bucky was his didn't mean that he couldn't mess up, and he had done just that.

 His shirt was off before he even reached the closed bathroom door, and he was tugging his pants off with one hand and turning the knob with the other.

 "Dude," Bucky started, "you can wait, like, five minutes--"

 "Make some room," Steve said, kicking his discarded undergarments aside.

 The shower curtain flickered before Bucky said, slightly breathless, "Okay."

Chapter Text

  Bucky didn't know how they got there, or why they were doing this. But there he was, with Steve, sitting on a bridge suspended high above a wide creek. It was five A.M. on a Sunday morning, they each had a little too much of a good thing, and were watching the sunrise while talking about everything and nothing. Bucky thought, and this was because he'd been on both sides of the table with this one-- but who hasn't? --that there was something about the hours between twelve and six A.M. that made you feel either on top of the world or below it.

 And he decided, when he looked at Steve and saw the pale morning gray reflected in his shining eyes, a smile playing at his lips, his cheeks dusted pink from the early chill of dawn, that he was, in that moment, on top of everything.

-x-

Steve

 It was a quiet day at the bakery, with just the low hum of the radio in the background. Steve and Bucky were both equally busy, Bucky cleaning upstairs, and Steve whipping up orders in the kitchen.

 They were at a sweet spot in their relationship, where things were new and growing but they were comfortable enough with each other to explore one another. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, they were learning one another in the biggest and smallest ways. So every interaction was new and different, and important. Steve didn't bother to remember every tiny little detail, but he knew they were all important. From the way Bucky liked his eggs to his deepest, darkest fear--they hadn't quite gotten there yet--it all mattered.

 And while they usually chatted the day away, either while working together or not, they were quiet. It wasn't like they were ignoring each other. And it wasn't awkward or tense, but it was a comfortable silence that they found they didn't want to break. So when Bucky came into the kitchen to clean, he worked around Steve, and they listened to the radio--not singing along to Concrete Blonde, though Steve noticed Bucky swept more charismatically than usual--while Steve arranged dough into the bread pans.

 After Steve had pulled a hot bread pan out of the oven, the bell upstairs rang and both of their heads snapped up. Bucky disappeared while Steve popped the loaves out of the pan.

  While setting one of the loaves of bread onto the cooling racks, Steve heard raised voices from upstairs.

 Steve dropped the bread. Bucky had never actually argued with a customer before.

 He tossed the oven mits aside and ran up the stairs, only to be met with a slamming door. The glass cracked.

 Steve's wide gaze turned from the door, to Bucky, who had his back turned, one hand clutching the counter, his shoulders heaving.

 "Buck?"

 Bucky went rigid. "It wasn't a customer," he said quietly. He combed his hair back with the fingers of his metal hand but didn't turn around.

 Steve didn't take a step near him. "Who...who was it?"

 "Clint," Bucky said. And then he went upstairs and he didn't come back down.

  Steve stood there for what felt like hours. What the hell just happened?

  He turned and examined the door, his eyes travelling the webbing of cracks in the glass.  

 Clint and Bucky had always seemed on good terms, to Steve at least. This was so unlike the both of them--

 Well, no, it was unlike Bucky . Steve had never actually met Clint before. The closest he'd come to meeting him was just now, when Clint had broken his front door.

 Steve threw one last look at Bucky's door before he went back to work, busying himself with cleaning and calling the glass company.

 

-x-

 

   "Hi, sorry for the...wait..." Bucky slowed to a stop behind the counter.

  "Not a problem," Clint said, examining the photos on the wall. "This the baker?" He was pointing to a picture situated next to a medal that read, though he couldn't see it from here but he'd seen it plenty of times, "Best Bakery."

 Bucky stared at Clint. "His name is Steve, and you need to leave," he said.

 Clint snapped his fingers and pointed at Bucky, straightening up. "That rhymed." He slowly strode towards the counter, not looking at Bucky but looking around the shop. "Nice place you got here. Quaint, one might say."

 "Clint..." Bucky's tone was edging threatening.

 Clint stopped, and his eyes slowly landed on Bucky. "Don't you make the perfect housewife," he said, gesturing to Bucky's apron. "The arm kinda kills it, though."

 Bucky sighed and folded his arms over his chest. "What do you want?"

 Clint looked miffed. "To see my best buddy," he started, leaning forward on the counter, "and help him put Rumlow and Pierce in the ground." He was smiling.

 "I am available after four o'clock," Bucky stated. "Otherwise, I am," he hooked two fingers under his apron and pulled it away from his chest, showing it off to Clint, "working."

 Clint's cheerful demeanor disappeared. "You're sitting here, playing house," he snapped, stabbing his finger into Bucky's chest.

 "I am not," Bucky had said, fighting to keep his voice down.

 "Are, too." Clint pushed himself up from the counter and backed away slowly, keeping his eyes on Bucky. "Listen the fuck up, Barnes, because I'm only gonna say it once."

 "I'm listening," Bucky droned.

 Clint frowned. "While you're jacked up on love, Rumlow is plotting your murder," he said. He jerked his thumb over his shoulder, at the door leading into the basement. "Probably his, too. Your best bet is to hunt him down, and I'm here to help. But every time we meet you shoo me away," he propped his hands on his hips, "and that's fine. It's fine ."

  It most certainly does not sound fine , he thought.

 "The longer you ignore the situation, which you're acting like this isn't ," Clint said, his voice getting louder and louder the longer he spoke, "the shorter amount of time you have left to fight back. Pierce isn't sitting on his hands with you, Bucky. He's pulling the strings."

  Bucky bit the inside of his cheek so hard he tasted iron. All he wanted to do was snap back, retaliate with words or his fists, he really didn't care. He just wanted Clint to shut up. Because he was right. And Bucky hated that Clint could be right.

 "But deliver your bread and kiss the baker. Keep it up. You'll both end up dead, and I'll be pissing on your graves," Clint barked, and then there was Steve, and then Clint slammed the door.

-x-

  Bucky worried the shredded flesh on the inside of his cheek. He had expected Steve to follow him upstairs, if not the second he left then eventually, but he didn't. And the longer Bucky thought about it, the better he felt. Because Clint was right--he had to swallow that pill a few times--and Steve was just going to get hurt and Bucky was responsible. He was responsible for anything that was going to happen to Steve.

 And he wasn't ready for that. He really wasn't. So the longer Steve stayed away from him, the better Bucky felt.

 That was until there was a rapt knock on his door and then it was promptly kicked open. By Steve. And Steve looked determined.

 "We're going out," he said. And then he held up his hands, and he was clutching two bottles of cinnamon whiskey.

 And Bucky fell in love all over again.

-x-

Steve

  "No, no, I'm serious!" Steve slammed the small shot glass down, which didn't go so well seeing as they were sitting on the beach. He was laughing, regardless, because they were already about four fingers into the whiskey. "I got into fights all the time."

 Bucky snorted and tipped back the bottle--he'd stopped using the glasses Steve had brought after the second shot--then wiped his mouth on the back of his hand.

 "I don't buy it, Rogers," he shook his head and smirked, "you were a twig ."

 "I was not ," Steve said, taking the bottle from Bucky and taking a swig. "I was," he wiggled his hand and squinted, "angular."

 Bucky fixed him with a look. "Angular."

 "Yes. Angular."

 Steve handed the bottle back to Bucky, who held it in his hand and swirled it around.

 "Alright, alright," Bucky said. He buried the bottom of the bottle in the sand and turned to look at Steve--who was watching the surf--crossing his legs and leaning forward on his knees. "Why did you get into fights all the time?"

 Steve looked from the waves to Bucky. "I don't like bullies," he said.

 Bucky's eyes widened a fraction. Steve smiled and looked back at the water.

 "That's why I tried to become a cop, yunno?" He sighed through his nose and looked back at Bucky. "Things never turn out the way we plan them to, I guess."

 "You're a real downer when you're drunk," Bucky observed.

 Steve laughed. "Nat's worse," he said, stretching his legs out and leaning back on his arm, "trust me. I'm better."

 "You are," Bucky said, and he fell back against the sand.

 They were quiet for a while, breathing in time with the pounding of the waves, Bucky tracing the veins in Steve's arm.

 Steve was getting tired of the quiet, and wanted to keep Bucky talking, wanted to listen to his voice no matter what he was saying.

 "Isn't sand like, bad for your arm?" Steve asked.

 Bucky raised his metal arm, fingers spread. "You'd think," he said. He twisted his left hand in the air, staring at it fondly. "It's pretty durable."

 "No plastic bag in the shower?" Steve asked, watching Bucky.

 Bucky dropped his arm onto his stomach; it hit harder than he thought, but he played it off with a snort. "No. You would know." He smirked at Steve and knocked him gently with his uppraised knee.

 Steve blushed, because yes, he would know. But he laughed because he could, because it was Bucky.

Bucky looked more serious then, and he avoided Steve's gaze, instead focusing on the night sky.

 "Would you ever go back, to the academy?" he asked quietly.

 Steve hadn't been expecting that. He watched Bucky for a few moments before he answered.

 "Maybe, one day," he said. He didn't elaborate and Bucky didn't ask.

 Bucky sat up, then, and picked up the bottle and his shoes.

 "Let's go find a place to watch the sunrise," Bucky said. And he sprang up from the sand and spun to face Steve.

 Steve blinked and looked at his watch. "That's not for six hours."

 "We can talk, until then," Bucky said, shrugging, and he motioned for Steve to get up. "I wanna hear your whole life story."

 Steve pushed himself up from the ground and bent down to pick up his shoes and socks. "Fine. Then I wanna hear yours."

 Bucky grinned and spread his hands wide. "I'm an open book."

 "Uh-huh." Steve took Bucky's hand in his and started walking down the beach. It was quiet for a few minutes, as they stumbled through the sand, making their way towards solid ground, until Bucky nudged Steve's shoulder.

 "Hey," Bucky said.

 "Hmm?" Steve asked.

 And then Bucky was dragging him towards the water, and Steve was protesting, but Bucky utilized his metal arm and picked Steve up. The bottle and his shoes toppled out of his hands, into the sand. The bottle-- thank god --landed right side up.

 "Like a beach wedding!" Bucky shouted, grinning, hobbling towards the shore. Once Bucky was knee-deep in the receding waves, Steve shoved his chest and they both fell forward into the water, laughing.

 Steve was starting to get up when Bucky grabbed his arm and pulled him back down, and then he crushed his lips against Steve's. Their lips tasted like salt and cinnamon and it was one of the worst combinations Steve had ever tasted, and he leaned back to say as much, when a wave crashed into them and knocked them over.

 Bucky was laughing, and spitting sea water at Steve.

 "That's gross," Steve said, scrambling to his feet.

 Bucky was about to reply, but then he was staring at Steve, almost hungrily.

 Steve looked down.

 His white shirt, now soaking wet and see through, was clinging to his frame, defining every curve and dip in his skin.

 Bucky's eyes moved up to Steve's, and he licked his lips.

 "No," Steve said, backing away, "no, no, no, no, no . I'm not having sex on the beach." And then he ran, and Bucky chased after him, both of them laughing loudly.

 Bucky caught up and wrapped his arms around Steve's middle, and he pulled them to the ground, rolling over so Steve was on top of him.

 Steve leaned down, kissed the tip of Bucky's nose, and said, "Seriously. I'm not having sex on the beach." He leaned back, his hands spread on Bucky's chest.

 "That's fine," Bucky said, placing his hand on Steve's stomach, tracing the lines of his muscles through the wet fabric. "I don't feel like getting sand up my ass."

 Steve laughed, and touched his forehead to Bucky's. "Eloquent as always."

 Bucky laughed, too, and Steve could feel it rumble through his chest.

 "I know a great place where we can watch the sunrise," Steve said quietly. And he leaned back and watched Bucky.

 Bucky reached up with his flesh hand and cupped the side of Steve's face, stroking his bottom lip with his thumb.

 Steve's smile slowly faded, and they were staring at each other; Steve could feel Bucky's heartbeat quicken.

 Bucky dropped his arm. Neither of them said anything, and Steve could feel the growing tension; he decided to call it quits before they did, in fact, end up having sex on the beach.

 "We should go," Steve said finally. He pushed himself up and held a hand out for Bucky; he took it and didn't let go. They retrieved their shoes and the whiskey, and stumbled down the beach, hands still clasped, pushing each other aside gently and laughing.

 Once they hit pavement, Steve made them stop and put on their socks and shoes.

 "Do you know how many diseases people contract walking around barefoot?"

 Bucky motioned wildly at the beach.

 "We're not going anywhere until you have your shoes on," Steve said, and he folded his arms over his chest and stared Bucky down until he caved.

 "When I get sick because I'm wearing wet socks--" Bucky started, but Steve looked Bucky up and down, slowly, eyebrows raised--because really, Bucky, we're both dripping wet --and Bucky's mouth closed with a click.

 "You'll thank me when you don't get tetanus," Steve said.

 "That's from puncture wounds," Bucky countered, hooking his finger into the heel of his shoe. He frowned at Steve and tapped the toe of his shoe on the ground.

 "Which you could get from walking around barefoot," Steve said, and he grabbed Bucky's hand again and dragged him towards the forest hedging around the edge of the beach.

 "We're going into the forest? At night ?" Bucky asked, his tone conspiratorial but nonetheless excited. "This is so sketchy."

 "We're not sketchy," Steve said, but he looked back at Bucky and grinned. "Well, I'm not."

 "That's fair," Bucky said. He caught up with Steve so he wasn't being pulled along behind him, though he didn't really mind. "So, where're we actually going?"

 "It's a surprise," Steve said.

 "I hate surprises," Bucky said; Steve knew he loved surprises. "Just tell me."

 "It's a surprise," Steve repeated. He squeezed Bucky's hand. "Don't ask questions."

 "Second nature," Bucky exhaled, sticking his free hand in his pocket.

 And then they were on the edge of the wood, and Steve was grinning at Bucky, and they were both filled with a childlike excitement and a little too drunk and probably should have brought a flashlight. But neither of them cared, and now they were enveloped in darkness, and Bucky was leading the way along the small trail that he had never noticed before, because Bucky knew how to navigate through the dark and Steve didn't ask why but he just followed.

 "Up at that fork," Steve whispered, though he wasn't sure why . Maybe because he didn't want to break the wonderful, otherworldy atmosphere they were trapped in; the luminous full moon reflecting off the leaves, casting lace-like patterns through the brush onto the forest floor. The only sound the distant waves, their footsteps, and the breeze rustling through the trees. Steve had never felt this way before, and he was glad, that if he could feel this way with anyone , that he was there with Bucky.

 "Which way?" Bucky asked, his voice just as quiet.

 Steve gently pushed Bucky to the right, and Bucky obliged.

 And then they were on an open dirt road that disappeared over the crest of a hill, and Steve was walking in step with Bucky, the path illuminated by the milky light of the moon.

 "Keep going?" Bucky asked, his voice louder now.

 "Yeah, it's not that far from here," Steve said.

 "How'd you find this place?" Bucky asked, waving his hand in a circular motion.

 Steve shrugged. "There used to be some water plant over there," he pointed at the top of a distant hill, where there was a squat brownstone building, "and I used to go there when I was a kid. But there's this place, on the way there..." His eyes slid over to Bucky. "It's a surprise."

 Bucky clicked his tongue. "That close," he said, lifting his metal hand and pinching his thumb and forefinger together.

  They walked in silence then, listening to the sound of the wind and the chirping crickets.

 And then Bucky took a deep breath, eyes closed. "It smells good out here," he said.

 Steve smiled at him, because he thought so, too.

 "Earthy," Steve said.

 Bucky smiled. "Exactly."

  And then they were over the crest of the hill, and Steve pulled him back into the forest, but just as soon as they were suddenly blinded by the canopy overhead, the trees gave way to another open road. This one, though, had deep trenches snaking through it, left by years of runoff and neglect.

 Steve gripped Bucky's hand tighter and they walked a little farther, the hills on either side of the road getting steeper and steeper. They stepped around the gouges in the road, Bucky making more of a show of it than Steve, and suddenly the road disappeared, cut through by a creek fifty feet below. Suspended over the creek, connecting the opposite cliffs, was a bowstring bridge, the arches made of wrought-iron.

 "Whoa," Bucky whispered.

 "It gets better," Steve said. And he pulled Bucky after him, the bridge creaking faintly under their weight. Bucky cast a worried glance at the rusted ties but followed Steve regardless.

 Steve brought them to the edge of the bridge, and he didn't make a big show of the view, he just watched Bucky.

 The creek cleaved through the surrounding hills, leaving a wide, clear view of the ocean.

 "The creek," Steve whispered, pointing below them, tracing the winding trail the rushing water left, "runs off into the ocean, right down there." Bucky's gaze followed Steve's hand.

 "You know," Bucky whispered, and Steve noticed his eyes were shining, "I've been all over the world. I've seen five of the Seven Wonders." He turned his head slightly, looking at Steve. "But this is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."

 Heat rushed to Steve's face, his mouth a hard line. He swallowed audibly and Bucky's grip on his hand tightened.

 Bucky tilted his head up--he was shorter than Steve, after all--and Steve met him in the middle. He could feel Bucky smile through the kiss.

 "That was so cheesy," Steve finally said, after they broke apart.

 "I'm a hopeless romantic," Bucky exhaled, touching his forehead to Steve's.

 "I'll say," Steve said, and then he released his hand from Bucky's. "C'mon." He gripped the vertical ties and lowered himself down, swinging his legs over the edge of the bridge.

 "What are you doing?" Bucky asked. He was leaning out over the edge, watching Steve through the thick ropes connecting the deck of the bridge to the arch above.

 "Sitting," Steve said, and he sat. He pat the dusty metal, and gazed up at Bucky.

 "Okay, that's good," Bucky said. And he sounded genuinely relieved. "I thought you were gonna jump or something." He followed Steve's example, and now they were both sitting, their legs dangling over the ledge

 "If we play footsie," Bucky said, "will I lose my shoe?" He was leaning forward, staring at the water.

 Steve placed his hand on Bucky's chest and pushed him back gently. "Probably."

 Bucky looked at Steve. "You worried I'm gonna jump?"

 "No," Steve said. He wasn't. "You could fall off, though, if you aren't careful."

 Bucky smirked and wrapped his arm around the cable to his right, leaning into it. "You'll catch me."

 "I would fall, too," Steve said.

 Bucky nudged Steve's leg with his own. "That's pretty romantic," he said.

 "Shut up," Steve said, laughing.

 Bucky took Steve's hand in his own again; that's another thing Steve loved about Bucky. He loved contact, no matter what it was. If it was just their shoulders touching, or their knees, Bucky was a sucker for it.

 "Let's play a game," Bucky said, and he reached back for the bottle of whiskey--which Steve had forgotten about completely, but willingly accepted it when Bucky offered it to him--before he continued. "We each ask each other a question and we have to answer, no matter what it is."

 Steve snorted before he took a swig from the bottle. "That's what alcohol is for," he said, swinging the bottle a little. "Loose lips."

 Bucky rolled his eyes. "It'll be fun ."

 "Or terrible," Steve said, shrugging. "But yeah, sure." He took another swig.

 "I'm ready to spill some secrets," Bucky said.

 Steve offered him the bottle, and Bucky tipped it back.

 "You first," Steve said.

 "Wait, like, asking the question?"

 " Yes ."

 "Alright, alright, I was confused ," Bucky said. He set the bottle between them and thrummed his fingers on his thighs. "Alright. Okay. What was... your first impression of me?"

 Steve blew a raspberry. " Boo ."

 "You have to answer!" Bucky said, poking him in the leg.

 "Ugh. Okay, fine." He chewed on his bottom lip and stared out at the ocean, thinking about it for a moment. "I thought..."

 "Uh-huh...?" Bucky nudged him with his shoulder, grinning.

 "I thought you were a slut," Steve said, nodding.

 Bucky blinked, and then threw his head back and cackled. Steve joined in, because Bucky's laugh was contagious.

 "You weren't wrong," Bucky finally said, wiping the corner of his eye.

 "I don't think so," Steve said, sighing through the last of his laughter. "But I also thought you were weird ."

 "How come?" Bucky asked, still grinning.

 "You held my hand, for like, twenty seconds," Steve said. He threw his hands up. "That's not normal handshake etiquette. I was so confused."

 "You loved it," Bucky said.

 "Is that how you flirt? It's terrible. Get a new tactic," Steve said.

 "I got you ," Bucky said, and he snaked his arm around Steve's shoulder and kissed his cheek.

 "Not because of your shitty flirting," Steve said. Althought that wasn't entirely true.

 "Then what was it?" Bucky asked, and he sounded genuinely curious. He leaned away from Steve, searching his face.

 He looked at Bucky, and smiled. "Your eyes."

 And there it was. There it was .

 Bucky's cheeks bloomed red and he looked down at his hands.

 Steve relished in the moment for all of three seconds, and then he figured Bucky had had enough.

 "Alright, you're asking all the questions," he said. And Bucky looked up. Definitely the eyes.

 "Ask me cheesy questions," Bucky said.

 "Like?"

 "I can't tell you what to ask me," Bucky said, like it was obvious .

 "You just did ," Steve said, rolling his eyes. "But fine. What was it about me ?"

 Bucky grinned, then, and Steve wondered if he should have regretted asking that.

 "Your shirts."

  He did.

 Steve blinked. "My... shirts."

 Bucky nodded and reached over, tugging on the collar of Steve's shirt. "They're very tight."

 Steve sighed and leaned against the metal tie, waiting for the rush of heat to his face.

 Bucky laughed quietly. "And that."

 "Next question," Steve said. "Favorite color?"

 "What? Ask me a real question," Bucky said, frowning.

 Steve picked up the whiskey and took a couple of measured sips, shaking his head. "You said any question. That's my question."

 "Fine, fine," Bucky said. He squinted up at the moon, tilting his head back and forth. "Blue?"

 "Mine's green," Steve said, because he figured Bucky would ask.

 "Dang, I was going to ask," Bucky said.

 Steve smirked. "You're turn."

 "Alright, but I'm asking real questions." He leaned forward on one knee, watching the creek, before he snapped his fingers and looked at Steve. "Favorite book?"

 "That is literally like my question," Steve said, waving the bottle of whiskey around.

  "That's a real question," Bucky disagreed. "The 'favorite color' question doesn't count. That's like Twenty Questions one-oh-one."

 "We're not playing Twenty Questions!" Steve cried.

 "Well," Bucky said, clapping his hands on his thighs and looking at Steve, but he didn't continue, just stared.

 Steve blew another raspberry and leaned back on his arm. "Fried Green Tomatoes."

 "Huh," Bucky said. "I thought you'd say like, the Bible. Or Old Yeller."

 Steve blanched. " God , no. Have you ever read Old Yeller?"

 Bucky wiggled his hand. "I know it's about a dog," he said.

 "Bucky, the dog dies ," Steve said.

  Bucky gaped at him. "The dog dies ?!"

  "Everybody knows the dog dies!"

 Bucky poked his finger into his chest. " I didn't know the dog died! Why would anyone read that ?"

 Steve scrutinized Bucky for a moment. "You ever read Where the Red Fern Grows?"

  Bucky shook his head.

 "Oh," Steve said. "Don't."

  Bucky threw his hands up. "Next question."

  Steve handed the bottle to Bucky. "Alright..."

 "Serious question," Bucky said.

 Steve peered at him for a second. "How serious?"

 Bucky looked out over the ocean. " Very serious."

 Steve snorted. " Alright . What... is your biggest regret?"

 "Oh," Bucky said. His brows furrowed.

 Steve bit his lip. "Too serious?"

 "A tad," Bucky said. But he nodded. "I'll still answer. I'd be breaking the rules if I don't."

 "You don't have to," Steve said, looking away from Bucky and watching their feet sway instead.

  "I want to," Bucky insisted. "Okay... I mean, I won't get into specifics, but..." He cleared his throat. "Staying."

 Steve froze. He looked up at Bucky, who was watching him.

 "Why?" Steve asked.

 "You didn't even ask where ," Bucky said quietly, taking Steve's hand in his own again. He kept his eyes on the connection.

 "Where?"

 Bucky smiled, shrugged. "Details," he said.

 Steve frowned. "Buck..."

 "I like when you call me that," Bucky said, and his gaze travelled from their connected hands to Steve's face.

 Steve forced a small smile.

-x-

Bucky

  He kept doing that, saying things he didn't mean to. But he was telling the truth; he didn't deserve to be this happy, he didn't deserve Steve.

 But he wouldn't say that, because then Steve would worry-- he is worried --and Bucky hated seeing him upset.

 So he tried to cheer him up.

 He didn't ask anymore serious questions, and he made sure Steve drank more than Bucky did, and he tried to keep the mood light.

 But Steve was watching him, and he may not be as perceptive as Natasha, but he knew Bucky. And Bucky loved that, even though he shouldn't.

 He had let himself have this-- why? --and he didn't deserve it . Bucky had done too many terrible things, and Steve didn't know that. Steve didn't know Bucky the way he should. Because this wasn't even the real Bucky. The real Bucky was cold, calculating, he missed his old job.

 Which he knew he shouldn't. But he couldn't help it. He was good at it. There was a grim satisfaction when he would read in the news that someone had gone missing, their body hadn't been found, because Bucky was good at his job and he always got it done right. That's why he got paid the big bucks.

 But he was trying to change, to be better. Not just for Steve, but for himself. And maybe it wasn't working, because ever since he and Clint had dumped Dottie's body in the ocean, he had scanned the newspaper more thoroughly, looking for any mention of a missing woman. Which was ridiculous, because he knew she wasn't from around here, and the odds of her body bobbing up to the surface were slim to none.

 So why did he still check?

 He knew why. It was a craving that couldn't be satiated, a desire to be good at what he does. And he is.

 Was. He was .

 "Favorite band ," Steve said.

 "Cyndi," Bucky said without missing a beat.

 Steve laughed and shoved Bucky's shoulder. "No, band. That's one person."

 " Cyndi ," Bucky repeated. "She's more than just one person."

 Steve nodded, and laughed again. "I can't argue with that kind of logic."

 "Damn straight," Bucky said. He reached behind him and grabbed the bottle of whiskey, taking a small sip before he said, "Alright, alright, I'm done. I'm out of questions."

 Steve took the bottle and took a few generous sips. "That's good, because look." He was pointing out at the horizon, which was starting to turn gray. He smiled and dropped his hand. "Just in time."

 They didn't sit in silence, but instead kept talking. Talking about everything and nothing at the same time, enjoying the whimsical bubble they had created; what with the full moon still out, the sky being stained with streaks of pearly gray, the crisp smell of the cold wind.

 And then Bucky looked over at Steve, and he felt... something. And he realized, in that moment, while watching Steve, eyes shining, cheeks stained pink from the cold, that maybe he didn't deserve this. Any of it. But that wouldn't matter. Because Steve was there, and suddenly he was looking back at Bucky. And Bucky didn't know what was happening, but it felt like a balloon swelling inside of his chest, ready to burst. And he didn't want it to stop.

 Bucky grabbed the front of Steve's shirt and pulled him close and Steve was burying his fists in Bucky's hair and the kiss was wet and sloppy but they didn't care .

 Because this was it. This was the moment when Bucky knew that it didn't matter what he'd done, or what he would do, because Steve . It was all Steve.

 Bucky leaned back, and Steve's breath was misty and warm on his face, and he grinned.

 And that was when he felt the tug in his gut, and he swallowed hard, and he stared into Steve's eyes and he realized that he loved Steve .

  Holy shit .

 Because there was no other way to describe this feeling, no way to put it into words.

 But he tried. Because Steve was here and he was looking at him and he is so beautiful .

 "I love you," Bucky blurted.

 And Steve's eyes widened, his too-red lips opening in surprise.

 And Bucky knew he should've regretted it. But he didn't. Because after everything he'd been through, he'd never felt more alive, never felt such raw emotion. And he pulled Steve in for another kiss and Steve moved his hands to grab Bucky's face.

 Steve pulled him back, gently, and he was smiling, but it wasn't the smile Steve gave him when he said something stupid, it was a smile Bucky had never seen before. Steve stroked his thumb along Bucky's cheekbone and he tilted his head.

 "I love you, too," he whispered. And then he was kissing Bucky. But this was important. This was The Kiss. And Bucky returned it in earnest, because nothing mattered after this. But everything did matter, and Bucky couldn't believe that Steve was his and he was Steve's.

 And where do they go from here?

  It doesn't matter .

 -x-

Steve

  This was a moment Steve was not likely to forget, even with the copious amount of alcohol in his system.

 Because Bucky had said, "I love you."

 Bucky had said it first . And that was important. Steve didn't know why, but he knew that was important and he would never forget it.

 After the kiss they sat in silence. They watched the sunrise, and their knees were touching. That was the only connection they maintained after the kiss, but Steve didn't mind.

 And then the sun was up, and they were smiling, but not at each other. Bucky had deep shadows under his eyes, and Steve probably didn't look much better.

 After a while, though, Bucky said, "The sun is hurting my eyes."

 Steve nodded, stifled a yawn. "Let's go sleep for a week."

 "Can I call you my boyfriend now?" Bucky asked suddenly.

 Steve felt downright giddy, but he just smiled at Bucky and nodded. "Let's go sleep for a week, boyfriend ," he said.

 Bucky laughed. "Music to my ears." He was up first, and he reached his metal hand out for Steve.

 Steve took it, and once he was on his feet, Bucky French dipped him.

 "It wasn't just your shirts," Bucky said, his tone touching somewhere between sultry and sweet, "it was you."

 "What?" Steve asked, because he wasn't sure how to respond to that.

 "You're honest," Bucky said, and then he was kissing him, deep and slow.

  And then Steve was standing right-side up again, and he was breathless and dizzy; he gripped the railing.

 "Whoa, there," Bucky said, and he placed his hands on Steve's hips. "You okay?"

 Steve nodded. "Yeah, just..." He laughed and shook his head.

 "I take your breath away?"

 "Something like that," Steve said. "Also, I'm still drunk."

 "Let's get off this death trap, yeah?" Bucky asked, one hand on Steve's arm, the other swiping the bottle of whiskey from the ledge.

 "Let's," Steve agreed. And that was when, after taking one last glance down into the creek, he saw it. Something caught on the rocks down below, where the freshwater runoff spilled into the ocean. "What's that?"

 "What's what?" Bucky asked, following Steve's gaze, leaning over the railing. He went rigid.

 "Bucky?" Steve placed his hand on Bucky's arm.

 "It's..." Bucky stepped away from the railing--Steve glanced at the dent his metal hand left--and barely looked at Steve when he said, "Call nine-one-one."

-x-

Bucky

  Bucky couldn't believe it. Why now? Of all times, why that morning?

 He had thought it was Dottie, at first, but that was weeks ago. She'd be a waterlogged balloon at this point. This was someone new, someone he hadn't killed.

  Rumlow .

 While Steve was on the phone with the nine-one-one operator, Bucky was punching Clint's number into his own phone.

 He walked away from Steve, standing at the end of the bridge, staring at the body crammed into the rocks below. He was counting the rings. If it went past five, he would hang up and try again.

 He finally picked up after the fourth ring--the third time Bucky called--and there was a groggy, "What the hell?"

 "There's a body," Bucky said, quietly enough that Steve couldn't hear.

 There was a muffled thud, and then Clint was all business. "Where? Who? Was it you? Is it Dottie? She's gotta be bigger than a whale by now." He didn't leave breaks for Bucky to answer.

 "I don't know who it is," Bucky said. He glanced over his shoulder at Steve before saying, even quieter, "I didn't do it. I think Rumlow did."

 "No clue who it is?"

 "She's like, fifty feet below me, Clint," Bucky said, looking down over the edge. "Stuck in some rocks."

 "Ew," Clint said. "Do I need to go--wait, what? Fifty feet? Where the fuck are you?"

 "A bridge in the country," Bucky said. "Very scenic, you'd like it."

 "Did you and the baker take a morning walk or what?"

 "We were out all night," Bucky said.

 Clint laughed. "God, you're so gay," he said. "I mean, literally, but also, yunno."

 "Shut the fuck up," Bucky said, and he glanced over his shoulder again at Steve, who was waving his hands around, giving detailed directions into the phone. "Poke around town, alright? Just spread the news that another body's been found."

 "You got it, boss," Clint said. "And, hey, sorry. About earlier."

 Bucky had completely forgotten about Clint's appearance at the bakery. "Oh. Oh, right. Fuck you."

 Clint chuckled. "Yeah. I still stand by what I said, though." And then the line went dead.

 It was a while before the authorities showed up, and longer still before they could fish the body out of the creek.

 When they finally pulled her out, neither Steve nor Bucky recognized her. Bucky kept glancing up at Steve, making sure he was okay, but he was more stoney faced than Bucky had ever seen him.

 Once they were done being questioned, Bucky pulled Steve aside.

 "You okay?" he asked, because Steve was obviously not okay.

 Steve just forced a smile, nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine."

 Bucky just stared at him.

 "It's okay," Bucky started, grabbing Steve's hand, "if you're not."

 Bucky didn't want to say it's okay if you're not okay with dead bodies, Steve, I was surrounded by death for years , this is nothing, but you're a baker and this is a lot, I know it's a lot.

 Steve stared at Bucky, but he didn't say anything.

 "Wanna go home?" Bucky asked.

 Steve nodded. He opened his mouth to say something, but just then, Bucky's phone rang.

 "Are you gonna get that?" Steve finally asked, because Bucky was ignoring it and focusing on Steve.

Bucky blinked. "Yeah, alright," he mumbled, and he dug it out of his pocket and stared at the screen. It wasn't Clint, who was the only one who ever called him. He picked it up, ready to fling it over the side of the bridge if he needed to.

 "Barnes."

"Uh," Bucky said.

 "It's Nat," she said.

 "Yeah, yeah, no," Bucky said, staring at Steve. "I know."

 Steve mouthed Who is it?

 Bucky covered the mouth piece and whispered, "Nat."

 Steve raised an eyebrow, and Bucky shrugged like I don't know, either.

 "So, how'd she die?" Nat asked.

 Bucky blinked. "What?"

 She sighed and there was a faint thud. "Meet me at Clint's in twenty minutes. Tell Steve you gotta run some errands."

 Bucky blinked again.

 "What'd she say?" Steve asked.

 Bucky lowered his phone. "She hung up on me."

 " Before that," Steve said.

 Bucky tucked his phone back in his pocket and shrugged. "Wanted to know who she was," Bucky said.

 Steve eyed Bucky, but if he suspected Bucky of lying--he did--he didn't say anything.

 "Ready to go?" Bucky asked.

 Steve nodded, and they walked back to Steve's apartment.

 The walk back through the forest seemed shorter, maybe because it was during the day and they didn't have to keep their eyes glued to the ground, but they reached Steve's apartment quicker than Bucky anticipated and he hadn't come up with a good excuse to leave Steve on his own yet.

 Steve unlocked the door and took a step inside before Bucky asked, "You gonna be okay?"

 Steve stopped, but he didn't turn around. "Yeah." He shuffled his feet, and murmured, "Do you think... you could stay over?"

 It would have been cute, because it sounded like Steve was inviting him over for a sleepover, which he essentially was. But...

 Bucky glanced away and said, "Yeah, I just gotta..." He closed his eyes and silently swore, because damnit, Barnes, you're better than this. "Run some errands. But I'll be back, okay?"

 Steve just nodded.

 Bucky turned, then, and was starting to leave when Steve grabbed his hand, stopping him.

 And it was weird, because he knew that they couldn't look at each other, in that moment. He didn't know why, but he felt like there was some line that each of them had crossed, not from the emotional revelation earlier but afterwards, when Bucky had lied and Steve had known and neither said a word.

 And now they couldn't look at each other and Steve was stopping him from leaving.

 "Buck," he said. "That's so sketchy."

 And Bucky's quiet, because what do you say to that?

 "Be safe," Steve said. He dropped Bucky's hand and closed the door.

Chapter Text

Sam

  Sticking around the clinic until four in the morning was not an ideal Saturday night for Sam, but yet here he was, filing away a mountain of paperwork. He'd lost count of how many times he'd scribbled his signature, or how many paper cuts he had received. He was a machine, at this point, scribble, turn the page, scribble, turn the page, lick the newly acquired papercut, scribble, file this in K-L.

 The only thing keeping him going was the fact that he had tomorrow off and a long-awaited date with his bed.

 He drank the last dregs of cold coffee, set the mug down, and examined the last sheet of paperwork, squinting. Sign, flip, sign, file.

 And he was done.

 Usually, he would clean up his desk just a little before he took off. But it was four in the morning. And his bed was calling his name.

 So he flicked off all the lights, took one last look around, and locked the front door behind him.

 This was his least favorite part of staying late: the walk home. It was always cold, and the sun was just barely there, and the streets were empty and too quiet.

 Except, tonight, maybe they weren't.

 It was on the corner of Olive and Rosecrest when he heard it, a raised voice, saying some very choice words.

 He quickened his pace, figuring it was someone who had a little too much to drink, and was passing a dimly lit alleyway when he heard it.

 "...Barnes isn't the only issue anymore, sir," a gruff voice echoed from the alley, freezing Sam on the spot. "The sharpshooter's here, too. What do you want me to do?"

 Sam stared at the empty sidewalk ahead, waiting for someone else to respond; no one did.

 "Yes, I took care of her," came the same voice. "They'll find her soon enough."

 Sam's eyes darted around the buildings, the street. Is anyone else hearing this?

 "He'll pay for what he did in Rome, don't worry, sir," he said. "Yes, sir. Underwood is dead. I believe it was Barnes. Yes, sir. I'll take care of it."

 There was a faint click and heavy footsteps were now heading in Sam's direction, a shadow cast by the dimly lit alley growing longer and longer.

  Shitshitshitshitshitshitshit.

 He was backing away, as quickly and as quietly as he could, when he knocked over a trash can.

  SHITSHITSHITSHITSHITSHITSHITSHITSHIT.

  There was no callout, no shouts of alarm, but the footsteps stopped. The shadow was still moving.

 And Sam was gone. He turned on his heel and ran, forcing himself not to look over his shoulder.

-x-

Bucky

  When he swung Clint's door open, he half expected to find Natasha standing over his dead body, striking a Wonder Woman pose.

 Instead, he found them both sitting on Clint's couch, each enjoying a steaming cup of coffee and discussing the average velocity of a .28 slug.

 "Some homecoming party," Bucky mumbled.

 Only Clint acknowledged his entrance, giving him a nod and then pointing at the coffee pot on the counter.

 "I don't know how she did it," Clint said, "but she made the best damn pot of coffee I've ever had."

 Nat took a sip. "I washed the filter."

 Clint's eyes shone. He sniffed and then turned his attention back to Bucky.

 "Help yourself," he said, waving his hand at the counter.

 Bucky closed the door behind him and walked around the couch, giving the two a wide berth, and pulled a mug from the cupboard.

 "So," Nat started, leaning over the back of the sofa, as Bucky poured coffee into his mug.

 He glanced up at her. "So?"

 She swirled her mug around, watching him. She crinkled her nose, smiled, and fell back onto the couch.

 Bucky wrapped his right hand around the warm mug, and made his way to the couch; he fell onto it with a sigh, making sure he didn't spill his coffee. He rested his head against the back of the couch and watched the ceiling fan spin lazily.

 "This is some shit," Clint said, because no one said a word.

 Nat set her mug down on the table and tucked her legs underneath her. She gave Bucky a leveled look.

 "You know," she started, leaning forward and pointing at Bucky, "given your previous employment, I thought you'd be better."

 Bucky frowned. "Better at what?"

 "Disappearing," she said with a flippant shrug. " Not leading another trained assasin into town, among other things."

 Bucky was about to protest, but Clint shrugged, nodded.

 "It's true," Clint said.

 Bucky stared at them both for a few seconds before he took a long, slow sip from his mug.

 "I'm taking care of it," Bucky said.

 Clint and Nat exchanged a look.

 "Okay," Clint said.

 Bucky glared at him.

 "I want you to leave," Nat said.

 Bucky took another noisy sip of his coffee.

 "If I say no?"

 "I think you know what will happen," she said, examining a single fingernail. Her eyes flicked up to meet Bucky's, but she didn't say anything else.

 Bucky sunk lower into the sofa with a sigh. "So," he started, "how long have you known?"

 Nat blinked, and then threw her head back, laughing.

 " Dude ," she said, swiping a finger under her eye, "since you got into town. Are you kidding me? Metal arm? You didn't even try to hide it!" She was laughing again, slapping her thigh.

 "It's not that funny," Bucky grumbled into his coffee.

 "No, it's not," Nat said, sighing through the last of her laughter. " However ," she held up a finger, "it's laughable what an amateur you've been. And for what?"

 "The baker," Clint cut in.

 "Steve," Nat and Bucky corrected. They squinted at each other when they realized what they'd done.

 "I'm not an amateur," Bucky said.

 "That's why it's funny," Nat said. "I've been tracking you for years , did you know that?" She watched him, a small smile playing at her lips, waiting for his response.

 Bucky blinked. He opened and closed his mouth several times, trying to form a coherent sentence, but all that came out was, "I...you...hmmmpfff?"

 Clint raised his hand, looking between the two of them. Nat gave him a small nod and he said, "I knew."

 Bucky was staring at Clint now. "You knew ?"

 " Bucky ," Clint said with a sigh, shaking his head. "She screams CIA."

 "No, I don't," Nat said with a sniff.

 Bucky leapt from the couch, coffee flying out of his hands.

 "CIA," he said, holding his hands out as if to keep the two of them at a safe distance.

 Nat nodded, Clint gaped at the coffee mug, now in pieces on the floor.

 "As I was saying ," Nat stated, swiping her mug from the table and taking a pointed sip at Bucky, "years. Been following you around, to hell and back, but never actually able to catch you. Until now. You killed Zola. Boom. You were done . Right? Essentially. You were going to hole up in some podunk desert town, I'm sure. And then you stayed. Why?"

 Bucky blinked again. "CIA?"

 Nat rolled her head into her hand.

 "Why did you stay?" she repeated, voice muffled by her palm.

 "I know that, too," Clint said, raising his hand again.

 Bucky shuffled his feet for a moment before he perched himself on the edge of the couch, sitting stiffly. He gave Clint a pointed glare, and Clint's mouth snapped shut.

 "There's more than one reason," Bucky said. He cleared his throat.

 Nat snapped her head up and searched Bucky's face. "More than Steve?" she asked.

 Bucky stared at her. He wanted to say yes, he wasn't the only reason because it was true. But also... was it? Yes, it is. But I'll be damned if he isn't my number one.

 "I was tired," he said finally. And then he felt it. He suddenly felt like any ounce of energy he had left was sucked out of him, and he fell back against the sofa and rubbed his eyes, because he wanted to be asleep. And with Steve.

 "Tired of what?" Nat asked.

 "Running?" He dropped his hand on his stomach. "Plus I like the beach."

 Nat chewed on her bottom lip and then stood, setting her mug down again. She pressed her palms together and pointed at Bucky, determined.

 "You are putting Steve in harm's way," she said. "Do you understand that?"

 Bucky ground his teeth together and stared at her, hard.

 He knows that. He definitely knows that and he has absolutely no excuses. So he just stares at her, because god damnit I know .

 When he doesn't respond, she props a fist on her hip. "Alright. Fine. So you're a contributing member to society now--"

 "He kind of was before," Clint cut in.

 Nat and Bucky both turned to look at him, both seeming to have forgotten he was there.

 "What?" Bucky asked.

 Clint shrugged. "You took out some nasty folks."

 Nat spun on her heel, turning on Clint. "For the wrong people, and in the wrong way. I mean, not that I completely disagree, because that was one sketchy politician, but--"

 "Which one?" Bucky asked, pointing a finger in the air.

 Natasha closed her eyes and sighed through her nose.

 "That's what tipped us off," Nat said, opening her eyes. "That guy who cheated on his wife."

 "Which one ?" Clint asked.

 Nat twirled her hand flippantly. "The governor of North Carolina," she said, shrugging. "It screamed HYDRA. So, they sent me, and then I followed you all over." She perched on the sofa's armrest, watching Bucky. "It took me a while to figure out what you were doing. Even longer to find out why ."

 Bucky folded his arms over his chest. "Yeah, well," he said, rolling his head back, watching the ceiling fan again. "Couldn't exactly hand in a resignation notice, yunno?"

 -x-

Sam

 Sam thought about sitting on the information that had just come to light, about not telling Steve that his boyfriend-slash-delivery boy has killed someone. Underwood . The name didn't ring a bell with Sam, like that mattered.

 Steve needed to know.

 And that's why Sam was pounding on Steve's apartment door at six in the morning. It was Sunday, Steve's day off, so this could go one of two ways.

 One: Steve is home alone, Sam sits him down, talks to him gently about Bucky.

 Two: Bucky opens the door in nothing but his boxers and tells Sam to shove off.

  It took a while, before the door finally did open; Sam was bouncing on the balls of his feet, stealing glances around the hallway.

 "Sam?" Steve opened the door wider and yawned, looking around the hallway before stepping back to let him in.

 Sam pushed past Steve and looked around the apartment. The cracked leather sofa was vacant, the TV was off, Steve's bedroom door was open: empty.

 "Is, uh, Bucky here?" Sam asked. He realized he had no idea how to actually go about this. And he realized, suddenly, that maybe he should have just called the cops.

 But then he looked at Steve, and he knew that once he told him--and he felt like it had to be him, suddenly, and he wasn't sure why but he just knew that if he had called the authorities first, it would have been wrong somehow--that everything would be different, in a chaotic way. But Steve deserved to know.

 Steve blinked and ran a hand through his already-mussed hair. "No." He searched Sam's face. "Why?"

 Sam looked at Steve-- fuck it --and took a deep breath.

Chapter Text

Bucky

  Pressed flat against the tiled rooftop, metal hand steadying the slender barrel of the rifle, Bucky Barnes peered into the sight, training the target right between Alexander Pierce's eyes.

 His right finger hooked around the trigger, he started to apply pressure, waiting for the kick of the gun into his shoulder. But before the shot rang out, he was suddenly shoved to the side.

 The rifle was sent skittering, and Bucky's hand flew to his thigh holster, tugging the pistol free and aiming at his assailant's head.

 But the gun was shoved out of his hand, and sent flying over the edge of the roof.

 Bucky didn't hesitate, and pulled the knife from his boot, twirling it in his hand and bringing it down, expecting it to land somewhere in his attacker's side.

 But his arm kept going, and the blade of the knife deflected off of the tile.

 "I am trying to help you, jagoff," came a voice from behind him, and Bucky was suddenly tackled to the ground. "Would you just-- ow , that was my face --"

 Bucky wriggled around so he was now facing... whoever was now on top of him, pulled the semi-automatic from his belt, and was aiming it at his attacker's face when he heard pounding footsteps heading towards them.

 Just as he was about to pull the trigger, shots rang out and just to Bucky's right, clay tiles shattered and sent shards flying.

 Bucky twitched the gun to the side, pulled the trigger, and waited for the satisfying thud when the body hit the ground below.

 "Thank you," said the guy on top of him when they heard the crunch . "For saving my life and not shooting me. They kinda go hand in hand, but yunno--"

 "Get the fuck off me," Bucky said.

 "Oh, right," he said. "Sorry." And the weight of another body on his was gone and he sat up, rubbing his shoulder.

 Bucky waited all of two seconds before he swung the gun up again, but it was promptly kicked out of his hand-- again --so he went for the knife tucked in his sleeve and was ready to send it flying, but was cut off by another rain of gunfire.

 "No time to kill me," he said, grabbing Bucky by the collar and heaving him off the ground, "we gotta move."

 Bucky was ready to argue but was shoved to the other side of the steepled roof, where the gunfire couldn't reach him.

 "What are you doing?" he shouted over the noise.

 "No time ," came the reply, and then there he was, sliding down the angled roof and looking up at Bucky expectantly. "Safety's this way." He pointed down to the street below.

 Bucky glanced back over his shoulder, deciding whether or not to go back for his gun, when his new companion groaned audibly.

 He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small metal box, with a red button in the center.

 Bucky scrambled backwards, but he had no traction on the smooth clay tiles."Oh my god, no --"

 "Woops," he said, and he pushed the button. The building behind them-- Pierce, Bucky thought--was blown apart, debris and rubble sent flying in all directions. "Let's move ."

 And he backflipped off the roof.

 Bucky stared at the plumes of smoke rising into the night sky.

 "Hurry the fuck up!" came a shout from below.

 Bucky tore his gaze from the black smoke to stare at the edge of the roof.

  What in the hell?

 He knew he shouldn't have done it, because he was a professional and he had to check and make sure the job was done, double tap the target if need be--he'd never had to do it before, but he never half-assed a mission--but yet he slid down the roof and followed his new friend through the winding city streets, throwing glances over his shoulder.

 "I'm Clint, by the way," he said, and he stuck out his hand. Bucky didn't take it. "I said it earlier, but there were loud gunshots and--"

 "Bucky." It was weird, for Bucky, to actually call himself Bucky. He usually introduced himself as James. But, and maybe it was because he was turning a new leaf or whatever, he liked it. The change. He was no longer James, no one would know him as James . He was Bucky. Bucky Barnes.

 Clint stopped. "Do your parents hate you?"

 Bucky snorted, but kept walking. "Probably," he said.

 "Huh," Clint said, jogging to catch up. "Hey, I've got a hotel room, if you need a place to crash."

 Bucky's gaze on the street ahead slid over to Clint. "I don't think you could afford me, sweetheart."

 Clint stared at Bucky in confusion. "What? Wait--oh, oh . No, I mean like--"

 "I know what you meant," Bucky said. "I was kidding ."

 "Funny," Clint said. And then he stopped and turned to face a ramshackle brick face building, spreading his arms and presenting it to Bucky proudly. "I've been cooped up in here for a few days. The service here is great though."

 "Looks like a roach motel," Bucky said, unimpressed.

 "Yes, but in Rome , so it's like," Clint said, wiggling his hand, "authentic."

 Bucky took one last look at the outside of the building, and then followed Clint inside.

 The lobby was actually cozy, a fire was crackling in front of two large, squishy-looking armchairs. There was a bowl of chocolates on the small reception desk, and all the key-hooks under the room numbers were empty.

 "This way," Clint said, one hand dipping into the bowl of chocolates, the other waving Bucky along. He led them up three flights of stairs, shoving the whole handful of chocolate into his mouth, and into a small room at the end of a creaky, dimly lit hallway. It took some effort to shove the door open, but he ushered Bucky inside the second it was.

 He turned the light on--it flickered and Bucky was expecting the bulb to blow--illuminating a square room: two beds separated by a nightstand, a small kitchenette in one corner and two doors, one on each side of the room. One led to the bathroom, Clint explained, and the other a small closet.

 "If you have anything you need stored away for the night," Clint said, kicking off his boots and falling back onto one of the beds,  "tough shit."

 "I kind of left my really expensive rifle on the roof," Bucky said, sitting on the edge of the other bed. It creaked under his weight.

 Clint rolled onto his side and pointed at Bucky, his face scrunched up. "Don't be a schtick . Things are things but you're alive. That's more than other people have."

 "Well, those people are dead," Bucky said. "Their things won't do them much good. I, on the other hand, love my things. So thank you."

 "You're welcome," Clint said. "So, what were you doing trying to take out Alexander Pierce? Isn't he like, your boss?"

 "Technically, yeah," Bucky said. He ignored Clint's other question.

 Clint nodded slowly. "If I didn't know any better--"

 "You don't."

 "--I'd say you were tryin' to quit. Are you?"

 "Am I?"

 They watched each other for a few moments before Clint raised his hands in defense.

 "Good for you, is all I'm sayin'," he said. "Just, you know, be careful."

 Bucky blinked. He hadn't been expecting that.

 Clint rolled his eyes. "You're messing with the top beef, my man, watch your back." He sighed, then. "Now. I'm pooped. So I'll see you in the morning."

 He rolled over onto his stomach and didn't say another word.

 Bucky looked around the room, at the peeling wallpaper and water stains on the ceiling.

 If Pierce was dead-- he has to be, right? --then Zola was the only one left. And Bucky wasn't even sure where to begin looking. The scarce resources he'd found on the guy had hinted at a small beach town. What country? How small is small ? Is he vacationing or what?

 And that was definitely not enough to go on.

 Bucky sighed and pushed himself up from the bed. He pulled the semi-automatic out of its holster and weighed it in his hand, watching Clint.

 He took a step towards his bed and brought the gun up, resting the barrel against Clint's forehead.

 Zola wasn't the only one who would recognize him now.

 If he was going to be thorough--he always was--he had to tie up every loose end.

 Bucky's finger twitched against the trigger.

  Any second now...

 But he couldn't do it.

 He watched Clint's chest rise and fall, his nostrils flare and his lips twitch.

 This random stranger had just saved his life: why?

 The bigger question was why can't I pull the fucking trigger?

 He'd really had no qualms about it before; hell, he'd shot his own co workers. Just another Monday.

 But this was different. Somehow. He didn't know how. And he was quickly growing irritated because dammit Barnes, just pull. The fucking. Trigger.

 His hand shook.

 His hand never shook, especially not when gripping a firearm.

 He dropped his arm and set the gun on the nightstand.

 This was him paying it forward; Clint saved his life, now he's sparing his.

 Bucky toed off his boots and lay down on top of the sheets, staring at the ceiling until his eyelids drooped shut.

 

-x-

 

  Fog rolled in from the bay, thick as pea soup, enveloping the barren warehouses in a heavy haze. The dock was empty, quiet except for the sound of the water splashing lazily against the pier.

 Flickering yellow street lights burned through the fog, guiding the way for no one.

 That was until three pairs of feet, noiseless, ghost-like, trekked across the cracked, mossy concrete, easily navigating their way through the murkiness.

 Natasha, in the lead, had one hand gripping the gun fastened to her hip, the other placed on the warehouse to their right, dragging it along the sheet metal.

 Bucky and Clint, following closely behind her, kept throwing glances over their shoulder and all around, keeping an eye out for anything that seemed out of place.

 The sun, though no one could see it through the fog, was already hovering over the horizon when Nat had lead them to the docks.

 "I got a lead a couple days ago," was all she would say.

 Bucky followed, albeit reluctantly. Clint didn't give it a second thought.

 -x-

  "So you just need to find Rumlow," Nat had said.

 Bucky nodded.

 "He's in town," Clint said.

 "No shit," Bucky mumbled.

 "I'm trying to help ," Clint said, frowning, "don't be a shit. "

 "I know where to find him," Nat said. "Or, I know where to start looking."

 Clint and Bucky stared at her.

 "How?" Clint asked.

 "Where?" Bucky echoed.

 "I got a lead a couple days ago," she said. "You'll just have to trust me."

 "You make it so easy," Clint said, sighing, shifting into a more comfortable  position.

 "So," Bucky said, clapping his hands on his thighs and pushing himself up from the couch, "where are we headed?"

 Nat looked up at him, searching his face. She rolled her shoulder and looked down at the mug in her hands.

 "First things first," she said. She thumbed the lip of her mug, her face hidden behind a curtain of hair.

 Bucky waited for her to continue. She didn't.

 "Yeah?" Bucky asked.

 She set her mug down, hard, and looked up at him, her expression stony.

"When this is all over," Nat said, "when everything's said and done, you need to leave."

 Bucky frowned. "I know. You want me gone."

 Her mouth became a hard line. "Quit your job, fake your death. I don't care how you disappear, but you need to. You can't stay here and especially not with Steve."

 Bucky went rigid. He opened and closed his mouth a few times, trying to formulate a response. When he can't, he swallows, nods.

 Because she's right. He can't stay with Steve, he's not an idiot. He knows he'll need to leave. Maybe he'll go to Guatemala. It's nice there, right?

 "I'll sweep you under the rug," she said, her voice a fraction softer. "Don't worry."

 He wasn't.

 Steve deserved better. Better than Bucky. So Bucky would disappear.

-x-

  "Stop," Nat said, halting and holding up her hand. She tilted her head to the side, and then looked at Bucky over her shoulder. She pointed to a warehouse at the end of the dock, all the windows empty and black except for one, a faint orange glow illuminating the far east side of the building.

 Bucky gave her a curt nod and she stepped aside, letting him lead.

 He didn't know how he expected to feel, but it certainly wasn't grateful . Grateful that he didn't have to deal with this alone, grateful that his two companions were also trained in combat, and grateful that this was almost fucking over . He could feel it, that moment when the clouds are about to pass and you can feel the warmth of the sun again. Freedom .

 It was almost his.

 Of course, he had the shitty trade-off: freedom in exchange for a life without Steve.

 He had planned, before Nat had called him out, on staying with Steve. In all actuality, he knew it was a shitty idea and even shittier to leave Steve in this situation.

 Bucky's previous employment being the situation.

 Bucky couldn't promise to keep Steve safe because Bucky didn't know if he could stay safe. He thought he had killed anyone who could tie him to his old life--Clint being the exception--but Pierce and Rumlow had given him some serious doubts.

 He'd double-checked everybody, right? No one was breathing. He'd made sure. Pierce was the only one because Clint blew him the fuck up.

 Or so they thought.

-x-

  "You didn't even stick around? To make sure?" Nat had asked.

 Clint's eyes grew wide. "Are you kidding? They wanted the both of us! And they had the manpower to wipe us off the map, believe you me," he said. "I, on the other hand, had the firepower."

 Bucky stared at his hands, one glinting in the lamplight, the other hidden in its shadow. He wasn't even listening to the conversation, at this point.

He was thinking about Steve. About how he would give Bucky a weird look when Bucky made a joke, and then he'd laugh, because he wasn't sure if he should or not. He had to deem it worthy , almost. Or he had to figure it out. Bucky wasn't sure. But he loved it, that brief, honest moment. Because it was Steve.   

 He was thinking about how Steve didn't blush as much anymore, so when he did it was cuter, special almost. Because he wasn't like Bucky, completely shameless. But he also didn't have anything to be ashamed of .

 He was thinking about how, when he had come home covered in blood, Steve had cleaned him up and then stayed with Bucky all night, playing with Po and talking about everything and nothing and deciding which of the tiny cat sweaters was the cutest, not asking why Bucky didn't go to a hospital or what had actually happened.

 He was thinking about the Ferris wheel, and Steve's shiny eyes and red lips.

 He was thinking about the first time Steve had cried out his name, in the shower, after they had scrubbed--and licked--all the frosting away, and then gone to Bucky's tiny attic, not bothering to dry off, trapped in the heat of the moment.

 He was thinking about how they wore each other out so much they fell asleep on the small twin bed, and when they awoke, the sheets were damp and they had a moment of sheer panic when they couldn't find Po and Steve had exclaimed, before they were even out of bed, "What if we crushed him?!"

 He was thinking about how they had not, in fact, killed his cat when they were busy but how Po had slipped down into the bakery because, of course, they didn't bother to close the door. Because Steve had Bucky pressed against it, one hand pumping Bucky vigorously, the other buried in his hair, their lips locked together in a hot, slobbery mess.

 He was thinking about the sunrise, and the cinnamon on Steve's tongue, and how they had both said "I love you" and meant it.

 "Bucky," Nat said, softly, sadly almost.

 Bucky's gaze flicked from his hands to her face, eyes half-lidded, before he responded with a quiet, "Hmm?"

 She sighed through her nose, giving him a pitying expression. He hated it.

 "Bucky, it's for the best," she said, clasping her fingers together. "Steve doesn't need that. You know he deserves better."

 Clint frowned. "Hey, now."

 The corner of Bucky's mouth pulled up, just a fraction. He nodded and gave a small, "Yeah," before he stood and made his way to the counter. He grabbed a new mug and set it on the counter, staring at the coffee pot.

 Natasha was right. She always seemed to be right, he was starting to realize. He hated that, too.

 Her words had cut so deep, and not because he hadn't realized it. He had . He'd known it all along. Steve deserves better and Bucky is the lowest of the low. But Steve loved him. And he loved Steve. And it was all so fucked and Bucky didn't know what he wanted more: to die or to have never stepped foot in that stupid bakery.

  I don't deserve this, he decided. I don't deserve any of this. I don't even deserve to feel this way.

  He took a deep breath and spread his hands on the counter, looking out over the small apartment, at Clint and Nat sitting on the couch, watching him.

 "Alright," he said, " where do we start?"

-x-

 Clint, standing guard at the door, motioned at the glowing window above, asking Bucky what he should do in a series of hand gestures.

 Bucky shrugged, pointing at Nat who was picking the lock.

 The door popped open quietly, and Nat stood from her position on the ground. She stuck the hair pin she had used into her pocket and gave them each a glance before she disappeared in the dark warehouse. Bucky and Clint nodded at each other, and followed her inside.

 The smell of fish suddenly filled Bucky's nose and he had to keep himself from gagging. He squinted through the darkness, only able to see a few feet ahead of him. He could see the faint outline of a conveyer belt and nets hanging from the ceiling.

 "Bucky," Nat whispered, only loud enough for him to hear. She was pointing above their heads, to the second-story platform directly above them. The orange light flickered out.

 Clint closed the door behind them.

 They made their way up the stairs, Nat in the lead, all three had their weapons drawn: Nat a handgun, Bucky a knife, and Clint a baton.

 When they reached the second story, however, they only found an old jacket, empty water bottles, and three manilla files.

Bucky did a quick once-over, deeming the platform empty except for the three of them, before searching the area for an escape route of some kind. There were support beams about ten feet above the platform, which, if you tried hard enough, could be reached from this height. But not without making a ton of noise.

 "Ahem," Clint said, searching through the files, and pointed with his baton without looking up at a ladder that Bucky hadn't seen.

 Bucky frowned and gripped the ladder, hauling himself up, mumbling something along the lines of "It's dark" and "Shut up."

 Nat stayed below, keeping one eye on Bucky as she looked over Clint's shoulder at the contents of the files.

 Bucky hoisted himself onto an even smaller platform, full of nothing but wooden milk crates.

 He checked between the rows of boxes, checked every shadowed corner and all the edges.

  Nothing.

 He leaned over the side and shrugged at Nat, who frowned in turn.

 Then there was a crash from below.

 Nat and Clint abandoned the files; Clint took the stairs while Nat just swung herself over the edge of the platform. Bucky followed Nat's example, landing, catlike, on the floor below.

 He leapt over the edge, rolling into a somersault on impact, following the source of the noise.

 There was a shower of bullets and Bucky dove behind an oil drum. Directly across the way, Clint squatted, cocking his handgun, behind a large crate. He looked at Bucky and they seemed to come to some mutual agreement.

 They both nodded, ducked around the other side of their respective covers, and drew their weapons up to eye level, aiming for any sign of movement.

 But before either of them could even pull the trigger, a figure was illuminated by a burst of electricity, and hit the ground, spasming.

 They stared, and then looked up to see Nat, hand still outstretched in a throwing motion. She relaxed and straightened her jacket, and looked at them, as if surprised to see them there.

 "Oh, sorry," she said, "did I step on your moment?"

Chapter Text

Steve

  Steve didn't know what to do or what to say as Sam told him what he had overheard.

 Sam, it seemed, wanted Steve to go straight to the authorities, to avoid Bucky, at all costs, because he was dangerous .

 Sure, he was sketchy as all get out, but he was Bucky . Steve's Bucky.

 And Steve wanted both sides of the story. Maybe Bucky didn't actually kill Underwood-- who is that? --but maybe he did. He wanted to hear it straight out of Bucky's mouth.

 He wouldn't tell Sam that, though. No. Instead, he just stood from the couch--where Sam had urged him to sit--and thanked Sam and then assured him that yes, he would go to the authorities with this information and no, he wouldn't go looking for Bucky.

 He was honest. Steve was an honest person.

 But he lied through his teeth to his best friend and hadn't bat an eyelash.

 "You sure you're alright?" Sam asked, hovering in the doorway. "Look, man, I don't think I should leave. Bucky's dangerous, alright?"

 Steve ground his teeth together.

 "Sam, I'll be fine." He yawned, for effect. "I'm just... going to sleep on this. I don't know. I honestly don't."

 Sam searched Steve's face. "What do you want me to do?"

 "Go home," Steve said, gripping the door, ready to close it once Sam took his leave. "Get some rest."

 "Steve," Sam said. "You just--" He frowned. "First, you find a dead body. Then you find out your boyfriend might've been the one who put it there."

  Oh .

 Steve actually hadn't connected those dots.

 But Bucky was the one who said to call the police. Why would he do that if he had put the body there? Plus, he was the one who confirmed it was a body. Steve just saw something that didn't belong and Bucky put a name to it.

 It didn't add up. Or maybe it did.

 Steve didn't care at this point. He just wanted to be with Bucky. He wanted to know if he was okay, and what he was doing-- running errands, my ass --and that maybe Sam's story isn't true and he heard wrong. But maybe, if he didn't, and Bucky had killed someone, maybe it was for a good cause. Nope, no. Self-defense. That sounds better.

 "Are you trying to justify murder right now?" Sam asked, his tone disbelieving but his expression passive.

 Steve sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face. "No," he said--he was--rolling his head back and staring at the ceiling before saying, "I'm trying to decide what to wear when I report my boyfriend to the cops."

 "Formal," Sam said, frowning again. "It is a special occasion." His face showed nothing but concern.

 Steve sighed. "I'm going back to bed," he said.

 And then he edged Sam out of his doorway and closed the door.

 "Thank you," Steve said, louder so Sam could hear.

 "I'll be back later," came Sam's muffled reply.

 Steve watched Sam leave through the peephole and then slumped against the door.

  Well.

 He stared at his socks, his forehead resting on the cool door.

 He knew what he was going to do. He had no doubts that he would wait at least ten minutes, just to make sure Sam wasn't waiting for him to leave, before he hit the town, looking for Bucky.

 Because that's all he wanted, to talk to Bucky. Because he was scared and he was trembling and maybe Bucky did kill someone and he didn't want to say he didn't care but the only one who could possibly calm his down is the could-be killer.

 And that was, in all honesty, alright with him.

 So Steve waited. He got dressed, just pulling clothes from the hamper because Bucky used his machine last and he always left his clothes in the dryer so Steve hadn't gotten around to do laundry yet, and paced around his apartment. He checked his watch every thirty seconds, growing increasingly more frustrated when time didn't just skip ahead a few minutes.

 He finally let out a breath he wasn't aware he'd been holding when it was five past eight, grabbed his coat, and headed out, deciding the best place to look for Bucky first.

 

-x-

 

Bucky

  The exposed bulb, hanging from a long cord attached to the ceiling, swung to and fro, casting swaying shadows around the room.

 The room was quiet, except for the occasional " Fuck you ," and Rumlow's heavy breathing.

 A metal table sat between him and Natasha, and a single tooth rested on the center of it.

 She had her arms folded over her chest, and her hands were splattered with blood.

 Bucky was watching from the corner, the shifting light almost lulling him to sleep.

 "I didn't think you'd have one of these," Nat said, picking up the tooth and pinching it between her thumb and forefinger, holding it up to the light. She squinted at it. "Seeing as you're his top dog."

 She clenched it in her fist and walked around to the side of the table, perching herself on the edge of it.

 Bucky wasn't sure what her tactic was; so far, she'd beaten him bloody before she talked to him. He wasn't sure if it even was a tactic, or if she just really didn't like him.

 Both, probably.

 Clint, sitting behind Rumlow, was polishing a knife, looking up every now and then. When Rumlow had woken up, and started spewing profanities, he had switched his hearing aids off and watched Nat do her thing.

 Bucky, tired of Rumlow--who wasn't even doing much, really, Bucky just hated looking at him--was growing impatient. He just wanted to get whatever information they could squeeze out of him and then dump his corpse.

 "We're not killing him," Natasha had said when Bucky presented this idea before Rumlow had woken up. Nat's little toy did a number on him; he was still twitching.

 "Why?" Bucky and Clint had both asked, confused, because that was always their solution: murder.

 Nat rolled her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. " Because ," she said, "I'm just going to take him in when we're done with him. Solitary confinement is always fun. But, given his record, the death penalty might be a big hitter."

 Bucky sighed and stood, dusting off his backside, and sat on the opposite side of the table.

 He watched Rumlow, who watched him in turn.

 "Barnes," Rumlow said, giving him a nod. His chest was heaving, his face was bleeding, and one of his eyes was swollen shut. "Good to finally meet face-to-face."

 "Hmm," Bucky said, nodding. He held his hand out to Nat, who dropped the tooth in his open palm. He stared at it. "I never got one of these."

 "Not a fan of cyanide, huh?" Rumlow asked, chuckling. He coughed, and spat a red glob onto the floor next to Nat. She grimaced but didn't move.

 "Not particularly, no," Bucky said. He dropped the tooth back onto the table; it bounced off and landed on the floor next to Rumlow's foot. "Where's Pierce?"

 "Just beat me up a couple more times," Rumlow forced, coughing again. "It'll be more interesting."

 "I'm sure," Bucky said. He sighed and looked at Nat. "Isn't there like, a CIA handbook for this sort of thing?"

 "Well, yes," she said, nodding. "But it gets kind of messy."

 Bucky glanced from Rumlow's bloody face to Nat's bloody hands.

 "Messier," she said, crinkling her nose.

 Clint, sticking his finger in his ear, cleared his throat.

 "If I may," he said. He stood from his spot behind Rumlow, tucking his knife back into his pocket. He pulled out a small Swiss army knife, and pulled out the corkscrew. "Check it out." He held it out for Rumlow to see.

 Rumlow laughed, bobbing his head. "Cute."

 "Yeah, actually," Clint said, smiling. He tossed it to Bucky. Bucky caught it in his metal hand and flipped it around to look at it.

 "What do you want me to do?" Bucky asked.

 "Use your imagination," Clint said.

 Bucky pushed off the table and Clint took his spot.

 Rumlow sighed, then, watching Bucky.

 "You know," he croaked, his chest rising and falling heavier with every word, "it really is cute. How you thought..." He coughed, and spat another glob onto the floor. "You could get out. Without some sort of repercussion, at least."

 Bucky held up one hand. "Where's Pierce? Who was the woman you killed? Have you killed anyone else in the area?" With each question, he ticked a finger into the air.

 Rumlow gave him a bored expression.

 "Listen, honey," he said. "I don't spill all my secrets on the first date."

 "We should just give him that pill back," Clint said, sighing.

 "Please do," Rumlow said.

 Nat pressed a finger to her temple. "I think," she started, her eyes sliding over to Rumlow, "we should just take him to D.C.."

 "Go ahead," Bucky said, raising his hands. "I'm staying as far away from there as I can, thank you."

 "Why?" Rumlow asked. "Because you killed the V.P.?"

 "I knew it," Nat hissed.

 Bucky threw her a glare. "I will neither confirm nor deny--"

 "Confirmed," Clint said.

 "--that I killed the Vice President," Bucky finished, closing his eyes.

 "What was his name again?" Clint asked.

 "Fred," Rumlow offered.

 " Fred ," Clint said, snapping his fingers. "Yeah. He was a dinger."

 "You did the nation a great service," Rumlow said.

 "Shut up," Nat said. " Look . I need to find Pierce--"

 "So do we," Clint said, giving Bucky a look, like can you believe this?

 "--and he's not gonna say a word," she jerked her head at Rumlow.

 "These lips are sealed," he said, nodding his head.

 "I have resources there and it'll be easier for me to track Pierce's movements," she said. "He's pretty high up in D.C.. He's not invisible. We have definitive proof--"

 "Do we?" Bucky asked Clint, leaning in close. Clint shrugged, as if this were news to him.

 "--that he's a nasty guy," she said.

 Bucky handed Clint his knife back, and nodded at Nat.

 "Take him to D.C.. Just remember," he said, tapping his watch, "tight schedule."

 "We just gotta get him out of here," she said, looking at Rumlow. "Gimme a sec." She pulled out her phone and left the room--an old office in the warehouse, with nothing but a table, a chair, and the light overhead--demanding an Agent Coulson.

 Clint slipped the Swiss army knife into his pocket and watched Rumlow, who was in turn watching Bucky.

 "So," Clint started, but Rumlow chuckled again and shook his head.

 "Did you really think--"

 "Here comes the villain speech," Clint muttered, kicking off the table and following Nat out the door.

 "--you could settle down with the baker?"

 Bucky blinked, unimpressed, but did not answer the question.

 "It's cute," he continued. "This little fantasy you created. I'm glad we could be the ones to shatter it."

 Bucky sighed and folded his arms over his chest, his eyes rolling up to the ceiling. He really hated listening to this guy talk.

 "I heard," he said between breaths, "Underwood got you good."

 "Who?" Bucky asked before he could stop himself. He knew Rumlow was goading him, and he didn't want to feed into it.

 "Dottie," Rumlow forced out.

 "Oh," Bucky said, frowning. In all honesty, he'd almost forgotten about her.

 Bucky watched Rumlow struggle to breathe, catching snippets of Nat's phone call as she paced back and forth by the open door.

 "Don't think," Rumlow started. He coughed again and Bucky started to wonder if maybe Nat had done a little more damage than she meant to--or if she actually planned on letting this guy drown in his own blood--before he said, "you can keep him safe...from us..." He rolled his head back and swallowed audibly, laughing again; blood bubbled out of the corner of his mouth.

 "Well, you're a little tied up," Bucky said, nodding pointedly at Rumlow. " So ."

 "So what?" He licked his lips, smearing the blood. "What was his name again...? Steve, was it?"

 Bucky's eyes narrowed. He suddenly felt the urge to shut Rumlow up, by jamming his fist down his throat or smashing his face into the table, he really didn't care. But he hated hearing Steve's name come out of his mouth.

 "Wonder where he is right now..." Rumlow laughed, choked, coughed, and looked at Bucky, grinning with bloody teeth.

 Bucky went rigid.

 "Nat," he called over his shoulder.

 She poked her head in the doorway.

 "I know where Pierce is," Bucky said, watching Rumlow, whose grin disappeared.

 "Where?" Nat asked, frowning. "How'd you get him to--"

 "I have to find Steve," was all Bucky said before he bolted past her, praying to whatever higher being might be out there that Steve was safe .

 

-x-

 

Steve

 There was really only one place he knew where to look for Bucky, other than Clint's--though he didn't even know where Clint lived --so he hoofed it to the bakery. He had his keys in one hand, constantly twirling them about, the other was running through his hair or twitching in his pocket. He was so full of nervous energy, and his mind was going a mile a minute.

 He just needed to see Bucky. That would put him at ease, just seeing him, maybe waiting in the kitchen or asleep in the attic, Po curled up next to his pillow because that's where he liked to sleep.

 Yes, he was afraid of the question he knew he had to ask--although he wasn't even sure what he wanted to ask; why did you kill Underwood? or who is Underwood? or maybe he would just collapse in Bucky's arms, crying Say it ain't so!--and yes, he was afraid of whatever response he might receive. But his mind was going crazy with the what ifs and he just wanted to see Bucky.

 He turned the corner, and just seeing the faded BAKERY sign put him at ease, if only a little. He gripped the keys tighter in his hand, ceasing his fiddling, and unlocked the front door. He pulled it open, and tried to stamp down the swell of anxiety that hit him when he saw that the kitchen was dark.

 The nervous energy seemed to evaporate, and left behind a constant buzzing in his head. He suddenly felt on edge.

 He closed the door quietly behind him and slowly walked towards the attic stairwell. He listened for any sounds of Bucky snoring or moving around, but it was a little hard to hear over his own pounding heartbeat.

 A million questions were piling themselves on his tongue, and he started trembling again. What would he say, if Bucky was up there? Sam's words kept repeating in his head:

  "First, you find a dead body. Then you find out your boyfriend might've been the one who put it there."

 Steve was an honest person. Yes, he had lied before, but when he needed to he laid the truth bare, because there was no other way and he didn't believe in shortcuts.

 His trembling hand rested on the doorknob. He wasn't ready for this. Nowhere near ready. But he turned the knob and the door swung open quietly.

  Empty.

Chapter Text

Bucky

 Racing through the streets, making a beeline for Steve's apartment, the only thing running through Bucky's mind were Steve's last words to him:

  Be safe .

 And he wasn't. Of course he wasn't. Because he was trying to keep Steve safe and had, inadvertently, put his favorite person on the entire planet in danger.

  Be safe. Be safe. Please, for the love of god, be fucking safe .

 He finally reached Steve's street, his lungs about to burst because he hadn't had to do anything this physically exhausting-- well...-- since he'd arrived in town, and practically kicked the door to his building down. He took the stairs three at a time, and sprinted for Steve's door.

 He pounded on the frame, not giving a single flying fuck if he disturbed the neighbors or not.

 "Steve!" He shouted, knocking so hard his hand hurt and left dents in the woodwork. " Steve! "

 He pressed his ear to the door.

 Not a peep.

  Shit. Shit shit shit shit. Fuck.

 He was back on the street in less than ten seconds, his feet pounding the pavement as he sprinted towards the bakery.

  Be safe be safe be safe.

 His lungs felt like they were on fucking fire , his legs turning to jelly, but he pushed himself. Harder and harder until yes! There it is!

 The bakery, in all its simplistic glory, loomed ahead of him. He skidded to a stop and yanked the door open--his stomach sinking lower and lower because it was unlocked, because Steve was probably here, because the light was on in the basement--and he was suddenly on high alert. Because he could feel it. Not quite like the calm before the storm, but more like a predator stalking in the bushes, watching, and waiting.

 The bakery was empty, the burning red of the setting sun illuminated enough of the first floor that Bucky could see everything, from the empty shelves lining the walls to the pictures of Steve and his mother and the bakery's history.

 There wasn't a single sound coming from downstairs, which was odd if this were any normal day for Steve, because he wasn't aware of the definition of quiet .

 Bucky's hand slid into his pocket, and pulled out the knife. He hesitated, stared at it, put it back, and pulled out his pistol. He wanted this to be quick. A bullet to the brain is faster than a knife to the heart.

 He crept down the stairs, knowing exactly where to step so they didn't creak.

 He didn't have a game plan except for if you have the shot, take it, do not make the same mistake twice.

 And then Bucky was on the last step, and he had a split-second of relief before he saw Steve. Steve . Good ole Steve, in a shirt that's too tight, and eyes that are too blue and cheekbones that are too perfect.

 And then he saw Steve's face, rigid, hands clutching the counter, staring at Bucky.

 No. No, he was staring at the gun in Bucky's hands, eyes blown wide.

 Bucky almost dropped the gun.

 "Shit, I'm sorry, I'm--" He cut himself off. He tucked the gun into his belt and took a step towards Steve.

 Steve flinched.

 "Steve--"

 "Underwood," Steve said. His voice was quiet, but firm, and it cut into Bucky so deep he froze. He watched Steve.

 How did Steve know Dottie? Bucky doesn't even know Dottie. He just killed her. Well, no, he dumped the body.

 Oh.

  Oh .

 He swallowed. "Who?" he asked.

 "Cut the shit, Bucky," Steve said, and he didn't sound mad. He sounded tired. Exhausted. Bucky could honestly say he felt the exact same way. "I'm asking you. Who's Underwood?"

 "Why?" If he was scared before, he was terrified now. Because now Steve knew. Bucky didn't know how much Steve knew but he knew and this is exactly the direction he didn't want this whole mess to go in. But whoops, guess we're on a highway to hell, better buckle up.

  Steve was searching his face. He looked like he was holding himself back, not from saying something he'd regret, but literally, physically holding himself back. To run from Bucky? Or to him?

 Steve's frown deepened. "They're dead." It wasn't a question.

 Bucky was going between being a shit or being honest. He wanted to say, "News to me," but what slipped out was, "It wasn't me."

 Steve looked... surprised. Relieved . "What--" He stopped himself, took a deep breath. He was staring at the ground, still searching. "Tell me what happened."

  Uh-oh .

 Steve's head snapped up. "I have questions. Several hundred questions."

 Bucky bit his lip, keeping himself from saying anything else. He suddenly remembered why he was in such a panic earlier and suddenly he wanted to be gone, out and away from Steve and on the hunt for Pierce.

  Pierce .

 He was supposed to be here. Where is he? Is he on his way? Or was Rumlow just yanking his chain?

 He froze.

 How did Steve even know about Underwood? What the hell is going on?

 "Steve," Bucky started, swallowing down the lump in his throat. "How did you know about Underwood?"

 "I'm asking the questions," Steve tried, but Bucky gave a sharp shake of his head.

 "I need to know, before you--" He swallowed again, his eyes roaming up to the ceiling. "Before I tell you everything."

 Steve was quiet, but Bucky couldn't bare to look at him. This was it. These were probably his last moments with Steve because then Steve would know. He'd know everything and Bucky would have to leave. He had to leave anyway, he knew that, but he was hoping his exit would be under better circumstances. With Steve in the dark.

  "Sam," Steve said quietly. "He heard... someone talking about you. And--"

  "Dottie Underwood was her name," Bucky said, his eyes flicking back down to Steve. "She came at me, she was the one who," he motioned at his shoulder, the very one Steve had helped clean up, "did that."

 "Why?" Steve asked, concern edging his tone, but he was mostly all business.

 It was just like when Bucky had come home, after Underwood, and Steve had gone straight to work on cleaning him up, all business. He didn't kiss Bucky's forehead and make him feel better, he poured alcohol into his open wound and told Bucky to shut up when he complained.

 "Steve..." Bucky sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. He didn't say anything for a while, and Steve didn't push him. This was a lot. If Steve wanted to know everything, Bucky would tell him everything. It was just... a lot. And there was still Pierce. But maybe Pierce would make his own appearance. And Bucky could deal with that.

 But no. He couldn't. Because it had to be now . He couldn't just sit around and wait because this was all the time left he had with Steve, in this town. And he hated that but this is the hand he'd been dealt and he was just going to roll with it.

 "It's a really long story," Bucky said, dropping his hand and looking at Steve. "Really long. And--" He cut himself off, refraining from saying "You'll probably hate me after you hear it."

 "And?" Steve prodded.

  Whatever.

 "You'll want to sit down when you hear it."

 

-x-

 

Steve

 "Okay," he said, and he sat. He looked up at Bucky from the kitchen floor, urging him to continue with a nod.

 "Uh, okay..." Bucky sat down, too, cross-legged in front of the fridge. But he kept his distance from Steve. "What do you want to know?"

 "Everything," Steve said, with a slight eye-roll. "I don't care how much."

 "Alright, alright," Bucky said, frowning. "Where do you want me to start? "

 "The beginning," Steve said.

 Bucky nodded and stared at his hands. Steve gave him time to think and he realized, suddenly, how akin this was to what they were doing just a few hours prior. Under the influence of way too much cinnamon whiskey, asking each other a million and one questions, waiting for the sun to rise.

 Bucky had told him so much, about himself but not his life, Steve realized. Because while Steve wanted to know about Bucky's childhood and his family and what he'd been doing with his life before he came to town--although, now he wasn't so sure--he mostly wanted to know Bucky. Like what his favorite music was-- Metallica and Cyndi Lauper are basically who I am as a person , he had said--or his favorite midnight snack-- potato chips and vanilla ice cream but listen, together , it's pure magic-- and his favorite movie-- Lord of the Rings, I don't care if it's a trilogy, Lord of the fucking Rings-- every stupid little detail. Just maybe not the right ones.

 "When I graduated," Bucky started, his voice, though quiet, cut through the silence, "I, uh, joined the army. I did covert missions, mostly in Iraq, at first. Then I started getting these orders to take out dignitaries, politicians, higher-ups, yunno? I don't know who was giving the orders. I just followed them." He let out a quick breath. "Then this guy shows up and he says I've been handpicked to join an organization called HYDRA ." He snorted and shook his head.

 "HYDRA?" Steve asked. "Who're they?"

 Bucky's smile faded. His eyes never left his hands. "They're, uh..." He cleared his throat. "Kind of a terrorist organization."

 Steve blinked, but he couldn't bring himself to say anything.

  "Yeah," Bucky said, nodding. "I didn't really know that, when I first joined. I just thought it was some super secret branch. I was surprised they picked me , honestly. Pierce," his jaw clenched, "had said something about my marksmanship, how I was the best and I never missed. Stuff like that. The phrase 'flattery will get you nowhere' carries no weight with me, it seems."

 Steve watched him, but he still kept quiet. He wasn't sure what he was expecting, but it certainly wasn't anything to this degree. A secret terrorist organization? No. He was thinking something more along the lines of the mob, maybe Bucky owed somebody some money.

 This was too much. Way too much. He needed Bucky to slow down, or shut up, but Steve couldn't bring himself to open his mouth. He was having enough trouble trying to maintain his breathing.

 "Fast forward a couple years, skip the training montage, and they dump me in Munich, give me a gun, and tell me to take out the prime minister of Malaysia," Bucky says. He rests his interlocked fingers on an upraised knee.

 "Did you?" Steve pushed out. He tried to think back, remember old headlines or breaking news. Nothing came to mind.

 "Well, I didn't want to disappoint," Bucky said.

 "How..." Steve started, but he shook his head.

 "How what?" Bucky prodded, his voice quiet. "You can ask anything you want, Steve. I'm an open book."

 "How long ago was that?" Steve asked.

 "Oh," Bucky said, his tone touching down somewhere between relieved and disappointed. "I don't know. Six, seven years, maybe? Why?"

 Steve shook his head. "Just wondering." Because while you were killing the prime minister of Malaysia, I was doting on my dying mother. Or she was already dead. It just seemed weird. I don't know. "Go on."

 "You sure?"

 "I said everything."

 "Alright." He shifted, leaning back on the fridge, and thrummed his metal fingers on the tile.

 "Wait, wait," Steve said. Bucky looked up at him and, Steve realized, it was the first time he'd actually looked at him since he'd started telling him everything. "Your arm."

 "Oh." Bucky looked down at his left hand. "Well, I wasn't being completely dishonest when I told you how I lost it."

 "How did you lose it, then?" Steve asked.

 "Well, I am a veteran," he said. "And I technically was in a government program for amputee veterans. Just to clarify."

 "Right," Steve said, nodding. "Because lying about that would've been all kinds of awful terrible." Bucky smirked, and Steve laughed. And he realized, suddenly, that he wasn't even afraid of Bucky. Everything was different, insanely different, because his boyfriend was an assassin. Still... is? Maybe? He has no clue. But he's not afraid of him, even though he should be. And he doesn't know how he feels about that, just yet.

 "It was this mission, just outside Berlin," Bucky started, and his eyes actually lit up, just a little bit, and he was having fun , recounting this story, Steve realized. He stared at Bucky, a little wide-eyed, but if Bucky noticed, he made no sign of it. "It wasn't a solo mission, which it usually was, and we were on this train, trying to catch Zola--he's a scientist that worked for HYDRA--because he had some high-level intel and was trying to run. And this guy I was working with--"

 "Okay, break," Steve said, holding out his hands to stop Bucky.

 "What?" Bucky asked, raising an eyebrow.

 "Zola," Steve said.

 "Yeah."

 "The guy they found in the tank?" Steve asked.

 "Oh." Bucky frowned, and then nodded. "Yeah. That was me. But I'm getting to that."

 Steve leaned back, sighing. "Continue," he said with a wave.

 And he did. It took longer than Steve had expected, but Bucky did say it was a long story. Bucky told him how the freight car had been blown apart, and how Bucky had been thrown from the train. He'd told Steve how he realized that if Zola could escape, then so could he, but he didn't act on that thought for a long time. He'd told Steve how he made the list, and then how he started checking people off one by one. He told Steve how many people he'd killed, who they were and why he'd done it.

 "And that's why I got him ," Bucky said, once he'd finished telling Steve about the Vice President.

 "That was you? " Steve asked, gaping.

 Bucky nodded, rubbed the back of his neck. "He was up to some nasty stuff. I mean, that doesn't justify murder , but it's a job I don't really regret. So there's that."

 "How many do you regret?" Steve asked.

 Bucky's gaze drifted back to the floor. "Most of them."

 Steve gave him a few quiet moments before he said, "Go on."

 The next part of his story was about how he met Clint.

 "So Pierce and Zola? Those were the last two?" Steve asked.

 Bucky nodded.

 "And then add Clint," Steve said.

 "Well, no, because he saved my life," Bucky said. "I wasn't gonna kill him."

 "So, what'd you do? After you didn't shoot him?"

 "Well, I woke up and then I left," Bucky said. "That was the last I saw of him before he showed up here. I kind of almost kicked his ass because I thought he was the one who wiped my accounts."

 "Your accounts?" Steve asked. "Like, bank accounts?"

 "Oh, right, right, I'm getting to that," Bucky said. "I'm trying to stay on track."

 "Right, okay," Steve said, shifting and leaning forward on his knees. "So the morning after."

 "Shut up," Bucky said. "But yes. So, we talked a little bit and he made me breakfast, then I left, and I did go back to the place where Pierce was. But there was too much attention there, so I just kept an eye on the news. There were about three bodies found in the wreckage, but none of them could be identified."

 "Why didn't you just look for him in the U.S. news?" Steve asked. "Like, he's not invisible. He's a politician."

 "I'm getting to that," Bucky said, rolling his eyes. "So then I come to the States."

 "To look for Zola," Steve said.

 "Right. And it took me about two years to find him," Bucky said.

 "Why'd it take so long?" Steve asked.

 "Well, he was pretty good at hiding," Bucky said, shrugging. "I could only get scarce resources on the guy. Had to travel all fucking over, to hell and back, essentially. Like, the first tip I got, was that he lived in a small beach town. That's it."

 "Here," Steve said. "A small beach town."

 "Yes."

 "You have shitty resources," Steve said, nodding.

 "I know ," Bucky said. "Okay. Anyways. I come back to the States. And I check the news. And Pierce has gone missing. So I figure, nice, he's dead. Just Zola."

 "Was it?"

 "I'm getting there," Bucky said.

 Steve frowned. He didn't want to admit it, because it was weird and he shouldn't be enjoying Bucky's story as much as he was, but he was really enjoying Bucky's story. It wasn't just because this is exactly what he wanted to do, to get Bucky's side of the story--only to find out he'd murdered not just one person, but dozens--but it was also simply because he liked the way Bucky told it. Because Steve could tell that Bucky hated what he'd done for a living, and he could tell Bucky hated the way he had to go about cutting all his old ties, but Bucky was still telling him everything. And while it scared Steve shitless, he was proud that Bucky could do this for him.

 "So I come here," Bucky starts.

 "And you kill Zola."

 "Right."

 "And," Steve said, pointing at Bucky and raising an eyebrow, "you stayed?"

 "Yeah," Bucky said, nodding.

 "Why?"

 Bucky flinched slightly, but just slightly enough for Steve to see. "Well, at first it was because I was tired."

 "Tired," Steve repeated.

 " Exhausted ," Bucky said. "I didn't want to have to go into hiding. I just wanted to settle down. Get a decent job."

 "And you did," Steve said, nodding. "As a delivery boy."

 "Man," Bucky said, a kneejerk reaction by now. "Yeah, I didn't see that one coming."

 "So you stayed because you were tired," Steve said. There was more, he knew, and he wanted to know what exactly it was. Though, he was almost entirely sure he knew already.

 "And..."

 Steve squinted at Bucky, and then his eyes blew wide in disbelief. Because Bucky Barnes, who had just confessed to dozens of murders over the last six years, sitting cross-legged on the floor, was blushing. His face was practically glowing .

 "Yeah?" Steve said, scooting closer, unable to keep the grin off his face.

 Bucky looked away and mumbled, "I saw you."

 Steve smiled and fell back, slumping against the leg of the workbench. "I knew it."

 "Well, duh," Bucky said. "You were whistling Time After Time. It was basically love at first sight."

 Steve tilted his head and looked at Bucky. "So I'm the reason."

 "Yeah."

 "Then what happened?" Steve asked, quietly.

 Bucky gazed at the ceiling. "They found Zola's body so I laid low for a while. And then I met you, and then my house burned down," he said. He squinted. "Then I moved in, lost all my money, and then you hired me."

 "Wait," Steve said. "You lost all your money?"

 "The accounts," Bucky said. "They all got wiped, or I got locked out. Hell, for all I know the banks burned down. I had millions ."

 "And then I hired you..." Steve blinked. "You didn't even work at the docks!"

 Bucky frowned. "Oh. No."

 "What did you do ? Just hang out in the attic all night?"

 "Uh, yeah. Essentially." Bucky nodded. "And then you hired me."

 Steve shook his head. "Okay, okay. Go on."

 "Alright. So then, Clint shows up. And he tells me that Pierce isn't actually dead, because Rumlow is the one who burned my house down and--"

 "Wiped your accounts," Steve said. "Who's Rumlow?"

 "Pierce's bodyguard, basically," Bucky said, frowning. "He's good as dead, right now. Nat and Clint have him--" He cut himself off, and his mouth snapped shut.

 It took Steve a moment. He stared at Bucky. "Nat?"

 Bucky's mouth was a straight line, his eyes blown wide.

 "What's Nat got to do with this?"

 They stared at each other, until Bucky finally opened his mouth with a sigh.

 "It's really not my secret to tell," he said.

 Steve frowned. "This isn't middle school, Bucky. You said everything ."

 Bucky bit his lip. "She..." He closed his eyes and rested his head against the fridge. "She works for the C.I.A.. I just found out today."

 Steve should've been mad. He definitely should've been mad. But he slapped the tile, laughing, because holy shit.

 "We were right! " he shouted, throwing a hand over his face. "Oh my god ."

 "Uh," Bucky said.

 "I mean, we knew she was some kind of something ," he said. "But we were always kidding with the super spy stuff. Jesus." He swiped a finger under his eye. "Okay, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Go on."

 Bucky was staring at Steve, an eyebrow still raised. "Right..." He shook his head and steepled his fingers. " Right. "

 He then told Steve about Clint bringing him Po, which wasn't actually a crucial point in the story, he just wanted to tell it. And then Underwood, and how she took the cyanide pill, and then Clint trying to get Bucky to actually do something about Rumlow. And then what Clint had said when he'd come into the bakery yesterday, and then the body under the bridge.

 "So you don't know who she was?" Steve asked.

 Bucky shook his head. "That was Rumlow. I'd bet anything it was just to get my attention." He shook his head, staring at the ceiling again.

 Steve wanted to say, "It's not your fault." But it was most definitely Bucky's fault.

 "So then you left to run some errands ," Steve said.

 "I did," Bucky said defensively. "I got Rumlow. He didn't give me much information, mind you. But enough."

 "What'd he say?" Steve asked.

 Bucky frowned. "Not much."

 "Buck..."

 Bucky's gaze flicked to Steve.

 "I have to leave," Bucky said.

 "Right now ?" Steve asked.

 "No," he said, shaking his head. He squeezed his eyes shut and pinched his nose. "Nat. She wants me to leave. I was supposed to fake my death, actually."

 "Oh my god," Steve said. Something sparked inside him, then. "Tough shit."

 Bucky went rigid. He slowly lowered his hand and, just as slowly, looked up at Steve. "What?"

 " Tough shit ," he reiterated. "Stay."

 "Steve--" Bucky started.

 Steve pushed himself off of the ground and he glared down at Bucky.

 "I don't want you to leave," Steve said.

 And then they both froze, because in the break of silence between the two of them, the only sound was the echo of footsteps in the stairwell.

 

-x-

 

Bucky

  Bucky was up in an instant, gun in hand, stepping in front of Steve.

 Steve was rigid, one hand reaching out for Bucky, the other sweeping the counter for something, anything .

 Bucky slipped a knife from his pocket, and held it behind his back; Steve took it. Bucky felt just a bit of the tension ebb, knowing that Steve wasn't completely defenseless, before a figure appeared in the doorway.

 And Bucky had the sight trained right between the figures eyes, his finger ready to pull the trigger.

  If you have the shot, take it. Don't make the same mistake twice.

 Except he couldn't take the shot. Because his target had his gun raised, pointing directly behind Bucky.

 "Well," Pierce started, and just the very sound of his voice grated on every single one of Bucky's nerves and he wasn't sure he'd ever hated anyone more than he had in that moment , "if you want something done right."

 Bucky didn't move.

 "Right," Pierce continued. "Ah. Now that I've got your attention," he wiggled the gun in Steve's general direction, "I've got a few things I'd like to discuss."

 He watched Bucky, smiling.

 "First," his eyes flicked to Steve, "is he aware of, ah, what you are?"

 Bucky's grip tightened, and he actually wanted to laugh.

 Steve cleared his throat then.

 "Steve," Bucky said, "shut up."

 "I just--" Steve started.

 "Shut up," Bucky repeated.

 "That Pierce?" Steve asked anyway.

 Bucky bit his lip, but gave a curt nod.

 "So he does know?" Pierce asked, frowning. "That's unfortunate. I was looking forward to spilling the beans."

 Bucky knew that Pierce wanted him to play into this, this game that he was creating. But Bucky didn't care. He wanted this guy dead. So that's what he was going to do. This would be his last, he decided. He was done.

 "Steve," Bucky said.

 "Yeah?" Steve asked.

 "Duck."

 A shot rang out, but it wasn't from Bucky's gun; it was from Pierce's. And suddenly he couldn't hear anything over the ringing. He pulled the trigger, but missed-- missed? --hitting Pierce's shoulder. The old man hit the ground, hard, and Bucky spun to see if Steve was alright but Steve was already moving.

 Steve kicked Pierce's gun away, which he had trained on Bucky, and pinned Pierce to the floor, his knee digging into his back.

 Pierce struggled to get up, but Steve's weight held him down.

 "Cover your ears," Bucky said. And then he pulled the trigger one last time.

 

-x-

 

Steve

  It wasn't an ideal date, no, and it certainly wasn't fun .

 But if it helped Bucky get out of his old life, leave the person that he was behind him so he could start something new --whether he stayed with Steve or not, he wasn't sure and it wasn't that he didn't care, but he wanted what was best for Bucky, and what Bucky thought was best for himself--and that was good enough for Steve.

 So after they had rolled Pierce's body off the bridge, they sat down, and they didn't talk. But they watched the ocean, and it was weird. Because Steve could feel it, the freedom that Bucky felt.

 He couldn't feel it for himself, but he could feel the relief rolling off of Bucky in waves. And when he looked at him, he was glad to see that there wasn't a constant shadow behind his features anymore. He looked free, and genuinely happy.

 

-x-

 

Bucky

 He felt at ease. And he loved it. And while sitting there, with Steve, he just breathed. Because there wasn't a constant weight on his chest, and Steve knew everything, and there was no more list.

 The list was done.

 That just left one more thing.

 "I can pack up my things tonight," Bucky said. "Get out of your hair."

  "I meant what I said," Steve said, quietly. "Earlier."

 "Steve, you deserve better than me--"

  "It was just yesterday," Steve interrupted, looking at the moon, high in the sky, "when we said 'I love you.'"

 Bucky blinked. "Yeah." He didn't know what else to say.

 Steve tilted his head to the side, looking at Bucky, smiling. "I still do. Love you, that is."

 Bucky's breath caught in his throat.

 Steve shrugged, looking away. "You did some horrible things," he said, nodding. "Really bad."

 "Thanks."

 "I'm just saying," Steve said, giving Bucky a hard look, "you did them. And you can't change that. And yes, you lied, and yes, I didn't know the real you or whatever."

 Bucky squinted. "How can you just... accept it?"

 Steve looked at him, then, and Bucky could tell he had another honest moment coming. And he wasn't ready for it. He really wasn't.

 "Because I love you, Bucky Barnes," Steve said. "And if you want to leave because you think I deserve better, you can. But you're wrong. You're good. You're a good person who did bad things. And that's okay." He took Bucky's hand in his.

 "Steve," Bucky said. And his voice cracked. And he could feel his eyes starting to burn, but he swallowed and pushed out, "You literally just said murder is okay."

 "Yeah, well," he shrugged a little, and leaned in close to Bucky, "I did just help you dump a body."

Chapter Text

"Alright, got your coat?"

 "Yes."

 "Toothbrush?"

 "Yes."

 "Tooth paste ?"

 " Yes. "

 "Okay, what about--"

 " Bucky ," Steve said, exasperated. He gripped Bucky's shoulders. "I'm all packed. You're all packed. The train is leaving and we're gonna miss it if we don't get our asses out the door."

 Bucky frowned, but zipped his suitcase up-- finally --and set it on the floor. "I just wanted to be thorough. I don't want to forget anything."

 Steve glanced around the apartment: the walls were barren, faded except for where old family photos once hung, the only furniture left was the cracked leather couch in the living room and the refrigerator, now empty--though it almost always was, except for a crusty bottle of ketchup.

 "There's nothing to forget," Steve said. He opened the door and held it open, ushering Bucky and the luggage into the hallway. "You dropped the keys off in the office?"

 "This morning," Bucky said.

 "Good," Steve said. He wheeled his suitcase around and led the way down the three flights of stairs. "Got the tickets?"

 Bucky patted his jacket pocket. "Right here."

 "Po?"

 Bucky lifted the crate, housing a sleeping black cat.

 "Alright. We gotta make one more stop before we go..."

 

-x-

 

Steve

  He didn't think the day would come when he would finally be able to say, "Gonna miss this old place."

 But here it was, and there he was, saying it to Bucky, standing in the kitchen basement.

 After Pierce, after... everything , really, things had been weird. There was no other way to describe it. Because after they gave Sam a bullshit explanation--"We thought he was a criminal, but he was just working undercover for the CIA. He's settled down now, look at him, delivering his bread"--which they were sure he didn't even believe, everything went back to normal.

 For the most part.

  Nat still kept her business ventures to herself, letting them keep up the guessing game, but also assuring them that she would be okay. She would call when she was finished with a mission; it helped Steve sleep better anyway.

 They all made a unanimous decision, without having to utter a word about it really, that they wouldn't tell Sam.

 He had told Steve and Bucky, when they explained why Sam shouldn't go to the authorities--Steve had to talk Bucky out of restraining Sam, to which Bucky grumbled and set the duct tape down--that he didn't want to know more than was absolutely necessary.

 So they only told him about Bucky's recent endeavors, and left it at that.

 One of the weirdest things to happen was when, after that night when they had to explain to Nat what had happened so she could relate their story to her boss--edited, of course, to make it seem as if Bucky had, in fact, died--Nat had turned to Clint.

 "Want a job?" she had asked.

 "Depends," he had replied. "How much does it pay?"

 "Enough."

 "Yeah, alright."

 "Welcome to the CIA."

 She had then gone on to explain that now that Fury--"The man upstairs," she said--thinks Bucky is dead, that that case is closed. So her window was wide open and she wouldn't mind a partner.

 He didn't stay in town as much as she did, but when he did, he usually slept in the attic. Because Bucky had vacated it and moved in with Steve.

 And things were good. But they weren't the same. And Steve knew they wouldn't ever be the same again and running the bakery just wasn't enough. So he knew what he needed to do, and when he had presented the idea to Bucky, he was all for it.

 Because they both knew this was coming, and they were ready for it. Steve had been planning this, he realized, since he had reopened the bakery seven years ago. But now he didn't have to go forward alone, because while he was shaping his own future, he was shaping Bucky's, too.

 And that eventually led to this, their last moments in the bakery.

 The last day had been hard, for sure, because it was busier than it had ever been in his lifetime. Because everyone who had ever come into the bakery, it seemed, wanted to say goodbye. And Steve wasn't ready for that. But he appreciated it more than he thought he would.

  "You ready?" Bucky asked.

 Steve blinked, his eyes flicking up. He had been staring at the spot where Pierce's body once lay, but there was no evidence of it having ever been there. He nodded at Bucky, because he was ready. He hadn't stopped by for any particular reason  other than to say goodbye, really, and he had.

 He followed Bucky upstairs. They threw one last glance at the bakery, the stairs leading up to the tiny attic, the bare walls, the empty shelves, before heading outside.

 Steve held the key up, then smiled at Bucky. It was bittersweet.

 And he locked the bakery door one last time.

-x-

 

Bucky

 Bucky had known the second Steve sat him down what he planned on saying. After that night, things weren't the same. Well, they were. And they weren't. They had gotten back into the same old routine, but Bucky could sense it. Not a growing tension, but a growing desire . For more.

 If Steve had wanted to live out the rest of his days running the bakery, Bucky would've been just fine with that. If Steve wanted to travel the world even though there was no way he could afford it, he'd be alright with that too. Because he felt like he'd lived his life, and he wanted to help Steve live his.

 After Steve had told him about his plans to finish up in the academy, though, he had told Bucky something he did not expect.

 "There's a great college in the city, too, if you wanted to take some classes."

 And while it was minor, maybe just said in passing because Steve was getting excited, creating an entire plan and picking up ideas, dropping them, changing his mind again and again, it meant a lot to Bucky.

 Because he hadn't thought about himself. Because he really had thought he'd done all he was meant to do, and all he was meant for now was to help Steve up. But he never told Steve that, because of course he would say something like, "Bucky, it's a two way street. I'll help you, too."

 And he had helped Bucky, in more ways than he could ever admit. And Bucky thought that maybe that was it. But he was starting to realize that's not how it worked. He had the rest of his life ahead of him, not just what he'd left behind.

 So he was thinking about it. His future . Because maybe he had one.

 And while it wasn't as definitive as Steve's, the possibilities really were endless.

 

-x-

 

Steve

 When they got to the train station, they were met with a pleasant sight.

 Nat, Sam, and Clint, all waiting for them.

 Bucky handed Po to Clint, to say their goodbyes. Clint wiggled his fingers through the bars of the crate.

 "See you around, little buddy," he said. Po didn't really acknowledge him at all. Clint sniffed and set the crate down, then threw his arms around Bucky. "You too, little buddy."

 "Geroff," Bucky mumbled, but he was hugging Clint back just as fiercely.

 Steve reached into his duffle bag and pulled something out, clearing his throat. Clint and Bucky looked up.

 "A replacement?" Steve asked, and he tossed the stuffed black cat, that Sam had bought for him so long ago, to Clint.

 Clint caught it in one hand, his other arm still draped over Bucky's shoulder. His eyes were shining.

 "And no clean-up," Clint said.

 Bucky shrugged out from underneath Clint's arm and said, "Must be nice."

 Clint squatted down next to Po's carrying crate and wiggled the cat in front of him; Bucky knelt down next to him and said, "I think he's asleep."

  Nat walked forward with a hug, then, and wrapped her arms around Steve's waist. She dragged Sam into the mix.

 "We're gonna miss you," Nat said, giving each of them a squeeze before letting go.

 Sam left his arm around Steve's shoulder. "I'm happy for you. I really am."

 Steve swallowed the lump in his throat. "Thank you. Both of you. I couldn't have asked for better friends."

 Nat rolled her eyes, but sniffed.

 Sam shook him a little before dropping his arm. He cleared his throat and held out a hand to Bucky, who, when he saw Sam's outstretched hand, stood from his position next to Clint.

 "Gonna miss you, too," Sam said.

 Bucky blinked at Sam's outstretchd hand, but took it. Then pulled Sam into a tight embrace.

 "Sorry you never got that penis bread," Bucky said, releasing Sam.

 Sam straightened his jacket, but he was smiling. He shrugged. "It was only a dream."

 "Let the dream die," Steve said.

 Bucky turned to Nat, then, and neither of them said anything. He smiled, and she smiled back, giving him a small nod.

 "You're welcome," was all she said.

 And then a voice came over the loudspeaker, announcing the train's departure.

 Bucky hoisted Po under his arm and gave everyone a wave with his metal hand before picking up his suitcase.

 "See you around," he said, and then he pointed at Clint. "Be careful, dumbass."

 Clint, both hands wrapped around the stuffed cat, snorted. " You be careful. There's more to life than delivering bread."

 "I wouldn't know," Bucky said. He readjusted his hold on Po's cage and gave Clint a mock salute. "Bye, guy." They gave each other a small smile before he headed for the train.

 Steve grabbed the rest of the luggage, following Bucky.

 Nat grabbed his arm, though, stopping him in his tracks.

 "Good luck," she whispered, and gave him a quick peck on the cheek.

 Then she shoved him in the direction of the train, where Bucky was already boarding. Steve gripped the handrails and turned to look at the small group of friends.

 "Hope you make it in the big city!" Sam called, cupping his hand around his mouth.

 "We'll visit!" Nat added. "Expect us during Thanksgiving! Christmas, too, probably!"

 "You're welcome whenever!" Steve called back. "Goodbye!" He waved, and just then the train jerked and started rolling, slowly.

 "Need a hand there?" came Bucky's voice from behind him. Steve turned and Bucky took his suitcase, loading it into the luggage compartment.

 "Where do you want to sit?" Steve asked, pointing at the two seats.

 "You can have the window seat," Bucky said with a grunt as he slammed the compartment door shut. "I'm, uh, used to travelling." He gave a small cough.

 Steve sat down, watching the station ease by, giving Nat, Sam, and Clint a small wave before they disappeared around the corner.

 Bucky sighed and fell back against his seat. He rolled his head to look at Steve.

 "You ready?" he asked.

 "Not really," Steve said. He took Bucky's hand in his. "But it's easier, with you, I think."

 Bucky gave him a small smile before leaning in, giving him a quick kiss. "I'm with you to the end of the line, pal."

 "That's our stop, Buck," Steve said, pointing at the schedule in the seat pocket.

 "You know what I meant," Bucky said, leaning back. Just then, his eyes widened and he pointed out the window. "Look at that."

 Steve followed his line of sight. The tracks traced along the shoreline, curving around the city, giving them a wide view of the whole town. The sun was dipping into the sea, making the city glitter like gold in the setting rays. The ocean, bright blue and circling the city, dotted with sailboats, was a stark contrast to the seemingly gold buildings. The thick, full trees that towered over the architecture swayed and scattered leaves into the sea breeze.

 They stared until the train turned a corner, cutting off their view.

 "I'm gonna miss it," Bucky said. He laughed through his nose, smiling at nothing in particular.

 "What?" Steve asked.

 Bucky shook his head. "It's just--when I first came here, I thought it was a city floating on waves," he said. He laughed again, louder this time. "It's dumb. I don't know why I remembered it."

 "A city floating on waves," Steve repeated, quietly. He smiled, but Bucky was staring at the ceiling.

 Steve didn't think it was dumb at all. Bucky looked over at Steve, and he grinned.

 If someone had told Steve seven months ago that, given those seven months, he would have fallen in love with his delivery boy, cheated death, sold the bakery, and left his quiet seaside hometown, he would have laughed right in their face. Because Steve Rogers, seven months ago, was too busy to fall in love with a delivery boy, too busy to cheat death, even. And could you imagine? Selling the bakery? His mother's bakery!

 And life was funny that way, he figured. Because life sent him Bucky Barnes. And had it not, he'd still be sitting in that kitchen basement. And while he was fine with it before he met Bucky, before he found out who Bucky really was, he wasn't now. Too much had happened and he realized that he didn't have all the time in the world to not do what he wanted. He knew, ever since he was a kid, that all he ever really wanted was to help people. And helping Bucky--no matter how messy it was--was like a slap in the face.

 Running a bakery wasn't enough, not at all.

 But it was enough to have pushed him to this point, and now he was moving forward with his life, with Bucky.

 And that was enough.

-x-

 

Bucky

   Steve was already fast asleep when the lights in the train car dimmed, his head lolling onto Bucky's shoulder. Bucky was watching the windows, even though it was pitch black outside. He couldn't see a thing other than the droplets of water rushing past.

  He never thought, in all his life, that he would ever be as happy as he'd been with Steve. Yes, shit hit the fan and yes, he'd never been more scared than when he thought Steve was in danger. But they both had pulled through, and they were still here and together and happy .

 And Bucky couldn't believe it. He really couldn't. Because for the longest time he thought that he was the worst, the lowest of the low. And Steve had shown him that maybe, just maybe, he wasn't.

 And Bucky wanted to keep telling himself he didn't deserve this, he didn't deserve this happiness and he didn't deserve Steve. But he couldn't anymore.

On their last night in town, Bucky had taken Steve back to the bridge. He wasn't sure why. He didn't want to talk about anything particular, or dredge up memories of Pierce. But he wanted to be there with Steve, because it was probably his last chance.

 They didn't stay to watch the sunrise and they didn't get drunk off their asses. They stargazed and while Bucky was pointing out the constellations--"That just does not look like a dragon, Bucky, I don't see it"--Steve was retelling old stories about his mom that Bucky had already heard. But he didn't tell him because he liked the way Steve told them.

 Then they had gone home and Steve slept on the couch while Bucky slept on the floor--they had tried to share the couch but, really, they shouldn't have even tried--because there wasn't even a bed anymore.

 It wasn't a particularly special night, because they had done this time and time again. It was only important because it was their last night there, in this beautiful city by the sea. And Bucky couldn't help but compare it to his first.

 And it was funny, how things worked out the way they did. Bucky had felt so out of control in the last several months and while it was terrifying and unpredictable, he wouldn't have changed a thing. Things happened the way they did and that's how he wound up here, with Steve asleep on his shoulder, on to their next adventure. Together.

  And that was enough for him, Bucky decided. Wherever he wound up, he'd be with Steve and that really was enough.

 He took Steve's hand in his, and watched the rain spatter the windows. And by the time he had finally fallen asleep, a great city had just come into view, glowing like a beacon in the dark, dark night.