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Lemon Meringue Lies

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“This isn’t great,” Natasha said, leaning over the table, paper in hand. Her eyes scanned the sheet.

“Tell me something new,” Maria rubbed her forehead slowly, hard, like she could rub the annoyance away. “We’re fucked.”

Nat glanced up. Maria wasn’t one for profanity on the worst of days. As head chefs went, she was probably one of the least foul in the business.

“We’re not super stacked tonight, not many reservations, at least,” Nat murmured.

“Yeah, but what about tomorrow?” Maria leaned on the cold metal and stared at her Hostess. “We’ve got that corp party in from Long Island.”

Natasha nodded. “Yeah, we need a replacement, stat.”

“Urgh!” Maria wailed.

“Good afternoon to you too,” came a pleasantly calm voice.

Steve Rogers was a godsend. Maria knew it, Natasha knew it, they all did. He was probably the most random of all their hires who evolved from being a kitchen liability to a server sent from heaven. He looked as chipper as ever, towering over both of them, yet exuding nothing but genteel friendliness as always. How this great tanker of a young man came across so small was beyond them.

He was freshly pressed, full black apron crisp over his white shirt and bowtie.

“What’s wrong, boss?” Rogers said, finally noticing the two women’s glum faces. “I’m not late, am I?” He glanced up at the large round clock hanging above the sink.

Maria sighed.

“No, Rogers,” Natasha said, standing up. “You’re the only one in this establishment that refuses to be late.”

Rogers frowned, “You make that sound like a bad thing.”

“It’s boring, is what it is,” Nat murmured.

“And extremely welcome and professional,” Maria added. Lord knows she wasn’t above appreciating her active, well-behaved employees.

“Carlson quit,” Natasha said, folding up the sheet of paper in her hand. “Bastard.”

Maria’s eyes snapped to her. “Don’t badmouth, Romanov.”

Natasha just kept on folding up the letter of resignation they’d received forty minutes ago.

“Dang,” Rogers said, moving aside so one of the cooks could get by. Lunchtime was quiet, thankfully. He blinked at Maria. “You got someone to work his shift?”

Maria scowled. “No. You know any Michelin Star chefs waiting in the wings? I’ve unfortunately run the gamut of everyone I know.”

“Which is why this place is so fantastic,” Natasha said with a small quirk of her lips.

Rogers nodded sagely.

“Ain’t that the truth,” Bruce piped up from the corner where he was prepping the dough for the pizza Maria had dreamt up two nights ago and had immediately added to the menu.

Maria rolled her eyes, “If you’re all done with the ass-kissing, we need to figure this out. Bruce, you know anyone who can fill in? Doesn’t need to be longterm, just someone halfway decent.”

Bruce shook his head, back still to them. “No, sorry.”

“Don’t make me bring my mom in here,” Maria sighed.

Nat sighed to match. “I’ll ask around, but honestly?” she looked at Maria solemnly, “It’s too short a deadline, you know?”

She patted Maria’s shoulder as she squeezed by. “Gonna go get the wine selection,” Natasha said, exiting the kitchen.

Maria rubbed at her eyes. Wanda entered from the rear door, a massive tray of shellfish in her small arms.

The rest of the staff would begin their sessions. It was going to be insane soon, and Maria was fucked.

“Um, hey, Boss.”

Oh, Rogers was still hovering nearby.

“Mmm?” Maria slid her mouth over her palm and rested her elbow in her other hand, arm across her stomach, and she leaned back against the counter.

“I might know someone.” He chewed his lip. “I mean, he’s good– great. Uh, but you know, not Michelin Star or anything. I mean, he’s not really into big kitchens like this. But he’s amazing. And I bet he could help. He’d want to help.”

Maria watched her head server waffle a bit, his hands flapping. He was truly precious in his own way.

“Who is he?” Maria asked.

“Uh, my roommate, Bucky. He’s always the cook at home,” Rogers chuckled.

Maria peered at him closely. Why hasn’t she heard of him, then? Rogers was up to something.

“He’s amazing. I swear. You should meet him.” Rogers rubbed his great big hand over his hair.

“Where’s he worked?” Maria asked. She wasn’t about to completely discount Rogers’ input because the guy was honest as all hell, but still. His roommate? Not much of a reason to hire someone.

Rogers’ eyes shifted, “Um, well, right now he’s working in one of the smaller restaurants on Brookdale. Not, like, a big famous place. He’s got a shift tonight, but I bet he’d be up to start tomorrow if you need him.”

Rogers was almost beaming with eagerness.

“Brookdale?” Maria murmured, still eyeing him. There were tons of restaurants down Brookdale. It was basically a bustling outdoor market with French, Italian, Asian, you-name-it cuisine. Some of the restaurants down there were decent. Riba was freakin’ great, actually. “What resto?” she asked, pushing on.

“Ah, a little place. Family-run. Called Yann’s. It’s flippin’ awesome.”

“Never heard of it,” Maria said. She watched Rogers chew his lip.

“Well, uh, how about you meet him? I can bring him round before his shift tonight? Like, maybe in an hour?”

Maria still had questions. “What role is he in? Right now, I mean? If we’re hiring for saucier, he better have experience.”

“He’s basically head-chef?” Rogers said, wincing a little.

Maria sighed. “Look, Rogers, I’m sure if he’s your roommate, or whatever, your friend, I’m sure he’s good. But I’m not going to hire just anyone. You imagine if a guy fucks up during the dinner rush? Murder is the end result. Committed by me.”

“No, I get that,” Steve nodded, “But Bucky’s amazing. He cooks better than anyone I know, uh, present company excluded.”

Maria rolled her eyes, “What, you think because I gave you a chance, when you didn’t really deserve one I remind you, you think I should be giving handouts all over the place?”

“It’s not a handout,” Rogers murmured. “I just think, maybe if you–“ then he blinked. “I know! Hold up one second!” and in a flash, the man disappeared out of the kitchen.

Maria stood up and eyed the clock.

When Rogers reappeared, he was carrying what could only be his lunch box. Everyone made fun of him for bringing his own food in every shift, like the free meal at one of the best restaurants in the city still wasn’t good enough for his particular palate.

“Here, try this,” and he cracked open the lid of the cheap plastic container. Maria would bet there was a set of them at home, from Ikea probably.

She peered into the box with a raised brow.

“I can’t get food poisoning today,” she said sardonically. “Tomorrow, maybe, but not today.”

“Just try it,” Rogers said, bustling around to find a clean fork.

“What are we looking at?” Maria eyed the two round shiny blobs, and the glisteningly familiar vegetables. Looked pretty basic.

“Try ‘em first,” Rogers insisted.

Maria sighed, wondering once again how this buzzing bees-nest of a boy had wriggled his way into her life. She was way too soft on him.

“Fine, but if I die, burn the restaurant down. Collect the insurance. Make something of yourself.”

Rogers rolled his eyes. "you're not gonna die." Maria poked her fork through the proffered food.

“Go on,” Rogers murmured. “Don’t worry, I can eat something else.”

Maria shook her head and hurried this along, popping one of the what appeared to be steamed dumplings into her mouth.

She chewed slowly, not really expecting much beyond the standard meat-dumpling and gravy combo.

“Oh,” she paused, chewing gently. Flavours burst over her tongue. Soft, almost creamy sweetness rolled around and collided with crunchy bits of … nuts? Hmmm. Interesting. Tangy, too.

She couldn’t quite pinpoint that flavour.

Rogers eyes were piercing, watching.

Maria swallowed.

She breathed for a second.

“Okay,” she breathed. “Not what I expected.” she eyed Rogers. “What was in that?”

Rogers smiled and shrugged. “No idea. Bucky makes random things all the time. I’m his taste-test dummy.”

Maria cocked a brow.

Rogers stumbled, “I mean, I think I saw him roasting chestnuts? Maybe?”

Maria looked him over. That big dumb face with those expressive eyes boring into the softest part of her blackened soul…

“Okay, fine!” Maria snapped. “I’ll meet him tomorrow.”

Rogers’ face lit up like fireworks. “Really?! Oh my God! Amazing! He’s going to go nuts!”

“It’s an interview, Rogers,” Maria huffed, standing and brushing her hands over her white apron. “Not a job. Don’t get too excited. He needs a resumé. Desperate times call for desperate measures.”

“You’re gonna love him!” Steve all but yelped.

“It’s a temp job,” Maria reiterated.

“I know!” Steve babbled.

“Not permanent, you understand?”

“Yes!” Steve breathed and hugged her so suddenly, Maria felt her feet stumble a bit as she took on his immense weight.

“Rogers!” she barked.

“Right!” he leapt back, gathered up his things in a flash, and vanished right out the kitchen door.

“Stay out of the kitchen!” Maria barked after him.

“Sorry!” came his faint, wail of a response.

 


 

Bucky was already puttering around their tiny kitchen when his phone rang.

He looked at it blearily, still waiting for the water on the stove to boil. He caught Steve’s name flashing across the little screen and he sighed before answering.

“What? You forget your spare underpants or something?” he said, voice still rough from sleep.

“Morning sunshine!” Steve yelled over the line. Bucky winced and bustled about the kitchen, gathering his coffee supplies. “I left the French press in the dry rack for you.”

How did Steve even know?

“Thanks,” Bucky grumped, tugging the glass jug free of the mess of clean dishes. “Why you calling me at this sickening hour?”

“It’s three pm, Buck. Your shift starts in like, two hours.”

Bucky just grunted, wedging his phone between his ear and shoulder.

“I have great news!” Steve went on. Bucky scooped out his coffee grounds, relishing in their smell.

“Oh yeah? You meet a pretty lady?” Bucky said.

“No, you–ugh– listen.” Steve said. “I got you an Interview at work. Maria says she’s willing to meet you!”

Bucky paused.

“Huh?” he said eloquently.

“At work! Job interview! In the kitchen! Isn’t that awesome?” Steve crowed.

“Steve, what the fuck are you talking about?” Bucky’s voice wavered a little.

“Well, this guy, Carlson, he quit, y’see. So they have an opening. And I bigged you up to Maria and –“

“Maria, as in Maria Hill?” Bucky croaked.

“Yes, of course, are you awake? Are you listening?” Steve went on. “So she says if you can come in tomorrow morning, you can chat! Isn’t that freakin’ amazing?”

Bucky just tried to breathe. He pulled the boiling water off the stove. He put the phone down on the counter and tapped the speakerphone button.

“Buck? Bucky? You there?” came Steve’s loud, obnoxiously excited voice.

Bucky breathed, then moved.

He carefully poured boiling water into the coffee press. He set the small pot aside.

“I’m here,” he said.

He pushed the press down, squeezing the sweet nectar of the gods from his stupidly expensive coffee grounds. Then he just stood still.

“Buck?”

Bucky sighed.

“Steve, what the fuck, man?” he said, staring at his own bare feet. “I can’t work there. I don’t have the experience. What the fuck?”

“Of course you can!” Steve cried, “I’ve been here for three years. I know this kitchen. I’ve seen how they cook, what they do, what’s required. Bucky, you’d be amazing here! I swear it. You just don’t know your own talent.”

Sometimes having the world’s most bull-headed cheerleader for a best friend could really wear a guy out.

“Steve, I can’t pretend to Maria-fucking-Hill. I can’t fake my way through that. God, I’m getting hives just imagining it.”

“You don’t have to fake anything,” Steve said, softer now. “You’re an amazing chef, Bucky. I know it. You know it.”

“I’m not a chef. I’m a goddamn line cook.”

“Hey, just ‘cos line cooks in fancy joints go by a different title, doesn’t mean it ain’t the same thing,” Steve retorted. He had a point there.

“Besides, the position’s for saucier, anyway,” Steve mumbled quickly.

“Wait, what?” Bucky yelled. “Saucier? Steven Grant Rogers have you officially gone off the deep end? Holy fuck! This is nuts! Holy shit. She’s gonna laugh in my face. Steve! What the hell?”

“Hey, look,” Steve cut in, “You wanna work in a good restaurant, right? You wanna be the best cook in town, right? You wanna feed tons of people your amazing dishes and you want me to be so damn proud, right?”

Bucky stood up and ran his hands through his messy hair. “But I’m not fucking qualified, Steve! There’s a difference. I haven’t worked in any goddamn fancy restaurants, ever. And I am definitely not anything near saucier level anything.”

He tugged at his hair, breath galloping faster.

“It pays really good, by the way,” Steve said suddenly. “Like, way better than what you got now.”

Goddamnit.

Right in the gut.

Because that was always the rub, with Bucky. They were both still living in a shithole apartment, like they’d always been. They were still living paycheque to paycheque, even after Steve got his fancy job at BRDO. That had been the biggest step forward for both of them, really. The amount of cash Steve could make in one night was staggering compared to what he’d made before working at the local community college library. Money was always tight. Fuck, even Bucky’s mom was the one who gifted them the French press and the set of pans, and even the goddamn coffee grounds for Bucky’s birthday. Why? Because they couldn’t really afford their own. What was his life becoming? Nothing fast, if he was honest.

Bucky sighed loudly and ran both hands down over his face.

“Buck?” Steve’s voice was gentle.

Bucky was about a million percent sure that if this conversation was happening face-to-face, he’d have already caved. Why? Because Steve would have used those round blue eyes of his to woo Bucky into a state of weakness, malleable as he was under that stern but loving face. Because Bucky Barnes was a stupid dumb fuck who would move heaven and earth if Steve Rogers asked him to.

“Yeah, I’m here,” Bucky sighed. He eyed the dark liquid in the press. Funny how if you squish something enough, it exudes some deliciously addictive pain-juice.

“You don’t have to do–“ Steve sounded so defeated.

“I’ll do it,” Bucky said. What the hell. He had very little to lose apart from his dignity and sense of self and they were running in short supply anyway. At this stage, he might as well throw the cart in before the horse. “What time and where?”

“Eight am, at the restaurant.”

Great. Just fucking great.

“Sorry,” Steve murmured, fully aware that Bucky was working the night shift.

“You owe me, Rogers,” Bucky sighed again, picking up the phone.

“Put it on my tab,” Steve said, clearly smiling through the phone.

“Whatever,” Bucky groused, “Get back to work, you slacker.”

“Yes, sir,” Steve sniggered. “Bye, Buck.”

“Bye.”

And the line went dead.

Bucky eyed his phone a moment longer before sliding it across their tiny kitchen counter.

“Uuurghhhhh!” he groaned before collapsing onto the counter and burying his face in his arms.

Chapter Text

Maria wasn’t a fool. She knew when she was being conned, and the way Rogers had been acting all day? Suspicious.

She sighed as she walked home. It had been a fairly quiet night, so not a great worry, but she did need to fill Carlson’s vacated position.

Why she’d agreed to meeting Rogers’ friend, she’ll never know, but she didn’t forget to mention to Natasha that the job position still had to go out. They had to find someone.

The sidewalk was pretty busy, considering how late it was. She walked past the epicentre of the hustle and bustle and glanced down the familiar street. Brookdale Avenue. Right.

She squinted and made a snap decision. She could easily pick up dinner/breakfast down here.

It was the height of summer, so tons of people milled about the popular street vendors and restaurants. Whatever summer special was drawing them in must be pretty good.

Maria yawned, keeping an eye out.

What was it called again? Rogers said it was a popular joint. It wasn’t really weird if she was spying on any possible interviewees, was it?

Maria kept going, eyeing the lanterns and fairy lights that lit up the avenue like it was all-year Christmas. Some cafés had little tables and chairs set up, while other street vendors just had lineups and rows of condiments to slather on whatever frankenstein hotdogs they were selling.

Maria’s stomach rumbled. Okay, so food was definitely a good idea. She was tired, she had to be up early, therefore greasy food was a must.

She strolled along, wondering what to get. There was Italian over there…Portuguese, Greek, oh, Ethiopian. Mmm.

There was a crowd gathered around one of the street carts. A simple affair, with just one guy manning it. Must be quite popular, though, going by the line.

“Asian-fusion cuisine,” she read on the vinyl awning. “Huh.”

It smelled amazing. She got closer to get a look at the menu. She blinked.

“Oh, you are kidding me, Rogers,” she hissed under her breath. “Yann’s?”

Yup. Yann’s was, apparently, a dinky Asian-fusion street cart (admittedly one of the larger, shiny, futuristic-looking carts, but still, a street cart) in an outdoor food market.

Was this for real? Was Rogers yanking her chain?

“Goddamnit,” she eyed a teenage girl’s food as she eked past. Maria’s stomach rumbled louder. She eyed the menu angrily.

“Roasted garlic shrimp bites,” she read. “Steamed sesame plum and pork buns. Kimchi, grilled beef,  seaweed and rice burger with sweet potato fries? Oh God.”

Damnit, that all sounded legit.

She got in line. She had to check this out. Plus, hadn’t Steve mentioned that his roommate was working tonight?

So while she waited, she prepared the many ways she was going skin, fillet and fry Steve Rogers come morning. That lying, scheming little snot. Just because he squeezed his way into her restaurant on a weak day for Maria, doesn’t mean he can wrangle his whole posse in through the front door.

The line moved fairly quickly.

By the time she made it to the front, she was drooling. The guy behind the counter turned, wiping at his minuscule counter before looking up.

“Hi, what would you like?” he said.

 

Gosh.

 

Would you look at that face.

Maria cleared her throat, “I’ll have the garlic bites, please.”

The guy nodded and tapped away at the new-fangled tablet-style cash machine.

“You want to try the crispy-sweet won-tons? New on the menu.”

Maria blinked, “The what?”

The guy looked back at her, then leaned his elbows on the counter. Gosh. When he blinked real slow, she swore she could count all his eyelashes.

“They’re like cream-filled fried won-tons with ube sauce. Ube is like a– “

“I know what ube is,” Maria cut him off.

He blinked. His long hair was tied back and hidden under a black baseball cap. Maria’s eyes slid over to his nametag.

Shit. It, very clearly, in block letters, said “Bucky”.

“Okay,” he said calmly. “It’s on the house, seein’ as it’s brand new. Gotta see if people even like it, right?”

He gave a small smile, clearly unbothered by her earlier tone, or dangerously good at hiding his annoyance.

Maria just nodded. “Okay, fine. That too.”

He rang up her order. It was cheap. Huh, was probably greasy and gross, if that was the going rate. While she jammed her wallet into her bag, she watched him move about in the tiny space.

“You use fresh ingredients?” she blurted.

The guy turned, “Yes?”

She quirked a brow. “You don’t sound so sure.”

“Well,” he bent down and pulled out a metal container filled with round balls. “The seafood comes in fresh every morning. Dock’s not too far from here. Depends on what they have; will determine the menu. Um, but everything’s made fresh, if that’s what you mean? All the sauces, the vegetables.”

“So, like handmade?” Maria asked.

The guy, Bucky, rolled out some of the apparent shrimp balls. “Yup,” he answered. “As best I can do, anyway.” He opened his arms, as if to show off how very difficult it must be in such a small space.

So Maria watched him work, actually quite fascinated. She always thought it weird to work in basically a tin can, but then again, her kitchen at home wasn’t much bigger. Plus, the guy worked alone. And he kept the little work surfaces clean.

“You the only employee?” she asked.

Bucky looked over from the fryer he was watching.

“Nope. Just night shift. My colleague runs the day shift and the boss lets us do our thing.”

“So does your lunch colleague prep your food?”

The guy frowned. “Uh, no. We do different sets. So the lunch menu’s different.” he shrugged. “We try to experiment a little. See what people enjoy, what’s good. Within reason.”

Maria knew her face was glaring, but that was just how she looked.

Really, she was thinking.

He finally handed over a little cardboard boat and a paper bag.

“Garlic bites and won-tons.” he barely smiled at her. “Enjoy.”

“Thanks,” she groused, intent on still being pissed about this turn of events.

She found an available chair and sat down, unraveling her food.

The garlic balls looked pretty average. She shrugged and popped one in her mouth.

Hm. Thin crunchy outer shell, not soaked in oil. She chewed slowly. Definitely shrimp, but with … a little bite to it. And smooth, like buttery smooth, oh, and there was some kind of meaty flavour mixed in there, or was it more of a roasted blend?

“Mmm,” she hummed.

She stared down at the boat of food. So small. She popped another one in her mouth.

“Goddamn,” she said, revelling in the taste. This was sinful.

The bites were gone in minutes. Her “dessert” was even better. It was making her mad.

She sat there for a while, wondering what had possessed Rogers to do this. Was it some weird sense of loyalty to his friend? Or did he think Maria was just that desperate for help? Or that dumb? The guy was clearly nuts.

She looked up and could see that the Yann’s lineup was still snaking around. So business was good, she assumed. When you get the young, clubbing, drunk crowd, it always will be good. She wondered what it was like in winter.

She sat there for a while, pondering.

Even at this ungodly hour, the Brookdale Avenue markets were bustling. Most were twenty-four hour, but still. She could understand, at least, why some snacks were acts of desperate hunger at midnight.

 

 

“You good?” Bucky said at seven-fifteen the next morning.

“Yeah, of course!” Steve said, struggling to get his shoes on. Bucky kept saying they’d need to get a shoe-rack/seat one of these days, but Steve is nothing if not stubborn about not wasting money. Watching the six-foot-two idiot wriggle on his butt on the floor was entertaining though.

 

Eventually they made it out the door and down the winding street to BRDO. Steve’s workplace was in a convenient location. It was the kind of place that, while being simple and unobtrusive, still managed to scream high-end. Bucky remembers the day Steve had had enough of not finding any work and just walked right inside the place, demanding a job. Was it really years ago? Felt like yesterday.

Bucky had actually never been inside. He knew from Steve’s stories that neither of them could realistically afford to eat there anyway. He would just drop Steve off on his way to work. Both of them tended to work nights, so their schedules would align. It was bad enough working shitty hours if you never got to see your best friend and roommate.

This morning was not the best. Bucky’d come home only a few hours ago, exhausted, and still had to dig around for the last revised version of his resumé he had on hand. He hadn’t had a job interview in forever. The kind of work he did usually hinged on word-of-mouth and friendly recommendations.

“This is such a mistake,” he said, staring up at the plain white exterior.

“Oh, okay, you wanna go home?” Steve took a step back the way they’d come. Bucky scowled at him.

Steve chuckled. “Come on, Buck. It’ll be great, us two working together, won’t it?”

Bucky snorted.

“Come, I’ll show you in,” Steve slapped him on the back and Bucky shook his head, following his friend inside.

The place was empty, as it technically only opened at lunch. Steve led Bucky through the front, weaving around the tables and benches and booths. The bar was a helluva thing. Dark wood, mirror-backed cases and gleaming crystal everywhere.

“They actually let you back there?” Bucky whispered.

Steve made a face, “Hey, I only broke one bottle. Once.”

“Wasn’t it, like, aged cognac from the mountains of Peru or something?” Bucky responded.

“Shut up.”

Bucky could hear noise now, and his heart started to race. This was such a mistake. Fuck.

They reached a large window cut into the wall and Steve leaned against it and tapped on one of those dingy bells found in hotels.

“Hello, housekeeping!” he cooed loudly.

A head popped out from behind one of many open metal doors.

The redhead squinted. She shut the door and wrote something on the clipboard in her hand. Then she made the two-finger sign for ‘two minutes’ and disappeared.

Another, different, redhead came round the corner, this one with longer hair. She dumped a metal container on one counter with a clang. She then proceeded to pull out what looked to be massive bricks of butter.

“That’s Wanda,” Steve whispered. “She’s prepping the croissants today, I guess.”

Bucky nodded, his fingers nervously sweeping along the paper in his hands. He watched the young woman roll her long hair up before tucking it under her white chef’s cap.

“Stop that,” Steve said, pulling Bucky’s resumé out of Bucky’s hands. He pressed the sheet to the window’s counter, smoothing out the wrinkles.

“I can’t do this,” Bucky murmured. His hands were sweaty.

“Sure you can,” Steve said calmly. “I know you can.”

Pity Bucky didn’t think the same way. He’d barely slept at all, just lying, staring at the ceiling of the his tiny bedroom.

A woman appeared suddenly in front of them. Bucky jumped.

“Ah!” Steve yelped. “Boss! What the hell?”

Bucky balked. This was Maria Hill?

The woman was wearing her whites, minus her hat. She looked professional, cold, her hair back in a severe bun. She looked like an army general. And she looked familiar.

“Rogers, go prep the flatware,” she said sharply.

“Oh, uh, well, can I introdu–“ Steve tried.

Now, Rogers. Go. Let me and,” she dragged the sheet of paper over to her side of the window and perused it. “…James have a little chat.”

Bucky swallowed. He watched Steve give him sorry eyes before the blonde walked back into the front of the restaurant.

“Come this way,” Maria Hill said abruptly.

Bucky moved around and entered the kitchen. He followed her through to the far corner, to where an almost hidden door sat nestled into the wall.

A thin wooden staircase led them up to a pokey office, lacking in the beauty of the restaurant, but obviously filled with the boring side of running a business. Things like cabinets and folders and stiff leather chairs pressed up against the faded walls.

Maria Hill slid into the seat behind the old mahogany desk. Bucky carefully sat down opposite her, sweating bullets.

She was reading his resumé.

It was hot up here.

He wondered if he should have dressed up more. His black sweater, blue jeans and sneakers might not be fancy enough for a woman who designed and built her own restaurant from scratch, inside and out.

“Steve said your name was Bucky,” she said abruptly, looking up over the sheet of paper.

Bucky nodded. “Yeah, uh, yes. It’s what I go by. Buchanan is my second name.”

“Hmm,” she hummed. “Yann’s isn’t listed on here. Want to tell me why?”

So she was the woman from last night. Also, she wasn’t fucking around. All righty then.

“Honestly?” he said slowly. “I got home at five this morning and none of the Kinko’s were open, so I couldn’t print a new one with the updated information.”

She eyed him.

“Have there been many changes since this last version?” she waved the paper.

He nodded, “Uh, yes. I also worked at Schmidt’s in midtown. For about six months.”

She stared. “The Greek fast food place?”

Bucky nodded carefully.

She stared at him some more before putting his resumé down on the desk carefully. She sat back.

“I know this may seem abrupt but I don’t like to beat about the bush.” She folded her fingers in her lap. “It says here you went to culinary school. I see the date. What happened?”

Bucky fidgeted. “Well, I went to St. Anthony’s. Um, but only for one semester.”

“So you never actually graduated.” she deadpanned.

Bucky shook his head.

“Why?”

He chewed the inside of his mouth. He looked down.

She waited.

“Did you fail and drop out?” she asked. “It happens.”

Bucky looked up. “No. I didn’t fail anything. I just …” he chewed his lip some more. “We couldn’t afford it. I had to get a full-time job and school wasn’t cutting it.”

“We?” Maria Hill said.

“Yeah, me and Steve.” Bucky answered, wondering what the hell was going on. “He tell you we’re roommates?”

“He did, yes,” she said. She looked at him, really seemed to be drilling him with her eyes, like she could unravel whatever bullshit she thought he was spewing.

“Bucky, how old are you?”

He blinked. “Um, twenty-six.”

“And you were in culinary school, for one semester,” she picked up his resumé again. “Four years ago?”

He nodded, feeling the dead weight of his stomach.

She sighed and rubbed at her eyes.

“Steve told me you were head-chef,” she said then. She looked at him, brows raised.

“He what?” Bucky said, shocked.

She actually smiled then. “I mean, I guess you are, technically, if you’re the only cook on call.”

Bucky blanched. Fuck. What was Steve thinking?

“I’m sorry, ma’am, I didn’t mean to mislead you. I don’t know why Steve said that. It’s–it’s not true.”

“Well, I think he said it because he wants his best friend to get a great job at one of the best restaurants on the Eastern Seaboard.” She smiled wanly.

“Look, I’m sorry if he said that, but he probably meant–“

She sighed loudly. “Look, your food, the type you cook at that stall, is that really all you?”

Bucky nodded, “Yes.”

“You come up with your own recipes and just, I don’t know? Sell it?”

Bucky shrugged. “Basically.”

She stared him down. “So what did you actually, really learn in culinary school? Because one semester sure as hell isn’t enough to learn it all.”

Bucky just stared at her.

She raised her brows. “Slicing? Dicing?”

He frowned a little. “Yes, of course.”

“Sautéing?”

“Yes.”

“Butchery?”

“You mean like cutting meat straight from the animal?” Bucky asked.

“Yeah, that.”

“I didn’t learn that at school, no. But I learnt a lot when I worked in Chinatown.”

“Chinatown,” she said coolly.

“Yeah, I worked at the Golden Pearl. For a while. Mister Cao, he runs the kitchen there, he taught me loads. I know a lot about seafood too.”

“I see,” she twined her fingers together. “Aside from that, where did you learn to cook? Apart from that one glorious semester, of course.”

Bucky shrugged. “I just taught myself. I cook a lot. I enjoy it.” He left out the fact that they had to make their own food because it was just a damn sight cheaper than eating out. He was a pro at making a cup of rice go a long way.

She was making him so uncomfortable. He could see where this was going.

“Why do you want to work here?” she then asked.

Bucky blinked. Wasn’t it obvious?

“Well,” he began slowly, “I would love to learn how to make the best dishes in the world. I want to cook with ingredients I would never get a chance to work with. I think that sometimes food is, um, one of the simplest joys in life. It can make or break a person’s happiness. I want to watch people eat my food and enjoy every second of it. And I think restaurants like this are the only places left to do that.”

His voice trailed off and he wondered if he was supposed to say something about how amazing she was, or whatever. After all, the only reason this place was on the map was because of her. But he wasn’t any good at ass-kissing.

Steve really hadn’t been kidding when he said she was a tough nut to crack.

She looked at him carefully. “Those shrimp garlic balls?”

Bucky blinked. “Uh, yes?”

“Really delicious,” she murmured.

Bucky actually felt himself blush. “Oh, um, thank you.”

“But you know I can’t actually hire you, right?” she said gently.

Bucky looked at her and nodded slowly. “Yeah.”

“I mean, you don’t have the qualifications. I can’t have untrained chefs in my kitchen. There are regulations.”

Bucky nodded some more. “I know.”

She sighed loudly. “I’m sorry, Bucky. It’s just not really an option.”

“Okay,” he tried not to let the sadness sour in his belly, but it was tough. He pulled his mouth into a straight line, then stood up. He extended his hand and she took it.

“It was a pleasure meeting you,” he said softly. “Really.”

She stood and followed him to the door.

“I know Steve means well,” she said when they reached the bottom of the rickety stairs. The kitchen was busier, people rushing about with dishes and trays, and cutlery in their hands.

Bucky made a point of following her lead.

Before they pushed back out into the restaurant where Steve was no doubt waiting, she paused and turned to him.

“I’m sorry, Bucky.”

“It’s okay,” he murmured, just wanting to leave. He’d embarrassed himself enough for one day and it wasn’t even nine o’clock. He wanted to go home and bury his face in his pillow and just disappear.

Bucky pushed out the kitchen door and thought he could make it to the front door without being harangued. Alas, Steve’s blonde head popped up from behind the bar.

“Hey!” Steve smiled. Then he saw Bucky’s face and his smile dropped.

He looked at Maria who was right behind Bucky.

Whatever he saw there made him shrink a little.

Bucky gave a small wave, not wanting to prolong the awkwardness. “See ya at home,” he muttered, before heading over to the front door.

When he finally made it back onto the street, the sun glaring down from all sides, Bucky finally let his shoulders slump.

“Well, that went as expected,” he sighed and began the depressing walk back home.

Chapter Text

You,” Maria all but snarled, crooking her finger at the cowering blonde behind the bar. “Get here. Now.”

Steve slunk around and came to stand in front of her.

“Don’t think that ‘aw, shucks’ routine’s gonna work on me,” she snapped.

Steve looked at her sheepishly. “So, uh, he didn’t get the job?”

“Nevermind that,” Maria snapped. “You lied to me.”

“I never did!” he cried.

“You did. Steve Rogers, you told me he would be a great saucier. You claimed he was head-chef. You also neglected to tell me that he works a food stall, in what would basically be called an outdoor food court. That is a whole lot of lying for one person.”

Steve’s hands were looped behind his back, like a naughty schoolboy. “I didn’t lie,” he murmured, frowning. “Bucky is a great cook. He’d make an awesome saucier. And, I mean, technically, he kind of is a head-chef, though. I mean, not in title, per se.”

Maria whapped him upside the head. “This isn’t the local McDonald’s where you can just give your buddies easy jobs, Rogers.”

“I know that!” Steve replied, rubbing at the back of his head. “I just thought you’d see how great he is! Bucky’s the best cook I know. He’s cooked food for me for years. The only reason he’s even any good is because of having to deal with me.” He scowled, as if annoyed by the whole concept. “I mean, he cooks so well because he had to figure out how to feed me when I was sick all the time. Boss, it was the best thing he ever learnt, I swear.”

“What the hell are you talking about, Rogers?” Maria folded her arms across her chest.

Steve sighed and rolled his great wide shoulders.

“Well, you know I was really sickly as a kid.”

Maria nodded. She’d seen the photos. Hell, she remembered the slightly smaller version of Steve that had rammed into her restaurant, demanding a job.

“Right, well, I had a lot of allergies and intolerances. Couldn’t eat half of what was for sale. Bucky was the one who tried to find ways of feeding me. He and my Ma spent hours figuring out the best ways to avoid dairy, or eggs, or processed food, tried to figure out what my real eating problems were. Thing is, it all tastes like shit when you’re an invalid.”

Maria eyed him skeptically.

“Bucky makes everything taste great. He’s a friggin’ genius, okay? Just…” Steve huffed in annoyance, exasperated. “Just, no one ever has time to see it. It’s like Van Gogh. No one got it, no one ever saw his work for what it was, not until he fucking died. I don’t want Bucky to miss his chance. Even when he was in culinary school, he had to drop out ‘cos of me. We couldn’t afford the food he needed to practice with. And the fees were crazy. And then I got pneumonia that year and it all went to shit. And now… it’s like he’s wasted half his life looking after me and he still hasn’t been able to work on his own dream. I just want someone else to give him a chance.”

Maria wanted to roll her eyes, she really did, but the blonde looked too goddamn earnest. She couldn’t honestly deal.

“Ugh,” she grunted. “We’re not done here. I’m so friggin’ pissed, Rogers.”

The blonde just rubbed at his temple, clearly ashen. Maria wanted to smack him, but she also wanted to strangle him. Her emotions weren’t really worth elaborating on.

Instead, she huffed, “Clean every goddamn glass in this place.”

“Am I being punished?” Rogers asked as she walked away.

“Including the windows!” she yelled back.

 


 

 

“Bucky?”

The lump under the comforter didn’t move.

“Buck? You going to work?” Steve asked, coming into the room. It was already six and Bucky was usually gone by now. Maria, in all her wisdom, gave Steve the night off because she was still unable to look at him and not scowl. It was apparently ‘ruining the atmosphere’. So here he was, home and peeking into his best friend’s room, knowing full well that he’d probably just ruined Bucky’s whole week, if not month.

“Yeah,” came a low grunt.

Steve fidgeted with his fingers.

“Are you mad at me?” Steve asked. The room was dark, the drapes pulled closed.

There was a moment of silence. “Yeah,” came Bucky’s soft reply.

Steve nodded sadly. “Okay. I understand.”

God, he felt like such an idiot. “Um, I wanted to come say sorry. I shouldn’t have said what I said. I thought she was going to hire you, I swear.”

Bucky shifted and rolled over.

In the light from the doorway, Steve could see his best friend was in his boxers. Well, he couldn’t see much, but still.

Bucky got up on one elbow and looked at Steve.

“Well, she didn’t.”

Steve made a face. “Yeah. Sorry.”

Bucky stared at him silently. Then he got up. He stood tall and stretched. Steve wanted to stare but he averted his eyes, like he was prone to doing these days.

Bucky grabbed his phone, and swore.

“I gotta get to work,” Bucky grunted. “Shoo.”

Steve acquiesced and backed away.

Bucky closed his bedroom door, shutting Steve out.

 


 

 

This was the shittiest night ever to be working.

It was a damn madhouse. Bucky’d barely had a second to himself, wasn’t able to sit, or even take a piss. The line of people was only growing longer. He hoped he’d run out of food soon, so he’d have a decent excuse for closing up shop. Alas, the shipments had all come in and the fridges were stuffed to the gills.

“That’ll be seven-fifty,” he said to the teenage girl staring up at him. She seemed flustered and struggled to get the right amount of change out of her purse. When he took the money from her, she yanked her hand back like he had herpes.

“Do you need a receipt?” he asked blithely.

She shook her head frenetically and grabbed her food before dashing off to her bevy of giggling friends.

Bucky sighed. Another happy customer, he guessed.

He checked on the grill, turned some of the potatoes, then came back to the till.

“Hi, what can I get you?” he looked up.

A vaguely familiar face looked back at him from under a baseball cap.

“Miss Hill?” he asked, baffled. What the hell?

“Hi,” she said curtly. “I’d like to try the pineapple potatoes and a side of kimchi mac and cheese.”

“Uh,” Bucky gaped. “Okay.” He tapped that into his screen. “That’ll be nine-seventy-nine.”

She slid a ten across and he counted up her change before handing it over.

“Do you have a break anytime soon?” she said.

Bucky blinked at her. He’d only seen her about fourteen hours earlier, and it wasn’t exactly a pleasant memory.

A couple girls behind her were looking at one another, scandalized for some reason.

“Uhm, sure. Gimme fifteen?”

Maria Hill nodded. “Great.”

One of the teenage girls, eyes boggling, whispered something like, “What? That worked? Dangit!”

Bucky awkwardly went about preparing Miss Hill’s food, then handing it over, then watching her wander off to a nearby table and bench set.

He served a handful more customers before politely letting the rest know that he was going on break.

A few grumbled, but most of them dispersed, not keen on waiting longer than they had to.

He turned off the grill, wiped down the counter and put away any of the perishables in sight.

He slipped out the back door and locked it behind him. He didn’t trust the drunk teenagers that always took a liking to the inside of random establishments like his.

He walked over to Chef Hill warily, wondering what the fuck was going on.

She was eating the last of the potatoes with one of the tiny plastic forks available.

“Hi,” Bucky said, sitting down across from her. “Did you come here to berate me some more?”

She frowned, still chewing. When she swallowed, she put her paper plate on the table and wiped her fingers with a paper napkin.

“Ahem,” she cleared her throat. “That was delicious.”

Bucky just stared.

“Did you come up with that meal idea?” she asked.

He nodded slowly.

“I see the garlic shrimp wasn’t on the menu tonight,” she continued.

Bucky shrugged. “No shrimp delivery.”

“Hmm,” she hummed. “Pity.”

She then proceeded to poke at her portion of mac and cheese.

“Is there something I can do for you, Miss Hill?” Bucky asked.

She looked at him then, her eyes piercing. God, she was kind of terrifying.

“Look, I want to apologize for today. It was … kind of awful.”

Bucky scowled. “Well, yeah.”

“But, you see, Bucky,” she pressed on. “I can’t help but think that your talent is being wasted.” she waved her arm in a semi-circle. “Here.”

Bucky squinted at her. “Did Steve make you come over here to talk it through with me? Because I really don’t want to do that.”

She actually laughed then. “Hah! No. No, he did not. Though I think I know why you’d assume that. That boy’s got magical powers, I swear. Could make a nun confess to murder.”

Bucky shrugged. “Well, if the nun killed someone…”

“He lost a round of tips today, seeing as just the sight of him made me angry enough to spit.” She snorted. “No, okay. Look. Look. God, this macaroni is delicious.”

She seemed distracted as she chewed.

“No, okay. I can’t hire you. See? You need to have credentials, and we don’t hire chefs that aren’t, well, chefs.”

Bucky sighed. He scratched his fingernail over the dry wooden tabletop. “Yeah, I get it.”

She was still chewing, “Though, I mean, technically, there are two ways to become a chef, right?”

Bucky looked at her.

“One, you go to school, get your diploma, degree, whatever. Get a job at a kitchen, move up the ladder. Do it the expensive way. Or two,” she flashed her first two fingers on her left hand. “You get an apprenticeship. With a qualified chef. Yes?”

Bucky nodded slowly. He dared not look away.

“So, what I’m thinking, James, is this: would you like to apply for the apprenticeship at my restaurant?”

Bucky gaped. “Uh, I didn’t know there, uh, even was one, ma’am.”

“There isn’t,” she said calmly. “Tomorrow morning, there will be one. One. However it’s got a short application window. Between eleven and eleven-ten.”

Bucky stared. “A ten minute window. In which … to apply?”

“Yup!” she said sharply, stabbing at some more macaroni.

Bucky couldn’t wrap his head around this. “Wait, so, you’re saying, you’ll hire me–“

“Mentor you, slight difference, you see.”

“Right, mentor me, um, and I’ll be able to work in your kitchen, at your restaurant?”

She nodded, not looking at him, but instead at her food.

“…and you’ll pay me?” he added, just to be sure. Lord knows he wouldn’t put it over someone to rip him off when he felt his most weak.

“Of course!” she said sharply, looking up. “Standard going rate–hold on, what are they paying you here?” She indicated the food truck.

He told her plainly.

“That’s it? Christ on sunday! Right, add ten bucks to that and yes.”

Bucky gaped. “Really? You’re serious?”

Maria Hill, the esteemed, famous, Michelin Star-awarded chef rolled her eyes at him from underneath her Yankees cap. “Yes, I’m serious. Do. You. Want. The. Job? I mean, position.”

Bucky couldn’t stop the smile from creeping across his face.

Miss Hill looked like she was trying to hold back a smile of her own.

“Stop that,” she said, frowning. “You’ll give me feelings, or something.”

“Yes,” Bucky breathed. “Of course I want the position. The apprenticeship. Yes, please.”

He felt like the moon was shining brighter, like he didn’t need sleep, like he hadn’t just gone through one of the shittiest days in a long time.

Maria Hill really did smile then.

Great. Good to hear. I mean, obviously you want to work in my restaurant. Who wouldn’t?”

She stood and brushed off her pristine jeans.

“So, you’ll be reporting in tomorrow?”

“Between eleven and eleven-ten,” he said, grinning widely.

“Oh, Lord,” she huffed. “I’m going to have to deal with Rogers in the morning too. Ugh.”

Bucky knew what she meant. Steve would be bouncing off the walls like an excited labrador.

“Yeah, probably,” he said. “Though Friday shifts start at six. So you’ll have time.”

Miss Hill looked at him. “You two are all in each other’s business, huh?”

Bucky made a face, like he was trying to cover up the possibility of him blushing. “We’ve been friends a long time.”

“Uh huh,” she intoned.

Bucky looked to the dark sky, “When you’re friends with a rogue troublemaker, you gotta keep an eye on him.”

She sighed and crumpled up the remains of her hasty meal. “Well, I hope he damn well appreciates the sacrifices I make.”

 


 

 

Steve was startled awake by the sound of a key in the lock.

“Buck?” he blurted, confused. “What you doing home?”

Bucky came into their tiny living room, turned and shut their crusty door that had more layers of paint on it than a Pollock. He jammed the lock into place, turned and threw something at Steve.

A brown bag smacked Steve in the chest and he almost rolled right off the sofa in surprise.

“Called it a night,” Bucky said, walking past.

Steve twisted, his blanket sliding off his legs. He grabbed at the paper bag eagerly, surprised.

“Mac 'n' cheese? Sweet mother Mary,” Steve gasped. He twisted around, catching sight of Bucky in the kitchen. “You’re home, though.” Steve murmured.

Bucky turned, his face lit by the stark, yellowed kitchen light they’d suffered with for the last four years.

“Yeah, and?” Bucky said, leaning both hands on the small island that was actually an old ikea cart they found down by the bay. Steve had painted it turquoise to ‘brighten up their lives’ while Bucky insisted it was to cover up what were probably teethmarks and evidence of it being a witness in a murder.

“Well, it’s midnight,” Steve said, rubbing one eye. He carefully pushed his laptop and bag of dinner to the floor. “You’re never home this early.”

“Eh,” Bucky said, shrugging and standing tall. “Closed it down, ‘cos I could.”

“Oh,” Steve watched Bucky move around the kitchen, laying a dishtowel over the kitchen faucet.

“You cleaned up,” Bucky murmured, noticing the absence of every dish they owned in the dry rack.

“Uh, yeah,” Steve said, getting to his feet. “Um, laundry’s done too.”

Bucky’s eyes slid to their coin jar where all their change went for use in the nightmare machines their landlord, Mr. Grossman, assured them were not in need of maintenance.

“You serving your penance, I assume,” Bucky muttered.

Steve flushed and walked over the short expanse between them. He stood on the other side of the murder-cart island. “Buck, I’m so sorry I lied. I didn’t mean to hurt you, or get you in shit, or embarrass you. I feel like, like, well– a tool.”

Bucky leaned back against the sink and didn’t make eye contact.

Steve had felt sick all day. Bucky was so easy-going, so goddamn kind, that having him mad at Steve was making the blonde feel like absolute shit. Except Steve had to always rejig that mentality in his head. Bucky wasn’t making him feel like shit. It wasn’t Bucky. He, Steve, had done something really stupid and his actions were making himself sick.

“Did you eat lunch?” Bucky said instead, looking down at his folded arms.

“Yeah,” Steve said, confused. “It was delicious.”

Bucky grunted.  “You know, I always feel like when you talk about my cooking you’re just Steve-the-friend-who-has-to-make-Bucky-secure-about-shit.”

Steve frowned. “What do you mean?”

Bucky sighed and finally looked up. He had a serious case of five o'clock shadow going on which was doing absolutely nothing for Steve, no siree, no way. Mhhm.

“I mean, dorkus,” Bucky went on, “I always think you’re being nice. Like maybe my food is shit. Maybe I keep thinking too much of myself, or my skills.”

“What?” Steve scoffed. “No! Your food if amazing! I wouldn’t lie about that! Remember when it used to actually be shit? I always said so, didn’t I?”

Bucky smirked, obviously recalling the time before he’d mastered just what Steve’s issues with food were.

“I guess someone else listened, for once,” Bucky said.

“Huh?” Steve blinked.

“Maria Hill showed up at Yann’s,” Bucky said, looking away again.

“Oh God, no, why?” Steve felt his world zero in on his best friend.

Bucky eyed him. “She offered me an internship. Or whatever. Apprenticeship, at BRDO.”

Steve’s mouth fell open.

His thoughts zoomed all round inside his gargantuan skull, and then breathed, eyes opening wide.

“WHAT?” he all but yelled.

A thumping from above made them both look up.

“Shut up!” Bucky hissed. “Before Aschenka comes down and kills us both.”

Steve smiled, all teeth, before launching himself at his friend. “Bucky!” he whispered as loud as possible. “Amazing! That’s amazing! I didn’t even know she had an apprenticeship! You’re going to work at BRDO! With me! This is the greatest news ever in the history of the human race!”

“Steve,” Bucky sighed, getting squeezed to death. “Dude, please.”

“No, I get to hug the shit out of you because you deserve it.” Steve said, almost angrily into Bucky’s neck. God, Bucky smelled nice.

Bucky sighed and went lax. “You big dope.”

“I’m so sorry I almost messed it up,” Steve murmured. “But I’m so friggin' happy it’s turned around!”

Bucky extricated himself and gave them some room.

“You better not be patting yourself on the back.”

Steve paused before answering, “Wait. Why didn’t you talk about the apprenticeship the minute you came in?”

Bucky made a hard face, “Because, idiot, you still had to apologize some more. I ain’t makin’ it that easy.”

Steve smiled wider.  “I’m very, very, super duper sorry, Buck.” A hand pushed at his face and Steve giggled, whacking Bucky's arm.

“Oh shut up.”

Chapter Text

“You have to sign here and here,” the redhead, Romanov, said brusquely. Bucky was in the BRDO kitchen, trying to not vibrate out of his boots with a mix of fear and excitement.

Bucky read the papers over. “Um, I can get you my bank details,” he said, looking up. He was leaning on his hand on the metal table that sat just beyond the server window.

The redhead, as petite as she was, held an aura of ‘don’t fuck with me, boy’ and Bucky was learning fast.

She eyed him. Then nodded. “Good. Tomorrow is best. Pay is fortnightly, on Fridays. You’re on a three month probation,” she added. “Do you understand what that means?”

Bucky nodded, “Uh, you can fire me for any reason within the three months?”

“Exactly. Chef will then evaluate you at the three-month mark,” she said, taking the sheets from him. “I’ll copy these.” she looked up as Maria Hill entered from behind Bucky.
“Did Yann have any issue with your leaving?” Miss Hill said. She was in her chef’s whites already.

Bucky stood up, eyes following the redhead as she left. “Yeah, it was okay. I called last night and left a message. He was up.”

Miss Hill came round to face him. “Is it actually owned by a man named Yann?”

Bucky gave a wry smile, “No. More of an investor, really. He prefers to remain nameless.”

She squinted at him, then her eyes roved over his white t-shirt, worn-in jeans and his boots. She’d already explained that if he was to get whites, they had to be ordered and delivered. Bucky was pretty sure she wanted to try him out for at least a week before doing so.

Smart, really.

“You didn’t bring Rogers with you?” Miss Hill said, writing something on a notepad she carried around with her.

Bucky shook his head, thinking of that morning when he’d peeked in on his best friend sprawled out on his bed like a starfish. He smiled, remembering how content Steve had looked, passed out like that.

“No, Miss Hill. He’ll have a full shift tonight, so I let him sleep.”

She smirked. “I told you, it’s Chef. You call me Chef.”

“Right,”Bucky nodded and stepped back.

“What? she raised her brows at him.

“I mean, right, Chef,” Bucky said.

“So here’s what we’re doing, Barnes,” Chef said, as she walked him through the kitchen. “Hi, Luke,” she said absently. Bucky did a double take. The huge man who was cutting up chicken looked up and nodded. Bucky just kept walking. “So today, you’re not cooking anything, okay?”

Bucky followed her out the back way, into a long hallway lined with what looked like metal doors for freezers, fridges and storage. “Okay,” Bucky said.

“What we’re going to do,” Chef Hill said, “is run through the daily, weekly chores and grocery runs. I need you to pay attention. Being a chef isn’t just about flash-frying fish and making it look pretty.”

Bucky held the back door open as she exited out into what looked like a tiny courtyard with a surrounding brick wall. A wooden table and benches sat within a green, verdant garden.

“Being a chef is about every single step, from farm to plate. You’re going to learn every single goddamn thing I tell you, and you’re going to remember it. You have a lot to catch up on. Wanda, who’s younger than you, is light years ahead and she’s only been here six months. You want to work here, cook here, you listen to me, you listen to my rules. If I’m absent, you report to Bruce. If Bruce is absent, it falls to Natasha, whom you met. She runs the front of the house. Servers, busboys, temps and bartenders all report to her. She is also the house sommelier.”

Bucky nodded.

They walked through a creaking wooden gate that fed them to the alleyway behind the restaurant and its neighbours.

“Here he comes,” Chef murmured, folding her arms.

A white van rumbled up the potholed, one-way street. It honked and came to a stop just past where Bucky and Chef were standing.

The side of the van said Bird’s Eye Farms.

“Heyo, Chef!” a voice crowed, and two people clambered out of the van.

First, a young woman with straight, black hair and an oversized notepad. She was simply dressed but sharply put together at the same time.

“Kate,” Chef murmured, waving her close. “Meet our newest recruit. This here is James Barnes.”

“Bucky,” he said, leaning forward to shake the young woman’s hands.

“Hi,” Kate said, looking him up and down. She looked to Chef, and was definitely trying to hold back a smile.

The man from the driver’s side had come round and opened up the back of the van.

“And this guy,” Chef said, “is Clint Barton. What have you got for me today, Barton?”

The guy had climbed up into the van and was hoisting out wooden platters loaded up with vegetables and greens. Kate helped him lift them out of the van. Chef got up close, looking over the first batch.

“Well, the turnips came up well this week,” Barton said. “Managed to get you that Endive request. Got some new blood oranges, if you wanna take a look. Sweet as hell. Best batch I’ve seen in a long time.”

Kate was moving the platters onto a trolley nearby.

“Hmmm,” Chef hummed, inspecting a handful of green onion. “You ever wonder why people pay so much money for fancy food?” she said.

Bucky waited.

Chef turned, “Barnes?”

Bucky was flustered. “Oh! Uh, because, um, great chefs cook great food?”

Barton was crouching now, just inside the van. He had messy blonde hair, dirty boots and jeans and a serious tan, but friendly eyes that squinted at Bucky inquisitively.

Chef held up a handful of carrots. “No,” she said, eyeing him. “They pay for this. Quality, fully organic, freshly sourced produce. A chef’s food is only as good as their ingredients.”

“All from neighbouring farms too,” Barton piped up.

“Exactly,” Chef nodded. Kate was struggling with the last two platters, so Bucky moved in to help. Her eyes boggled a bit when he effortlessly held those, and a couple extra that Chef told Barton to give him.

“Clint here’s worked out some great contracts with specialized farmers in the area.”

“Yup! Best basil in the city comes from a woman who grows it in her backyard!” Barton seemed particularly proud. “though we all know Kate’s the brains of the operation. I just do the dirty work.”

Bucky watched Chef pore over some plums before nodding. Kate stood beside her, paper and pen in hand.

“Right, so, Barnes, you get these back to the kitchen. Ask Luke where you need to drop them, then bring the pallets back, got it?”

Bucky nodded, and started the trip back inside.

 


 

When Bucky and Chef Hill had left BRDO, the kitchen had been buzzing with activity. She’d given a quick introduction, in which Bucky missed half the names and faces, but he could tell they were barely interested in the newbie. They had the lunch rush to deal with.

 

So when Chef had grabbed Bucky and told him they were going cheese shopping, he hadn’t thought she was being serious.

 

And yet, here they were, in the St. Bergen food market, being jostled by the hundreds of people looking for their favourite deli meat, or homemade Sicilian hot sauce. Sometimes, when times were flush, Bucky and Steve would come down here to look for their own stuff. He hadn’t thought high-end chefs shopped here too.

“And why not?” Chef said, eyeing the enormous array of cheeses lining the shelves of one vendor.

Bucky didn’t have an answer.

“We’re looking for the best quality, Barnes,” she continued. “We go through cheese like crazy, so I have to be sure that that what we’re buying, at such quantities, is good enough to last as long as possible. If I’m dropping five hundred on cheese, it better as hell not die on me.”

Five hundred? Jesus, Bucky was almost faint at the thought. And, now he was looking at the prices, he could see why.

Chef pointed out what he should be looking for. She asked the cheesemaker (who was proud enough to go on for days about how his whole family had been making cheese for generations) to show her the blue cheese. He dug out a thin tube-like sliver from one wheel, showing them how far the blue veins went into the cheese.

“And we’ll have a chunk of that amazing goat cheese,” Chef said, eyeing the selection. She tapped on a much smaller wheel. “And this Tolminc.”

Bucky carried out the many, many cheeses to her car, where they loaded them into the trunk. She smartly already had crates and a cold box in there.

 

On the way back, they stopped off at a laundromat.

“Thanks for coming to pick these up,” the older owner blustered. “I am so sorry. Our truck is broken, you see? My son has taken it to get fixed, so next week is okay, yes?” He had a heavy accent, and was so honestly helpful and courteous, Bucky couldn’t blame Chef for having to drive here and pick up whatever she’d needed.

The man pulled out two enormous plastic vacuum-sealed bags filled with heavy white fabric, which Bucky had to hoist into the backseat of Chef’s dinky car. He bumped the passenger seat forward, knowing full well that he was losing more leg room every second.

By the time Chef was back out on the street, Bucky’d managed to jam everything in, and still leave some headspace so Chef could see through the rearview window.

“Table cloths and napkins,” she said, when he asked what the hell weighed so much. Bucky squished his knees almost to his face when he clambered back into the front seat.

She smirked, clearly amused by his predicament.

“We get everything cleaned once a week, so we have rotating sets.”

 

When they eventually made it back to the restaurant, Bucky had to pull everything they’d purchased out of the car and into the restaurant. Chef had to park across the street, her car facing the bay. Which meant Bucky had to walk out to the car, grab what he could carry, lock the car, head inside, unload his many objects, and head back out again.

A couple of the cooks on duty smiled, as it was obvious he was not unlike a workhorse.

Romanov showed him where to hang Chef’s keys (above her tiny corner desk area where all her notes and books and chef paraphernalia went).

He glanced at the clock and was floored to realize it was already five-thirty. Where had his day gone?

It was all the driving, and the traffic and the hemming and hawing over vegetables and cheeses and meats and spices. He took a moment to visit the washroom and was back, ready to absorb more information.

“You’re pretty quiet,” Romanov murmured. She crooked her finger for him to follow.

“We need to pull up the wine for the night,” she explained, when he followed. They made their way past the employee area, where everyone stored their coats and bags and other shit, through the kitchen and out to the hallway. 

A small, pocket door on the end was slid open, revealing a tiny square, tall closet.

“Whoa,” Bucky breathed. Shelves lined all three walls and there had to be at least two hundred bottles of wine from floor to ceiling. Romanov stood in the closet, and Bucky was a million percent sure that if he tried to do the same, he’d either get stuck, or would smash half of everything from shoulder height down.

As it was, he could easily see over her head.

“Hmmm,” she peered over every bottle, tugging one out at a time, confirming her choice.

“You know every bottle in this place?” Bucky asked, in awe. He couldn’t even read the labels, but she just seemed to have an instinct for placement.

“Yup,” she said sharply. “Only I can fetch wine from here, understood? Anything goes missing, anything, and I will know about it.”

Bucky hummed in agreement. The tiny room was dry, not quite chilled.

“You know anything about wine?” she asked.

“Not really,” Bucky murmured. “I like wine, but only with food. I’m not interested in it on its own.”

“Uh huh,” she said, standing on tip-toes to get at a bottle.

She probably thought he sounded like an idiot.

“I mean, steak, a really good steak? Is amazing with a red. We don’t buy the expensive stuff, though,” Bucky went on. “I bet you’d hate the battery acid shit–uh, stuff–we drink.”

She just hummed again. For a few more moments, she seemed to ponder her selection.

“One day,” she said, handing bottles over her shoulder for Bucky to hold. “We’ll have a full cellar. But for now,” she finally turned, adding another to his  overfilled arms, “We make do.”

Bucky backed out. She turned and shut the little door and locked it. This key also went with Chef’s car keys.

 


 

 

Bucky was more than happy to chop onions. And boy, did he chop. After he got his hair tied back, and a hat in place, of course. He was assigned a spot and had gone through the circus act that was him choosing a knife.

“What’s the first rule?” Chef had said loudly.

“Use your own damn knife,” the whole kitchen chanted.

So Bucky had to pick a knife.

“You’re responsible for keeping it sharp and clean and in your mise, you understand?” Chef said. Bucky nodded fervently.

He was more concerned with accidentally mixing up his knife with someone else’s but figured he’d have to just pay attention.

He was on edge in the kitchen, aware that everyone else had real, functional duties.

The big black guy, Luke, was roasting the duck meat that Bucky had mistaken for chicken. Bruce, the quiet older man, was gently folding paper-thin dough of some sort into perfect layered squares, like origami. Beside him, the younger redhead he’d seen before, Wanda, she was helping him, watching Bruce’s every move.

Chef was hard at work mixing sauces and slicing whatever was coming out of the oven into even strips. A couple other cooks were handling the prep station, adding the finishing touches to some of the smallest, most intricate dishes Bucky had ever seen before they were handed over the the revolving sea of servers.

In Bucky’s jeans pocket sat a folded up piece of paper.

“This is the menu,” Chef had said that morning when he’d shown up. “Read it, learn it, memorize it. We change it up week by week, but a lot of these dishes are repeats. Everyone is expected to know how to make these dishes. Eventually, you will be expected to handle every possible request that comes in from the servers.”

Bucky had watched the afternoon servers switch out the table cloths and napkins for the dinner patrons.

He didn’t have much time to watch people work.

It was dangerous to be in the way, people yelling “Behind!” when they were moving between sections. The hustle and bustle drowned out his nervous thoughts, and Bucky just focused on cutting. Sure, it wasn’t glamorous, but it was something he could do.

Beside him, a guy who went by Jack was searing tuna so delicately, the guy had barely looked up once since he started.

Dirty dishes returned from the front of house and orders were called out. Bucky had experience with that. He could do that, pay attention to that. It was what everyone else was doing that was distracting. He wanted to watch. He wanted to stare, and learn, but he would only be in the way.

 

Once he had a pile of onions that covered his metal mise, he heard his name.

“Barnes, you eaten yet?” Chef called. He caught her stern gaze. She scowled and threw her towel over her shoulder. “I swear. Come with me.”

She indicated that he move in her direction, so he did, leaving his onions to the cook that came over to grab handfuls for whatever he was prepping.

“You gotta eat, Barnes.” Chef huffed, pushing out of the kitchen.

She walked him over to the employee area and tapped at a chalkboard on the wall. “Employee meals. Included. These are what’s for eatin’ this week.”

Bucky read the small list and nodded. “Okay?”

“You can’t obviously dig into the caviar or anything, but certain dishes are available.”

Bucky nodded, then looked at her, “What if I brought my own food?”

She eyed him, then scowled. “You and Rogers, I swear. You provide free food to employees and they still bring in whatever leftovers they had night before.”

Bucky just stared, unsure.

Chef rolled her eyes. “Yes! Fine, of course. Grab your stuff and eat out back. You get forty minutes, but then I need you on croissant duty with Wanda. We need that dough rolled and ready tonight, for tomorrow.”

Bucky nodded, and went to dig out his lunch from the bag he’d stashed under his coat.

“Really?” Chef cocked a brow.

“What?” Bucky murmured.

“An orange, two bananas, and some crackers?”

Bucky shrugged, “I was in a rush this morning.”

 


 

 

After eating on the table in the courtyard by himself, Bucky had been thrown back into the workplace. Croissants were put off. Bruce had needed Wanda, so Bucky was told they’d figure it out in the morning. It was a crazy busy Friday, and the guests just kept coming. Romanov was in and out, carrying bottles of wine, and fresh napkins and handling server requests.

Everyone was running full tilt. And Bucky was cleaning up; taking dishes to the dishwasher, mopping up spills, rearranging the fallen spices and oils that had toppled over in the pantry. He got yelled at a few times by irate cooks because he wasn’t paying attention.

“Hot pan!” a chef yelled at him, and Bucky backed off. “Jesus, you’re like a bear in a birds nest!”

“Sorry,” Bucky said, trying to make himself smaller.

He caught the younger redhead smirking at him.

“Chef likes to hire the big, strong boys,” she said, her accent tilting her words archly.

“Nevermind her,” Luke said, across from Bucky. “Wanda needs people like us to carry her ten pound dough sometimes, don’t you?” he glanced at Wanda with a smile and she just stuck out her tongue. Which was true. Bucky’d seen the tiny woman struggling with the immense metal bowls of dough she had to shift through the day.

“Hey,” a voice said over the din. “Bucky! Hey!”

Bucky looked up from where he’d been stacking pans and baking sheets. A familiar blonde head was poking through the kitchen doorway.

Steve smiled wide and waved. “How’s your first day going?” And damnit, didn’t he just look fantastic with his bowtie on and his hair combed like that?

Bucky was cautious and opened his mouth to respond, when he was cut off.

“Rogers!” Chef barked loudly, appearing from nowhere.

“But, Boss!” Steve whined.

“Out of the kitchen!” almost every chef in the kitchen said, loud and clear.

Steve made a pouty face and disappeared.

Bucky’s brows were almost in his hairline.

“What’s rule number two?” Chef Hill asked loudly, leaning over her dish.

“Rogers is not allowed in the kitchen!” everyone answered in unison.

 


 

 

Bucky was exhausted.

By the time he’d finished cleaning up and stacking things away, and counting up what was left of the vegetables and other miscellaneous tasks, it was already gone one am.

He was shrugging on his jacket, when Chef Hill appeared.

She smiled wide, hands on hips.

“Well?” she crowed, somehow still wide awake. “Day one! How do you feel?”

Bucky snorted and tucked his hair behind one ear. “Good,” he said.

She chuckled, “Liar. Bet you feel like a bag of smashed asses.”

Bucky smiled sheepishly.

“Go home, Barnes,” she said gently. “You did good. Now do it again tomorrow.”

 

By the time Bucky made it to the front of house, Steve was already sitting on one of the barstools, in his leather jacket, jeans and sneakers. His bag with his uniform sat between his feet, because of course, Steve had legs for days and he could press the tips of his sneakers into the carpet and still have a bend in each knee.

When he looked up from his phone, Steve smiled. Bucky felt light and his heart fluttered a bit at that gaze. He was certain he could power the world on Steve’s smiles alone. 

Well?” Steve said, hopping down off the barstool.

Bucky smiled, his own lunch bag in his hand. “How’d it go?”

“Good,” Bucky yawned suddenly. “Oh, man. I’m tireder than I thought.”

Steve was still beaming. “You left without me,” he said. "This morning."

Bucky rolled his eyes. “Oh, please, you were dead to the world. Plus what were you gonna do? Hold my hand the whole day?”

“I would if you asked,” Steve said with one of those trademark earnest looks he had. Because Steve actually cared whether or not Bucky had a good first day of work. He probably would have worked the full fourteen-hour day as well, just so Bucky had a familar face to look out for.

Bucky couldn't help smiling and bumped his shoulder into Steve’s. “You punk. Come on, let’s go home.”

“Oh, yes! I’m starving!” Steve scooped up his bag.

What?” Bucky griped, not having thought this through at all.

Chapter Text

“Right,” Chef said loudly, arms folded. Everyone was standing in the kitchen, at attention. It was early, just past eleven, and Bucky had to hold back a yawn. He had his ball cap on, seeing as the whole crew was apparently in today. He stood in the corner, still unsure of what to expect on his second day.

“We have hit crunch time, folks,” Chef said loudly. “Menu for upcoming week: Duck is out. Pork belly is back. We need those croissants done and dusted,” here she nodded at Wanda. “Maximoff, I’m going to have Barnes shadow you on that, but hurry up. We need the space cleared for the incoming delivery. Luke, you’re on pork prep. Bruce is still standing in for saucier until we figure that position out.”

Bucky glanced at Bruce, who looked as tired as he was, his curling hair in complete disarray. Chef rattled off a number of other duties, and each cook nodded upon receiving their job for the day.

The kitchen was crammed with people, it being Saturday.

“The brunch set are going to be in soon,” Chef said, eyeing her notepad. “Rogers!”

“Yes, Boss,” Steve said from the other side of the server window. He had to bend a little to see into the kitchen. He didn’t look tired at all, the bastard.

“You’re on lunch shift today, I see. I want the blue linens out and ready in fifteen. Wilson?”

“Yes, Boss,” came an unfamiliar voice. Another guy, barely shorter than Steve, dressed in the same server uniform, bent down to listen.

“Barnes is going to shadow you before the dinner rush.”

“Barnes?” this Wilson said, with a quirk of his brow.

Steve’s face reappeared, smile and all.

“Bucky,” he whispered loud enough for everyone to hear. “There.”

He pointed, and Bucky held back an embarrassed flush. Wilson nodded, making eye contact.

“Gotcha,” he said.

“Chop, chop!” Chef barked, and everyone moved. Bucky was jostled a bit until a small hand tugged his elbow.

“Come on,” Wanda said with a scowl, “We don’t have much time.”

Bucky went with her to the storage hallway. She tossed an apron at him. “Wear this. It’s going to be messy.”

While Bucky knotted the canvas ties, Wanda opened up the dry pantry. She dug out a bag of flour, salt, and a tub of yeast. “Carry these,” she said abruptly.

Bucky then followed her while she opened up the industrial fridge, pulling out milk, and from the freezer: butter.

Back in the kitchen, she took over the baker’s corner and spread out.

“You’ve made croissants before?” she asked, going on tiptoes to grab at the measuring cups hanging against the wall. Bucky was impressed with Bruce’s organization of all the baking paraphernalia.

“I have, yes,” Bucky answered, recalling that one evening in culinary school where twenty students had to make it happen, with disastrous results.

“Okay,” Wanda said, then looked at him with her sharp eyes. “What happens first?”

Bucky nudged the tub of yeast. “This, boiling water, milk.”

“And sugar. Good,” she murmured. She went through the measurements, explaining quickly how many batches of dough were expected. As it turned out, croissant dough was one of the only products that BRDO froze, because it was so very time consuming.

So while the yeast got its beer-smelling groove on, Wanda explained the steps. They would work on one batch, then put it away to rise. While that was happening, they needed to get right on another batch. And another, and rotate the rising dough in and out of the fridge when ready. This way they wouldn’t have to sit and wait for all the dough to rise at once.

So they got to work mixing the flour into the yeast mixture. Bucky rolled and fluffed it until it was tacky. Wanda showed him which bowls were for the dough. “Limited space in the fridge,” she said. She covered the first bowl, and Bucky got started on the next ball.

They worked quickly, Bucky watching her technique like a hawk.

“You like baking, huh?” he asked.

Wanda just grunted, her small hands pushing hard at the dough. “Bruce is the best baker in the city. I’m lucky to learn from him.”

Bucky smiled, because he knew what she meant, what it was like to have a mentor of sorts. Mister Cao had been like that for him, way back when.

And Bucky was starting to get a glimmer of what she meant with Bruce.

The guy was really quiet and didn’t speak often, but he was gentle and concentrated, clearly involved with every step of every operation. Baking was more science than Bucky could handle sometimes.

Bruce was obviously good at teaching Wanda, who was the sort of student that wouldn’t look away if Bruce was explaining something.

And here she was, training Bucky.

“Okay,” she said, coming back from the fridge. “That was good. Now we do the butter.

She pointed to the wall and Bucky helpfully pulled down both of the marble cutting boards that came out every now and then.

“You roll croissants only on marble. Tell me why,” she asked.

“So the dough remains cold,” he said, watching her slide the two marble blocks together.

“Because?” she added.

“Um, because the butter isn’t supposed to melt. It’s gotta stay solid until it goes in the oven.”

“Good,” she said, handing Bucky a stick of frozen butter. “Now how would you place the butter?”

Bucky looked at the stick in its white parchment wrapper. “I remember we had to slice it really thin and lay it down like sheets.”

Wanda shook her head. “No, not like that. That is the old way. We’ve moved on. Hand me that grater.”

Bucky twisted around and grabbed the large metal cheese grater. While he watched, Wanda stretched out a layer of clingfilm over the marble slabs.

He was fascinated to see that she was going to just grate the butter.

“Like so,” she said, hands moving fast, as a sprinkle of frozen butter shreds fell onto the clingfilm. She moved quickly, spreading a good layer in a rectangle. “Now you try.”

Bucky followed her method, grating butter in a smooth layer over the clingfilm, wondering what was next in this cavalcade of new info.

“Perfect,” Wanda said, though her voice and face remained flat. “Now cover.” She pulled the clingfilm across her layer of butter and carefully patted it down. Bucky mirrored her. She moved both sheets of butter aside and they did it again.Two sheets went into the fridge, and Wanda returned with the first batch of dough.

She poked the ball. It had doubled in size.

Bucky sprinkled flour over the marble and she plopped the ball of dough down.

“This big,” she said, indicating with her hands how large the rolled dough should be. Bucky started rolling with the marble rolling pin. It was damn hard work.

She flipped his flattened dough and patted it. “Now butter,” she said.

Bucky carefully unwrapped the still cold butter, and it was a nice firm sheet of crinkly dairy goodness.

Wanda placed it carefully, vertically in the middle of the dough. Then she rolled the right side of dough over, covering the butter. Then the left side, making a smaller rectangle. She pressed the edges, encasing the butter. Then she turned the slab of dough and began rolling it flat.

“Do not get it warm,” she said firmly. Once it was back to the original width and length, she turned it again, folding first the right side, then the left and rolling it out once more.

She wrapped the block of dough in clingfilm and told Bucky to place it in the fridge and bring out the next dough ball.

Bucky got the hang of it and the two of them repeated the steps, over and over again.

The other chefs were bustling about, preparing the lunchtime soup and sandwich special and mixing and chopping like their lives depended on it. Bucky was getting the hang of manoeuvring around the tight space.

Bruce was frying up onions and Bucky’s stomach protested its lack of sustenance.

“Right,” Wanda said, much later, patting the last ball of dough. This one had been in and out of the fridge about six times. “Now we cut.”

She showed him how big the chunks needed to be. Each chunk was to be frozen. One was put in the fridge for the morning, and she told him that whoever was cooking last in the kitchen was responsible for making sure a batch of croissant dough was in the fridge for the morning cooks.

“Or Chef will cut your fingers off,” Wanda murmured, slicing into the thick dough. She showed Bucky how perfect the layers were. The cold butter, flattened as it was, was still defining the space between each rolled, whisper-thin layer of dough.

“I once saw a chef roll his dough fifteen times,” she said, with reverence.

Bucky blinked, “Wow. And it came out okay?”

She closed her eyes, obviously remembering. “It was magnificent. There is a point when too many layers are impossible to achieve.”

“Yeah, really,” Bucky said, lumping the last of the wrapped dough into a metal pan. “Where was this chef?”

“Japan,” she said, walking Bucky back down to the freezer. He carefully made room for each lump, and hoped he would get to see them baked in the morning.

“You went to Japan?” Bucky said, dusting his floury-sticky hands on his apron.

Wanda gave him this look, like duh. “Every chef needs to visit Japan if they want to understand cooking.”

“Huh,” Bucky said, closing the freezer door. “Noted.”

 

Bucky didn’t see the point in this, but Chef wasn’t exactly the person to question.

He stood in the employee area, waiting for Romanov. When the redhead reappeared, it was with a black button-down shirt. Bucky pulled it on over his t-shirt. “You cannot go into the front of house dressed like that.” She eyed his dark denim jeans, as though contemplating finding him something less gauche to wear.

Bucky tucked the shirt into his jeans, thankful he’d worn a belt. It pulled some of the outfit together, at least.

Then Romanov whipped out a black bowtie and handed it to him. She seemed only mildly impressed when he took it and went through the motions of folding it into place.

He was now dressed almost identical to her. Why? Because he had to shadow a server, for some reason.

“Hey, you guys ready?” Wilson, the guy from before, said, peeking into the employee area.

“Yup,” Romanov said. “Well, as good as.”

“Tell me again why I have to do this?” Bucky muttered, tying his hair back.

“You need to learn how its done,” Romanov said, sharply.

“But I’m not a server,” he said.

“No, thank god,” she muttered. “You’re not, but you have to see how it’s done, because you have to respect the position.”

“And why, uh,” he glanced at Wilson, who was leaning back into the restaurant, talking to someone. “Why is Steve not doing this?”

At that, Romanov smirked. “Because he’s head server, Barnes. He’s got better things to do than teach you shit.”

Bucky made a face. He wasn’t too sure of this Wilson guy.

“Hey, name’s Sam,” the man said, when Bucky was finally out of that enclosed space. Bucky followed him to the loading area, where the flatware was kept. “We’re gonna do this quick, alright? Chef says you need to get back ASAP, and you’re just in time for the changeover.”

“The what?” Bucky asked.

“Here,” Sam handed Bucky a handful of knives and forks. “We’re folding these napkins. Watch me go.”

And Bucky watched as the cloth napkin was wrapped around the cutlery. He had a vision of it being more like putting a baby in a diaper, but that felt weird.

“Now you.”

Bucky tried to mimic Wilson’s hands, but flubbed it somewhere.

“Fold this part back,” Sam said gently. “There we go. Okay, now we need to do twenty more. Ton of reservations coming in.”

So Bucky and Sam folded and prepped cutlery. They checked the newly-cleaned glasses for smudges or dirt, and they each grabbed a handful of side plates as well.

Sam led Bucky into the dining area, which was thinning out. Bucky caught sight of Steve talking to a table, face smiling as he listened to a patron blab whimsical.

Bucky hustled to follow Sam. They laid out the side plates and flatware, and had glasses already in place. Sam moved fast, so Bucky had to keep up. They wiped off any crumbs or messes. In one instance the whole tablecloth had to be replaced due to a coffee spill.

“The table cloth’s blue,” Bucky blinked, as Sam draped the smaller blue fabric over the standard white, so both colours showed.

“Yup,” Sam said. “Steve had to change ‘em up. Chef sometimes likes it to look different. No rhyme or reason, just a change.”

Sam explained to Bucky the rules of being a server.

“No backchat, ever. You act polite, even if the guy talkin’ is like, cussin’ you out.”

Bucky frowned, “That doesn’t sound right.” He couldn’t ever imagine Steve being okay with that. Not that hothead.

Sam shrugged, “It’s okay. If it gets real bad, Natasha comes out. She is one scary woman.”

Bucky nodded, fully in agreement.

“So she’s your boss?” Bucky asked, following Sam as he walked around the dining room, straightening seats, fluffing table cloths.

“Technically, Steve’s my boss, but yeah. She owns our asses.”

“Huh,” Bucky said.

As if on cue, Steve looked up, clicked his tongue and pointed to the door.

“Right, here we go,” Sam said. He looked at Bucky. “You don’t speak, got it? I’m serving, you’re shadowing.”

Bucky nodded, his nerves dying down a bit. He didn’t want to serve. He didn’t want to deal with that.

So he followed Sam. Sam who was so courteous and polite, he made the women giggle. Sam, who was patient and excellent at explaining the menu items. He rattled off ingredients and recommendations like a pro, which he obviously was. Bucky was super impressed. He just stood back, hands behind his back and listened.

Sam was putting all the guests at ease. Bucky was almost envious.

“And we’ll be right back with your drinks,” Sam said.

The wine was poured at the bar, where Romanov was working.

Bucky remembered Steve saying that the waitstaff rotated at the bar.

“One tequila sunrise, a chianti, and whatever you think is gonna work with the salmon.”

Romanov nodded, eyes catching Bucky’s.

“You okay, Barnes?” she asked.

He just nodded.

“Don’t worry, we’ll have you back in the kitchen in a second.”

Was he that easy to read?

While they waited for the drinks, Bucky took the time to watch the other servers moving about the room. They were all swift, carried themselves well and certainly had a way with the customers.

Steve was talking to a young server with big round eyes. He moved his hands around and the server nodded before disappearing back towards the kitchen. Steve greeted a new group of patrons with a smile and Bucky watched.

Earlier, Bucky had been wondering at Wilson’s amazing skills and had a question, but he wasn’t sure about the guy, how he’d take it.

“See that’s why he’s head server,” Sam said, interrupting Bucky’s thoughts. Bucky blinked at him, shocked. “Look at him go. Man, that boy picks up more tips that a pencil sharpener. Smooth as honey and just as sweet.”

Bucky blinked. “Can you read my mind?”

Sam chuckled, “No, man. But I get that a lot.”

Bucky felt foolish. “Sorry, I mean, you’re really good at your job.”

Sam nodded his head in thanks. The drinks appeared on a metal tray and they moved to take them back to the table.

Sam put down the drinks, and explained about the wine chosen to match the fish dish the patron had been looking into.

Sam swiftly took their orders (no notepad, yikes) and hustled Bucky back to the kitchen.

“Two salmon, one pork–extra crispy, follow that with three mint mousses, thank you!” Sam said through the server window. Two plates appeared on the window ledge.

“Table seven,” Jack said, already turning back to whatever he’d been doing at the prep table. He had a lilt of an accent that Bucky was only just picking up on.

“Now here’s how it goes,” Sam said, grabbing one plate and handing another to Bucky. “We go clockwise, understand? Never the other way. You figure out which dish is for which customer, and organize yourself beforehand. For more than two, you get backup and they also organize, so we go round, and put the dishes down at the same time. Then we roll out, clockwise again, in an orderly fashion. Okay?”

Bucky nodded. So that’s what made them seem so effortless. God, he hadn’t even noticed that that process was what made the servers move like, well, ducklings.

So he followed Sam to table seven, where it looked like a couple were on a date. Bucky followed Sam’s lead, depositing the tuna steak in front of the young woman, whose eyes bugged out of her head when she saw the delicate display of fish and sauce and sprinkling of greens.

“Wow,” her date said. “Thank you.”

“Our pleasure,” Sam said with a smile. “Enjoy.”

 

“See? Easy,” Sam laughed when they made it back to the kitchen.

“I dunno,” Bucky huffed. “That seemed tough as shit.”

Sam actually laughed. “Naw, man. You get used to it. Wait til’ you gotta deal with a table of drunks. Now that’s a fun time. Ah, the belligerent patrons are the best.”

Bucky caught Romanov looking their way. She made the slice-across-the-throat hand motion.

“Uh, I think we’re done here,” Bucky said. Sam turned.

“Oh, yup! Okay, Barnes, it was a ride. Now get yourself some food. I think Steve’s going on lunch too. Or dinner. Whatever time it is.”

Bucky was grateful for the respite. He pulled off the bowtie and immediately shucked the black shirt, back in the employee area.

Steve appeared a moment later. “Hey, Buck, you eating?”

“Yup, before I digest myself, I better.”

They both wiggled through the kitchen, Steve getting whaps from some chefs’ towels.

“I’m going, I’m going, sheesh,” he said, behind Bucky.

They rummaged through the fridge, pulling out their lunches.

When they pushed outside, Bucky was surprised to see it was still mostly sunny and warm, the sun only just starting to go down. A couple folks were at the table, enjoying their own food.

“Hey, what’s on the menu today?” an unfamiliar server cried out.

Wanda, opposite him, swatted at the guy’s arm.

“Stop yelling,” she hissed.

“Chef?” Bucky murmured, surprised.

She was eating, just like the others, Bruce beside her, and Wanda beside him. Steve slid onto the bench beside the other server. The guy had bleached hair, with dark roots showing through.

Bucky sat down beside Steve.

“Sam show you the ropes?” Chef asked.

Bucky nodded. “Yeah.”

“Fun, huh?” Steve said, smiling at Bucky. He popped open his lunch box and everyone zeroed in on his dish.

“Hard work,” Bucky murmured, cracking open his own, identical dish.

“Trust a chef to call serving hard work,” the blonde guy on the end said.

“Pietro,” Chef said with a look.

“So what is it?” Bruce murmured, looking at Steve’s lunch. “Today we’ve got what, soba? Spinach and rice balls?”

“Rapini,” Bucky murmured.

“It’s good cold?” Wanda asked, skeptical.

Steve nodded, a spoonful already jammed in his mouth. “Uh-huh.”

Bucky took a bite of his own. Hmm. Not bad.

Chef was watching him. “So you’re the one that’s been cooking his meals this whole time, huh?”

She had a wry smile in place, amused. “You know he’s the only one who brings in his own lunch?”

“I see why, now,” Bruce nodded, taking a bite of his sandwich.

“What you got there, Boss?” Steve said.

Chef swirled her spoon in her soupy dish. “Trying out this new beef bouillon recipe. Shiitake, leeks, couscous paste and cherry-lime. Not sure it’s good for the menu though.” she looked at Rogers. “You want to try some?”

“No thanks,” Steve said, chowing down. “Bucky makes a mean Vietnamese soup though. You should ask his recipe.”

“Jesus, Steve, shut up,” Bucky griped, turning pink. God, telling a head chef to eat Bucky Barnes’ homemade garbage. Jeez.

“Oh yeah?” Chef chewed. “What makes it so good?”

Bucky just shrugged.

“Coconut milk,” Steve said. “’s delicious.”

Chef eyed Bucky some more, so he just bent his head and focused on his super interesting food.

 

 

The two of them had headed home before eleven, Bucky dead on his feet. He was sure it wouldn’t always be such long days, but he didn’t mind so much at the moment.

“You learnin’ lots, huh?” Steve said from the sofa. He was on the laptop, probably catching up on emails.

Bucky scooped up the roasted garlic and added it to their lunches for the morning.

“Yeah,” Bucky said, grateful to be back in his PJs. He eyed the clock. Their dinners and breakfasts were getting later and later each day. It was going to be normal, eating after midnight, wasn’t it?

“You good for cereal in the morning?” Bucky asked, eyeing the state of their mostly empty fridge.

“Yeah,” Steve answered.

“I’ll pick up some almond milk tomorrow,” Bucky yawned. He snapped the lids shut on their lunches and put them in the fridge. He dropped the pans into the sink to soak, too tired to scrub them.

“Lookit,” Steve said, when Bucky came round the sofa a few minutes later. “They got a new season of that show you like. Want me to hook up the TV? Sam brought me the HDMI-to-VGA thingy.”

Bucky slumped into the seat beside Steve, their sofa whining its ancient springs.

“Sure, whatever,” he said. Steve got up and dug around in his work bag, pulling out a cable. He then fumbled around on the floor in front of their ancient, trash-destined CRT television that sat atop an old vegetable crate Bucky found at a market dumping lot.

God, they lived like animals. He chewed his lip, thinking again on ways to somehow boost the both of them out of this hellhole. They were doing okay, what with their lack of anything, really. No car, no cable, no furniture, really. Ugh. They didn’t even have a dining table to eat at. Best they ever could do was slouch over the kitchen counter, or the ancient coffee table Mrs. Steenkamp gave them out of sheer pity.

Thank god for Netflix, though, Bucky thought idly, distracted by Steve on his knees, wrangling his way around the TV, ass wiggling in his stupidly thin sweatpants.

Hmm.

Steve really was somethin’ else. When he sat back, face aglow with pride, Bucky couldn’t help smiling.

“See? Technology, Buck,” Steve said, struggling back to his feet, his pants tugging low in the back when he stumbled on the hems.

This was them upgrading their lives: a cable from the laptop to the TV so they could watch Netflix on a marginally bigger screen.

Steve yanked the sofa blanket off the arm of the seat and threw it over their legs. It wasn’t even cold, but what the hell.

Steve fumbled with the laptop a bit, clicking through the many screens before it showed up on the TV. They argued a bit about what episode they’d last watched, before Steve just settled on the first of the new season.

Bucky got right into the show, immediately recalling what a great murder mystery show was like.

The glow of the TV was the only light, seeing as how he’d turned off the light above the stove already. Electric bills were ass.

About forty minutes in, Steve’s head lolled and he snuggled into Bucky’s shoulder.

“Seriously?” Bucky griped, all two-hundred something pounds of Rogers leaning his way.

Steve mumbled something insensible.

“Fine,” Bucky sighed. “One episode and then bedtime.”

He was telling himself that.

He wasn’t good at lying to himself anymore. Steve was warm, and Steve was comforting.

Bucky watched the show a little longer, wishing he had something to snack on. But Steve was napping and the wasabi peas were all the way in the kitchen. At one point, Steve shifted. “Muh,” he murmured.

“I see,” Bucky answered softly.

“Tired,” Steve mumbled, shifting. And before Bucky could get a handle on this, Steve shifted himself into a sleeping position, resting his head on Bucky’s lap.

Well, now he was going to have to focus on the show even more. Why? Because if he didn’t, he might accidentally wake his best friend up with the awkward boner that was dying to materialize, because Bucky was hard-up and probably should have jacked it in the shower, and not at all adult enough to handle Steve’s face anywhere near his crotch.

Resting his hand on Steve’s hair, he sighed.

Why was life so cruel?

Chapter Text

“Hey, don’t take it too badly, ” Jack said, patting Bucky on the back.

“Really?” Bucky cocked a brow at the chef beside him. He was finishing up the last of the washing up, whatever couldn’t fit in the dishwasher. Jack had just dropped off a handful of spatulas. “I’m pretty sure I made a right ol’ dumbass of myself in front of everyone.”

Jack smirked and Bucky couldn’t help noticing the other man’s sharply handsome features. Actually, he’d noticed much earlier in the day.

“No worries, mate,” Jack chuckled, “Chef has a go at everyone. It happens to the best of us.”

Bucky snorted, wiping the last spatula.

“You get yourself home safe, Barnes. And take that blonde beefcake with you, will you?”

Bucky blinked, then frowned. Jack laughed and headed out, pulling his chef’s cap off his head as he went. He had light brown hair, cut real short on the back and sides.

Bucky dried his hands and looked the kitchen over. Bruce and Wanda were going over the week’s pastry plans, and the rest of the chefs were clearing out. It was Sunday night, which meant everything had to be spotless.

Bucky wiped down the counters and straightened up the miscellaneous jars of utensils and gadgets.

He peeked into the fridge, noting the required doughs and elements needed for the chefs come Tuesday.

He wandered out to the employee lockers and pulled his cap off his head. Jack was just finishing up, his own flat cap in place, out of his chef’s whites.

“See you next week, Barnes,” the man said, squeezing by.

Bucky had gotten to know the man a little more that afternoon, when Bucky had been working the prep table for the first time. Jack was the kind of chef that got so lost in the details that someone usually had to tap him to get his attention.

He was the chef usually assigned to the appetizers and plating of dishes because he was so good at sticking to Chef’s particulars about colour and flavour combinations and being minimal. And, now that Bucky paid attention, he was pretty sure the guy hailed from somewhere in the British Isles; where exactly, he couldn’t figure out and was too shy to ask. He’d already made the mistake of assuming Wanda and Pietro were Russian, not Sokovian, and apparently twins, not partners. Whoops.

 

Bucky tugged on his jacket, aware that it was just gone midnight.

He wandered back out to the front of the house, hoping Steve was ready.

No such luck. Steve was working the bar this evening, tending to the many late-nighters that drifted in for no food in particular, but plenty to drink. Bucky knew those types of folks very well. It seemed that no matter how high-end the establishment, there would always be a contingent of heavy drinkers willing to throw their money away for hard liquor and dreamless sleep.

Bucky remembered the early days beck when Steve was learning bartending, and how he’d brought home gadgets and measuring tools to practice on. Now, obviously they didn’t have the kind of cash to throw on a full drinks cabinet, but Steve had made do with water and one lime that sat in for every other kind of fruit required.

Bucky smiled, remembering how Steve used a teeny lump of that lime as a substitute for cherries, olives, grapes, you name it.

Watching him now, Bucky felt a bloom of fondness for his best friend.

Steve was tall and sharp behind the bar, mixing up something in a short glass with ease, and the skill of a real pro.

Bucky could just hear him say to the man slouching in the barstool, “Now you know it’s last call, so this one’s got half the liqueur, all right?”

The patron grunted and took his proffered drink.

“Let me just ring up your tab, sir,” Steve said, unperturbed. He turned back to the cash register and Bucky figured he’d be waiting a bit, so he slid into the lone seat at the far end of the bar.

Bucky watched Steve work, for once, getting a chance to see how this went.

Steve was clearly popular, going by how many late-comers insisted on saying good-bye before leaving. Bucky smirked, noting the tips people were leaving. Steve just scooped them up and popped them into his apron’s pockets.

When Steve finally noticed Bucky, he smiled and came over.

“And what can I serve you, sir?” Steve said.

“A hot steaming cup of lets-get-outta-here,” Bucky responded. “I’m beat.”

Steve smiled wide. “All right. I’m just gonna clean this place up and we can blow this pop stand.”

He was kind enough to serve Bucky a glass of water while he waited. “Thanks, buddy,” Bucky intoned sarcastically. Steve winked.

Bucky watched and waited. Steve tidied up what glasses he had waiting for the kitchen. He wiped down the taps, the bar top, and anything else he thought might need more of a gleam. He refilled the straw cup, and the paper napkin pile. He reorganized the branded coasters and closed off a few of empty liquor bottles that must have just been swapped out.

Bucky chewed on his straw when Steve bent down to grab the heavy plastic tub filled with glassware and cutlery. It had to weigh a helluva lot but it was nothing to Steve.

The blonde disappeared into the kitchen, returning a few moments later with one of the young servers. Steve was telling the guy something, and the server nodded before heading over to the now empty dining area. He started scooping up the table cloths and napkins left after patrons had vacated.

The server worked fast, carrying out an immense pile of linens, leaving the dark wooden tables bare. The room looked so different.

When Steve rounded the bar again, the lone patron remaining had finished up his drink.

He was pulling out bills, counting out whatever was required. Steve smiled, taking it and cashing out.

The guy was clearly tipsy, but he managed to scrape himself off the barstool, before hobbling slowly out.

Bucky watched him go.

Steve counted up the till, a really big, old-fashioned calculator at his side. Bucky smiled. Steve was total shit at math. The calculator’s buttons clacked loudly.

He piled up the money into the lock box and went to hand it over to Romanov, keeper of all things Super Important TM .

By the time Steve returned, Bucky was resting his cheek on his folded arms.

“Sorry, Buck,” Steve said, coming to ruffle Bucky’s hair. “Let’s get outta here.”

“Yeah, okay,” Bucky said, dragging himself upright and trying to not ask for more head rubs.

“Where are your tips?” Bucky slid off the barstool and stretched. He yawned wide.

Steve was already in his street clothes. Damn, had Bucky dozed off? “Got ‘em. We can count it back home, okay?”

“Yuh,” Bucky nodded and the two of them headed out.

“Chef still working?” Steve asked when they began the trip home.

Bucky shrugged. “I think so. She went upstairs.”

“Ah,” Steve nodded. He looked over at Bucky, the streetlights overhead casting shadows over his face.

“You look really tired, Buck. Tough day?”

“Oh God, yeah,” Bucky groaned. “I fucked up.”

“I thought you were working prep? With Jack? Isn’t that the easiest?”

“Nothing in that kitchen is easy,” Bucky said with an arched brow. “Naw, I was helping to touch up a dish… and, man, sounds so stupid now.”

“Why? What happened?” Goddamnit, Steve was always so focused.

“Chef told me to pick up one of the fish soups so she could add garnish.”

“Yeah?”

“And so, like, I went to get it from the prep table. And, I dunno, there are two soups on the menu. They look the same.”

“Yeah,” Steve nodded again. “The salmon and the onion sweet potato.”

“Right? They look fuckin’ identical.”

“But one’s an appetizer,” Steve cocked his head to the side as they walked, the bay falling away, the streets getting tighter.

“Yup. So I picked up the soup and take it over to her and she just, like, stared at me. And then she said, loud as all hell, ‘I said the Salmon Soup, Barnes.’ and I swear, Steve, the whole kitchen went like dead silent.”

“Eurgh,” Steve made a face.

“And then she yelled loudly, asking who hadn’t told me that the dishes were served on different goddamn plates and didn’t I know that yet? It was, apparently, baseline knowledge. Even thought the plates are all the same size and shape and whatever.”

“Dang,” Steve said. “So I take it you were holding a white dish?”

“Yup!” Bucky said, throwing his hands in the air.

“Yeah, sorry. Though to be fair, Chef probably should have told you that on your first day. I bet she knows it too. Probably felt bad.”

“Wait, tell me what?” Bucky asked.

“Uh, that the dishes for different courses go on different colours.”

Bucky turned and blinked. “What?

Steve actually laughed, one of those surprised, bubbly laughs. “Oh, Buck. The appetizers are on black plates. Mains on white, and desserts only go on grey dishes. We teach all the servers that on day one. Minimizes mistakes.”

Bucky blinked, like this was blowing his mind, which it probably was.

“Are you fucking serious? Oh my God, Steve! I looked like such a fuckin’ tool! Oh, jeez! Why didn’t anyone say something?”

And damnit! That was a really simple system! How brilliant! There could never be a mix-up! If you knew your menu, you’d know what soup was in what bowl!

“Fuck!” Bucky yelled. “I always wondered why we had stacks of three colour bowls and plates! I figured it was random when people used them.”

Steve was giggling now, great big lump of a man that he was.

Bucky scowled, “Goddamnit! Do we have friggin’ copper cutlery for use only on Tuesdays? Halloween cauldrons? St. Paddy’s Day green leprechaun uniforms?”

Steve was laughing full out, clearly beyond amused by Bucky’s luck.

“It’s not funny, Rogers! Chef is terrifying! I thought she was gonna fire me for being a dumbass.”

Steve sobered at that, “Aw, no, Bucky. She likes you. Sure she does. Besides, she ain’t so bad. Some other chefs yell all day long.”

That was true. He’d never much liked the chefs who thought they had the right to scream and bellow profanities all the time.

“So dumb,” Bucky shook his head. “Black bowl. Honestly.”

 


 

 

Bucky was in that soft place between sleep and reality. He could feel the mattress beneath him and he shifted his hips, morning wood making its presence known.

“Mmm,” Bucky rumbled, rubbing his cheek against his pillow.

He’d been dreaming… of something. Someone. Pale skin and a deep voice. The person in his dream was pretty nondescript, but Bucky had a good idea what his brain was thinking. God, he needed to get laid. It had been a really, really long time. Who was it last time? Francesca? Probably. Her brother was hot, he recalled, eyes opening slowly. That’s right. Frankie and Francesca. They’d all laughed about that.

Bucky rolled over, hair a mess in his face. He got up, thankful that the restaurant wasn’t open on Mondays. A day off! Wow. He can’t remember the last job he had where he was guaranteed something similar to a weekend off.

He shuffled out of his room and into the bathroom, fully aware that Steve was probably already in the gym pumping iron. The guy had one day off and he usually wanted to waste it sweating it up with strangers.

Speaking of such things… Bucky ran the shower as hot as he could manage. He made it under the water and breathed in a sigh. He’d slept like the dead and he felt so much better for it.

He ignored his boner for as long as possible, soaping up his hair and scrubbing himself all over with the scrubby-sponge-thing his sister had gifted him for his birthday so he could ‘exfoliate his hideous face away’. Ah, family.

When the water stopped bubbling, he found himself paying his dick some attention. He wasn’t as horny as he’d been in his teens, thank god. Gone are the days when Bucky had needed to jack off at least once a day. But sometimes, he needed to take the edge off, especially when he reminded himself of what Steve would look like when he got back from the gym. All pink in the face, his hair freshly washed, eyes bright, his muscles tense and firm and so so perfect.

“God,” Bucky breathed, rubbing himself off to the thought of Steve (again) and trying his damndest to ignore the flicker of guilt that scratched at him whenever he did so.

He was mildly displeased to realize that the few guys he had tried to mess around with always had some whiff of Steve about them. It was either the sass, the blonde hair or the beefy arms; Never the original article, but a lame competitor.

Bucky had gone years avoiding thinking of Steve this way, but sometimes, like now, he was too jaded to care. His material wasn’t even that bad.

He sometimes liked to replay that one time Steve had pulled off his shirt when they’d been hanging out in the park last summer because it had been his birthday and Becca’d bought him a snazzy new shirt that said ‘Talk Nerdy to Me’. And Steve shirtless in the sunshine, his newly-minted buff body on display? Well, why wouldn’t it be spank bank material?

Bucky came with a gasp, thankful to have the cold tile at his back.

He was quick about getting out of the shower. Once, he’d strayed too long and the hot water had run out. What a boner killer that had been, ice water killing every nerve in his skin.

He wandered back to his room and fumbled about for some clothes.

By the time he was done, Steve was home.

“Hey, you’re up!” Steve said happily. True to form, his cheeks were slightly pink from whatever exercises he’d put himself through and his hair was slightly damp.

“Yep,” Bucky said, pushing his own wet hair away from his face. “You want pancakes?”

“Uh, yes!” Steve said, dropping his gym bag in their joint laundry basket by the bathroom.

“You gonna unload that?” Bucky asked archly. “Cos last time I did laundry, it was like opening up a festering corpse.”

“Yeah, okay, fine.” Steve huffed. “If you’re making breakfast.”

Bucky shook his head and pulled out the ingredients.

He puttered about, mixing up his dad’s recipe.

He knew exactly how much to mix to satisfy both their immense appetites.

“Your mom called,” Steve said, as Bucky added his mixture to their designated pancake pan. “Or, she tried. I called back.” Steve came into the kitchen and leaned over Bucky’s shoulder.

“Why’d she call you?” Bucky asked.

“Well,” Steve moved to lean against the fridge. “She said something along the lines of ‘if my son is dead in a ditch somewhere, I’d hope you’d have the decency to invite me, his mother, to the funeral.’”

Bucky looked up, “Oh, jeez. Ma. My phone.” He nodded for Steve to watch the pan while Bucky dug into his jacket, which was draped over the sofa. “Dangit, it died.”

Bucky plugged it into the wall where he and Steve shared a charger. Steve had sat on his own, which left them with one because Steve’s ass, apparently, was made of granite.

“Christ, twenty messages,” he sighed, when he opened his phone up. He flicked through the majority of them, all of which were along the lines of “Where are you? When are you visiting? How’s the new job? Has my only son finally deserted me?”

“You know, you get your dramatics from her,” Bucky groused, coming back to the kitchen.

“But she’s your mom,” Steve said, poking the pancake.

“Oh, please, like, she hasn’t already drawn up the adoption papers. You know she’s still annoyed you haven’t married Becca yet.”

Steve snorted and flipped the pancake onto the waiting plate. It was slightly burnt. “I think Becca might have an issue with that.”

Bucky poured out another pancake. “Yeah, probably.”

 


 

 

“Three hundred?” Bucky was agape. They’d lazed about all morning, until Steve pressed Bucky about the groceries.

So they were at the supermarket round the corner, the little Chinese place with the best prices. Bucky was staring at Steve, who was fascinated by the dragonfruits.

“Three hundred dollars in tips?” Bucky repeated himself.

“Yeah,” Steve eyed the violently pink fruit in his hand. “Sundays are always good though.”

“Jesus, Steve, that’s one of your best pulls ever.” Bucky said.

“Uh huh,” Steve dropped the fruit back in place. “Hey, can we get candy? I’m craving.”

Bucky snorted while he wrapped up the asparagus. “Well, you’re Mister Moneybags. Buy whatever you like.”

“Oh, I will,” Steve smirked his way and Bucky actually felt his breath catch.

“Oh, Sam says hi,” Steve added, following Bucky around the tightly-packed store.
Bucky looked over the spices before pausing. 
“Wait, Sam from BRDO is Gym-Sam?” Bucky frowned.

“Yeah, of course,” Steve uttered, pulling down a tub of almonds.

Huh.

So the Sam who’d been wowing Steve with his knowledge on musculature and protein shakes and stamina-testing was the server from work? Damnit. Bucky already had enough jealousy issues without putting a face to a name.

 


 

“Hey,” Bucky said from his spot, prone on the sofa. He’d been watching Parks and Rec reruns while Steve painted, sitting on the floor between Bucky and the coffee table. “Is Jack gay?”

Steve looked up.

“Jack from work? Union Jack?”

“Uh, yes. Interesting nickname aside, how many Jacks you know?”

Steve twisted so he could see Bucky.

“I think so,” Steve said, his face all frowny. “I never asked. Why?”

Bucky shrugged. “He said some things, is all.”

“Oh,” Steve paused, then turned back to his work. Amy Poehler was being adorable on-screen. She reminded him of Steve.

“Wait, so what did he say?” Steve asked, turning again.

“Huh?” Bucky blinked. “Uh, nothing much.”

“Did he ask you out?” Steve said abruptly.

Bucky frowned. “No. Jeez.”

Bucky’s heart fluttered in his chest. They were treading way too close to this topic. He was relieved when Steve turned back to his art.

Another five minutes passed before Steve obviously couldn’t hold back.

“I know you like guys,” he said softly, not turning.

Bucky’s eyes widened. His heart hammered loudly in his ears. Jesus fuck.

“What?” he breathed out.

Steve cleared his throat, “I–I’ve known for a while, Buck. I figured you just didn’t wanna talk about it. So, I mean, if Jack, um, asked you out or whatever–“

“He didn’t!” Bucky cried out, sitting up. “What the hell, Steve?”

“What?” Steve turned. “What’d I say?”

When he saw Bucky’s stricken look, his gaze softened. “Oh, Bucky, come on. You thought I wouldn’t realize? Give me some credit.”

Shit. Did Steve know how bad Bucky had it? Was this how Steve worked it out? Was Bucky becoming one of those guys? Shit. Steve knew he liked dudes. Shit. Steve knew Bucky was –

“I mean, you always had it easy with girls,” Steve shrugged. “And I’ve seen guys hit on you, you know. ’S not rocket science. All that Barnes charm, as your ma says.”

Bucky just stared at Steve, dumbfounded by how this was happening.

“I don’t wanna talk about it,” he blurted. That should do it. That should keep Steve away, for a while, because Bucky sure as hell was not ready to have this talk, at least not with his best friend who was one of Bucky’s main concerns in that regard.

Steve blinked. “Um, okay.”

“Okay,” and Bucky threw himself back down onto the sofa, wide eyes fixed to the tv, steadfastly looking past Steve.

Steve was silent, but eventually, he went back to his painting, clearly getting the message to not bug Bucky any further on the topic.

Bucky knew it was only a matter of time.

Chapter Text

It’s Bucky’s second week at BRDO and although he’s supremely happy to get up every day and do this, he still feels intensely wound and pent-up, attributing that to the fact that he feels like a fraud for even daring to work at such an upscale joint.

On Thursday, Chef pulls him aside and he thinks, for a moment that she’s about to tell him how it just isn’t working, how he really might want to try get his old shithole job back.

But instead of saying that, Chef says, “Okay, Barnes. Apologies upfront, but I know I’ve been slacking in the training department.”

Bucky’s standing in the tight stairwell that leads up to her office, her on a few steps higher up. She does this, wants privacy with people, but can’t be bothered to actively go upstairs. Bucky’s starting to think Chef is as lazy as the rest of them, even if she runs at a hundred times the speed of others.

“Um, what?” Bucky responds intelligently.

“No, seriously,” she says, hands flapping before landing on her hips. “I’ve been a little preoccupied with, well, everything, but that’s no excuse to shirk my duties. So, yes, I’m sorry, but I have a plan, okay?”

Bucky just blinked at her. Was she seriously saying that she was underperforming?

“So, starting today, you shadow me. I have a set of tasks I need you to learn because we have a massive, annoyingly last-minute guest party showing up on Saturday and we need to sort out the menu.

“Uh,” Bucky said. “Okay?”

“–some people can’t take no for an answer,” Chef kept muttering. “Honestly, closing the place on a Saturday? Company functions are the worst, you know that?” She flapped her hands, backing Bucky out, back into the kitchen below. He stumbled, but opened the door and held it for her.

The kitchen was bustling. Something was up, but he couldn’t figure out what.

“Delivery’s here!” Jack said, once he spotted Chef.

“Finally!” she huffed. “Barnes, follow me.”

Bucky did as he was told, exiting out the back door and following her down to the back alley.

“What’s the deal, Barton?” Chef said, annoyance colouring every word.

“Sorry, sorry,” the guy from before, Clint, said. “A couple of the farms had rough flooding because of Tuesday’s rain. The herbs didn’t make it.”

“Tell me you have basil?” Chef said sharply, as the young woman, the driver, helped heave out wooden crates of food.

“Not this shipment, no,” Barton said, scratching his head. He was crouched in the back of the van, shoving the crates to the edge for Bucky and Kate to pick up. His t-shirt was a dark, faded purple rain throwback, with the sleeves rolled up onto his shoulders, like some eighties greaser. The guy again looked like he’d fallen out of bed and into this waking life.

“I need basil,” Chef said, clearly annoyed. She was looking over all the vegetables and fruits. Bucky blinked when he saw a whole platter of dragon fruits.

He helped Kate carry them indoors. Jack and Luke handled the unloading, quickly separating out the food and placing everything in the right bins and bowls.

Bucky picked up the empty crates on his way out, balancing four in his arms, while Kate cocked her eyebrows at him.

When he made the final trip back outside, there was another van.

“Are you kidding me?”

Bucky blinked. Romanov was standing beside chef, arms folded, while a sheepish older man scrunched a worn baseball cap between his fingers.

Bucky went over to Barton’s van, which had moved, giving room to the other guy’s truck, an old blue rust bucket that had seen better days.

Barton was sitting on the edge of his van’s bed, swinging his car keys from finger to finger.

Kate came over and whispered something to him. The tan blonde made a face and squinted over at where Chef was reaming out the other man.

“You can’t promise me my salmon and my pork and not deliver!” she was crying. “What am I supposed to do?”

“I’m so sorry, Chef,” the man was saying, head bowed. “But the bossman said all goods were bought and paid for in advance, so the big expo, it’s getting the deliveries.”

“That fucking expo,” Chef bit out, twisting to glare at Romanov, who looked unimpressed to match.

“So where do we get our meats?” Chef said sharply.

Romanov shrugged, “Grocery store?”

“We are not serving grocery grade ‘organic’ meat,” and here, Coach used air quotes to physically explain her disdain at such a thought, “Hell only knows what quality we’d end up with.”

“I’m so sorry, Chef,” the older man with the cap said, backing away pitifully. “Orders for next week will be on discount.”

As the man clambered back into his truck, trying to get away, Chef scowled. “You’re damn right they’ll be! You tell your bossman I’m fucking pissed. Make sure to use the F-bomb.”

The man shut the driver’s door and with a loud rumble and crunch, got his aging truck going. The small vehicle backed its way down the alley, sputtering and smoking as it went.

“We’re so screwed,” Chef whined.

Bucky wasn’t sure if he should just go inside.

“Hey,” Bucky, Romanov and Chef looked up. Barton hopped down from his van, “I may know a guy,” he said, quirking his grin. “Hi Natasha,” he also said with a head tilt.

Romanov twisted her lips to the side and nodded in greeting.

“What guy?” Chef asked, skeptically.

“’S this guy I know. What you need? I can ask him. He’s all organic, all good.”

“Why does this sound like a drug deal?” Romanov said with a quirk of her brow.

“Yeah, seriously,” Chef added, folding her arms.

Barton just huffed and Kate jabbed him in the side with her elbow.

“Trust me, okay? Would I steer you wrong?”

Everyone just stared.

“Okay, tell me what you need and I’ll call him up. Not saying he’s gonna have everything you want, ‘cos guy works in smaller portions, but he’s good, I swear,” Barton said.

Kate, beside him, sighed. “If it’s who I think it is, then yeah, Chef, he’s good.”

“Hmm, well, Kate wouldn’t steer me wrong,” Chef sighed.

Barton’s cry of “Hey!” was cut off when Chef handed over a quick list of what she needed to Kate.

“And you need this by Saturday?” Kate asked, looking the list over.

“Morning, the latest,” Chef nodded.

Kate bit her lip, “Okay, we’ll phone back today, promise. You might want to prepare for all eventualities, though.”

“Don’t I know it,” Chef sighed, hand over her mouth.

Kate closed up the back of the van and headed over to the driver’s side, snagging the keys from Clint.

“Bye Chef. New guy. Bye, Natasha,” Barton waved loudly before clambering into his side of the van.

Bucky waved, alongside Romanov. Chef had already moved inside.

“So…” Bucky turned with a grin.

“Shut it,” Romanov cussed and shoved him back towards the door.

 


 

 

Bucky was in the throes of chopping and peeling blood oranges. His fingers moved fast. Slice, peel, pull and chop chop chop. His bowl was getting full, and his worktop looked like he’d murdered something or someone.

Everyone was buzzing. Not only because of the meat mishap, but because of the big deal on Saturday.

“Bet you it’s, like, a statesman, or something,” America said, shelling lobster at her station.

“Or a celebrity,” Jack added, beside Bucky.

“So nobody knows?” Bucky asked.

“Tried getting a look at the booking,” America sighed, “but no luck.”

“That’s because you shouldn’t be snooping,” came Romanov’s icy voice.

Everyone looked up when Chef clapped her hands sharply.

“Okay, listen up! Quick family meeting!”

Even Bruce and Wanda looked up from the bread station.

“We are going to run out of fish and pork tonight.” People made faces at one another. “Delivery may be possible Saturday morning, but we’re pretty much up shit creek if we don’t sort out some menu alternatives. So, I want all ideas, all hands on deck. Wanda, Bruce,” Chef pointed to them, “Obviously you’re on point for baked alternatives. We need to work around the fish dishes and the meats. Jack, you’re on soups. America, you’re with Luke. If we don’t have the pork, the duck, the whole shebang, what can you make me? These are your strengths, people! Everyone think of something we can do. Game plans! Got it?”

“Chef!” everyone answered loudly before going back to work.

“Ooo, this one’s so early!” America said, clearly excited.

“What one what?” Bucky murmured, collecting up his latest pile of blood orange bits.

“Oh, newbie,” Jack chuckled, “Chef sometimes, usually every three months, opens up the gates to let us all try come up with a new meal item. If it’s any good, she’ll put it on the menu. It’s wicked.”

Bucky blinked, “Wow, really?”

He knew that was weird because everything on the menu was created and perfected by Chef herself. “You ever have anything on the menu?” he asked, genuinely intrigued.

“Oh, I had a drink, once, on the menu,” Jack snorted. “That was my martini phase, though.”

“Yeah, I remember that,” America chuckled. “You were half drunk most days.”

“Hey,” Jack snapped. “I was trying things out. Food and drink combinations are art forms.”

“Yeah, okay,” America smirked.

“Shut it, part-timer,” Jack sniffed.

“So,” Bucky said carefully, “Chef didn’t put me in any station, but can I also suggest ideas?”

Jack actually stopped chopping and looked at Bucky. “Uh, sure. I guess,” he looked at America, who made a weird face and bent back down to her lobsters. “I mean, you know Chef assigned people to their specialties, right?”

“Oh,” Bucky paused. That made sense. He wouldn’t be assigned, because he didn’t have a specialty, not really. Not like how Luke was the man for meats and all sorts of butchery and grilling techniques.

“I mean, you can try,” Jack went on.

“Of course you must try,” Wanda said, appearing at the fourth mise, beside America. She had a tray of delicately rolled circles of dough. She began the tedious job of indenting each portion, making room for the fruit sauce Jack was dicing and prepping.

“Of course,” America mumbled.

“Hey, what is your specialty, anyway?” Jack asked, filling his small pot with fruit.

“I don’t really–“ Bucky started.

“No, I know you’re not assigned anything in here,” Jack sighed.

“He means, what are you best at?” Wanda said. “What do you excel at? In the kitchen? At home?”

“Oh,” Bucky blinked and thought on that. “Um, I guess it would be vegetables.”

The others all stopped working. Wanda looked up at him with a frown.

“Vegetables?” America said, brow cocked. “You know that’s not really…”

“Everyone works vegetables,” Jack added. “That’s not … uh.”

Bucky could see that they were trying to not laugh, or make fun.

So Bucky just shrugged, brushing off the tiny wave of embarrassment. “Well, it’s true. I do vegetables.” He wouldn’t know how to word it any differently to make vegetables sound more fascinating.

“Okay, sure,” Jack said, “But most people, you know, do desserts. Or sauces, or I don’t know, soups!”

Bucky just stared down at his busy hands.

“Oh, leave him alone,” Wanda said.

 


 

At one point in the evening, Steve appeared, squeezing past them all to get to the microwave. He and Sam were heading outside to eat.

Bucky didn’t notice until Steve was practically in his face.

“Uh, hey, Buck,” Steve said, and Bucky jumped.

“Jesus,” Bucky hissed.

“Out of the kitchen, Rogers,” Jack sing-singed from beside Bucky. “You know the rules.”

Steve actually, almost, kind of scowled, blinked at Bucky, but then moved on.

Jack was tutting. “Boy’s as stubborn as a mule sometimes.”

Bucky caught sight of Sam and Steve having a hushed, fervent conversation in front of the microwave. Steve looked annoyed.

Sam patted Steve on the shoulder, and Bucky’s jaw clenched. Sam laughed, and shoved Steve out to the back door, both of them holding their newly heated lunches in hand.

“You two don’t look so good,” Jack murmured. “Trouble in paradise?”

Bucky blinked. The Brit wasn’t even looking up, so focused as he was on plating his dish.

“It’s not like that,” Bucky huffed, practically punching the dough in front of him. Wanda eyed him. “Sorry,” he said at her expression. He treated the dough with more care.

“Well, I overheard him earlier,” Jack said. “Something about you not waiting for him, blah bla, I don’t know.”

Bucky left for work long before Steve woke up these days. Steve’s shift started later, so why would Bucky wake him? He had to get to work. No biggie.

Though, really, if he was being honest, he couldn’t quite deal with whatever his brain was cooking up around Steve. Things were awkward. Steve knew things, and Bucky wasn’t one for dealing with situations like an adult.

“He’ll be fine,” Bucky murmured.

Or, Bucky would be fine.

“Oh, he is fine,” Jack added with a smirk. Wanda threw a fleck of dough at him, and Jack cackled.

Bucky wasn’t sure what the deal was there, but he was coming to terms with the fact that Steve was attractive to more people other than Bucky. Sure, he knew this. Obviously. But yeah… he wasn’t sure how he felt about the way folks talked about Steve. Like he was just something pretty to look at.

 


 

 

“Like this,” Chef said, showing him again. “It’s three seconds, max. Any more and you kill the flavour. We want that umami throughout.”

Bucky carefully mimicked the way she flipped the tiny pancake-like crostini.

He was so tired. He’d been shadowing Chef all day and finally, the last of the diners were petering out. He’d been working desserts all evening, learning every detail he could soak up. Chef hadn’t been kidding when she said he’d be shadowing her. Everything she did, he followed suit. She showed him how the salads were to be made. She indicated the best way to keep the egg whites crisp and fluffed. She also let him taste test her new aperitif, which had a spritz of Tanqueray and peach juice and pink salt, of all things. It was delicious.

“Perfect,” Chef murmured before handing the plate to another chef. Off it went for prep.

Bucky stood up, his shoulders aching.

“Now, Barnes,” Chef wiped off the edge of the stovetop, “You haven’t submitted a menu idea yet. Everyone else has.”

Bucky quietly collected up the spatulas and oil.

He was studiously silent.

“Barnes,” Chef said.

He looked at her.

“Don’t you blink those blues at me. What’s your menu item?”

Bucky caught Wanda eyeing them, Luke beside her.

“I –uh–didn’t think I could,” he said softly.

“Why not?” Chef said.

Everyone was fucking listening, he knew it. Sure, everyone was still working away on the last of the dishes, but the bastards were all listening in.

“Because I don’t have a specialty?” he answered.

Chef eyed him. “Okay, so.” she sighed, and then rubbed at her eyes. Bucky waited. “Go to the pantry and fridge. Look at all the ingredients we have. Then get back to your mise and make something that you would serve. I don’t care what it is, just make something. Minus the meat we may or may not have come Saturday.”

Bucky’s eyes were round. “Now?”

She looked at him, “Yes, now.”

Shit.

“Okay,” he hastily wiped at his hands and did what he was told. He fumbled through to the storage pantry, eyeing up everything as quickly as possible. Crapcrapcrap.

He grabbed some things. Something easy, something quick. He could do this.

He raced back to his station, totally aware that people were watching.

Chef leaned against a counter nearby.

Okay, Barnes, he told himself. Don’t fuck this up.

He got to it.

He measured out handfuls of this, and bits of that. He watched the heat on the stovetop, careful about when to add his ingredients. In a small bowl he mixed together olive oil, blackcurrants, ginger and honey. He carefully fried the hazelnuts, only a handful in the tiniest amount of sesame oil, before he added his mixture. While they all cooked together, he chopped up the softest cabbage pieces he could find, in thin strips, and added soft green arugula to the mix. He made the mix into a small pile in a bowl, and added one of the many blood orange pieces left over from the day’s work. He mashed up another slice and mixed it into his roasted nuts and currants before scooping it all up off the flat stove and drizzling it all over the cabbage and arugula. Carefully, he let the pink acidic juice drizzle over the tender leaves, not wanting to overdo it.

 

When he was done, he turned off the stove, wiped the edge of the dish and placed it on a clean counter.

Fuck.

When he looked at Chef’s face, he knew he’d messed up. He’d made a fucking salad. GOD.

What had he been thinking? He was supposed to find a substitute for pork belly and salmon. And duck, for Christ’s sake. And he’d made a goddamn salad.

He wiped at his mouth, watching Chef pick up the dish and carry it over to the empty mise beside Wanda. It had just been an idea, something he’d been meaning to try at home, only with almonds and raspberries.

Jack came over, and slung his drying cloth over his shoulder. Luke also looked intrigued, coming to stand just behind tiny Wanda.

Chef looked at Bucky. “That was quick,” she said.

Christ, was everyone watching now?

Bucky felt his cheeks warm with embarrassment. He folded his arms and waited. He probably should have used, like, the caviar from the fridge, or something, but he wasn’t sure how to do that.

Chef carefully forked up a mouthful and bit into it. She chewed thoughtfully. Romanov appeared in the kitchen, her tray under her arm. She glanced at Bucky, then Chef, brow quirked.

Bucky dared not look away.

Chef chewed a bit longer, nodding slowly. She took another bite.

Wanda watched, right there beside Chef. She looked amazed.

When Chef wiped her mouth, she stood up. She harrumphed.

Bucky wanted to die.

“Well, that was unexpected,” she said. “And fucking delicious, Barnes.”

Wanda and Luke cheered.

Bucky blinked. Okay. What?

“I liked the warm crunchiness of the nuts, nice touch. I mean, I wouldn’t call it a main course, but as salads go, well done.” Chef nodded. “Mmm, Nat, try this.”

Romanov came closer, all skeptical as always.

She took a bite of the forkful Chef proffered.

She raised both brows.

“Hmm,” she said, then swallowed. “that would be amazing with the new riesling.”

“Right?” Chef added. “Maybe it can bump the sweet potato, we just add something to the soup, make it a main, and this as starter?”

“Genius,” Romanov nodded. “Yes. Do it.”

Bucky’s mouth dropped open. Wanda’s too. She looked at Bucky, a smile creeping over her features.

“Nicely done!” Jack said, slapping Bucky on the back.

“Whoa,” America breathed. “Is there any left? Man, what did you make, Barnes?”

“Well, his specialty, you know,” Jack winked.

“His what?” Chef said, jostled a bit by America trying to grab at the bowl of salad bits. She smacked America’s hand.

“Barnes’ speciality: vegetables, didn’t you know?” Jack crowed with a laugh.

“Really?” Chef looked so weirded out by that. “Why the hell vegetables?”

Bucky shrugged.

“I cook a lot for Steve. So you know, I’ve learned a lot. It’s tough. Gotta make ten different radish recipes, etcetera.”

Everyone made the same face. It was the basic ‘huh?’ expression.

“You know,” Bucky scratched at his head, sheepish. “For years. I gotta find options. There can’t only be five ways to cook a vegetable, right?”

“Sorry, I’m not following,” Chef said, leaning forward. “I mean, we get it now, you’ve cooked for Rogers a lot. Because he’s a nightmare in the kitchen.”

Everyone nodded gravely.

“And he eats a lot,” Bruce added.

“Yes he does,” Luke said with raised brows. “Taught me a thing or two about those protein shakes he downs every day.”

“Well, when you got a body like that,” Jack sniffed, “Maintenance and protein is key.”

“Yeah,” Bucky nodded. “Plus he doesn’t eat meat, so you know…”

 

Silence.

Bucky could hear the murmuring from the dining room, it was that quiet.

 

“Excuse me?” Romanov said.

 

Bucky blinked around at all their faces. “Well, ‘cos Steve’s vegetarian…”

 

More silence.

 

And then.

 

Utter chaos broke out in the kitchen.

“Whaaaaaaat?” America cried. “No, he isn’t! Is he? But he’s like, a tank!”

Wanda looked half perplexed and half horrified, like she found out Steve was an alien robot or something. Luke just threw his hands in the air while Bruce started laughing and laughing and laughing.

Chef looked pole-axed.

“Oh my God,” she whispered, “That’s why he never eats my food.”

“That little shit,” Romanov growled. “He never mentioned that.”

Bucky looked around. “You…none of you knew that? But, he’s worked here for years.”

“Oh, I am going to whoop his lying little ass. This is important information!” Chef said, scowling. “Making me think he–that Rogers!”

Bucky thought maybe it was getting too late for these people to be making any sense. Maybe it was time to go home, if this was enough to break them.

“Fucking insane,” America said, flipping her spatula over her shoulder and right into the sink.

Chapter Text

“I’m going to murder someone,” Romanov muttered, bustling past Steve and Sam.

“You’re it,” Sam whispered with a smirk and Steve rolled his eyes.

The two of them w ere moving furniture, heaving the solid rectangular tables out from storage and into the dining room.

“Okay, here’s good,” Chef muttered, waving her hands. Steve and Sam grunted, placing the final piece of the immense table puzzle.

“This is some client, huh, Boss?” Sam said, standing upright.

“Something like that,” Chef muttered. “Now line up the benches. We’re going to have just this long table, and everyone’s sitting family style. Rogers, please, for the love of God, make sure all the cutlery is laid out beforehand. We’re going full course.”

“Yes, Boss,” Steve nodded. He waved Parker and Pietro over and told them what to fetch from storage.

“Just the runner?” Sam asked, heaving the heavy, super long linen onto the tabletop.

“Yeah,” Steve said. He counted off seats and made a note of extra spots in case of more patrons showing up.

“You know who the big guns are yet?” Sam asked, as Steve helped him roll out the table runner.

Steve shook his head. “No, but whoever it is, they’ve made Chef super mad. She hates closing up shop to the public, even if it guarantees good money.”

“Yeah, we never have to do this,” Sam added.

“Okay,” Steve breathed, tapping down a portion of the runner. “We’ve got just enough time to get the glassware, switch the lighting and line everyone up for inspection.”

“I’m on the lights,” Sam said.

Pietro and Parker appeared with their piles of cutlery and miscellaneous tools.

Steve let them at it while he went to count out the glasses. He lined up the drinks cart, which only came out on themed nights or special celebrations. Chef had drawn up the drinks menu for the evening, and Steve quickly scanned the options again, making sure all the appropriate liquor was accounted for.

“Here,” Romanov said, appearing at his elbow. “New menus.”

“Oh, nice,” Steve hummed, eyeing the small cards that she’d obviously just printed out upstairs. “For such a smallish crowd, we’re putting on quite the show,” Steve said.

“Well, when you pay top dollar for a personalized set menu and service, you get the whole place to yourself and then some,” Natasha didn’t sound particularly happy.

“Um, do I need to make sure everyone’s on their toes?” Steve asked.

Romanov looked up at him, her expression plain as ever. “They should always be on their toes, Rogers.” Steve made a ‘oh come on’ face, and she sighed. “No concerns. We’re just dealing with some… demanding clientéle, that’s all.”

“Ew, it’s not gonna be like that creepy bachelor party again, is it?” Sam interjected.

“No,” Romanov said sharply. “Never again. This one’s more business than pleasure.”

“Ah,” Sam nodded.

“Rogers,” Romanov went on, looking past them. “Can you please remind Parker that knives go upright?”

Steve looked up and over at his newest and youngest server. Bless him, Peter was so flustered he had his cutlery lying the wrong way round on the table. Steve smiled. “On it.”

 


 

 

Steve was grinding his teeth, he was so unimpressed.

“Oh, my God. Say it ain’t so. Rogers?” came that annoyingly familiar voice, from none other than their very important, super rich, super obnoxious patron.

The waitstaff had all lined up to greet the bevy of men and women that had shown up forty minutes late, no doubt due to their leader’s inability to be punctual.

“What the-“ Sam muttered under his breath as the patron approached with a wild, big grin, couture-cut suit and sunglasses. It was almost seven PM and the guy was still in sunglasses.

Tony,” Steve said, chewing the name out carefully. He was standing, spine ramrod straight, at the end of the server line, arms behind his back.

“Holy hell, fancy meeting you here,” Tony Stark said, all smiles.

He looked Steve up and down. “You got big, man. Been eating your wheaties, huh?” and then Tony clapped Steve on the shoulder.

Chef was eyeing Steve and he felt a shiver run down his spine. Christ. Trust Steve’s luck for getting Tony Stark in the door as their wealthy patron for the evening.

Stark was around Steve’s age and unlike Steve, was practically dripping financial surplus. Tony was pretty famous, considering he was the youngest CEO with his own enterprise of engineering and electronics firms under his belt before he was twenty.

“Hill,” Tony said, spinning on his heel, “You didn’t say you have one Steven Rogers working here? I woulda stopped by sooner!”

Chef came forward. “I didn’t know you two were … familiar.” Chef said, eyeing Rogers some more. “Steve rarely tells me anything these days.” Ouch.

“Oh, we go way back,” Tony smirked. The rest of his guests were bustling in, picking seats and taking off their light coats and jackets. Steve could practically feel the glee pouring out of Stark. “So, looks like you’ll be serving my team and me all evening, then?”

He turned to Chef, “Truly excited to finally taste your gourmet flambé-whatever, Hill,” Tony said with a grin. He yanked his sunglasses off and Chef actually rolled her eyes. Wow, now Steve was curious how these two knew each other.

Steve watched Tony move further into the room, chattering away a mile a minute, as always.

Steve!”

He turned sharply only to find his row of servers staring at him, goggle-eyed.

“You know Tony Stark?” Sam hissed out.

The Tony Stark!” Pietro added with a wild grin. “You crazy guy!”

Steve sighed, “Everyone, please. Let’s not.”

“He’s amazing,” Parker said, eyes big and round. “I really shouldn’t be surprised you know him.”

Steve wanted to roll his eyes. “Hey, everyone. Here’s a novel idea: Get to your jobs. Don’t make me ask twice!”

The servers nodded and then scattered.

Sam hovered a moment longer with a sly smile. “You tryin’ on the old bossy act tonight, huh?”

Steve made a face at Sam. “Don’t you start.”

Sam raised both hands. “I’m just sayin’.”

Steve sighed and prepared himself for the arduous evening ahead.

 


 

 

“Can’t believe it’s Tony Stark,” America was saying as she worked the prep table with Jack. “Man, a walking legend is in our restaurant right now.”

“Focus,” Chef said, “You’re dropping chocolate everywhere.”

Bucky was feeling the heat, leaning over the sauce. They’d all been working so hard, non-stop all day, just for an evening party. It was insane.

Chef had made magic happen, creating a menu as long as Bucky’s arm, a set course for just one evening. So Bucky, who was newest, had struggled a bit to learn everything as quickly as possible the night before.

The kitchen was rammed, with cooks and servers bustling around, rotating out dish after dish for all the guests in the dining room.

Earlier in the day Bucky had helped Chef organize what Clint’s ‘guy’ had managed to scrounge up for them, meat-wise.

The guy, Scott Lang ‘that’s Lang like wang, but you know, kids don’t say that to me anymore so whatever I’m over it’, was somethin’ else. He was super friendly, extra chatty and didn’t seem to have a filter built into his brain at all. Bucky definitely didn’t know Clint Barton well, but he could see how the two of them may have run with the same crowd.

Regardless of his bizarre motormouth, Scott had shown up at the restaurant with a fresh haul of pork belly, beef ribs and an array of shrimp, tuna and salmon. No duck, though.

So they were in luck, having a couple meat items on the menu, though the portions were pretty minuscule due to Lang’s limited quantity.

“Upscale restaurant rationale,” Luke said, slicing the pork so thin it was like vellum, “is to put the smallest amount of food possible on a giant plate and see if customers complain about the price.”

Bucky thought it was a little insane, seeing as he and Steve had never had the cash to splurge on fancy places like BRDO.

“And people never complain?” he asked, scooping out some sauce for America and her proffered plate.

“Not yet,” Luke shrugged. “I hope I’m around to see it, should it ever happen.”

“Come on, Chico,” America huffed. “Faster. We got like seventeen more bowls to dish out. Then onto course number eight.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Bucky said.

He felt like he’d been on his feet for days. First it was grate all the cheese, then slice onions, then potatoes, then sauté herbs, then cream and white chocolate, then coffee infusions, then, oddly enough, shots of vodka all round at ten PM, even though the end wasn’t in sight.

Bucky wiped at his brow.

“Barnes!”

Bucky looked up, so surprised he almost flicked sauce across the room.

“Hey! Holy crap! It is you!”

Fuck.

Bucky had hoped this wouldn’t happen.

“Shit,” America breathed, hands paused over her plate. Jack looked up and blinked.

“Tony,” Bucky huffed, “Hi.”

And Tony goddamn Stark moved through the kitchen like he wasn’t totally in the way of four separate chefs trying to get their work done.

“When I saw Rogers out front, I thought I was seeing things. Figured, hey, if the blonde beefstack’s here, Buckaroo can’t be far behind. And here you are!”

Tony spread his arms wide and grinned, his expensively tailored suit offset by the grease stains on Jack’s white jacket, just behind Tony.

“Uh, it’s nice to see you, Tony,” Bucky said, blinking, “But … we’re kinda working here.”

Tony grinned wider. “I see that.”

America and Wanda exchanged looks.

Bucky was nothing if not patient. “Tony, seriously.”

“Oh not you too,” and Chef appeared out of nowhere, hands on hips.

“Hill!” Tony spun to face her. “Just thought I’d take in the scenic view. Look over the working, weeping masses.” he looked around at the already squished kitchen crew.

“You can’t be in here,” Chef said.

“Well, considering how much I’m dropping tonight, I thought I could at least find out if you had the matching set.” He waggled a finger in Bucky’s direction. “Rogers and Barnes? Come on.”

Chef rubbed at the space between her eyebrows, like dealing with Tony Stark was akin to pilot-training toddlers.

“Do I even want to know,” she sighed, dropping her hand to look at Bucky.

“Um,” Bucky said, “Meet my former boss?”

Chef looked incredulous and annoyed all at once.

She eyed Tony. “You’re Yann? You have got to be joking.”

“What’s a Yann?” America hissed to Wanda. Wanda shrugged.

Tony smirked, “I’ll have you know my investments are spread far and wide over many fine eating establishments.”

“Including food trucks?” Chef said sarcastically.

“Hey, don’t knock ‘em,” Tony said, pointing his index finger. “You joke, but you still stole one of my best cooks. Talk to me later about professional integrity.”

Tony,” came a new, unimpressed voice. “Chef!”

Steve’s whine was like no other. He managed to sound annoyed and put-out all at once. “He can’t be in here.”

“Rogers, watch that tone with our customer,” Chef snapped.

Bucky couldn’t help the small smile, because dangit, Steve was fuming, all pink in the face.

“Yeah, but,” Steve pushed on.

Out,” Chef said, shooing both men. “Get out. Stark, go keep your employees in check. Rogers, get back to work.”

“But Ma,” Tony whined dramatically as he was shooed out.

Steve grumbled all the way out the kitchen.

“Okay, so hold up,” America said, leaning over the worktop separating her and Bucky. “You. You know Tony Stark, the richest man on earth?”

Bucky looked at her, then shrugged.

“How?” Wanda asked while she rolled little balls of sweet dough for the next fry-up.

“He used to hang out in the neighbourhood, back when me ’n’ Steve were young. I dunno, guess he thought it was ‘hood’ or something to make friends with the riff-raff.”

“And was he always so charming?” Chef said, still within earshot.

Bucky chuckled, “Honestly, not much has changed.”

“So he’s always been a little shit?” Chef said.

“Well…” Bucky dodged that one. “He means well. I think.”

“Rogers clearly thinks the same,” Jack murmured, hiding a smile as he bent over a dish.

“Yeah, those two have had their moments,” Bucky shrugged.

“All right, enough gossip and fond memories,” Chef said. “Wanda, get those desserts rolling. Two more courses, people, and we’re free.”

 


 

 

Two courses, eight bottles of wine, a couple shattered glasses, a tipsy speech and they were mercifully done.

“Christ,” Sam muttered, yanking at a napkin that was somehow twisted around and in a fork’s tines, and drenched in merlot.

The last of the patrons had left, Stark making a loud and annoying exit, like he was a king leaving petals and goodwill in his wake, platinum card flashing. Romanov was checking the financials and writing up damages and replacements for the amount of wine consumed.

Steve picked up the stray liquor bottles that littered the table. He had to hunt for the caps too.

“It’s done,” he sighed. “Peter, can you put the drinks cart away, please?”

“Yes, sir,” Parker said.

Steve walked back to the bar to replace the few bottles he had, then decided he needed air.

 

He wandered through the mostly clean kitchen. Luke and Bruce were wiping down the stovetops and America was stacking freshly clean dishes.

“Oi, your boy’s outside,” she said as he passed.

Steve smiled in thanks and pushed his way out into the dark night.

Bucky was there, sitting on the far end of the wooden table, facing out to the garden wall.

“He’s gone!” Steve said in a stage-whisper, stepping down the few steps and onto the path. “We’re free of Tony for another who knows how long!”

Steve walked up to Bucky, the dim lights from the kitchen window all he could see by.

Bucky looked up from his phone.

“Oh, hey,” Bucky murmured, putting it away. He was in his black tee and jeans, baseball cap on backwards. He looked wiped.

“You okay?” Steve asked, coming to stand in front of Bucky.

“Yeah,” Bucky breathed, but he didn’t look at Steve.

This, Steve expected. Things had been so awkward for the last few days, Steve didn’t know what to do.

He’d tried to play it the same, make like nothing was different, which it wasn’t, but Bucky wasn’t playing along. He’d been avoiding Steve and, honestly, it sucked and kinda hurt.

“Hey,” Steve murmured, shoving his hands into his apron pocket. “Can we talk?”

It was dark out, but he could still see the look in Bucky’s eyes. Slight concern.

“About?” Bucky asked.

Steve chewed his lip. “Uh, well. About, you know. What you told me. Or, what I told you, I guess. It’s obviously bothering you.”

Bucky sniffed and looked aside.

“Please, Buck?” Steve said softly. “Did I mess something up?”

Because he might have, somehow.

Bucky scrunched his eyes and made a face. But he looked at Steve, finally.

“No, you didn’t–you didn’t do anything wrong. I’m… I’m just–“ he petered off, and huffed. “I haven’t really talked about it. Before. I didn’t think I’d ever have to.”

“You mean, about, uh… guys?” Steve pressed gently.

Bucky rubbed at his eye with his palm. “Jeez. Yeah. I s’pose.”

“But why?” Steve frowned. “You always tell me everything.” At least, he used to.

“Well,” Bucky breathed, “You know I’m no good at talking anyway. About anything.”

“Sure, but this is me.”

“Yeah, and I’m still not super into talking about it.”

“About what? Being gay? Or, or bi? ‘Cos you know it doesn’t mean anything to me, Buck.”

Bucky looked at Steve. “Okay, so what the hell, Steve? How long, exactly, have you known? ‘Cos I never said shit.” He seemed frustrated.

Steve shrugged, “I dunno. I mean, I haven’t known for sure until now. I suspected. Or, well, more than suspected, I guess.” He scratched at his hair, thinking. “Me ’n’ Becca–“

“Oh Jesus! My sister knows?” Bucky wailed.

“Bucky,” Steve deadpanned. “We know you better than anyone on earth. Seriously?”

“Okay, do go on. Let’s talk about how my sister’s been thinking this of me forever anyway. So when then?” Bucky threw up his hands.

Steve thought for a second. “Okay, so last year, at Becca’s birthday. Right?”

Bucky frowned, “What about it?”

“Well,” Steve said, “We, um, were packing up some of the trash, so your parents wouldn’t flip the next day when they visited her apartment. Me ’n’ Becca were outside chucking the garbage and uh…” he actually felt a blush creep over his face. He saw Bruce and Wanda in the kitchen window, talking. No one was looking for them, then.

“Uh, what?” Bucky asked.

“Well, you and that guy, Becca’s classmate. Was it, Billy? We, uh, saw you and him sort of … kissing? Flirting? Something up close and personal against the wall. Honestly, thought it was a girl with you, ‘cos you’re always out there making out with someone.”

Bucky flushed red, so red that in the dark he looked like he’d picked up a tan.

“Oh my God,” he whispered, “Me and that kid? Holy fuck, I don’t even remember.”

“Yeah, you were pretty far gone,” Steve chuckled.

“Urghhhhhh,” Bucky groaned and covered his face.

“I mean, you were drunk but you two looked pretty cute, I guess,” Steve snickered.

Bucky glared from between his fingers. “Please, shut up. He’s like, Parker’s age.”

“Peter’s twenty-two,” Steve said sardonically.

“Exactly, a summer child,” Bucky snorted. “Barely out of puberty. Gross.”

Steve laughed. Bucky even cracked a smile and dropped his hands.

“Did you really think it would bother me?” Steve asked, smiling to cover his concern.

Bucky shrugged. “I think it bothers me more, sometimes. It’s not– it’s not the same as with girls. Unexpected, I guess.”

“Oh, please don’t complain that suddenly ‘cos you like dick means it's tough to get guys,” Steve snorted. “Woe is you, the prolific skirt-chaser, heartbreaker, having to try for once.

Bucky eyed Steve, then smirked. “Heartbreaker, huh?”

“Oh, man, and you only know about the girls you dated. You never had to listen to the ones that pined away on the sidelines next to me. ‘Oh, look at him, that Bucky. What a babe.’”

Bucky blinked. “Dating is shit,” he said gruffly.

“Tell me about it,” Steve smiled wide.

“Oh shut up,” Bucky intoned. “You get it good now. Just had to wait for people to notice.”

“Uh huh,” Steve cocked a brow. “And you like to play it cool, mister ‘no girl’s ever gonna break my heart.’”

Bucky laughed and snorted at once. “Hey, don’t spread that around.”

Steve patted his friend’s shoulder. “Oh, come on, Buck. Remember when you and Connie broke up? Try to tell me you ain’t a big old softy for love and romance. I remember you playing Celine Dion for days.”

“Shut up,” Bucky shoved Steve’s shoulder. “It wasn’t Celine Dion.”

“Right. It was Toni Braxton,” Steve smirked.

Bucky grinned and laughed, “Oh, man, it was. Oh damn. That was a rough time, Rogers. Sixteen is a tough age, okay?”

“Uh, you were twenty, I’m sure,” Steve raised a brow. Bucky’s lips curled in a smile and he smacked Steve’s arm, hard.

Steve laughed and wrapped his big arms around Bucky’s neck, pulling him in close. He hummed.

“You pretend you don’t want to love someone, but I know better, Buck. It’s okay. Doesn’t matter who it is, we’ll find him or her for you. Scout’s honor.”

Bucky didn’t respond, he just sighed into Steve’s collarbone and curled his fingers into the back of Steve’s shirt.

 


 

 

“Barnes,” Chef said just as Bucky made to head out. Steve was already out front, waiting.

“Yes, Chef?” he asked, standing at the entrance to the kitchen.

“You did well tonight,” she said gently, waving him closer. “So I got you something.”

Bucky frowned. He was hoping it wasn’t a smack upside the head, ‘cos that’s what his ma always did after saying that.

She went over to her Chef’s nook and pulled out a plastic-wrapped thing.

“Your salad went over really well,” Chef continued. “And Natasha and I were figuring this out for you, what with delivery and ordering and time. Wanted to wait ’til tomorrow, but after the praise tonight, from all Tony’s guests, I thought nah. Why not now?”

She handed the parcel to him and Bucky’s throat went dry.

“Is this?” he breathed, blinking up at her.

“Yup,” she said with a grin. “Name’s on it and all,” she added.

Bucky held the thick, folded, plastic-wrapped fabric in his hands. “These are chef’s whites,” he said. And yes, there was his name embroidered on the front. Holy. Fuck.

He looked at her, eyes wide. “Chef, are you sure? I mean, I’m still so damn new and all.”

“Well, yeah,” she nodded, “Doesn’t mean you aren’t a part of this team. We’re all new at the beginning. Everyone starts at the bottom.”

Bucky swallowed again. “Thank you,” he said with all sincerity, his voice dry. His hands were shaking a little.

“You’re getting better every day,” Chef murmured and tapped him on the shoulder. “Don’t screw it up, okay?”

Bucky nodded and clutched the parcel to his chest.

“Yes, Chef.”

 


 

 

Bucky felt so disoriented. What an insane day! He’d walked home in a daze, not letting go of his parcel, not even for Steve to see. He was going to explode.

And to really top it all off, when he and Steve finally, finally made it home, he found another surprise waiting for him after he’d showered.

 

A small wooden frame sat on the kitchen counter, right beside the coffee press. Bucky frowned.

 

“What the hell?” he murmured, picking it up. They weren’t the types to frame anything, ever.

Steve grinned, digging out his clothing from his bag and throwing them into the hamper, like always.

“Oh yeah, I asked Nat to save one for you.”

It was the night’s menu, which he hadn’t even seen, he’d been so busy. And right there, third line down, it had, in a clean, simple typeface, the words: Roasted Hazelnut Blackcurrant and Ginger Crisp Salad.

 

Bucky eyed Steve like he was crazy.

“Your first meal, printed on your first official menu,” Steve beamed. “Congratulations, Chef Barnes.”

Chapter Text

Bucky’s time at BRDO went by in a blur sometimes. But slowly, eventually, he started to realize just how much he was learning.

Chef was diligent in teaching him everything. From cleaning procedures and how to empty storage, to the perfect mix of salt to sugar in almost all her recipes.

He got to work with almost everyone as well, learning what they knew. Luke was reasonably impressed with how he could cut and trim chicken and fish. He taught Bucky more about pork and beef and the smaller poultry like quail. He taught Bucky about making broth, about the blends of onions and garlic and things like parsnips and carrots.

Bucky got some time with Bruce, which was like night and day with Wanda. Bruce was so quiet, Bucky had to force himself to ask questions, because if he didn’t, Bruce would just hum quietly and go through the motions of rolling almonds into dough and not explain a thing to Bucky. Sometimes Bucky wouldn’t even know what Bruce was baking until it came out of the oven. So he learnt fairly quickly to ask questions.

He also spent a lot of time doing the gruelling boring work in the kitchen. He whipped tons of egg whites, chopped hundreds of vegetables, cleaned lots of pots.

He did the garbage runs at the end of each evening, he mopped the floors and he lined up his mise every night before leaving.

His chef’s whites were like a really amazing uniform. He felt more like a member of the team, though he didn’t wear the small white chef’s cap because as America and Jack liked to say, he looked like ‘an elementary school lunch lady with that long hair’. So he had his black ball cap on, which no one seemed to mind. Wanda looked cute in her white cap. Annoying.

He got to know people like Barton and Kate a lot better, when Chef would use him to hoist in the fresh deliveries. Scott Lang was even kept on as a vendor, which pleased him to no end.

“It’s great!” he was saying one morning after Bucky handed back the signed delivery slip. “My ex-wife’s even mildly impressed! I’m moving up in the world!”

“Daddy!” his daughter said from her spot seated beside Clint on the lip of his van bed, her tiny legs swinging. “Mom says you still have to sort out your life, though!”

Bucky smirked. Cassie was the cutest thing ever, her gap-toothed grin enough to make even Romanov consider smiling. She knew she was cute, too, which was dangerous. She already had Barton’s chocolate milk in her hands, little straw in her mouth.

“Hey, hi,” came a voice and Bucky turned. Steve was there, in his usual uniform, looking all pressed and perfect.

“Rogers!” Clint cried out, “Why I do declare! Long time!”

“Hey Clint, yeah, it’s been a while.” Steve nodded. “And who are you?” he said, grinning wide and crouching a little to see Cassie.

“Oh, this little troublemaker?” Barton murmured. “This here’s Cassie, Scott’s kid. She’s all right.” he shrugged.

“Hey!” Cassie nudged Clint’s side. She was blinking at Steve.

“Hello,” and Steve stood up at the voice.

“Scott Lang,” Scott held out his hand and Steve shook it. “Hi. Hi, hello, hi. That’s my daughter. Wow, look at you.”

Bucky watched as Scott did his best to hold back (which wasn’t his best, or anyone’s best, really). He clapped his hands to Steve shoulders and just looked him over with an almost pained expression.

“Wow,” Scott said. “You’re a server here?”

“Head server,” Steve said wryly.

“Oh!” and Scott let him go. “I was a waiter once. Times change. You are magnificent, man.”

Barton chuckled. “Scott, guy. Weird.”

Steve looked a little baffled. Bucky just rolled his eyes at Cassie, who giggled.

 

 

On one of their days off, Steve and Bucky got their bills in order, same as always.

It was a complete shock when Bucky checked his bank balance that first month. For the first time ever, they had a little money left over, so they’d gone to watch a movie. Now, they still had to balance the bills and check everything off, but Bucky’s tense, anxious stress over cash was lessening a bit.

It was only a few months back that they’d even convinced their landlord to use online banking so they didn’t have that annoying extra cost of buying cheques like it was nineteen eighty-nine.

“Okay, done,” he murmured. “Rent sent. What’s left?”

“Phone bill’s good. Netflix is gone already.” Steve was writing down everything in his little old man ledger he loved to keep around. “Water bill’s due. We just gotta get the groceries. Maybe stock up on cleaning stuff? The dishrag’s getting a little funky.”

Bucky snorted, “Add shower curtain to the list, will you? We can stop over at the dollar store.”

Steve eyed him balefully. “I said it was an accident.”

Bucky just hummed and raised his brows, not exactly in the mood to bring up how and why the shower curtain had been torn from its rails that one time Sharon had snuck out of their apartment at, like, six am.

“Hey, you want to engage in kinky shower sex, it’s no biggie,” Bucky said with a laugh.

Bucky,” Steve huffed back. He was a little pink ‘round the ears. “It wasn’t like that,” he muttered, staring his ledger down.

Bucky smirked. “Oh, I’m sure it was exactly like that.” Sure, it had basically eaten him alive when he’d been making tea that morning a few days back. It had been early and he was still out of it when he heard someone exit Steve’s room. It had, of course, been Sharon Carter, Steve’s on again-off again fuck buddy. Not that Steve would ever call her that. But that’s what Bucky called her. She was great.

But she got to do the horizontal tango with Steve and therefore Bucky was mildly moody around her. He tried his best to be civil, but her hair had been a mess and her clothes were hastily pulled on, soooo, no.

“I mean, I was home by midnight, and you’d left work at eleven,” Bucky went on. “And I heard nothing. So you guys are either efficient at getting your rocks off, or you were doing a séance and holding hands and praying all night. I kinda feel left out.”

Steve sighed and shook his head.

He, unlike Bucky, wasn’t big on talking about his sex life. Not that Bucky was a huge fan, but after all the years Steve had had to hear about Bucky’s conquests, well, fair play and all.

Steve was pretending to ignore Bucky.

“At least one of us is getting some, I guess,” Bucky said, snapping the laptop shut. “You wanna go get groceries now?”

 

 

 

Bucky knew something was up.

The kitchen was bustling, like always. Everyone was doing their jobs, rolling dough, handling orders, bickering over whether or not coriander was cruel punishment or delicious seasoning.

“Hey, my ma brought me up on cilantro,” America was saying snippily while she basted the duck. “You ain’t got culture if don’t like it.”

“It’s gross,” Jack responded, pointing a fork at her.

“Hey! No pointing of sharp utensils at others’ faces,” Chef said loudly.

“Yes, Chef,” Jack said, lowering his hand.

Bucky watched all of this while he mixed dough. Wanda was prepping the steamers in front of him. She would know what was up.

“Hey,” Bucky whispered.

She looked up.

“Why’s everyone acting weird?” Bucky asked.

Wanda pouted and looked coy for a second, “What do you mean?”

“I mean,” he went on, “Why’s Bruce not making profiteroles? And what’s Luke cutting up potatoes for? And leeks? The menu hasn’t changed.”

Wanda shrugged.

“Is it–“ Bucky began but was cut off.

“All right, ladies and gents!” Chef cried, clapping her hands. “Looking good! Birthday boy’s arrived and we’re on track.”

Bucky blinked, then scowled at Wanda. “It is!” he hissed.

“Barnes,” Chef said sharply.

“Sorry, Chef,” Bucky murmured.

She went on, “We’re all ready to go, right?”

“Yes, Chef,” almost everyone answered in unison. Luke was grinning wide.

“Bruce?” Chef asked.

“Cake’s in the fridge,” Bruce nodded.

“Wanda?”

“Fruit desserts are done,” she murmured.

“Everyone else got their bits cooked? ‘Cos you know how nosy he is,” Chef said. Everyone nodded and Bucky just blinked. “Boy would stick his nose in a blender if he could. All right, then,” Chef said, “Back to it, folks!”

When she left the kitchen, Bucky leaned over his mise. “What’s happening?” he hissed.

Wanda smiled. “Chef likes to celebrate birthdays. You know this.” Her accent caused her to roll her Rs.

“Yeah, but for your and Pietro’s birthday, she just had us sing to you.”

America snorted. “Well, Captain blondie-pants is her favourite. He obviously gets a surprise party.”

“Jealousy will rot your soul,” Jack snickered.

“I ain’t got no soul,” America retorted.

Wanda rolled her eyes. “We have a surprise planned,” she said to Bucky. “Just make sure he doesn’t figure it out, okay?”

Bucky huffed. “Is that why you’ve all been working on side projects and leaving me out? You thought I’d spill the beans?”

Wanda nodded.

“I wish people would tell me things,” Bucky grumbled.

 

 

Steve didn’t suspect a thing. What an idiot.

He just went about his day, fulfilling his duty as the kindest, nicest server and bartender.

Meanwhile, Bucky noticed how very many little dishes here and there were sneakily put aside in the big fridge.

Even Wilson appeared at one point, with a wrapped up tupperware.

“You know, if he wasn’t a vegetarian, we’d be all up in this place with the fried wings and ribs,” America said.

Bucky frowned, “You know Steve doesn’t mind if you guys eat meat, right? It doesn’t bother him. I eat meat at home and all.”

She rolled here eyes, “Yeah, chico, we know. But it’s his birthday, so we only got, like, fried shrimp going. Chef wants him to be all special or whatever.  Everything else is vegetables.”

She sounded annoyed, but Bucky was getting wise to America Chavez. She was like a macaron, crunchy on the outside and sweet softness on the inside, he was sure.

So the day went on into the evening, Steve still unaware of all the plotting. Bucky had a late lunch with him and tried his best to ignore the camaraderie Steve shared with Sam. Wilson was cool, but still. When had he and Steve become such good buddies? All those years working together without Bucky must have been fun. Not.

Around ten, everyone began hastily packing up shop.

“Quick, quick,” Chef hissed, flapping her hands. “He’s on bar right now, so he’ll be busy and away from here for a while. Natasha’s got him mixing stupidly complicated stuff.”

“Barnes should bring him back,” Jack said, wiping his hands.

“Good idea,” Chef nodded. “After he’s helped–Wanda! Careful! What are you thinking?”

Bucky hurried to help the struggling young woman with her tower of bowls and platters with lids.

“Take this outside,” she asked. Bucky obliged and easily hefted the whole lot back to the patio.

America and Luke were stringing up lights and Bruce was hastily organizing seating from storage.

A couple other cooks and servers hustled about, tidying up before it would all begin and then, finally, Romanov appeared, with everyone else streaming out from behind her.

“Barnes, go get him, would you? I’ve already locked up the front door and all guests have gone. He’s probably still cleaning up the wine I accidentally dropped.”

“It wasn’t a good bottle, I hope,” Bruce said.

“Heavens, no,” she grinned, two other bottles of red in her hands.

Bucky wiped his hands and shrugged out of his whites.

He walked back through the kitchen, watching as the last of the servers squeezed past, Sam being the last.

The restaurant was quiet, the usual gentle music turned off, the lights up. Everything was already cleared.

Bucky heard a thunk and went over to the bar. He leaned over the bartop and grinned. Steve was on his knees wiping up whatever Romanov had sacrificed for this event.

Steve’s shirt was coming untucked and a sliver of underwear was showing. Bucky smiled even wider.

“Hey.”

Steve jumped and twisted.

“Jesus! Buck! Don’t sneak up like that!”

Bucky kept on smiling. “You need a break.”

Steve grumbled and got to his feet.

“I need a nap, is what,” he said. “Can’t believe how clumsy Nat is sometimes. You wouldn’t expect it.”

Bucky hummed loudly. “C’mon, wash your hands and let’s have a snack, or something. Chef says we can close up early.”

Steve rolled his eyes. “You mean ‘cos it’s my birthday, I can go home early? She’s not even subtle. Trying to spoil me.”

Bucky shrugged, “Hey, I’m not complaining.”

Steve followed Bucky back to the kitchen. Steve was mildly perturbed at the lack of, well, anyone there.

So Bucky just shoved him towards the back door.

And when Steve stumbled out, the shouts of ‘Happy Birthday!’ almost had him jumping in fright.

“What?” Steve blinked, looking around. “Guys!”

He grinned slowly, showing those perfectly straight teeth of his. “Aw!”

Bucky couldn’t help his own smile, watching as people crowded in to wish Steve a happy birthday.

“Twenty-six! Can’t believe it,” Chef said, coming in for a hug. “It was like yesterday that you were celebrating your twenty-third!”

Steve hugged her back, “Boss. You really shouldn’t have.”

The whole courtyard looked lit up and stunning in the late night. Fairy lights with hanging all over and the picnic table was overloaded with mounds and stacks of food.

“Wow!” Steve gasped at the spread. “How did you guys do all this?”

“Sneakily, is how,” Jack murmured around a mouthful of pie.

There was possibly just enough seating, as even more people had shown up for the festivities.

Kate was there, sitting beside America, the two of them sharing corn on the cob. A few unfamiliar faces baffled Bucky, but Steve hugged them all, excitedly blown away by their presence.

Against the wall sat Luke, another chick, Lang and Barton.

“Beer?” Barton said, handing a bottle to Bucky. He looked to be manning the drinks cooler.

“Sure,” Bucky smiled.

“You don’t talk much, huh?” Scott said.

Bucky shrugged.

“Nah, he’s introspective, is all,” Barton said with a wink.

Luke introduced the woman with him as his girlfriend, Jessica. She was strikingly pretty with dark hair and ripped jeans and boots not unlike Bucky’s own.

She eyed him and Bucky just sipped his beer awkwardly as everyone chatted.

Music started playing from somewhere, while Pietro bellowed about the joys of bluetooth technology while his sister shushed him repeatedly.

Steve was getting hugs and kisses all round. Even Romanov gave him a wry smile and a hug, in which Steve hoisted her up and carried her around, arms tight around her waist.

He deposited her on the table bench.

Then everyone explained what they’d sneakily been cooking all day. Bruce’s cake, for one, was enormous.

“Coconut and banana frosting and the darkest chocolate I could muster,” Bruce said warmly.

Steve’s eyes went so round.

“I love bananas,” he said.

Everyone laughed, including Bucky.

They all cheered and raised their glasses and sang happy birthday, loud as possible.

Chef gave a silly speech and the servers all ribbed Steve for having to clean up Romanov’s ‘mess’ from earlier.

Basically, it became a night of fun, food and revelry.

Everyone wanted to do shots with the birthday boy, and Steve obliged, being passed around and getting as much love and attention as he deserved. Bucky, instead, sat and ate whatever he could get his hands on.

“Hungry?” Wanda asked, coming to sit beside him in one of the many folding chairs they’d squeezed into the space.

“Uh huh,” Bucky said round a mouthful of roasted potato.

Wanda, oddly enough, seemed to know Luke’s girlfriend really well, so they chatted amiably. America and Kate looked to be getting very close, the two women laughing and curling towards one another under the twinkling lights. Bucky smiled at that.

Chef was talking to Bruce, the two of them with their heads down, no doubt going over menu items and work, ugh.

Bucky again noticed how that one server, Parker, just stared at Steve with big round eyes as always, like the sun shone out of his butt.

It was cute. Steve was great with everyone.

He also didn’t miss the whole concept of birthday kisses. Bucky was very familiar with people using a birthday as an excuse to kiss others when they normally wouldn’t. He himself had used that tactic on women many times. It really was a classic. Even now, Kate and America had pulled Steve in for twin kisses on his cheeks. Steve flushed pink every time someone laid one on him. Sam gave him one too, on the cheek, then laughed uproariously at the resulting red face. Jack jostled him out the way and declared that ‘this is how it’s done, ladies,’ before actually pressing his lips to Steve’s, like it was no big deal. Like he had any place doing any such thing. Like Steve deserved all the kisses, all the time.

Bucky felt something very familiar and green rise up inside his belly. He chewed his lip and scowled. He’d seen this happen before, more in recent years, where people would put their hands on Steve and touch him, and hug him and now, of course kiss him. It was fine. He didn’t like it, per sé, but it was fine. Really.

 

“So, do you have plans for the birthday boy on his day off?” Luke rumbled from beside Scott. He was leaning over his own plate of veggies and cake.

“Huh?” Bucky blinked, having taken a moment to realize the question was being directed at him.

“Yeah, you know?” Clint shrugged, beer in hand. “You boys got family plans, or whatever? You live together, right? Roomies?”

“Oh,” Bucky realized. “Yeah. Sort of. My ma’s already been calling and texting. Telling her ‘other son’ how wonderful, perfect and precious he is, etcetera.” Bucky took a bite of potato. “The usual.”

He chewed. “We’ll probably go see my family tomorrow. I dunno. Depends on how he feels.”

They all looked over as Steve did another shot with Pietro.

Nobody mentioned Steve’s mom. Bucky assumed they all knew, so he didn’t go there. Steve was his family.

Luke’s girlfriend eyed him over her beer.

Bucky didn’t know what was going on there.

“Do I know you?” she blurted, leaning across Luke. “I know we just met, but I swear I know you from somewhere.” She looked at Luke. “No?” Luke shook his head, unsure.

Bucky shrugged, “Don’t think so.”

She squinted and Bucky would be lying if he said she wasn’t intimidating. He’d heard the stories about Luke’s girlfriend.

“Did we fuck, or something?” she said then, beer dangling from her fingers.

Bucky almost choked, bending forward sharply. He coughed loudly and Clint patted his back. Scott laughed.

“Jess, come on,” Luke sighed.

“I’m asking,” she said. “It’s a damn possibility. I don’t remember every guy I’ve slept with’s name, okay? Do you?”

“Oh my God,” Bucky breathed, sitting up.

“Well?” Jessica pressed on. “Did we do the monster mash at some point? You can be honest.”

“No,” Bucky shook his head and cleared his throat. He blinked at Luke, who didn’t seem fazed in the slightest. “Uh, no. I don’t think so. No.”

Clint sipped his beer. “You sure?”

Bucky scowled at him. “Pretty sure.”

“Well, I bet you got around more than me, with a face like that,” Scott said. Clint smacked him in the chest. “Ow! What! He’s good-looking! I’m just stating the obvious!”

“Stop objectifying everyone!” Barton hissed. “We get it. Everyone’s beautiful.”

Bucky flushed and kept on eating.

“I didn’t mean anything by it!” Scott wailed. “Oh, look, it’s Natasha.”

And then the whole song and dance of watching Clint Barton interact with Romanov began. Bucky was very amused by them. He watched Clint closely, seeing the lovelorn adoration and desperation in his eyes whenever Romanov was within earshot. It was cute and painfully, uncomfortably familiar. It made Bucky feel weird.

Wanda nudged him. Bucky looked at her.

“Here, eat this tart and stop worrying about sex and emotions,” she said plainly.

Bucky took the tiny dessert and eyed her carefully. What a weird bunch.

 

 

“I have the bestest friends ever,” Steve slurred as Bucky shoved open the apartment door.

“Yeah,” Bucky huffed, heaving his best friend through the entryway shakily.

Steve wandered into their apartment, arms wide. He spun around, and Bucky flicked on the light, wincing before flicking it off again. Steve’s smile was about a mile wide.

“That was so much fun,” Steve said. “Best birthday, ever!”

“Okay, drunky Mc–um–McDrunk butt,” Bucky sighed, shutting the door and locking it. He went to drop his keys on the ledge and missed. Ah, well.

“It’s four AM, I think, and you, you need to get to bed.” Bucky needed to sleep too, because he wasn’t far off from Steve’s state of inebriation. They had both had a lot to drink. A lot. Clint Barton was a menace.

“I do!” Steve crowed. He followed Bucky to the kitchenette, where Bucky dropped the bag of gifts everyone had handed over. The bag was some pink flowery monstrosity. The other bag, which was way heavier, was filled with food.

He pulled out a glass and filled it up from the tap. He took a long gulp before refilling it.

“C’mere, birthday boy,” Bucky said, waving Steve closer. “Drink.”

And Steve obeyed, taking the glass and gulping back the water.

With a big hiccup, Steve dropped the glass to the counter. “I need to pee,” he said plainly, before stumbling over to the bathroom.

Bucky sighed and shook his head.

He packed away the food everyone had gathered up in takeout containers and bowls. Their small fridge was almost full to busting, but Bucky’s Tetris skills weren’t working so good, what with the beer in his belly. So he pulled out his gift to Steve from the fridge, not really sure if it was worth it at this point. He shoved in the leftovers in the new space.

He heard the toilet flush and the bathroom tap come on.

Eventually, finally Steve reappeared, all bleary and hair mussed up.

When he saw what Bucky had laid out, his eyes went all wide, flickering in the candlelight.

“A cake!” Steve cried, “For me!”

“Okay, you drank way too much tonight,” Bucky said like the complete hypocrite he was, when Steve wobbled over, banging his leg into the murder cart and jostling the small cake. It was just big enough for the two of them.

Like always.

Steve was counting the candles. “Twenty-six!”

“Yeah,” Bucky said fondly. “Had to squeeze ‘em in. Burnt my finger though. Go on, blow ‘em out, then bedtime. We can eat it for breakfast.”

“Technically,” Steve slurred, “My birthday was yesterday. You’re late.”

“Yeah, and you’re an idiot,” Bucky said with a look. Steve fucking giggled. Bucky’s gaze softened. “You had fun tonight, huh?” he said.

Steve nodded and leaned down to blow all over the candles, snuffing them out in one go.

“Yeah,” he said, standing up. “I feel very loved today.”

Bucky smiled. “Good. Because everyone loves you.” He couldn’t explain why his eyes felt wet and his heart felt sore. He had to lean one hand on the counter so he didn’t wobble so much. Christ that Sokovian vodka was somethin’ else!

In the dim light from the window, Steve watched the smoke stream upwards from the tiny candles. Then he looked at Bucky.

“Thanks, Buck,” he murmured. “you always make the best cakes.”

Bucky snorted. “Yeah, no. Not after Bruce’s magical cake. Wow. I am a changed man.”

“It was good, huh?” Steve said, head tilting.

Bucky nodded, his head wobbly, “Hell yeah.”

Steve grinned and came in close, arms already wrapping around Bucky. “But your cake’s the best because it’s just for me.”

“Thanks, pal,” Bucky chuckled, patting Steve’s back.

Steve pulled back, still smiling like a damn fool.

“You’re also the best,” Steve murmured.

Bucky couldn’t quite focus right, the darkness and Steve’s proximity blowing his fuses a little.

His heart felt like it was thudding wetly in his chest, as if confused as well.

Steve was still so close, his warmth seeping through Bucky’s clothes.

“Becca says she’s coming over tomorrow,” Bucky blurted, trying to distract. “Says your dumb face doesn’t deserve a gift, but she got one anyway.”

Steve smiled, eyes flickering over Bucky’s face.

“Okay,” he murmured before hugging Bucky again. Jesus, Steve, you’re killing me here.

“Carry me to bed,” Steve whined. “I’m tired.”

“Oh my God, Rogers,” Bucky laughed. “No. Jesus.”

“But it’s my birthday!” Steve whined, as Bucky tried to extricate himself.

“Yeah, no, it was your birthday. Opportunity missed. I think. Plus, you ain’t a small fry anymore. I’d probably break my back.”

Bucky’s head was fuzzy.

“Blah!” Steve pushed himself away. “You’re the worst!”

“Pretty sure you just told me I’m the best,” Bucky smiled sardonically, watching Steve wobble away.

“Blah!” Steve responded loudly before turning and slamming his way into his room. Bucky distinctly heard him bump into his dresser with a muttered ‘ow’ before flumping onto his bed, somewhere in the darkness.

“Well, that was fun," Bucky muttered to himself, unsure of his own sarcasm.

Chapter Text

The knocking was loud and highly unnecessary. People are awful. Bucky swung the front door open, glare in full effect.

“What?” he asked, voice gruff.

“It’s eleven. Let me in,” said none other than his sister, shoving past him. “You’re lucky I didn’t show up at nine.”

Bucky sighed, “No, please, come in. By all means.”

He turned, locking the door behind him. Becca was already at the sofa, rustling through her array of shopping bags.

“So where’s the birthday boy? Out for a run?” she asked.

Bucky snorted, “No. I think he’s still in bed.”

She grinned over at him, “Late night celebrating?”

Bucky shrugged, “Something like that, yeah.”

Becca snorted, not unlike her brother and laughed. “Oh good. You two never go out anymore. You used to party more, remember those days? It’s good to party.”

Steve’s bedroom door creaked open then, revealing the image of a very rumpled Rogers still in his clothes from the night before.

“Bucky?” he murmured, rubbing at his face. His hair stood up in all directions and judging by his squint, he probably was feeling the effects of the previous night’s drinking.

“Happy Birthday!” Becca cried, throwing her hands in the air and grinning.

“Becca?” Steve amended, coming closer. “Hi?”

“Wow, you look like shit,” she said. She grinned back at her brother. “You two really did have fun.” She rummaged some more in her noisy plastic bags. “Ma sends you this, along with oodles of love and hugs and kisses. I’m not gonna give you kisses though. And this is from me. Just imagine being smothered by my mother, or ask Bucky to stand in.” She handed a couple small, wrapped gifts over the back of the sofa. “Ma says she’s got some vegan lasagna on hold for you if you wanna go over there sometime this week.”

I don’t get lasagna,” Bucky grumbled and wandered over to the kitchen so he could start up the coffee. Steve moved to retrieve his gifts.

You’d be lucky to get a fat lip.” Becca murmured, “She told me you haven’t been responding to her messages, dear brother. Don’t make me harass you to respond to Ma’s harrassing.”

“I’ve been busy,” Bucky whined softly. He turned, waiting for the pot to boil. Steve was unwrapping his gift, a smile working its way across his face.

“Aw, Becks,” Steve said with a laugh. “Where on earth did you get this?”

“We made it in class,” Becca said. “Not too shabby, huh?” She raised her arms when Steve came over to hug her and drag her over the back of the sofa. Steve carried her to where Bucky stood.

“Steve, seriously?” Bucky cocked a brow at the sight of his giggling sister clamped up and dangling from Steve’s beefy arms.

“Look,” Steve lowered Becca to the floor and handed over her gift.

Bucky took the glass orb and turned it in his hand.

“Is this a snowglobe?”

Becca dusted off her leather jacket. “How observant.”

Bucky eyed the oddly-shaped blobs standing in the middle of the glass, water-filled ball. One blob had a splotch of yellow on top of it’s matchstick body and the other a splotch of black on top. When he tilted his hand, luminescent glitter flowed and drifted over the little scene. “Is that meant to be me ’n Steve?” Bucky asked.

“We’re adorable,” Steve chuckled. “She got your hair just right.”

“And the lopsided face,” Becca added.

Bucky rolled his eyes and placed the snow globe on top of the fridge.

Steve winced and rubbed at his face. Bucky sighed.

“Okay, go shower, take some advil, and then we’ll have breakfast.” He quirked a brow at his sister. “You hungry?”

“Mmm,” Becca hummed, “I could eat.”

 


 

 

Steve was showering and Bucky was frying up some sausage and tomatoes.

“So, you’re enjoying the new gig still?” Becca said. She’d propped herself on the stack of plastic crates Bucky’d picked up earlier in the week.

“Yeah,” Bucky said, spatula in hand. “It’s good.”

“So now you get to feed the whole neighbourhood and not just bottomless pit Steve, huh?” Becca said.

Bucky gave her a wry smile, “It’s only the rich folks in the neighbourhood.”

“Oh la la,” Becca clicked her tongue. “J'adore la cuisine française.”

Bucky laughed, “We don’t really do much French food,” he murmured. The pipes creaked and thumped loudly in the other room, indicating that Steve was finishing up his shower.

“How’s school going?” Bucky asked.

He looked over and Becca shrugged. “It’s good. This semester’s students need some work, but we’re getting there.”

“Still rewarding and revitalizing and all you’ve ever wanted it to be?” Bucky said, waving his hands around dramatically.

Becca chuckled, “Yup. Basically. Teaching starry-eyed college kids is a helluva job.” she looked around. “You guys need chairs. And a table.”

“Yup,” Bucky said with a flip of the spatula. “We’ll get there.”

“Will you, though?” Becca asked skeptically. “I mean, you guys have been living here for, like, three years or something. It’s better than that last rat trap, but barely. Tell me you’re earning a little more so you can eat at a damn table?”

“Becca,” Bucky said warningly, “Don’t start.”

“I’m just saying,” she muttered.

“Hey, not all of us–“ he started but she cut him off.

“Bucky, don’t give me that whole ‘not all of us got scholarships and fancy teaching jobs and a nice apartment in uptown’ bullshit. You two shouldn’t have to live like this.”

“Becca,” Bucky said warningly. “I’m serious.”

“So am I,” she said, folding her arms over her chest.

The bathroom door opened with a waft of vapour. Steve walked out with a towel around his waist and his hair slicked back. He blinked between the two Barneses and then cocked a brow.

“Well, there’s that trademark stubborn look you both inherited from your ma. What’s happening now?”

Bucky cleared his throat and didn’t do a good job of not noticing the smooth, hairless expanse of Steve’s wet chest.

“Nothing,” both he and Becca grunted at the same time.

Steve paused. “Right. That was very believable.” he rubbed at his eyes. “I’m gonna get dressed. Ugh, my head.” He wandered over to his room, his towel definitely slipping low in the back.

Bucky turned back to the breakfast he was cooking up, pointedly ignoring the searching look his sister was giving him.

 


 

 

By the time Bucky got to shower, the three of them had eaten and reconnected over a pot of great, fresh coffee and Steve’s hangover was fading.

Bucky exited his room, his hair mostly dry, t-shirt damp at the shoulders, bare feet clean against the parquet floor.

He came out to an interesting scene.

“What is happening?” he asked.

Both Steve and Becca were sitting on the floor around the coffee table. The table itself was covered in bowls and random bottles and bags of powdery stuff.

Steve looked up, “The rest of my birthday present! Come on, Buck, come make one.”

“Make one what, exactly?” Bucky walked over. Becca was apparently stuffing a christmas ornament mould with colourful powder. She’d already thrown her jacket aside and her ankle boots were discarded nearby, like she lived here.

“We’re making bath bombs,” Steve said, stirring a bowl of powder slowly. “For Becca’s friends, and your mom.”

“So for your birthday, my sister is using you as slave labour in her bid to create bath shit?”

“Bath bombs,” Becca intoned, “and they cost, like ten dollars in-store, dude. So shut it. I’m being frugal, here.” She eyed her brother. Bucky snorted and flopped onto the sofa.

“Plus we get some too,” Steve said brightly. He held up an empty ornament mould. “Wanna help?”

Bucky snuggled into the sofa and eyed his best friend. “I’d rather fall down the stairs and lose all my teeth on the way down than do that, thanks.”

“Message received,” Steve laughed, and proceeded to pack layers of colourful powder into the mould. Bucky smiled and watched him work. The fastidious and helpful Rogers would obviously be Becca’s go-to for something like this.

“It smells like Ma’s soap in here,” Bucky rumbled.

“Lavender,” Becca said, holding up a little glass bottle. “Figured she’d like that.”

Bucky hummed in agreement. “You got engine grease flavour for Dad?”

“Ha, ha,” Becca said drily.

“That would be awesome,” Steve murmured, patting his lumpy purple blob. “We could do sriracha and garlic scent for you, Buck.”

Both Bucky and Becca winced. “Oh, jeez, no thanks, buddy. That would sting.”

“Sting your butthole,” Becca laughed and snorted like that was the highest quality humour around.

Steve chuckled. “Probably.”

Bucky smiled and watched Steve work, his big hands gently tapping new layers into his new mould. Trust Steve to be into spending some downtime with Becca, his baby sister.

Bucky blinked over to see what his sister was making, and caught her watching him. He stuck out his tongue, but instead of responding in kind, she just smiled.

 


 

 

Becca stayed with them all day, even going to dinner with Steve and Bucky to celebrate what she called, “Steve’s eleventy-third birthday.”

By eight, they were back at the apartment, stuffed and sated and lounging on the sofa, like old times.

“I should get going,” Becca said, lying against Bucky’s left shoulder.

“You can sleep over,” Steve murmured from Bucky’s other side. He was searching for their next show on Netflix, the laptop screen lighting up his features.

“Sorry, pal,” Becca said much in the same way Bucky does. “Got work in the morning. You do too, no?”

“Yeah, but you can still stay over,” Steve said.

“Yeah, no,” Becca said, getting to her feet. She shimmied over to the front door and balanced on her one leg, attempting to scoop her feet back into her shoes. “I can’t risk being late, and I gotta get showered and pack my stuff up.”

“And you gotta get back to Louisa,” Steve cooed, for some Goddamn reason. Bucky looked up and eyed Steve, who was immersed in his Netflix conundrum.

“Who’s Louisa?” he asked.

Now look,” Becca huffed, annoyed. She glared at Steve, who was completely oblivious.

“Wait, hold on,” Bucky said, “You guys been talking about stuff and leaving me out again. Who’s Louisa? Should I care?” He looked at Steve, then nudged Steve’s leg with his elbow.

Steve looked up, “What?”

“Nevermind,” Becca huffed and grabbed her jacket. “I gotta run.” She gathered up her shopping bags now filled with all the bath bombs she’d split with Steve.

Bucky got to his feet, “Let me walk you to the station.”

“Dude, I’ll be fine,” Becca insisted, pulling her hair free from where it got jammed under her jacket.

“I know,” Bucky murmured, slipping on his own sneakers. “But you’re my baby sister.”

Becca rolled her eyes and sighed loudly. “How can you live with him 24/7?”

Steve looked up. He shrugged. “He’s all right. He feeds me.”

“Ugh,” she glared at Bucky, pushed past him and went to give Steve a kiss on the forehead. “Happy Birthday,” she murmured.

“Thanks,” Steve smiled.

 

Bucky and Becca walked down the dimly-lit street, the cool evening air a bit brisk.

“So,” Bucky said.

“Don’t,” Becca cut in.

Bucky smiled. “Louisa? I take it, by Steve’s terrible timing, that she’s … a friend?”

“Bucky, come on,” Becca sighed.

“Why?” Bucky laughed. He nudged his sister’s shoulder. “What’s wrong? Why you being weird?”

“I’m not,” she said. “Steve’s just got a big mouth.”

Bucky chuckled, “That he does.”

“I’m sure you’re well aware,” Becca snorted.

Bucky cleared his throat.

“It’s okay,” he said softly, “You don’t have to tell me.”

“There’s nothing to tell,” Becca said.

“Sure,” Bucky flopped his arm over her shoulders. “Thanks for coming over.”

Becca hummed, “Yeah, well, figured you old crones need some friends sometimes.”

“Hey, we have friends,” Bucky said.

Becca looked up at him, her blue eyes pale in the lamplight. “Do you, though? ‘Cos you both just seem to be working yourselves into the ground.”

“Oh, we’re fine,” Bucky said.

“Hmm,” Becca sighed and leaned her head into Bucky.

 


 

 

Bucky jammed the apartment door shut and turned to Steve, who was still squeezed into the end of the sofa, feet under his favourite blanket.

“Who is Louisa?” he asked.

Steve looked up and blinked like a deer caught in headlights.

“I have no idea,” he blurted.

Bucky smirked. “Tell me.”

“Ask Becca,” Steve retorted, annoyed.

“I did, she won’t say anything.” Bucky walked over and stood in front of Steve, hands on hips.

“Well, that’s her right, Buck,” Steve murmured.

“What’s going on? Why the big issue?” Bucky asked.

Steve chewed his lip and looked up at Bucky, all big eyes and ruffled hair. It was almost magical that a man so big and bumbling could make himself appear so adorable.

“It’s not really a big deal or anything. Becca just didn’t wanna talk about it.”

“What is ‘it’?” Bucky asked. “And why not talk about it with me? She did you.”

Steve actually looked pained when Bucky used his innocent ‘why not me’ voice.

“Buck, she didn’t wanna make you uncomfortable.”

“What?" Bucky folded his arms. “Why would it make me uncomfortable? So she’s got a new pal, or work buddy. What? Is this chick like a neo-nazi or something crazy?”

Steve just looked up at him. Then he closed the laptop and swivelled in his seat so he could face Bucky properly.

“Louisa is this girl that Becca may … or may not …be dating.”

Bucky froze. He squinted. Steve’s brows rose.

“Oh.”

Well, there we go.

“Yeah,” Steve said with a sigh.

“Well, okay,” Bucky said, “that’s fine. I mean, I didn’t know she–”

Steve sighed and got to his feet. “Yeah, yeah. Me neither. I actually don’t think she knew either. Life is weird, Buck.”

Bucky frowned, “Was–“ he chewed on his lip, then he looked at Steve, right back at that earnest face. “Was she worried I wouldn’t, like, approve, or something? Like it was wrong?”

Steve expression melted, “No, Buck! Never. Of course not. Don’t think that.”

“Well then why not tell me?”

Steve shrugged, “Honestly, I bet it’s ‘cos they’re still kinda ‘new’. You know, when you first start dating someone and you’re not super sure how long it’s gonna last? Doesn’t change if it’s between two women.”

Bucky made a confused face. “Man, I never know anything anymore.”

He moved to slump onto the sofa, leaving enough room for Steve to settle back down beside him.

Steve pulled the laptop closer. “Yeah, well. Forget it. She’s gonna stab me now for telling you.”

“Oh, finally,” Bucky chuckled. “You’re so annoying. About time.”

Steve jabbed him with his elbow. “Oh whatever. You’d miss me.”

“But I’d have to go to my sister’s trial and it’d be all weird ‘cos I’d have to pick a side, and well, you know me, lazy man’s way out. Pick the sister over the friend.”

“Thanks a bunch for your sympathy,” Steve snorted.

Steve was sliding into Bucky’s side. The TV came to life, showing Steve clicking around on the laptop. “You wanna watch The Good Wife?” he asked.

Bucky was distracted by Steve’s solid weight. “Sure. Always.”

“Awesome,” Steve answered. “Nothing like a back-stabbing corporate philandering trial to get us through to tomorrow. If I fall asleep, just shove me off.”

“Sure, pal, whatever you say,” Bucky sighed, fully cognizant of the fact that he’d let Steve sleep on him all night long if he could.

Chapter Text

Steve jogged up the stairs, the last few steps a damn blessing. He panted heavily, sweat dripping down his back, sticking his tank top to his skin.

It was blazing hot outside, and he probably should have been wearing sunscreen, but when had he ever been truly prepared for anything? He pulled his key out of his sock and opened up the apartment door.

“Ugh,” he gasped, wishing once again that they had an air conditioner. The summer heat was going to kill them. Inside the apartment was no better than outside.

The thin curtains fluttered when he slammed the front door, fudging the lock into place. He kicked his sneakers off so they landed in the pile by the door. Bucky had mentioned wanting to scrape off the paint gumming the wood up, give the door more room to wiggle, but when would they have the time?

As it was, Steve had just under twenty minutes to get showered and packed for work.

“Another day, another dollar,” he huffed to himself.

He got the shower running and hastily stripped down. He chucked his clothes in the vicinity of the hamper, fully aware that if Bucky were home, Steve would have at least tried to put them in properly. Laundry day was coming. Great.

The water was too warm, so he tapped the wonky handle until it was cooler, refreshing.

“Ah, jeez,” Steve murmured, climbing into the tub. He yanked the new shower curtain into place and just stood there a moment longer, feeling the cool water calm his sweaty skin.

Before long, he had suds in his hair and a loofah scrubbing at his back. He’d been up so early that he’d managed to not only get in a good run, but some of the extra, lingering grocery items he had been nagging Bucky about. Jasmine rice from the bulk store. Some new forks and a whisk from the dollar store. Canned peaches that always went on sale on Thursdays for some reason, toilet paper, and hair ties, ‘cos Bucky kept snapping his.

So, a good day so far. He washed his hair hurriedly, now fully aware that they were down to the last dregs of their shared shampoo, then he turned off the shower and clambered out, wet feet slipping on the tiles.

He dried himself off quickly and headed out to his own room.

“Ugh,” Steve flopped onto his back on his bed, bouncing atop the already folded covers. He stared at the yellowing popcorn ceiling.

“I should paint this room,” he murmured idly. Maybe a soft grey, or blue. And maybe work on the baseboards a little. Though they’d need sanding, and maybe a few should be replaced, seeing as nails were poking out in odd places and the rot was getting to others. “Ugh,” he groaned again. “Why are you like this?” he murmured to himself. He always got ahead of himself, in almost every way. If it wasn’t his issues with his body and food, it was his projects and ideas. Sometimes he projected. Sometimes? Always.

Steve sighed. He’d spent most of his life curtailing this ability to overextend. Overextend his abilities, expect so much more from everything always, everyone. It was exhausting.

It was a miracle his friends had ever been able to keep up at all. Steve exhausted himself, who knows what the heck Bucky felt like all the time.

“Not like he tells you,” he grunted to the ceiling.

He lay there a moment longer, the invisible timer ticking in his head. He shifted.

Then he looked down his body, to his dick which was, for some unknown reason, perking up.

“Oh no no, we don’t have time,” he whined and rolled over. He laid on his belly, naked and pondered.

Could he work in a quick one before getting dressed, packing up his uniform and lunch, and running to work?

Tik tik tik.

He could try, maybe. It had been a while. Dangit, he shoulda done it in the shower like a normal, fully aware adult male. Even thinking, he was rushing through his thoughts. He recalled last time Sharon had been around. Their ‘trysts’ as Becca liked to call them, like some Romantic era poet, were becoming more like sleepovers. Sure, they had sex, obviously, but it wasn’t like it was when they first started, back when Steve thought he was definitely good boyfriend material. But then they never really got past their first time. It was either she was rushing, had to get to work, or he was rushing, or tired, or whatever. Sometimes it was just sex and that bothered Steve less now than it had then, but still.

Why was it so bothersome to think that a relationship built mainly on sex couldn’t be more than a very close friendship? How could friendships work that way? Sharon considered it very modern and evolved, but she also always fell into giggles when she said that, her blonde waves usually spilling onto the duvet.

Sure, Sharon was fun and she was smart, and so beautiful it hurt. But she didn’t want Steve. She liked him. Everyone liked him. He was precious, as Chef liked to say sometimes. So he had sex with a friend instead of a long-term, loving, caring relationship with another human being.

Really, if anything, Bucky was closer to him in that way. Much closer than Sharon. He just didn’t snuggle with Steve or take showers with him or–

“Nope,” he said, hoisting himself upwards. “I’m late. Gotta go.” He just couldn’t spare the time.

 

 

Work was already buzzing when Steve arrived.

He was on the later shift, so Natasha would have been handling the servers so far.

“Oh thank god,” Sam breathed when he spotted Steve. “You’re here. You gotta help man. Stark is back, with no reservation, and no one was ready and he is legit frightening Parker and where is your tie?”

Steve pulled out his bowtie from his pants pocket. “Got it. Just gimme a sec to change. But also, wait, explain,” and Steve shuffled Sam quickly through the restaurant, looking around shiftily. Shit.

Sam was right. Tony was back. Ugh. Why?

“Dude shows up like any ol’ patron, says he wants to try out the lunch menu. Got his partner, CEO, or whoever with him. I hope she ain’t an assistant or anything because a fine lady like that deserves more attention than whatever it is he’s giving her.”

Steve hushed Sam. “What is happening to you today? You’re all jittery.”

Sam shrugged and cocked a brow as Steve tried to pull on his bowtie.

“Never mind me– oh, hold up. When and for how long have you been wearing an elastic goddamn bowtie, Rogers? What are you, twelve?”

Steve scowled, pulling the elastic wider so it would slip over his head. “Since forever.”

Sam blinked, “Are you serious? Man, has no one ever shown you how to do one up? Or are you just butt lazy?”

“Sam, of course I’ve tried, but–” Steve huffed, annoyed and then his hands jerked.

Sam’s mouth made an ‘o’ shape. “Oops.”

Steve scowled. “Now look.”

Sam made a weird awkward face. “Oh, sorry. Well, you know you have freakishly strong arms, man. That elastic didn’t stand a chance.”

Sam,” Steve hissed again. “I need one for my uniform. Go get a spare.”

“Spare? From where–“

“Rogers,” snapped Natasha from god knows where.

“Jeez!” Steve yelped, thankful they were standing in the employee-only area. “Nat!”

“Why aren’t you on the floor already? You’re late!” she hissed, ignoring his protest. Her eyes flickered to his hands. She stared. “Oh, my God.”

Steve almost winced at her disdain, whether for his elastic bowtie made for tweens, or the fact he’d busted his elastic bowtie made for tweens.

She didn’t even have to say anything, her look said it all.

“Um,” Steve said, “Do you have a spare?”

Natasha peered at him acidly. Then she about-faced and marched herself right out through the door.

“Uh,” Sam uttered, “Was…is she going to get one…or?”

“Oh jeez, and I thought today was shaping up all good,” Steve whined. “Sam, can you just keep covering for a few more minutes?”

Sam nodded, “Sure. Sure. But you gotta get out there and handle mister Dolce and Gabbana. He’s too much for just one me and one lil’ ol’ Parker. Kid was shaking so hard the lady’s teacup he was serving actually rattled. Like in the movies.”

Steve sighed and closed his eyes. “Right. Tony.”

Of course. Steve followed Sam out, but he took a right, into the kitchen.

Natasha was just coming down from the office stairwell, her face stony. She shoved a scrap of black fabric at Steve’s chest. “You’ve got two minutes.”


 

Steve was dressed and in uniform and standing like a dork in the kitchen doorway again.

“Bucky?” he said, looking over the many heads of chefs in the kitchen.

He saw Luke jut his chin in one direction. Steve stood on his tiptoes. “Bucky?” Ah, there.

Bucky was bent over something, spatula in hand. Jack was bent low beside him, clearly training him. They both looked very focused, Jack saying something, Bucky nodding. Steve’s mouth twisted to the side.

Did Jack have to lean in that close? Surely that was a safety hazard over the grill?

“Oi!” America’s voice came over the din. “Barnes.”

Bucky looked up, hands paused. “Your blonde ambition’s waitin’.”

Bucky frowned for a moment, then blinked and stood up.

“Steve?” he murmured, though Steve didn’t catch the sound. So he waved.

Jack rolled his eyes, but nodded Bucky on.

Bucky put down his spatula and wove his way around the other chefs.

“Hey,” he said, finally within arm’s reach. “Steve, what’s up? You just get here?”

“Yeah, but I need your help. Tony’s back and I can’t leave my servers to deal with him alone.” He held up his hand, “Help?”

Bucky frowned at the black silk fabric in Steve’s fingers. Then his brows rose. “Oh, no. Did you break another one?”

Steve sighed, “Yes, obviously. C’mon.”

Bucky smirked, “One day, pal, you gotta learn.” he shook his head and waved his hands, asking Steve to face him properly. Then Bucky quickly got the scrap of fabric around Steve’s neck, under his collar, deft fingers making quick work. With a final tug, Steve’s new bowtie was in place.

“Perfect as a daisy,” Bucky snorted.

“Beautiful,” America cooed from nearby. She winked a grin at Steve.

“Ravishing,” Bruce added, rolling out cookie dough while Wanda beside him twirled pizza dough in her hands, a mischievous smile on her face.

Steve looked down as best he could, then smiled wide. “Thanks, Buck. You’re a lifesaver.”

Bucky glanced past Steve, “Yeah, Romanov’s got murder eyes. You better go.”

“Shoot,” and Steve shot out of the kitchen like a bullet.


“Tony, please,” the woman with Stark murmured kindly, rolling her eyes at Steve, as though her consternation with Tony was something everyone could understand. Steve didn’t comprehend how this woman had ended up working with Tony. Whoever she was, she was a saint.

“Pep, you gotta try the creme brûlée. Rogers, two orders of creme brûlée, pronto,” Tony made to snap his fingers but the redhead stopped him with a firm hand.

Tony,” she said sharply. Then she turned to Steve, “I’m so sorry. Please, please excuse his behaviour.”

Steve smiled wanly, “It’s okay, ma’am, as it is, we don’t serve the creme brûlée until the weekend. Special dessert and all.”

“Ugh, lame,” Tony sighed.

Steve finished clearing their dishes and carried them over to the kitchen. He was frayed and tired and Tony was too much. “Hey,” Steve murmured when he piled the dishes into the plastic bin they used. Sam was there stacking bowls fresh from the dishwasher.

“How you doing?” Sam asked.

“Kill me,” Steve murmured, which only made Sam snort.

“Bit dramatic for someone playing nice to an old school chum,” Sam said.

Steve sighed and rested both hands on the counter’s edge, dropping his head. “He is so annoying, Sam. He really is. I mean, he’s good, deep inside, but his issues. Oh my god. He has so many outward problems that he pushes onto others, ugh.”

Sam just raised his brows and humphed. “And you seem to be quite the favourite.”

Steve stood tall again, his shoulders heaving as he inhaled slowly. “He tires me out.”

“Oh, it’s like that is it?”

Steve shoved his shoulder into Sam. “No, not like that. You get your nose outta my business.”

“Yes, boss,” Sam smiled wide, lips pulled against his teeth.


It was already getting late and yet Steve felt like the day was never going to end. He was run off his feet, dealing with the backlogged patrons who had their reservations bumped because someone hadn’t left in a reasonable amount of time, thereby stuffing up the bookings that followed. He had had to apologize and smile and coerce folks into slipping back into their normal, polite modes because he hated dealing with pissy clients. They were dead-set on being unsatisfied and annoyed for the rest of their visit and that was just frustrating.

Steve signalled to Nat that he was going on break and didn’t wait for a response. He entered the kitchen and tried his level best to not bump into any of the frantically cooking and yelling chefs. Jack was calling out orders rapid-fire. Chef was frying up something that smelled delicious and basically everyone was slamming pots and pans and barking orders left and right.

“Hey,” Steve scooched around to Bucky’s mise. He was focused on the sauce he was cooking, stirring it carefully. Bucky looked up, his cheeks pink, face slightly damp from all the moisture and heat in the air.

“Hey,” Bucky responded.

“Can you take break?” Steve asked, scooting closer as another chef squeezed behind him.

Bucky looked up. “Shoot, is that the time? Yeah, I haven’t had a break yet.”

He signalled to America, indicating where he was going. America dropped her vegetables and came round to take over his sauce.

“You go,” she said, “And take your friend here with you. He’s messing up the flow.”

“Hey,” Steve scowled.

“You know the rules, chico,” America said with a tilt of her head and her eyebrows arched. “Move it or get your ass burnt.”

“You look uh, exhausted,” Bucky said.

“Yeah, you look pissed,” America added in, stirring the sauce.

“I didn’t ask you,” Steve replied.

“You didn’t ask anything,” she retorted.

Steve opened his mouth but was cut off when Luke appeared with a tray of cutlets.

“Barnes, can you get him out, please? Before they really get into it?”

“Uh, okay,” Bucky said, pushing at Steve. “C’mon, let’s go.”

Steve grumbled and murmured randomness until they were outside in the cool night air. Wanda was the only one outside, sitting at the table, her phone between her fingers.

“You’re in a great mood,” Bucky said, following Steve down to meet her.

“I don’t appreciate your sarcasm,” Steve murmured, pulling out his own phone. He’d picked it up before finishing up his last table, and found messages lighting it up like a christmas tree.

Bucky made a pouty oh-la-dee-da face and slipped onto the bench beside Wanda. “Hi pumpkin,” he said with a smirk.

Wanda looked up with that patented glare of hers. “No.”

Bucky grinned.

Steve was about to get into whatever that was about when he caught a message from Sharon.

 

Sharon
18:47
Hey ;)
U free?

 

18:50
I’m thinking wine. I’m thinking jalapeño cheetos. I’m thinking grilled cheese. I’m thinking you and me.

 

19:03
Just to be sure I’m clear: I’m thinking of you naked. Got it?

 

19:45
Okay, so maybe you’re working. Was hoping you could skip out early. Oh well. Maybe next week? Call me… dork. ;)

 

Steve groaned internally. Damnit!

He quickly texted out a response, knowing full well that it was way too late. She’d be up early in the morning.

He sighed and turned his phone face down on the table. Wanda and Bucky were chuckling and ribbing one another about something.

They were cute.

Steve’s stomach gave an anxious gurgle. Wanda was great.

Did Bucky like her? Steve rubbed at his face. Fuck, he had to stop assuming shit all the time. One week he’s all twisted up thinking Bucky and Jack are hooking up, and now he’s worried Wanda’s the apple of Bucky’s eye. It shouldn’t damn well matter.

“You okay, pal?” Bucky’s voice cut through his thoughts. Steve blinked. They were both eyeing him.

“Uh, yeah,” Steve rubbed at his hair.

“Ohhh,” both Wanda and Bucky said lowly.

“Your hair,” Wanda tutted.

“Oh, dangit,” Steve said, hands immediately going up to try flatten out his hair, back into his work side-part.

“You’re a mess today,” Bucky said with a smile. “What’s got you so frazzled?”

Steve was very close to saying ‘my dick’ but that would be rude. He was starting to figure that maybe that’s what it was, really. Sexual frustration? He should have finished it before work, and now Sharon won’t be around and some skin-on-skin contact would feel great about now. Ugh.

“Just tired, I guess,” Steve said instead.

Bucky patted Steve’s hands where they were curled together on the table. “It’s okay, only an hour or so left. You’ll make it.”

Steve stared at Bucky’s fingers, warm and dry against his knuckles.

“Let me fix your hair,” Wanda said, standing up and coming around to Steve’s end. “Can’t have Chef see you looking like that.”

“She’d think you were up to no good out here,” Bucky grinned and oh, Steve’s heart gave a gallop. Bucky had such a great smile. All sincerity and care, and the way his eyes crinkled, well, Steve was fully aware of how and why the girls (and apparently guys) fell so hard for Bucky.

Because Bucky had those cheekbones, and tan skin, and an adorable personality that surprised folks because he was buff and beefy and tall. Even when he was younger, slimmer, his hair shorter, Bucky had gotten giggles out of girls when he smiled their way. He was mischievous when he was sixteen and gorgeous when he hit twenty. At first, Steve knew it was envy. He hadn’t been anything like Bucky. But now, when he had finally, finally grown into himself and his body wasn’t a walking nightmare, he still found himself envying Bucky.

Because he was Steve’s best friend, it seemed almost idiotic to envy him, but Steve did. Because why else was he always paying Bucky too much attention? Why was he noticing every time some person also paid Bucky attention? It wasn’t like Steve had a standing order of being the most important person in Bucky’s life.

“You okay?” Bucky asked again. Wanda’s hands were in Steve’s hair, combing gently.

“You’re getting pampered by a talented lady, pal,” Bucky said, leaning in close. “You better appreciate every second.”

“Don’t make it weird,” Wanda drawled.

Staring into Bucky’s blue eyes, that cheeky grin of his in place, and add in Wanda’s fingers gently rubbing against his scalp, and well, Steve felt a weird buzz run around his hips and the zip down his legs.

Damnit.

He needed to get laid.


 

Steve followed Bucky into their apartment, eager to just get to his room.

“Hey,” Bucky said, as Steve dropped his stuff and ambled towards the bathroom. “You need to get your laundry in the pile. I’ll get to it tonight.”

Steve paused and turned on his feet. “Tonight? Bucky, it’s almost one AM.”

Bucky was tugging off his shoes. “Yeah, but it’s piling up and we won’t really have much left if it isn’t done. You wanna start wearing your underwear backwards and inside-out?” Bucky smirked.

Steve blinked. Bucky sighed.

He walked past Steve and over into his own room. “Just let me shower quick-quick. Then I’ll get it done, okay?”

Steve nodded, his brain immediately flying to the five to ten minutes Bucky’d be busy in the bathroom.

“Sure.”

Except, it wasn’t that simple to get into his room and just jam his hand down his pants, was it?

No, because Steve had fuckin’ gotten some pyjama pants stuck behind his chest of drawers and his dirty socks were all in knots and they all had to get washed. And then he remembered tossing his gym shorts under the bed when he was in a rush earlier in the week. So he’d been scrambling around, trying to get his shit together and throw it into the hamper before Bucky left.

And then Bucky was out and done and in his room and Steve had missed his goddamn opportunity and why was it so goddamn hot in this apartment?

“We need to get an air conditioner!” Steve yelled to the ceiling. "Or a fan!"

He just couldn’t do anything in this heat.

His brain was melting and his dick was sad for lack of attention.

“Bucky, did you hear me?” Steve stormed out of his room, turned and found Bucky’s bedroom door open. “I can’t do this. This heat is going to–“

And Steve’s brain exploded.

Well, sort of.

Why? Well, Bucky hadn’t closed his bedroom door because he was also airing it out, getting a flow-through. So he was just standing there, butt naked, sorting through his pyjamas on the bed. And his butt was perfect and Steve was staring.

“Hey,” Bucky said, looking up over his shoulder. “Yeah, I heard you. Think the whole street heard you.”

Steve blinked. Damn. Bucky had thick thighs. Steve knew this, but it was always a pleasure to get reacquainted with them.

“Steve?” Bucky said.

“Huh?” steve answered smartly. “Oh! Right. Yes, air conditioner. Here. Please.”

Bucky pulled on his boxers. “Um, okay. Well, we might actually be able to swing that. Becca mentioned her neigbour’s moving and it’s like a mad grab to get the shit left behind. Says there’s a decent window unit we can buy.”

“Really?” Steve was actually brought back to reality by the thought of a real means of combating the heat. “Oh god, please.”

Bucky chuckled and tugged on a t-shirt.

Steve did not lick his lips as he eyed Bucky’s strongly muscled torso twist a bit before disappearing under faded cotton.

“I’ll call her about it, then,” Bucky said. His head popped free. “You got your laundry sorted?” he added.

“Oh, yeah,” Steve said. “So you’re gonna just do it now?”

“Yup,” Bucky said, yanking on some old sweats. “You shower and get to bed. You need it.”

“I can help,” Steve said.

Bucky laughed and patted Steve’s side as he moved them out of his bedroom doorway. “Don’t worry. i got this. You go.”

So Steve waited for Bucky to carry out the supplies of detergent and coins and the oversized hamper. The second their front door clicked shut, he walked into his room, closed the door and squeezed his cock through his jeans.

He sighed. “Okay, Rogers. Maximum ten minutes. Let’s go.”

Chapter Text

“I can’t,” America said, flapping the sieve at her face. “This weather, I can’t.”

“We’re all suffering,” Jack muttered, wiping his sleeve against his forehead before bending over to plate a dish.

“Chef, please,” America said when the boss appeared from her office stairwell.

Maria looked around the room, two people following her from the stairs.

“Not now, Chavez,” Chef said, then clapped her hands. “Okay, everyone, listen up! I’ve got good news.”

Bucky stood up, grateful to not have to bend over the grill any longer.

“Everyone, we finally, after much searching, found our new saucier.” A smattering of clapping broke out. Bucky looked over at Bruce, who would definitely appreciate that news.

Chef pulled the much shorter woman that had followed her, in front of them all. “This, everyone, is Jane Foster, formerly of the Knight’s Bishop. I’m sure you’re all familiar with that locale.”

A few people nodded at one another. Bucky had no idea.

“Jane’s been away, exploring the world for the last few years and finally came home, and lo, we nabbed her!”

Jane shrugged and looked beyond awkward under the spotlight. “So!” Chef barked, making America and Jack stop jabbing each other. “Give her time to settle in. Be nice, and let me also welcome our newest junior.”

The broad-shouldered, young-faced blonde guy standing behind her blushed and tried to shrink down.

“This, here, is Theodore Altman. He’ll be joining us starting tomorrow. Theodore just graduated, so he’s fresh and shiny and eager to learn, aren’t you?” she twisted to look at him.

“It’s Teddy, ma’am, please, just Teddy,” the guy said, all awkwardness.

“And it’s Chef to you,” Chef said, with a stern look.

She turned back to the kitchen. “All right! That’s it. Get back to it! Barnes, Foster, follow me. Teddy, we’ll see you here bright and early tomorrow morning.”

“Yes, Chef!” he squeaked before nodding and squeezing his way out the kitchen while America and Jack eyed him.

He watched the two of them make eye contact and snigger. Were they like that when he started? Hmm.

“Barnes!”

Bucky jumped. “Yes, Chef?” he said.

“Are you going deaf as Clint? I said, follow me.”

“But –“ Bucky indicated the tuna he was grilling.

“I’ve got it, you go,” Luke sighed, coming round. He shooed Bucky off.

So Bucky just hastily thanked him and followed Chef out and into the restaurant to figure out what was going on.


He found himself in Bergen Food Market, loaded down with canvas bags of cheese and oats.

“Look at these,” the new chef, Jane, was saying, holding a small, dark olive in her hand.

“See?” the shop owner was saying, excited at her interest. “This is the new breed of olives. Smooth and soft, but not too bitter. I can package some up for you.”

Jane stood up and glanced over to where Chef was eyeing the spices. “Uh, no, I’m here, uh, on work. But I’ll definitely look into buying some for myself. Thank you,” she murmured kindly.

Bucky got to know a bit about her when they’d all three been crammed into Chef’s car. Jane was really fresh off a a flight in from England, her living arrangements still in question while she’d been looking to find a job. Apparently she was staying with an old school friend, which was fine, except her roommate was a little weird, so Jane was not only starting a new job, but house-hunting as well.

Her and Chef knew each other a little before the interview. “We moved in the same circles, I guess,” Jane had supplied with a laugh. “But that was before I left. I've been gone a while, gotta learn everything again, haha.”

Jane really had travelled the globe. First to India, then China, Mongolia, Japan, round to Russia and a whole host of other places. Seemed that the East Coast hadn’t kept her interest for very long.

“Barnes,” Bucky looked up. Chef had another two bottles of oil in her hands. “Look, spicy sesame oil. Perfect.”

She held out the bottles, and Bucky opened up one of the canvas bags hanging from his shoulder. She plopped them in with all the others.

“So, are you her butler, or something?” Jane asked, body angling towards him jokingly. The two of them were following Chef like sparrows after a bread crumb trail.

“Um, sometimes I feel like it,” Bucky said back.

Oh, thank Jesus, there was a breeze flowing through the market. God, the heat was stifling. Bucky was glad to be out of his whites. The kitchen was unbearable in the humidity.

“Well, not much has changed in these parts,” Jane murmured. “I used to shop here all the time.”

Bucky wasn’t sure what to say. Technically Jane was going to be higher up the kitchen food chain. He should probably be respectful, or whatever.


After a full day of picking up foods and linens and filling up her gas tank, Chef finally drove them back to BRDO.

“You’re funny, you know that?” Jane said, slamming her car door shut. She squinted at Chef through the sunlight.

“What?” Chef said, coming round the car to meet her. Bucky struggled to hoist up all the bags he could manage. Jane grabbed at one of the laundry bags, and he sighed in relief.

BRDO? Really?” Jane was smiling and the wind was pushing strands of hair around her face.

Chef smirked, “Oh, come on. You can’t hold it against me. It’s the mother tongue.”

Bucky just stood there, looking between them.

“Mother tongue?” he asked.

Jane nodded at Chef. "She’s Slovenian, you know?”

Bucky blinked. He did not know that.

“Barely,” Chef sighed, “Much to my grandmother’s chagrin.” The three of them crossed the street to the restaurant.

“Huh,” Bucky said, waiting for Jane to grab the door. He would make a note to google translate that later.


“You named your restaurant 'Hill'?” Bucky said, later, while he restocked the freezer.

Chef gave him an arch look.

“And?” she said.

Bucky smiled and shrugged. “Nothing. Nothing. No judgment here.”


The kitchen was overheating. Everyone was down to their t-shirts, out of their whites. The back door was open all the time, letting in something of a breeze.

It was making everyone very frustrated.

“Fuck,” Bucky wiped at his brow again.

“This is probably a health and safety issue,” America huffed, her dark curls falling into her eyes.

“This is ruining the dough,” Wanda said angrily. She thunked a roll of dough down on the metal counter. “It’s no good!”

“Okay, all right, don’t lose it,” Luke said calmly. “Chef’s aware of the problem.”

“Yeah, but is she fixing it?” Pietro said, coming in from outside. His hair was starting to wave in the humidity. He looked unbearably uncomfortable in his server uniform. “We have all the windows open in front.”

“Stop your whining,” Romanov said, entering the kitchen brusquely, not a hair out of place. God, next to the rest of the kitchen crew, sweating and bleating, she looked like she’d climbed out of an icebox. “And listen up.”

Everyone paused, Bruce the only one still stirring whatever was in his bowl.

“It’s not doing so good out there. The power keeps tripping because the air conditioners are in overdrive. Looks like it’s happening all down the strip. So,” she paused and looked around.  “Chef and I talked it through. We don’t want you all dying, because that would deeply impact our insurance and hazard pay, and we don't want the patrons suffering. It makes us look bad.”

Bruce chuckled.

“So we’re getting the lines checked and probably, not guaranteed, probably upgrading the air conditioning system.”

“Okay, when?” Pietro huffed and Wanda smacked his arm.

“Because it’s Thursday,” Romanov looked at her watch, “We’ve decided to let you go early, and giving you the long weekend to actually enjoy the heat. How does that sound?”

A cheer went up.

“Wait!” Romanov barked, “You all need to finish up what you’re doing, clean this place as usual. The maintenance teams will be coming for inspection tomorrow and hopefully will begin the upgrade on Saturday. We’ve estimated they will not be done by Sunday, because no crew has ever met any deadline, ever, so I’m letting you have Monday as well, okay? Just make sure this place is ship-shape before you leave.”

Everyone was elated. Bucky went back to plating the next few dishes. He squeezed out a thin line of wasabi paste, then another, creating an ‘x’ on the plate. Jane, who was starting out with just this, carefully placed a large Boston lettuce leaf on top, folding up, then followed that with a blob of chunky roasted almond paste inside its leaf. A piece of crispy, flattened chip-like crab meat, that was so fragrant that Bucky’s mouth had been watering all afternoon, was gently placed atop the paste. He grabbed up the other squeeze bottle, this time dotting raspberry vinaigrette around the plate. Then Jane finished it off by splashing a tiny amount of vodka on the vinaigrette, causing it to blossom out, and bleed and blend together like a watercolour painting.

“Okay, next,” Jane said, moving another dish forward.

This one was a toasted chicken sandwich, one of Chef’s specialties. The bread was evenly toasted with a crumbling of blue cheese and slivers of cucumber, tomato, basil and the unbelievably delicious roasted chicken breast strips that were hot to the touch. It had an almost barbecue-like, burnt aroma that made customers keep coming back.

Bucky squeezed some aoili over the chicken, then followed it with the other warm toasty slice. While he gently held the sandwich closed, Jane slipped a thin strip of wound, braided bacon under and over the sandwich, gently tying the ends together in a way that only Chef Hill could have figured out.

“Table five,” Bucky said to the server waiting to pick up.

“Hi,” Steve grinned back.

Bucky couldn’t explain how that stupid smile made its way onto his face everytime he was surprised it was Steve.

“You dork, just go,” Bucky huffed, pushing the plates at him.

Bucky found Jane eyeing him. He wiped his arm over his forehead again.

“He’s cute,” she said.

“That he is,” Bucky sighed. Luke slid two more plates onto the prep table and Bucky got back into it.


“Fuck,” Bucky huffed.

“Yeah,” Steve agreed. They were standing in their apartment and it wasn’t late, it wasn’t even dark yet, because they’d been given an early leave.

And their apartment was like a furnace.

Bucky had his sister on the phone almost immediately.

“Becks,” he said when she picked up.

“Oh, she died,” his sister responded, clearly chewing on something.

“Hey, listen,” Bucky went on, “You still got that air con available? We need it. Life or death.”

“Isn’t everything life or death these days?” Becca said.

“Becca,” Bucky said. “Come on.”

She sighed on the other line. “Yeah, hold on, let me go check. My neighbour’s been moving her shit out all day. Gimme a sec.”

He heard the phone make a loud clunk sound and Bucky wondered why she didn’t just take it with her like a normal person.

He walked over to the kitchen and pressed ‘speakerphone’, dropping his phone onto the kitchen cart counter. Steve was flapping his arms, walking around the apartment like he just couldn’t believe their shit luck.

“This is terrible,” Steve was saying. “Unbearable. Monstrous, even. We’re going to die, Bucky.”

“All right, Hemingway, settle down,” Bucky sighed. His own t-shirt was stuck to his back and the underarms were damp which, really, was great. Just wonderful.

Steve was faring no better. He was flapping his shirt ineffectually.

“Hey,” Becca came back on the line, her voice loud and distorted in the room. “She says yeah, it’s here. You got two hundred bucks and it’s yours.”

“Two hundred?” Bucky glanced up at Steve and Steve nodded. “Okay, cool.”

“You gotta come get it today, though,” Becca went on. “She’s almost all packed and doesn’t wanna hang around any longer than she has to.”

“What? Fuck,” Bucky grumbled. He checked the time. “She still be there around seven? Eight?”

“Yeah,” Becca responded. “Come to my place, get the thing and then cook me some fancy food. My treat.”

How, darling sister, is that your treat?” Bucky intoned, eyeing Steve ironically.

Steve grinned, arms up and crossed behind his head. Bucky did not look at his belly.

“You,”

“And Steve,” Steve added in loudly.

Becca went on, “-and Steve, of course, get to bask in my shimmering, awe-inspiring company. You get to soak it up, like sponges.”

Bucky rolled his eyes.

“I dunno, we could just pick it up and go,” he said, envisioning the subway ride over and how disgusting that was going to be.

“Or you could do that,” Becca said. “Either way, hurry up.”

“Like you have plans, pssh,” Bucky hissed.

“Judge thee not, dear brother,” Becca said.

“Can we move this along,” Steve butted in, leaning over the phone. “We’re dying here.”

“Breathe, Kerouac,” Becca said. “Sheesh.”


The two of them had to go down to the bank to draw out the money. Between them they could just manage it.

“Remember, this long weekend means no pay for me,” Bucky murmured, walking alongside Steve.

“Oh, yeah,” Steve murmured. “Well, your three months will be up soon and then you’ll be permanent, with all the perks, including vacation time.”

God, but Steve was so sunny.

They’d both showered and changed into the bare minimum if they had to brave the heat.

Bucky was smart enough to pack extra shit for carrying the actual air conditioner, because there was no way they were cabbing it all the way from uptown.

Steve was wearing a loose tank top and cargo shorts with his sneakers. He looked like the perfectly idyllic  and sterotypical fever dream of what White America was thought to be back in the fifties, all clean cut, pale skin, blue eyes and shiny blonde hair trimmed all nice. Weird.

The subway was another thing altogether.

The heat was worse underground and everyone was crabby in close quarters. Bucky just did his best to stay out of the way, standing with Steve against the doors while the train rattled along noisily.

It took forever, with delays at one station, and a gaggle of tourists talking non-stop the final third of the way.

“Free me from this waking nightmare,” Bucky huffed to Steve. Steve was holding the overhead bar with one arm.

He smiled at Bucky. “Now who’s being dramatic.”


Finally on street-level, Bucky breathed in deeply. He took his cap off, ruffled his hair and put it back on backwards. He was grateful for his own black tank top and shorts.

Becca lived in a decent area. It wasn’t the dirtiest neighbourhood on earth, which helped their mother sleep at night, but wasn’t exactly high-end.

She buzzed them up, Steve and Bucky enjoying the luxury of an elevator to the fourteenth floor.

“It’s been a while since we came here,” Steve murmured when they exited into the carpeted hallway. Hell, their building didn’t have carpets.

“Yup,” Bucky answered.

They reached the right door, evidenced by the neighbour’s overflowing open doorway beside it.

Becca threw the door open, grinning.

“Long time no see,” she said.

“Hi,” Bucky smiled and came in for a hug.

“Steve,” Becca said over Bucky’s shoulder. “Wow, you guys do look like you’re suffering.”

“Thanks,” Bucky sighed.

They entered her tiny place, Bucky again in awe of his sister’s ability to be frugal and fashionable all at once. Her apartment was cute and bright, the walls a nice soft blue, and her furniture was neat and functional, and she had art on the walls, frames thrifted from the flea market.

“Goddamn,” Bucky said, “Nice new rug, Becks.”

“Thanks!” She cried, bouncing over. “I found it on sale at TJ Maxx. Twenty bucks.”

“Wow, cool,” Steve murmured.

As much as Bucky made fun of Becca for living ‘the high life’ he knew she wasn’t much better off than them. She worked hard and made the choice to live closer to work so she could save on commuting money. Her place was a studio, for Christ’s sake, just one big room with a kitchen. The only doors in it led into the washroom and out onto the balcony. But it was nice. She liked it.

“Okay, so my neighbour. Let’s go get your thing.”

She clapped her hands and dragged Steve out the door, Bucky following.


“Your neighbour’s nice,” Steve said, after he and Bucky had carried the window air conditioner back to Becca’s.

“Ex-neighbour,” Becca sighed. “She’s moving to Jersey. So she’s dead to me now.”

“Ew, Jersey,” Bucky made a face.

Steve sighed. “Okay, well, she was nice to give us a discount.”

Becca looked up and met Bucky’s eyes. they both smirked.

“Oh, yeah, real nice, mister biceps,” she said.

Steve looked up. “What?”

“Oh come on, Steve,” Bucky huffed. “Don’t tell me you missed it?”

“Dude,” Becca said, all seriousness, “She was undressing you with her eyeballs.” Becca really got into it. “She wanted to Eat. You. Up. like it was Mardi Gras.”

Steve frowned, “No.”

“Uh,” Becca’s eyebrows shot up her forehead, “yeah! You show up dressed like that, because your workouts have obviously been paying off, and my girl over here’s, like, stunned. You stunned her.”

“Stunner,” Bucky said.

Steve was flushing a little. “Guys, no.”

“Oh, you think she planned to give us a forty percent discount?” Bucky raised a brow at Steve. “Those guns of yours did the dirty work, so thank you.”

“Shut up,” Steve was flustered. “Let’s get this stupid thing home.”


They actually stayed for dinner, Becca treating them to pizza (one large meat-lovers and another vegetarian with cheese, pineapple and tomato).

“You’re not really gonna take that thing on the subway, are you?” Becca said around a mouthful of cheese.

Bucky shrugged, “Why not? I brought the bungee cords. We can share the weight.”

Becca just rolled her eyes.

“How bout I just call a friend with a car? I think I know someone who heads your way.”

“We’re fine,” Bucky said.

“Well, I mean,” Steve scratched his head. He was sitting at the small dinner table with them. “I wouldn’t say no to help.”

“Yeah, but, it’s really far,” Bucky huffed.

Becca just chewed. “Can I just ask, at least? She might say yes. If she says no, then whatever. No harm and you can break your backs dragging it home.”

“Okay, whatever,” Bucky humphed.

“Only you hate it when people want to help you,” Becca sighed, standing to go get her phone. She opened the balcony door and stepped outside to take her call.

“Hey, sun’s gone down,” Steve said.

“Yeah.”

They chewed their food a little longer.

“Think, by this time tomorrow, our apartment will be cool and resfeshing, just like this,” Steve said.

Bucky nodded. “Yep.”

He wiped his hands on his shorts and stood up. “Gimme a sec.”

Steve watched him move over to the balcony door and swing it open. Becca was outside, talking on her phone.

Bucky stepped out into the night and looked out over the city.

There was a taller building across the street, so not the perfect view, but you could see the pink of the sunset bleeding across the sky. It was really nice.

It was also still humid and muggy.

“Yeah, okay, awesome,” Becca was saying, her eyes on Bucky. “Great. Well, text me when you’re close and we’ll come down.”

She paused, listening. “Yeah, there’s a back street where you can park. Okay. Yup, that’s the one. Cool. See you then. Bye.”

She finished up her call and folded her arms, leaning against the balcony railing.

“And?” she said to Bucky.

“What did your friend say?” Bucky asked.

“She said she’d love to help, because she’s a sensible person who knows it’s not out of the way.”

Bucky frowned, “Okay. Jeez.”

Becca eyed him some more, then went to shut the balcony door.

“Seriously, Bucky, what’s with the bitchface?”

“Hey, I was fine until you started harping,” he said.

“Harping? Oh, Lord,” she rolled her eyes. “God forbid I care about you both.”

“Is your friend Louisa?” Bucky asked, folding his own arms.

Becca’s eyes narrowed on him. “No.”

“Are you sure?” Bucky went on.

Becca scowled. “You know, that’s none of your business. I figured Steve would tell you, I mean, duh, but it’s still not your business.”

“So if you knew Steve would tell me, then why’d you tell him, then?” Bucky said.

“Because, obviously, Bucky, we are from a very weirdly open family and we both, for some unknown reason, are repressed as hell, so we don’t talk about shit that means anything. Instead we use people like Steve like a conduit between us because we’re so awkward about our own lives and can’t talk about them face-to-face.”

Bucky blinked. “Oh.”

“Yeah,” Becca said with a sigh. “Man, with parents like ours? We’re terrible.”

“Well,” Bucky huffed, “I don’t know why you didn’t mention Louisa to me anyhow. I want to know about your life.”

“Um, the same reason you never speak to me about how boys make your dingle tingle, duh,” Becca threw out her hands and widened her eyes comically.

Bucky pouted, “Don’t say it like that. Ugh.”

“But it’s true,” Becca sighed, exasperated. “I mean, we could talk about a lot more, but just the thought makes me want to curl up a die.”

Bucky rubbed at his eyes with one hand. “Okay, yes. Fine. We acknowledge this shit.”

“Really?” Becca huffed, “Because I sure as hell don’t think you’re ready to talk to me about Steve.”

Bucky blinked and frowned at her. “What?”

“Oh, don’t give me that look. Crikey,” she said, turning to look over the balcony.

Bucky glanced at the window, seeing Steve still at the dinner table, his phone out, jaw moving as he chewed.

Bucky’s heart gave a wobble. “I don’t know –“ he began.

“I’m not gonna push you on it,” Becca groused. “Just don’t fuckin’ pretend to me of all people, okay?”

Bucky looked at his sister, the one he used to swim with, and go camping with and get into fights with when they were younger. The two of them drove his mother mad, and the addition of Steve to their little duo hadn’t tempered that much.

“Okay,” he said, whatever that implied.

Becca looked at him, the sunset pink over her skin. “Really?”

Bucky shrugged. “S’long as you tell me about Louisa.”

Becca sighed loudly and angrily. “Oh my god. Bucky, she’s not even in the picture anymore.”

“What?” Bucky’s mouth fell open. “but–“

“Yeah, I know,” Becca sighed dramatically. “My first girl crush-thing and it's already over. She was nice, and cute. But, it wasn’t working, or whatever. Damnit, trying to date girls is not much different from guys. Except less misogyny.” She tilted her head at that, staring at nothing.

“Bonus,” Bucky nodded. He chewed his lip. He looked at her and caught her eye. “We suck at this, huh?”

Becca chuckled and came closer.

“I s’pose,” she murmured. “The real question is who’s gonna tell Ma she’s got two queer kids when last week she didn’t have any?”

“Oh God, no, don’t even go there,” Bucky winced and covered his face. “I didn’t even think of that. Oh, I’m gonna be the worst son ever.”

Becca snorted, “She’s gonna be so dramatic about it. Ugh.”

“And then she’ll get over it and start pairing you up with the girl from the bakery.”

“Oh, and setting you up with Mike from the deli’s son, what’s his name? Joseph?”

“Stop, stop,” Bucky pushed at her. “You’re giving me hives.”

Becca chuckled.

“Hah, we’re such messes.”

Chapter Text

It was dark out behind Becca’s building.

“So, what exactly do I owe you for the ride?” Bucky asked.

Becca snapped her gum. “Nothing, big bro. Just eternal adoration should do.” She looked over at Steve. “You okay there?”

“Uhhh,” Steve was jittery. “I gotta pee.”

Bucky rolled his eyes.

Becca sighed and threw her keys at Steve. “Okay, here. Go quick. She’ll be here any sec.”

Steve dashed back into her building and Bucky wondered how long the idiot would have held it in. Probably until they got home.

“Speaking of which,” Becca said.

Bucky watched as a black-ish cobalt blue muscle car rambled its way up the driveway to Becca’s building back lot.

“Christ,” Bucky hummed. He glanced at Becca, the headlights bright against them both. “Who the hell is your friend?”

Becca was waving at the headlights. “Former student. She’s cool. Don’t worry so much.”

Bucky pursed his lips and the car’s engine went silent, with a weird clicking noise following.

“Holy crap,” a voice echoed into the night and the driver’s door swung open.

“Hi Jess,” Becca said, waiting beside the AC unit on the ground.

Bucky blinked as a woman came round. Her jean shorts were dirty and torn and her oversized black t-shirt was ratty and thin in places, falling off one shoulder. Her boots, though. Now they were familiar.

“Hey, it’s you,” she said, coming up to Bucky. Bucky blinked, recognizing the face. “You’re from Luke’s work.”

Realization dawned on him. “Oh, hi,” he said.

“Jessica, you know my brother?” Becca asked.

“Your brother!” Jessica cried out, “That’s why I know you! Christ! You’re a Barnes? No way.”

Bucky watched as the woman switched between looking at Becca, then back at Bucky. “Fuck, I knew I recognized that face from somewhere. You two twins?”

Bucky shook his head and Becca snorted.

They were used to this. Becca may be almost a foot shorter than her brother, but she had similar features, including the blue eyes, the nose, the dark hair and the stubborn jut of her jaw. When Bucky’d started growing his hair out, people noticed it more, so much so that Becca had taken to cutting heavy bangs into her hair, because she also preferred having hair that hung just above her shoulders. She was better at keeping it looking bouncy and fresh, though.

“Naw,” she said, “Two years difference.”

“Man,” Jessica squinted at Bucky. “You two look like you’re definitely cut from the same cloth. Wow. I thought I was going crazy that night.” She smirked, gaze flicking down. “And that’s our special passenger?” she nodded at the AC unit.

“Uh, yeah, thanks for helping us,” Bucky replied awkwardly.

Jessica shrugged, “No worries. I’m going to Luke’s tonight. He lives in your ‘hood.”

“Ah, okay,” Bucky nodded. He waved both women off as he hefted the air conditioner up and into her backseat. “You sure?” he nodded at the leather interior.

“Sweetheart,” Jessica murmured, slamming the back door shut. “This car’s older than both of you combined. I’ve stopped giving a shit about the upholstery.”

She smiled sardonically and Bucky could see, maybe what Luke saw in her.

“Hey!” Steve cried, coming back out. He tossed the keys to Becca. “Jessica Jones?”

Jessica turned and her smile was nothing if not slightly leery. “Steve Rogers? Well, howdy.”

Jessica may be slightly unnerving to Bucky but she downright scared Steve. Something about crowbars and booze and cops.

“I hope you two can fit,” Jessica smiled devilishly, the innuendo not lost on anyone. Becca groaned. “My car’s, well, she’s tight.”

Bucky made wide eyes at his sister. She just shrugged.

Steve was a bit confused, like his two worlds were colliding in weird uncomfortable ways.

“Hi,” he glanced between them all. “I hit my head and I’m hallucinating on the toilet, aren’t I?”

Bucky groaned, “Buddy, no.”

Becca gave Steve a shove. “Ew, gross. Get out of here, Rogers, before I kick you out.”

 


 

“Okay, but if we follow the instructions,” Steve was saying, sweat dripping down the back of his neck.

“Fuck the instructions!” Bucky barked. It was so late now that they both should have been asleep. Instead, they were trying to install the godforsaken AC in a million degree humidity, while trying to not make too much noise and wake the neighbours.

“Bucky,” Steve intoned sharply, “Don’t start yelling at me. Just breathe.”

“We’re never gonna get this thing in,” Bucky huffed. “We don’t even know if these instructions are for this unit!” he waved his phone around, the how-to website still on the screen.

“Okay, listen,” Steve said from his spot kneeling on the floor. “I’ve got this. Just stay here, lift this thing up and hold it. Keep your mouth shut, and let me do this.”

Bucky grunted and got down to his knees. They’d been at this for almost two hours. DIY was definitely not his thing. Steve was better with the drill and screws and shit. After the two of them carting the monstrous thing up eight flights of stairs, well, Bucky wasn’t in the mood for it.

Bucky got up onto his knees, heaving the window unit up, Steve facing it head-on. They pushed it onto the window ledge and Steve scooted the crates over to sit just underneath it. They didn’t want the whole thing to fall either onto the floor and break, or fall out the window and break someone. Steve got to work with the screws, focused. Sweat covered his brow and cheekbones and his hair was wet and flat against his head, less sunshine, more golden.

Bucky felt no better. They were both shirtless and barefoot and only had the light from the kitchen to go by.

“Can you just lift this corner…” Steve tapped the unit and Bucky grabbed it with one hand and lifted. “Whoa, okay, Tarzan.” Steve huffed out a chuckle. He put two screws between his lips and carefully aligned the drill bit. While Steve amped up the drill, Bucky stared.

He looked so gorgeous in the dim yellow light, his pale skin warm and soft, but tacky in the sticky air. Bucky loved the way the muscles wrapped around Steve’s formerly tiny ribcage, showing the strength he’d worked so hard to attain. Six, seven years ago, Steve would’ve probably cracked a rib hefting this stupid machine about. It was a science-miracle that Steve got a late growth spurt. Timed perfectly with them fixing his diet and him starting to work out in earnest, and here stood the results. Seems that having food intolerances and eating meat had really been the biggest hurdle to overcome. Sure, Steve wasn’t lactose-intolerant, but he clearly had allergic reactions to dairy, so they had to be careful. Sticking to goats milk and all the other vegan variations had helped.

Seems that animal protein was another issue, an uncommon one, but an issue long in the making. Eggs and meat were out, and the more Steve and Bucky paid attention to his food reactions, the more they’d been able to fine-tune it all. Carefully, slowly, Steve started eating better. He had fewer cramps, less reactions and fewer hospital visits, and eventually, they’d whittled the list of ‘allowables’ down to the essentials. Once Steve’s digestion could settle and heal, it was no holds barred. He could finally eat like he’d always wanted to, sating his hunger and powering through his time at the Y like a champ.

Bucky had been a part of the whole thing, figuring out every possible option for cooking easy-to-digest food without resorting to mushed vegetables and soup every day, like the doctors had recommended. Bleh.

When Steve’s ma had passed, well, it was obvious Steve’s care would fall to Bucky, even if Steve wholeheartedly was against it.

This was his contribution to the world: keeping Steve Rogers alive and healthy so he could spread/inflict his brand of stubborn goodwill around the neighbourhood.

“Just another few screws,” Steve murmured, making faces while he bent low to get the underneath.

“Goddamn,” Bucky huffed. His arm was getting stiff. And his knees.

“Okay!” Steve cried, sitting back on his haunches. “Let’s give this thing a spin.”

Bucky got up and dragged the power cord over to the outlet. He eyed Steve, “This better work.”

“Just do it,” Steve waved a hand at him.

So Bucky did … and lo and behold!

His eyes widened as the rickety unit came to life. “Oh hell yes!” he cried out, leaping around. He pushed the few damp stray hairs off of his face.

Steve got up too, all grins. The two of them stood in front of the machine as it gently began sucking out the disgusting wet air and pumped in cooler, drier air.

“Praise to baby Jesus,” Bucky cackled.

Steve rolled his eyes. “Pretty blasphemous, Barnes.”

“Hey, it’s your praised baby, not mine,” Bucky said with hands on hips.

“Okay, we gotta let this thing run for a bit. So you wanna shower first?” Steve said.

Bucky shook his head, “No sir, Mister Builder, sir. I give you the honour, for all your hard work.”

Steve laughed, “Yeah, okay. Why don’t you tidy up the tools. We get to sleep in, ain’t that a treat?”

“Ain’t it just?” Bucky smiled, flapping his arms as the cool air washed over him.

 

The next morning was bliss, pure bliss.

The two of them had left their bedroom doors open, wanting to share the new, freshly cool air.

“I feel like a new man,” Bucky said, pouring out some Froot Loops.

“Amen,” Steve nodded, all fresh-faced, well-slept and rumpled.

His hair was soft and fluffy, a riot of blonde atop his head. He looked clean and happy in his white tank top and sweats.

Bucky too felt rejuvenated and less like a crabby monster from the crypt.

“So what’re we gonna do on our long weekend?” Steve asked, taking his bowl of cereal over to the sofa. Bucky followed, his coffee in one hand, bowl in the other. The two of them settled onto the sofa with practiced ease, Bucky crossing his legs up on the seat.

“Well, I was hoping sweet fuck-all, honestly,” Bucky said.

“Great minds,” Steve tapped his temple and Bucky couldn’t help grinning at his friend.

 


 

The two were true to their word, at least for Friday. On Saturday, Steve dragged Bucky out so they could go get groceries and hang out down by the water. Bucky loved coming home to their freshly cooled apartment, even if the electricity bill was going to sky-rocket.

“We live like kings,” Steve hummed, folding laundry on the coffee table.

Bucky was steaming bok choy and keeping an eye on the rice. “Sure, pal,” he murmured, cutting up garlic and onions.

While steve packed away their laundry, nattering the whole time about global warming, and dinosaurs and earthquakes, Bucky went about making their lunch.

“What’s on the menu, chef?” Steve asked, poking his head into Bucky’s business.

“Fried rice, sweet potato dumplings and stir fry,” Bucky said, adding the onions, garlic and ginger to the pan.

“Mmm!” Steve hummed.

When the rice was ready, Bucky drained it in the sink and moved on to adding the carrot strips and soy sauce. The whole lot simmered for a bit and he tossed in the broccoli. He shoved all the veg to the side of the pan and carefully scooped in some rice, the fizzling noise like magic to his ears.

“Oh, smells good,” Steve said. He was grabbing plates from the murder cart’s shelf. “You want O.J.?”

“Water,” Bucky said absently. He quickly chopped up the bok choy, then spooned out a hefty portion of rice and veg for Steve. He added the cabbage, then went to grab an egg, cracking it over the rice left in the pan. Swizzling the spatula around, he hummed, frying the egg into the rice.

Finally, he scooped out his own lunch and the two of them went back to the sofa to enjoy their lazy Saturday lunch.

“Mmmm,” Steve hummed around a mouthful. They were watching Parks and Rec again. “You treat me so good, Buck.”

Bucky snorted. “You come for the food.”

Steve glanced over, “Stayed for the Netflix.”

Bucky rolled his eyes.

 


 

On Sunday, Bucky was digging through his sock drawer. “Steve, these aren’t even mine, you idiot,” he said, unrolling a mismatched pair.

“They’re not?” Steve came to stand at his bedroom door, a carrot in his hand like he was some kind of housebroken donkey.

Bucky held up two socks. “These look like mine?”

Steve blinked, then shrugged.

Bucky sighed and pulled out one of his own pairs.

“Hey, Sam texted,” Steve said.

Bucky ignored him.

“Says they’re having a party,” Steve went on. “Tonight. Wanna go?”

No, Bucky didn’t wanna go.

He wanted to stay home and veg out on the sofa, like a normal, socially closeted person.

“Steve, it’s the Lord’s Day,” Bucky said, eyeing his best friend.

Steve gave him a fed up look, “You’re Jewish.”

“Yeah,” Bucky raised his brows, “Jew-ish. I take my excuses where I can get ‘em.”

“Your mother could hear you,” Steve shook his head and took another crunch out of his carrot. He went on, reading whatever funny crap Sam had sent him, because Sam was hilarious, Buck, listen to this!

“Oh,” Steve paused, “Says it’s Nat’s birthday! Whaaat?” Steve came into Bucky’s room, still reading. He flopped down on Bucky’s bed. “Oh wow. I have been trying to figure out her birthday for years!” Steve crowed.

Bucky could just see Romanov being all mysterious and shit for no reason other than to annoy Steve and Sam.

“C’on, ‘uck,” Steve murmured, the last of his carrot stuck between his teeth. He chewed noisily, tapping away on his phone. “We still have tomorrow to veg out.”

Bucky rolled his socks between his fingers.

“Who’s ‘them’ or ‘us’?” he asked.

“The whole crew. Sam says it’s a surprise party, says Chef’s hosting it and all. Totally unplanned.”

Bucky eyed Steve, who was just lying there on his bed like he owned the place.

“Fine,” Bucky sighed.

“Yay!” Steve whispered, and clearly tapped out a response. “Sam says he’ll get the details.”

“You better not drink too much,” Bucky said. “Last time was bad enough.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Steve murmured, “But in my defense, it was my birthday. So there.”

Bucky just rolled his eyes. “You keep milking that.”

 


 

 

“Jesus,” Bucky breathed, coming to a halt. “This is Chef’s place?”

Steve looked up with wide eyes too. “Uh, I guess.”

Sam’s directions had left very little real information, causing Steve and Bucky to just hit the shoreline and walk along the beach, hoping for the best.

They’d walked all the way over, taking their time as the sun set.

“You think this wine’ll be okay?” Steve asked, holding up the paper bag with a ribbon around the neck.

Bucky shrugged, “Honestly, with Romanov’s standards, no. But also, we’re cheap and she knows that, so whatever.”

Steve harrumphed like a cartoon elephant. “Well, don’t that sound wonderfully sentimental.”

They approached what was ostensibly a small house on the edge of the the lakeshore road, leaning out onto the beach. It wasn’t very big or anything, but it was a beach house. As they approached, Bucky was reminded of something.

“Hey, doesn’t Stark have a beach house? In the Hamptons?”

Steve snorted, “And in Malibu.”

“Huh,” Bucky frowned as they approached what were steps leading up to a large wooden deck.

“Hey! You emissaries from the Mermaids?” a voice cried out.

“Barton?” Bucky asked, clambering up behind Steve. “Wow, look at this place,” he added.

The deck was nice and big, with a barbecue going and lots of comfy seating and lights strung up for the summer.

“You know there’s a front door?” came another voice.

“Pietro,” Steve smiled wide. “Hey! Is the whole gang here?”

“Eh,” Pietro shrugged and swigged his beer.

Bucky fist-bumped Barton and nodded to the one Maximoff.

“So, you missed the surprise,” Barton said.

“Yeah, looks like it,” Bucky said, looking around at all the people chatting and eating. Barton was eyeing him, “Sorry.”

“We did?” Steve gasped. He smacked Bucky’s arm. “This is because you decided to take the scenic route.”

“No,” Bucky said slowly, “It’s because you were going to make a painting or something for Romanov's birthday, except you decided to take a midday nap instead.”

“I fell asleep and you didn’t even wake me,” Steve retorted.

Barton and Pietro watched them bicker.

“Okay,” Pietro cut in, “Enough. Go see the birthday girl, have her glare at you like she did us, and then come back with food and alcohol, okay?” He pushed them both towards the door leading inside. “I want kebabs.”

Bucky followed Steve further up the deck and into the wide open back doors of the small home.

It was stylishly minimal, with lighting everywhere, and clean, simple decorations. Very much Chef.

“Oi, it’s them,” a voice cried out. Bucky caught America waving from a sofa. She was with Kate and Wanda, some of the few faces Bucky actually recognized.

“Welcome,” Kate said. She indicated the wooden barrel beside them, stuffed with ice and bottles of booze. “Enjoy.”

“Damn,” Steve hummed, picking out two random beers. “Boss has really got it going on in here, huh?”

“Hi–“ Bucky began to say after Steve had opened up a beer for him.

“No,” Wanda said curtly. “Do not call me that foolish nickname.”

Bucky smiled wider and sipped his beer. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”

 


 

 

Steve was elated to be celebrating Natasha’s birthday. He’d hugged her and spun her about long before she had the temerity to make him stop. Nat was an old softy deep, deep down inside, Steve knew it.

And everyone was here, celebrating, enjoying the summer warmth and the food and drink.

Luke was helping Bruce in the kitchen, because apparently, chefs just cannot be left alone in any kitchen ever. Chef was with them, brewing up some kind of dessert.

Even at home, she ran her tiny kitchen with efficiency.

And Bucky was over with Wanda and America, quietly chatting away.

“Okay, so next time there’s a party, a surprise, and I give you a start time, I’m gonna pretend it’s an hour earlier,” Sam was saying.

“Hey, I’m sorry we missed the surprise,” Steve sighed again. “We’re not good with … time.”

“Hmmm,” Natasha hummed.

She was perched on a barstool alongside Sam and Steve, who’d been bantering back and forth relentlessly.

“You know,” she said slowly, “ You say ‘we’ a lot.”

Steve swigged his beer and swallowed. “Well, yeah, me ’n’ Buck.”

Natasha just looked at him with those piercing eyes of hers.

“What?” he said, popping his lips like a kid.

“Well,” She glanced at Sam, who looked real interested in his own beer label all of a sudden. “It’s interesting. How much you two include each other in everything.”

Steve shrugged, “Well, when you live with your best friend, you let me know.” He glanced over at Bucky, who was being smacked on the arm by Wanda. Bucky was laughing boyishly, tucking his hair behind one ear.

“Uh huh,” Sam said.

Steve blinked and looked at them.

“What?”

Natasha seemed to consider something.

Then she opened her mouth and paused.

Sam curled his lips inwards and sucked on them, also clearly chewing his next words.

“Well, okay, we’re all adults here,” Natasha said.

“Sure,” Steve nodded.

“And you–“ she began again.

Sam cleared his throat. “I can’t believe you’re doing this,” he muttered softly.

“Okay, out with it,” Steve crossed his arms. “the hell’s got you two all twisted up. Are you guys together?”

What?” Sam blurted. “No!”

Natasha didn’t even blink. “No, Rogers.”

“Then what?” he looked over at Bucky, seeing his friend open up another beer and look over the snacks Kate had brought over from the kitchen.

He looked back at Nat. She was staring at him with one eyebrow raised.

“That’s the fifth time in as many minutes that you’ve looked at Barnes.”

Steve frowned, “So?”

“So?” Nat said sharply, “Are you in love with him, Steve? Because, honestly, if you aren’t you probably should be.”

Steve coughed on his drink. He choked. “Nat! Jeez, no. Where do you get those crazy ideas!”

“From you!” she hissed, leaning in close. “You have no idea how you two look, do you?”

Steve glared at her, “No, how do we look?

“You look like damn fools,” Sam added in.

“Fools in love, he means,” Natasha added onto that.

Steve blinked rapidly, his mouth flapping. “What? Oh, come on. You guys can’t get your kicks elsewhere?”

His two friends just stared at him.

“We weren’t gonna say anything,” Sam said.

“But then it got too much to bear,” Natasha sighed. She swirled her own drink slowly. “You guys are really sappy, and cute together and it’s actually kind of gross.”

“We’re not,” Steve pushed. He felt his jaw tighten and his beer wasn’t cold anymore.

“No, you are,” she stared at him. “And I’m thinking you don’t even realize it, do you?”

Steve floundered, his brain whirring into overdrive. His friends were just seeing things; Seeing his friendship with Bucky and reading into it.

“Okay,” he said, raising his hands, “I’ll bite, for like a second, while you explain to me, rationally, what the hell you mean.”

Dare he be the one to not listen to whatever hypocrisy his friends had to offer.

 

 

“Suits you,” Bucky said, tapping his own lips with a finger.

Wanda rolled her eyes, “This is me.”

She was wearing darker clothing, her red hair down her back. Bucky was somehow smug to see that she wore heavy eye makeup and dark lipstick. It suited her personality. Her nails were painted black as well, adding to the whole ‘don’t talk to me ever’ vibe.

Outside of work, everyone seemed so different. Uniforms really did change things.

There were a few people Bucky didn’t recognize, but overall, he was pleased to see that almost the whole of BRDO had shown up. America was in acid wash jeans and a red leather jacket, standing out more than usual. Barton and Kate looked about the same, but the servers all looked weird outside of their bowties, side-parts and aprons.

Even Romanov looked strange in a white t-shirt, leather jacket and dark blue jeans. She looked way more personable.

And she was having some kind of intense conversation with Steve. Her hands were moving and Steve wasn’t looking away, his responses a little intense as well, going by the way his eyes were widening. Probably arguing politics, Steve’s favourite and simultaneously, least-favourite topic of all time.

Sam was using hand motions too, clearly explaining something or other with calm veracity.

“Let’s get some fresh air,” Wanda said, standing. “I smell barbecue.”

“Good idea,” Bucky said as his stomach rumbled in agreement.

 

 

“You guys are ridiculous,” Steve sighed. “nothing you said makes sense.”

“Okay, then this:” Natasha said, raising a finger. “You guys are on a family cellphone plan.” She raised her brows like that was the answer to everything.

“So?” Steve said, “You know it’s cheaper than two separate plans. Jesus, Nat, it’s called saving money.”

“No, Steve,” Nat went on, “It’s weird. Friends don’t share cellphone plans.”

“Well, obviously you don’t know–“ Steve began but was cut off by Sam.

“Is Barnes on a family plan with his actual family?”

Steve opened his mouth. “Well…no, but–“

“Steve,” Natasha said gently, “Sorry, we’re not telling you this to fuck you up. We’re just …wondering.”

“No, you’re being invasive and weird,” Steve said sharply. “Just because Bucky’s into guys as well as girls doesn’t–“

Both Nat and Sam looked at one another. “He is?”

“Sweet Mary of Bethlehem,” Sam laughed.

“Well, now it’s definite!” Nat said.

“Ugh!” Steve cried and rubbed his hands over his face. “You guys are awful!”

“No, Steve, look,” Nat pressed a hand to his forearm. “Look. We were joking, at first, when we noticed, okay? It was cute, and strange, how close you two are. But eventually, we thought you were both just figuring your shit out. That you needed time, or whatever.”

“Man, I thought you were just faking the friend thing for a while,” Sam said.

Steve didn’t know what to say.

“You guys, it’s not fair to joke around about shit like that.”

Nat tilted her head, “We’re adults here, remember? This isn’t high school. We’re asking because we think, maybe, there’s something there. We’re as surprised as you are that you don’t think the same.”

Steve just glared at his friends.

“So why are you telling me this now?”

Natasha shrugged, “Well, if not now, then when?”

“You’ve got the wrong end of the stick,” Steve said.

“You don’t see what we see,” Natasha said definitively.

“What, exactly, do you see?” Steve countered. “Two friends who care about each other? Two roommates who happen to spend a shit load of time together? We’ve been friends forever, Nat. It’s natural.”

“No,” Sam shook his head slowly. “We see something else.”

“He looks at you,” Natasha said gently, “Like you are the sun, Steve. Barnes has zero interest in anyone, or anything else.”

Steve blinked, caught off kilter.

“It’s true,” Sam nodded. “I mean, it is. Don't look at me like that. When you first brought him to work, I was expecting, like another dude-bro loudmouth doofus. Except you brought in this beefcake silent type who is basically nothing like you, or us. And he’s got half the kitchen eyeing him up like a piece of meat and it does nothing for him. Nothing.”

“You’re making this weird,” Steve muttered.

“So he makes you lunches,” Nat began ticking off her fingers, “He helps pay for your shit. He looked after you half your life. He dropped out of school for you. He ties your bowties for you–”

"Now that was a big giveaway," Sam nodded.

“Stop,” Steve said, firmly. “Just. Stop,” and he put his empty bottle down, the label shredded beyond recognition, and walked away.

 

Natasha and Sam watched him go.

“Um,” Sam began.

“Uh, wow,” Natasha sighed.

Chapter Text

“My borscht would blow you away,” Wanda was saying while she picked at the roast chicken leg her brother handed her.

Bucky chewed his own perfectly grilled chicken and snorted. They were seated in a handful of the patio-style chairs alongside a short woven-plastic table. “You and my ma,” he said. “Her borscht would make Jesus weep.”

“You think there’s going to be hot dogs?” Pietro said, eyeing the array of meat that Clint was poking at on the grill.

“Hot dogs?” Everyone cried out in disgust.

Pietro shrugged, “What? I like garbage food.”

“He treats his temple like one of those monkey-poop temples,” Wanda said, waving a chicken bone about.

“Sounds about right,” Clint said, closing the grill up to smoke it a little.

Bucky loved the food. It was basically a ‘whoever’s watching the barbecue can cook stuff’ kind of deal. So he’d seen a couple people rotate out.

“Man, chef went all out for this, huh?” he said.

“Well, it is Natasha’s birthday,” Clint said, hopping onto a chair across from Bucky, scraping it closer with his feet.

“Oh, is it?” Wanda drawled. “I hadn’t noticed, the last fifty times you told us.”

Clint didn’t quite blush, but he shrugged.

Bucky sipped at his beer, relishing the taste of it mingling with the freshly cooked meat.

“You come out and party a lot?” he asked the group.

Most of them shrugged. Scott shook his head from his own seat. “Naw, too busy pulling in the big bucks.” He sounded as bitter as everyone felt.

“Yeah,” Clint sighed. “All work and no play makes me shit-tired all the time.”

Bucky nodded.

“Well, I get out,” Pietro said. “I love parties. Go to one every week. At least.”

Wanda made a face, “Only because your friends are all wannabe DJs.”

Pietro nodded, “Yup.”

“You party a lot?” Wanda turned to look at Bucky.

He chuckled, “Not much anymore. Years ago, yeah. It was fun. But, well, you know.”

“Life,” Clint said with a long nod.

“Yeah,” Scott murmured. “Damn, these ribs are juicy!”

“You go dancing?” Bucky asked, cocking a brow at Wanda. “Trip the light fantastic?”

Wanda smiled, “That is one of those amazingly strange english sayings. And no. I don’t really dance.”

“No boys?” Clint said.

“Girls?” Scott added.

Wanda shook her head and rolled up a baby tomato in a lettuce leaf before taking a bite. “I am too tired to party.”

“We’re talking dates, now,” Clint pressed. “Why aren’t you dating?”

Wanda shrugged.

Scott was looking at Bucky, “Barnes, I bet you’ve been ‘round the block. Got any hot dates coming up?”

“Man,” Clint eyed Scott wearily, “You sound like a weird uncle from the nineties.”

“Hey, it’s a valid, normal, friendly question,” Scott retorted then bit into another rib.

“I bet Barnes has lots of beautiful girls lining up outside his door,” Pietro laughed, eyebrows waggling.

Bucky rolled his eyes. “Can it.”

Suddenly Steve showed up and if Bucky wasn’t who he was, he might have missed the upset in his body language.

“Rogers!” Clint crowed, “Finally! Where you been, buddy?”

Steve blinked down at Barton, who was sitting right in front of him. “Uh, inside.”

“Grab a seat,” Scott patted one of the chairs beside him. “Stuff your face. Eat a salad, or whatever. Look, baby tomatoes.”

Bucky frowned. Something was off. Steve’s hands were flexing at his hips, like they did when he used to stress out about exams back in school. Steve glanced at Bucky for a hot second, then glanced away.

Bucky’s brows knitted together. “Hey,” he asked, “what’s up?”.

Everyone else seemed to pause, as if they genuinely paid attention if Bucky spoke up.

“Nothing, nothing,” Steve ran a hand through his hair, then he fluffed it in the back, rubbing up and down with the flat of his palm, which was a clear sign of annoyance and/or frustration. “Hey, Wanda, can I borrow you a sec?”

Wanda blinked. She carefully finished chewing, then set down her plate. She wiped her mouth with a napkin, and nodded. “Yes?” she sounded skeptical.

Bucky tried not to feel a burst of his own annoyance in his chest. Clearly something was up and Steve had to talk.

“I can come,” Bucky murmured, putting down his own plate.

“No, no, it’s cool,” Steve said, waving him off, as Wanda got to her feet. He then smiled at Bucky and goddamn if that didn’t make Bucky scowl because that was the fakest shit he’d ever seen. Steve grabbed Wanda’s elbow and indicated towards the end of the patio, towards the beach. “We’ll be back. Uh, just gotta go over party plans. Ideas.”

The two of them walked away, Wanda glancing back once in confusion.

“So, not weird at all,” Scott said blithely.

 


 

Bucky wasn’t super great company without Steve as a buffer. Sure, he worked with these guys, but they weren’t exactly close friends yet. So it was vaguely annoying to have to talk about women and dating and other lame bullshit, because obviously these people didn’t really know Bucky.

“Well that’s because you don’t tell anyone anything about you,” Steve had said before in frustration.

“You’re really single?” Scott repeated, like a parrot.

“Dude,” Clint muttered.

“I’m sorry,” Scott said, “It just, like, blows my mind. You seem, pardon me if this is rude, but you seem like a real catch. You’re extra handsome, like God spent a little extra time on you,” Scott went on, making Bucky want to melt through the wooden slats at his feet. “And guy, you’re cool, right? Super nice. You haven’t threatened me with bodily harm, like, ever. And you have those arms, look at those arms. How are you single?” This seemed to frustrate Scott way more than it ever could Bucky.

Bucky shrugged, all awkwardness, “Don’t know anyone I want to date.” The lie felt like burnt rubber on his tongue.

Of course he knew people worth dating. One in particular that he’d give his left nut to ‘date’ or ‘hold hands with’ or ‘rail’, but Steve wasn’t ever put in that category, because, no. No.

That was just dumb, drunk, hallucinogenic crap. Foolhardy at best, as his dad would say, though his dad was usually talking at the TV, exasperated by the lack of ingenuity on the part of contestants in Robot Wars.

“But you’ve dated before,” Clint sipped at his beer.

Bucky nodded, “Yeah,” he sounded resigned.

Clint snorted with a laugh, “Don’t get too excited, buddy, you might pass out.”

They’d been talking like this for quite a while. First it was Scott regaling them with his disaster of a life in general. Then Clint’s trash-fire dating experiences, which involved a lot of teenage blooper reel footage, and aggressively forward women that sort of terrified him. And apparently men, too; Go figure.

Then Pietro’s almost hilarious stories about his time in the clubs of Europe, then America and how beautiful all women were to him, how majestic and wonderful their bodies and words were and how precious time on mother earth was and … well, Bucky kind of couldn’t stop chuckling at the way the kid saw the world. He wasn’t much like his sister.

And all this time Steve was somewhere in the darkness of the beach, doing something, talking, whatever with Pietro’s sister.

Bucky’s unease was palpable, but he knew it was foolish to just storm out there, find them and demand to be included in whatever was happening with Steve.  He wasn’t some brat (no matter what his mother said). Because as invested as Bucky was in Steve, no one else could know. He’d rather die.

He figured it couldn’t be some kind of sudden, weird romantic thing, because really? He’d have noticed. When Steve liked someone, he was like a fog horn lit up like a police cruiser. He was cool for the most part, but he’d develop a stutter and empty out his brain of all intelligence, or, alternately, he’d rage about some social injustice that usually scared chicks away. When Steve was smaller, it was a good excuse for the ladies to run. Now that Steve was bigger and sexier, and just … you know… the chicks found it endearing and passionate. Hypocrites.

Steve wasn’t like that when he’d shown up suddenly. He’d been flustered, and probably angry. Steve had a tendency to lean towards anger when he was upset or confused or out of his depth. Bucky was fairly sure anger is the fuel that powered Steve’s jets, which although sounding greatly erotic in his head, was more of a cause for concern to Bucky.

Steve was upset, probably.

“Hey,” something nudged Bucky’s knee and he looked up. It was Jack with a cold beer for Bucky.

“Oh, thanks,” Bucky said, taking the drink.

“You all look like you’re having fun,” Jack said, his British drawl smooth as butter.

Clint tapped his own chest with his fist. “Good eats, good beer, good company.”

“Cheers to that,” Jack said, raising his own beer. He looked around, “Where’s the Golden Wonder?”

“Who?” Scott frowned.

“Oh, you mean Rogers,” Pietro nodded. “Eh, on the beach somewhere.”

“Hmm,” Jack hummed. He plopped himself down on the chair beside Bucky. He was definitely a bit buzzed, going by his lazy movements and smile. Jack was usually sharp as a tack.

“So what’re we talking about? What’s the gossip?”

Bucky shrugged.

“We’re talking about how Barnes is, like, a friggin’ supermodel weight-lifter, or whatever,” Scott said a little too loudly. “And yet he’s not in a loving sexual relationship.”

“Oh my God,” Bucky breathed, his head dropping to his chest. “Please. Stop.”

“But it’s true!” Scott said.

Jack laughed, “Are you on your way to getting plastered?”

“Hey, you’re one of the good-looking ones too,” Scott said, pointing his finger at Jack.

Jack tilted his head with a cocked brow, “Can’t argue with you there,” he said, to the jeers and boos of the guys around him.

“Ladies, get in line, please,” Jack laughed. “Or, do go on about Barnes’ love life. I’m intrigued.”

“No,” Bucky said. “I’m tired of this topic. Shut it down.”

“All right,” Clint waved both hands, “Give the guy some peace.”

“Of ass,” Pietro murmured over his beer, which just had them all sniggering like teenagers.

Bucky stared at the night sky.

Jack patted his shoulder.

“This is your burden to bear, my friend.”

 


 

Finally, Steve and Wanda returned, giving Bucky something to focus on other than the idiot drinking game America had roped the others into.

Bucky got up immediately when the two figures appeared out of the darkness, Wanda ahead of Steve.

“Hey,” Bucky approached Steve. “You okay? What’s going on?”

Steve sighed and smiled, shrugging. “I just needed to ask Wanda something, nothing big. All good.”

Bucky looked his best friend over. Steve seemed much calmer now, less agitated. “You sure?’ he patted Steve’s shoulder.

Steve nodded. “Yup. Except I’m starving. There anything left after these animals got to it all?”

Bucky watched Steve amble over to the crowd of co-workers and friends, all of whom cried out, happy to see him again.

The night was still young and apparently Chef had brought out the vodka and tequila, guaranteeing more idiocy.

Bucky was glad to see that Steve was calm again. Maybe it wasn’t too bad a thing, whatever it was.

He looked over towards the patio door, the inside of Chef’s living room well-lit and glowing in the night.

There he could just see the back of Wanda, her tiny hands at her hips, facing Romanov. She was clearly saying something, judging by the way Romanov wasn’t speaking or looking away. Whatever Wanda was saying, Romanov wasn’t too happy about it.

Sam appeared from further inside the house and he halted when Wanda waved him closer.

Now this was interesting.

Sam’s face was way easier to read. Whatever the tiny Maximoff was saying was not sitting well and the poor guy looked almost distraught. He was staring at his feet, arms folded and clearly not attempting to give feedback.

“Dang,” Bucky swigged his beer, glad he wasn’t privy to whatever verbal beatdown was going on over there.

He meandered over to where the crowd was cheering by the grill.

He managed to grab the armrest beside Steve, using it as his own seat and finally felt himself relax.

 


 

“Shit, what time is it?” Bucky asked when he and Steve finally blundered into their apartment. “Christ, we have work in like, a few hours.”

Steve chuckled behind him. “No, we got Monday off, remember?”

“Ohhhh,” Bucky nodded slowly, the booze still heating up his blood in weird and fascinating ways. “That was a fun party.”

“Yup,” Steve said, dropping his keys on the ledge beside the door. And while Bucky stumbled out of his own sneakers, Steve just calmly pulled off his own shoes, like he wasn’t weighed down by copious amounts of alcohol and greasy food.

“You want some water?” Steve asked, walking over to the sink.

Bucky nodded, not realizing Steve couldn’t see him do it.

He wandered over to the kitchenette and watched Steve pour out two glasses.

“Mmm, gimme,” Bucky made grabby-hands. “My insides are dry.”

“Fascinating,” Steve said with a wry smile and handed over the cool drink. Bucky gulped it back.

“Ah,” Bucky breathed, his limbs loose and the hairs on his arms bristling at the cool air-conditioned air flowing from the window.

Steve finished his own drink, then put both glasses in the sink. He turned and leaned against the counter, arms folded.

The yellowy glow from the crusty light above the sink gave Steve something of a golden halo, which reminded Bucky of what Jack had said.

“You’re the Golden Wonder,” Bucky said.

Steve cocked a brow and smiled. “What?”

“Jack said so,” Bucky nodded, then wiped at his own face. He pushed his hair off his cheeks. “I need to shave.”

“Not tonight,” Steve said calmly, like this was normal. “Tomorrow. You can shower, get all that sand off, but no sharp tools at this hour.”

“I’m gonna feel like a bag of bricks tomorrow, ain’t I?” Bucky drawled.

Steve laughed, “Yup. You can blame Jack and America for that. Pretty sure Chef’s gonna regret doling out money for more alcohol.”

“Okay, sure,” Bucky said, stretching. He made those weird squeaky stretch noises everyone makes when they get a good stretch into the back muscles and arms. “Oh, man. I’m tired now.” He scratched at his tummy, shirt rumpled. His skin was warm.

“Bedtime, then,” Steve said, not moving. He was staring at Bucky, which wasn’t weird, per se, but it was after midnight and staring after midnight was completely unwarranted after a handful of tequila shots.

“What?” Bucky asked.

“Nothing,” Steve said simply.

And he kept staring. He just looked at Bucky with those sad eyes of his, only they weren’t all sad right now, but they had that potential, always. They were more contemplative at the moment.

“Hey,” Bucky said, going in close. He stared at Steve. Steve blinked.

“Yeah?”

“Glad you’re feeling better,” Bucky said.

And then Steve’s gaze softened imperceptibly.

“Yeah, me too, Buck.”

 


 

Bucky woke with a surprisingly okay head. Sure, his tongue was dry, but he didn’t have a throbbing drumbeat running through his face.

That was nice.

He rolled over in his bed, noting that the sun streaming into his room was bright and high in the sky. He grumbled into his pillow.

His dick was underneath him, pressing hotly against the mattress, and it was definitely awake.

“Ungh,” Bucky shifted, sliding his hand down and into his boxers. He squeezed himself and shivered.

Fuck.

He was contemplating exactly how much time he could spare to rub one out in this great, hazy state, when he remembered his open bedroom door.

Of course he needed it open so he could embrace the wonder of modern air-conditioning technology and not expire in his own bed.

“Damnit,” he muttered. He couldn’t risk it.

He rolled over in frustration and sat up, duvet bunched over his lap.

Thank God he did because Steve appeared at his doorway like some kind of wizard.

“Hey,” Steve blurted around his toothbrush. He had toothpaste on his chin.

Bucky wasn’t awake enough for this. He had an insistent boner tenting his boxers under his duvet and Steve was trying to talk to him with a mouthful of toothpaste and brush while Bucky was fully aware of the fact that Steve was standing there in nothing but his own pair of skintight grey boxers and no shirt, because he was a damn heathen.

Goddamn, Bucky thought as his eyes literally could not work their way around what was clearly Steve’s dick in soft cotton, like, right there.

His own dick gave a twitch and Bucky focused.

“Morning,” Bucky said, rubbing a hand over his eyes to make it less obvious that he’d been ogling.

“How’s the head?” Steve murmured.

Bucky shrugged, “Okay.”

Fuck, was Steve just going to stand there, legs apart with all that muscle on display?

“Good,” and Steve, along with his all-american ass, was gone.

Well.

And with the vision of that body in his mind, Bucky decided he could definitely wait five minutes for Steve to finish before he locked himself in the bathroom and had a much-needed self-love session.

Chapter Text

Bucky was up to his elbows in flour, sneezing every so often, which seemed to amuse Wanda greatly.

“You make sounds like a bird,” she said wryly, kneading dough.

Bucky sniffed, “Oh please.” he grunted, trying to wriggle his nose and alleviate whatever problem was germinating there. It was the pepper, damnit.

The two of them worked in tandem, prepping fresh dinner rolls for the evening crowd. Once the dough was rolled and prepped, Wanda whisked up a couple eggs vigorously, and with a brush each, they painted on the egg mix, coating each small bun on the trays. They worked seamlessly, knowing that time was running out to get them in the oven.

“Right, I’ve got these,” she huffed, then nodded past Bucky. “Chef wants you. Go.”

And, as always, she was right. Bucky dusted off his hands and moved over to where Chef was snapping orders. Romanov was there listing the wines for the evening while Chef nodded, half listening and half talking at Jack.

The new guy was with Chef, trying his best to blend into the background. It was his third day and he’d had as much trouble as Bucky had, trying to feel his way around the new environment. This Altman kid, he was young, all smooth-faced and bright-eyed, but obviously, painfully shy.

“Barnes,” Chef said, blinking at him. “Thanks, Nat, we’re good,” she added to Romanov. “Barnes,” she said again.

“Yes, Chef?” Bucky murmured, wiping at his fingers with a hand towel.

She skewered him with her eyes, focusing sharply. “You have flour on your face.”

Bucky patted at his jaw, his cheeks.

Chef rolled her eyes and grabbed his hand towel before brusquely wiping at his eyebrows and nose. She tutted like a mother hen, then flopped his towel over his shoulder.

“Listen, Teddy here needs the prep tour. I’d have liked to get him on the entrées, but we ran out of time, so America and Luke are handling that. So can you please show him the ropes, the storage, the fridges? Basic protocols, etcetera. Teddy here’s got all the credentials and not a lick of experience, right?” here, she looked up at the kid with his pristine new whites and cap, looking like he was fresh out of daycare, which he probably was.

The kid nodded quickly.

“Great, now you follow Barnes. I promise, he won’t bite,” she patted Bucky’s arm and promptly ushered them both out to the storage hallway.

Bucky sighed. It was probably fair that he babysit, but it was still annoying, seeing as the new saucier, Foster, was already working with the rest of the crew, whipping up tons of stuff like some kind of chef-tornado. Bucky had to swallow down his insistent fear that his time was up at BRDO. If they had a replacement saucier and a new recruit, maybe Bucky was expendable?

The other chefs had already begun snickering and joking about the similarities between Altman and the other beefy blonde at BRDO, but Bucky brushed them off. This kid wasn’t Steve, at all.

“Come on,” Bucky let the kid follow him. He led Teddy down to the wine cupboard, the pantry, and the freezers. He ran through the basics about storage and safety protocols, emphasizing the organization and cleanliness that was required.

“So if you’re the last one to use and finish the oregano, you gotta write it down here,” he tapped the clipboard that Romanov picked up every morning for inspection. “You do not wanna be the guy who didn’t put it on the list when Chef or Romanov go shopping.”

The kid, Teddy, nodded with wide, fluttery eyes. Jeez, was he strung out on Red Bull or something? He barely kept still at all.

“What if, if someone drops something? Like this?” Teddy indicated the glass container for the baking soda.

Bucky tapped the clipboard again. “Just put it on the list, then clean up the mess. Brooms and mop are over here, see? I know it’s weird, like, how much money will you get docked if you break shit, right? But honestly, you’d be in bigger trouble for not adding it to the list first. Don’t worry about the money, just worry about the ingredients. One time we ran out of jalapeños and Chef almost blew a blood vessel. Don’t get caught with your pants down.”

Teddy nodded. Bucky and him had to squeeze a little to get to the freezer. The kid was massive, all broad shoulders and thick arms, but he somehow had the gangliness of a teenager newly accustomed to his limbs.

“How old are you, kid?” Bucky asked.

“Uh, twenty-three in two months,” Teddy said.

Huh.

“So you just graduated from chef’s college?” Bucky asked genially while pointing out stuff to take note of.

The kid nodded, “Yeah. Four years and no actual restaurant experience. I bet it’s obvious.”

Bucky shrugged, “No skin off my back.”

It showed just how warped their positions were. Here was Bucky with no full schooling and years of restaurant experience, and this kid with four years of school and zero restaurants, and they both ended up at BRDO.

“How’d you get into the business anyhow?” Bucky asked.

“Uhm,” Teddy shifted, “Well, my whole family’s made of chefs. My mom and dad, they taught me how to cook as a kid. It’s kind of expected that I go culinary. Plus, it’s fun. Um, so after you graduate, the schools in the city usually get listings of summer positions available. I applied to a few places, mostly mid-range, and then, on a crazy whim, thought I’d apply here. I mean, Chef Hill is beyond famous, so I didn’t think I’d have any chance at all. Obviously you know this.” The kid actually blushed. “Uhm, and she interviewed a whole bunch of people. Like, at the school, all official and such. And then, weeks later, I got a call, well, my mom got it, but I got the job. Thought I’d died and gone to heaven.”

“Wow,” Bucky led them both out of the cramped hallway. “That’s cool.”

“Yeah, I thought I was a complete idiot at the interview, but what do I know.” Teddy followed.

Bucky smiled, “Hey, well, clearly idiots are welcome here.” He pointed at himself.

The guy blanched. Sheesh, too new for jokes. Okay, then.

“Hey, relax,” Bucky said gently. “Let’s take you to meet Clint and his vegetables.” He quirked his brows at Teddy playfully, but the kid just looked weirded out.

 


 

 

Over the course of the next few hours, Bucky showed Teddy the ropes. He introduced the kid to everyone and explained what was happening at each station. Teddy’s eyes were wide, taking it all in. When Bucky showed how he used the Ikejime way of butchering fish, it looked like he’d impressed more than just the newbie. Luke was impressed, for sure. So while Teddy asked rapid-fire questions, like when would he learn that, Luke had to settle him down a bit, explaining that not all chefs have the same skillserts, and that he’d get there, maybe.

Teddy knew a lot too, commenting easily on what Foster was whipping up, she herself willing to impart more wisdom his way. Much, much later, Bucky had to extricate them both from her exuberant conversation.

“Uh, she said a lot of stuff,” Teddy said that evening, when the two of them were hauling out the first of the trash bags. “Science-y stuff. Am I supposed to know that? Like the ratio of gluten to water to yeast in chemical structure?” He looked so nervous, it was kind of adorable.

Bucky chuckled, “Hell no. I don’t know what she was talking about either. One thing you gotta learn about kitchens is that they’re as diverse as any other workplace. You got the perfectionists, the jack-of-all-trades, the nerds, like Foster and Bruce, and the nobodies like you and me.” Though Bucky had a bit of a feeling that the kid was a little better than a nobody like him.

Teddy blinked at Bucky.

“I know you, though,” the blonde blurted. Then clearly wished he hadn’t spoken, going by the way he clapped his mouth shut.

Bucky looked at him. “Huh?”

“I mean, I mean,” the kid babbled for a moment. “Not, from, like, cooking circles, or anything. I mean, I wasn’t sure who you were when I met you. Everyone just calls you Barnes, right?”

Bucky nodded slowly. What the hell was this kid on? He was worse than Parker, and Parker made Bucky’s brain twitch.

“That is my name,” Bucky murmured sardonically.

“Uhm, yes,” Teddy said, “Uhm, but you’re Bucky Barnes, aren’t you? I mean, I only know of one Bucky Barnes, and you kinda fit the description.”

Bucky nodded warily. “Description?”

He knew it couldn’t be anything to do with cooking, or his life at BRDO, so what was this? Jeez, he barely knew the kid and already he was wary of him.

Teddy looked a little uncomfortable, in a completely new way.

“I, uh, I know of only one Bucky Barnes, and I know he cooked, but I didn’t figure who you were until that blonde guy from lunch said your name.”

“You mean Steve?”

Teddy nodded. “He’s nice.”

Bucky frowned, “Dude, out with it. What’s got you so riled up?”

“Okay look,” Teddy said, both hands coming up. “I wasn’t gonna mention this because I’d rather die, but now I’ve stepped in it and I can’t exactly back out.”

He took in a deep breath. He was silent a few moments longer. Bucky’s brows made their way higher up his forehead.

You-made-out-with-my-boyfriend. That’s how I know you.” Teddy blurted out quickly.

Bucky stood there in the following silence, trying to parse that information.

“Excuse me?” he said, voice calm, dark.

Teddy’s hands were twisting together nervously. “Billy, my boyfriend is Billy Kaplan.”

Bucky stared him down, his heartbeat a little thick, a little hard in his chest. “What? Who the hell is that?” he said.

“Okay, okay, wait, there’s a story here,” Teddy was obviously sensing the growing annoyance and tension in Bucky, so he took a step back. “You don’t know the whole story, I bet. Um, maybe not any of it, now I think about it. Damnit, way to go Altman.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Bucky bit out.

“Okay, so Billy and I, we were, like on a break, a few years back. Maybe not that long ago, but whatever, we were sort of not seeing each other. And, then, when we did get back together, he told me he’d had this, thing with this guy who was his classmate’s brother, or something.”

Becca,” Bucky breathed hoarsely. Oh. Hell. No. He had an idea where this was going. His breathing ratcheted up a notch.

“Except you don’t understand, me and Billy, we used to joke about having hall passes, or like, once in a lifetime opportunities. We get to say it if there’s, like, one person we’d get a free pass with, if they ever came along, we’d get to be with them, once, for fun. Because life is short. Like Jude Law. Jude Law is my free pass. And, um, even though we were on a break, he still told me about, about this, this guy at this party. And he talked about how you looked, how much older you were, how, um, nice you seemed to be. He said you were funny and dreamy. And then it was like he couldn’t possibly say no to this guy, with these grey-blue eyes and this dark hair and-” Teddy coughed. “I’m making you uncomfortable, aren’t I?”

Bucky’s eyes were sharp, wide, his jaw clenched.

“I am,” Teddy said gently. “Shoot. I’m sorry. This is unprofessional. This is bizarre. Crap. Billy always tells me I talk too much. I’m sorry, I have a tendency to babble.” The kid stepped from one foot to the other, unsure of how to undo what was done. “Shoot, shoot,” he hissed under his breath. Bucky was trying to parse this info, trying to unravel the weirdness of how small his world really was, if everyone he came into contact with was either connected by his family, his job and his hidden proclivities.

The back door to the kitchen opened up, casting light onto the two men.

Teddy turned, startled.

“There you are!” came Steve’s exasperated voice. Bucky felt a warm rush fall over him. Steve bounded down the back steps and over to the two of them. “Buck, I’ve been looking for you. Chef says we can roll out, been here over ten hours. Hi, it’s Teddy, right? How was day three? All good? Hope this joker wasn’t messing you around too much.”

Steve was so amiable, so smiley, it made the awkward silence seem like some surreal joke.

Teddy was flapping his jaw, unsure what to say. His eyes flicked back to Bucky.

“What’s up, guys?’ Steve asked quizzically. “What’d I miss?”

Looking at the two of them, Bucky was again reassured that the new kid looked nothing like Steve, was nothing like Steve. Sure, they were both big and blonde and dorky, but that’s where the similarities ended. Altman was tan, for one thing. Steve could barely muster a freckle on a good day. And Steve had this sense of ease, of calm that Altman was basically devoid of. And Steve’s hair was cut short and tight, and his face was open and smiling, whereas Teddy’s hair was longer, rougher and his face just radiated anxious nerves.  Teddy was way more like Parker, and Bucky knew he’d never in a million years want to be with Parker the way he wants to be with Steve.

“Wait, I’m not done with you,” Bucky said sharply, when Teddy made a move to eke his way back to the door.

The kid stopped and glanced at Steve, then Bucky.

“Seriously,” Bucky said. To hell with propriety and what Steve might think. Bucky’s brain was playing fast and loose, piecing together what he did know.

“What’s happening?” Steve queried with a frown. That adorable little fold appeared between his eyebrows; The fold that Bucky always wanted to press his thumb against.

“Teddy here was just telling me that I made out with, get this, his boyfriend.” Bucky said, thinking, to hell with it! He was done hopping around this subject.

Teddy flushed scarlet.

“I’m sorry,” he blurted. “I shouldn’t have said anything! It’s my first week! I’m an idiot!” God, he really was like Parker.

Steve blinked and his mouth fell open. Maybe it was the revelation, or maybe it was Bucky being open about this stuff for once. Enough with faking it. Bucky was tired.

“Says his name’s Billy, the boyfriend,” Bucky jutted his chin out. Steve’s mouth made a little ‘o’ sound.

Ah, realization knocking at the door. “Right, Stevie? I believe you might have more info on this than me, unfortunately.”

Teddy looked so puzzled, his eyes almost crossed. “What is happening?” he asked.

“Shucks, buddy,” Steve chuckled, “What a weird coincidence. I think I’ve met your Billy, then. Ye high,” he lifted his flat palm up, about as high as his nose. “Dark hair? Kinda skinny? Wears a lot of plaid?”

Teddy blinked, then nodded slowly.

“Yeah,” Steve nodded. “Might be true, then.”

“Okay?” Teddy answered, unsure. “I’m sorry…what’s happening here?”

Bucky laughed then, completely, bizarrely thrown off by the whole evening’s weirdness. “Dude, I don’t remember your Billy. Well, vaguely I do. But not the act.  Sorry to disappoint.”

Steve nodded beside him, “Maybe I can help clear that up. If it’s the same party, Becca’s party. So Bucky here was a little bit more than two sheets to the wind that night, if I recall correctly.”

“Oh,” Teddy flushed. “Okay.”

The idiocy of this entire conversation was clear to all three men. Peyote might have made this more believable.

“Why’d you even bring this up?” Steve asked with a frown. “Pretty weird for a newbie’s first day.”

Teddy covered his face with his big hands. “I’m sorry,” he said again. “I didn’t think. It’s just, well, you had such a profound effect on Billy. And he’s my boyfriend. He talked about you all the time, in great detail. You’re like, a banner moment in his life, and subsequently mine.” He lowered his hands. “It’s just a little surreal to meet the guy who kind of blew my boyfriend’s mind, and who maybe, kind of, is something of a chip on my shoulder.”

Steve looked between Teddy and Bucky. Then he grinned so wide, it was like the sunset.

“Oh-ho!” he crowed. “This is so not new to me,” he said with a laugh, tapping Teddy on the shoulder. “Pal, buddy, champ, I’ve been hearing this shit for years. Years, I tell you.”

“Oh, shut the fuck up,” Bucky groused. He shoved Steve.

Steve laughed. “See, Bucky here, he’s had his way with more than a few ladies over the years. Changes lives, this man. Now I’m hearing it about guys? Classic Barnes.”

Bucky was blushing now, folding his arms tightly.

Teddy was blinking owlishly. “So… so this is normal? I don’t have to be jealous of him?”

Steve laughed, “Oh, no, not at all. He has this effect on everyone. Billy will be fine. Bucky, unfortunately, doesn’t remember him, but don’t tell Billy that, okay?”

And then Teddy smiled. He looked about sixteen years old.

“That’s the best news I’ve had since I realized who you were,” he blinked at Bucky.

Bucky groaned and covered his face with his palm.

“It’s that Barnes charm again,” Steve tutted. “It gets to a lot of people,” he went on. “Your poor boyfriend, probably didn’t even see it coming.”

 


 

 

“You know, you didn’t have to chime in,” Bucky groused, back on the sofa in their apartment.

“Oh yes I did,” Steve said from somewhere behind. “I’ve had to hear that stuff all my life. ‘Bout time you actually start to feel embarrassed about it.”

Bucky groaned into the sofa cushion.

“’S fuckin’ typical,” he mumbled.

“Yep,” Steve came round and nudged at Bucky’s knee. Bucky curled over onto his back and lifted his legs. Steve sat down and Bucky put his legs on Steve’s thighs. “Hey,” Steve whined, hovering his cereal bowl in the air.

“That’s, like, your third dinner,” Bucky said.

Steve carefully balanced his bowl on Bucky’s shin.

“I’m a growing boy,” he murmured. Then he eyed Bucky with a smirk. “And you’ve been giving our newbie chef stress dreams about his boyfriend running away with you.” He looked way too pleased with himself.

“Shut. Up,” Bucky bit out.

Steve snickered and slurped back some cereal. God, but he could put it away.

Bucky fiddled with the laptop, pulling it closer on the coffee table.

“Stupid kids and their stupid boyfriends,” Bucky grumbled mostly to himself.

Steve chewed quietly, watching while Bucky activated Netflix, screens flipping back and forth as he considered their options. It was late, but they could spare an hour before bed.

He was struggling to find something good.

“Is it very different, being with a guy?” Steve asked.

Bucky’s fingers paused. He was twisted awkwardly on the sofa. He fell back and eyed Steve.

“What?”

Steve chewed slowly, eyes on Bucky, unwavering.

He swallowed.

“Well, you know, with a man. Is it kinda the same? making out and stuff?” Steve slurped up the last of his meal, leaning forward to slide the bowl onto the coffee table.

Bucky raised a brow at the question. “Um, how experienced do you think I am?” he asked.

Steve shrugged and sat back. “I dunno. Handjobs? Anal sex?”

Bucky felt like he was in some kind of twilight zone. He couldn’t believe Steven Grant Rogers just used the words ‘anal sex’ in front of him.

“C’mon, you used to always go into way more detail with your previous girlfriends. I know so much more than I ever needed to know about your sex life. And what, guys don’t get the same treatment?” Steve went on.

Bucky tried his best not to get all uncomfortable and weird. He was going to have to learn to own this part of his life, this part that he’d refused to look into for so long; The odd, unplanned evenings behind bars and on walks home, and in drunken stupors at parties.

“Uh,” he began slowly, “Well, it’s not like I ever dated a guy or anything.”

Steve nodded, “Figured. I would have noticed.”

Bucky sighed and sat up, laptop now in his lap. He jammed his toes under Steve’s thigh.

“Um, so, well. I guess it’s kinda the same, kissing. And stuff.”

Steve waited.

Bucky shifted. “What? That’s what you asked, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Steve said. He was looking into the middle distance, clearly considering what Bucky said.

“Except guys have, like, stubble,” Bucky murmured.

Steve blinked, “Oh yeah.” He tried to imagine Sharon kissing him, her face covered in five o’clock shadow and that just sounded ridiculous. He glanced up. Bucky had stubble. He was more prone to a soft shadow along his jaw and lips these days, shaving only every other day. He recalled seeing one of Bucky’s dates, back in high school. She’d come out from under the bleachers, Bucky dragging behind her, but she had this weird pink burn to the areas around her lips. It took Steve a while to recognize beard-burn for what it was. Steve himself barely needed to shave at all, the downside to his body’s lack of energy and belated puberty.

Honestly, Steve wasn’t new to the idea of wondering what kissing men was like. His fourteen year-old self had been very goggle-eyed at the thought. Same features, really: lips, tongues, hands. It was all probably much of a muchness.

“Typical Barnes though,” Steve sighed, sliding down in his seat.

“What do you mean?” Bucky was distracted by the laptop.

“Typical that you get to be such a fan favourite that you end up sharing yourself with more than one gender. It’s like there’s so much more of you to love, you know?”

Bucky paused and looked up at his best friend.

“Steve Rogers, that’s the nicest way anyone’s ever explained bisexuality to me. Thanks, pal.”

There was that word. Steve smiled.

“No problem, kiddo,” he smiled back and patted Bucky’s ankle.

“Though, to be fair,” Steve went on, “It could be double the fun, or maybe double the rejection. What do you think?” He turned to Bucky, who was smiling that wily smirk of his.

“I’ve yet to have anyone turn me down, Rogers,” Bucky said with a foxy grin and a raised brow.

“Oh my god, I take it back, you egomaniac,” and he promptly shoved Bucky’s feet off the sofa, making the Barnes yelp in surprise.

 


 

Watchmen was on. The two of them should have been to bed by now but neither was moving. This was one of Steve’s favourites, so it wasn’t exactly new to Bucky.

Steve and him were upright, dozing slightly, Steve’s head almost, almost lolling onto Bucky’s shoulder, so Bucky resolutely stayed in place, just in case.

Bucky’s mind was elsewhere, thinking about how fast his life could change. How he’d realized both he and his sister were swinging wildly in both directions. How many people in his life overlapped and how they revealed more of himself to the people he spent his days with.

He thought of Steve and Sharon, and he thought of poor Teddy and Billy, the young dorks in love.

What was Bucky supposed to do anymore, if fate just kept twisting his life around? How could he control his own fate? How were he and Steve going to get themselves out of their rut, their repetitive and unending life cycles?

Sometimes he thought about this too much and it got him bent out of shape.

Steve shifted beside him. Bucky blinked and looked over subtly.

Steve’s eyes were focused on the screen, but he was chewing his lip ’til it was wet and pink, even in the dim light from the TV.

Steve’s hand had shifted at some point, coming to rest on Bucky’s knee. His fingers were scratching the denim on his jeans slowly, idly, as if Steve was unaware.

Bucky loved the way the TV reflected off Steve’s wide eyes.

For a such a blonde, hairless dude, Steve had a set of eyelashes the fashion houses would kill for. They were thick and long, lining both eyelids, top and bottom and they really accentuated his blue irises.

Steve’s fingers kept scratching slowly, not really in any kind of rhythm.

Bucky could feel the thrum of the movie’s soundtrack. He blinked and looked up. God, it had been a while since he’d watched this movie. He tried to gauge the scene.

Oh, right.

He remembers the first time they’d seen it in the theatre; him, Becca and Steve. Lord, they had joked about how their mothers would have flayed them alive.

Because even if there were tons of memorable scenes in this movie, the one memory that had clearly stuck with Bucky had been the sex scene between Silk Spectre and Nite Owl.  Bucky was never really interested in sex scenes in movies. They were always so bizarre and unrealistic that it rarely had much impact past his fourteen year-old self and his then raging hormones.

But this sex scene, hoo-boy.

They’d all talked about it after. About how completely weird of a scene it set, but how hot it had felt, and to this day none of them had figured out why.

Watching it now, Bucky was rudely reminded how very little sex he’d had the last few months.

Maybe it was the music and sound effects. Maybe it was the implausible owl-ship thing. Maybe it was the friggin’ superhero getups. Whatever it was, Bucky could feel his dick stirring anyway, heedless of proximity to another human being.

Steve shifted in his seat and Bucky glanced over.

“You okay?” Bucky asked gently.

Steve just grunted and nodded.

“Getting a little hot and bothered?” Bucky smiled.

And holy hell, Steve actually nodded and then proceeded to pull his hand off Bucky’s knee and press it to his own crotch, clearly staving off what was probably a sizeable boner.

Bucky swallowed drily. Fuck. He shifted himself, his own dick suddenly very much interested.

“I always forget about this part,” Steve murmured, putting his hand back on Bucky’s knee, like it was nothing. Like he hadn’t just had to squeeze himself to calm his dick down.

Jesus christ on a cracker, Bucky wasn’t made of iron, but he soldiered on. He had no idea what else went on in the movie, only that it would be really impolite to run out of the room and slam his bedroom door behind him.

 


 

Steve woke fitfully from a night of incomplete sleep.

He was foggy-headed and his neck hurt and whatever had been bothering him all night was doing its damn best to ruin his morning already.

He grabbed his phone and glared at the time.

“Fuck,” he muttered, getting himself upright.

He ambled his way to the shower, first stopping off to check on Bucky.

His roommate was sprawled across his bed, covers half on the floor.

Steve smiled, leaning against the doorframe.

Bucky looked so adorable like this, his face smushed into his pillow, one foot hanging off the bed.

His t-shirt had ridden up in the night, exposing a length of smooth tan skin that the summer always awarded Bucky, and a well-rounded ass in blue boxers.

Steve pretended to himself that staring wasn’t weird if it was your best friend. He frowned at the drop in his gut when he imagined running his hands over Bucky’s leg, ass and back, like he would be able to do if it was Sharon.

But Bucky wasn’t Sharon, and Steve’s thoughts were too prickly to observe fairly.

He turned and headed into the bathroom.

Under the stream of warm water, he tried to unthink those things, but it was hard. Namely because his dick was begging for attention, and when he got like this, his thoughts always fell down into the gutter.

Bucky had always been so handsome, it was unfair. At least that’s what he’d told himself. Petty jealousy and a pair of working eyes was all Steve had needed.

But now he thought more on what Natasha and Sam had said. They’d pushed an idea into Steve’s head, an annoying, frustratingly untrue idea that in some world, some alternate universe, he and Bucky could be a couple, could be intimate in ways they’d never, ever been before.

At first, it was jarring and unfamiliar and unkind.

But then he’d thought about it, let his mind wander.

Sure, he still wasn’t exactly speaking to Natasha at the moment. Sam had apologized profusely, but Steve wasn’t sure if he was angry that they’d poked their noses into someplace unwarranted, of if he was angry because now his dick perked up at the mention of anything remotely sexual around Bucky. Like that stupid movie from last night. God, Steve always forgot about the sex scene. And he’d even pondered the feeling of that scene, wandered, for a moment, if it made Bucky see things, consider things. Like would it be Silk Spectre or Nite Owl that would ideally pique his interest? Was Nite Owl even attractive? Because Spectre sure as hell was. Would Bucky watch something like that and just enjoy it all? Would he ever want partners like that? Had he ever had a man and a woman at the same time?

Because if anything, Steve would bet a million bucks that Bucky was great in bed. He had so many partners to corroborate that, that Steve was certain of it.

He gently bumped his forehead against the tile wall a few times.

“Damnit, Rogers,” he huffed, water streaming over his face and lips.

His right hand had snuck down and was gently coaxing his dick to full hardness.

“Really?” he berated himself, imagining, not for the first time, a wet and naked Bucky beside him in their cramped bathtub-shower. Steve hadn’t gone much further in his dreams, but just the idea … a naked Bucky, all soaped up? Well. Bucky did have an amazing physique. He had really nice, thick legs and a strongly built torso. He always made fun of Steve's pecs, but he also had a good pair...

His hand moved a little faster, gently pulling at his overheated skin, tugging a couple grunts out of him. Steve pressed his arm to the wall, then his forehead to his arm so he could look down at his spread legs and his hand working its magic.

He pumped himself slowly, letting those thoughts in. He thought of the way Bucky’s arms bunched when he tied up his hair for work. He recalled the way Bucky would lick the peanut butter spoon clean, his pink tongue thick and wet and – 

Imagine that on you, he thought to himself.

“Fuck,” Steve grunted, watching his dick slip and slide between his fingers. He imagined Bucky’s broad, tan hands sliding over his hips, cupping his ass, his lips at Steve’s nape.

God, even just imagining Bucky standing here with him, hair plastered back with water, eyes wide and pale blue, water dripping over his collarbones, his nipples–

Steve bit his lip when his orgasm just barrelled through him sharply, so quick it caught him by surprise.

“Ungh,” he swallowed his grunt, his hips twitching.  His come dribbled over his hand, washing away with the water.  Gently, Steve released himself, buzzing from his hair to his toes. He felt so alive.

Then he bumped his head against the tiles again in frustration.

“What the hell, Rogers?” he whined softly.

Chapter Text

Another week went by and the day, this day, was finally upon him.

“Hey, all good, right?” Steve murmured, hand on Bucky’s back as they stared up at BRDO.

“This might be it, though,” Bucky said, noticing how dark and stormy the sky was looking.

“Oh, don’t think that way, Buck,” Steve said. “It’s just your three month review. Everyone gets one. Chef’ll just sit you down and explain how awesome you are and how talented you are and then you’ll be full-time and everything!”

Bucky chewed on his bottom lip. “Or, she’s gonna say it was fun and all, but I’m just not good enough, and she needs a trained, proper chef in her kitchen. Someone with skill and experience and a degree and–“

“Stop it,” Steve was firm, coming to stand right in Bucky’s face to glare him down. “Stop talking like that. You’ll be fine. Just get through this day, this normal workday, and then you can meet with her and everything’ll be a-ok. Got it?”

Bucky was still chewing his lip. “Okay,” he murmured quietly in the sheer face of Steve’s goodwill.

“Atta boy,” Steve clapped him on the shoulder.

 


 

 

“Now if you bring over the garlic, I’ll show you how to roast it the way my mother taught me,” Chef was saying.

Bucky went in search of the herbs and stuff she’d asked for.

He couldn’t shake his nerves though. Everything he did felt like it might be the last time he did it; Last time he counted out the eggs for Bruce. The last time he unpacked the industrial dishwasher, the last time he used his knife in his mise. The last time he got to hear Jack and America snipe back and forth about inane bullshit. This could really be it. He was sad and anxious and bent out of shape.

He was back beside Chef with a metal bowl.

She glanced over, paused, and then eyed him. “What’s that?” she asked pointedly.

Bucky blinked, “You asked for garlic?”

“That’s diced, Barnes. Whole garlic. We roast it whole.”

“Oh, okay, sorry,” he stammered and hurried back to the pantry. Idiot, he chastised himself. Of course she’d want it whole! Duh! He scrambled to pick up fresh garlic, almost dropping them in his tizzy.

As he hastened rounded the doorway out of the storage hallway, he didn’t realize Wanda was right there.

She gave a yelp and stumbled back, burdened with a massive tray of pre-rolled croissant dough in individual wrappings.

“Shit!” Bucky reached out and tried to help her, but he wasn’t quite quick enough. Wanda slipped, her tray crashing to the floor with an earth-shattering clang. Lumps of dough hit the wall and floor and a few rolled back into the kitchen, unraveling as they went, sticking to the floor like sticky miniature hay bales.

“Oh my god, are you okay?” Bucky bent down to help Wanda up.

“Holy hell, Barnes, watch it!” someone’s voice cried above the raucous.

Bruce appeared, also bending to assist Wanda.

“I’m okay,” she huffed, getting to her feet. She turned and looked over the carnage, all her hours of work laying splattered and stuck to the floor and table legs. Her face pretty much said it all. Bummer.

“I’m so sorry,” Bucky said earnestly. “I should have been paying attention. Shit.” He had one hand in his hair, eyes wide.

Bruce sighed and rubbed a hand down his own face. He looked at Wanda. “You, uh, want to take a break?”

She rubbed at her brow, clearly trying to not lose it, when Chef suddenly appeared, brows almost in her hairline.

“Barnes,” she said abruptly, and Bucky flushed.

“Yes, Chef,” he said sharply.

“Clean this mess up,” she said, eyes flicking to Wanda. “Maximoff, you okay? Anything hurt?”

“No, no,” Wanda sighed. She eyed her dough again forlornly. “I have to start over, don’t I?”

Chef made a face, “Yeah, sorry, kid.”

Bucky was already bending down, trying to grab at the first few handfuls of dough that had clumped beside the door.

“Barnes,” Chef said and he stood up straight. “My garlic?” her face was impassive, unimpressed and Bucky felt like a scolded child. He reached into his apron pocket and pulled out the handful of fresh garlic. “Here you go, Chef,” he murmured, looking away quickly.

He heard her sigh, then disappear back into the kitchen, leaving him to clean up the mess he’d made.

 


 

Bucky was trying his best to lay low. He’d already helped Wanda redo her croissant dough, which took forever, but he’d also missed out on the new menu item Chef had been training him for. In his place, Teddy stood at attention, all eyes on Chef for most of the day.

Then Bucky was gutting chicken and prepping fish, all the while trying to ignore America and Jack’s weird looks.

He’d annoyed a couple other chefs when he’d been cleaning up, the mop making the floor slippery and his inability to shrink himself smaller getting in the way. Then it was onto meringues, the most hated gig in the kitchen. With Bruce making use of the mixer, the egg whites and sugar had to be mixed by hand. And sure, Bucky was strong, but not strong enough to keep whipping eggs until his wrist and elbow almost fell off. He was conscious of the fact that it was also Friday which meant someone was going to have to prep the egg yolks for the créme brûlée slated for the weekend menu.

Then, at around four PM, he witnessed something he’d never hoped to ever see: Chef beyond angry, so pissed she was practically spitting.

“I’ve had enough of this,” Chef’s voice carried in from the entrance to the dining room. Footsteps and voices, rustling, and then Steve appeared, Romanov right behind him. Both of them were fuming, Steve almost red in the face. They were clearly both being hustled along against their will.

“Oh shit,” America whispered and got out of the way just as Chef barrelled in after them.

“Outside, now,” she snapped, and everyone in the kitchen moved, squeezed aside, giving Steve and Romanov space to shuffle towards the back door.

“Such unprofessional behaviour,” Chef hissed, whipping her hand towel over her shoulder. “You two should be goddamn ashamed. And in front of customers!”

She turned to the kitchen and barked, “Did I say you could stop and stare?”

“No, Chef!” everyone answered, spinning back to their work.

Chef slammed the back door behind her.

“Whaaaaaaat?” America whispered, eyes wide. Jack made a face.

“Holy moly,” someone else muttered. The whispering started up in earnest.

Bucky was still staring at the back door. Wanda and Bruce, closest to the window, were both staring outside, with front row seats to whatever was happening.

“Is that Chef losing her mind?” Jack leaned in, trying to see past Bucky.

“Yes,” America hissed. Because they could all hear it. Chef was going off and apparently nothing was going to stop her.

“What did your boy do?” America asked quizzically.

Bucky frowned, “How would I know?”

“Hey, get back to your stations,” Luke said sternly, though his knife hand was paused.

Wanda,” America hissed, “What’s happening?”

Wanda turned and shrugged.

“Hey, everyone?” Bruce turned and pushed his glasses up his nose, “Don’t stare. None of your business.” Though he’d of course just gotten an eyeful.

“Oh!” America dropped her spoon into whatever bowl she was working from and hustled over to Wanda’s side. “Look at Chef go! Aye! What happened? Holy! Rogers can’t talk back to that!”

And that seemed to make everyone drop what they were doing and squeeze over to see outside.

“She is reaming them!” another cook said, in awe.

“Oh man, Rogers looks like he’s going to go off like a firecracker!”

“Eh, Romanov’s not looking too hot either. You ever see anyone yell at her before?”

Bucky was just as curious, but because of the shit he’d already gotten into, decided to stay at his mise, just in case.

What did you do now, Steve? He thought worriedly.

“Hey,” a soft voice made Bucky look up.

“Wilson,” Bucky said, surprised.

“Is Chef chewing them up?” Sam asked, coming into the kitchen, Parker right behind him. The younger server was walking on tip-toes, not sure enough to go further, but clearly dying to see what was happening outside.

Bucky shrugged, “I guess.”

And then America was suddenly in Sam’s face. “Hey, what happened? Dish.” She looked inspired, gleeful, even.

Sam put up both hands, “Man It’s not my business.”

“Did you see what pissed Chef off?” Jack said, squeezing past Bucky to resettle in his own mise, which was conveniently right beside Wilson.

Sam sighed and shook his head. “Not too sure. All I know is that Nat and Steve haven’t been speaking to each other,” he glanced quickly at Bucky, “-uh, they’ve been acting all passive-aggressive, or something.”

“Why?” Jack asked what everyone was thinking.

Sam shook his head in answer.

“Steve was really angry about something,” Parker piped up. Sam actually gave the kid a sharp look, which made Parker wilt.

“Yeah?” America leaned in. “And?”

Parker shrugged, “I-I dunno. Just that they’ve been kinda snippy lately. Not sure why. Not like Steve or the boss tells me stuff.” Bucky wondered if Parker hoped that one day Steve would confide in him, like they could be bros some day.

“And so Chef blew up?” Jack pushed.

“She looked scary,” Teddy said softly.

Sam sighed, “Steve was giving Natasha attitude. Chef overheard and she flipped out. She hates it when staff talks like that in front of patrons. Says it’s not how we do it here. She was super pissed at Natasha for responding the way she did. Nat’s too high up to behave that way. She should have reeled it in.”

Bucky glanced back over at the window. Wanda was on her tiptoes, watching whatever was unfolding.

Fuck.

Steve was such a hothead, Bucky wasn’t surprised that this could happen. But it was very unlike Steve to misbehave in front of patrons. He took his job very seriously, as he had to represent the restaurant properly.

People near the window suddenly scattered.

The back door opened abruptly with a clatter and Chef stood there, clearly red in the face from yelling herself hoarse. Her hair was damp. So it was raining.

“Why are none of you working?” she barked, and everyone hustled back to their stations, pretending to not notice how angry she looked before she stormed up the stairway to her office.

 


 

At midnight, Bucky was done cleaning up. He’d dressed back in his street clothes, his chef’s whites folded neatly in his hands. He felt sick to his stomach.

The remainder of the day hadn’t gone as easily as he’d hoped. With Chef in such a shitty mood, she wasn’t exactly pleasant to be around. Bucky got barked at more than once for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Luke said it was getting to everyone, but Bucky wasn’t so sure. Chef was pretty annoyed with him. She probably had a good reason to be.

So here he was, at the end of the day, staring at the door to her office.

Romanov had snapped at him, saying what time Chef expected to see him. She hadn’t exactly been pleasant all day, either, clearly unhappy with the way she’d been treated by the boss.

Idly Bucky had wondered what caused Romanov to get in so much trouble. The answer, as always, would be Steve, of course. It was almost impressive, the way Steve could drag people into fistfights and shitstorms.

Well, he thought to himself. Get this over with.

He knocked on the door and waited for the inevitable “Come in.”

Chef was behind her desk, laptop open. She tapped away at the keyboard, then she looked up.

“Barnes, please, sit.”

So he did, carefully, awkwardly, reminded vividly of his first time in here; When she’d called him out on Steve’s white lies and misrepresentation. And then promptly told him that he wasn’t meant to work at BRDO.

Bucky wiped a hand over his hair, feeling far too big for the stupid chair he was sitting in.

His leg jostled under the table.

“Okay,” Chef said with finality and closed her laptop with a snap. “So what’re we here for?”

Bucky breathed, “Uhm, my three month review.”

Chef nodded, “Right.” She wasn’t smiling.

Bucky swallowed. He waited.

Chef eyed him carefully before pulling open a folder, pushing her laptop aside. She opened up the folder and made a quick perusal of whatever documents she’d kept on Bucky. His shitty resumé, his offer letter.

“So, basically,” she began, “the way this works is that I ascertain your progress and whether or not you get to stay on here at BRDO.”

Bucky nodded.

Fuck, he was totally getting fired. It made sense, really. Every day he worked was money they could be giving to some other, more worthy chef. Maybe that’s why Foster and Altman were here. He’d already been unnecessary and they’d needed replacements ASAP.

After all, BRDO was high-end, and Bucky was, well, more Chinatown Dumpling House than Uniquely Exquisite European Fare.

His hands were wringing at the whites in his lap. This always sucked. He’d lost a couple jobs before. Nothing as special as this, but in the end that’s all they were: jobs. Fuck, he’d have to look for work again.

“Barnes?” Chef’s voice drifted back in. “Hey, are you there?”

Bucky blinked. Shit, he hadn’t been paying attention.

“Uh, yeah, yes. I’m listening.”

Chef’s lips twisted to the side in exasperation. Bucky felt like he was too familiar with that look. He really was a waste of time. She was just too nice, or too professional, to do this earlier. Hell, he was lucky to have worked on anything here at all.

“So what did I just say?” Chef asked sardonically.

Bucky swallowed, “Um, that it’s been nice working with me, but I’m just not what this restaurant needs?”

Chef blinked.

“What?”

Bucky nodded quickly, thinking it was best to just get it over with. “I-I mean, I understand. I do. I know it was a big risk hiring me. I messed up a lot. I don’t know enough. I get that, I do. So, I mean, if this is it, I just want to say that it has been a real pleasure. Working here has been amazing. I’ve-I’ve learnt a lot,” he chuckled awkwardly, looking at his hands in his lap. “I know it doesn’t look that way, because I’m a fuck–uh, stupid mess all the time.” he looked up. “But I did learn. And, well, that’s something.” His voice petered out at the end because damnit, this still sucked. He swallowed back his disappointment. “I’m sorry I messed up today. I ruined Wanda’s freakin’ dough. I almost set off the sprinkler alarms. I clearly don’t know what I’m doing, and well, yeah. I understand why it’s not gonna work out for me here, is where I’m going with this. I wouldn’t hold it against you.”

He finally breathed, head still down, unsure how to round out this awful meeting. How do you say good-bye to your dream job and not just burst into flames from the unrelenting feeling of rejection at the same time?

Chef tapped her finger against the table top.

Then, inexplicably, she barked out a laugh.

Bucky looked up, surprised.

She was smiling at him, all her teeth showing. “Oh Lord,” She sighed, “You and Rogers. I swear, like two peas in a goddamn pod.”

Bucky blinked. “Huh?” he said.

Chef leaned her elbows on the desk. “You know, one time, round about the six-month mark, Rogers came in here all a bluster, yelling about how he was unfit to work here, how he was sorry to have wasted my time and how grateful he was for the few months he’d had in my excellent company.”

She continued smiling. “And he said this all while pacing angrily up and down here, like a raging tiger. He was still a sprout of a thing back then, not the hulking dude he is now. And it was as idiotic then as this is now.”

Bucky just blinked at her. He’d never heard Steve mention that. As far as Bucky’s known, Steve hadn’t ever dreamt of leaving BRDO.

“And he did it two more times,” Chef said irately, holding up two fingers. “Because he’s a drama queen with a short fuse and too much damn integrity.”

Bucky frowned, “Yeah, he’s an idiot. Trust me, I know. But this ain’t the sa–“

“If you’re going to tell me this isn’t the same, I’m gonna reach over there and throttle you,” she said calmly, and leaned back in her seat. “Listen, Barnes.”

She paused, seemed to think, then went on.

“I’m not letting you go. Don’t know why you’d think I would. I said I was going to mentor you, didn’t I?”

Bucky swallowed, “Yeah?”

“And at what point did I say your mentoring was done?” She raised both brows. “I didn’t. Exactly. This meeting, in case you forgot, is your three month review. I was going to go over all the details and such, but it’s been a shitty long day and I’m not in the mood. So just hear this,” She sighed audibly, heavily. “You’re not going anywhere. I’ve watched you work. I pay attention, okay? It’s my job. Just like I know Chavez and Jack are acting like idiots every time I turn my back, I also know that you’re a good student. You listen, better than most, if I’m honest. You clearly are doing your best, you’re good and you pay attention. I’m not firing you, okay? You’re safe. You’re getting better. I want to see you get better.”

She sighed again. “And this martyr attitude? It gets real old real fast.”

Bucky flushed, a little in shock. “I’m not–“ he began but she cut him off.

Shut up. This self-sacrificing bullshit may work on Rogers, but it doesn’t on me. Own your shit, Barnes. You’re a talented chef. I say you are, so you are. I bet one day you’ll be one of the greats. Who knows? The minute you stop doubting yourself, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Own it. Be the chef you want to be. I’m going to keep busting your ass and whipping you into shape because that’s what this job needs. I need you to believe in your skills, okay? I see it. You should too.”

She eyed the fabric in his hands. “And make sure you wash that jacket. You’ll need it tomorrow.”

Bucky just blinked, mouth flapping.

“Yes, Chef,” he answered, voice hoarse.

Chapter Text

It was pouring, the rain having kicked it up a notch. A familiar blue muscle car was rumbling on the street outside. Bucky waved at Jessica and Luke before they drove off.

“Must be nice,” he murmured, still waiting for Steve to get his ass in gear. Bucky was practically bouncing, his energy through the roof.

Steve appeared, ruffled, and yanking at his hood that was trapped at his neck. Bucky waved him over and pulled out the offending scrap of fabric.

“Thanks,” Steve said, pulling the bright blue hood over his ginormous head. He slung his bag strap over his shoulder.  “Ready?” 

“Yup,” Bucky answered, and the two of them headed out into the night.

“Holy crap,” Steve huffed out a laugh, “It is seriously coming down.”

It was the kind of rain where you have to speak up, almost yell, because the noise of water slamming into everything was like its own resounding thunder.

Bucky’s hood was only just getting the job done.

A couple squeezed by under a massive yellow umbrella.

“One day we’ll have an umbrella,” Steve chortled, looking over at Bucky.

Bucky snorted. This was one of their old jokes, the idea of owning umbrellas. The way they heard it and they way they’d grown up, it was commonly said: only rich folks get umbrellas. Poor folks get raincoats.

“So, uh,” Steve said, jamming his hands into his raincoat pockets. “I heard the news.”

Bucky actually had to hold back his smile. He ducked his head, nodding. “Yeah. Yeah, all good.”

Steve was beaming at him and it made Bucky smile back for real.

“See?” Steve said, “Chef loves you. You’re too awesome to let go!”

Bucky snorted, “Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but she, uh, she had some good things to say.” Bucky tugged at his coat hood, so it covered him more. The water was pelting down in bucketfuls and his shoes were already soaked. “Honestly, I thought I was done, Steve. I really messed up today. Made a lot of shit mistakes.”

Steve loped along beside him. “That’s okay, though,” he murmured. “We all make mistakes. The other day? I put a bottle of gin back without putting the cap on. Thought it had a stopper spout. So it was just lying there, pouring extra fine gin all over the bar top until Sam noticed and had to clean it up. Dumb, rookie mistake, but it happens.”

Hah,” Bucky nodded. They waited for the traffic light, cars sloshing past. Bucky shook his arms, loosing the water that had dribbled into his cuffs. “Fuck, my jeans,” he uttered, looking at his feet.

“Yeah, same,” Steve said, lifting one foot. Both of them had soaking wet legs. “Gonna be great to get home and dry these out.”

“My socks are squishy,” Bucky added, moving from foot to foot.

“Yep, two for two,” Steve laughed.

The traffic light flashed and they moved on, careful in the darkness.

“Hey,” Bucky said, “What happened with you today?”

He couldn’t see Steve’s face due to the hood.

Steve just shrugged.

Bucky looked at him properly. “Seriously, dude. Chef almost tore you and Romanov a new one. What happened? Did you flip off a customer or something?”

Steve sighed and looked up, heedless of the water streaming over his face.

“No,” Steve said. “It was something between me and Nat. I didn’t want to bug you with it.”

Bucky nudged his friend. “Well, you can bug me anytime, especially if it gets you into shit. Can’t back you up if I don’t know the situation.”

Steve shook his head. “It - it was something she did. We’ve– we haven’t been on good speaking terms lately.”

Bucky pursed his lips. “Okay, but you know she’s your boss, right? You don’t really wanna get into a fight with the person signing off your time sheets.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Steve huffed. “See, normally, I would agree, but this is different. This was on a friend level. What she told me, what she said, she said as a friend, not a boss. Sam already apologized, but she won’t. She thinks it's, like, not an issue.”

Steve hunched his shoulders.

Bucky blinked over at his friend, noting the way water dripped off Steve’s nose. They were both going to be fully drenched when they got home.

“Okay, so what did she say? It’s obviously eating you up if you got that mad at her.”

Steve chewed his lip.

“Well, it was about you as well. And I don’t think she has any right to say shit about you. You’re my friend, not hers.” Steve said this with ferocity.

Bucky’s brows shot up. “Oh, well now I really need to know. What? She doesn’t like me?” He sighed, “Eh, it happens. You know that.”

Steve scowled and glanced over. “No, you dingus. It’s not that. It’s–“ he seemed to swallow his words, frustrated or annoyed, Bucky wasn’t sure.

“Okay,” Steve breathed out. “So here’s the deal. It was at her birthday, right? She and Sam were joking around, I thought.” he seemed to search for a word. “See, Nat’s different. She’s got this way about her, like she can read people. But I don’t think that’s wholly true. Just because you see something doesn’t mean it’s true. And pushing your opinion on others, it’s not always okay, or welcome.”

Bucky was just watching Steve, confused.

Steve suddenly took larger steps, propelling himself further. He spun and began walking backwards in front of Bucky. “It’s, it’s just dumb. I mean–“ he began flapping his hands while he talked, really getting into it. “She’s got her head all wrong. She thinks that the way we are, you and me, she thinks it should be more. She doesn’t get us. She never grew up with us, with Becca. she doesn’t know how our friendship works.”

Bucky’s breath started to catch.

Steve just barrelled on, heedless.

“And then she’s joking around, you know? Saying that maybe you and me, because she figures you’re bi anyway, that you and me should get together. That we’re in love, that this arrangement we have, us being best friends and roommates is too simple for her, like it can’t, won’t work.” Steve spun around, still walking fast. He threw up his hands, “And you know what, Buck? It really pissed me off! Like, who is she to tell us how to live, how to love? How to be best friends? Why’s it any of her business? Well, it isn’t! She’s smart, and all that, but she ain’t me, or you.” He turned again, water splashing off his jacket hood. He kept walking backwards, unaware of what was happening to Bucky.

“See, ‘cos, Buck. We get each other. I know you, you know me and obviously I love you. You’re my best friend, the most important person in the world to me. Obviously we care about one another, but it’s not so simple, to just smash two people together and say ‘oh, but he looks at you, Steve, and it’s more than a friendship kind of look.’ You know what I mean, Buck? It’s like they want a tragic romantic explosion or something but it’s–“ he finally looked up, noticing that Bucky wasn’t keeping pace anymore.

“Right, Buck? I mean, it’s not romance, or love.” He paused and then slowly walked over to Bucky, who wasn't keeping pace, the rain pouring down in a torrent around them. “It’s us, it’s you and me and that’s not the same as … as …Bucky? Buck, you okay?”

By some freakin’ miracle, Steve’s mouth stopped flapping, his hands still mid-air, because Bucky had come to a halt. Because Steve could see something there, couldn’t he?

“Buck?” Steve’s voice was softer, worried, eyes skating over Bucky’s features. Bucky wasn’t speaking, he was just staring, wide-eyed. If anything, Steve would have thought Bucky was scared. Because he was. He was absolutely shitting himself in terror, his flight reflex jacked up to a billion. And all he’d need now was for the puzzle pieces to slot into place–

Steve’s eyes widened slowly and Bucky felt his stomach bottom out. This wasn’t happening. Why was this happening? Who did this? Why was Steve saying this shit?

And Bucky, goddamnit, Bucky could feel what was unfolding. Steve could see it all, right there on Bucky’s face, because Bucky couldn’t stop himself. The shock, the realization that someone had spoken those words out loud to Steve, was fucking terrifying.

And Steve was seeing it, probably for the first time. He was witnessing Bucky’s collapse in the face of such an awful, awful truth. His dark blue eyes were open, mouth agape, noiseless. And there was nothing Bucky could do. it was too late.

Steve was never supposed to know!

“Bucky, hey,” Steve finally said, worry clear on his features.

Shit, Steve’s hood had slipped back and water was streaming over his face, making his eyelashes darken, his lips and skin wet. The water was getting into Bucky’s eyes too and thunder burst overhead, making them both jump.

“We–“ Bucky tried to say. “We gotta, gotta get home.” Fuck, was he going to start stuttering?

“Bucky, wait,” and Steve was grabbing at Bucky’s elbow, because apparently Bucky had pushed forward, strode on, intent on getting out of this bubble of panic that was seeking to drown him from the inside out. He heart was leaping into his throat and it felt like he was choking.

“Bucky!” Steve said loudly as lightning cracked, lighting up the whole street.

“We have to get home, Steve,” Bucky pushed on, aware that Steve was jogging to catch up.

Shit, he was going to be sick. He was going to blow chunks right here on some goddamn side street. He’d had such a shit day already, and he thought it couldn’t have rounded out nicer than with Chef’s words. But now … shit. It was a million time worse than before. Bucky’s worst fucking nightmare was coming true.

He wanted to strangle Romanov. He wanted to yell, he wanted to tear his hair out.

But Steve was beside him, speaking to him, trying to get him to respond, but all Bucky could hear was the buzzing between his ears. If he ignored it, it would go away. It had to.

 


 

“Bucky?” Steve was staring at his best friend and it was like watching a forest fire. He jogged up the stairs behind Bucky because the other man was already almost at their floor, having basically blown through the building lobby like some deranged man on a mission. Bucky had just ignored Steve, steamrolling his way home.

“Bucky, stop!” Steve said loudly as they reached their apartment. Bucky’s hands were shaking while he fumbled for his keys. “Hey!”

But Bucky just grunted and finally got the key in the lock, shoving himself through the door.

“I’m going to bed,” he said roughly, and walked right into his room and slammed the door behind him.

“Bucky!” Steve barked, following right up until the door closed in his face. He smacked the wood, hard.

Leave me alone, Steve,” came the clearly shaken response.

Steve gritted his teeth and spun back to their front door to shut and lock it.

“Fuck!” he hissed, pacing to the kitchen, to the sofa, around, and back.

They had a strict ‘do not enter’ policy when their doors were shut. Steve wanted to abide by that rule, but this was a seriously shitty time for it.

He ran a hand over his wet hair, throwing flecks of water everywhere.

“Ugh!” he chucked off his raincoat and backpack, letting them slump to the floor with a wet plop.

What was he supposed to do?

This was completely out of his wheelhouse. He hadn’t ever been in this situation, whatever this was.

Why was Bucky reacting like this? Why had it shocked him, why was this–

“Oh my God,” Steve stopped in his movements and pushed both palms flat over his eyes. His heart felt like it was swollen, struggling to stay inside his ribcage.

“Fuck,” he whispered hoarsely. He had to be honest with himself, for once. He knew what this was. He saw it, bright as day when he looked into Bucky’s pale and terrified eyes. Bucky Barnes was the toughest guy Steve knew. He was Brooklyn tough. He was strong in more than just the physical; he was morally strong, and brave as all hell and always willing to put up with Steve’s shit because he was loyal too. Brave and strong and loyal and fuck!

Why hadn’t he realized sooner? This was clearly breaking Bucky’s morale. Why was this so fucking terrifying, and why had Bucky freaked out? Steve needed to talk to him!

He gasped and pulled his hands away.

Dashing over to Bucky’s door, he said very loudly, “Buck, I’m calling your ma.”

He heard a thunk and rustle. Then came Bucky’s muffled voice. “What? Why?

Steve didn’t quite smirk, but he did lean both hands against the door.

“Because, you ass, you’re freaking me out and you’re not locked up in your room and I don’t know what’s wrong and she’ll want to know if there’s something wrong, ‘cos she’ll be worried–“

“Don’t you dare call my mother,” Bucky growled back, and his voice was definitely closer. “Steve, don’t you dare.”

“Oh, it’s already ringing. Hey, Mister Barnes! How are you? Yeah, sorry, I know it’s late but is Mrs Barnes there? Yes, yes, I know–“

Bucky’s bedroom door flew open so hard, Steve almost face-planted, were it not for Bucky’s broad chest in the way. Broad chest and fuming face.

“You little shit,” Bucky hissed, noticing the very absent cellphone in Steve’s hands. He made to slam his door again, but Steve pushed forward.

“No, you listen to me,” Steve pressed, his arm flat against the door. Bucky didn’t look at him he just scowled and kept pushing. But Steve was strong too, and he held his ground.

“Bucky, talk to me,” Steve said.

“Fuck off,” Bucky said.

“Bucky, seriously,” Steve said, face softer. “Please?”

And Bucky glanced at him, scowl in place. His cheeks were flushed and Steve could now imagine why.

“I didn’t realize,” Steve said gently. “I’m sorry. It’s not a bad thing.”

“Are you serious?” Bucky fumed and pushed off from the door. Steve stumbled and fell into Bucky’s room. The lights were off but the window cast a solid glow from the outside street lamps. The rain continued to fall.

“Yes, I’m serious,” Steve said, opening the bedroom door fully. He just stood there, watching Bucky pace around to the window and back.

“I can’t talk to you right now,” Bucky murmured, hands in his own hair.

“Buck,” Steve said softly. “Hey,” he put out a hand and made Bucky stop. “Look at me.”

Bucky refused, face pink and brow furrowed.

“It’s okay,” Steve said, both hands settling on his friend’s shoulders.

“It’s actually not,” Bucky murmured darkly.

Steve’s chest felt tight and his brain was swimming in the thoughts that suddenly occurred to him. Bucky was scared to tell him this, because why? Because he hated himself for it? Because he thought Steve would despise him?

“Bucky,” Steve stepped even closer and Bucky backed off. “Do you … do you, want me? Like, love me? Like, like that?” he asked bluntly.

Bucky pressed his fingers to his brow as if in pain.

“Because, if you do, it’s okay,” Steve said gently. He cleared his throat. He felt suddenly at a loss for words. Was this really happening? “I sound like a broken record,” he tried to joke, lighten the mood. But Bucky just covered his own face fully with his hands.

“Steve, please, just go,” he said softly, and oh, that was like a punch to Steve’s gut. For Bucky to sound like that meant he was hurting real bad.

“I don’t want to,” Steve said, almost in a whisper. His hands moved to Bucky’s waist, his fingers gently touching Bucky’s sides, unsure. Bucky’d also lost his raincoat, his t-shirt cool to the touch. “Please? I want to talk.”

“See, it’s stuff like this,” Bucky breathed out painfully, still covering his eyes, his breathing laboured.

Steve frowned. “Stuff like what?”

Bucky dropped his hands and finally looked Steve in the eye. “This,” he said and indicated how close they were standing, how Steve had automatically come in for touch, for reassurance. He was used to holding on to Bucky, keeping him close. Bucky was his rock, his stronghold. Steve pressed his fingertips into Bucky’s sides, just below his ribs. “You, me, this–this way that we are. It’s too much sometimes. You can’t be so close to me all the time. It messes me up, okay?”

Steve’s heart almost fell out of his chest when he saw just how upset Bucky was. His best friend was hurting, his big eyes pale and sad and he was tense, clearly trying to step away, but needing the closeness just as bad.

“I’m not moving,” Steve murmured. His heart thudded in his chest. “In fact,” he moved in closer, pressing his palms properly to Bucky’s sides, like he always did when reassuring his best friend. “You can’t make me.”

“Like hell I can’t,” Bucky grumbled. He made to push at Steve, but Steve caught his hand quickly, tugging Bucky closer instead.

“Bucky,” Steve said sharply, eyes unwavering. “I’m not moving, because I’m not freaking out. I realize now that maybe this wasn’t the way I should have figured this, this thing out. I didn’t realize you… that this isn’t…whatever. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t bother me.”

He felt breathless, thinking about how maybe, for a while at least, Bucky had been harbouring a crush or something, on Steve. Sure, it was new information, but it wasn’t bad.

“Yeah, well it should,” Bucky said, staring down at nothing.

“No,” Steve was firm. “It shouldn’t. Bucky, look at me.”

And lo, he actually did.

Steve’s one hand still held Bucky’s. He clenched it tighter, pulling Bucky in. Bucky almost gasped and it sent something of a weird thrill down Steve’s spine.

“I’m not weirded out. In fact–“ Steve paused to consider, his eyes drifting over Bucky’s familiar features. “–I’m more … surprised than anything. But definitely–“ he licked his own lips. Then he looked Bucky in the eye. “–definitely not weirded out.”

Bucky swallowed audibly. Fuck, he really did have such nice cheekbones and lips. And such a square jaw, with new stubble, and the way his hair was curling damply under, behind his ears.

“Steve,” Bucky said, voice a little deep.

“Yes?” Steve hummed, distracted with the way his other hand felt against Bucky’s ribs.

“You gotta let me go, champ.”

Steve blinked. “What if I don’t want to?” he responded.

Bucky breathed in slowly. His left hand’s fingers were twined with Steve’s, his other hand on Steve’s upper arm.

“We can’t–“ Bucky murmured.

“Why not?” Steve said brazenly, unsure of what even he was saying. Fuck, he’d just said that, hadn’t he? Well, in for a penny…

Bucky sucked in his bottom lip. Lighting flashed outside, followed by a low rumble of thunder.

“You’re insane, you know that?” Bucky sighed, as if defeated.

“And it’s one reason why you like me, right?” Steve said almost desperately, suddenly dying to hear those words.

Bucky looked at him. Then he nodded once, head drooping. Shit, Steve probably shouldn’t have felt such elation, but he couldn’t help it.

This was something that he’d barely scratched the surface of and it already had him blood rushing.

“You’re a freakin’ idiot,” Bucky grunted, pulling away.

But Steve knew what Bucky actually meant, so he smiled.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Steve asked carefully.

Bucky paused. Then he glanced up.

“Not really, no,” he said.

Steve took a step back. “So we’ll talk about it tomorrow? after breakfast?”

“No,” Bucky scowled.

Steve took a step back. “Okay, then, we’ll talk in the morning. Um,” he stuck his hands in his wet jean pockets, “Don’t want to keep you from your beauty sleep. Plus, we both still need to shower.”

Bucky actually flushed and scowled at the same time. “You know, you’re really fucking annoying, Rogers.”

Steve smiled wide, feeling his tension ease off sharply. Bucky wasn’t mad at him anymore. Or, he wasn’t freaking out at Steve anymore.

“It’s okay, I won’t pressure you now. You sleep. You rest and we’ll get into the finer details later.”

“Get the fuck out,” Bucky shoved at Steve and the blonde laughed.

“I know you care, Barnes,” Steve smiled, backing away and out of Bucky’s bedroom.

“No, I don’t. I hate you. Get out,” Bucky growled and slammed his door shut again.

Interesting how moments ago, those words would have really bothered Steve.

A thunderous stomping noise rose up and Steve stared at the ceiling.

“Sorry, Aschenka,” he murmured to himself. He sighed and stared at Bucky’s bedroom door.

Great, now he wished he hadn’t promised Bucky ’til morning. Because now he had to wait.

Chapter Text

Bucky basically rolled himself into a ball and didn’t move for the entirety of that night.

He could not believe what was happening. In the other room was his best friend who now had an idea of what fresh hell Bucky had been living through.

Bucky just laid there, his duvet pulled up to his chin, even in the warmth of the summer.

What the fuck was he supposed to do?

 


 

“So, it’s onions, rotary sliced. Covered in flour, then fried. You gotta stick to three minutes before serving though, else they get all soggy and weird and no one will eat them,” Jack was saying to Teddy, Foster and Bucky.

“Olive oil?” Foster leaned over the small pot that was boiling away.

Jack nodded. “Yeah,” he flipped his towel over his shoulder. “Once you got the onions, it’s go time.”

“Then it’s the steak on a bed of steamed Kale and beets.” Teddy was saying, writing this down in his tiny green notebook he carried around. Bucky had to admit, the kid was kind of an adorable nerd.

”Hmm,” Foster hummed, clearly thinking. “So a pretty fatty main dish that needs some kind of starter that we’d recommend. What’d Chef say?”

Jack shrugged, “She said have at it. Whatever you can think of.”

Foster smiled, “Great! Because I have an idea…”

So Bucky and Teddy assisted her in making her newest dish, one focused on cold pickled vegetables and a kefir dressing.

“I used to use coconut milk for this,” She was saying, showing Bucky just how much lemon juice was needed, “but it needs to stay creamy.”

“And coconut milk gets lumpy,” Bucky nodded.

“Amazing,” she nodded when he poured out a fresh batch of the new sauce dressing. “So this warm dressing on the vegetables should offset their sharpness, but lay out the welcoming mat for the greasy but juicy steak, yes?”

“Sure,” Bucky nodded.

“Okay then,” Foster murmured, "Let’s run it by Chef and you can stand point for me on this. Sound good?”

Bucky blinked, “Yes.”

She smiled wide.

 


 

“I said, he’s busy, chico,” America was heard by the kitchen doorway.

Bucky was carefully measuring out coconut flakes for the desserts that had been ordered. He whipped up the ice cream Bruce had prepared a few days earlier, and carefully folded in the coconut bits.

“Careful,” Chef murmured, standing at his side, “Too much and it kills the texture.”

Bucky carefully scooped out a good-sized ball of the new dessert and placed it in a bowl. He picked up a sprig of mint and gently laid it on the perfect scoop.

He drizzled the honey caramel glaze in the bowl’s basin, so the ice cream looked like a snowy island in a sweet ocean.

“Hey,” came a gentle voice and both Bucky and Chef looked up.

“Rogers?” Chef griped. “We’re busy.”

“Yeah, I know,” Steve said, but he was looking at Bucky, who just immediately flushed and looked back down at the dessert. “Can I talk to Bucky for a sec?”

“No,” Chef cut in. “We’re working desserts and so help me if these start melting before customers get them, I’ll boil you alive.”

Bucky was so grateful for her abruptness. He could use it as a cloak, to cover his own anxiety. It would explain his own rudeness.

He heard Steve grumble to himself before his presence disappeared.

The reason Steve was hanging around all day was because Bucky had gone the cowardly route, ducking out to work early, and leaving Steve to sleep. He knew why he was doing this, because he didn’t want to talk. He couldn’t. He wasn’t ready. He’d had years and years to fear and dream about Steve finally knowing, but all those thoughts had never been viable. What the fuck was he supposed to say to Steve?

“Hey,” Chef’s voice cut into his thoughts. Bucky looked up.

“Get that order out. If you melt it I’ll boil you too.”

“Yes, Chef,” Bucky nodded.

 


 

Bucky knew Steve had worked the early shift and so when Bucky clocked out, Steve was already gone.

He helped Luke pack up the rest of the uncooked meat, and organized the baking tins for Wanda, who looked beyond exhausted.

“It’s Pietro,” she sighed, handing gives to Bucky so he could hang them up. “He’s supporting one of his idiot friends at some punk show, and he keeps playing this awful music all the time so he can pretend he knows it all because he wants his friend to succeed.” She looked beyond exasperated. “I let it happen because he’s sweet. But I will also smother him if he doesn’t go to the stupid show tonight.”

“You could always move out and get your own place,” Bucky said.

Wanda snorted, “Oh, yes, that’s makes so much sense on my paycheque.”

Bucky chuckled, “I feel that, sister.”

 


 

Bucky finally made it home.
He stared at the door to their apartment, steeling himself.

He heard some weird clunking noise and a faint ow!

“Steve?” Bucky unlocked the door and entered what appeared to be disaster zone. Cardboard and plastic littered the floor and their furniture was covered in pieces of what was probably remnants of a how-to manual.

“The fuck?” Bucky breathed, stepping over an allen key and some screws.

Steve crawled out from under what was clearly some new kind of Ikea table.

“Hey!” Steve grinned and scooched out on his butt before getting up. “Look what I got!” He waved his hands behind him, grinning wide. “Got to the sale right before closing time.”

“Jesus, Steve,” Bucky said, frowning, “The nearest Ikea’s thirty miles from here.”

“Oh, yeah, no,” Steve nodded, “This was at a yard sale I spotted on the way home. Down on Shuter?”

Bucky eyed the simple pine table, just a rectangle on legs. It was pretty sturdy. “This thing was still in the box?” he eyed the carnage around them.

“Yup!” Steve glowed. “I spoke to the woman working the sale. Said she and her husband were divorcing, so she’s moving uptown. Says he always planned to build stuff, bought it, paid for it, but never built it.” Steve scratched at his eyebrow. “Not important, but I figured we should finally have a table, right? It was twenty bucks.”

“Well, that’s a steal,” Bucky said, taking off his ballcap. He ruffled his hair and tugged out his hair tie.

He walked carefully around Steve’s mess and went to his room. He kicked off his sneakers and yanked at his socks before sitting on the edge of his bed.

He could just see Steve rustling about, picking up the armloads of cardboard and plastic wrap.

The laptop was on, playing some random podcast, something about science and space travel.

Bucky sighed. He combed his fingers through his hair. Maybe they weren’t going to have to talk. Maybe they would just pretend it all never happened.

Would that work?

He chewed his lip in the darkness of his room.

He glanced up again, seeing Steve bent over picking up whatever bits and bobs were lying on the floor. He’d already clearly showered and changed, his black sweatpants loose on his hips, his bare feet padding on the parquet floor.

“You need help cleaning?” Bucky asked loudly.

“No,” Steve answered, rustling back to the kitchen with his trash. “I’m good. You should get showered and ready for bed.”

Bucky sat there a moment longer.

Okay.

Right.

So that’s how it was.

He went to the bathroom and got the water going.

“You hungry?” he asked at the door.

“Naw,” Steve answered, going over to inspect his handiwork on the table. “I grabbed a snack on the way home.”

Bucky nodded. “Kay.”

In the bathroom, he slowly stripped out of his clothing, mind a bit flustered.

So Steve wasn’t going to talk? He didn’t want to?

Admittedly, a sour part of Bucky regretted that development.

Sure, he could keep going, he could pretend he hadn’t had his deepest, darkest secret exposed to the one person who should never hear it. He could fake it again, forever, if he had to.

Under the warm water, he felt his shoulders relax.

But it was weird, Steve not saying anything after he’d promised to.

Maybe it really did freak Steve out? What if, after a night of contemplation, Steve had decided this wasn’t okay, that it was gross? What if Bucky was some weirdo for pining like that all this time? Shit. Steve wasn’t supposed to know.

He punched the wall, grunting at the pain that lanced up his fist.

“Fuck,” he breathed, water streaming over his face.

He hurried through his washing, wishing for the first time in a long time, that he had shorter hair.

He scrubbed at his fingernails, at his underarms, his thighs, his calves. He put that scrubby sponge thing to good use, enjoying the way it made his skin red, made him feel a tad bit more human.

By the time Bucky was done, he felt raw.

He got out and hastily towelled himself dry. He scraped a brush through his hair and glared at his reflection in the mirror above the sink.

He stared at the pair of toothbrushes sitting in the glass they kept there.

He really was fed up of being terrified of this feeling, this growing tension in his chest.

He exited the bathroom and went back to his room, towel around his waist. He shut his bedroom door and busied himself with his pyjamas.

He pulled on his favourite, softest t-shirt. The one with a giant smiling pineapple that was so faded, it was a ghost of its former self. His dad had given it to him years ago as a joke, and well, it stuck.

His sweats were thick and warm, perhaps too warm, but whatever.

He took a deep breath and opened his bedroom door, feeling like he was walking in to hell.

Steve was lying on the sofa, watching something on TV.

“Haven’t you seen this episode, like, fifty times?” Bucky murmured, recognizing Parks and Rec, again.

Steve shifted and sat up, looking at Bucky over the back of the sofa.

“Hey! Uh, yeah, but it’s a solid one.”

Bucky stared back.

They both didn’t say a thing.

Bucky looked away first, going over to their new table. He skated a hand over the solid wood.

“Not even veneer,” he hummed quietly to himself.

“We’ll get chairs next week,” Steve said. “Sam has a line on some going free. I told him to hold onto them for us.”

Bucky looked up.

“So,” he said softly. “You wanted to talk?” His heart felt like it was shrivelling up in fear.

Steve was kneeling on the sofa, watching him. He was being careful. “Only if you want, Buck,” Steve said.

Bucky made a face. “You were pretty hell bent all day to see me. What changed?”

Steve chewed on his lip and got to his feet. “Well, you didn’t seem, um, open to that. And I don’t want to you to feel pressured. Sorry if I was bugging you.”

Of course.

Bucky sighed and walked over, shooing Steve back. “Sit.” And Steve scrambled back, scooting into the corner position, feet up.

Fuck, Bucky felt much braver, and more terrified than he ever had felt in his lifetime. How could such opposing emotions manifest so clearly all at once? Was he broken? Was he a masochist?

He sat down heavily and turned to face Steve.

“Well?” he murmured, pressing the flats of his feet together, lotus style. His left leg was angled weird and would probably get all bent out of shape soon, but he didn’t care.

“Um,” Steve said. His eyes darted over Bucky, trying desperately to read him. “Do you want to talk?”

Bucky considered his emotions carefully before responding.

He didn’t look up but he did say, “Okay.”

“Okay,” Steve nodded, sitting up straight. “So…”

Bucky’s breath was caught in his chest.

He looked up through his damp hair. “So.”

They stared at one another.

“From the beginning,” Steve murmured. The TV was turned down, but Bucky could still see Ben Wyatt staring at the camera in exasperation.

“Okay,” Bucky said again. “Look. You weren’t supposed to know. I didn’t want that.”

“Why?” Steve said, then cut himself off. “Wait, the beginning. What don’t you want me to know, exactly?”

Bucky eyed Steve. Steve just stared back, all blue eyes and complete solemnity.

“Steve,” Bucky said bluntly. “Don’t make me say it.”

Steve’s eyes peered at him. “Why?”

“Because,” Bucky huffed out. “It’s weird.”

“Weird? How?”

Bucky wanted to strangle Steve to shut him up, but was also in awe of the way his friend could just bulldoze his way through all manner of awkwardness.

“Because you’re attracted to me?” Steve went on. “Or, or whatever it is that’s making you so angry and upset with me.”

“I’m not upset,” Bucky retorted belligerently.

“But you are … attracted to me?” Steve said.

Bucky bit his lower lip.

“You had a problem with telling me you were gay, or bi,” Steve said. “Was it because of this, or about the whole concept in general?”

Bucky made a face. “I don’t know.”

“So, from the beginning,” Steve repeated himself. “When did you think you were gay? Or at least, attracted to guys?”

Bucky shrugged.

“C’mon, Buck,” Steve said gently.

“I just,” Bucky began, “I didn’t want you to know because it’s going to fuck us up. You’re my best friend,” My everything. “and I don’t want to ruin what we’ve got already. It’s better if you didn’t know because nothing can change, then.”

Steve was silent for a moment before responding.

“It’s not going to fuck us up, Buck.”

“Yes, it is!” Bucky gritted out, finally looking at Steve properly. “I’m not supposed to feel like this about my best friend!”

Steve blinked. “Well,” he murmured. “again, why not?”

“Because! I just told you!” Bucky huffed, annoyance flashing in his eyes.

“No, you told me that I wasn’t supposed to know, and that it’d mess us up. But what you aren’t telling me is why it’s actually bad that you might be thinking things about me, things that maybe ain’t so bad at all.”

Bucky glared at Steve. “You aren’t hearing me,” he said.

“Yes, I am, Buck. I’m all ears. I’m also telling you that it’s okay. I just want to understand, is all.”

“What? How pathetic I am?" Bucky's breathing was rough, harsh. "How stupid I feel? How I can’t make it stop? How it’s been years since I first realized that maybe I was thinking too much about my best friend? That my mind wanders when it shouldn’t? That okay, I might be a little bi, that guys aren’t so bad, but that ultimately, it’s you my stupid fucking brain wants? You want to understand how painful that is?”

He was breathing hard and he hadn’t realized he’d gotten to his feet, that he was standing facing Steve, fists tight at his sides.

“Hey, hey,” Steve carefully got up. “No.”

He was staring at Bucky, like he was something new.

“Bucky,” Steve said softly. He came close and put his hands on Bucky’s upper arms. “Hey.”

Bucky looked back, brows furrowed. Steve gently rubbed at his skin, making the hair on his arms rise.

“It’s okay,” Steve murmured, stepping marginally closer. “It’s–“ he paused, thinking. “I ain’t complaining, Buck.”

“Yeah, right,” Bucky huffed, but he didn’t move away.

Slowly, Steve’s hands slid up his arms, his neck, before settling large and warm along Bucky’s jaw.

Steve looked into Bucky’s eyes, all open and caring and just so goddamn handsome, like a blinding star.

Bucky’s heart rate ratcheted up a level.

“I’m not,’ Steve said, voice like gravel. God, he’d always had such a deep voice. Bucky remembers smirking when little Stevie’s voice broke when he was fifteen, the only indicator that Steve was even breaking into a long, drawn-out puberty. He’d been this small little guy with this big deep voice that sat so oddly on his frame. It was the sexiest fucking thing ever and Bucky’d spent more than a handful of nights with his hands down his shorts thinking of Steve talking dirty with that voice.

“Was it the growth spurt?” Steve asked.

Bucky frowned. “What?”

Steve smiled gently, “I got more attention after I started working out, after I grew a foot. Was it then?”

Bucky was aghast. “No, you idiot. I’m not like those idiot women you mess around with.”

Steve stared back, probably a little confused. “Wait, so you mean when I was small and scrawny too?”

Bucky glared at him, face gently warming and turning red, he was sure. “Yes, you fucking idiot. That runt of a guy was the bravest little shit-disturber I’ve ever met. How could I not think that was adorable?”

Steve actually smiled. “Really?” God, he sounded elated. “So you wanted to what? Bone that shit-disturber?”

Bucky really flushed this time, but he glared all the way through it.

Steve’s smile got even wider. “Oh, you did.”

“Shut up,” Bucky groused.

Steve’s thumbs were caressing the stubble that was sprouting across Bucky’s cheeks. God, he was close now.

“So what do we do about this?” Steve hummed, distracted by his own thumbs. He pushed his fingers back through Bucky’s hair, which, really, should have been outlawed.

Bucky shivered, eyes almost closing.

“I don’t know,” he murmured.

Steve watched him. “You wanna try it out?” he said.

Bucky blinked. “What?”

Steve pouted. “You know? This?”

“This what?” Bucky’s throat was dry, his heart thumping.

Steve stepped closer. “You and me.”

Bucky’s jaw worked, his eyes darting between Steve’s mouth and eyes. “Wha–?”

Steve chuckled. “If I knew I had this effect on you, Buck, I’da put it to good use before.”

Bucky scowled, but he still couldn’t form words.

“I mean,” Steve pressed, “I wouldn’t mind trying this out. You’re not exactly hard on the eyes either.” Fuck, he was trying to play it cool, but Bucky could hear it in Steve’s voice. He was excited, almost bubbling with it.

“Are you serious?” Bucky breathed. “You’re not messing with me?”

Steve looked at Bucky’s lips. “Dead serious.”

Bucky blinked and licked his lips. His hands came up and he grabbed Steve’s wrists.

“But you don’t even like guys,” Bucky murmured.

“Says you,” Steve almost whispered.

Fuck,” Bucky responded before doing the one thing he’d been dreaming of for the last ten-something years.

He yanked Steve in close and pressed his lips to Steve’s, almost groaning at the way Steve leaned in to respond, a soft gasp of surprise breaking free.

Bucky,” Steve breathed, their lips brushing against one another.

And, holy hell, did that not feel like the rush of a lifetime.

Bucky could die now, his heart full of desire, his mind whirling and his lips warm, pressed to his friend’s.

Bucky’s hands fell to Steve’s slim hips and held him there.

He pulled his head back, heart thudding loudly in his ears.

“You sure?” he murmured, heart caught between sheer joy and trepidation. Was this really happening?

Steve was wide-eyed. He licked his lips, considering, before he pulled Bucky’s face in again.

“How many times I gotta say yes?” Steve groused.

“You didn’t even say it once,” Bucky responded.

“Shut up, Barnes,” Steve murmured, coming in for another kiss that would blow Bucky’s mind.

Maybe this was a big, huge mistake. But maybe, for once, Bucky didn't give a shit.

Chapter Text

Whoa. Okay, miscalculation.

Steve was, well, he was a little fazed here.

Kissing Bucky was … it was amazing.

His lips were soft against Steve’s, and his stubble was scratchy against Steve’s palms and Bucky’s hands were tight on his sides, just above his hips. He had a tendency to grip with the tips of his fingers digging in and, oh, he could kiss. The rumours of Bucky’s ability had been grossly underrated.

Steve pulled back, feeling a swoop in his belly when the face that came into view was one he’d been staring back at for almost all his life. It was as if the fact Bucky was handsome was suddenly a million time more relevant. Steve was looking at Bucky with new eyes.

And he saw hesitation there. Bucky was looking at him, unsure.

And maybe, okay, maybe Steve had spoken too soon. He hadn’t expected this unease rising in him, this unstable sense of feeling.

He licked his lips and Bucky stepped back.

“Um,” Bucky said, pulling his hands back to plant them on his own hips. “So that just happened.”

“Yeah, it did,” Steve said, then cleared his throat. “Uh, yes.”

Dangit.

He’d been so confident moments ago, thrillingly excited to leap into this opportunity and now all he could think about was kissing Bucky again.

“It’s weirding you out, isn’t it?” Bucky frowned.

Steve blinked, “What? No, no!”

Bucky frowned at him some more and Steve didn’t like that face.

“Buck,” he said, placing his hands back on his friend’s cheeks. “It’s fine. Really. Just, um,”

“Weird,” Bucky said.

“No!” Steve huffed. “It was, uh, surprising. I can see now why the girls keep chasing you even after realizing you’re a total cad and all.”

Bucky punched his shoulder and Steve dropped his hands. “Shut it, you ass.”

Steve chuckled and leaned in. Bucky took a step back, but Steve kept getting closer.

“Is it weird if I want to try that again?” Steve asked gently.

Bucky snorted, but he was eyeing Steve’s mouth. He looked up to meet Steve’s gaze.

“Yeah?” he asked.

And Steve grinned wider.

“Yeah, pal.”


 

It was all surreal.

Everything was magic and work just flew by and Bucky, well, he felt like his chest was wide open, exposing his every heartbeat.

He was jittery and uneasy, but also, he was on cloud nine.

After their first kiss, he and Steve had decided to give each other some room, awkwardly. They wanted to give themselves time to process, which meant another night of fitful sleep for an already exhausted Bucky.

But it was worth it, right?

“Barnes! Pay attention,” Romanov barked. Everyone turned to look at him where he was leaning against the fridge.

“Sorry,” he put a hand over his yawn.

“As I was saying,” she went on, dictating the plan for the upcoming week. As it was Sunday, it meant they could prep for the new week and everyone looked forward to the Monday off. “And that means we’re going to be hustling on Tuesday, with a party of twenty coming for lunch, it means they may carry over to the evening. Wilson, you on board for the changeover?”

“Uh,” came Sam’s voice from the other side of the server window. “Yes, Boss,” he said.

“Good,” Romanov said. “Chef’s en route. She went to collect some spices and whatever else was ruined in the great wipeout.”

A few people chuckled and Teddy all but shrank down in sheer embarrassment. Bucky smiled, recalling the way the blonde had been found on the floor in the pantry after slipping and tipping half the spice shelf over. The poor kid had been sneezing for hours and the paprika wouldn’t come out of his hair until he rinsed it in warm water.

“All right, chop chop!” Romanov clapped her hands and everyone dispersed.

“And Barnes?” Romanov said before exiting.

Bucky paused. “Yes?” he looked up coolly, face impassive.

Romanov eyed him, “You need to get sleep. Don’t show up on Tuesday like this again.”

He nodded slowly, inclining his head to the side. Romanov just stared back and the two of them definitely had a current running like a live wire between them.

Then she turned, taking her clipboard with her.

“What’s going on there?” Luke asked casually, rolling out the day’s portion of potatoes.

Bucky shrugged. Maybe she didn’t know that he knew what she’d said to Steve, but Bucky wasn’t sure of that.

“Hmmm,” America hummed beside Luke, her sharp brown eyes not giving Bucky room to move.

 


 

Steve wasn’t sure what the protocol was now.

Was he supposed to give Bucky hugs and kisses?

Were they, like, going to try stuff out? Was he expected to take them out to dinner? How awkward could two fully grown men get?

This wasn’t elementary school. Hell, it wasn’t even high school.

“Hey,” Sam snapped fingers in front of Steve’s face.

Steve blinked and slammed down the glass he was polishing.

“You okay, man?” Sam asked.

“Uh, yeah, sure,” Steve answered. “What do you need?”

“Uh,” Sam looked to the side, thinking. “Two margaritas, a house white, and a bloody mary.”

“Right,” Steve got to work, pulling out the relevant glasses while Sam leaned on the bar and tapped his fingers against it.

Steve enjoyed mixing drinks. It was simple, like math, just measurements and mixes and tastes. Easy.

“Ey, oh,” Sam cut into his thoughts when he pulled out the Clamato from the mini fridge. “Not a caesar, a bloody mary.”

Steve blinked at the bottle of clamato his hands. “Oh. Right. Yeah, sorry.”

“Yeesh,” Sam chuckled, “You’re out of it today.”

Steve sighed and got the right juice out of the fridge this time.

“Yeah, I guess,” he said.

Sam hummed away while Steve poured out the requested drinks. When he was done, he loaded up a tray and slid it over. Sam thanked him and suggested they take lunch at the same time.

Steve nodded, again, not sure how everyone around him couldn’t tell what was going on in his head.

 


 

At around four, Sam made true to his promise and dragged Steve out for ‘lunch’ which always ended up being at weird hours.

“Goddamn, I’m hungry,” Steve said, tearing open his lunch box.

“Mmm, what you got?” Sam said, sliding onto the bench seat opposite Steve. The afternoon heat was bearable, the humidity having dropped. The bushes and vines were blooming nicely and drifting in the warm breeze.

“Um,” Steve eyed his meal. “We have eggplant lasagna with a side of tomatoes, tzatziki and pickled radish.”

“Dang,” Sam shook his head. “Makes my spaghetti a-la-campbell’s look like barf.”

Steve smirked before biting into his own meal. “You didn’t want to try Chef’s employee meal? I heard the fish is good.”

Sam made a face. “Oh no, I had a bad stomach episode on haddock once. Let’s just say I can’t handle that family of fish. At least not for another couple years.”

Steve chuckled and sipped at his glass of water.

“Want a bite?” he asked.

Sam eyed his dish and nodded. “Yes, yes, please. That looks amazing.”

“It is,” Steve nodded, scooping a portion out. Before he could hand it over, the kitchen back door opened up and Jack came blustering out, Bucky in tow.

“Oh lord,” Jack sighed, walking over. “I am starving. I cannot make another cream puff without wanting to shove them all into my face.”

He slid in beside Steve. He had a plate of Chef’s lunch recommendation.

Bucky followed and sat down beside Sam cautiously.

“Hey,” Bucky murmured.

“Hey,” Steve said just as softly.

“Come on, Steve, don’t keep me waiting,” Sam huffed, his dish held up.

“Oh, right,” Steve blinked and forked out a good portion of his lasagna for Sam.

“Ohhh, another Barnes special?” Jack leaned over all curious. “Smells good.” He sat up and waggled his eyes at Bucky which made the other man roll his eyes. Bucky too had a similar portion of lasagna in his own dish.

“When do you even have the time to cook this stuff?” Jack queried.

Sam let out an unholy moan.

“Oh, sweet jesus,” he said, mouth full. “This is delicious.”

Steve smiled, full of pride.

Bucky ignored Sam and shrugged. “I just threw this in the oven this morning. Takes about half an hour, so I get to shower and whatever before we pack it up and go.”

Steve nodded, chewing on his own delicious meal.

“All vegetarian?” Jack was leaning over, eyeing Bucky’s forkful this time.

“Yup,” Bucky’s mouth popped around the ‘p’ before he took a bite.

Steve never really thought about it, but he knew Bucky would basically just eat whatever Steve wanted. So Bucky probably ate a lot more vegan and vegetarian dishes than he would if he could cook only for himself.

Steve watched Bucky banter with Jack, the two of them having developed some kind of camaraderie.

Jack even cracked jokes that were, like, inside jokes that Bucky smiled at. Huh.

Now that he and Bucky had kissed, Steve wondered what he was supposed to expect. It’s not every day you get to lock lips with your best pal.

Not that much else had happened. Steve was far too new at this to know what the fuck was going on. Bucky had, thankfully, been his usual self this morning, already up and in the kitchen, like always. He barely said a thing, just puttered around like normal, making Steve wonder if they’d even kissed at all.

It had been pretty thrilling, and also, pretty bizarro-world.

Was he supposed to want to do this, whatever it was? Were they going to tell people? Was it going to work?

What was this thing? Maybe he should sit down and hash it out with Bucky. What was Bucky expecting? Was he expecting snuggles and hand-holding? Was he expecting kisses and hand jobs and … blowjobs? Shoot. Steve had no idea how to give head. What the fuck?

Something jabbed Steve’s shin. He looked up.

Sam was eyeing him.

“What?” Steve harrumphed, face a little warm around the ears.

“Nothing,” Sam responded, looking back down at his food, his brows high on his face.

 


 

Steve went through the rest of his shift a little concerned with his lack of experience with men. It pretty much consumed him until closing time. He didn’t even bother to ask Bucky questions on the way home. Thankfully, Bucky didn’t seem to mind the awkward quiet.

Bucky was way too accepting of Steve’s weirdness sometimes.

So when they were home, both showered and sorting through their laundry, Steve thought it pertinent to just come out and ask.

“Can we try that kissing thing again?” he blurted, his arms full of his laundry. Bucky was sitting, organizing the pile on the sofa into whites, lights and darks.

Bucky glanced up at him over the back of the sofa.

“Uh,” he flushed pink, which, really, was kind of adorable. “I … guess. Why you asking so formally?”

Steve dropped his laundry over the back of the couch, completely messing up Bucky’s system.

“Because I don’t know this stuff,” he said, coming around.

Bucky frowned at the mess Steve’d made, then up at him.

“You’ve made out before,” Bucky said, though the words ‘made out’ seemed to stick in his throat a little.

“Yeah, but not dudes,” Steve bludgeoned on.

“It’s not that different, Steve,” Bucky murmured, his eyes dark.

“Isn’t it?” Steve said pacing around the coffee table. He then came to stand in front of Bucky. “Can we try it again?”

Bucky blinked up at him.

“Um, okay,” he said slowly, eyes flicking between Steve’s.

Steve grinned wide and leaned in.

Bucky slowly arched back until he was sitting against the sofa’s back cushion and Steve’s arms bracketed around him.

 


 

Fuck.

Steve wasn’t one for messing around, apparently.

He was kissing Bucky, his lips soft and welcoming.

Bucky really tried to not get carried away, but his heart was thumping like mad, surprised by Steve’s eagerness to keep trying this out.

“Mmmm,” Steve hummed against him. He pulled back and eyed Bucky almost contemplatively.

“Come on,” Steve said, grabbing Bucky’s hand. “Stand for me.”

“Huh?” Bucky frowned before being yanked to his feet.

“You’re so much taller than any girls I’ve kissed,” Steve said, leaning in again. Fuck, Bucky wanted to say something, anything really, but his brain went to mush when Steve kissed him again, his lips pressing, pulling back, changing the angle and pressing some more.

It was chaste, but it felt like fire lighting him up inside.

A cynical part of Bucky was burning alongside that fire. Something about how eager Steve was to explore this, to ‘try it out’. It didn’t quite sit right.

As much as Bucky hated talking about relationship shit, he felt compelled to at least go over it properly this time. For this person.

What was happening exactly? Had he hit his head and this was the coma resulting from immense head trauma?

“Bucky,” Steve huffed, his breath ghosting over Bucky’s mouth. “Is that how you kiss all the boys?” he murmured.

Bucky frowned and pulled back. “How many guys, exactly, do you think I’ve made out with?”

Steve’s eyes were glazed over. He shrugged, “I don’t know. A million? How many?”

Bucky pondered that, wondering again why these details bothered him.

“Four, max,” he said slowly. “Two while very inebriated.”

“One was Billy, Teddy’s boyfriend,” Steve smiled. “Yes, I saw that one.”

Bucky rolled his eyes. Was that story ever going to die?

“Yeah, okay.”

“And? Who else?” Steve pulled at Bucky’s arms, leading him absolutely nowhere.

Bucky scowled, “You never asked this shit before, Rogers.”

“Oh, don’t be such a grouch,” Steve chuckled. “I’m curious.”

Bucky wanted to roll his eyes, but goddamnit, Steve was cute. And he, Bucky, was merely a weak, mortal man.

“Okay. Fine. There was also this random dude at Josie’s bar. I didn’t get his name. Like I said, inebriated.”

“But you remember the kissing?” Steve raised a brow at that.

Yes, Bucky remembered, because the guy had been built like a brick shit house and was blonde, tall and beefy and really, what else needed to be said?

That one was a weird memory because it had also culminated in a heck of a lot of groping and grunting and messy underwwear and … yeah.

Ah, inhibitions. Way to go, alcohol.

Bucky brushed past Steve’s comment. “And there was this guy, Francesco. Technically, he was my first, but we had a few ‘firsts’, I guess.”

“Wait,” Steve pulled back. “Francesco?” He cocked a brow.

Bucky paused. “Yeah?”

Steve eyed him, “You don’t mean Frankie Ciccone Francesco? As in brother to Francesca?”

Bucky sucked on his lips and had the decency to look sheepish.

“Holy crap, Buck,” Steve sighed. “Weren’t you dating Franny? She was amazing.”

That she was.

Bucky just shrugged.

“Wow,” Steve said. “That was a while ago, too. What? Five, six years at least?”

Bucky shrugged, “I guess.”

Steve poked Bucky’s shoulder firmly. “Trust a Barnes to make it with a beautiful redhead and then somehow make it with her brother too.” He shook his head in what was very familiar exasperation. “Did she ever find out?”

Bucky made a face, “Oh hell no. Let’s just say me and Frankie agreed to let it all slide in favour of her dumping my sorry ass.”

Steve made a face, that annoyed, pouty face of his. “Man, I wondered why you let her go so easily. She was beautiful, and whip-smart.”

“Probably still is,” Bucky shrugged. He eyed Steve. “Besides, you’re one to talk. You let beautiful broads go all the time.”

Steve rolled his eyes, “Can we not? Thanks.”

“What, so now you want to play dick with me but you still can’t talk about your exes?”

“Hey,” Steve frowned.

“What?” Bucky said sharply. “This is what this is, isn’t it?” He felt the annoyance from before bubbling to the surface. This was what had been keeping him up at night. Sure, he would kiss Steve as much as he wanted because it was fucking astronomical, but Bucky had been gnawing on this issue for two nights already, if not half of puberty.

“Is this what, exactly?” Steve asked slowly.

“You and me,” Bucky said, raising his chin. “It’s not exactly kosher, is it? People don’t do this with their best friends of over twenty years, do they?”

Steve blinked at him.

“I don’t think I follow,” he murmured carefully. “I thought you were okay with this? I thought–“

“I’ll take what I can get, Steve,” Bucky sighed, dropping his hands to his sides. “I’m not fucking delusional.”

Steve watched him. “What do you mean, ‘take what you can get’?”

Bucky rubbed at his mouth. Their apartment felt so small, smaller than usual. “I mean … you don’t fully understand what’s happened, do you?”

Steve just stared back at him.

“Look,” Bucky said. He took in a shaky breath. “I fucking want you. I have wanted you for so long, I got used to never ever getting you. Now you’re saying you want to kiss, you want to make out, you want to talk about dudes. But you’re not into guys. You never have been. So I’m what, an experiment?” He raised both brows when Steve’s mouth just flapped like a fish. “I figured as much, but you know what, Steve?” Bucky stared at his friend, finally opening up completely. “I’ll take what I can get, because it’s too late to go back. So you can use me, or whatever, to ‘find yourself’ but just–“ he caught his breath, because damnit, hurt blossomed in his chest. “Just be aware that it’s not the same for me, okay?” he said, voice dry in his throat.

There, he’d said it. Now he couldn’t pretend.

Steve gaped at him. Then, carefully, he spoke. “Okay,” Steve began. “Um. Okay. first of all –“ He turned on the spot, hands on his hips. Then he turned back. “First of all, I would never use you. Or anyone else. I wouldn’t dream of it. Second,” he came up to Bucky, all hard jaw and intense eyes. “I don’t know what’s going on half the time with you anyway. You never tell me anything. But I definitely know that when you just said what you said, it made my heart go all wonky.”

Bucky frowned, completely confused. “What?”

Steve flushed then, for real, like they were actually getting to the heart of the problem. “I mean, that I see where you’re coming from but… but when you told me you wanted me, or that you want me that way, my brain kind of–“ he flailed his hands around his head. “Short-circuited, or whatever.” Holy hell, the guy really could turn ten shades of red. “That’s a neat feeling. I never get that, not from anyone.”

Bucky paused before answering, “So you mean that because someone’s showing interest, you’re interested? That’s messed up, Steve. Dangerous, even.” He was about to burst into a tirade about self-worth when Steve cut him off.

No!” Steve groaned. “I didn’t mean that. I meant that, um, when you said it, when I saw it in your face, how much you felt, for me? It sounded crazy. I’d never thought you felt that way! Why would I? You’re Bucky Barnes! You’ve been chasing skirts as long as I’ve known you. You have women crawling all over you, all the time. Hell, I only started dating when I hit my twenty-third birthday. You’d already gone and done, well, everything. And only now I know about the men as well.”

Bucky stared at Steve, not comprehending this at all.

“Okay, in all fairness, it really, really excited me, for sure,” Steve murmured, embarrassed. “But it also, kind of, made me feel like I’d been set on fire. Like there was this thing that I’d never considered. Not that I hadn’t considered men before, but I’d never thought of you, wanting me.”

Bucky stared at him.“What do you mean, not that you hadn’t considered men before?

Steve pursed his lips and scratched at his eyebrow. “Well, I’m not blind, Buck. I can … look.”

Bucky stared at him some more, like he didn’t even know Steve at all.

“You can’t pretend you’ve been eyeing guys up and now it’s your great big chance to try it out on me,” he murmured.

Steve looked up. “Bucky, I swear, I’m not using–“

but Bucky raised his hand.

“Okay, look,” he said softly. “I don’t wanna argue. I just wanna get this laundry done and dusted and … I need rest.”

“But–“ Steve pressed.

“Steve, please?” Bucky looked up, all tiredness and stress streaming from his every pore. “I can’t do this right now. Maybe this was a stupid mistake. Maybe it’s not. I don’t know. But it’s stressing me out and I can’t deal with you when I feel like a bag of tired shit.”

Steve looked like he wanted to argue further, but he didn’t. He just sagged a little and nodded.

“Okay,” he murmured. Bucky nudged him aside and walked back over to the sofa.

Steve watched him dig through the messy pile.

“You want help with that?” Steve finally asked.

“No, I can handle it.” Bucky answered, not looking up from his chore.

Chapter Text

“Hello?”

“Hi Becca, it’s me,” Steve said, pacing back and forth. It was pretty early but he was glad to hear she was up. The grass out the back of the apartment building was freshly mown, which smelled amazing, and Steve had just finished up his morning run.

“Steve? Whoa, hey buddy, what’s up?” Becca responded.

“Not much,” he lied, “What are you doing?” he heard a clatter in the background.

“Trying to figure out how to make Ma’s favourite upside down pineapple cake. I borrowed a bunch of pans from a friend, but I’m not sure what the fuck I’m doing here.”

“Oh, that’s right. Her birthday’s comin’ up,” Steve nodded, making a mental note to pick up a gift. “When’s the party?”

Becca grunted, “Um, probably day-of. I’ll let you know.” She cursed loudly.

Steve smiled, “You know, you have a chef for a brother. I’m sure he can help.”

Becca sighed loudly in his ear. “Yes, I know, but stuff like this is easy for him. Figured it’s about time I learn the family recipes before I’m left to cook this stuff up when I’m old and grey and living with my twelve feral cats.”

Steve chuckled. God, he loved the Barnes way of doing things. They were all so brash and brazen and idiotic all at once. He looked forward to Mrs. Barnes’ birthday. Being an honorary Barnes was one of the finer points in his sorry-ass life.

“Hey, so I actually called for a reason,” Steve said, clearing his throat. He turned and looked up at the trio of apartment buildings that made up their block. The shared green field and kids play area was big enough that he didn’t have to look up too high to find his and Bucky’s windows. Bucky was probably sleeping, and even if he did look out, Steve would be more of a speck from this distance.

“Okay,” Becca said. “I’m all ears. Hit me.”

Steve chewed on his lip. He’d fretted and tossed and turned all night, trying to figure out who to talk to about this. Sam was his first choice, but Sam also had no idea what the fuck was wrong with Steve in the first place and he didn’t want to get too deep into the shit Steve thought about that explained why he was behaving this way and why it was all bothering him. He would have then probably gone to Natasha for help, but that was rocky ground still. He wouldn’t give her any of the satisfaction because he was a full-grown child who was elevating petulance to an art form.

He really would have liked to hash this out with Bucky, but because Bucky was the whole reason for Steve’s concern, he just stayed away. The two of them rarely fought, but they could get pretty explosive.

They had the day off and he needed to get this sorted as fast as possible.

Or as fast as reasonably expected.

Because if Steve wasn’t careful, he was going to hurt the one person closest to him, and that was unacceptable.

So that left the one person who was ballsy enough to call him on his bullshit, but who loved him enough to do it for the right reasons.

“Okay, so,” he began, “Don’t freak out, but I need you to listen because I need your help.”

“Oh Lord,” Becca began, “You joined a fight club, or something, haven’t you? Why? WHY? I mean, I know a couple lawyers and they could bail you out or whatever, but if you got new ties to the mob, or whatever, there isn’t much I can do for you.”

No, shut up,” Steve huffed. He had a hand resting on his hip. “Listen.”

Becca huffed back, “I’m listening.”

“So, um, me and Bucky, we, uh, we kissed. And it’s kind of started–“

He jolted when it sounded like a crash on Becca’s end of the line. He winced when a series of sharp cracks echoed in his ears and he very clearly heard Becca yelp and swear from what sounded like a greater distance than before.

“Becca?” Steve asked, concerned.

“Jesus Fuck,” he heard her hiss and the line chattered oddly. Then a loud rustle and Becca’s breath was back. “You WHAT?” she hissed.

“Are you okay?” he asked, genuinely concerned now.

“Yes, I’m fine,” she bit out, “I just … fell over my step-stool. Crap, my phone screen’s all jacked up now.”

Becca wasn’t known for taking care of cellphones in general.

“Okay, it’s still working,” she went on, “Whatever. Fuck Apple anyway. Now, repeat what you just said, because I swear, I just heard you say you kissed my brother on the mouth-hole.”

“That’s because we did. Kiss,” he actually still felt all flushed about it and rubbed a hand over his lips.

“Okay, I’m coming over there,” Becca said sharply.

Steve blinked, “What? No. Becca, jeez, slow down, I just need your help. Talking help.”

“Keep talking, I’m listening,” she said, but he could clearly hear her rustling around, probably hopping through her apartment, looking for her shoes, or whatever.

“You are not coming all the way here just to yell at me,” Steve said firmly.

“I’m not yelling,” she snapped. “Tell me what happened.”

Steve huffed through his nose, face all squinched. “Okay. So. Some people at work were making fun of me and saying that me and Buck were a couple, or we should be…”

He went on to tell the stupid sordid details of Chef’s party and the aftermath. He explained his walk home with Bucky and how all this new information came tumbling out and how they’d kissed and then how they’d kinda-sorta argued yesterday and now he was freaking out because what the hell he didn’t know what to do, so he was calling and please, help.

 

Becca listened, and Steve was pretty damn sure she was still hell-bent on leaving her apartment, much to his dismay.

“Okay,” she said breathily. Steve could now hear traffic and movement in the background. “So my brother just admitted his heart boner for you and you kissed and now you’re wondering if you should do this because he kisses nice and is that okay to do when he’s also your childhood best friend and roommate?”

Steve sucked his teeth. “Uh, yeah. I guess.”

Becca sighed audibly.

“You, uh,” Steve frowned, “You don’t sound as surprised as I expected.”

He could feel her rolling her eyes. “Yeah, well I’m intuitive and shit. Whatever helps you sleep at night. Listen, we have to talk face-to-face. I’m not letting you get out of this conversation.”

“Becca-“ Steve began.

“No, now it’s your turn to listen,” she said sharply, not unlike her mother. “You’re talking about my big brother here. And as much as it grosses me to think about him kissing up on people and having his filthy way with them, he’s still my big brother.”

Steve nodded to no one.

“And,” she went on, “Because I know you and I know him, I also know that you are both going to royally fuck this up.”

“But–“

And I’m not about to let that happen, Steve. So bear with me, okay. I’ve been waiting years to have this talk and now it’s here, well, I gotta be the hero in this situation.”

Steve blinked. What the hell was she talking about years?

“Okay, I’m at the subway,” she breathed. “I’ll be there in forty minutes. We’re going to have a nice long chat, you and me.”

Steve regretted all his life decisions up to this point. He pouted.

“Becca, please don’t make this into a big thing.” he said.

“Like hell,” she laughed, “This is so big, Steve, you don’t even know. Don’t fuck this up before I get there, okay?”

Steve glared at an offending cloud that dared to float dreamily across the sky.

“Okay,” he mumured.

“Good boy,” she said, “Heading down to the platform. Gonna lose you now. See you soon!”

“Yeah, see you,” Steve said morosely before the line cut out. He stared at his cellphone, contemplating the best way to avoid what hole he’d just buried himself in.

 


 

Bucky heard the key turning in the lock so he turned away from the stove. The door opened and there was Steve.

Bucky blinked when a familiar blabbering voice followed the blonde in.

“Becca? It’s barely ten AM?” Bucky asked.

“Oh, you’re up!” his younger sister beamed. She came into the apartment while Steve closed the door behind her. She dropped her bag on the floor arbitrarily, as was her way, before making her way over and peeking into Bucky’s frying pan.

“Oo, whatcha got in the pot?” she asked while he batted her away.

“Back off,” Bucky groused. “I’m making pork and veg dumplings for lunch this week.” Their high-top frying pan was simmering away, a series of big fat dumplings steaming away under the glass lid.

“Pork? Pssht,” she hissed. Bucky rolled his eyes, like his family had ever strayed from good ol’ pork meat. “How do you know which ones are which?” she asked.

Steve came over and starting digging through the fridge. “The veggie ones have a left twist to the top,” he supplied in answer before pulling out the orange juice and pouring himself a massive glass.

Becca ‘huhed’ and checked the dumplings for evidence. “Neat.”

Bucky glared at her. “What the hell are you doing here? Don’t you have students to teach?”

“Nope,” Becca grinned back. “This group’s all done. Couple weeks until the next session.”

Bucky shooed her away.

He eyed her warily though, if only because Steve seemed all jumpy and weird and he hadn’t yet spoken to Bucky properly, so they still hadn’t had time to talk last night through. Thank God.

Bucky chose not to comment on what looked like a weirdly fresh bruise that was blossoming on his sister’s right knee.

Steve was making some kind of weird faces too.

Becca rolled her eyes and grabbed Steve by the elbow.

“Excuse us, brother dear,” she said, dragging Steve along in her wake, “But Steven and I have some important business to discuss.”

Steve looked less than pleased, but did indeed follow Becca into his room before she shut the door behind them.

Bucky did his best to ignore the sounds coming from behind that door, but it was annoying him anyway.

He wasn’t fully awake and he still hadn’t showered, so whatever. They could gossip and gab for as long as they needed, he would just enjoy the peace for once.

 


 

“Okay,” Becca said, finally seated on Steve’s bed, legs crossed and eagerly attentive. “So what’s the deal?”

“What do you mean?” Steve frowned, eyeing his door warily. “I told you everything.”

Becca rolled her eyes.

“Why isn’t this weirding you out?” Steve huffed, folding his arms. “I’m sorry, but this news should be weird. I just told you about me and Bucky–“ he glanced at the door again before continuing in a softer voice, “kissed. And you seem totally fine!”

Becca raised a brow. “Because I’m not surprised,” she said simply, which only made Steve’s own brows shoot upwards. “Come on, Steve,” she said, “I’ve had to endure the Steve-n-Bucky show my whole life. You two have been joined at the hip for centuries. Figures eventually it would lead to this, no?”

“No!” Steve hissed. “It’s not obvious. I didn’t know! Hell, it took long enough for Bucky to be honest about being bi, and then finding out he likes me that way too!”

“But you kissed him anyway,” Becca said.

Steve flapped his arms. “Well, yeah.”

“Just ‘yeah’?” Becca said. “Can you hear yourself?”

Steve shrugged. “I’m confused,” he said honestly. “I pissed him off. He thinks I’m using him as a test subject, like I’m going to throw him away or something.”

“Well, are you?” Becca asked frankly.

Steve blinked, horrified, “No. He’s my best friend.”

“Whom you just made out with?”

Steve paused, “Okay, I’m going to be honest here. I really wanted to. Like, really wanted to. That’s all I was thinking.”

“So it’s not because you’ve harboured a deep-seated crush on him for the last ten years and the opportunity to get close with him came to fruition and you had to take the chance?” Becca asked.

Steve paused. “Um, no?”

She peered at him. “Because that’s what just happened to my brother.”

Steve’s mouth flapped for a bit.

Becca watched him.

“Steve,” she sighed, “You’re important to me. You’re like my other, dorkier brother. But you’re a million times more important to Bucky. He would never risk his friendship with you, would he?”

Steve slowly shook his head.

“Right,” she went on. “Unless…” she paused and leaned forward. “It was for something special, something life-altering. Something he’s wanted for so long, it’s probably seemed unrealistic for most of the time. Something he’d risk you for.”

Steve didn’t know what to say. Was this her way of helping him? Because it was only confusing him more.

Becca sighed and looked heavenward. “Okay, look, the only thing he’d risk you for, is you. Meaning, and I’m gonna be hella honest now, my dumb stupid blockhead brother has had it bad for you since, well, forever. And he’s never wanted to mess up his friendship with you. Except here you come, with your dopey words of love and affection and talking about how other folks think Buck’s in love with you, and blam! His worst secret is out and now you know and he’s freaking out, and hell, you’re actually okay with it and then you wanna kiss, kapow!”

Her hands had flapped around during all that, and came to a stop with a clap.

“What the fuck is he supposed to think, when you’ve never shown an iota of wanting to bone a guy before?”

Steve stared back at her with wide eyes. Was that really what had happened? Had he just set Bucky up in some kind of messed up scenario where he, the idiot, can duck out at any point and leave Bucky hanging?

“You look terrified,” Becca said gently.

“I’m such an asshole,” Steve said softly.

Becca sighed, “No. You’re not. Well, not yet.”

“I mean,” Steve said, staring at his own hands, “If I’m honest…” he chewed his lip. “I have definitely thought about … stuff with Bucky. And only really Bucky.”

And this time, Becca was surprised.

“Really?” she asked.

Steve nodded. “Well, yeah.”

“Well whaddya know,” Becca said. “I thought you were a straight-shooter, Rogers.”

Steve shrugged. “I dunno. Does it have to come down to labels all the time? I just can’t imagine not having Bucky around, and the way things are going, I’m going to fuck this up because I got all excited.”

Becca scooted to the edge of his bed and got to her feet. She came to stand in front of him, her blue eyes looking up.

“Steve,” she murmured, “My dumbass brother loves the ever-lovin’ shit outta you. You know, my parents and I joke all the time that if there was ever a house fire, Bucky’d save you first, way before any of us. And we’ve been saying that for years. Man, we accepted it years ago.”

Steve blinked at her, and he knew what she meant. Steve was the one everyone always said was open-hearted and well-loved. That Steve was liked by everyone and had more than enough affection to share. But he knew for sure that they didn’t know love the way Bucky had it. Bucky loved with his every feeling, with all he had. He didn’t love a lot of things; Cooking, his family, three-legged dogs and … well, Steve.

“Have I been taking advantage of him?” Steve asked gently. “Because I know he loves me? Have I been …” God. His own chest felt pain, his ribs felt tight.

“I don’t know,” Becca said gently, “Maybe?”

Steve winced and rubbed at his eyes. “And you think he loves me for real, like that?”

Becca stared up at him. “Yeah. Yeah, he really does.” She smiled. “I mean, I have no idea why. You’re goddamn useless.”

“So what do I do?”

Becca’s smile waned. “Well, for one, don’t go playing all kissy-face with him when really, you should be thinking hard about why you guys are locking lips. And please, God, don’t ask me about sex and shit, ‘cos he’s still my brother and, just, ew.”

Steve stared down at the younger Barnes, wondering where she got her brains.

“Thanks, Becca,” he murmured, pulling her in for a hug.

She sighed into his shoulder. “No problem, pal.” She patted his back.

When they separated, she eyed him. “You got a plan?”

Steve sighed deeply, then nodded.

“Okay, aces,” she punched him in the pec and he winced.

“Ow,” he huffed.

Becca smiled. “Come on, tough guy, you need a shower and I need to harass my brother about some upside-down cake recipes.”

 


 

Steve was in the Chinese grocery store forty minutes later, trying to decipher Bucky’s shopping list scrawl. Okay, so he had the ginger, the garlic, the butter. What he was currently eyeing was the small meat section.

“Fresh, organic,” Mrs Shiu had muttered not moments ago, familiar with the way he and Bucky shopped.

Steve chewed his lip. He picked up two packs of steak rounds and some shrimp.

He hemmed and hawed at the flour, wondering if Bucky meant coconut flour or if he needed wheat flour. Maybe it was for cakes, or maybe for the cabbage schnitzel thing he’d been planning on for ages. Hell if Steve knew.

So he picked up a pack of both types.

Oil and sugar were on sale and Steve was always swayed by the fresh selection of fruit, so he added strawberries, plums and peaches to his little flimsy basket.

Mrs. Shiu was kind enough to double-bag it all so he could carry it without fear of the bags tearing.

On the walk home, Steve fretted some more. Sure, he’d ducked out, list in hand, when Becca and Bucky got to talking about their mother’s upcoming birthday. Sure, it was cheap, but he needed the space. Just looking at Bucky, looking at that calm, earnest face with those big blue eyes … ugh, he was always too weak for that crap. Bucky always griped about being victimized by Steve’s puppy eyes, but it went both ways. Now it was just doubly awkward. And Steve used his puppy eyes because he knew it worked. Bucky didn’t even try, because he hardly ever asked for anything, and God, Steve felt like such a heel because it was true. He’d been totally making use of Bucky’s flexibility and getting his way for years. How long would this have gone on before he realized? Jeez, Bucky cooked and ate whatever Steve needed. He paid for half of everything and then some because Steve concerned the hell out of him on the daily. He lived so far from his parents just so they could stick close to Steve (and now Bucky’s) work and ‘cos it was cheap and shit.

What would Bucky be doing with his life if he wasn’t being dragged around by Steve? What monster takes advantage of such kindness?

He felt so morose by the time he walked his way up the eight flights of stairs, that it barely fazed him when all he was met with was Becca lounging on their sofa, and no Bucky in sight.

“Oh, hey,” Becca said, getting up to help with the groceries. “Oooh, peaches!”

“Hey, back off,” Steve groused, lifting the bags onto the kitchen counter. While he began unpacking, Becca clarified the whereabouts of her brother.

“Oh, yeah, a couple of crazy hot dudes showed up. Like, models. Do you know models? Anyhow, they showed up and said oh brother of mine had promised to show them basketball, or some such shit. Not too sure.”

Steve frowned. Who on earth was coming to visit Bucky? And why hadn’t he mentioned it?

“Did they say where they were going?” Steve asked, trying to keep the petulance from his tone. Becca smirked at him, handing him the eggs.

“They said something about the block court round back.”

“Oh, okay,” Steve sighed. That was close.

Steve carefully unpackaged the fruit and veg. He put the meat in the freezer, after reshuffling some of the other goods in there.

“It’s a scorcher out there,” Becca went on. “How ‘bout you put on some of that magical sunscreen we keep telling you about and we go find these boys? I wouldn’t mind, ahem, watching whatever it is they’re doing.”

Steve paused, then looked over at the beaming Barnes beside him.

“Come on,” she grinned. “It’s your day off. Live a little.”

Steve sighed and shut the fridge.

“Okay, fine. But it’s not because we’re being nosy.”

Becca gasped, as if affronted, “Steven Grant, how dare you imply such a thing.”

Steve snorted and gave her a shove. “Yeah, yeah. Get a move on.”

 


 

“Oh,” Steve blinked in the blinding sunshine. “That’s Jack.”

And it was. He and Becca had walked over to the block courts where the high school kids usually hung out. Guess it was too hot for them, but good enough for Bucky, Jack and some other, unfamiliar guy.

Bucky was in his basketball shorts, sneakers and a white tank top that really showed off just how tan he was getting. Steve, on the other hand was slathered in so much sunscreen, he felt like one of those babies at the beach with their parents.

Becca was much the same as her brother, all tan and comfortable in her skin.

Bucky was talking to the two guys, bouncing a basketball slowly between them.

“You really don’t know anything, huh?” he was saying, squinting in the sunshine.

Jack laughed, looking so different in plainclothes. Steve was just used to seeing the brit in his whites that it almost didn’t register that he could be someone else on his days off.

“Hey,” Steve said with a wave.

Jack turned and it looked like he’d recently had a haircut.

His eyes lit up. “Oh, well if it isn’t Rogers himself. Was wondering if you’d make an appearance.”

Steve gave a wry smile, glancing at the unfamiliar man standing beside Jack.

“Hi, Steve Rogers,” Steve murmured, politeness winning out. He extended his hand in greeting.

The other man smiled and leaned forward to grasp his hand. “Hello, name’s Roger. Funny, that.”

“Funny what?” Steve queried with a frown.

“You know, Rogers, Roger?” the man seemed friendly enough.

“Oh, oh!” Steve nodded. “I see, yeah. Funny.”

“Good lord, Rogers, are you on half batteries today?” Jack blinked down at Becca. “And you look familiar. Hello. Have we met?”

Becca grinned, “No, no we have not. Hi. Becca. Becca Barnes.”

And Jack’s eyebrows shot up. His smile slowly grew and he twisted to eye Bucky who was squinting at them.

“Another Barnes? Really?” He turned back to Becca. “Nice to meet you Becca. I’m Jack. This is Roger. I work with your brother and this blonde cupcake.”

Steve made a face. Jack always had the weirdest nicknames for Steve.

Becca looked beyond pleased. Steve could, perhaps, see what she meant shen she said the two guys were hot. Roger was very tan, with dark hair and dark eyes, but he seemed nice. Steve looked at the men carefully.

He blinked over at Bucky, who was focused on the basketball in his hands.

“So, what, you just wanted to come watch us make arses of ourselves?” Jack asked.

“Didn’t know you lived nearby,” Steve said.

Jack shrugged, “Not too far. More to the south. You know that bookstore that doubles as a medieval occult place?”

Steve nodded, “Yeah. By the liquor store.”

Jack nodded. “We’re in one of the apartments above there.”

We. Okay. Steve did not miss that.

“So, are you-“ Steve blinked at Roger, then back at Jack. “I mean–“

“Oh my God, Steve, you’re so embarrassing,” Becca hissed.

Jack chuckled. “If you’re asking if this Roger is indeed my Roger, then yes, you would be correct.”

“Though I only moved in about two months ago,” Roger nodded slowly.

“Details, details,” Jack said. “Have you never met?” he asked with a frown. “Huh. My fault, I suppose.”

“I didn’t know you had a boyfriend,” Steve said with a shrug.

“And I can see it weighed on you,” Jack said, smiling wide and waggling his eyebrows.

Man, Steve had no idea what the guy was on about sometimes.

Bucky rolled his eyes and came over. “Okay, leave him alone, jeez.”

“Oh, your bodyguard is here,” Jack said.

“And where is your bodyguard, exactly?” Bucky said back. “I thought she was gonna meet you here?”

Jack shrugged. “You think I have any idea where that girl is at any given moment?”

Roger laughed at that. “You two are very cute,” he said.

Steve flushed pink and jammed his hands into his shorts back pockets.

Bucky seemed unfazed.

“Yeah, he’s adorable, and I’m fucking tired. Do you really want to keep trying this, or are we done pretending you care about basketball?”

“Oh, you wound me,” Jack laughed. “But yes, okay, fine. I wasn’t listening anyway. Three yard points line, or whatever.”

Bucky rolled his eyes and dropped the basketball. He kicked it over to some small kids waiting on the sidelines.

A spunky little girl with a halo of hair picked it up with a grin.

“Kay, move,” Bucky shooed them all off the court.

“Is that a for real ice cream truck?” Becca asked, hand covering her eyes from the sun.

“Yeah,” Steve squinted at the same truck. “He rolls around here all summer.”

“Not creepy,” Becca huffed.

“You want one?” Roger asked, digging at the bag he had slung over his shoulder. “I could do with something delicious.”

“But you have me,” Jack said with a grin.

Roger just ignored Jack, clearly used to him.

“Come, let me treat you,” Roger said. “Steve? Would you like something?” Gosh, but this guy was so nice.

“Um, sure, One of those rocket pops would be good,” Steve dug out a couple bills and handed them over. He looked up, “Buck? You want?”

“I’m good,” Bucky said.

Becca and Roger made their way down the grass and Steve watched them go.

He turned back to Jack and Bucky, who were having some kind of glaring contest.

“Where’d you get a guy like that?” Steve said.

Jack turned to look at him. “In England, where all the wonderful men are.”

Steve rolled his eyes, “I meant, he seems cool.”

Bucky snorted, “Yeah, why’s he with you?”

Jack turned and shoved at Bucky’s shoulder. “You.” Jack huffed. “You be quiet.”

Bucky laughed and Steve felt that thing again. That weird heat boiling in his belly. Bucky was super comfortable around Jack, and it shouldn’t bother Steve…but it did.

He hated the feeling.

Standing together, the other two struck quite a look. Bucky was handsome, if not moreso than Jack, and as Becca mentioned, Jack was model-quality handsome.

It made Steve grind his teeth a little.

Were these two flirting? Had they been doing that all along? Should he be concerned?

God, it’s not like Bucky was his property. Bucky could do whatever, whoever he wanted. It wasn’t Steve’s business.

 

But it was fucking annoying, apparently.

 

“Hey, you okay in there?” Jack waved a hand in front of Steve. “You’re looking a little peaky.”

Steve blinked and realized he’d folded his arms across his chest, which was A-plus body language, great.

Thankfully, he was interrupted by thundering footsteps and the loud voice of none other than America Chavez.

“Hey! You’re all here! Wow!” she cried, running up to them. Kate Bishop wasn’t far behind, her face bent in wry amusement. Both women were in shorts and flip-flops and t-shirts thin enough to handle this crazy hot heat.

“Hey,” Kate waved, her dark bangs hanging over her sunglasses.

“Ladies,” Jack bowed all formally. America smacked him upside the head.

“When you said it was close by, I thought you mean, like, five minutes away,” she said waspishly. “We been walking for days. Look at my hair. It’s a friggin’ mess, chico.”

Her hair certainly made an impact. It was big and curly and wild, very much like America herself. Steve couldn’t help smiling.

“Rogers!” America cried, seeing him. “’S good to see you! We never hang.”

Steve shrugged, “Who has the time?”

“That’s true,” she nodded. “Ey! Look! I brought snacks. For a picnic. You guys wanna picnic with us?”

She pulled at the floppy bag she had with her, revealing a pile of fruit and wrapped sandwiches in wax paper, just like Steve’s ma used to make. His eyes softened at the sight.

“Uh, sure. You certainly packed enough,” Steve murmured, leaning in.

“Well, we gotta eat,” she said loudly, swinging the bag back over her shoulder. “Oh! there’s a table! C’mon, let’s get it before those rugrats or that weirdo gang gets too close!” and with that, she dashed off, all wild hair and colour.

Kate smiled wide.

“Hey, she’s yours to worry about,” Jack said snarkily.

“I know,” Kate sighed, and wandered after America.

 


 

The motley crew actually settled in for a good long lunch at the park table.

Becca and Roger rejoined them and it was actually really neat to spend time outdoors for once and not huddle inside, trying to recapture what they could of their sleep.

Bucky sat opposite Steve, Becca beside him. Then Roger and Jack filling in the rest of the table bench. So Steve got to chat with Kate beside him, and America on her other side.

“Wow, you seriously packed for, like, twenty people,” Jack said in awe as America unwrapped even more sandwiches.

“It’s ‘cos she was practising,” Kate sighed.

“Yeah, man,” America huffed, finally completing the small pyramid of food.

Roger and Becca had been smart enough to buy some pop at the ice cream truck when they realized what was going down.

Steve unwrapped his rocket pop and gleefully licked at the cool ice.

He glanced up and caught Bucky staring. Steve flushed, images of whatever this could look like rushing into his head.

Bucky looked away, reaching past Becca to grab at a sandwich.

“So, I’ve got, uh,” Jack peered over his sandwich carefully. “Cheese, prosciutto and pear and … honey?”

“Yep.” America said. “Here, try this,” she handed something to Steve. “It’s veggie-style. Avocado, roasted red peppers, pickles and sour cream.”

“Mmm,” Steve hummed, still licking at his popsicle.

Bucky was peering into the layers of his own sandwich. “Anchovies, mushrooms … and … dill?” He quirked a brow at America.

She shrugged, “Trust me, hombre. It’s good.”

Bucky shrugged and dug in.

“Man, I love hanging out with chefs,” Becca laughed, opening up her own chicken salad sandwich. “This is fuckin’ delicious.”

“Hear, hear,” Roger nodded in agreement. “Dating a chef was one of my better life choices.”

Jack snorted at that.

“You guys picnic together a lot?” Steve asked, biting into his popsicle before it all melted away.

Jack shrugged, “We try.”

“They use it as an excuse to battle it out for best sandwich-maker,” Kate said conspiratorially.

Bucky was watching Steve again. Steve licked up the last droplets on the wooden stick that had been holding his rocket pop.

Bucky blinked, mouth full.

“What?” Steve asked.

“Your lips are all blue,” Becca said.

God, the two of them looked like twins, the way they were eyeing him with exasperation and dark eyebrows. They even leaned on the same elbow, sandwiches dangling in loose fingers.

“Mmm,” Jack said, leering over his way. Roger nudged him with an elbow.

Steve unwrapped his own sandwich, eyeing it before taking a tentative bite. “Mmm,” he hummed. “America, this is great.”

“Thanks!” she crowed proudly. “My mama taught me best.”

“Your mother is a saint,” Jack said. “She had to bring you up, so she had to be.”

“You think you’re funny,” America laughed, “but you ain’t.”

Kate shifted in her seat beside Steve. “So, Bucky,” she said, voice calm. “How’d you get those scars?”

Steve had just bitten into his avocado sandwich.

He glanced up, mouth full.

Becca looked up at that exact moment, frowning.

Bucky seemed unfazed. He just glanced down at his left arm, where the thin white scars peered out from under his tricep and came to a messy tangle on the underside of his elbow. They were so faint now, Steve sometimes forgot about them.

His stomach halted and he wanted to spit out his food.

Becca looked about ready to do the same. She swallowed audibly as Bucky answered.

“Oh, they’re from a biking accident a few years back.”

“Really?” America said. “What happened?”

God. Steve did not want to talk about this. His food felt like a lump of wet meat in his mouth.

Bucky shrugged. “I was biking home, slid on some gravel and kinda hit the dirt, ass over tea kettle.”

Which was such a simplified way to explain the way Bucky’d been found lying by the side of the road, unconscious, with his arm all mangled and out of joint.

God.

“Wow, those are some serious scars though,” Kate murmured. “Musta hurt.”

“Yeah,” Bucky nodded, biting into his sandwich.

Steve finally swallowed his own mouthful and caught Becca’s gaze.

“Can we not–“ Becca said sharply, brows furrowed.

“Yeah, can we not talk about that, please?” Steve said hurriedly, thankful that he wasn’t the only one feeling faint at the thought.

Kate glanced over, “Oh. Okay. Sorry.”

“Hey, it’s not a problem,” Bucky murmured with ease. “It was a long time ago. And I got all healed up nice and proper. Looked way worse before the surgery, let me tell you.”

“I don’t want to talk about this,” Becca said, hands on the table, looking at her can of coke like it was threatening her with bodily harm.

Bucky looked down at his sister and nudged her shoulder with his.

“Hey. Calm down.”

Becca just shoved him back. “Shut up,” she said.

The awkwardness was seeping into the conversation. Roger glanced at Jack, who looked at America. Well, great.

“Okay,” Kate said gently, “My apologies.”

“Hey, who got the bacon?” America blurted loudly. And then they got lost in the talk about slow-baking versus flash-frying bacon and other appropriate sandwich meats.

Bucky was eyeing Becca. She’d clearly given up on her food, much in the same way that Steve had.

Bucky then glanced at Steve and slurped at his own drink.

Man, Steve hadn’t thought of Bucky’s accident in forever. He sometimes forgot it even ever happened. Not like back then when it was fresh in his mind and he’d had to deal with visiting his best friend in hospital almost every day.

The feeling from that experience was still there, just under the surface. It was a reminder to Steve of how quickly life could change if you weren’t ready for it. In fact, it was six months after the accident when Steve had gone out looking for a real full-time job and had found his way into BRDO, intent on getting hired no matter what.

Looking over the group today, Steve was sometimes amazed at how their lives had changed. He actually had friends and co-workers he didn’t mind seeing every day.

Looking at Kate and America, seeing how they were, it made Steve grateful that they could be happy. That Jack and Roger were happy. That Steve had Becca, that he had Bucky. God, why was he feeling so morose?

He couldn’t ever fall into that funk again. Those times were hard enough without having the possibility of them coming back.

Something nudged Steve’s ankle.

He looked up. Bucky raised a brow. Steve just gave a small smile.

I’m fine, he radiated, even if he felt so at odds with himself.

 


 

“You two are weird, you know that?” Bucky huffed, pushing the door open into the apartment. The sun was just starting to set and Steve could feel the faint prickle of sunburn on his cheeks and nose.

“You’re weird,” Becca said, throwing herself at their sofa once more.

Bucky just sighed and kicked off his sneakers. Steve did the same.

“I mean, you don’t gotta get all mouthy any time someone brings up my scars,” Bucky went on. “You know it doesn’t bother me.”

He wandered over to the kitchen while Steve watched him. Becca got up and scowled at her bother over the sofa back.

“Yeah, well, I don’t like thinking about it, okay? You barely even remember that shit, so be quiet.”

Bucky paused and turned to cock a brow at his sister. Steve went over and opened the fridge wider, pulling out the orange juice.

Bucky eyed him too. “You hearin’ this?”

Steve looked at Bucky, “I agree with Becca. You weren’t really around much at the time. It was pretty awful.”

Bucky frowned.

He watched Steve pour himself a drink, put the juice away and wander over to slump down beside Becca.

“Well you make other people feel bad for askin’,” Bucky said. “and you gotta let it go sometime,” he sighed, walking over to peer down at the two of them. Becca had snugged herself up against Steve, arms going around his ribs, head under his chin.

The two of them glared up at him with sad eyes.

“Oh, you’re ganging up on me now,” Bucky sighed and rolled his eyes. “Great.”

He walked to the table that had no chairs and dug around the piles of laundry there. “I’m gonna shower.”

“You do that,” Becca huffed.

So Bucky went ahead and disappeared into the bathroom.

Steve gently combed his hand over Becca’s hair.

“Can’t believe you have a heart boner for him,” Becca snorted loudly.

 


 

By the time Bucky was done showering, Becca had already packed up and gone. He was kind of surprised, but whatever.

Steve was taking his laundry into his room in stages.

Bucky watched him disappear into his room, the sound of his chest of drawers scraping loudly.

Bucky sighed and rubbed at his wet hair. Thank God they had air conditioning. His own skin felt warm and overheated from the sunshine.

When Steve reappeared, Bucky noted the pinkness on the blonde’s arms and face.

“You gotta wear stronger sunscreen,” Bucky sighed.

“Yep,” Steve murmured.

God, was it going to be this awkward forever?

He’d been expecting Steve to jump in at any second and demand answers about the night before. But nothing so far.

Bucky had a sinking feeling in his gut that maybe that was his answer. Maybe Steve had come around and realized how stupid at had all been, their fleeting moment of panic.

Bucky filled the kettle with water and set it to boil. He pulled out his favourite mug, the lopsided one Steve had made for him in high school pottery class. It was hideous but it got the job done.

“Hey, Buck,” Steve said.

Bucky turned. Steve was closer than he expected.

“Yeah?”

Steve looked at him with those dopey sad eyes of his and already Bucky felt weak in the knees.

“I’m sorry,” Steve murmured, making Bucky’s heart sink further. Okay, so Steve was apologizing for everything. Great. So what now? Pretend it’s all okay?

“For how I behaved yesterday,” Steve said. His hands were tugging at the hem of his shirt. “I, I’ve had time to think. And I think I misunderstood a whole lot of what was said.”

Bucky was quiet, leaning back against the counter.

He slowly folded his arms.

“I’ll bet,” he said, voice all scratched up.

Steve looked at him then, shoulders squared. God, Bucky couldn’t help the flutter in his belly at the sight of what were the beginnings of freckles on Steve’s sharp cheekbones.

“So, I want to explain myself, and make something very clear,” Steve said firmly. “I was watching America and Kate today. And, uh, they’re really cute together.”

Bucky frowned.

“And,” Steve continued, “Sometimes, I see couples like them and I wonder how easy it looks for them to be so good together. How they clearly understand each other, and get to touch each other and be together like that, with no worries.”

Bucky just kept staring.

“And then I was thinking about us, and how, if we were like that, it would be so easy. Because you’re you and you’re amazing.”

Steve sighed, “I’m not making any sense,” he huffed. He looked up. then he came closer. “Let me explain it this way, because my mouth-to-brain setting has always been broken anyhow.”

He pushed his fingers under Bucky’s arms, making Bucky loosen his folded stance. Smooth as anything, Steve wrapped his arms around Bucky, causing Bucky’s heart to leap into his throat.

“This has always felt so normal,” Steve murmured into Bucky’s ear. “I’ve always been able to hug you and touch you and be close with you. And I always thought that was normal for best friends.”

Bucky’s breath caught in his throat. His right hand automatically fell to the back of Steve’s neck.

Steve pulled back and stared at Bucky. “But I’m starting to realize that it isn’t. That I just always need to be close to you. And I’ve been using you for so long as my own personal security blanket, that it’s not fair. And I’m sorry for that.”

Bucky stared at his best friend, shocked.

“What are you talking about?” Bucky asked.

“I’m saying,” Steve pushed on, “That the thought of you and me, being like Kate and America? Or like Jack and Roger? Like that? Like, a couple?” Steve’s eyes were lit up. “It sounds amazing, Buck. It really does.”

Holy hell.

Bucky gaped and blinked, lost for words.

“But you’ve never–“ he began but was cut off.

“I know,” Steve sighed, “I know I’ve never talked about men before. And maybe that’s because I didn’t think to. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s because it is kind of exciting, but Buck,” Steve paused, biting his lip. “No woman has ever kissed me like that before, and we weren’t even using tongue.” He flushed a little. “And it ain’t because I’m hard up, or whatever, it’s because it was so natural, and it was you. Like, I feel like an idiot for not noticing before.”

Bucky just blinked at him while the kettle began to whistle.

“Um,” he blabbed.

“So can you give me a chance?” Steve murmured, leaning in closer. “I’m not using you and this ain’t gonna be perfect, but I can’t think of anything else. You got my wires all scrambled and I wanna unscramble them.”

Bucky felt like he was hallucinating.  “Where is Steve and what have you done with him?” he said hoarsely.

Steve smiled then, that beautiful, brilliant smile of his.

“I’m here, I’m just dumb. And I had time to think. And I want you to understand that this is important. You’re important. Can you let me try figure myself out, and not try to fuck you up along the way?”

Bucky actually felt a mixture of elation and sadness wash over him. His face softened and he pressed both hands to Steve’s jaw, fingers caressing those big ears of his.

“Pal, I’m already a fucked up mess, so you can certainly try,” he said softly.

 


 

So Bucky felt off kilter.

He started off the day unsure of where they were heading, and now he was on the sofa, watching Parks and Rec with Steve beside him, like always.

Was he trippin’?

He had a sneaky suspicion that his sister had something to do with this, that meddlesome busybody. But he didn’t have the energy to call her up and chew her out. Plus, his phone was still charging and he was pretty sure he’d spotted the sorry state of her phone, and it didn’t look like it was up to receiving phone calls much.

He was brought back to himself when Steve grunted.

Steve leaned into Bucky, pushing at Bucky’s chest.

“What?” Bucky asked, falling to the side a little.

“Lie down,” Steve groused grumpily, “‘m tired.”

“Uh,” So Bucky did as he was told. He rested his head against the armrest, neck propped up by one measly cushion.

Steve then leaned over onto Bucky, maneuvering their legs better so the blonde could flop gracelessly over Bucky’s chest.

Steve sighed, head smushed under Bucky’s chin, his great six-foot-plus frame barely contained at all by their sad sagging sofa. Both of them had one leg falling onto the floor, and the others dangling over the other armrest, but still. It wasn’t all bad.

Bucky’s left hand came up and his fingers gently rubbed through the hair at the nape of Steve’s neck while Leslie Knope gave an impassioned speech about an inanimate silverback gorilla.

Steve’s chest rumbled, resonating right through Bucky.

“You’re my favourite person ever, Buck,” Steve muttered into Bucky’s shirt.

Fuck, but this was goddamn perfect.

Chapter Text

Work became a little crazy, so much so, that Bucky felt like sleep and rest were a distant memory. He managed five workdays that ended after midnight, giving him over twelve hours on his feet with barely a break between.

It wasn’t much better for Steve, but at least he alternated late starts and early leaves.

Bruce was reminding everyone that he had a vacation coming up, which only seemed to amp up the tension in the kitchen.

Bucky was currently sliding the metal rings off a couple of ice cream cakes when he heard more orders coming in fast from the servers at the window.

Teddy was beside him, plating as fast as his giant hands could. The kid was getting better, more confident, which Bucky was glad to see. Teddy was a hazard to himself and others when he was lost, so it was best when Bucky showed him step-by-step what was expected of him.

Bucky slid one of the small ice cream towers onto a clean plate, and Teddy drizzled warm caramel over it swiftly.

“Two for seven!” Bucky yelled, picking up the orders for table seven. Parker was there in a flash, looking harried and tense. Once that was done, Bucky and Teddy got onto the next order, and the next and the next.

 


 

Bucky finally made it home, careful to keep it quiet. Steve was probably asleep long ago.

He slipped off his sneakers and yawned so wide he felt his jaw click.

He padded over to the kitchen.

The plate of oatmeal cookies was empty save for half of one.

“Really? Half? You couldn’t leave me one?” Bucky huffed, snatching the cookie up and stuffing it into his face.

He couldn’t be bothered with showering.

Once he was in his room, he tugged off his t-shirt, dumped his gym bag on the floor and collapsed face-first onto his blessedly cool bed and went to sleep.

 


 

Bucky woke at the ruckus coming from the front door. He winced and blinked, gauging the time. I was still early.

He pushed himself off the bed just as the front door opened.

“What the-?” he breathed, when Sam Wilson of all people, and Steve, stumbled into the apartment.

It was bright and sunny, the perfect day for them to go to the Y and yet, here they were, not at the Y.

Then Bucky noticed the way Steve was clutching his nose, chin up, paper towels dotted with red.

“Jesus,” Bucky hustled over, “What the hell happened?”

“Oh, hey, Buck,” Steve said, looking at him, hand clearly still holding the wad of paper to his profusely bleeding nose.

Bucky glared at Sam. “I thought you guys were at the gym?”

“We were,” Sam huffed. “It was same old same old, until this guy decided it was his turn to get all up in Rumlow’s business.”

Bucky scowled and looked at Steve. He’d heard a bunch about this Rumlow guy. Sounded like a peach. “Really?” Bucky said. He batted away Steve’s hands, and took the paper towel away. “You shoulda taken him to the hospital. Jesus, Steve, is it broken? Again?”

“I tried, man,” Sam said, clearly beyond exasperation. “But he insisted on the clinic down the road. Nurse there said it ain’t broken, but it’s badly ‘bumped’. Busted a few blood vessels and whatnot.”

Bucky glared hard, turning Steve’s chin from side-to-side.

“It’s okay,” Steve blurbed, his words a little clogged up. “Seriosuly, Buck.”

“You think this is ‘okay’?” Bucky said sharply. “When will you learn that getting into fights ain’t ever done shit for you?”

Steve’s brows were furrowed, “Hey, those girls didn’t want him harassing them, okay? If you’d been there, you woulda done the same.”

“Yeah, and what, his fist make you feel all righteous again?” Bucky retorted, unfazed.

“More like the concrete floor,” Sam muttered. Bucky blinked at him, then back at Steve.

“You were brawling?” Bucky asked.

Steve shrugged, petulance seeping out of every pore. “He started it.”

“Did you end it?” Bucky asked, wadding up the bloody paper in his hands.

Steve shrugged. “Maybe.”

Sam sighed, “He did get in a few choice punches, I gotta say. Rumlow’s probably gonna walk funny for at least a week.”

“Shit,” Bucky sighed when Steve winced, touching his own nose. The blood was starting to run again. “Let’s get you lying down, you moron.”

While Sam got Steve situated on the sofa, Bucky went to get more cotton balls and disinfectant.

He could just catch Sam talking while he rummaged in the bathroom cabinet.

“So this your place, huh?” Sam was saying.

Lord knows what he was thinking. Maybe it was small, cheap-looking. Whatever. Bucky didn’t care. It’s what they could afford, so judgemental assholes could fuck right off.

“Were you still sleeping?” Sam asked when Bucky reappeared. Bucky only then realized he hadn’t yet put on a shirt.

“Yeah,” Bucky said coming round to sit on the coffee table, facing Steve on the sofa.

“You got experience with this?” Sam asked, watching Bucky roll up the cotton balls. Bucky wiped up the mess on Steve’s face while the blonde tried not to wince.

“Yep,” Bucky answered. “What’s this? The third time?”

Steve nodded slowly while Bucky attended to him.

“’S a miracle you got any nose left,” Bucky grumbled.

“And yet,” Sam smiled, waving at hand at Steve’s face.

“Right?” Bucky said, “The beak on this guy.”

Steve scowled and said something like, “You guys are bullies,” but it was muffled by the cotton and swelling.

The nurse had applied some kind of sticky plastic thing that was acting like a brace? Who knows.

“Here,” Bucky jammed two aspirin in Steve’s hand. “Take these. You’re gonna swell up like a balloon.”

Steve obeyed.

“Chef ain’t gonna like this,” Sam said.

Fuck.

Bucky frowned. No, Chef was not going to like this at all.

 


 

“Are you kidding me?” Chef said, staring at what was now a very discoloured version of Steve Rogers’ face. “You can’t serve patrons looking like that.”

She was firstly, aghast at what had happened, then secondly frustrated because now she was going to lose her head server for a few weeks.

“I can work in the kitchen,” Steve said, voice muffled by the monstrously unattractive gauze and cotton ball situation going on around his nose.

“Holy hell,” Romanov said, coming round the corner. “You get into a fight with he business end of a baseball bat?”

Chef huffed and folded her arms.

Steve looked pathetic.

“Yeah, no, you need to heal up,” she said. “I don’t know that you should be in the kitchen either. How about you take a week, get a bit better, and then we can talk?”

“But Sheb–“ Steve began, his words all messed up. Bucky knew what the concern was: Steve off work meant Steve with no pay, which was shit.

“Hey,” Bucky said, patting Steve’s arm. “It’ll be fine. We’re good for this month. Only a week left anyhow, and we ain’t spent much. We’ll be okay, pal,”

Steve looked upset, but he acquiesced.

So Bucky stayed on to put in his shift, but Steve went home to rest up.

 


 

Steve puttered about the apartment. It was his third day of ‘rest’ and he felt completely at a loss.

He had Netflix running all day, keeping him company while he folded up laundry.

He had neat piles of socks, underwear, pants and shirts. He was folding Bucky’s favourite blue towel, which contrasted nicely with Steve’s toucan jungle print towel.

Bucky had already warned him off attempting to cook anything.

“I’d like a home to come back to, and remember, we live with a thousand other people with cute kids and puppies, so don’t even think about touching that stove,” Bucky had threatened.

“Honestly, it’s a miracle anyone likes him,” Steve huffed to himself.

So Steve made do with reheating the sweet potato noodles and gyoza Bucky had ready for him.

Steve packed away all the laundry and proceeded to sweep the floor and wipe down all the counters.

He even got into the tub and attacked the gross corners where neither of them looked. But then he saw a spider and just ran back to his bedroom because spiders were not his thing. He put a note on the door, though, so Bucky would be forewarned of the danger.

His phone buzzed, and Steve fell over onto his bed.

He gently rubbed at his nose, wishing the swelling would hurry up and go away.

 

Sam:

Daily selfie, plz. I need some entertainment.

 

Steve sighed and opened up his camera and snapped a photo. He fired it off and waited for Sam’s gleeful response.

  

Sam:

W.O.W.   You are stunning, my friend. Truly beautiful. Is that really your nose, or has an actual spaceship crash-landed on your face?

  

Steve:

You’re a real comic
You should head to L.A.
Do the comedy circuit.

Sam:

You’re fifty shades of hideous right now.  It works. Gotta hand it to you.

 

Steve:

Shut up.

 

Sam:

Parker asked me to tell you that he misses your leadership.

Then Romanov told him to stop dicking around, so you know.

 

Steve smiled.

 

Steve:

I miss you guys too. 

Sam:

You old so-and-so

 


Later, Bucky sent an emoji of a bowl of noodles.

Steve chuckled.

 

Steve:

Yes, I ate them. They were delicious. Stop mother-henning me.

  

Bucky:

 

Steve:

What are u making rn?

  

Bucky: 

 

 

Steve: 

 


 

Bucky got home, feeling like a complete bag of shit.

He’d worked himself to death, trying his best to keep a lid on his own work all while making sure Teddy didn’t implode.

Chef was like a machine, the way she could pull everything together, but man, did it take a lot of effort.

He dropped his jacket off, eyes on the massive blonde fast asleep on the sofa.

The TV was on, Steve’s one hand lolling onto the floor, his cellphone on his chest.

“God, that’s cute,” Bucky huffed quietly, a small smile breaking across his lips.

He knelt down and eyed Steve’s busted face. The bruising was extensive and only getting more colourful, but the swelling was definitely receding.

“Hey,” Bucky said softly, pressing his hand to Steve’s hair. “You can’t sleep here, pal.”

Steve mumbled and shifted. Then his eyes opened, and Bucky smiled.

“You’re on the sofa. Let’s get you to bed.”

Steve frowned and rubbed at his eyes, then winced when he encountered his nose.

“Mmm, Bucky,” he muttered. And if there was one sound that could thrum in Bucky’s veins, it would be that.

“Come on,” Bucky murmured.

Steve’s eyes were heavy-lidded. He twisted and rolled over. He blinked at Bucky.

“Did you have a good day at work?” he murmured.

Bucky chuckled, “Yeah. It was okay. Parker spilled red wine on a bridesmaid.”

Steve’s eyes widened.

Bucky patted his cheek. “It’s okay. The team figured it out. They comped the bridesmaid her meal.”

He then helped Steve get up and into his room.

He was impressed at how clean their apartment looked. His sock drawer was full to busting and the dishes were done.

He knew Steve hated being idle, but it was still nice to see him doing something with his time.

He passed the bathroom, paused, and reversed, coming to stare at the drawing of a smiling round spider on a post-it with the word “BEWARE” written in all-caps under it.

Bucky smiled.

 


 

Monday came round and Steve and Bucky were bundling themselves into Bucky’s dad’s ancient Beetle.

“Dad, can you please hand over the Arch-meister?” Bucky said from the back seat beside Steve.

“Sorry, no,” Mr. Barnes said with a chuckle. “Archie goes in the front. Late and sleepy children who make me wait in morning traffic go in the back.”

Bucky scowled at the back of his dad’s head while Steve snorted.

“You have brought a lot of food,” Mr. Barnes said. “And Steven, your face. Who did this?”

Steve shifted. “Uh, it’s nothing. I’m healing up nicely.”

“Ma’s gonna shit herself when she sees it,” Bucky said, keeping a firm hold on the plastic containers on his lap. The ride wasn’t exactly smooth.

“Language,” Bucky’s dad said.

“Hi, Archie,” Steve said.

Archie the Dachshund panted and wagged his tail furiously from the spacious and comfortable front seat.

 


 

Bucky was glad to celebrate his mother’s birthday. He loved his ma, he really did.

But holy hell she was like a hurricane sometimes.

“Ma,” Becca said from her seat at the counter. “Leave Steve alone.”

“But his face, his beautiful, handsome face!” Winnie Barnes said, fingers on Steve’s cheeks. “My poor boy.”

Bucky rolled his eyes and scratched Archie right behind his left ear.

“I’m fine,” Steve said with a laugh. He wasn’t fine. No, he looked like a Van Gogh painting.

Bucky took a bite of the pineapple upside down cake Becca had pulled together. Not bad.

“Leave the boy alone,” Bucky’s dad said.

Winnie Barnes huffed. “Go sit down,” she said to Steve. “I’ll bring you your cake. This wonderful birthday gift my beautiful daughter made.”

Becca laughed. “Well, I tried a few times. Finally got it right.”

“And these darling cupcakes!”

“Yes, look at the fucking perfect cupcakes that look like they popped right out of a Vogue magazine. What’s in these, Bucky? Ground gold and diamond dust?”

“Chocolate and mint,” Bucky said, smiling wide at his sister. She stuck out her tongue.

Winnie Barnes eyed her daughter. “Your skin, Rebecca, what on earth have you been eating?”

Becca chuckled, “I’m about ninety-percent chicken mcnuggets these days.”

“Mmm,” Bucky hummed and looked over. “Oh, I haven’t had Mickey Dees in years. I could murder a fuckin’ Big Mac.”

“Ooo, you should make some Big Macs next time I’m over,” Becca pointed at him.

“And Big Mac sauce,” Bucky said, snapping his fingers. “Yes! Done!”

“You know, the language you two use,” Winnie said. “It’s fucking terrible.”

Steve fell in beside Bucky on the sofa. Archie bounced with glee and hopped over to get ear rubs from Steve.

“These people are all gross and unhealthy aren’t they, Archie? You’re my favourite Barnes, aren’t you, boy?” Steve cooed at the dappled little dog.

“Don’t spoil him,” Mr Barnes said from his own seat. “He already owns our souls. I can’t afford to give him the house.”

“Aw, little boy,” Steve rumbled, both hands around Archie. “You’ve got a big belly. Look at this belly. Almost like someone was feeding you table scraps.” He made kissing noises at the dog, whose tongue just lolled out in glee.

Bucky nudged him with an elbow. “Shut up, you’ll get me in trouble.”

Steve twisted Archie around and waved one paw at Bucky.  “You’re a bad man, uncle Bucky.” He grinned wide and Bucky snorted, focusing on his cake instead.

 


 

By the time they got home, it was dark.

“Fuck the subway,” Bucky grunted. He had lugged the many unlimited tupperware containers that his mother always insisted on packing for them.

“Well, your dad had to drive Becca home, and she’s in the opposite direction,” Steve said.

“Meh,” Bucky groused, opening the fridge and jamming the tupperware away.

“Hey look,” Steve came up behind him, flashing his cellphone.

Bucky paused, watching a video of Archie waddling down the street. Bucky smiled.

“You enjoyed your walk, huh?” he said.

Steve grinned, flicking through a series of pictures. Archie in the park. Archie chewing on a daisy. Archie sniffing a poodle’s butt. And another close-up of Archie, squished up against Steve’s grinning face.

“He really is your favourite Barnes, isn’t he?” Bucky snorted.

“Aw, come on, he’s too cute. I’m gonna get some of these printed. He’s so photogenic.”

Bucky laughed.

“You might want to photoshop the immense bruise on your face, first. Did you scare any of the neighbourhood kids while you were out?”

Steve shrugged. “Whatever, I’m beautiful inside and out. That’s what Oprah says.”

Bucky nodded. “That is true.”

Steve wandered around the sofa, staring at his phone. “Did you enjoy your jaunt with your dad?” he asked.

Bucky turned and leaned against the murder cart. “Yeah,” he sighed. “Man, you know I get my frugal ways from him. He knows the best little stores in the neighbourhood. Oh!”

Bucky perked up. He walked back over to his jacket and dug around in the pockets.

“Here, look,” he held his hand out. “Dad showed me this new store. It’s one of those weird Asian stationery stores with all the rad, crazy pens and paper and stuff. They had these brushes. It’s the kind you like. You know.”

Steve walked over, and took what was in Bucky’s hand. He stared down at four different-sized artists’ brushes.

“It’s the kind you like, right? The really expensive ones? Only I think these are imported direct, so they cost, like three bucks. The ones with the bamboo handles and the wire and black bristles. They’d work for your watercolour stuff?”

Bucky walked back to the kitchen. He plucked an orange from the pile of fruits they had.

Steve rolled the brushes between his fingers, a warm flush rising in his belly.

“Hey,” Bucky said from the kitchen. “You want some orange?” He was peeling it swiftly after cutting off the ends.

Steve walked over, eyes on his new brushes.

Bucky scooped his orange slices into a bowl.

He moved to the fridge and got the coconut milk out, the one he’d opened that morning for breakfast.

“I’m still hungry,” he muttered. “How am I hungry? My mother feeds us like we’re pigs in a pen. She basically funnelled food into my belly and yet, here we are.

He turned and shut the fridge.

Steve took the coconut milk from him.

Bucky paused, watching Steve put the milk on the counter along with his new paintbrushes.

“Steve, what–“ he began, frowning.

But Steve didn’t say anything. He just pressed Bucky back against the fridge and stared at him.

“You remembered my most favourite kind of watercolour brushes,” he whispered.

Bucky blinked at him, then swallowed audibly.

Steve leaned in and kissed Bucky gently. He pulled back slowly, noting how Bucky’s eyes widened.

“And you got them at a steep discount,” Steve said, voice gruff. “God, Buck, I’ve never wanted to kiss you more than right now.”

Bucky’s breath was trapped, but he nodded. Steve leaned in close and they both hummed when their lips met again. Steve shifted, hands slipping to Bucky’s hips. He opened his mouth, and felt a sharp thrill run down his spine when Bucky responded in kind. Steve got his tongue in there and oh, kissing Bucky was fucking awesome.

How had they not been doing this all the time? Bucky’s tongue, his lips, and the sounds, the little huffs he made? God.

“Steve,” Bucky breathed, hands tugging at Steve’s waist. “Steve what the hell?” he breathed, still twisting to lick at Steve some more.

Steve’s blood was hot beneath his skin and Bucky’s hands on his waist were perfect.

“Steve, I have work in the morning,” Bucky whined.

“So?” Steve said, kissing at the edge of Bucky’s mouth, then up to his cheek.

“I’m tired,” Bucky said.

“So am I,” Steve retorted. He pulled back. “Am I freaking you out?”

Bucky eyed him. His thumb stroked at Steve’s shirt. “No,” he said, voice ghosting away for a second. He cleared his throat. “I just really am tired.”

Steve kissed at Bucky’s nose.

Bucky stared at him, those pale blue eyes of his taking in Steve’s face.

“What?” Steve asked.

Bucky’s hands tightened against his sides. “I’m just thinking that even though you look like a busted ass, and your face is black and blue, and your eye sockets look like they’ve been kicked in,” Bucky breathed, “I’m still thinking how utterly handsome you are. And how fucking stupid my brain is for liking you.”

Steve smiled. “You think I’m handsome,” he cooed.

Bucky punched his pec.

“Ow!” Steve pulled back.

Bucky shook his hand out. “Jesus, you really have been working out.”

Steve cupped his pec and pouted. “Ow, man.”

Bucky smiled and yanked Steve closer.

“You want me to kiss it better?”

Steve actually flushed pink, mottling his very damaged face even further.

“Uhm,” he stuttered. “Yes?”

Bucky’s mouth twisted, “Hmm, okay, pal. We can’t get up to any fancy shenanigans.”

Steve frowned, “Why not?”

His dick had definitely been perking up at the possibility.

“Because,” Bucky said slowly. “you are half mashed. And I’m really, really tired. And I wouldn’t normally brush you off like this, but buddy, we can wait.”

Okay, so Bucky wasn’t exactly saying no, or never. So Steve nodded. “Okay.”

Bucky squeezed his fingers into Steve’s sides. “I mean, I’m not saying you can’t stay the night,” he waggled his brows.

“I live here,” Steve deadpanned. “Is that a line you use?”

Bucky grinned. “I’m not hearing a no, Rogers.”

Steve shoved at him. “Fine. Whatever. Just, go shower. I gotta get my jammies.”

“Psht,” Bucky huffed, and pushed Steve away. “Jammies. Honestly.”

 


 

Bucky finally made it out of his shower.

He really, really was tired. Bone tired. Sore from the soles of his feet, to the top of his head. Typical.

Life was cruel like that.

He’d taken the time to calm his dick down in the shower. It wouldn’t do to say one thing and end up doing the opposite.

He walked over to his bedroom, towel around his hips.

He paused at the door in shock.

Steve was passed out on his bed, under the covers, and in his pyjamas.

Bucky just stared. He  shrugged to himself and  went about pulling on his boxers and his softest t-shirt.

Like some manic dream, he climbed into bed, lifting the duvet slowly before sliding in beside Steve.

He dared not breath, in case it really was a dream.

Steve’s face looked terrible, with the cotton shoved up his nostrils and the evening sticky bandage he preferred at night to protect his nose.  The skin around his eyes was dark, and his cheeks were mottled yellow and blue.  Bucky’s heart thumped away in his chest.  Even in this awful state, Steve really was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

 

 

Chapter Text

Bucky was awake.

Light filtered into his room and lit up Steve, lying in the bed beside him. Steve with his golden, fluffy hair and his splotchy purple face and his dark eyelashes that he got from god-knows-where.

He was sleeping with his mouth open, as he couldn’t breathe through his packed nose.

Up close like this, Bucky felt at ease, like his life wasn’t as stressful as it had been for the longest time.

Even the reality of having Steve in his bed wasn’t as hot as it was to just see him resting close enough for Bucky to keep an eye on him.

Bucky also hadn’t slept this well in forever.

Sure, he usually fell into bed beyond exhausted, having his body carry him over into a dead rest, but last night was different. He had gently drifted into a calm sleep and woke a good eight hours later to an angel asleep under his covers beside him.

He smiled when he noticed that Steve hadn’t actually taken over the whole bed like he’d expected. Steve was just on his side, both hands curled between him and Bucky, soft and gentle as ever.

He had, however, stolen Bucky’s pillow. Bucky only had one anyway, so go figure.

The bed wasn’t big enough for the two of them, being only a double, but the snugness was okay.

Steve shifted then, breath changing, so Bucky shut his eyes for some goddamn reason. Like he was scared of being caught watching. Goddamn feelings. Useless.

He felt Steve shift around a bit, his breaths coming a little stronger.

Bucky felt smaller movements, like Steve was rubbing at his face.

Steve paused whatever he was doing and Bucky breathed slowly, not fully understanding why he wanted to fake being asleep.

Then Steve huffed, moved, and the bed dipped. Bucky cracked an eye open, disappointed to see Steve roll away, off the bed.

He tried not to let disappointment ruin his morning, but it was hard.

He heard Steve pad out the bedroom and then the bathroom faucet came on. Steve probably wanted to wash his face. Wake up to this reality, maybe one he hadn’t exactly signed up for.

Bucky rolled onto his back and stared up at the ceiling.

He had to get to work eventually, but he felt lethargic and uninspired. Bruce was starting his vacation today, which meant absolute chaos, Bucky was sure. Bruce was the calm rational one in the kitchen. He set a good standard. He’d never been away in all the time Bucky’d been working at BRDO, so it was unsettling to think they had to act like good, professional chefs when they were all clearly batshit insane.

While he was thinking, the bathroom tap stopped with an audible creak and clank. Man, this building was so shitty.

Was Steve going back to his room?

Bucky sighed.

A sound made him look over.

Steve appeared at his bedroom door, hair still a complete mess, but he was looking more awake.

Bucky didn’t have time to murmur any greeting before Steve  clambered over him, Bucky’s heart leaping into his throat as Steve’s shadow covered him.

The blonde had his hands pressing into the mattress either side of Bucky’s head, his knees bracketing Bucky’s hips. Steve looked down at Bucky with a smile before he leaned down and holy hell, started kissing him, breath fresh from toothpaste and cool, refreshing water.

Bucky groaned and opened up automatically, tongue welcoming Steve’s. All of his blood left his brain and headed south, where it gleefully brought his cock to life.

“Oh my God, Steve,” Bucky breathed.

“Morning,” Steve hummed, nipping at Bucky’s bottom lip. “You looked really cute. Couldn’t help myself.”

Bucky stared up into those familiar eyes and wondered how his life had circled this man for so long and brought them right to this.

And Bucky was overwhelmed, completely losing it, he was sure.

He reacted without thinking.

He just pulled Steve closer, kissing those pink lips and causing Steve to laugh into his mouth.

When Bucky’s hands yanked at Steve’s hips, Steve gasped.

Bucky shifted and rolled, reversing their positions.

They kissed, Bucky sucking at Steve’s tongue, his lips, licked at his teeth.

Steve’s hands were on Bucky’s shoulder blades and they were big and warm, grounding Bucky in the moment.

Bucky kissed Steve like his life depended on it. It made his blood rush, it made his brain sing.

It made him goddamn happy. Happy in ways that he’d never felt before.

“Bucky,” Steve gasped. “Oh jeez,” when Bucky leaned on his left elbow, and pushed his right palm against Steve’s chest. Bucky stared into those blue eyes and slid his hand lower, giving Steve ample time to register what was happening, and time to cut him off if necessary.

Steve just breathed deeper, his mouth pink and wet and his tongue darting out every so often. Bucky almost whooped when he pressed the flat of his palm over what was an impressive bulge in Steve’s shorts.

“You okay?” Bucky whispered, voice gone rough. God, he was totally rushing this.

Steve nodded and his fingers scratched at Bucky’s back, the cotton t-shirt bunching under his nails.

Bucky pressed harder, his hand getting the lay of the land, as it were.

He felt a rumble in his chest, one of appreciation, when he curled his hand over Steve’s dick.

Steve was hot and hard and so, so tempting right now.

Bucky gave Steve a squeeze and the blonde almost whimpered and shifted his hips.

“Oh, wow, okay,” Steve said, wriggling when Bucky began to rub his palm over Steve’s bulge in a smooth rhythm. “Hello.”

Bucky looked down only once, to see what his hand was doing, and it made his neck flush, and his eyes dilate.

“Jesus,” Bucky huffed, “You sure this is okay?”

Steve flattened his feet to the bed and pushed his hips upward in consent.

“God, your hand is big,” Steve said. “So good.”

“But you’ve never–” Bucky began but was cut off.

“Oh God,” Steve shivered, eyes shuttering. Bucky felt one of Steve’s hands move away from his back, slide down and push at Bucky’s busy hand down below. That was all the consent he’d need.

Bucky’s mouth fell open when Steve rolled his hips and groaned.

“Fuck,” Bucky gasped and scrabbled at Steve’s shorts.

He yanked down the elastic waistband and finally, finally got his fingers on Steve’s hard and ready cock.

They both choked a little when Bucky gave Steve a firm tug.

“Oh jeez, yes, okay,” Steve babbled. “That’s, yes, okay, that is nice.”

Bucky smiled, “So polite, Rogers.”

He was trying to sound like he was in charge of himself, but his voice was gruff and his hand moved harder, stroking Steve, weighing the heavy penis in his hand. Fuck, Steve’s dick was perfect. It was starting to dribble and wet the way, and Bucky, well, he was so hard he thought he might actually pass out.

Steve’s hips twitched with Bucky’s movement and Steve whined, both hands now under Bucky’s t-shirt, fingernails scratching gently.

“I’m so close, Buck, so close,” Steve huffed, neck flushing pink, as if it being so quick, it may be slightly embarrassing. So Bucky did only what was fair, he picked up the pace, shifting a little to the side so he could wrap his hand properly around Steve and start jacking him off good and proper.

Steve kissed Bucky, all teeth and lips and gasps and little noises of pleasure that did nothing to stop Bucky from rutting into Steve’s hip.

Yes,” Steve said wetly against Bucky’s lips. “Oh, fuck,” and his voice skipped upwards as he came, spurting over Bucky’s frantic fingers, causing them to slide and slick away easily.

Steve made a sweet gasp into Bucky’s mouth and Bucky felt his own face and neck flush with pride.

He had gotten Steve off and it was okay, and he could tick off something on his goddamn bucket list.

It took Steve a long while to come down from his high.

He was pink round the ears and neck, and his shorts were halfway down his thighs, Bucky’s hand still gently holding his dick.

“Oh my God, that was amazing,” Steve whispered. “How are you so good at that? That’s illegal. It must be. I lasted, like, all of five seconds.”

Bucky smiled, “Well, I do have my own dick, you know. Lots of practice. Years.”

“Hmm,” Steve hummed and reached up to pull Bucky down for a kiss. They lapped and nipped at one another, like they’d been doing it for years. It made something sweet and panicky rise up in Bucky, like he was still dreaming.

“Want me to…” Steve murmured.

“You don’t have to,” Bucky answered quickly, even as his imagination ran wild.

Steve pulled back, hands holding Bucky’s jaw.

Then he pushed Bucky, rolling him over onto his back.

“Okay,” Steve said, firmly. “I’m–I’ve never done this. But I can try…”

“Steve,” Bucky said, “You don’t have to. It’s ok–“ Bucky was cut off with a strangling noise and his eyes almost crossed when Steve’s hand groped at his dick through his boxers.

Steve was looking down, watching his hand massage and grope at the cotton-covered bulge. He literally was massaging Bucky, with gentle pushes and squeezes.

“Huh,” Steve said. “Not bad, Barnes.” He looked at Bucky and grinned, clearly interested in continuing whatever this was.

Bucky felt like an exhibit, the way Steve was cataloguing him, his face, his body, his responses.

Steve watched Bucky as he slipped his hand under the cotton material. He watched the way Bucky jumped when he got a good firm hold of Bucky’s hard-as-hell cock.

“I’m not–“ Bucky tried to grumble, but it came out like a whimper, “–not gonna last long if you keep -ah- doing that.”

Steve was squeezing him, then gently pulling, tugging and touching, his eyes never leaving Bucky’s.

Bucky’s hips juddered and he almost lost it when Steve rubbed his thumb over his frenulum. A burst of profanity made Steve smile.

Steve pulled back only once, looked down and pulled at Bucky’s t-shirt, yanking it up, exposing Bucky’s stomach, where his abdominal muscles were twitching in anticipation.

Then he looked back into Bucky’s eyes and grinned.

“What–“ Bucky frowned, but needn’t have asked when Steve’s hand found his dick again.

Steve just went to town, his hand sliding up and down Bucky’s shaft like this wasn’t the first time he got his fingers on dick other than his own. And holy fuck, but his hand was criminal.

Bucky’s breath caught in his throat as his orgasm roared closer, Steve’s hand slick from Bucky’s precome, his skin slipping and sliding, faster and faster until Bucky was gasping for air, thrusting into Steve’s fist. His dick throbbed and squeezed between Steve’s curled fingers and palm, feeling harder than ever.

“Are you close?” Steve whispered, his breath a little rough.

“Y-yes. My balls,” Bucky gritted out.

And you know, Steve totally understood. He reached down and gave Bucky’s sac a really good squeeze just as Bucky felt himself let loose.

He moaned, gritted his teeth and came just like that, with Steve’s big, warm, wet hand firmly clenched around his balls.

“Ah! Ahh!” Bucky gasped for air and Steve just stared at him, wide-eyed, bruised and battered and still, somehow, in awe. He rolled Bucky’s balls in his hand, feeling them tense through the orgasm, squeezing upward.

Bucky,” he said, almost reverentially.

But Bucky was still trying to relearn how to breath, his eyes falling shut.

“Bucky, that was amazing,” Steve said, leaning in to press his face to Bucky’s neck. He shifted, curling himself over Bucky, leg sliding between Bucky’s thighs.

They were both wet and sticky and panting.

Bucky wasn’t sure he could recover from this.

They laid there for quite a while, the come on their bellies sticking them together.

Steve was rubbing his wet palm into Bucky’s stomach, which was odd, but okay.

“That was nice,” Steve murmured finally into Bucky’s skin.

Bucky grunted.

Steve squeezed his arms around Bucky, pulling him closer somehow.

“You’re big and warm,” Steve muttered.

“How’s your face?” Bucky countered.

He felt Steve shrug.

“I want to do this again,” Steve said clearly.

Bucky’s heart jumped at that.

He gently caressed Steve’s hair, arm almost dead from the weight on him.

“You sure?” he murmured.

Steve pushed himself up. His face was stern. “Yes.”

Bucky blinked, “Okay.”

Steve fell back down and they came to rest for a while.

“You know,” Steve murmured minutes later. “I don’t always go off that quickly.”

Bucky smiled, “Sure you don’t.”

“I don’t,” Steve continued. “Just want to make sure you know that. Just … caught me off guard is all.”

Bucky chuckled. “You saying you blew your load over pure and simple excitement? I’m flattered, Rogers.”

Steve snorted. A minute later he said, “I don’t want you to go to work.”

Bucky sighed, kissing at Steve’s tuft of hair. “Sorry pal, but someone’s gotta pay the bills.”

Steve grunted some more.

“You’ll be all better soon,” Bucky said. “Once you recover from the best hand job of your life.”

“Shut up!” Steve whined and smacked Bucky’s stomach.


 

And somehow, after the best wake-up of his life, Bucky Barnes found himself slaving away in a kitchen, wishing for the first time in a long while, that he didn’t have to do this.

Cooking was his favourite thing to do. Recipes were magical, and flavours delicious. But today, he just couldn’t deal.

“Where’s the pork sliders?” Foster said loudly, hovering over a non-existent plate with her fried onions.

“Coming, coming,” Jack said, hustling over with a prepped plate. “Sorry, we’re backed up now.”

Foster finished up that plate, brow furrowed.

Bucky was showing Teddy how to sear scallops properly but he was also distracted by America who was handling the vermicelli noodles.

“Not so long,” he said, leaning over her way. “They aren’t like spaghetti.”

“Shoot,” America huffed, yanking out the sieve of white noodles.

“Chef, like this?” Teddy was asking, bent over a scallop on the grill.

Bucky blinked, confused. Who was he talking to? Teddy looked up and blinked at him.

Bucky sighed slowly, “It’s Barnes. Not chef.”

Teddy blinked, “Oh, right.”

Bucky continued to show Teddy the right way to get the seafood crispy and soft at the same time. Then they worked on the seafood sauce, Bucky whipping it while Teddy added the coconut milk.

Wanda was losing it a little, whipping together pastries like a madwoman. She was pink in the cheeks, clearly wishing death upon Bruce for daring to take a week of vacation.

From the way it was going, the week wasn’t going to get much better.

Chef was off running errands, Romanov was covering for Steve who was still at home, and Bucky was trying to not let the frantic air of stress get to him.

Even Luke, who was calm and good most of the time, was fraying a little.

For the entire day, the kitchen ran on sharp words and quick wrists. A couple chefs had to split jobs to get everything out, and when Chef announced a new menu item, everyone groaned loud and clear.

“Hey!” Chef snapped, “Lower the attitude.”

So everyone grumbled and sweated and worked, and Bucky missed his lunch because Teddy needed help on the dumplings, but eventually, finally, mercifully, the workday came to a close.

Bucky was on mop duty, leaning heavily on the handle.

It was late and his elbows hurt from whipping sauce all day.

Sure, teaching Teddy was gratifying in its own way, but god, Bucky couldn’t wait for the kid to get into the groove.

He changed into his street clothes, knowing that he had a few more days wear out of his whites before they’d need washing.

What greeted him when he got home was the last thing he could ever imagine.

The dining table was pushed against the wall and Steve was sitting on the floor, an upside down wooden chair between his legs, and a mighty dusting of what looked like sawdust around his body.

Bucky blinked tiredly.

“Steve, what the hell are you doing?” he asked wearily.

The blonde grinned up at him and Bucky was glad to see his bruising had gone down a fair bit. Steve was no longer stuffing his nose, which made his voice sound slightly normal.

“Hey, Buck,” Steve said, getting to his feet and dusting his hands on his shorts. “Look what Sam and I found on the side of the road.”

Bucky looked at the five mismatched wooden chairs. They were hideous and old and used and two had clearly been cleaned and had the paint sanded off them. The one Steve was working on was a horrible orange hue, most of the paint gone, as Steve worked on it with a sanding block.

“You found gross old shit and brought it home?” Bucky asked wearily.

“No,” Steve said, hands on hips. “Sam and I found a neat dining set to go with our new table! Ain’t it great?”

Bucky blinked at that smiling face.

God, Steve was so positive, and earnest and well-meaning that it wore Bucky down.

He looked over the chairs, imagining what they might look like once varnished and of similar colour.

“They aren’t even the same style,” he couldn’t help saying.

Steve nodded, “Yeah, but they’re good and strong. Sam helped with the first one before he went to work. How was work, by the way?”

He wiped at his dusty hands and Bucky eyed the Steve-shape left in the sawdust and paint bits on the floor.

He shrugged.

Steve paused. “That good, huh?”

Bucky sighed and dropped his bag of clothes. “It’s a little crazy.”

“You look tired,” Steve murmured.

Bucky rolled his head. “Yeah,” he breathed.

Honestly, he just wanted to lie down, or maybe scream.

“You’ve been working yourself a bit hard lately,” Steve said. “Why don’t you get showered and I’ll order takeout?”

They never ordered takeout. It was too much of a waste. But if Bucky was honest, it took a weight off his shoulders. It was too late for him to want to pull out food and prepare some shit now anyway.

“Okay,” he sighed. “Can we get Thai?”

Steve smiled that brilliant grin of his. “Sure, Buck. Whatever you want.”


 

They ate in companionable silence, watching the latest episode of Veep, which was a show that was one part hilarious and one part horrifying.

Bucky was ravenous. He was so glad to see that Steve had ordered extra rice and spring rolls.

He ate like it was his last meal.

“Hey, soon we’ll get to eat at the table,” Steve said, slurping his own noodles.

Bucky had eyed the cleaned up table and chairs when he came out of the bathroom.

“Yup” he murmured. But for now, they’d continue eating on the sofa.

“Like adults,” Steve went on.

Bucky snorted. “Sure, pal.”


 

Bucky felt someone nudging him.

“Hey,” Steve whispered, “Let’s get you to bed, Buck.”

“Huh?” Bucky answered intelligently. Shit. Had he fallen asleep on the sofa?

He pushed himself upright and rubbed at his eye.

He yawned and stretched, looking around at their dark living room.

Then he remembered he had work in the morning and groaned.

“I don’t wanna work tomorrow,” he said.

Steve made a twist of his own lips. He held out hand and yanked Bucky to his feet.

“Maybe stay home then?” he suggested gently.

Bucky shook his head. He couldn’t. They needed the money. A whole day’s pay could go towards so much.

“Buck, you can take time off, it’s okay,” Steve said softly, guiding Bucky to his room.

Bucky ignored him, choosing instead to pull back his messy duvet and clamber into bed.

He pulled the duvet over his head, thankful for the respite.

He could feel Steve hovering at the edge of the bed.

Bucky pulled his head free and glared.

“What?” he groused.

Steve bit his lip.

“Um, can I–“

Bucky rolled his eyes and grunted. He yanked the covers back. “Get in, you asshole. I’m tired. Stop dicking around.”

And Steve smiled wide, immediately climbing over Bucky to the other side of the bed.

“No,” Bucky grumbled, holding onto his pillow. “This is mine. Go get yours.”

And hell, Steve actually pouted, letting go of the pillow he’d been trying to sneak.

He did actually go and get his own star-spangled pillow, which was great, because Bucky needed his, damnit.

“You’re real tense, Buck,” Steve murmured. “You should relax a little.”

“Suck my dick,” Bucky responded, not even rolling over.

Nothing.

He twisted, eyeing Steve over his shoulder. The blonde idiot was actually thinking about it wasn’t he?

“I’m joking,” Bucky huffed, turning to face Steve. “Jesus. Go to sleep, Steve. Don’t make me smother you.”

Steve lowered himself to the bed, facing Bucky.

He blinked.

Bucky’s own eyes were drooping shut. As much as he’d love to start on something similar to what they’d done that morning, he just couldn’t fathom it. He was bone-tired. And Steve Rogers could damn well wait.

“G’night. Buck,” Steve murmured, scooching closer.

Bucky just grunted and finally drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

Bucky woke to the sensation of being smothered.

He groaned and tried to roll over but, somehow, couldn’t.

He cracked an eye open and found Steve wrapped around him, face buried under the edge of Bucky’s pillow, arm thrown over Bucky’s chest and what felt like a leg over Bucky’s thigh.

“Steve,” Bucky grunted and pushed at the heavy blonde. “Move.”

Steve just murmured nonsense into the pillowcase and shifted even closer.

Bucky took a calm, deep breath and closed his eyes. It could be worse.

His phone started to buzz and Bucky sighed, opening his eyes again to glare at the ceiling.

“Steve, seriously, you gotta move,” he said softly, trying to extricate himself from Steve’s limbs. He succeeded just in time to catch his alarm before it started crescendoing louder.

Normally, Bucky woke before his phone could go off. Years of training could do that to a guy. But his weariness was weighing him down. He sat up and turned to hang his legs over the edge of his bed, noticing the texts from his sister.

A series of innuendo-laden emojis popped up one after the other.

“Jeez,” he wiped at his face, staring at the row of peach and eggplant emojis. It was too early for this crap.

 


 

“Watch it!” Luke said sharply, lifting the searing hot pan in his hands. The chef who’d bumped into him apologized.

Bucky was rolling croissants with Wanda. It felt like they’d been doing it for ages, his hands tired, his shoulders stiff.

“I need someone to come explain the chocolate soup to a customer!” came a voice from the server’s window.

“You don’t know how?” America barked from her station.

Bucky leaned back to see who’d made the request. It was Parker. Surely the kid had been trained on all new dishes, like all the servers.

“I do,” Parker said, “I mean, I did, but the guest wants Chef to do the honours.”

“Oh, one of those,” Jack huffed, angrily sliding plates across the prep table.

“Send Romanov,” Luke said.

“Can’t,” Parker said, “She’s on the same shopping trip with Chef right now.”

“Shit,” Luke hissed. Normally in a situation like this they’d be able to send either Bruce or Steve to handle it, but with both of them gone, it was a shitshow.

“I can’t,” Luke said, clearly up to his arms in pig fat.

“I’ll do it,” Foster said calmly, wiping her hands briskly. She straightened up her cap and let another chef take over her station. “Shouldn’t take long,” she murmured, rushing out to help Parker with whatever idiot customer insisted on face-time with the chef.

Bucky heaved the last of the dough into the freezer and handed Wanda the one batch for the fridge before he quickly washed off his doughy hands. He scrubbed down the marble cutting blocks and replaced them on the wall. He loaded up the dishwasher and set it to run so dishes would be good and ready for the evening rush.

The kitchen was bordering on chaos. It had been teetering on the edge for a while now. Being down staff members was taking its toll. A lot of them were tetchy and pissy and unpleasant to be around, but they all still had jobs to do.

“Bruce is never allowed to leave, ever again,” Wanda hissed under her breath as she already got to work on the hazelnut ice-cream prep.

Bucky could barely keep up. One chef cut her finger and had to hustle out to get a band-aid. Bucky’d had Teddy boiling potatoes a while back, so now he started on the breadcrumbs and bacon. The two of them worked across from one another. Teddy mashed potatoes, adding garlic, butter, salt and rosemary. He scooped up a ball of potato, rolled it between his palms with some of the cold, spiced cream cheese before handing it over to Bucky. Bucky quickly rubbed it in bacon and then covered it in the parmesan and coconut flour breading before lowering it into the pot of oil bubbling at his station. They worked fluidly, consistently, as these new potato balls were a favourite on the menu now.

When two were ready, Bucky sieved them out of the oil, gave it a shake and carried them over to Jack, who was plating dishes like a man on fire.

Sure, most things were coming together, but Bucky could see how frayed everyone was. He eyed the clock. Chef would be back soon, and she would take a load off their shoulders, for sure.

Foster came bustling back into the kitchen, her face a moue of displeasure.

“Honestly, some people,” she hissed, immediately moving back to her mise.

“What happened?” America asked, her hands at work on the hazelnuts needed for Wanda’s dishes.

“I just–“ Foster paused, hands up. She looked up. “Hate it when people don’t take me seriously.”

Bucky raised a brow, hand rolling potato over bacon bits.

“Go on,” America pressed.

“Okay,” Foster huffed, not needing another push. “So this guest, who clearly thinks he’s the cat’s pyjamas, he wanted to talk to the chef. So I show up and start the whole spiel about the Iberrico ham and the salted peppers and this, this awful man cuts me off and says–“ she paused, face pinched in clear anger. “–says ‘no, no missy, I want to talk to a chef. Someone who knows what they’re doing.’ Then he turns to Parker, who is too awkward to handle this, and says, ‘I asked for the head chef, not the intern.’”

Now both Bucky’s brows rose.

“Say whaaaaat?” America hissed. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

Luke was shaking his head.

“Ugh!” Foster smacked the edge of the counter. “Why?”

She looked up and met Bucky’s gaze.

“Because some men are entitled sacks of shit who can’t fathom that women are capable of anything spectacular.” he said calmly. He plopped his potato into the oil and grabbed his hand towel. “Want me to go out there and have a chat with him?” His voice was a little rougher than intended.

“Want me to join?” Luke added, setting down his own pan.

Foster paused and seemed to consider saying yes, before she sighed. “No. But thank you. Having men represent me hardly makes me more valid.” She gave a lopsided smile for Bucky. “You’re sweet, though.”

“You are very valid, ma’am,” Teddy murmured, beside her.

She looked up at him with a wry twist to her lips. “Well, when you call me ma’am it doesn’t make me feel much better, but thank you.”

The days wore on and Bucky was amazed that he was one of the few people not tripping up and causing oil fires or dropping dishes everywhere.

 

“God,” Chef muttered at the lunch table on the Friday, “Please tell Rogers he needs to come back soon,” she muttered.

“But he doesn’t even work in the kitchen,” Jack murmured from beside Bucky.

“No, but we need him,” Sam muttered over his own lunch. “Man’s got more poise and patience than all of us put together.”

“Is it true that Pietro almost decked a customer?” Bucky asked, looking over at Wilson.

Chef glared.

Jack whistled.

 


 

At one point he thought he was going to be okay. He could manage the last couple hours, even if his legs felt like lead and his eyelids were heavy to match.

But it could never be that easy.

“Um,” came Pietro through the server window. “We have a problem with a dish,” he said, louder.

Everyone looked up. That was not a good thing to hear.

“What’s up?” Chef said sharply, coming over to Pietro. He slid over a bowl.

“Customer says it’s, uh, ‘gross’,” Pietro muttered

Bucky’s stomach dropped. It looked like one of the fish dishes and he’d been working a few of those.

Chef grabbed a spoon and lifted up a spoonful of the fish and sauce to her lips.

She winced sharply.

“Ugh, Jesus,” She took the dish back. “Okay, tell them we’ll redo it. On the house. Bill paid for.”

“One bill, or the whole table?” Pietro asked.

Chef paused, “How many covers?”

“Three,” Pietro said.

Chef nodded and pursed her lips. “Okay, whole table.”

“You sure, Chef?” Pietro said. “They had wine.”

“Just do it,” Chef all but barked, and Pietro nodded before disappearing.

She turned to her kitchen, the dish in her hand.

Everyone was watching her, even though they were still working away.

Her eyes scanned each chef, each table, each mise. Wanda eyed Bucky and he swallowed. Fuck.

“I know who did this,” Chef said loudly, but calmly. “And I know this person knows.”

She just eyed the room.

“Unacceptable,” she said. “We do not pour the caramel sauce on the fish.”

Fuck.

Bucky paled. Shitshitshit. No wonder the customer sent it back.

“I know the sauces look similar,” Chef said, louder, before clunking the dish down onto the prep table, “But it’s your job to not fuck it up.”

She caught Bucky’s eyes and he wilted.

“Don’t let me catch anyone doing this again,” she said crisply, eyes moving on. “That’s a minimum three-hundred dollar loss in one night.” She eyed Jack at the prep table. “Get rid of this,” she said, sliding the dish over to him before stomping out, going upstairs.

 

Later, Bucky dragged out the garbage bags as his own personal penance.

“Fuck,” he groaned into the shadows. He loaded up the bins and slammed the lids down hard.

“Hey, don’t break my bins,” Chef’s sharp tone came out from the darkness.

Bucky turned and saw she was sitting at the lunch table.

“Sorry, Chef,” he murmured, cowed by it all.

“Come here, Barnes,” Chef said, waving him over.

Bucky loped down the few steps and over to where she watched him from.

He jammed his hands into his jean pockets, already out of his whites.

“I’m not going to yell at you,” Chef said.

“You probably should,” he responded.

“Well I’m not going to,” she sighed, exasperated. “You’re as bad as that roommate of yours.”

Bucky frowned and looked up.

“You fucked up,” Chef said plainly.

“I know,” he murmured, embarrassed.

“You’re tired and exhausted,” she went on. “It’s not a good combination in a kitchen.”

Bucky shrugged. “I won’t do it again.”

“You might, actually,” Chef said, arching both brows. God she was intimidating. “If you don’t get some damn rest.”

“I’m fine,” he retorted.

She watched him a moment longer before waving her hand at him.

“Stubborn as a mule, I swear. Okay, go home, Barnes. Go check on that Head Server of mine.”

Bucky just nodded before backing away.

 


 

When he got home, he just wanted to faceplant into his bed and never get up again. His shame could carry him over into the late morning, easy.

Except when he got home, he was met by a flushed and happy Steve, going “Ta-da!” and showing off the newly varnished and cleaned up dinner chairs he’d finally finished.

Bucky dropped his bag and frowned.

“Cool, huh?” Steve flapped on. “We can actually eat at a table, Buck! Like grown-ups,” he laughed that adorable laugh of his and it drew nothing out of Bucky.

Steve’s smile faltered when Bucky just brushed past.

“Hey, how was, uh, how was work?” Steve went on.

“Fuckin’ shit,” Bucky grunted. He yanked open the fridge and stared at its contents. He noticed that some of the tupperwares were gone, meaning Steve at least had eaten properly.

He opened the freezer and glared at the contents.

Why was there meat in there? He didn’t recall buying that.

He slammed both doors, making the fridge rock and groan.

“I’m gonna assume Wilson told you what happened?” he turned and looked over at Steve.

“What? No,” Steve responded with wide eyes.

Bucky squinted. “You should be saying ‘what happened’, not playing innocent. You’re a terrible liar and Wilson’s a snitch.”

Hey,” Steve said, hands up. “Whoa. Okay, yes, Sam messaged me and said some stuff went down, but that it was okay.”

Steve walked up to Bucky. “Are you okay, though? You look all tense.”

Bucky gruffly folded his arms. “Shit day, Steve. I just wanna go to bed.”

“Well, okay,” Steve murmured, “Why don’t you go get showered. I was gonna heat up some hot chocolate.”

“Why are you even still up?” Bucky asked with a frown.

Steve shrugged, “Been napping on and off all day. Ready to get back to work, you know?”

Bucky eyed him, noticing that, yes, Steve was doing much better now, the bruising only a yellow-green smudge across the bridge of his nose.

“Fine,” Bucky snapped and bustled off to get showered.

 

He scrubbed himself down angrily, repeating the day’s embarrassment in his head. Everyone had been extra careful round him for the rest of the day because, duh, they too had figured it was Bucky who’d poured a fuckin dessert over a main, like a goddamn idiot. Clearly he hadn’t been paying attention at all. The sweet caramel wasn’t even on the same stovetop as the fish sauce, so what the hell kind of error was that?

“God!” he groaned and just stood under the water, wishing the heat of the shower could just blast off his shame.

Chef probably thought he was a mess and incapable of doing anything. And what was his excuse? Not much of anything could excuse a simple basic task like that. It was his Goddamn job to prepare high quality meals and he fucked it up.

He turned the faucet to the right and cold water crashed into him and the pipes rattled.

This was a simple punishment, but it didn’t feel good enough.

Eventually, he had to get out. He towelled himself off and stomped out the bathroom and into his bedroom.

His bed was made. Did he make it? He couldn’t remember. The last week was a blur of nothingness.

He yanked on some sweats and a t-shirt.

He just fluffed his hands through his hair, not caring if it was a mess. He needed a cut anyhow.

Then he stared out the small window in his room, out onto the world that surrounded them.

He was such an infinitesimal speck of nothingness on the planet and time would just rush on by and here he was freaking out about some stupid dead fish on a porcelain plate. Because this is what he chose to care about.

Pathetic.

 

He turned and walked out of his room, intent on finishing up his expected good night with Steve and then hurling himself into bed.

 

When he came out, Steve was in his own room, the door ajar.

He was talking to someone. On the phone? At this hour?

Bucky frowned.

“Yeah, I thought so too,” Steve murmured. “Yeah, okay. I will, Chef. Thanks for understanding,” he went on. there was a pause. “Okay, I’ll tell him. Okay. G’nite, Chef.”

Bucky walked over to their tiny kitchen and leaned into the murder cart, fingers gripping the edge.

When Steve emerged, he jumped. “Oh, hey Buck.”

“What the fuck are you calling Chef for?” Bucky asked, voice sharp.

Steve blinked, caught.

“Uh, I was just–“

“Just what?” Bucky snapped, “Checking in on me?”

Steve frowned and came closer. “Actually, Chef was saying you’re about due for some time off. I figured a day or two would be good for you.”

The colour drained from Bucky’s face. “Chef wants me to take time off?”

“Well, actually, I think you need time off,” Steve went on. “You’ve been working really hard, Buck. She agreed, thought it would be good for you.”

What?” Bucky said, voice darker. “You fucking called in and told her–“

“Bucky,” Steve said firmly, frowning. “You’re exhausted. You deserve a break.”

“I’m fine,” Bucky retorted angrily. “I don’t need time off. Why the hell are you calling my boss–“

“She’s my boss too,” Steve cut in.

No, Steve,” Bucky hissed and leaned into the counter. “She’s the head-fucking-Chef at one of the best restaurants in the Goddamn city and you just told her I’m too tired to be any good. She’s my boss.”

Steve was confused, clearly.

“Bucky, I wanted to do something for you. It’s okay to take a day off. Just to recover. Rest is good.”

“Bruce is still on vacation, you’re a broken mess and we can’t handle one less person in the kitchen!” Bucky cried angrily. “Don’t you get it? I can’t be the one to check out! I fucked up so big today and if I don’t go in tomorrow, it’s gonna look like a flaked out. What the fuck, Steve?”

Steve was surprised by his anger.

“Bucky–“

“No!” Bucky barked. “You don’t get to go behind my back and act like I’m all weak and pathetic and try to get me out of work.”

Steve frowned then and his hands became fists at his sides.

“So what? I’m supposed to let you just fall apart from stress and exhaustion?”

“You don’t let me do anything,” Bucky snorted. “You are not my mother.”

Steve stepped around the cart. “Bucky, I’m trying to help you.”

“I don’t need this kind of help,” Bucky hissed.

“You’re clearly tired and cranky and this is how people can make mistakes, and that’s bad, especially in a kitchen.”

“I’m not gonna slip and stab myself,” Bucky retorted.

Steve glared at him. “Why are you mad at me? I’m worried about you.”

“Don’t mess with my job, Steve,” Bucky said, standing up to his full height.

“So you get to fucking mother me though. You get to treat me like a baby bird, feed me, pay for over half this stuff,” he waved his arm wide. “You get to sacrifice every ounce of your being just so I can be oblivious to how much you care? You do the laundry, the grocery shopping, bandage me up, treat me like family and still I’m not allowed to return the favour?”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Bucky said with furrowed, angry brows. “I’m talking about you interfering with my work.”

“Bucky, you’ve been working non-stop for almost ten years!” Steve said loudly, arms wide. “You’ve been slaving away, working late nights for so long that you don’t even know what day it is anymore.”

“It’s Friday!” Bucky barked back.

“What day of the month?” Steve snapped right back.

Bucky scowled.

“See?” Steve said, “You only know it’s Friday because of the Goddamn kitchen schedule!”

“Fuck you, Rogers,” Bucky shouted back.

A loud banging noise from above made them both look up.

Then they scowled at one another.

“You’re taking the day off tomorrow,” Steve bit out.

“Like hell I am,” Bucky responded. He pushed past Steve.

“Chef already approved it!” Steve said angrily. “She said you better not show your face tomorrow or she’s kicking your ass.”

Bucky stormed into his bedroom, knowing if he didn’t separate himself from Steve, he might say something he’d really regret.

He slammed his bedroom door shut.

He threw himself onto his bed and tried not to suffocate into his pillow. His chest was heaving and his mind was racing in anger.

Who the hell did Steve think he was?

This was not okay! He punched his pillow, rearranging it under his cheek.

“Fuck,” he hissed, recognizing the scent of Steve’s shampoo lightly clinging to the cotton.

He heard Steve’s bedroom door close with a muffled slam.

He threw the pillow at the wall.

Chapter Text

He wasn't sure if he dreamed. All Bucky knew was that he woke slowly, drifting awake, piece by piece until he was aware of the sheets stuck to him, his right arm dangling off the edge of the bed, his face mashed into his pillow.

He knew he was awake, but didn’t open his eyes. Instead, he just laid there, contemplating the bliss of a gentle awakening.

Was he up before his alarm? Amazing. Such perfect timing, which would only add to a perfect day.

Except he had work.

And that sucked, because his bed was so–

“Shit!” He sprang up, almost slipping face-first off the bed when his hand lost its footing.

His phone wasn’t beside the bed. He twisted around. Where the fuck was his phone?

Light was streaming into his room, clearly indicating that it was way past sunrise, but how far?

He scrambled out of bed, ignoring the awkward sweatiness of his entire being because his bedroom door was closed. Why the fuck was his door closed?

Oh.

Right.

He threw his door open and breathed in the air-conditioned bliss from the living room. He glanced at Steve’s bedroom, but that door was wide open. Bed was made.

Humph.

“Steve?” Bucky grumbled, not really loud enough to matter.

Bathroom was empty. Fucker had probably gone running.

Bucky groused and scratched at his head, immediately searching out his phone.

It was still in his jacket pocket. He tapped it on, noticing first that the battery was dying, and second, that it was almost noon.

“Crap,” Bucky huffed.

Chef was gonna flay him alive for being late.

Because screw what Steve said, Bucky still had a job to do. He couldn’t miss a day’s work. That was a lot of money.

He glared at the sofa and chewed his lip.

No one had called; No scathing messages from Chef or Romanov.

Then he turned and glared at the very empty apartment.

His stomach rumbled.

Something was stuck to the coffee pot.

Bucky walked over and snatched up the yellow post-it, immediately recognizing Steve’s horrendous scrawl. For an artist, the guy sure wrote like Jack the Ripper.

 

Gone to work. Stay home.

- SGR

 

Bucky rolled his eyes at the stupid signature. Like there was anyone else who had access to their coffee pot.

Bucky scrunched up the note and flicked it over his shoulder.

He frowned and rubbed at his face.

He eyed his phone in his other hand.

He quickly typed up a text before walking over to the charger still in the wall on the far side. He connected his phone, stretched and grumpily made his way to the bathroom.

 


 

 

Becca:
Sorry, pal. Back at work this week. Prepping for Monday’s new class. 

Bucky:
Can I come bug you anyway?

Becca:
I’m at Mom ’n’ Pop’s.

Bucky twisted his mouth to the side.

 

Bucky:
Okay, tell Ma I’m coming over.

He stared at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. He’d shaved himself cleanly, befitting that of a contributing member of society. He tugged at his hair.

 

Becca:
She’s ecstatic.

(side-eye emoji)

Bucky:
Ask her if she has time to cut my hair.

Becca:
Why don’t you ask her? I’m not your messenger.

Bucky:

(angry face emoji)

Becca:

(shrugging emoji)


 

The trip all the way over to his parents’ place took time. Time for him to sit and grind his teeth while the train rumbled beneath him. He was still so mad at Steve.

He was glad Steve had opted to go to work, busted face and all. Because if Bucky’d had to deal with him, in the state he was in, Steve might’ve ended up with another black eye or two.

Just thinking of his self-righteous bullshit face from the night before-ugh! Sometimes the idiot took it too far. Bucky didn’t need mothering. He needed to work. He needed to prove himself and he needed to appear reliable. What was the point in working all those days and hours, learning as much as he could, only to have Chef think he was a delicate flower ready to wilt at the slightest sign of stress?

God. They weren’t kids anymore. Bucky couldn’t just bail on work if he felt like it. He had to plan, he had to think about his future.

A woman had sat down across from him on the train and was eyeing him. Bucky blinked at her, then looked away.

And Bucky’s future was roaring up to meet him in the most terrifying way of all. At sixteen, eighteen, whenever, it had been work for the money, work to be able to go out and party, meet girls, get drunk, get laid. And boy, did he partake in that for a while.

At twenty-two, it was about paying rent and feeding them, feeding Steve. Now, at twenty-six, with twenty-seven, and eventually thirty, knocking on his door, Bucky felt this overwhelmingly terrifying need to set down roots and plan for something more than just a shit-hole apartment with a roommate.

He had to define himself. He needed to. He’d, for so long, just put his own ideas and dreams aside. Mostly because he didn’t have time for that shit, but also because they were scary.

He wanted to make something of himself. Cooking was a blessed relief and comfort, because restaurants would always need chefs. Cooking was a great skill, even for old fogies. He’d probably always be able to find work. But would he ever be able to manage a home, or a mortgage, or get a car? Fuck, imagine it.

He’d denied himself the thoughts, the possibilities because he’d grown up on the lower side of middle-class.

Sure, his parents were doing better these days, what with not having to feed four mouths and pay four dentist bills and stuff, but still.

Bucky’s never stopped worrying about his family. His Dad’s business was still thriving, small and unique, being the only butcher in the area helped. His ma got to work from home these days, now that the apartment was all paid off. Becca had her life already planned out. She was going to do it, do it all. And she was frugal, just like him, just like their parents taught them, just like Steve.

Because he and Steve grew up the same, Steve perhaps with even less.

It was probably when Sarah Rogers … when she’d…

He scrubbed at his eyes, aware that he was on a crowded train. Shit, he hadn’t thought of her in so long. Had it really been almost ten years?

She had been like another mother to Bucky. The real force and strength behind Steve’s resolution to be good, to be kind and to stand up to bullies.

It was what made Steve so goddamn amazing, and so goddamn infuriating.  He learnt it all from his wisp of a mother, who, through hell and high water, worked her ass off for her son until the day her cancer took her away.

Bucky looked down at his hands in his lap. God, he missed her.

She’d been a real smart lady, a nurse who earned a paltry wage because the system was fucked. A woman with no husband and a kid determined to not remain healthy for longer than a month at a time. If only she could see Steve now. She’d probably burst with pride.

Bucky had contributed to that, he knew. He’d helped Steve work out what was wrong with his stomach, his digestion. On a few choice occasions, he’d scared Bucky to death, what with doctors hinting at colon cancer and organ removal options and all sorts of terrifying stuff.

And in the end it had been Dr Erskine, the local, small guy with the background in bloodwork and allergens, that figured Steve out.

So simple an answer that came after so many years of pain.

And Steve was doing okay now. Sure, he had the odd episode where he’d spend perhaps way too long in the bathroom, but it was better than ever these days.

And yet…

Bucky still worried. He had a whole new worry.

He’d become dependent on Steve, that was clear as day. He wondered, over and over again, when Steve would meet the girl of his dreams, when Steve would eventually move out and leave Bucky to live alone, like some kind of adult. Ugh.

His stomach felt leaden.

The train screeched to a halt at the next stop and Bucky looked up. Shit.

He scooched his way between a passel of school kids on some kind of summer trip. The platform was quieter, thank god, what with most folks being at work.

He ambled his way up to street-level, the familiar borough coming back to him. This was where they’d grown up.

It was refreshing, and so good for his soul.

He walked part the old high school, where he and Steve had gone, their education not the best, but also not the worst. He walked past the old corner convenience store where Roddy McClintock had kneed Steve in the gut that one time.

And then the playground where Bucky had returned the favour, only Roddy had ambled off with fewer front teeth.

He walked past Cathy Rosenthal’s old house, the first girl who let Bucky get a hand up her skirt. She’d moved to Delaware, his Ma said. Got married and all. Moved her mother out there too. Crazy, really.

This was home. Shitty, dirty, hilariously fun and nostalgic home.

The building his parents were living in was old, but still had those really great big apartments that sold real well as condos now.

They’d lucked out when the developer converted the place, giving tenants the option to buy in early.

Bucky remembered their old building a few blocks east. They’d moved outta there when Bucky was fourteen. That was the building where Steve lived one floor down, and Bucky and he could meet on the fire escape. And Becca would tag along, like the annoying midge she had been.

God, it felt like a century ago.

 


 

“I’m glad you came for a trim,” his mother murmured, already tugging at his long hair. She tutted. “You’re starting to look like that man from that movie about the wrestler. What was it called?”
“You mean The Wrestler?” Becca snorted, looking over her papers.

“That’s the one,” Mrs. Barnes murmured. She combed and spritzed Bucky’s hair, just like always.

“Sorry to bug you, Ma,” Bucky sighed. “It’s been a rough couple a days.”

Becca snorted again.

“I’m sure, I’m sure,” his mother tutted and began snipping. She was quick and methodical, trimming and fixing Bucky up better than before. When she was done, he looked a million times better. His hair no longer grazed his shoulders and he could still tuck it behind his ears. She nattered on and on about trimming it all off, but Bucky liked it like this. It was more him. The old high-and-tight haircuts he’d had years ago just didn’t sit on him well anymore.

Eventually, his dad came home for a late lunch and they all sat to eat together.

“Mmm,” Becca hummed around her bacon and fried egg french toast.

“So unhealthy,” their mother sighed.

Bucky chuckled. “Hey, at least she ain’t eating skittles with a spoon of peanut butter anymore.”

“A true classic,” Becca said.

They bickered and nattered on, commenting on the various lunches each person still preferred.

“So why are you visiting?” Mr Barnes asked in that familiar baritone of his, wiping a napkin over his mouth. “Both of you. Very strange.”

“Well, I’m trying to distance myself from my Netflix so I can finish up these notes,” Becca said, flapping her stack of papers at them. “Coming here is like coming to the Dark Ages. It’s great.”

“Oh, we got Netflix,” Winnie Barnes said with a smile. “I meant to tell you. The cable man came and explained it to us. Said internet would hook us up and the cable company has a whole Netflix channel now! We started watching this amazing Finnish drama. Very graphic, though.”

“Noooo!” Becca whined, “Ma! I’m trying to not want to slouch into the sofa for seven hours and watch as much RuPaul’s Drag Race as I can!”

Mrs Barnes cleared the table. “Well, you told me to get Netflix, no? Also, seven hours? What do you do with your life?”

“Don’t upset your mother,” their Dad chuckled. He turned to Bucky. “And you?”

Bucky blinked. “Me what?”

“What brings my son home on a Saturday? Don’t you have a someone special to bug and bother?”

Bucky frowned. “No.”

Becca cleared her throat. Bucky glared at her forehead which was all he could see peeking over her papers.

“How is Steven, by the way?” his ma said nonchalantly. Bucky glanced up at her and immediately noticed her amused, pursed lips.

He glared at Becca, and swatted at her hands. “You rat fink!” he growled. “What is wrong with you?”

“What?” Becca cried, scooching her chair back. “You think they weren’t going to figure it out?”

“Now, now,” Mrs. Barnes huffed. “Don’t yell.”

“I’m not–“ Bucky felt flushed, uncomfortable. He stood abruptly. “I just came to say hi to my parents. I came to keep them company. I didn’t come to get harrassed. Just–“ he pushed the wooden chair back and hastily shuffled over to the balcony, scraping the sliding door wide open.

Once outside, he huffed and slid the door shut behind him.

It was stiflingly hot outside, but he ignored it for the nerves shaking him up from the inside.

Fuck.

Could this week get any worse? Could a bolt of lightning just blast him to smithereens already?

He slumped into one of the metal, cushioned chairs his parents had out on the balcony.

It was times like this he wished he still smoked. Like the rebellious teenager he’d always wanted to be, Bucky’d picked up cigarettes in High School. He played the whole part. Hung out at the back of the playing field with the other loners and bad kids. He stayed out late, shuffled girls home in time for curfew (after a little back alley nonsense of course) and came home drunk enough times for his mother to swat him with a newspaper. Not that his behaviour has improved, what with the tantrum he just threw.

Except he wasn’t enough of a rebel when his parents just rolled their eyes at him. They’d always figured he was smart enough to figure out how dumb he looked, leaning against the school building in his leather jacket and shit, like some knock-off Danny Zuko wannabe.

And Steve had also just made faces at the cigarettes, which cut their chances of sticking around by, like, half.

But on his parents’ balcony, after realizing his sister had spilled the beans and probably told them how Bucky’d been making heart-eyes at his best friend … well, cigarettes were the only thing he could think of for such a situation.

His parents knew Steve.

Them knowing anything like this made it all too real. He couldn’t just push it aside and pretend that it was a fluke. That he’d given Steve a handy in his own bed. That his roommate and best friend was the only person left on this earth who made Bucky’s heart thump that much harder.

“Fuck,” He dropped his face into his hands. “Fuck fuck fuckfuuuuuuck.”

It was all crashing around him, like waves on a broken, rocky shoreline. Unsteady feet could cause him to slip, cause him to fall and drown. And the more people that knew, the bigger the ache would be when he and Steve would have to eventually part ways.

The balcony door slid open slowly.

He heard footsteps and the door sliding shut again.

Someone sat in the other chair.

“Sweetheart,” his mother said gently.

“No,” Bucky responded.

“No what?” she said. “No, don’t talk to me? Or ‘no, I don’t know what this ‘no’ is for’?”

Bucky peered up and scowled. “What?”

His mother shrugged. “I never promised to make sense.”

“You’re crazy,” he sighed and sat up, looking over the city.

Their apartment wasn’t as high up as Becca’s, so he could easily see the people milling about down below.

The two of them sat in silence for a bit.

Bucky looked at his mother, noticing not for the first time, how many of her features had become his own.

Both his parents had blue eyes, and Steve always joked about the Barneses being a matryoshka doll set.

Sure, Bucky and Becca looked like they could be twins, but looking at his ma, Bucky could see that Becca got her smart alec smile from her, and Bucky probably got his to match.

He had his dad’s nose, but his ma’s brow.

And she had been such a beautiful woman. She still was, really, but age took its toll, even on the impenetrable fortress of Winnie Barnes.

“Sweetheart,” she said again, resting a hand on Bucky’s arm. “It’s okay.”

“What did she tell you?” he asked gruffly.

His mother sighed that long-winded motherly sigh. “Nothing I couldn’t already figure out on my own.”

“What do you mean?” Bucky asked.

Winnie Barnes cocked a brow at her son. “Do you honestly think that in some way, shape or form, you were not broadcasting your love for Steven?”

God.

Ma,” Bucky hissed, face flushing hot.

“No, really, did you think I, your mother, couldn’t tell?” she asked. “Your father noticed before I did, actually.”

“Oh my God, kill me,” Bucky breathed, dropping his head. Why was he having this conversation? What had he done in a past life?

“But it shouldn’t upset you, darling,” she said gently. “Steven is as much family as you are. I know how much he means to you.”

“No, Ma,” Bucky breathed. “It’s not like that.”

She stared at him when he finally raised his head. She had that ‘don’t try bullshitting me’ face on. “I’m serious,” Bucky huffed.

“So am I,” she retorted. “Jamie, love, if this is what it is, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. We love you and we love Steven.”

“Yeah, but he’s not–“ Bucky breathed, choking up a little. “Steve doesn’t–“

“Oh, like hell he doesn’t!” his mother said. “That boy’s about neck deep in awe for you. Always has been. By God, I remember when you first brought him over. This little blonde ragamuffin with scuffed knees and no front teeth and you, right beside him, all smiles. I knew it was going to be hard on me, the matriarch of such a great line, but I took on this boy, embraced him into our lives.” She fanned her face while Bucky just eyed her dispassionately.

“Really, mother?”

She grinned at him.

“Oh, go on! You two were trouble the day you met. And he looked up to you, still does, even if he’s about ninety percent bigger than before.”

“He says I baby him,” Bucky murmured.

“Well,” she tilted her head, “You do. We all do. We can’t help it.”

“And he’s–“ Bucky began but was cut off.

“James,” his mother murmured. “I’m not trying to make you uncomfortable. It’s just that I can see it, okay? I’m not surprised, at least - not as much as I think you expected of me, which makes me want to question my own outward appearance of homosexuality acceptance.”

“Ma,” Bucky groaned. “Please.”

She flapped a hand his way. “Now what’s really going on. Don’t push me aside and say this temper tantrum is just about us finding out you and Steven may or may not be lovers.”

“Ma! Jesus! See, this is why I never talk to you guys. You’re so embarrassing.”

“James,” she said, sharper. Bucky sighed and sat upright.

“We had a fight. Yesterday.”

He went on to explain what had happened. The words, the confused feelings, the job.

It sounded ridiculous out of context, but Bucky felt vindicated in his stance.

“I see,” Winnie said. “Do you, perhaps think that you weren’t running on a full tank?”

Bucky scowled. “You always take his side.”

“Honey, there are no sides here. I’m broaching the topic that maybe you were very, very exhausted. Lord knows we’ve hardly seen you since you started working there. Perhaps Steve’s concern was warranted?”

“Yeah but–“

“And,” his mother went on, “Don’t you think that if Steven had been in the same position, you would have done something about it?”

“I wouldn’t have gone to his boss behind his back.”

She nodded. “True, but you wouldn’t have had to. Stubborn as that boy can be, he does have a tendency to listen to you.” She tilted her head. “I can’t quite say the same for my darling handsome son.”

Bucky scowled deeper.

“I’m not apologizing,” he groused.

“I’m not saying you should,” his mother said. “But what I am saying is, that you will both recover from one argument. You have fought a million times before and you’ll fight a million times more. I just want you to understand, and not to forget, why a smart boy like Steven would go out of his way to ensure your health and safety is in top-notch working order.”

Bucky ground his teeth a little, his jaw aching.

“Fine,” he grunted, wiping at his brow. “I’ll consider it.”

Winnie Barnes smiled fondly at her first-born. “You’re damn right you will.”

 


 

“Long day,” Sam breathed, tugging on his jacket.

“Yeah,” Steve nodded, slipping on his sneakers. “Glad it’s over.”

Sam eyed him when he stood up. “Romanov did a helluva job on that bruising,” he murmured.

Steve wiped at his nose. Cream-coloured powder came off onto his fingers. “Yeah. I guess. No complaints from customers, anyhow.”

Sam snorted. “So you two’re talking again? You and Romanov?”

Steve shrugged.

“Good,” Sam huffed. “It was getting real awkward.”

 

When Steve made it home, he was on edge, expecting an angry Bucky waiting for him.

Instead, he found a quiet apartment, Bucky’s bedroom door closed.

Steve sighed and dropped all his gear, feeling the exhaustion of his first day back at work. He was glad he went in. He couldn’t have dealt with Bucky, not after last night.

Sometimes, they drove each other up the wall, and Steve was adamant this time that he’d done the right thing.

Bucky’d be back at work at eleven anyway, so what was the deal?

He sighed, feeling a tiny pang of loneliness for a split-second. Couldn’t he just hang out with his best friend? Couldn’t they both just stop being idiots?

He ambled over to the kitchen and rubbed at his face. He opened the fridge and paused.

There was a tupperware sitting all alone on one shelf, with a yellow post-it.

Steve gently pulled it out and blinked and the neatly written message:

 

Veggie burger salad with spicy chipotle mayo.

 

He cracked open the lid and, as the label said, there sat a delicious-looking meal, just for Steve.

His face dropped a little.

“Aw, Buck,” Steve said softly, feeling a wave of guilt wash over him.

 


 

Sunday was crazy.

Bucky was glad to be back at it, but definitely did not miss the chaos.

“Bruce is back on Tuesday, right?” he asked harriedly.

Wanda looked beyond stressed and nodded. “Or else I find him and kill him,” she said. Her small hands were rolling pasta like it was going out of style.

Bucky was showing Teddy how to mimic Wanda.

“See, you press the spatula over the ball of dough…”

Teddy nodded.

“And then, pull it along the ridges,” Bucky went on, showing how the tiny ball of pasta rolled over and curled into itself, leaving the even ridges of the wooden board on its outside. “And voila.”

“Got it,” Teddy nodded, and took over, helping Wanda get through her orders.

Bucky went back to spiralizing onions, something new on the menu. They had a fairly busy restaurant today, and it helped ease him.

There was nothing like being busy to help him ignore his own troubles.

He’d left Steve at home that morning, and gone to work himself. He’d also had a frank chat with Chef about what went down. She made it clear that it was okay for him to actually take time off, and that is was very frustrating to see him losing it due to lack of rest. “We’re working on something, okay?” she also said, which only had Bucky frowning when she ushered him out of her office. “But it’s fine, Barnes. everyone takes time off. I do too.”

No one mentioned him flaking out, so Bucky had to just be content with the fact that everything had been fine the day before and his worries weren’t too bad.

Unfortunately, not everything could go well forever.

Steve and Sam had shown up at around three to have their own lunches.

Bucky avoided making eye contact, and kept his head down, his heart hammering in his chest.

Steve didn’t say anything, which hurt a whole bunch extra.

Then Bucky had to contend with the looks of his fellow chefs.

“What?” he asked, catching America and Jack looking at him weirdly.

“Nothing,” Jack said, looking back down at his own work.

America just shook her head, but said nothing.

Well, to hell with them and their opinions.

Wanda eyed him, though.

When Steve and Sam eventually made thir way back inside, Bucky again kept his head down, and focused on teaching Teddy how to cook buckwheat versus wheat noodles.

“That could be your signature dish,” Teddy was saying. “You know? Buckwheat?” He was smiling that angelic smile of his, and Bucky noticed that Steve was squeezing past, but paused at Teddy’s words. Then Steve frowned and kept moving.

Bucky shook his head, “Sure it could,” he murmured in response to Teddy’s unsure, faltering smile.

 


 

It was late.

Bucky was sitting on the bench table outside, watching the clouds skid across the sky.

He felt so down.

He rarely got this way, but it still sucked.

He’d done a great job all day, pumping out food, great meals and not a single error was made. He was on top again, sure-footed and secure.

But he still felt hollow.

The kitchen back door slapped shut.

Someone rustled over the concrete steps and over the soft grass that needed a trim.

Wanda came and sat beside him, her legs dangling.

“Hey,” Bucky said, looking up. “Good work today.”

She shrugged.

He looked back at the sky, the moon peeking out.

Almost everyone was gone, the kitchen clearing out early because Monday was a day off.

Why hadn’t Wanda left yet? Maybe Pietro was taking his time again.

“You need to talk to him,” Wanda said suddenly, her accent lilting gently.

Bucky looked up. She was staring at the wall, her hands pressed flat to the table top.

“What?” Bucky murmured.

She turned slowly and eyed him.

“Rogers,” she said plainly. “Talk to him. He was a sad sack of shit yesterday.”

Bucky blinked. “Uhh..”

Wanda sighed. “You two are so strange,” she murmured.

Bucky didn’t know what to say.

“He loves you, clearly,” she said gently. “So much, it’s sickening.”

Bucky’s heart jumped at that.

“We’ve known each other a long time,” Bucky murmured softly. “Of course he loves me.”

Wanda clicked her tongue. “Not like this.” She twisted and poked his shoulder. “Listen, we knew Rogers had a roommate, only I always thought he was talking about the love of his life.” she went on. “We all thought Rogers had a partner, girlfriend, boyfriend, whatever. Bucky is not exactly a gendered name, yes?”

Bucky just gaped at her.

“So we all assumed he was not single. Very much taken. Because he would talk about you all the time.” Here, she huffed out a laugh. “And then you begin working here and we all, we all thought it was crazy. That Rogers was crazy.”

“Crazy how?” Bucky asked.

“Well,” Wanda said, “You obviously were not a couple, but you were definitely very close. Scary close.”

Bucky blinked, listening intently.

“But then,” she turned to him. “I can see it. I see how you look at him. He makes you so happy.”

Bucky stared at her. She could just see that?

Her gaze softened, “And then something changed, didn’t it?”

Bucky swallowed.

“A couple weeks ago?” Wanda asked gently.

Bucky took a deep breath, his fingers twisting in his lap. He nodded.

“Yeah.”

Wanda nodded as well.

“I thought so. Rogers was all but bursting out of his skin every day. Ugh, so annoying.”

Bucky blinked, remembering something, distantly, a memory. Romanov’s birthday party. He turned to Wanda.

“He told you what Wilson and Romanov said, didn’t he?” Bucky asked.

Wanda sighed again, heading rolling to the heavens. “Yes, he did. He was so… scared, I suppose. Terrified of it all. What they said, how insecure he felt, how it actually sort of terrified him.”

But Steve was never scared of anything...

She lowered her face. “I think…” she paused, “I think they were making fun of him for the wrong reasons.”

“So you chewed ‘em out, huh?” Bucky murmured, recalling the faces of Wilson and Romanov from that night, after Steve had reappeared with Wanda from the beach.

She nodded. “He is a gentle soul. Too gentle and also, somehow too angry.”

“He’s a real firecracker,” Bucky said with such fondness he wondered for once how he had ever hidden this.

They were quiet a while. Bucky thought back on all the years behind him and Steve. He thought about the birthdays and the parties and the exams and the girls and the summers.

He thought about the arguments, the fist fights and the sad times. He thought of Sarah Rogers and her grave over behind St. Paul's, a plot the community had banded together to buy because she was a good Catholic woman who deserved some peace. He remembered that whole year after, when Steve had all but shut down, when his body was at its worst and Steve had all but given up. He remembered his own accident, the time he spent recovering in the hospital, the fear in his family's eyes, in Steve's. He remembered moving in with Steve, both of them hunting for work, doing their best to stay afloat. He remembered Steve falling asleep against him on their sofa, warm and light at first, and then warm and heavy. He remembered a time when he thought he could stay with one girl, one woman. He'd pondered that idea for a long time, how it made sense. And then he'd found out about men and how good they felt, how this line of thinking only made him think of Steve more, reconsidering why he was just so devoted.

“I don’t know…” Bucky whispered, terror bubbling in his throat. He twisted his fingers around one another, fretting.  “I don’t know what to do.”

Wanda looked at him and rested a hand on his elbow.

He looked at her. “It’s going to break us. It’s so unreal, and I’m worried, I’m worried it ruins our friendship and I lose him. Or it weirds him out and everything just gets awkward.”  He sucked in a shuddering breath. “What can I do with a love like this? What do I do with it?” he whispered desperately.

Wanda, as gruff and cold as she appeared, was as gentle as the sun beside him.

“My mother used to tell me that cooking was for the great lovers,” she said softly. “She said that chefs, cooks and bakers, they were the ones with heart. It was how she met my father.”

Bucky sucked on his lower lip.

Wanda’s hand gently curled around his elbow now, holding him.

“Barnes,” she said calmly, “Don’t think of this as a bad thing. think of it this way: you have spent years of your life cooking meal after meal for Rogers, no?”

Bucky nodded slowly.

“Well, it works, I promise. My mother always said that we cook because we love. That we show our love for the important people in our lives by cooking delicious meals for them. That we devote our lives to making others happy. And you’ve shown him that so many times, over and over. All he would ever talk about was this great chef who was his best friend, who could make the best dishes, cook the warmest meals and how this friend was going to change the world. It used to infuriate Chef that Rogers always brought in food and never ate hers. Now we know why.”

She patted his arm.

“You were meant to cook, maybe not just for him, but," she sighed, "it started with him.”

Bucky blinked, his eyes stinging at her kind words. He swallowed.

“Yeah?” he breathed out, for once, just listening.

"I think so," Wanda said.

She rested her head against his shoulder and they stayed like that a bit longer.

Chapter Text

On Monday, Bucky made pancakes. They had a particular knack for drawing sleepy blondes out of their bedrooms.

And exactly on time, as the last pancake slid out of the pan, Steve appeared, all rumpled and with pillow marks on his cheek.

He stood outside his room and watched Bucky for a moment.

“You eating?” Bucky asked, back to Steve while he turned off the stove and gathered up the utensils he’d used. He carried them over to the sink and got the water running.

“If you’re offering,” Steve said.

Bucky scrubbed at the pancake batter bowl unnecessarily hard before laying it out on a towel on the counter. He left the rest to soak.

He turned and wiped his hands. Then he looked up.

Steve’s nose was looking pretty good and his cheeks were pink due to the heat. Keeping their bedroom doors closed limited their access to cool air at night. Bucky had let go of his own stubbornness and opened his bedroom door around three AM.

He pulled out two plates and two sets of utensils, then carried them over to the dining table, setting their seats.

Steve was clearly wary, but he wandered over, stomach taking over.

Bucky had never sat in any of the seats and guessed the seat on the end would work for him.

Steve sat down beside him and waited patiently while Bucky went to get the pancakes and syrup.

“Okay,” Bucky said, sitting, “I want to apologize.” He pushed the pancakes at Steve, like some sort of treaty.

Steve looked up at him. “You don’t–“

“I’m apologizing,” Bucky pushed on. “I’m sorry for what I said. It wasn’t fair. I was angry and tired and I lashed out at you and you were just being nice, and kind and caring, like you always are. So I’m sorry. You didn’t deserve that.”

He breathed in and realized he’d been gripping his fork tight in his fist.

He glanced up to find Steve looking at him with those soft eyes of his, hair all messy and his t-shirt rumpled.

“And I’m sorry I got our friendship in a mess,” Bucky said, putting his fork down.

Steve was silent for a while, then he nodded.

“Okay, apology accepted,” he said.

Bucky nodded too, tapping his fingertip against the polished tabletop.

Steve sat back, “But I also want to apologize,” he said.

“Steve, come o–“ Bucky sighed.

Steve looked at him. Bucky’s mouth snapped shut.

“I’m sorry that I went over your head and talked to Chef,” Steve murmured. “I felt like I was doing the right thing, and felt vindicated when Chef basically agreed.” he took in a breath, “But it still wasn’t right. You’re a grown-up and you’re allowed to run yourself into the ground, even if it drives me nuts. Even if I think you deserve down-time and rest.”

Bucky nodded slowly. “Okay.”

“Plus,” Steve murmured, “I don’t want you to be mad at me. It sucks so much.”

“Because I don’t cook all day?” Bucky smiled.

“Except you still did make me food,” Steve sighed. “I’ve been thinking a lot. I–“ he poked at the edge of his plate. He looked up. “I’ve been taking advantage of you. And It’s not an excuse that I’m ignorant about it anymore.”

“Hey,” Bucky pulled the pancakes closer so he could scoop three onto Steve’s plate. “Look,” he nudged Steve’s favourite syrup closer. “I like looking after you.” Hell, it was strange saying it out loud. “It gives me purpose, and it makes me happy.”

“Jeez,” Steve rubbed at his face.

Bucky smiled a little.

I am not your purpose, Bucky,” Steve said. “You’re not my babysitter.”

“No, obviously,” Bucky said, slightly exasperated. “But –“

“No, Buck, I’m serious,” Steve said. Then he scooted closer and took Bucky’s hand in his. Bucky’s heart rate picked up at the gesture. “No more babying me. Unless you’re gonna let me baby you right back.”

Bucky scowled, “It’s not babying.”

“Then what is it?” Steve’s thumb rubbed over Bucky’s knuckle.

“It’s family,” Bucky murmured.

Steve’s eyes went from soft and fuzzy to pure glowing unicorn cotton candy.

“Yeah?” he said.

“Of course,” Bucky said, frowning.

“Ugh,” Steve got up and all but smothered Bucky in a hug. “You’re so fucking cute.” he rumbled into Bucky’s hair.

“Cute?” Bucky snarked, voice muffled. “I’ve never been called that before.”

Steve pulled back and fuck, but his face was so handsome, so heart-rending. For a moment, Bucky thought they’d kiss, but Steve just smiled and moved back to his own seat.

“You’re very cute,” Steve said and stabbed his fork into the cool pancakes. “Adorable, even.”

“Okay, all right, whatever,” Bucky murmured, flustered but happy.

 


 

“So you guys patched it up?” Becca said over the phone.

“Yeah,” Bucky drummed his fingers on the sofa arm.

“Well, good,” she laughed, “‘Cos you’re both real drama queens.” A muffled voice in the background could be heard. “Ma agrees,” Becca added.

Bucky rolled his eyes. “It is kinda weird though, us making up properly and apologizing for once.”

“How so?” Becca asked. “You guys used to argue all the time.”

“Yeah,” Bucky chewed his lip, “But we’ve never had multiple issues hanging around at the same time. Usually it’s ‘fuck off you’re cranky leave me alone’, not ‘hey, we woke up together and touched each other’s dicks, oh and work issues on top of that, no biggie’.”

“T.M.I.,” Becca sighed.

“Sorry,” Bucky rumbled.

“Where is Steve?” Becca asked.

“He’s doing the laundry,” Bucky sighed, head rolling back on the sofa. “This is what’s weird. This time, it’s like we’ve signed a contract. I’m supposed to stop coddling and watching out for him, and he’s apparently supposed to man-up and take charge more.”

“Like…” Becca paused, “In the bedroom?”

Bucky sat up, “No! Jeez. In life. You perv.”

He could feel Becca shrugging nonchalantly.

“So he’s doing laundry?” Becca sounded confused.

“And he says he wants me to teach him how to cook, so he’s not wholly dependent on me.”

“Well, it was nice knowing you both. Remember to take out a life insurance policy so when he burns your building to the ground, you at least give me something.”

“Tell me about it,” Bucky said.

Becca was silent for a moment. Then, “This is good, Bucky,” she murmured. “He’s owning his shit.”

“But he always owns his shit,” Bucky said. “He’s never once backed down from anything in his life.”

“Well, to be fair, being pampered by your roommate and best friend isn’t really a challenge, is it?” Becca said.

Bucky pouted. “I guess.”

“Ohhh, you agree!” she cried, “The wizened old crone comes home to roost!”

“Shut up,” he groused.

 


 

Things actually did get better between them. Steve took charge and paid the bills before Bucky could even get to them. They folded the laundry together and Bucky even gave Steve his first lesson in making stir-fry and they survived.

At work on Tuesday, it all seemed too surreal to be happening, but Bucky felt better, rejuvenated. No one was giving him funny looks, or noticing anything out of the ordinary, so that was good.

Chef worked them through a revised menu, seeing as Fall was coming, and the crops would be changing.

“Menu suggestions!” Chef barked later in the week. “I expect your suggestions by tomorrow midday.”

So that excited everyone.

In the end, Wanda’s rose petal ice-cream got selected, and man, was it great.

Bucky was feeling okay at work, getting shit done and handling everything he could that came his way.

On their Monday off, he and Steve had a frank discussion about duties and sharing of chores. They started up a new jar for miscellaneous expenses and emergencies, and Steve was adamant that if he was paying half of everything, then he had say in how they spent that cash.

“We’re doing so much better this time, than last year, Buck,” he said, leaning over a shopping list.

Bucky was a little put off by the length of that list.

“What are you planning?” Bucky asked, leaning over.

“Hey,” Steve snatched his list away. “Look, if we’re gonna stay here, we gotta make this place home. I’m working on it.”

Bucky had just frowned.

 


 

The week after that, Chef and Romanov called a restaurant meeting for all employees.

Bucky’s nerves ratcheted up.

“You think we’re closing?” he heard Parker mumble to Pietro.

“Hush,” Steve hissed, standing behind Bucky, all employees standing in the front of the restaurant before opening.

“Hey,” Romanov whistled. “Listen up!”

Chef was standing on an apple crate, hands on her hips.

“This is gonna be quick,” she said. “So,” she glanced down at Romanov, “We’ve been working on this for a while, and it’s about time we let you know that BRDO will now be including full medical benefits and vacation time for all full-time employees.”

A few people gasped.

“Really?” Pietro asked.

Chef nodded, “Yup. I know it’s not standard in this industry, because of the turnover rate, but it’s a serious issue that we deem important enough to rectify.”

Bucky blinked, astonished. No restaurant he had ever worked at offered such things. Sure, chefs got a few benefits here and there, but waitstaff in particular never got anything extra, as their wages were lower and they relied heavily on tips. It was why working high-end was so good.

“So,” Chef went on loudly, “Basically once an employee hits the three-month mark, they become eligible. Now, Natasha has all the documentation that you will all need to fill out. Any questions?”

“Why now all of a sudden?” Jack asked from beside Bucky.

“Because,” Chef nodded, “I believe that my employees deserve it. Just because the industry disagrees doesn’t mean I can’t make changes inside my own restaurant. I would have killed for medical benefits when I was starting out.”

“How much vacation?” America chimed in.

Natasha spoke up, “Vacation will be prorated by employee’s years and experience here. Starting off, all employees get fifteen days. We have set up landmark years for when you can gain more vacation time, but that’s something we can talk about with you individually.”

“So, like, Bruce will have more, right?” Wanda said.

Chef nodded, “Yup.”

“Thank God,” Bucky heard Bruce mumble.

Everyone was talking, nattering amongst themselves.

“Is this gonna be coming out of our pay?” Pietro asked.

Natasha nodded and a few people grumbled. “Yes. To get benefits, we will be taking a small amount each month, as required, but I swear, it’s not a whole lot.”

Bucky nodded.

This was amazing.

“We also have levels set up, should any of your require coverage for dependents,” Natasha said.

“So, hey!” Chef clapped her hands for attention. “We’re going to have each of you sit with us today and go over your documents, okay? We wanna be quick. So whoever’s not on call today, thank you for coming in, we’ll handle you guys first. Chop chop!”

The group dispersed loudly, getting to their jobs.

 


 

“I mean, is it gonna be worth it?” America asked, while cutting up ravioli.

“I think so,” Jack answered. “Why not? I’ve never had health insurance in America before.”

“It’s a good thing,” Bucky said, watching his eggs boil. The other two looked up. “It means it’ll be cheaper than buying insurance elsewhere, and it covers a lot more things, like medication and emergency care. You ever been in an ambulance?” he asked, brows raised.

The two of them shook their heads.

“Yeah,” Bucky went on, “They charge you through the nose just to be taken to the E.R., nevermind your stay and any kind of care you get.” He swirled the water a bit. “Last time that happened to me, it almost broke my parents’ bank accounts.”

The other two were quiet.

“Plus,” Bucky sighed, “We get time off. That’s worth its weight in fuckin’ gold.”

 


 

When it was Bucky’s turn to head upstairs, he had a fair idea of what to expect.

Chef explained the new documentation and what was expected of him. He picked his plan and nodded while she talked about the vacation calendar protocol.

“Does this mean you go on vacation too?” he asked.

Chef grinned, “Hell yes.”

Bucky nodded. “Okay, good.”

Chef watched him for a moment while he read and signed everything. “You know, Barnes,” she said. “Natasha and I have been thinking about this for a while. But I gotta say, seeing you and Rogers freaking out over time off for stress or injury, well, that kinda sped up the process a little.”

Bucky frowned. “Chef, I’m s–“

“Oh, Lord, please don’t start apologizing,” she cut him off. “I’m  saying,” she raised her brows high at him. “I can’t keep my good employees if I can’t look after their health too.”

 


 

“So, you think it’d cover any doctor’s check-ups and prescriptions?” Steve said, poking his wooden spoon at the potatoes in the pan.

“Yup,” Bucky said, chopping up the garlic and onions. He went over to the stove and scooped the lot into the pan. “Okay, so watch the garlic. It tends to burn quicker, and we don’t want it sticking to the pan.”

Steve nodded. He’d bought a striped apron from the dollar store and wore it every time Bucky had him cooking. Because this was serious business, Buck. He was so fucking adorable.

“You going to put in fried egg too?” Steve asked.

Bucky nodded, “Yeah, once we get it all cooked, you can portion out yours, and then we add the egg for me.”

Steve sighed, “I miss eggs,” he murmured.

“Well, you won’t once you end up curled over next to the toilet again,” Bucky intoned, taking the cutting board to the sink for scrubbing. With Steve helping out, it was much easier to get shit done quicker in the kitchen.

Steve grunted and poked at the chopped potatoes.

“I was thinking of going to see Dr Erskine again,” he murmured.

“Oh yeah?” Bucky scrubbed at the dishes in the sink.

“Yeah,” Steve hummed. “I think he’d like to see how much I’ve changed, how good I feel these days.”

“Sounds like a plan, then,” Bucky said.

They studiously went on with their tasks, Bucky learning to let go on watching Steve like a hawk, and Steve paying attention to what he was doing.

They ate dinner at their new table, sat in their old/new chairs, and it felt…good.

“We should invite some people over,” Steve said, later that evening on the sofa. He looked at Bucky. “We never have anyone over.”

Bucky didn’t want to say it was because they lived in a shoebox shithole, but Steve could probably read him loud and clear.

“Well, once I get this place spruced up,” Steve went on.

“What exactly are you planning?” Bucky asked, watching the TV.

Steve shrugged beside him. “You’ll see.”

“Red flag, Rogers,” Bucky chuckled and looked over at the blonde slumped into him.

Steve was watching him. Bucky frowned, surprised. “What?”

Steve blinked, then cleared his throat. “Nothing.”

Bucky sighed, “Really? I thought we were gonna work on this? Speak.”

Steve squirmed a little. “I was just…” he bit his lip, eyes on the TV. “Do you ever think about it?”

“About what?” Bucky asked. He was a little distracted by the fire-breathing dragon on the TV. His fingers were gently carding through Steve’s hair.

“About that time we, you know…” Steve murmured.

Bucky’s hand paused. He swallowed. “You mean… that time in my bed?” he asked.

Steve nodded.

Dang.

“Uh,” Bucky cleared his own throat. “Yeah, of course.” Like, every other moment, every other day. Awake, asleep, at the grocery store.

Steve twisted and looked at him. “Yeah?”

Bucky nodded slowly. “All the time,” he murmured, voice a little rough round the edges.

Steve blinked up at him. “Same,” he murmured.

“Okay,” Bucky nodded shakily. This whole honesty thing was taking a toll already.

He shifted in his seat. Steve went back to watching the TV, and Bucky’s hand resumed its gently combing of Steve’s hair.

About five minutes later, Steve spoke again.

“I think about it a lot,” he said. “Even at work.”

Bucky’s breath felt a little weak. “Y-you do?”

“Mhm,” Steve nodded, head pushing at Bucky’s fingers. “I think about a lot of things.”

“Oh?” Bucky felt hot in his seat.

“Yeah,” Steve sighed. “Like, I wonder what giving a blowjob would be like. I’ve never given one before. I’ve received, sure. But the whole mechanics of, like, actually giving head?” Steve shook his head.

Oh, Christ. Why would Steve even say that? Now all Bucky could think about was Steve giving him head. He shifted in his seat, aware that his dick was uncomfortably cramped now.

Steve looked up at Bucky. “Have you ever given head?”

Bucky swallowed because hell, Steve’s voice had dropped a register and that just shot straight to Bucky’s dick.

“Um, yeah,” Bucky answered. “Once or twice.” Wow wow wow, and now he’s talking to Steve about blowjobs. What was happening?

“Huh,” Steve said. “How was it?”

Bucky shrugged.

“Is it like going down on women?” Steve asked. “I like doing that.”

Fuck. Steve eating women out is one of those wonderful fantasies that worked real well for Bucky.

“It’s, uhm,” Bucky shifted again. Steve sat up properly. “It’s okay. Kinda weird the first time.”

“I’ll bet,” Steve murmured. His eyelids were heavy and looking Bucky over. Then he looked at Bucky properly, all earnestness.

“I want to try it,” he said bluntly.

“Whoa,” Bucky put up both hands, “Hey now, you can’t just say shit like that. I’m not letting you experiment on me, or whatever.”

Though he really, really wanted to let Steve do whatever he liked, he couldn’t. Bucky got up quickly. He walked over to the kitchen sink, pulled out a glass and filled it with cold water.

 

“I’m not ‘experimenting’ on you,” Steve scowled from on the sofa. He got up, and Bucky just gulped back his drink. Steve approached him, so Bucky stepped back, away. He dropped the glass on the counter and walked backwards around the dining table.

“Hey,” Steve said and Bucky stopped. The blonde walked up to him, eyeing Bucky. And then he leaned in to give Bucky a kiss on the cheek. “I want to suck you off,” he rumbled right into Bucky’s ear. “I want to make you happy, Buck.”

“Jesus hellfire,” Bucky gasped. “You can’t just–“

“Why not?” Steve pulled back, all defiant. He pressed his hands to the wall either side of Bucky’s head.

“I, well,” Bucky trailed off. He had no idea.

“You don’t want me to?” Steve asked.

“Are you kidding me?” Bucky frowned. “Of course I want you to. It would be fucking awesome, but we’re not–“

Steve kissed him again and Bucky’s brain kind of fizzled out.

“I’m not playing with you, or using you, or trying to freak you out,” Steve murmured. “Bucky,” he sighed and kissed his cheek again. “I want to see you come again.”

Oh fuck,” Bucky breathed, all thought fleeing his brain. He was so fucking weak. “Okay.”

And then Steve grinned, hand sliding over Bucky’s pyjama-clad hip and over the bulge straining between his legs.

“Mmm,” Steve hummed. “You’re hard.”

“Well, duh,” Bucky huffed, brain short-circuiting at the heavy hand on him. Ngh.

“So what do I do?” Steve asked.

“Uh–“ Bucky gasped. “Just…do whatever.” He didn’t care at this point, just so long as Steve kept rubbing him that way.

“Hmmm,” Steve looked down, then pulled at Bucky’s waistband. He also pulled at the boxers beneath before smiling.

“Well, howdy fella,” Steve rumbled, making Bucky blush.

“Fuck, hell,” Bucky breathed out sharply when Steve’s warm hand pulled his cock free. A few gentle pulls and Steve was just content to watch.

Then he smiled, pressed Bucky flat to the wall, and slid down onto first one knee, then the other. Bucky’s heart rate picked up as he watched Steve move closer, sliding Bucky’s legs open so he could kneel there, hand pulling Bucky’s dick upright.

Steve was staring, while his fingers gently pulled and pressed at Bucky.

“Shit,” Bucky gasped. Steve chuckled and leaned in to lick at Bucky with the tip of his tongue.

“That okay?” he asked, looking up.

Bucky nodded. Was it okay? Everything was okay. Then Steve grinned and pushed both hands against Bucky’s hips, effectively slamming them against the wall.

“Steve, wh–“ Bucky got out, then gasped.

Steve bent forward, all business, and just sucked Bucky’s dick into his mouth. His tongue swirled and tasted, curious, before he pushed forward, engulfing more of Bucky between those pink lips of his.

“Shit,” Bucky gasped out again. “Steve.

“Mmm?” Steve looked up, Bucky still in his mouth. He pulled off, and licked his lips contemplatively. “Hmm, tastes fine. I thought it might be weird. But it’s like … skin, I guess.” He smacked his lips.

Bucky’s chest heaved, and his dick bobbed, right beside Steve’s cheek.

“More?” Steve asked. Bucky nodded quickly, like he would ever say no to this. “Okay.”

So Steve leaned in and sucked Bucky back in, humming intermittently, which just sent shivers right up Bucky’s spine.

“Oh, fuck, fuck,” Bucky breathed, squeezing his eyes shut. He wanted to move his hips, but Steve was holding him fast while he bobbed his head.

It was amazing. Steve wasn’t a pro, and it was clearly his first time, but it was Steve. Sucking Bucky off. It was phenomenal.

“Uhhh,” Bucky breathed out, wincing at the rush of sparks down his legs and around his balls. Steve sucked on the head for a while, testing, it seemed. Then he went down further before pulling back.

“Okay, gag reflex is a real thing,” he chuckled hoarsely. He wiped his mouth, his lips redder than before. Then he just wrapped a hand around the base and gave Bucky a good pull. Up, then down. He looked up and Bucky was sure he looked like he was about to pass out.

Whatever Steve saw made his eyes darken and he licked his lips. “Can you take your shirt off, Buck?” he asked.

Bucky blinked, then licked his own lips.

“Yeah?”

Steve nodded. So Bucky did as he was asked, pulling his t-shirt over his head, feeling his skin prickle in the cool air.

“Damn,” Steve hummed, looking up. He pulled at Bucky’s pyjamas and boxers, pulling them down to mid-thigh. Bucky shivered.

“Let’s see what we can do here,” Steve said, grabbing Bucky again before leaning in and taking Bucky back into his warm, wet mouth.

“Steve, Steve,” Bucky gasped out every so often. “Jesus, you’re killing me.”

It felt like a high, this pleasure coursing through him. Steve wasn’t an expert, but he certainly gave it his best. He sucked and kissed and pulled at Bucky’s cock, mumbling little comments of admiration every so often. It was too much for Bucky, looking down at those lips wrapped around him. He already had Steve’s hair between his fingers, not daring to push or pull, but enjoying the feel of it.

“I’m so close,” Bucky breathed, gently tilting his hips. “So close. Steve.”

Steve hummed around him and Bucky shuddered, his balls tightening.

“Okay, now, now nownow!” he hissed, eyes wide, wondering why Steve wasn’t pulling away. “Fuck, Steve!”

“Mmmf,” Steve hummed as Bucky came, legs shaking, so Steve had to push him against the wall while his dick emptied out. Bucky’s eyes rolled back and he hit his head against the wall, hands tight in Steve’s hair. Oh god, it felt like, like…magic.

His legs couldn’t hold him up, so the minute Steve pulled off, Bucky slumped down, ass hitting Steve’s thighs.

“Why–“ Bucky gasped, breath heavy, his vision a little bright. “Why didn’t you–“

Steve licked his own lips, and wiped at his chin with his palm. He seemed to be tasting, testing Bucky’s spunk.

“Hmm,” he said, “I wanted to try.” He stuck out his tongue a bit. “Not super tasty, but it’s okay.” He smiled. “I could get used to that.”

Bucky’s eyes were wide, shocked. Steve Rogers just swallowed a load of Bucky’s come, after blowing Bucky off for the first time, ever. And Steve was sporting one hell of a boner, which means it totally turned him on as well. It was just too much, too wonderful, too awesome to believe.

Bucky launched himself forward, knocking Steve back with a.yelp.

“You are a gift,” he muttered hungrily into Steve’s mouth. “You are the best.”

Steve just laughed beneath him.  “So I did good?” the blonde said around Bucky’s tongue. He gasped. Bucky just grunted in reply before jamming his own hand down the front of Steve’s pyjamas.

 

 

Chapter Text

It was like something shifted.

One day Bucky’s life is the same. It’s him and his best friend living as best they can, going to work, being careful and playing it safe.

Then slowly, it changed. It became something different and Bucky wasn’t really, honestly, sure how it happened.

Because now, it was him and his best friend living together, working at the same place, working similar hours, sharing everything and also, touching and sometimes necking and, God, he was happy.

Happy because elation filled him every morning when he woke up either beside Steve, or knowing Steve was in the room beside his, fully aware of the fact that they now kissed and snuggled and yet, were the same.

He never, not once, thought this was a possibility; that his soul-sucking teenage crush on Steve would actually resolve itself into actually having Steve.

It was nuts.

Like right now.

Steve was asleep, hogging Bucky’s bed again, on his back.

And Bucky was watching him, just staring at Steve’s face, at his big hands, at his round shoulders and his collarbones.

Bucky scooched in closer, heart pounding slowly. He could actually do this and it wasn’t weird or creepy (well, not much) and Steve wouldn’t freak out.

“You know,” Steve rumbled, making Bucky jump. “It ain’t polite to gawk, Buck.”

He cracked open an eye and Bucky smiled.

“Sorry,” Bucky murmured. “You just, you’re so cute when your mouth ain’t flapping.”

Steve shoved at him and Bucky chuckled, and rolled off the bed.

“Come on, we gotta get going,” he said, walking over to rustle through his closet. He pulled off his t-shirt and threw it at the laundry basket by the door. “We both got long shifts today.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Steve said, sitting up.

When Bucky turned, Steve was stretching, his long, strong arms flexed above his head, his chest perfect and just …

“We gotta get a bigger bed,” Steve murmured, causing Bucky to pause.

“My bed’s fine,” Bucky said. “You’re the big oaf hogging the room.”

“Yeah, but, mine ain’t any bigger.”

Bucky didn’t comment on the fact that whenever they did fall asleep together, it was in his bed, and never Steve’s.

“So?” Bucky said, pulling on a black tee.

“So,” Steve said, getting to his feet and walking over. “We need a bigger bed.”

Bucky stared at Steve like he was nuts. “I can’t afford a new bed, Steve.”

Steve hummed and Bucky tried desperately to not just melt when Steve’s fingers found their way to his sides, pulling Bucky closer. “But sleeping in your bed is like sleeping in a  coffin. Or on a ledge. I keep falling off.”

“Hey, you don’t have to sleep here, pal,” Bucky huffed, pulling his hair back. He quickly tied it up, eyes tracking Steve’s pout.

“You saying you don’t like it when I–“ Steve murmured and the bastard slipped a hand down the back of Bucky’s sweats, making him jump.

“Steve, c’mon,” Bucky said. He was too soft for this foul play and refused to buckle. It was still so new, to expect this, or to get used to it.

“I’m not buying a new bed,” Bucky hissed, yanking Steve’s hand out.

Steve frowned. “But–“

“No buts,” Bucky pointed a finger at that crooked nose of his. “It’s not worth it. Now come on, you gotta get ready. I’ll go prep lunch.”

“Ugh,” Steve complained. “Yes, sir.”

 


 

“Hey Barnes!” Jack snapped a finger and Bucky blinked.

“Huh?”

“You high?” Jack chuckled. He jerked his head, “Chef’s been standing there, waiting for you.”

Bucky flushed and yup, Chef was by the back door, hands on hips.

“Sorry, sorry,” he said hastily, rushing over.

Chef just tutted, “Mind elsewhere?” she asked, walking out the back door and into the cool sunshine.

“Uh, no, no,” Bucky lied. Now wasn’t the time to tell Chef he’d been daydreaming of potentially suggesting to Steve at some point that he’d like to suck him off tonight. Bucky’d imagined the timing, the way he’d crawl over Steve and get that huge dick of his into his mouth finally and just go to town on it. Like he’d been dreaming of since he first figured out what giving head even was. How he hadn't thought, at the time, of someone doing it to him, but of him sucking Steve dry instead. Because: priorities.

But then again, sporting a boner at work wouldn’t be apropos.

“Hey Barnes,” Clint waved from on his van bed. Kate was already counting up the crates.

Romanov was there with their clipboard in hand, reading it over before signing with a flourish.

“So,” Chef said, nodding at the crates, “You’re up.”

Bucky nodded and moved in to heave the first few indoors.

The crew usually rotated this job out, and truth be told, only Bucky and Luke were any good at being quick with the heavy lifting.

Bucky came back out with empties for Clint, the kitchen team having unpacked everything, fast as possible.

“Here you go,” he slid them across the van bed.

“Awesome,” Clint said, stacking them in the back.

“You got any other deliveries today?” Bucky asked. Clint shook his head. “Nope. All done for the day.”

“Huh,” Bucky squinted in the morning light. “You must get up pretty early.”

“Yep,” Clint said, sighing. “Gotta get over to the farms lickety-split.”

“How early?” Bucky asked.

Clint shrugged, “Aim to be out the door before five.”

“A.M.?” Bucky blinked, having a hard time imagining Clint getting up that early.

“With a little help,” Kate added in as she hefted over a couple more empties.

“Yeah,” Clint shrugged. “The Boss is always there, knocking down my door, dragging me out of deep slumber.”

“Oh, please,” Kate rolled her eyes, “I bring you coffee and peel the pizza slices off your face.”

Clint gave a ‘well, she’s not wrong’ kinda face.

Natasha came over.

“Can you shake up some parsnips tomorrow?” she said, calmly eyeing her own, much larger, clipboard.

“Uh, sure,” Clint hopped down off the van bed. “How many you need?”

“Hmm,” Romanov twisted her lips and Bucky had a sneaky suspicion she already had numbers calculated up in her head before even coming over. Playing it coy, huh?

Bucky smirked and followed Kate back over to Chef, who was on her cellphone.

“He’s so obvious,” Kate sighed.

Bucky smiled, “I thought you were gonna say she is.”

Kate looked up at him from under her black bangs. “Her? Really? You sure about that?”

Bucky smiled wider, then shrugged like some unassuming mug. “Tenth time’s the charm.”

Kate snorted, looking over at Clint and Romanov. “More like, ten-thousandth time.”

Bucky watched Romanov actually look up from her clipboard. Clint was talking softly, scratching his chin.

Romanov responded and the man’s eyebrows shot up.

Bucky turned away and looked down at Kate again.

“Are you actually the boss?” he asked.

Kate blinked and frowned, “No. He is. He just hates to look like he’s responsible for anything, is all.”

“Ah,” and Bucky chuckled.

 


 

Bucky was a little preoccupied when Steve asked if they could stop off at the all-night convenience store. Sure, why not?

After all, it was one of those big fancy ones with the bright LED lights and cameras and everything you could ever need at two o’clock in the morning.

“Gatorade?” he queried.

“Sam’s saying 'cos I miss breakfast before gym, that I need to up my electrolytes,” Steve said, throwing four of the blue energy drinks in his basket. “Ooo, bananas!” he added and threw them in as well.

Bucky eyed the fruit and veg warily.

He followed Steve, watching his best friend load up on random items like toothpaste and those plastic flossing things that look like tree saws. Razors were on sale, and Steve knew which brand Bucky preferred.

“You about done?” Bucky yawned and scrubbed at his face. Steve just hummed and Bucky followed him round the next aisle.

Steve stopped and stared.

Bucky just sighed, wondering how soon it’d be before he could actually sleep. Then he focused on the shelf in front of them and blanched.

“Oh God, Steve,” he hissed.

“What?” Steve blinked at him and picked up a vibrantly orange box of condoms. He inspected the box carefully. “This doesn’t weird you out, I know that, Buck,” he said, picking up another box. “You’re the one who always drilled it into me–“ Really, pal, your choice of wording was shit. “–that if you can’t handle buying condoms, you’re not old enough to be using them?”

Bucky rolled his eyes. “Yeah, but–“ he faded away a bit when Steve picked up some kind of lube and threw that in with his gatorade and flossing paraphernalia.

Then Steve threw two boxes of a condom brand Bucky was vaguely familiar with.

“Which ones do you buy?” Steve asked in that genuinely curious way of his.

Bucky tapped a red and black box.

Steve grinned and grabbed the box, making Bucky want to melt.

“You’re dead serious, aren’t you?” Bucky said, following the blonde man up to the front of the store.

“Hey, you never know,” Steve said, plopping the basket on the metal countertop of the cash desk.

The woman behind the counter looked like she wished she was somewhere other than there with them. Bucky couldn’t blame her.

Bucky didn't really want to whine about Steve and his sense of preparedness. No, this was not some big plan that would explicitly involve the two of them, but still.

His brain was a little mushy at the thought anyway.

 


 

It took Bucky a good hour to work up the courage.

His window of opportunity was so damn tight because they had work in the morning, but still. He had to ask.

Steve puttered around their kitchen, making his sleepy-night-night tea, or whatever the hell it was called.

Bucky was in his own pyjamas, almost chewing through his bottom lip in anticipation.

Clearly, due to the condoms and such, Steve was also  thinking sexy things, so this would be totally okay. Right?

“Hey,” Steve appeared in front of him, Bucky looking up from his scrunched up seat on the sofa. Steve sipped his tea. "You ready for bed?”

Bucky swallowed.

“Uh, yeah,” he reached up and carefully pulled Steve’s warm mug away from his face and placed it on the coffee table behind him. “I just got something I wanna do first.”

Steve tilted his head and Bucky tugged at his wrist, pulling Steve down onto the sofa beside him.

Steve smiled when Bucky leaned in and kissed him, like he’d wanted to do all day.

Bucky loved the feel of Steve’s warm lips against his own, and he pushed his hand along Steve’s jaw, making Steve rest his cheek against the sofa back cushion.

They kissed like this, perfectly, for a few moments, Bucky’s internal temperature rising.

Steve’s tongue was fucking amazing, and delicious and tea-tainted and sweet.

It felt like he was back in high school, focusing on just tongue and lips and less about technique and which way to tilt their heads. It was awesome.

“I want to blow you,” Bucky breathed between a kiss. “Let me?”

Steve’s eyes flew open.

“You what?” he murmured around Bucky’s roving tongue.

Bucky kissed him deeper, pressing Steve against the sofa. He pushed himself up and slid his right hand over Steve’s stomach, sneaking down. Steve’s hips shifted.

“I want to suck you off, so bad,” Bucky almost whined between his teeth. “Can I?” His hand slipped lower, encountering what was a slowly hardening lump in Steve’s pyjama pants. Definitely no underwear tonight.

“Jeez,” Buck,” Steve squirmed, “You don’t have to ask.”

Bucky's hand squeezed and Steve shifted, breath caught. Bucky watched Steve’s face as he slowly rubbed and pulled his erection to full hardness.

“Amazing,” Bucky hummed and leaned in for a brutal kiss. He pushed Steve against the sofa back and freed Steve’s dick, pulling quick with a sharp tilt to his wrist. Steve gasped into his mouth and Bucky’s own dick responded with a throb. He loved this. He could feel Steve up, rub on his erection and make him squirm.

“Shit,” Bucky pulled back, panting, “If I don’t do it now, I’m gonna fuck it up.”

Steve seemed to shiver and his eyes followed Bucky down, down until Bucky was kneeling on the floor between Steve’s spread legs. Bucky yanked at his hips and Steve slid down some more.

Bucky freed that glorious cock and just held it in his hand for a moment.

“You got yourself a helluva dick, Rogers,” he murmured, pulling the pink and wet head up, for closer inspection.

Steve just kind of let out a bluster of air, his cheeks pink, eyes dark. Well, if that didn’t add fuel to Bucky’s fire… If Bucky didn’t know better, he’d say Steve looked distracted. But now that he was familiar, he could see it was pure unadulterated lust. Which was A-OK.

“You’re gonna be good at this, aren’t you?” Steve breathed. “I can tell.”

Bucky licked his lips, still eyeing the way his hand slid up and down Steve’s ample, thick shaft. “What makes you say that?” His own voice had fallen to a rough drawl.

Steve licked his own lips, “Mouth like yours? I’d bet dollars to donuts you–“

And Bucky couldn’t wait much longer. He’d been dreaming of this moment for far too long. So he just sat up, elbows over a thigh each and leaned over Steve’s hips, slipping Steve’s dick into his mouth and began sucking.

Steve jolted and pre-come slid from the tip and onto Bucky’s tongue. He sucked Steve for a moment to get his bearings, then he pulled back, laying kisses all the way down the shaft. He was fucking in awe. The way Steve’s skin shifted, the way his pink head looked all pretty like that, all wet and perfect. It was a bit of a mindfuck.

Gently, he stroked Steve through whatever other ministrations his lips were applying. He licked his way down to Steve’s balls, applying a little pressure when his hand squeezed. And Steve didn’t seem to mind, judging by the way his hands were gripping the sofa cushions. Steve was panting now, his hips shifting, trying to speed things up.

Bucky sat up and held Steve’s dick steady. He looked up at Steve, then slowly kissed the tip again and licked. Steve whimpered and Bucky’s cock throbbed. Jesus, fuck, he was in heaven. His swirled his tongue around the head, eyes on Steve while he did so. He was making the whole situation much wetter and it was doing crazy things to him. Steve was slack-jawed and giving off little huffs every so often, little almost-whines.

Pleasuring Steve? Amazing. Causing those sounds? Brilliant beyond all measure.

“Oh my God, Bucky,” Steve breathed when Bucky slid his lips over Steve and sank down, his hand still firmly stroking.

Bucky was pretty good at this, he had to admit. He’d dreamt of blowing Steve so often that it was almost like he’d done it a zillion times anyway. He sucked down low, wetly pulling back and repeating the process, all while pumping Steve’s dick to his own rhythm.

It got wet and sloppy pretty fast, Bucky bobbing his head and Steve shifting and gasping.

Steve’s heels came up and pressed to the edge of the seat, and Bucky growled, feeling Steve’s stupid pyjama pants bunching under his neck. He pulled back and Steve actually whined, his dick flopping back onto his belly with a slap.

“Get. This. Off,” Bucky growled and yanked Steve’s pants off properly. “Fuck,” He was frazzled and his dick felt heavy and hard in his own pants. And his brain cells were fried.

He paused and then pushed at Steve’s shirt. “Off.”

Steve complied readily and yanked his t-shirt over his head, throwing it behind him somewhere. He pulled his heels back onto the seat edge, as if to really just show off for Bucky, which was fabulous.

Steve all buck naked, ass spread, cock hard and wet and dripping and his face. Christ! Bucky wanted to eat him up.

“Fuck,” Bucky breathed, running his hands up the insides of Steve’s legs, hip to knee and back again. “Christ you’re amazing,” he babbled, coming in again to pull Steve back into his mouth, like he just had no more time for idle chit-chat.

“Uh!" Steve gasped and Bucky felt Steve’s dick throb against his tongue. He was ruthless this time, sucking Steve in again and again, enjoying the sensation, the feel, the pressure against his tongue, jaw and cheeks.

His free hand squeezed Steve’s balls and the blonde was beyond words now, just panting and gasping and shaking a little, trying to match Bucky’s movements, trying to get off.

“Oh my God, Bucky,” Steve babbled. “I’m gonna…”

Fuck, yes.

Bucky’s own cock throbbed when he felt Steve stiffen. He moved both hands down to cup at Steve’s butt, tilting him, massaging that fine, fine ass while sucking him in deep. The hot and heavy dick in Bucky’s mouth stiffened and jerked.

Steve’s mouth was open, wordless as he came, eyes not leaving Bucky. Bucky let the wet mess spurt free of his mouth and dribble down his chin, which only seemed to make Steve’s eyes widen some more.

Bucky,” Steve sounded horrified, scandalized and turned on. It was fucking amazing.

“Unhh,” Bucky moaned, bending to lick at the mess all over Steve’s pubic area. He squeezed that ass, nails digging in.

Steve’s chest was heaving and his eyes were blown, but still, he managed to tug at Bucky.

“Get up here,” he said hoarsely and Bucky complied readily, clambering over Steve’s lowering legs. He straddled Steve, skin on fire, buzzing with the sheer thrill of what he’d just done. He was vibrating out of his skin with joy.

“You’re amazing, amazing,” he babbled, freeing his own dick and pulling at it.

“Let me, let me,” Steve panted, sounding really frazzled himself.

“Oh Christ,” Bucky moaned when Steve got both hands on him and began jacking him like a professional. Bucky keeled over, his forehead falling to the seat back.

Haa… ahh!” he gasped, hands coming to rest against the sides of Steve’s neck, just under his ears. “Steve. Fuck!

Steve’s hands were wet and slipped and slid up and down Bucky’s heavy cock, yanking an orgasm out of him in no time.

“Jesus, Buck,” Steve gasped when Bucky came, all hot and heavy onto his stomach. He sounded pretty impressed, actually.

 

“Uuuunhh,” Bucky moaned, hips twitching, fingernails scratching at Steve’s nape. He shuddered and let his full weight fall to his best friend.

“Oh my god,” Steve whispered beneath him. “That was the hottest thing I’ve ever seen or done or anything…ever.

Bucky couldn’t form sentences yet.

Steve gently folded Bucky back into his pants, but it was a bit of a lost cause.

“We need to shower again,” Steve hummed into Bucky’s neck.

Bucky just grunted and pressed himself into Steve, wanting to feel the other’s warmth against his overheated skin.

Sometimes he had the best ideas.

 


 

Bucky discovered that Steve had sensitive nipples. It was awesome.

“Bucky, stop,” Steve huffed, trying to get into his jacket. He was being distracted by Bucky who had his thumbs against Steve’s work shirt and was gently circling those nipples with his thumbs.

He eventually pulled away, his interest piqued and also, sated.

“Just checking you’re all in working order,” was all he murmured.

Steve made a face.

“You know, you’re a real horndog, Buck.”

Bucky smiled, “Am I? Huh.”

Steve shoved at him and the two of them headed out for a new day at work.

 

Later, Bucky was beyond distraction because he was working his ass off on a perilously difficult soufflé.

He’d been at it for hours and his arms were killing him.

“Hey, wanna swap out?” Jack murmured.

“Oh God, please,” Bucky huffed, dropping the bowl he was working from.

Jack chuckled and handed over the rice he was watching.

“You’re pretty energetic today, Barnes,” he said.

“Am I?” Bucky asked, handing over the utensils he’d been using.

“Yeah,” Jack said. “Well, moreso than usual, anyway.”

Bucky shrugged and stirred the pot.

“Hey,” Wanda came over an hour later. “Lunchtime. Who’s next?”

Jack pouted at Bucky and he rolled his eyes. “Fine, you go first,” Bucky sighed. “I’ll go in an hour.”

“Yes!” Jack  pumped his fist through the air.  “You’re a doll, Barnes,” he said, wiping at his hands.

“Who’s a doll?” Steve appeared out of nowhere, looking as chipper as a woodpecker.

“Jeez, Rogers!” Jack jumped. “You scared me.”

“Oh, sorry,” Steve grinned and patted Jack on the shoulder. Then he looked up. “Hey, Buck, you eating?”

Bucky tried not to think of anything other than Steve’s current, happy, not sexually explicit face and shook his head. “Nope, sorry pal.”

“Looks like you’re chowing down with me, cupcake,” Jack grinned and pushed at Steve.

Steve didn’t seem to mind and was herded out of the kitchen easily.

“Well, he looks happy as a clam,” Wanda said, plopping a new batch of churros on the worktop.

“I guess,” Bucky murmured, looking down at the onions he was chopping.

Wanda was eyeing him, he could feel it.

“He was practically glowing,” she added. “Romanov says he’s been bouncing off the walls all week.”

“That’s Steve, all right,” Bucky answered, still not looking up.

He chopped some more veg before delivering them over to Luke.

When he finally did make eye contact with her, Wanda was smirking.

 


 

Bucky came home to a sight.

“The fuck are you doing?” he asked.

Steve was currently jammed between the door of Bucky’s bedroom, and what looked to be a mattress.

“Hey, you’re home!” Steve cried happily. He grunted and the mattress gave way, spilling itself and Steve into Bucky’s room.

Bucky dropped his things and shrugged out of his jacket.

“Steve, what the hell?” he said.

“Look, don’t be mad,” Steve said, dragging the mattress into the room. “But I had a brainwave.”

Bucky sighed and walked over.

“See, we can’t afford a new, big bed,” Steve went on, grunting as he heaved the mattress over to what looked to be a boxspring beside Bucky’s bed. “But we can shove ours together. See? Genius.”

Bucky just stared.

Steve shoved the mattress onto the boxspring properly and then went about unwrapping some big flat, weird thing.

“I got us a mattress cover, thingymajiggy,” Steve huffed, his hair a pouf on his head. “And new sheets. So it don’t cost as much as a mattress, but it can work.”

Bucky just stared.

Eventually, the silence made Steve turn and look at him.

“Buck?”

Bucky shook his head, “So, what? You’re sleeping in here now?”

Steve paused. “Uhm…yeah?” He seemed to think for a moment. “Unless, you don’t want that?”

Bucky frowned, “No, I don’t mind. I’m just…why all of a sudden?”

Steve dropped whatever he was doing and came over to where Bucky was leaning against the doorframe.

“Hey, um, I don’t have to. I can uhm, move back. I just thought…uh, well, I like sleeping here, with you. And I thought you did too?”

Bucky just frowned, confused, like this was actually happening and it was beyond comprehension.

“Bucky,” Steve said firmly. “Do you want me to sleep here with you?”

Bucky pondered that for a moment. Yes. Obviously. Yes. No question. Why was Steve even considering otherwise.

“Yes,” he said.

Steve smiled, “Okay, so then, this is a good idea?”

Waking up with Steve? Every morning? Going to bed with him, sharing his warmth, his body, his space? Touching his skin and kissing his lips? Combing through his sleep-mussed hair and watching him snuggle close and draping an arm over him every single night? Bucky felt like he might start hyperventilating.”Yes, fuck,” Bucky breathed, pulling Steve in by his shirt. “Yes.”

Chapter Text

“Why are you like this?” Bucky groaned, glaring at Steve’s retreating back. “It’s our day off. Can’t you sleep in just once?”

Steve chuckled and rummaged in his pile of discarded clothing, pulling his phone free. “I’d love to, Buck, but I’ve got things to do.”

“Ugh,” Bucky grumped and rolled over. “Fine.”

No one was going to take his late morning wake-ups from him. He actually managed to doze off after the sound of the front door closing meant Steve had left.

By the time Bucky did fully rise, his stomach was growling.

He ambled his way into the kitchen and got the coffee started. While it percolated, he dug around for some toast, having to make do with the pumpernickel bread Steve loved so much.

He slathered butter and jam on four burnt slices, poured himself some achingly dark coffee and went over to slump on the sofa.

The netflix screen was still up, so he dragged the laptop closer so as to see what was on.

“Ugh,” he grumbled. Steve loved his Spanish dramas too much. He clicked over a few options before settling on some new comedy Jack and America had been blathering about.

It was barely twenty minutes until he heard Steve’s key in the lock.

The blonde was carrying shopping bags and looked far too chipper.

“Really, Buck?” Steve said with a lopsided grin.

“What?” Bucky grunted, looking up from his deep slouch on the sofa, his bread-crumbed plate sitting on his chest, one foot on the coffee table. He knew what he looked like. So what? “You signed up for this.”

Steve laughed. “You just stay there and relax.”

“Oh, I will,” Bucky mumbled, wishing his coffee was closer.

He got immersed in the show for while, snorting every now and then at some witty quip.

It wasn’t long before he realized Steve wasn’t coming to sit down. In fact, Steve was puttering around noisily, his shopping bags rustling. He was making stupid noises, dropping stuff on the dining table and everything.

When Steve seemed to be making time with the door jamb itself, Bucky had to ask.

“The hell are you up to, Rogers?”

Steve turned from the door, where he’d been bending awkwardly to eye something. He held up a little pot and brush.

Bucky waited.

“Just go back to your show,” Steve sighed and turned back to the door.

Fine. Whatever.

Except now Bucky was intrigued. He watched Steve open up the little tin can and dip his brush inside. Then he slathered on something that really reeked of fumes.

Steve was humming, moving around the open door’s edge.

“Hi, Mrs. Steenkamp,” he murmured to a passing neighbour.

He let the door slide to an almost close, walking back to whatever supplies he’d laid out on the table.

After a while, he went back over to the door and held it open with his foot. Using something Bucky couldn’t see, he began scraping.

Aw hell, Steve was scraping at the decades and layers of paint that the apartment management had slapped on. Their door had always jammed and stuck due to the mess.

Steve scraped at the pale yellow paint, flicking flecks and scrapings into a bucket on the floor.

He was methodical and calm and clearly better suited to stuff like this than Bucky.

He was also humming some Britney Spears tune.

He went back to the table a few times to wipe off his cloth and tool.

Finally, about an hour later, Bucky looked up when Steve huffed with pride.

He tested the door, back to Bucky. Open. Close. Open. Close.

“Huh,” Steve said, “Wonders never cease.” and then he shut and locked it for good measure.

Bucky got up, depositing his plate on the coffee table, going over.

“Wow,” he said softly, actually seeing the shiny plate metal for the first time ever. He ran a thumb over the lock knob, then gave it a try, opening the door and looking over the whole thing in awe. “Holy crap. It closes like a normal door.”

Steve grinned wide. “Yup! I asked management if we could get new locks, but that was a firm ‘no’. So figured the next best thing would be this. What do you say?”

“This is awesome,” Bucky smiled, then nudged his shoulder into Steve. “You lil’ handyman.”

Steve pushed him back. “First, baby steps, Buck.”

Bucky frowned, watching Steve bend over to pick up his bucket and go over to the miscellaneous supplies on the table.

“First steps to what, exactly?” he asked.

Steve just smiled, “Oh, you’ll see.”

That didn’t exactly ease Bucky’s mind.

 


 

Bucky was showing Teddy how to make the perfect potato skins.

“So repeat it back to me,” Bucky said.

Teddy flipped his fingers open as he spoke. “Bake in foil at four hundred for an hour. Then cut lengthways. Scoop out the potato insides and put in bowl. Brush butter on the skins.”

Bucky nodded, watching.

“Now we add in the sour cream, the garlic, the scallions, and tiniest hint of blue cheese.” Teddy went to pick up the first ingredient.

“Wait,” Bucky murmured. “You gotta whip that potato first.”

“Oh, right,” Teddy nodded. He proceeded to do as Bucky had shown him, mashing the potato chunks in a bowl until they were smooth. Then he added in the other ingredients, mixing them in swiftly.

“Then we scoop back into the skins,” Teddy did as he said, carefully spooning the still-warm mixture back into the potatoes sitting on the tray. He drizzled some paprika on top and pressed a teaspoon gently into the middle of each potato mound.

Bucky assisted, handing him eggs one by one. Teddy cracked one egg into each potato indent before drizzling a bit of salt on each.

“Right, back in the oven,” Bucky murmured, helping the kid get the food quickly across the room and into the already humming ovens.

“Okay, next is the bacon,” he said, eyeing the clock, “Don’t forget to check on the potatoes.”

Teddy nodded briskly and followed Bucky to the fridge to get the bacon strips.

 


 

 

“You leaving early?” Bucky huffed, seeing Steve already in his street clothes. “I thought you had double shift today?”

“Naw,” Steve said, pulling on his favourite navy cap. “Got things to do.” he grinned and leaned over and gave Bucky a peck just to the side of his lips. This not only had Bucky’s brain fizzling out, but his heart rate shot sideways, thinking of who might have seen that. But Steve was gone and Bucky only turned to find Parker packing cutlery into napkins like it was the most interesting thing in the world to do.

 


 

“You want the onions to cook forever,” Bucky said, while Teddy nodded beside him. “They caramelize nicely and if you rush it, the sugars burn and you get those nasty sticky black onions.”

“Huh,” Teddy said, poking at the massive pan with onions. “I’ll watch these for you,” he said.

Bucky blinked, “Why? I got somewhere to be?”

Teddy nodded, “You gotta eat. You haven’t had lunch and it’s almost seven PM.”

Bucky looked at the clock above the bake station. “Shit, really?”

Guess if Steve didn’t come hustle him out, Bucky ignored his gnawing hunger. He tapped Teddy’s shoulder, “thanks, pal,” before heading over to the fridge to scrounge up his one meal for the day.

 


 

Bucky dropped his bag on the floor, the front door slowly closing behind him.

Steve?” he murmured. “Wilson?

“Oh, hey, Barnes,” Sam Wilson waved from across the apartment, on a ladder.

“The hell is going on?” Bucky blinked slowly, taking in the mess.

“What’s it look like?” Steve came up to him, paint roller in hand, and in the dirtiest clothes Bucky had ever seen him in. “We’re painting!”

And so they were. Judging by the slew of brushes and rollers, they’d been at it all afternoon and evening. Bucky stared around at the almost-complete paint job.

“Shit,” he whispered. “This place looks so different,” he murmured. The walls, when they’d moved in, were painted in standard apartment melon yellow and had remained that way for years. Now, they were covered in a soft, yet bright blue that bordered on white. Sam was on the ladder, tidying up the edges near the ceiling while Steve clearly had been manning the roller on a pole thing.

“This is insane,” Bucky said. “Wow.”

Steve looked unsure for a moment, “Uh, you like?”

Bucky nodded. “Yeah. I do. It–“ he chewed his lip. “It looks so much bigger in here. And brighter. Amazing.”

“Yeah,” Sam said, “Well it’d be nice if the door wasn’t that disgusting yellow, but we don’t really wanna cover it in more paint just yet.”

Steve sighed, “Yeah, we were hoping there was some nice wood under there, but no go. That door is a mess.”

Bucky barely heard them.

“So…” he said, turning to Steve fully, finally giving him all his attention. “This mean we’re staying here?”

Steve shrugged, “I think so. Best if we live cheap here for a while, save up, you know? In the meantime, I’m just trying to make it more of ‘our’ place. Less like we’re the last in a long line of awful tenants.”

Bucky blinked at him. He tilted his chin. “You got some paint in your hair.”

“I what?” Steve gently patted the splot above his ear before turning.

“Sam! You said I didn’t get any on me!”

Wilson just cackled maniacally over in his corner, back to the other two.

 


 

“Ow, you’re crushing me,” Bucky laughed, pushing at Steve.

The blonde man just kept nipping at Bucky’s jaw. He was pushing at Bucky, right into their sofa so they were lying down, a mess of limbs.

“You have a rough day?” Bucky murmured, shivering at the big hands sliding under his shirt.

“Muh,” Steve grunted, kissing Bucky’s neck. “You taste good.”

Bucky smirked, “That’s ‘cos I’m made of gummi bears.”

“Mmmm,” Steve hummed and pulled back. “I love gummi bears.”

Bucky’s eyes twinkled and he laughed.

Steve gasped when Bucky lifted his knee, slotting his leg between Steve’s.

They shifted, trying to get a good angle. Steve was rutting against Bucky, his dick against Bucky’s hip. However, Bucky was almost falling off the damn sofa, so he tried to shift back, only causing Steve to lose his balance.

“Shit!” Bucky yelped when Steve fumbled and fell right off.

“Owwww,” Steve whined, lying on his back on the parquet floor.

Bucky rolled and looked down. “Sorry, pal. You okay?”

Steve sighed. “I just wanted to make out. Is that so hard?”

Bucky smirked. “Maybe we should just head to bed, champ.”

 


 

“Hey, listen, it’s okay,” Chef sighed, pushing Bucky into the chair in front of her desk. Bucky scowled and rubbed a hand over his hair. He pulled his baseball cap into his lap.

“It’s not okay,” Bucky huffed angrily.

“Look, we get unsatisfied customers sometimes,” Chef said, sliding into her own chair opposite him. She swivelled a bit.

“Yeah, but that guy was fuck– uh, frikkin’ rude,” Bucky said.

Chef smirked, “Yeah he was. Not gonna lie there.”

“He doesn’t get to talk to you like that,” Bucky said darkly.

“Well, it’s not like he got away with it,” she smiled. “I told him where to get off.”

“Yeah, but–“ Bucky began.

“Barnes, calm down a second,” Chef said. “I get it. You’re mad. People suck and sometimes there isn’t much you can do about it.”

“But maybe I messed up the meal and that’s why he–“ Bucky said.

“You didn’t mess up anything,” she went on. She eyed him for a moment, taking in the sour look and furrowed brows.

“Okay, look,” she said, leaning across the desk. “I wasn’t going to show you this, but I think you might need it.”

Bucky looked at her from under his dark brows.

She leaned over and rifled through her desk. She pulled out a stack of papers barely held together in a brown folder. She opened it up and pulled at the top few sheets that were stapled together.

“Now, here’s the thing,” she said. “I have a few relationships with the culinary schools in the city.”

He nodded slowly.

“I spend a lot of time teaching students shit. I have to. It’s good for my soul. So anyway, as you know, once in a while I take in fresh graduates like Teddy.”

Where the hell was she going with this.

“See, Teddy’s from one helluva school. And it’s my relationship with the school that got him this gig. He’s promising, right?”

Bucky nodded in agreement.

“Right,” she went on. “So as a part of his sort of permanent internship, he has to report back to his professors every few months. He gives reports and presentations to the kids in the graduating year, gives them feedback on what it’s like to actually work in a Michelin-star restaurant. You with me?”

Bucky nodded again.

“However, it isn’t just that. He also gives feedback so that his professors know I’m not treating their students like animals. He has to report back not only on what he’s learnt, but on what his experiences are like.”

She chuckled suddenly. “You shoulda seen his first reports. They were gibberish. Terrified, he was.”

Bucky frowned. Why was she telling him this?

“Anyway, his confidence has been growing. He’s ‘getting it’ now. He’s not quite comfortable professionally, but he’ll get there.”

She pushed the couple sheets of paper his way.

“This was the report he sent in last week. Leagues better than the last, but I think very important. Go ahead, read it.”

Bucky pulled the papers closer. They were typed up like an essay, giving him flashbacks to his terrible days in English class.

“I don’t think–“ he started.

“Just read it,” Chef cocked a brow dangerously.

Okay, fine.

He skimmed the first few paragraphs about the meals Teddy mentioned. the kid blathered on about techniques and tools and kitchen politics.

Bucky was confused as to why this was relevant to him.

He flipped to the second page, reading and reading, until he saw his own name.

 

 

 

My days at BRDO seemed at first to be daunting. I genuinely wasn’t sure I could do this professionally, at least not after the first disastrous weeks. But I kept coming in because, honestly, I was inspired.

I’ve been lucky to shadow chef Barnes, one of the best cooks I’ve ever seen. He has been the main reason why my efforts have worked out, I believe. Chef Barnes is patient with me and he is excellent at teaching. His knowledge about food is astonishing. He has become such a great mentor that I truly believe I would have flunked out of this job were it not for him. He sets an excellent example by not losing his temper or going off the rails, not once. He is calm and reassuring and has faith in me, which is amazing.

One of the greater points of my time at BRDO has been the kindness shown to me. And chef Barnes is the best example of how a person can be good at their work while at the same time not diminish others in any way to get the job done. He helps anyone and everyone. He is humble, he is intelligent, he is kind and he has the respect of everyone in the kitchen, including our Head Chef. I hope, eventually, one day, to be as great a cook as he is.

 

Bucky sat there, stunned.

He looked up. Chef was grinning like a cheshire cat.

“Right?” she said.

“I–“ he stuttered, then shut his mouth.

“That’s what I want to see,” Chef said. “More of you shutting up and listening.”

Bucky just stared down at the paper in his hands before handing it back. Chef slid it back into her fat folder and put the lot away.

She looked at him again, “So you see, Barnes, you can’t be getting angry at customers. Not when people like Teddy Altman look up to you.”

Buck took in a deep breath.

“The kid doesn’t know any better,” he murmured.

“Yeah, okay, you just pretend that you haven’t had some positive influence on him since he got here. If that makes you feel better, fine. But I thought you should see just how valued your work here is. So I don’t care if customers don’t like shit. We aren’t going to please everyone, and you just gotta get used to it.”

Bucky nodded slowly, wringing his hands around his cap.

“Can I go now?” he mumbled.

“Well,” Chef began, when suddenly a thunderous noise thumped its way up the stairs.

Steve burst into the room, all red in the face.

“Did some jackass seriously swear at you? In the restaurant?” he bit out, rage filling up his face. “In front of patrons?”

His chest was heaving and it actually kinda made Bucky smile.

“Rogers! You ever heard of knocking?” Chef barked.

“That is inappropriate and rude!” he barked right back. “Where is he? I was having my lunch. I go out for one second and some jackass–“ he was waving his finger around, getting all flustered and cute and boy, did it get Bucky’s engine going.

“Hey, pal,” Bucky got to his feet, hands up. Steve blinked at him, probably noticing him for the first time. Bucky grinned with pride. “Breathe. Come on. Chef’s got it handled. Nothing to worry about.”

“But–“ Steve huffed angrily. He obviously wanted to rant some more, so Bucky just turned him and pushed him back out the way he came.

“Let’s go, come on,” Bucky sighed, wishing, not for the first time, that he didn’t find it completely endearing that Steve would go apeshit because someone dared to be rude to his boss.

When Bucky turned to close the door, Chef just eyed him and waved her hands in her usual, ‘please, take him off my hands’ kind of way.

 


 

 

“It’s not so different,” Steve hummed beside Bucky in the kitchen. They’d just finished up eating and cleaning up the dirty dishes.

“What is?” Bucky dried his hands.

Steve shrugged, “Being with a man versus a woman.”

Bucky paused.

“What?”

Steve looked up, noticing the not-so-good look on Bucky’s face. “Wait! Don’t jump to conclusions! I’m saying it’s nice.”

Bucky tried not to scowl, but failed.

Steve had both hands up. “I mean there’s no super discernible reason why more folks aren’t bisexual, is what I’m saying!”

“Apart from, what? The dicks?” Bucky retorted.

“No!” Steve cried out, “I mean, yes, sort of. But that’s not it. I mean, like, it’s kind of just like dating a woman. Show me something that redefines it, apart from the dicks?”

Steve had folded his arms in that ‘I’m so right and you know it’ way of his.

“Oh yeah?” Bucky threw the hand towel over his shoulder and onto the counter. “What about this?”

He went over, bent a little and hoisted Steve bodily up, locking his hands under Steve’s butt while Steve's legs wrapped around his hips automatically.

Steve almost yelped, hands immediately going to Bucky’s shoulders.

“Bucky!”

Bucky stared up at him, brows a firm line. “You date many chicks who can throw you around?”

Steve’s cheeks were pink. “Um,” he said, clearly aware that his two-hundred plus frame wasn’t exactly easy to lift and Bucky was doing it flawlessly.

Bucky walked him out of the kitchen.

“Buck,” Steve said, trying to see behind himself.

Bucky carried him into the bedroom. Their bedroom, which still had Bucky breathing heavily every now and then.

“What?” Bucky said, coming to a halt beside the bed.  Steve wriggled a little. He was definitely liking this. “You don’t like me manhandling you?”

“Fuck,” Steve breathed, and bent as best he could to kiss Bucky’s forehead. “You big jerk.”

Bucky smirked. “You gettin' a little turned on there, pal?”

He was clearly indicating the way Steve’s dick was chubbing up in his jeans.

“You be quiet,” Steve huffed before Bucky dropped him unceremoniously onto the bed.

 


 

“Like this?” Bucky asked, keenly watching Steve’s expression.

“Yeah,” Steve huffed, eyes closed, head flat on his pillow.

Bucky was getting better at understanding Steve’s body. He was a quick learner, for sure.

He lapped at Steve’s nipple, again causing shivers to ripple down Steve’s body. The guy really did have crazy sensitive nips. 

Steve had such a phenomenal body, Bucky thanked all the gods and all the saints for the chance to love on it.

He licked over the pink nub, noting again how much lighter it was in colour to his own. Steve was pale where he was tan. Steve had no chest hair, or even any hair below his belly button whereas Bucky had a sprinkling of both.

Steve had these tiny hips and thick, beautiful thighs that flexed whenever Bucky touched him just right.

Steve whimpered and ran his fingers through Bucky’s hair.

His cock was jutting against Bucky’s belly and Steve flexed his hips for more friction.

“Christ,” Bucky breathed, pressing his forehead to Steve’s skin. “You’re so fucking gorgeous.”

Steve’s hand paused.

“Really?” he murmured.

Bucky looked up. “Uh, yeah.

Steve flushed all the way down his chest. He pushed at Bucky, rolling them over so Steve could straddle him.

Bucky was very distracted by the pink dick on display. He had to focus.

Steve was gently rocking, Bucky’s underwear-clad dick receiving the attention.

“Shit,” Bucky hissed.

With Steve naked and beautiful and pink on top of him, his eyes had nowhere else to go. This was the most beautiful sight he had ever beheld.

Steve picked up on his distress and leaned both hands on the bed, his hips curling and pressing even tighter, torturing Bucky.

“Ah-ah,” Steve batted at Bucky’s hands. “Let me.”

“Oh, come on,” Bucky huffed. “I need to touch you.”

Steve’s hips rolled seductively, his balls pressing against Bucky’s dick. From this angle, it was like Steve could be sitting on Bucky’s dick, riding him. Well, if that didn't just make a guy want to die of excitement. It was too much.

“Wait, wait,” Bucky gasped, his mind feeding him all these delicious thoughts. What would it be like inside Steve? They'd have to slick him up, use that fancy lube some. Would Steve like it? Would they ever be able to? Would he ever, in this waking life, get such an opportunity?

Steve ignored him and just continued his slow grind. His mouth was open and he was focused, muscles flexing, hips curling. He could obviously feel Bucky all hard and hot underneath him, between his legs, under his ass.

“Unh!” Bucky grunted, hands grabbing at Steve’s hips. “Fuck!” He dug his nails in and shuddered.

Steve slowed his hips and blinked. “Did you just–“

“Unnnnh,” Bucky flopped back, hands sliding down Steve’s hips and thighs.

Steve watched him fall apart, then chuckled. “Well, then,” he said, climbing off and eyeing the wet patch growing on Bucky’s underwear. “My job here is done.”

“Nooooo,” Bucky whined, and pulled Steve flat to his side. He nuzzled at Steve’s jaw and kissed him.

“It’s your fault,” Bucky nipped. “You’re too sexy. It makes me crazy. Makes me blow my load too early. ‘M sorry.”

Steve was flushed red, hiding his face.

“God, Bucky, don’t say stuff like that.” His voice hitched at the last word, just as Bucky got a warm hand around his dick.

And while Bucky got to turn Steve into a puddle of mush, the other man just kissed him and kissed him like he’d always been made for this.

Chapter Text

“Can’t believe we’re doing this,” Bucky sighed, staring at the pamphlet in his hands.

“Well, we shoulda probably done it long ago,” Steve said, sitting awkwardly beside him. The chairs were none to comfortable in the sterile, grey waiting room.

Bucky eyed Steve, who’d also picked up some pamphlet with two women hugging on the cover.

“Yeah, yeah,” Bucky huffed, settling in for a long wait.

A while later, a nurse appeared and called his name.

“I’ll be right back,” Bucky murmured to Steve, before following her out and down the narrow hallway.

“All right, Mr. Barnes,” nurse Hidan (going by her nametag) said, closing the small room’s door behind them. She scanned the clipboard with the paper he’d already filled out. “So what are you in for today?” She looked up at him, after he’d situated himself on the bed. The tissue paper under his butt crinkled noisily.

“Uhm,” he coughed. “Sex test?”

Nurse Hidan looked at him.

“I mean,” he stuttered. “STD test.” He rubbed both hands along his thighs.

“All right,” she nodded and pulled the rolly-wheeled chair closer so she could sit down. She flipped through the clipboard pages and pulled a pen from her pocket. “Is there anything that prompted you to want to get the test?”

Bucky frowned, “Uh, what do you mean? I just wanted to?”

She smiled, “I mean, are you seeing anything, symptoms, rashes, pain? Anything that made you think an STD was the issue?”

Bucky shook his head.

She ticked off something on her sheet.

“So we have a series of tests for different STDs–“

Bucky cut her off, “I want the whole set. Bloodwork, urine samples, whatever you need. Just in case.”

She eyed him. “I take it this is not your first time?”

Bucky shook his head, “No. I had one a couple years ago.”

“Hmm,” she nodded and wrote that down. “And how many sexual partners, roughly, would you say you’ve had since then?”

“Uhm,” Bucky chewed his lip. “When you say sexual partner…”

“I mean anything involving genitalia or the anal region, including oral sex.”

Bucky pondered. “Uhm, one, if that means my current, uh, partner.” God, that sounded strange.

“Okay,” she nodded again. “Have you ever contracted anything before? Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes?”

“Isn’t herpes permanent?” he asked.

“A lot of the diseases out there can be life-long, and yes, Herpes is one. If you’re unsure, some folks call it other things, like cold sores, which sounds benign but it should be taken seriously.”

“I’ve never had anything like that,” Bucky said.

She wrote that down. “Can you tell me the last time you engaged in sexual contact?”

Bucky was quick on the draw, “Yesterday.” He was one part proud and another part silly about it.

She looked up at him. “Okay. Do you, or have you ever taken drugs intravenously?”

Bucky shook his head.

“How do you practice safe sex, if at all?”

Bucky chewed his lip. “Usually? Condoms.”

She cocked a brow at him, “When you say ‘usually’, does that mean there’s something other than ‘usual’?”

“Well,” he scratched the stubble on his chin, “Lately, I haven’t been, we haven’t been using anything. Which is dumb, I know.” She snapped on a pair of latex gloves, which distracted Bucky. “So, uh, we wanted to get tested, because we know we should have probably been wearing condoms the whole time.”

“Hmmm,” Nurse Hidan hummed and went over to gather supplies. When she returned, she eyed Bucky. “You understand that STDs can be transmitted via mouth as well as the genitals and anal region, yes?”

Bucky nodded.

“Okay then,” she said. “I’ll have a few more questions, but let’s get this rolling.” She held up a q-tip. “I’m going to take a swab of your inner cheek. Open up.”

Bucky did so.

When she was finished, she packaged up the swab in a neat tube and labeled it.

She handed him a plastic cup with a lid.

“I’d like to take a blood sample and then a urine sample, is that okay?”

Bucky nodded and watched her work.

“I don’t like needles,” he said quickly, eyes widening.

Nurse Hidan nodded, unperturbed. “Not a problem. Can you do me a favour,” she wrapped some kind of rubber tubing around his left arm, at the inner elbow. “Can you see the poster above the door? Tell me what you think is happening.”

“Huh?” Bucky looked up and over to the door, and jeez, there was a laminated sheet with  a drawing of what looked to be a knock-off Kool-Aid man leaping through a wall and into a room with people studying at desks. Bricks were flying and the Kool-aid guy was grinning wildly, obviously unbothered by the chaos he’d created. It was kind of weird.

Bucky frowned, “I never understood that mascot, or whatever you call it. Is it a he? She? It? Why’s it made of glass with a face? Is the Kool-aid, like, his body? What if it spills? Would he die?”

Nurse Hidan chuckled.

Bucky squinted at a person in the drawing falling to the floor, clearly wailing. It was like some medieval torture doodle but with advertising mumbo-jumbo built in.

“Are those kids studying? Or in the middle of an exam?” he asked, bewildered.

“Most folks think it’s an exam,” Nurse Hidan murmured.

“Probably,” Bucky said, feeling her hands at his elbow, “‘Cos that big ol’ jug of juice is being rude–ow!”

He glared down at her and she smiled. “All good, Mr. Barnes.”

He blinked, “Wait, you’re done?”

She unwrapped the tubing from around his elbow and cleaned up the miscellany on her tray. She then taped a spongebob band-aid against his elbow and gave it a pat.

“Now, our bathroom is just round the corner,” she eyed the pee cup in his hand. “If you can just drop it off at the front desk when you leave, that would be great. You’ll see a tray of sorts for such things. It’s all labeled and ready to go”

Bucky was kind of annoyed but impressed. He hadn’t even seen a needle, not one.

 


 

“So they said they’d mail the results,” Steve hummed beside him as they walked home from the clinic.

“The modern age, huh,” Bucky said. “Pee in a cup, give it to a stranger, get a written document about your pee in the mail. Your pee is great! Your pee is bad! Woo!”

“I’m glad we got it done, though,” Steve murmured.

“Better late than never,” Bucky added. He didn’t want to admit that the scare of STDs was usually pretty far back in his mind, but for Steve, he’d needed to be sure. They’d been idiots so far.

“I got a lollipop,” Steve grinned, waving the candy in his hand.

Bucky frowned, “Hey, I didn’t get one.”

“Well, that’s ‘cos I’m just plain adorable,” Steve smiled, popping the lollipop into his mouth.

Bucky just rolled his eyes.

 


 

“What’s this?” Sam asked, looking down at the paper in his hand.

“What’s it look like?” Steve smirked.

Sam read the paper, “Looks like a formal, handwritten invitation to have dinner at your place. Rogers, are you having a dinner party?” he looked perplexed and amused all at once.

“Dude,” Steve swatted at him. “We’re having a get-together. You’re invited. Sheesh.”

Sam ribbed him a bit more until Natasha gave them cut-eye for wasting time.

 


 

“What, no engraved invites for us?” Jack said archly, folding his pastry expertly while Teddy looked on.

“Huh?” Bucky said, looking up from the sauce he was tending.

“Yeah, hey,” America cut in. “I don’t see no gold-embossed invitations for us.”

“What?” Bucky was puzzled.

Wanda rolled her eyes. “Rogers was handing out invitations to this party you speak of,” she sighed. “I saw Pietro’s. It was fancy.”

Bucky blinked, “Um. Well, I didn’t do that. So…”

“So we get the half-assed version,” Jack smirked.

Bucky shrugged, “He’s a keener, all right?”

Jeez, what was Steve telling people?

 


 

“This was supposed to be a small thing, Steve,” Bucky huffed that evening. “We said we’d have a couple of people over. Not everyone we know. Fuck, we don’t even have enough seating.”

He didn’t want to admit that agreeing to this had gone against every atom in his body. Their place just wasn’t big enough for more people. They’d never really had people over, apart from the Barneses, and they’d barely fit when the two boys had first moved in.

“It’ll be fine,” Steve said. “I asked Mrs Steenkamp if we can borrow some of her chairs and she said yes. Also, I got paper plates from the dollar store, so people can just use them and the recyclable cups.”

“Yeah, ‘cos we’ve got like three plates between us,” Bucky grumped.

“And you’ll get to cook whatever you want!” Steve added. “You like that.”

“I always cook whatever I want,” Bucky grumbled. “I’m cooking right now.”

“Yeah,” Steve sidled up beside him. “But you can cook for more folks.”

“And what exactly will you be doing while I’m slaving away in the kitchen?” Bucky said.

Steve smiled, “I’ll be setting up the music and pouring the drinks and being the best host to have ever hosted.”

Bucky just grumbled under his breath and stirred the noodles in the pot.


 

“We brought drinks!” America cried, pushing in, her arms up and holding bottles.

“By all means, come in,” Steve said, ushering in Kate and Clint as well.

“I brought pizza,” Clint said, holding up a massive cardboard box.

“Lay her down on the table,” Steve laughed and shut the door.

Clint looked around, “Are we the last to arrive?”

Steve nodded, “I think so.”

Clint seemed to chew his lip a little.

“Oh, yeah, sorry, we didn’t invite Natasha.”

Clint sighed.

“Yeah, no bosses, unfortunately,” Steve murmured. “I mean, she’s great and all, but then we’d have to invite Chef and having our bosses in our home, at, like a party? No. Not happening. Not yet anyway.”

“All right, yeah,” Clint muttered, but seemed to get over it fairly quickly.

Their apartment was pretty full, Steve had to admit. Wanda and Sam were on the sofa, already arguing about something inane.

Jack and Roger had arrived early. They’d brought wine. It was almost ridiculous to think that Steve and Bucky were getting wine bottles as party favours. Like they were adults or something.

America dropped her jacket onto the pile in the corner. “So, what’s for eats?”

“Oh God, you’ll learn pretty fast,” Kate said, sitting down at the dining table.

“Learn what?” Steve said, coming over to pour out drinks for the newcomers.

“That you can’t serve food to chefs. It’s a nightmare.” Kate said with a sardonic twist to her lips.

“Yeah, once,” Clint said, already tucking into a slice of pizza, “I saw a bunch of chefs at a party actually raid the fridge and start cooking shit up like they lived there. It was nuts.”

“No way,” Scott said, already seated at the table, beer in hand.

“Well, I don’t think we’ll run into that issue,” Steve snorted. “We don’t have the space. Plus, Bucky’s cooking.”

And he certainly was. Steve made his way over to the kitchen where Jack was leaning over Bucky’s pan, like the two of them were at work. Steve rolled his eyes.

“They charged me for oyster fuckin’ mushrooms last time,” Jack was saying, “When they were clearly shiitake.”

“God, I hate that,” Bucky said. “That’s why we like local. The cremini at Xue’s Grocery are really fresh.”

“Huh,” Jack said, watching Bucky stir his frying mushrooms.

Roger was nearby, tapping away at his phone.

All three were on their second or third beers, so in good spirits.

The music was great, thumping just a little from the bluetooth speakers Sam had brought and hooked up to Steve and Bucky’s laptop.

Looking around, he didn’t know what the hell Bucky had been so worried about.

 


 

“That was amazing,” Sam groaned, hand on his belly, slumped on the sofa.

Steve cleared the plates while Bucky sat back in his chair.

“No, seriously, though,” Scott was saying, leaning towards Bucky. “Did you put LSD in that? ‘Cos I swear I’ve never tasted anything so good in my life. I think I can see new colours now.”

“That’s ‘cos you’ve never even had risotto before, probably,” Clint added on with a smirk.

Scott shrugged, “Maybe.”

“And what did you think, pumpkin?” Jack said, leaning into Wanda beside him at the table.

“It was all right,” she said archly, her accent curling around her consonants. A couple people booed playfully. “Could do with more salt.”

“More salt! She always wants more salt,” Pietro cried from on the sofa beside Sam. “I am full to my eyeballs with salt!”

“He eats like a king at home,” Wanda murmured, “See how he likes it when I don’t cook for him anymore.”

Wanda caught Bucky’s eye and smirked. He laughed.

“You did good,” America patted him on the shoulder as she squeezed past. She was wobbling a little, a couple plates in her hands.

“She likes to help clean up,” Kate murmured. “Her mother brought her up like that. Me? I’m lazy as shit.”

“Her mother is a saint,” Roger said, toasting the mysterious Mrs. Chavez.

They’d all managed to fit round the table with Mrs. Steenkamp’s extra seats. Sure, it had been tight, but no one seemed to mind. Bucky felt happy, sated and the beer was definitely taking the edge off.

“Her mother,” Jack said, pointing a finger at no one in particular, “America’s mother, I mean. Makes the most ha-mazing honey-soaked bread dessert. Oh Lord in heaven, you haven’t had sweetness ’til you’ve tried hers! I tried to wheedle the recipe from her, but no way was she letting it go. Très sad.”

“I thought I was sweet enough for you?” Rogers said, nudging Jack’s shoulder and everyone either ‘awwwed’ or groaned audibly.

Jack smiled and nuzzled at Roger’s ear. “You are quite sweet, yes. But not honey bread pudding sweet, I’m afraid.”

Roger made a frowny face.

Bucky sipped at his beer before adding, “We do have dessert coming, if that was some kind of subtle hint.”

Jack grinned at him.

Some people perked up at that.

“Steve made it,” Bucky finished.

And a few people definitely drooped a little. Bucky laughed.

“Hey! He did! Come on, now, don’t be like that.”

“I didn’t come here to die, Barnes,” Pietro said.

“I can hear you,” Steve griped from the kitchen. He’d roped America into helping him.

The two of them carried trays over with plastic goblets of brown and white dessert, a cherry on top of each.

Fuck, it was cute. Bucky grinned when Steve set one down in front of him. He caught Wanda eyeing him, but she just smiled and looked away.

“Okay, you bunch of animals,” Steve sighed, “Yes, I made these. But it was under Bucky’s supervision and to be honest, the directions on the box were super simple.”

“Okay,” Jack eyed his own dessert warily. “What do we have here?”

“Jell-O caramel dessert with whipped cream from a can and canned maraschino cherries,” Steve said with as much pomp as he could manage. “Oh, and sprinkles from the dollar store.”

“Your signature dish, I say!” Sam crowed from the sofa. Wanda was grinning as she scooped out a mouthful.

Scott and Clint were already chowing down.

Bucky ate his own dessert, happy to see these folks in his home enjoying the fruits of his and Steve’s labour.

 


 

“That was fun,” Steve said, drying one of the many spoons in the drying rack.

Bucky was wrapping up the garbage, piling the bags in the corner for the morning.

“I think so,” he agreed. He got out the cleaning spray and began wiping down the counters. “Booze definitely helped.”

Steve chuckled.

They went about their duties, straightening up chairs, picking up crumbs and miscellaneous kitchenware that had somehow migrated into the living area. Steve boxed up the empty beer bottles and cans, ready for recycling.

They were done and dusted in just under an hour, proving once more that when they worked together, they could get anything done.

“Okay,” Bucky huffed, dropping his cloth over the oven handle. “Bedtime.”

“Thank God it’s a long weekend,” Steve sighed. “We get to sleep in.”

“Oh hell yes,” Bucky closed his eyes with happiness and felt his shoulders finally loosen up and relax.

“You know,” Steve said, sounding much closer. Bucky opened his eyes to find Steve right in front of him. “We should probably take a quick shower before bed.”

Bucky breathed slowly, calmly. “Oh yeah?”

Steve stepped in closer, hands touching Bucky’s hips. “Yeah,” he murmured lowly, sending a thrill through Bucky’s pretty tired body.

“You know we should wait for our results, right?” Bucky murmured.

Steve chuckled, “Yeah, but really? I’ve already sucked you off three times by now. We’re real idiots, you know that?”

Oh lord, Bucky was too weak. Steve could totally suck him off again, right? Surely the first three times were safe and…

“But you’re right,” Steve sighed, leaning in for a kiss.

They stood there in the dim light of their kitchen, just kissing. It was perfect.

“I could make out with you for days,” Bucky murmured, licking at Steve. “Days and days.” He sucked at Steve’s tongue.

“Mmmm,” Steve rumbled, and he slid his hands around Bucky’s waist, pulling him in nice and close. “Wait til we get our results though. Then it is on, Barnes.”

A shiver ran down Bucky’s spine. He was wondering, not for the first time, if Steve was thinking what he was thinking. They hadn’t progressed to anything like assplay at all. Not that it was Bucky’s main interest, truth be told. But what if? He still showered maniacally, just in case, fingers crossed. He wanted to please Steve, to teach Steve, to fuck Steve, but he also didn’t want to scare him off.

So for now, kissing was fine.

 


 

“You guys are so gross,” Becca said, watching Bucky fold laundry. She threw a piece of popcorn at her mouth, and missed. Bucky eyed the mess of popcorn littering the floor around her.

“I mean it,” she went on, unperturbed. She was lying on his sofa like she owned the place. “You’re all cutesy and shit. And don’t think I didn’t see him holding your hand on the way back from the store.”

She pointed at her brother.

Bucky just sighed deeply. “I thought it didn’t bug you.”

“It doesn’t,” she chewed loudly. “It’s great. I love that you two have finally found each other in your springs of youth. It’s just…” she trailed off, considering. “You’re almost too cute, you know? It makes the rest of us acidic artful rejects feel hope blossoming in our darkest places.”

Bucky smiled and put the last roll of socks on the pile on the dining table.

“Oh Becks, you’ll find love. I’m sure there’s some troll under some bridge somewhere willing to spend the rest of his life with you. Or her life, excuse me. Equal opportunity bridge troll community and all that.”

Becca threw popcorn at him. “You’re so funny, I can see why you’re Mom’s favourite.”

“You’re so salty, it’s a wonder you haven’t dried up into a husk yet,” Bucky retorted.

They went on like that for a while longer. Becca commented on their newly painted walls and the artwork hanging on the far wall.

“So, like, what’s with Steve’s room?” she asked.

“What about it?” Bucky answered, coming back to pick up a new pile of clothing.

“Well, he still keeps his shit in there. You gonna use it for anything?”

Bucky shrugged, “Dunno. We’ll see.”

They were interrupted by Steve slamming his way into the apartment. He looked like he’d run all the way home from work.

Bucky’d taken the day off, so he was a little surprised to see Steve so early.

“Hey, champ,” he said with a quirk of his lips. “Excited much?”

“Oh, hey Becca,” Steve said, dropping his jacket and bag.

Becca just chewed louder.

“Uh, sorry. I just, uh,” he waved what looked to be a handful of envelopes from the mailbox downstairs.

Bucky raised a brow.  “What? No Ikea catalogue?”

Steve’s brows went up and he made a pointed expression, waving the envelopes again.

Bucky paused. Then his own brows shot up.

Steve pursed his lips and came over to slap one of the envelopes against Bucky’s chest.

“Ooo, what is it?” Becca said, getting up.

“Nothing,” Steve said, staring at Bucky.

Bucky swallowed and ripped open his envelope.

He skimmed the results, his heart fluttering. Fuck, what if he did have something? What if it was all–

“Yes!” Steve hissed, pumping his fists after reading his own.

“What? What?” Becca cried, crowding them. “Did you win the lottery or something?”

Bucky finished reading his own letter, then slumped against the table. “Oh thank Jesus.” he huffed.

Becca snatched the paper from him.

“Hey!” Bucky cried out, snatching it back. “You can’t fucking do that!”

“Oh my God, was that a blood test? Are you sick? What was that for? Bucky,” She sounded angry.

“No, well, yes. But it’s still none of your business.”

Becca scowled, her face going red. “James Buchanan Barnes if you are ill, or sick, or dying, in any way. You better fucking tell me, or so help me God I will–“

“Oh my God, Becca,” Bucky said, exasperated.

“–I will kill you myself. You can’t not tell me, ma and dad! You can’t just–“

“Becca,” Steve wrapped his arms around her shoulders from behind. “Hold up. He’s not dying. It’s just our STD test results.”

“Steve!” Bucky barked, going pink. “She’s my sister!”

Steve looked at him and shrugged, still holding Becca still. “What? She was scared. This is nothing, okay?”

Becca blinked for a few moments, then burst out laughing.

Steve let her go, so she could flop against the table.

“You guys!” she laughed. “Oh man! I thought it was, like, TB or something. STDs?”

Steve frowned, “Well, we’re lucky, I guess,” he murmured, picking up the discarded envelope.

Bucky let Steve read his results.

Steve smiled. “All clear.”

He lifted those twinkling blue eyes up to meet Bucky, and Bucky swallowed.

“Oh God,” Becca groaned, standing up. “You got them done so you guys can do more sex-related shit, huh? Ugh. Now I wish I didn’t know.”

“Hey,” Bucky cuffed her, “don’t be an ass.”

“Can’t be,” she murmured, coming in for a hug. “They say that gene skips a kid.”

Bucky rolled his eyes and Steve hid his smile behind his hand.

 


 

“I wanna try,” Steve gasped as Bucky kissed him, the shower water running over them.

“Mmmm,” Bucky kissed at Steve, his hands trailing over Steve’s amazing muscles, his stomach, his hips.

“I’m serious, Buck,” Steve said, determined not to be waylaid.

“What?” Bucky blinked.

Steve pulled at Bucky’s wet and roving hand. He slid it around his hip and down, behind until Bucky’s eyes widened.

“You want to…” Bucky trailed off, mouth going dry.

“Not all the way,” Steve said, shivering under the shower’s spray. “Just … you know, try.”

Bucky rubbed his hand over Steve’s ass, enjoying the round swell. “You ever done … stuff?”

Steve shook his head. “I mean, Sharon suggested it once. Thought it might be nice for me, but I kinda chickened out.”

Bucky tried not to frown at the mention of any of Steve’s previous bed partners.

He slid a finger along the line of Steve’s ass, but didn’t press any further. “You sure?”

Steve grinned and nipped at Bucky’s lips. “Uh huh. I can wash up real good.”

“Hell,” Bucky groaned, “Well, then, let’s get you washed and out of here.”

Steve laughed as Bucky picked up Steve’s loofah-thing and posed like some kind of hero ready to take on an army.

 


 

“Not bad,” Romanov said, flipping through Steve’s portfolio. “And you think you’ll have time to work on this?”

Steve nodded, Bucky at his side.

Chef was flipping through Steve’s other portfolio, interest lighting up her eyes.

“These are all watercolour?” she asked, looking up.

“Yeah,” Steve said, scratching the back of his head.

“I didn’t know you were an artist, Rogers,” Chef murmured, flipping to the next page, showing a detailed painting of a baked alaska.

“Well I’m not–“ Steve said.

“He’s always painted and drawn,” Bucky cut in. “Just never been to art school, is all.” Steve made a face at him, but Bucky ignored it. “So, maybe this is more the direction you could go, right?” Bucky went on. “Seein’ as you were saying photography’s not your thing?”

Chef looked at him with keen eyes.

“Well,” she said. “This book has been years in the making, you know.”

“Literal years,” Romanov added.

And,” Chef went on pointedly, “We’re talking to a very niche group of buyers.”

Bucky nodded.

“So maybe…” she eyed another of Steve’s paintings. “Just maybe this is a better way to go.”

Romanov turned to Steve, clearly understanding Chef better. “What’s your standard rate?”

Steve blinked, “Uh…”

“Do you have an idea of how many images you’ll need?” Bucky answered for him.

Romanov looked at Chef, who counted in her head.

“I’d say, twenty minimum?”

Bucky nodded, “Okay, so how about a flat rate per painting? Steve can figure out his base costs and then get back to you?”

Romanov nodded, “Sounds good to me.”

“You don’t want to do hourly rate?” Chef intoned, still flipping through the work on her desk. “Would be more lucrative…”

“I doubt Steve here’ll do that; wouldn’t want to gouge you,” Bucky smirked and eyed the very pink-cheeked Steve beside him.

“All right,” Chef said, standing. “I like it. This could work.” She smiled at Steve, who looked a little stunned. “You okay with this?”

“Uh, yes, Boss,” Steve nodded fervently. “Yes I am.”

 

 


 

“You okay?” Bucky asked, heart thumping loudly in his ears.

Steve nodded, “Yeah.”

They’d been fooling around with the lube a lot more these days. Teaching Steve and touching Steve, well, they went well together.

“Feels kind of weird,” Steve said, frowning a little. It was the third time Bucky’d had the opportunity, and he was taking his time.

So far, Steve hadn’t minded, not after Bucky had shown him on himself that first time. That time had ended real quick, much to Bucky’s unending embarrassment and

Steve’s absolute delight. Bucky really was trying to not look like a silly teenager with absolutely no bodily control.

This time though, Bucky was gonna make him feel good.

His hands were slippery after all the lube and his finger was keen, sliding into Steve slowly, easily, making him comfortable.

With Steve splayed on his back, his one leg over Bucky’s hip, Bucky tucked up beside him, well.

He had his hand between those long legs, under Steve’s ass, fingers working their magic.

“You, uh,” Steve breathed, “You done this a lot?”

“Not really,” Bucky murmured, kissing Steve’s shoulder. He shifted so his hand could go lower. He eyed Steve’s dick, hot and heavy below his belly.

Steve gave a little breathy gasp.”Oh,” he said. “That’s new.”

Bucky’s dick was so hard he could hammer nails with it. It made his head swirl, this sensation.

“You like that?” Bucky pushed in and found that spot again.

Uh~,” Steve shivered. “Y-yes.”

Bucky moved on to two fingers, stretching Steve out, making room.

The first time they’d tried this, Steve had insisted on reviewing the porn he’d actively searched for in his bid to learn all he could about anal sex. Bucky’d been working hard since then to unlearn everything Steve had seen.

“Remember,” Bucky hummed, “Less pounding action, more stretch, more lube.”

Steve’s dick twitched, leaking onto his stomach. It was so full and ready to burst, they’d been at this so long.

“I want to try it,” Steve whispered, turning his face to Bucky. “I want you inside me, Buck.”

Steve,” Bucky breathed, “You can’t–can’t just say–”

“But I wanna,” Steve kissed him so softly, so gently that Bucky had to abandon his post down south and push himself up so he could lean in and really go to town on those lips.

“Steve…” Bucky groaned, getting lost in the kiss.

“Come on,” Steve rumbled, grabbing at Bucky’s hips and rolling him onto Steve. “We can try. Just try.”

“Fuck,” Bucky sucked on Steve’s lower lip in frustration, his brain lighting up. “Fine, but we gotta go slow.”

Steve smiled, knowing he’d won. Again. “Okay.”

Bucky got right back into the kiss, and also slid his hand down Steve’s abdomen, tickling Steve as he went. He shifted his own hips, so Steve had to widen up, open his legs for Bucky.

They’d rutted like this a few times and it always managed to pop every brain cell in Bucky’s head because, jeez.

He moved to rest his weight on his left arm and scooched down a little. “Right,” he said, “I’m gonna slowly add fingers, okay? You fuckin’ tell me if I’m hurting you, okay?”

Steve nodded, but his grin was too wide to ease Bucky’s mind.

Bucky got to work, carefully sliding his fingers back inside Steve and worked on loosening him up. Bucky knew the stretch could be good sometimes, but not this time. As he kept moving, Steve just squirmed more and more, gasping every time Bucky brushed him just there inside.

Eventually it became too much and Bucky almost whined with anticipation.

“Let’s go, pal,” Steve thwacked him on the shoulder. “C’mon.”

Bucky scowled up at Steve then crawled back up his body, licking Steve’s ribs, around his nipples, his sternum. “God, you’re a tyrant,” he gruffly breathed into Steve’s neck.

“Do me, Barnes, c’mon,” Steve smacked Bucky’s ass.

“Oh my God,” Bucky pushed up so he was on both hands looking down at that smug grin. “Why on earth did I ever agree to this?”

Steve just glowed, “Because you’re amazing and you wanna treat me right. And because I got an ass that won’t quit.”

Bucky smiled, “Well, you got me there.”

Steve gasped, feeling Bucky’s cock pressing just under his balls. Bucky pushed at Steve’s legs, making more room.

“You’re all wet and slidey now,” Bucky grinned, gently grinding his hips so his dick slid between Steve’s ass cheeks.

“Oh, that feels amazing,” Steve said, eyes widening.

Bucky felt Steve grasp at him, bending to reach. He guided Bucky’s dick lower, shifted and tilted his ass up a little before Bucky took over.

Slowly, slowly, Bucky pressed into Steve, moving his own hand down to help. Steve fell back, legs spread.

Bucky didn’t dare breathe as he watched Steve for any sign of discomfort. The head of his cock was inside Steve now and boy was it tight.

Bucky pushed slowly, gently kissing Steve’s face, his nose.

“Nnnh,” Steve grunted and Bucky paused. “Hold there a sec,” Steve breathed, hands coming up to Bucky’s ribs. So Bucky waited, his blood pounding in his ears. He situated his elbows and got comfy. Fuck, he really didn’t want to blow his load just yet. So he could go slow. Slow was good.

“Okay,” Steve patted his side and Bucky leaned in again. It really was all wet down there, thanks to his lengthy ministrations. The slide was smooth, it was just the size of him that was a problem, he guessed.

“Oh God,” Steve whimpered, face scrunching.

“Hurt?” Bucky stopped, heart thudding.

Steve shook his head and opened his eyes. Bucky swallowed at the look there. Steve was overwhelmed, probably zinging with nerves from head to toe.

Steve’s eyes were dark and hazy and he licked his lips, pulling Bucky down for a kiss.

“Unh!” Steve gasped when Bucky pushed in for the last scant inch. “Oh, fuck.”

“Yeah?” Bucky kissed him.

“Y-yeah,” Steve stuttered. “Move.”

So Bucky complied, carefully pulling out and watching Steve shudder at the sensation. He took his time, building up movement, sliding in over and over again until Steve was panting and shifting underneath him.

Bucky found the right spot and when he kept leaning into it, Steve would grasp at him and push his hips up.

Bucky honestly felt like he was going to burst into flame. He got to watch Steve fall apart. His own dick was thick and hard and hot inside Steve and it was becoming a bit too much to handle.

“Shit, Stevie,” he ground out, pressing them chest-to-chest, just the way he liked it. They couldn’t be closer than this.

“I’m so close,” Steve said into Bucky’s mouth. “Bucky. Bucky.”

He loved hearing his name on Steve’s lips, always had. But like this? It was going to kill him. He was going to die, impaling Steve Rogers, patron saint of anger and sexiness.

“Yes,” Steve tilted his hips to meet Bucky. “Right there. Fuck. God. Yes. Buck.

Bucky sped up just enough to make his skin overheat. He could feel Steve’s nipples against him, hard and perky. Steve’s hands were at his shoulder blades, stroking and scratching and pulling Bucky in tighter.

“Unh!” Steve licked at Bucky’s mouth. “I’m gonna…Bucky!”

Steve,” Bucky grunted, his cock feeling Steve clench down around him, surprising him and making him fly right over the edge with him. Fuck, he hadn’t even gotten to Steve’s cock! Was Steve just that sensitive?

Bucky shuddered and pulled out a bit, then shoved back in, emptying himself inside Steve, holy hell! How many times had he jerked at the thought of coming inside Steve? It was so hot, he’d probably be able to power his masturbation fantasies on this alone, forever.

“Unnnhhh,” Steve flopped back like a ragdoll, his eyes shutting, his skin covered in goosebumps as his own high rippled through him.

He was so beautiful, so perfect. Bucky was the luckiest sonuvabitch ever.

Bucky’s dick twitched at the sight, as Bucky slowly  lowered himself to Steve, letting the blonde take his weight.

“Tha- was ‘mazing,” Steve slurred, running his fingers through Bucky’s hair and down his neck.

He turned to kiss at Bucky’s ear. “You’re amazing, Buck. Oh my God we’re definitely doing that again.”

“You’re gonna kill me,” Bucky groaned, voice hoarse. “I’m gonna die.”

Steve chuckled and caressed Bucky’s back, hands trailing down to tug at Bucky’s ass. Bucky was starting to think Steve had a bit of a thing for his ass.

“Mmmm,” Steve drawled deeply. “I like you inside me. Feels nice.”

Bucky shivered and pushed himself up clumsily so he could stare at the man beneath him.

“You’re a menace,” he said, voice cracked and dry.

“You love me anyway, Barnes,” Steve purred and pulled Bucky down for a deep, languorous kiss.

And he did. He really, really did.

 

 


290 days


 

“Wow! Wowowowow,” Parker gasped over and over again.

Steve looked so pleased and so embarrassed all at once, it was beyond endearing.

Chef had handed out copies of her new hardbound book based on her classic, most famous dishes. The cover was wrapped in a beautiful watercolour painting depicting gleaming silverware and glassware on a plain grey table cloth.

The whole thing was classical and minimal and gorgeous  and so very Chef.

“Well done, Boss,” Wilson whistled, flipping through his copy.

“This is beautiful,” Wanda said reverentially, looking over the lush paintings of each dish within the book. “My God, Rogers.”

“Guys, please, it’s Chef’s book,” Steve huffed.

“Speaking of,” Jack said, turning the book in his hands, “You all seen the price on this thing?”

They all flipped their copies.

“Ay,” America clicked her tongue. “Guess we’re lucky we work here, huh? Never get a copy otherwise.”

Sam whistled again.

“Man! Good job, Steve. Seriously.”

Bucky grinned behind his own copy. He’d watched Steve work late nights and early mornings churning out detailed watercolours for each and every meal depicted. In the end the book had spanned over forty dishes and was considered one of the season’s most coveted cooking books by one of America’s top-tier chefs.

It was printed and promoted just in time for the latest announcement that Chef Hill was opening another, second restaurant, something that not many chefs could admit to doing in their own careers.

This time, apparently, the new restaurant was built on her own saved capital and no loans or part-time owners were involved. Chef really was a helluva woman.

“You think this might become a regular thing?” Parker said, eyeing every page as he turned them. “Chef putting out books?”

Steve shrugged, “Dunno. It’s a pretty high-end book, so probably not.”

“Well, either way,” Pietro added, slapping Steve on the shoulder, “At least I get to say I know the woman who wrote it and the guy who painted it.”

Steve flushed so pink that he was due for hours of ribbing for it.

 

 


730 days


 

“I think I want to teach art, Buck,” Steve said one morning as they packed up their things.

“Yeah?” Bucky paused and put their lunches down for a second. “Like, college?”

“Well, I want to go to college, yes, but then I think I want to teach art. Maybe High School.” Steve went on carefully. He blinked up at Bucky. “You think that’s crazy?”

Bucky smiled and came over, threading his fingers in the hair behind Steve’s ears. “Hey, that sounds great to me. When do you want to start?”

Steve blinked. “You sure? It means I can’t work at BRDO anymore. And I gotta save up still.”

“Pal, you think I haven’t already been saving up for this?”  Bucky snorted. “We can afford it. You know it. You’ve been taking on so many more freelance gigs it’s probably time you quit being a server anyway.”

Steve chewed at his lip. “It’s just…”

“Don’t fuckin’ think about it,” Bucky said, leaning in for a kiss. “You’re old enough to know what’s best, right? You don’t wanna be a server your whole life anyway.”

“Yeah, but if I quit, Who’s gonna run BRDO?”

“Listen, if Romanov can’t find the time to get someone to work your job while she’s running between two restaurants, it ain’t your issue to worry about.” Bucky said calmly.

“I’m gonna go to college?” Steve said softly. It really was something that was beyond folks like them that it probably felt surreal.

“Damn right you are,” Bucky smiled.

 

 


1095 days


 

“Shit,” Bucky stared at Chef. “Are you serious?”

“Do I look like I’m bullshitting you?” Chef said sardonically, lolling back in her leather chair.

Romanov was standing there, stern as ever. “You want the job or not, Barnes?”

“I–“ Bucky swallowed, remembering that this was something big, something he’d always wanted.

“You become sous-chef to Chef Foster, seeing as I need Bruce over at Mizo, yes? I mean, i’d leave him here, but I need him, you see.” Chef was spinning a little to the side then back again, twirling her pen in her fingers.

“That means–“ Bucky breathed.

“That means you’d be second-in-command, yes, obviously,” Chef said airily, like this was no big deal. “You don’t want this? Or you’re just dumbstruck?”

Bucky’s mouth flapped.

“Dumbstruck,” Romanov shook her head in exasperation.

“I’m taking this as a yes, Barnes,” Chef said, grinning wolfishly. “You’ve damn well earned it. Look at all the newbies you’ve trained. Look at the menus you’ve added to. You’re fucking doing it.”

“Yes, Chef,” Bucky breathed out in a rush. “I’ll do it!”

 

 


2190 days (6 years)


 

“This is crazy, right?” Bucky screwed his hands in his lap.

“I’m so excited!” Steve almost buzzed out of his chair.

“What if the guy just says no?” Bucky asked.

“Then,” Steve huffed out beside him in one of the uncomfortable felted chairs. “We go to the next bank and we ask them for a loan. It’s cool. We got this, remember?”

“But, Steve,” Bucky gasped, his blood thrumming in his face, making him flush with anxiety.

“Bucky,” Steve grasped his hand and squeezed. “Breathe. Come on. Chef went over your numbers with you and so did your Dad. You got this.”

Bucky sucked in a breath. He was thirty-two years old with fourteen years experience behind him. He had a great, loving family and colleagues who would back him up, as well as the word of one of the best chefs in the business. He also had the earnest, hard-hitting emotional support of the kindest, handsomest man on earth beside him. He could do this.

“Mr. Barnes?” a man said, coming up to them with an arm out.

Bucky stood up and shook his hand. “Yes, that’s me. This is my partner, Steve Rogers.”

“Nice to meet you both,” the short, stocky man said with a kind smile. He had gold-rimmed, old-fashioned glasses. “So, you’re here to talk about investments in what, exactly?”

Bucky took a breath and patted down his suit and tie. Steve had his proposal in hand, neatly printed and filed.

“I’d like to look into a loan for a new restaurant. My restaurant,” he said calmly, surprising himself with every word.

 

 


 Ten years


 

“So who’s the old guy?” Sam asked, leaning against the bar beside Steve. He sipped his drink slowly.

Steve turned to look over at a table where Bucky was talking to an elderly Asian man. Bucky was in his whites, his chef hat in place and was smiling so fondly, it made Steve’s heart kind of melt a little.

“Oh, that’s Mr. Cao,” Steve murmured, sipping at his own drink. He watched a waitress handle a drinks order, making sure she wasn’t asking for too many at once. He turned back to Sam’s quizzical look.

“And I’m supposed to know who that is?” Sam asked with a quirk to his eyebrow.

Steve smiled, “Mr Cao is the chef who hired Bucky at his first real kitchen gig.”

“Ohhh,” Sam said, “This was the Chinese restaurant, wasn’t it?”

Steve nodded, “Yup. Cao was the only person in Chinatown who would hire Buck. White boys weren’t really a regular thing in Chinatown kitchens,” Steve smirked. “I think Bucky just looked so new and shiny, Cao couldn’t honestly turn him away.”

“Huh,” Sam said. “And poor I bet.”

“Yeah, probably,” Steve sighed, resting his feet on the wooden floor. He remembered how fervently Bucky had tried to get a job back then, going from restaurant to restaurant, day in and day out.

“And he’s here for what exactly?” Sam asked.

Steve shrugged, “Bucky thinks the world of that man. Says he wouldn’t be any good at any kind of cooking if he hadn’t cut his chops in Chinatown when he was young. Wouldn’t have ended up at Yang’s, wouldn’t have met Chef Hill. Basically, Bucky says he owes all his real skills to the old man who dared to take him in and teach him the classic Chinese traditional cooking.”

Sam watched Bucky laugh with the old man at the table.

“Man, Cao must be super impressed with your man now, huh?”

Steve smiled against his palm and rested his elbow on the bartop. He looked around at Xīng, the restaurant that Bucky had worked so hard at developing. It was high-end Chinese cuisine purified to its core. It was everything Bucky had ever dreamed of having and as far as Steve could see, was worth all the sweat and blood and tears. Having a grand master of cooking (be they from a Chinatown dumpling house or a michelin-star eatery) in-house, was a pleasure for someone like Bucky to serve.

“So, he eats free here, I bet,” Sam added snarkily.

Steve laughed. “You bet your sweet buns he does.”

 


 

“Wow,” Bucky breathed, handing the keys over to Steve.

“I know, right?” Steve grinned, clasping the set in his hand. “Feels amazing.”

“Fuck,” Bucky said, pulling Steve in by his leather jacket. He looked Steve over, amazed every day that this man was really his to hold, his to stay with, his to keep.

Steve had grown into such a handsome sonuvabitch it was a serious crime for Bucky to leave him alone anymore. His jaw was strong and his hands calloused. He was sweet as always and Bucky was pretty sure half his students were in love with him, but that was something Bucky’d just have to accept.

This man standing before him was holding the keys to their home. Their home.

“We bought a fucking condo,” Bucky said. “We did it.”

“Yeah, hell we did!” Steve crowed and leaned in to kiss Bucky with as much fervour as he’d had when he was twenty-six, and thirty. “and in New York, no less!”

“I’m sorry to see our sad-sack place go,” Bucky said with a laugh.

“Yeah, but we got to save a helluva lot, remember? That place was home for a long time!”

“Yeah…” Bucky stared around them, at the wide and empty space of their fancy, brand-spanking-new loft with its hardwood floors and its balcony windows and massive kitchen island. No more murder-cart!

“We gotta find a spot for the ol’ murder-cart though,” Steve murmured, looking around.

Bucky glared at him. “Are you serious, Rogers?”

Steve grinned, “I dunno, am I?”

“You’re a real jackass, you know that?” Bucky punched Steve’s arm.

Steve snickered and pulled Bucky in close so he could nuzzle into his neck, scratching Bucky up with his peach fuzz face. “Hey, it took me three years to let go of our sofa, remember?” Steve murmured.

“Oh, Lord, don’t remind me,” Bucky hummed, relishing the feel of his big strong Steve crushed to him. “We’re past due for some upgrades.”

“Yeah,” Steve pulled back and stared at him with those soulful eyes of his, the ones Bucky had known since he was knee-high and all scratched up from fist-fights in alleyways.

“We took our time,” Steve murmured, “But, Baby, we got there.”

“Yeah,” Bucky purred, pressing his mouth to Steve’s, “We did, didn’t we?”