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Dishonor On Your Cow

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Steve hadn’t been de-iced for more than two weeks, and he was on a crumbling street in New York City, fighting another army. From outer space. Yeah, sure. It’s fine, it’s fine.

It was taking every ounce of his brain power and lagging energy to stay in the fight. It was brutal and bloody and exactly like what he’d left back in Europe, except for the parts that weren’t. Civilians screaming as buildings crashed down around them. Men in uniform running to and fro, some of them trying to help, some of them panicking just like the rest. Guns that fired energy instead of lead and burned like the heat of the sun when his shield didn’t stop them in time from grazing him.

Aliens getting goo on his fucking spandex.

Yeah, this was fine.

Steve charged a small party of fucking aliens with his shield up like a battering ram and bowled several of them over, taking advantage of their bulky body armor to crunch their faces and necks – Jesus he hoped those were their necks – while they were down and struggling like upended turtles.

Even the aliens had body armor.

He could hear the carnage both in his earpiece and on the streets around him. His teammates, well, his new teammates, anyway, doing their best against the constant influx of new Chitauri streaming through the portal in the sky.

“I didn’t sign up for this shit,” Steve muttered as he gazed up at the hole in the world.

A soft chuckle came against his ear. “Yeah, Cap. And I did?”

Steve squinted into the sky to see Hawkeye perched on the edge of a building, arrows flying rapid-fire from his bow. Neat trick.

“You’ve got me there,” Steve huffed as he turned to glance down the street he’d just massacred a bunch of aliens on. Gross.

Civilians were being herded away, toward the basements and subways, by a string of harried-looking NYPD. Two of the smaller flying machines whizzed over them, strafing the empty street, making a line for where Steve stood in his goddamn neon multi-colored dancing monkey suit it wasn’t even armored Jesus Christ, and Steve slammed the edge of the shield into the street, ducking behind it and playing turtle as the shots ate up the pavement on their way to him.

“Fucking Christ, you moron, at least dodge them!” a voice shouted from his right. Steve was too busy ducking for his life to glance over at the peanut gallery right then, but he got the feeling whoever had just shouted at him would look great with a black eye or two. Or hell, what did Steve know anymore, maybe he had three eyes and Steve could give him an extra.

The strafing fliers sped past overhead, Steve untouched but the street around him busted all to hell. He stood and straightened his spine, spinning to face the banking flying . . . things. Were they planes? He’d call them planes until someone told him different. The Chitauri had to go high in order to make the tight turns, and Steve readied himself for their return, clutching his shield and preparing to throw it at what he was pretty sure was the engine. A nice bank and he’d be able to hit both of them.

God. Maybe the future had alcohol strong enough to get him drunk after this.

As the strafing started up again, defiling the street in ways New Yorkers had never thought to try, a figure wrapped in black strode purposefully to the middle of the street, twenty yards in front of Steve, carrying what looked like one of the Chitauri’s giant rifle laser gun thingies.

“Get back!” Steve called over the roar of battle and blood in his ears. He couldn’t just stand there and watch some stupid civvie get himself blown up, but he was almost too stunned to move as he watched the man.

“Listen, pal,” the guy called over his shoulder, like he was walking in the goddamn park. The goddamn park was twenty blocks east, okay. “This is my city, too.” He walked with a hint of a swagger, or maybe it was a limp. Steve thought he was probably almost the same size as Steve was, but he looked bigger, what with the body armor he was covered in. Body armor. Novel idea, SHIELD, let’s give that a try next time, huh?

The man planted himself in the middle of the street and hefted the long, evil-looking rifle to his shoulder. He was calm and collected as the Chitauri’s shots rattled ever closer to his feet. Steve gaped. “What the hell are you?” he breathed out loud.

"What was that, Cap?” Hawkeye asked in his ear.

“I think I hit my head,” Steve mumbled back.

And then the man fired twice, two quick, electric pops. The engines Steve had been intending to aim for both burst into flame, one after the other, and the two flying motorcycle planes careened wildly, drifting into one another and exploding in the air in an impressive fireball of alien guts. The wreckage hit the street and began to barrel end over end toward the sniper – because that’s definitely what he was, Steve had known many of them in the War and they all had that is-it-a-swagger-or-is-it-a-limp-but it’s-definitely-a-swagger. The man merely stood and watched, his muscles tight and tense but his body completely under control as the wreckage slid to a screaming stop not ten feet in front of him.

Steve realized that he was gaping once he started tasting ash on his tongue, and he snapped his mouth shut.

The man didn’t turn, just strode right up to the last living Chitauri trying to crawl out of the flames and pulled a handgun from a holster at his thigh. “Welcome to New York, motherfucker,” he growled out, and shot the alien in the face.

Steve started tasting ash again and snapped his mouth closed. Again. The guy turned and peered at him. He had a black bandana covering the lower part of his face, and clear protective glasses like the ones Steve had seen agents using at the shooting range. He straightened and gave Steve an appraising once over.

“You really Captain America?” the guy asked.

Steve stared at him. “Uh.”

The man snapped to attention, giving Steve a smart salute. “Sergeant James Barnes, 107th Ranger division.”

Steve’s heart gave a happy little flip. “The Army’s moved in?” he asked eagerly as he edged closer, still wary but willing to give the man the benefit of the doubt. He was also, oddly, eager to see what the guy’s eyes looked like. Hell, he would kiss the fucking guy if he’d brought the Army with him.

The man winced behind the bandana. “No. It’s just me and some of my team. We were on leave.”

Steve looked the guy up and down. “That’s standard gear for leave these days?”

“Yes, sir,” the man said, snappy and prompt like a good soldier. He didn’t even look like he was smirking behind the cover of that bandana.

“Sarge!” a voice bellowed from the building two doors down and to the left.

The man, Sergeant Barnes, slid his eyes sideways and gave a hand signal, and five other men kitted out in various amounts of tac gear streamed out of the building. They moved in formation. Steve was impressed. Barnes gave Steve a nod. “Captain Rogers. We’re at your service.”

Steve glanced over them, hesitating. They certainly looked capable, but Steve couldn’t take responsibility for them in the field. He had to deal with his own team, with the portal, and he had to save as many lives as possible.

“Sergeant, get your men out of here,” Steve said to Barnes, his voice going gruff. He was pretty sure it was all that smoke inhalation from gaping like a fish, but it made him sound angry and authoritative, so he was okay with it.

Barnes gave him a cock of his head, like the most murderous and heavily armed puppy Steve had ever seen. “Captain?”

“Get out of here. Clear as many civilians as you can on your way to the barricades.” When Barnes’s eyes went mutinous, Steve glared at him. “That’s an order, Sergeant.”

Barnes stiffened, and Steve could feel his men shifting beside and behind him. “Yes, sir,” Barnes gritted out.

Steve nodded as his communicator crackled in his ear. “Cap, they need you on 47th.”

“Copy that, Hawkeye,” Steve said, then gave the sergeant and his men a curt nod before breaking into a jog and heading toward the location Clint had called out. He gave one glance as he was going, saw the six men he’d left behind, still in formation, watching him go. Steve was almost certain he saw the sergeant give another hand signal, and the team moved off with perfect military precision.

They weren’t heading for the barricades, but Steve had bigger things to worry about. Like space whales, apparently.

==

“I’m out of arrows!” Clint called through the comms in a strained voice.

“Wow, shocker,” Tony grunted.

“Get on the ground, Clint,” Steve ordered.

“Yeah, almost there.”

“Try not falling this time,” Natasha advised from somewhere in the air where she was no doubt strangling an alien with her thighs. Steve glanced up, squinting.

A shot hit at his feet, and he turned the shield in that direction, preparing for another barrage. The Chitauri soldier-thing bearing down on him stopped and stumbled, arms flailing out and dropping his gun-thing. He fell to his back, a wound in his forehead oozing blood. Or goo. Whatever these things were made of, Steve was pretty sure it was supposed to stay inside them.

Steve glanced over his shoulder, where the shot had come from, expecting Clint to be coming up on his six. He saw no one, though.

Sniper. Great. This fucking asshole again.

Two blocks down, Steve could make out a group of men fighting steadily with a troop of Chitauri, and they were actually pushing them back, holding the line in front of the civilian barricades set up further down the street near the subway entrance. Those weren’t civilians, there was no way with the way they were fighting. It had to be Barnes and his team. Steve supposed they were sort of doing what he’d told them to. One of the men lowered his sidearm from where it was pointed toward Steve and gave Steve a cheeky salute, then turned back into the fray, fighting with the vicious delight of a berserker.

Steve was still staring when Clint jogged up to him, breathing hard. “Dude,” Clint gasped. “Who the hell is that? That was one hell of a shot.”

“Asshole,” Steve grumbled.

“Are you allowed to curse?” Clint asked as he gathered up as many sharp implements and guns as he could fit on his body. “Are they on our side, at least?”

“Well they’re not gross-looking or screeching, so probably,” Steve answered, and turned back into the fray.

Down the street, one of the errant Rangers let out a hideous war-cry, followed by a barrage of weapons fire and damn near terrifying laughter.

“Well,” Clint said as he fired steadily at Steve’s side. “I’m sure they’re not gross-looking, anyway.”

==

Steve sat on the street amidst the rubble, his exhausted teammates at his side, Tony still sprawled in his dead Iron Man suit, all of them peering around at the utter devastation left after the battle.

“Do we have to clean this up?” Clint asked as he eyed an overturned car.

Steve groaned. Was he bleeding? He was bleeding. Fuck it, at least it wasn’t goo. Of course, he was also covered in goo, so there was that.

“Gross,” he grunted.

Tony laughed maniacally but didn’t move.

Movement down the block had Thor stiffening beside Steve, drawing everyone’s attention. Steve expected maybe cops, or perhaps the National Guard. Maybe the Army had even showed up and they could all go take a shower.

It was the Army. But it was definitely not anyone Steve wanted to see. Sergeant Barnes walked with the same fuck-you swagger as he had in battle, his men still in formation behind him. They all still had their faces covered. Every one of them carried at least one Chitauri weapon, plus what they each had left of whatever weaponry they’d started the fight with.

Steve idly wondered what they’d been doing on leave to be so heavily kitted out. Of course, some of them were obviously carrying stolen NYPD sidearms and kitchen knives, so maybe heavily wasn’t the word for it. Efficient, anyway.

As they got closer, Barnes held his fist up and the rest of the team went at ease behind him, peering at the mangled Avengers curiously.

One man was bleeding. One had a tear in the knee of his tac gear. One guy’s Mohawk had gone a little flat with sweat and goo. But that was it. They looked damn near pristine compared to Steve’s team. Steve sneered at them and didn’t bother standing.

Barnes stared for a few uncomfortable seconds, the two teams eyeing each other. Then Barnes turned his head to the side, giving a nod, and one by one the team came forward to discard the alien weapons they’d collected during the melee, adding whatever human weaponry they’d picked up along the way, then stepped back into formation.

“Figured you’d want these back,” Barnes said stiffly.

Steve looked them all over. Barnes still had a Gerber Mark II on his thigh. One guy still had a wicked looking modified handgun at his hip that had a bright red tip Steve had never seen on a gun. Were those the only weapons they’d started with? Jesus Christ. Another had a bright blue splotch of what looked like paint on his thigh. None of these aliens had been blue . . . right? Wait.

“Jesus,” Clint blurted. He started laughing. He walked up to Barnes and offered his hand. “Were you playing paintball when this started?”

Barnes cocked his head, his eyes crinkling like he was smiling. Some of the men behind him began to chuckle.

“Big ugly dude dropped through the ceiling in the middle of our game and he sure as shit wasn’t shooting paint. Figured we could help.”

Clint nearly doubled over laughing, his hand on Barnes’s shoulder to hold him upright.

“Sarge?” One of the men stepped forward. “Army’s moving in. We need to clear out.”

Barnes nodded. “We weren’t here,” he said to Clint, though his eyes strayed to Steve like the words might have been for him.

“What’s your name?” Clint asked with a nod.

Barnes shook his head. “We weren’t here,” he said again, backing away. He gave a hand signal to his men and they moved back, disappearing into the rubble within seconds. Steve stared hard after them, scowling and wondering why the hell those men wouldn’t stick around to get the recognition he knew they deserved.

He’d been kind of an asshole to a bunch of guys who’d arguably saved a lot of lives, including maybe his, for no other reason than they were there and they had the skills to do it. Maybe he could make that up to them if he gave Barnes’s name to someone who could give them the medals they damn well deserved.

==

Steve was not skulking through the halls of the Pentagon. He was not, Natasha. He was just trying to avoid another sweaty handshake and go home after another round of debriefs and meetings with people he wasn’t certain he had to report to anymore.

He stopped when he came across an open door, voices spilling out to catch his attention. Angry voices. One, he was surprised to find he recognized. He’d heard it on the street of New York City amidst the screaming of civilians and screeching of aliens and the destruction of the city.

“Sergeant Barnes, are you saying you undertook this operation all by yourself?” an older, gruff voice demanded.

“Yes, sir.”

“You didn’t have the rest of your team with you.”

“No, sir. I was on emergency leave, visiting my sister.”

“Sergeant Barnes, you don’t have a sister.”

“She’s adopted.”

“And you weren’t granted emergency leave, to our knowledge.”

“That’s odd, sir. Maybe the paperwork got blown up by aliens.”

“And you just walked out the door with your daddy’s rifle, is that what you’re telling us, son?” another, slightly kinder voice asked.

“Yes, sir. My kit was on base. With my team,” Barnes replied, his voice almost droll for all Steve knew that what he was saying was utter bullshit.

“So all these reports of a man in a black bandana, that was you? Is that what you’re claiming, Sergeant Barnes? In all those places at one time?”

“It’s the truth, sir. I couldn’t stand by and watch and Rangers are pretty quick on our feet.”

There was a grumbling of responses that was too muddled for Steve to pick up on anything being said. But he wasn’t listening hard anymore. He was fuming. He’d given Barnes’s name to the Army on the good faith that the man would fill in the names of the men who’d been with him, who’d risked their lives with him, during the Battle of New York. But here he was, taking every ounce of credit himself.

Steve’s blood boiled over, rushing through his ears. He fell back several steps, out of hearing distance of the undertones once more, gritting his teeth. Should he intervene? Storm in there and call the Sergeant a liar? He was still debating it when he heard someone say, “Dismissed.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir,” Barnes responded, sounding stilted and like he was gritting his teeth as well.

Steve was caught in the middle of the hallway, his fists curling combatively, when Sergeant Barnes stalked out of the room in full dress blues. His shoulders were straight and his jaw muscle was jumping like he was trying to wrestle his own tongue into submission. Steve was struck momentarily dumb by that jawline. Jesus, Barnes had a killer face when it wasn’t covered by a bandana. His eyes looked like the iciest of winter ponds, silver and glinting in the light.

Steve’s anger overcame his eye for beauty, though, when Barnes realized he wasn’t out there alone and turned to meet Steve’s eyes. They stared at each other in the hallway for perhaps two whole seconds before Barnes narrowed his eyes with what seemed like muted fury.

“Captain Rogers,” he gritted out, grinding his teeth and making that unbelievable jaw jump again.

“Sergeant Barnes,” Steve responded in the exact same tone. Steve took a step toward the man, wishing he wasn’t nearly Steve’s height so he could tower over him rather than just boop him with his nose or something. He got closer anyway, trying to be intimidating, lowering his voice so the men in the room couldn’t overhear. “You lack any ounce of honor I thought you had in you,” Steve hissed.

Barnes merely jutted his chin out, stubborn and proud, his beautiful eyes glinting like ice when he met Steve’s and didn’t back down an inch. “Yeah,” he said in a low, guttural whisper. “I hear that’s going around.”

He gave Steve one contemptuous up and down glance, then spun smartly on his heel and stalked away.

“I may be new to the future, son, but in the Army we still wait to be dismissed, Sergeant!” Steve called after him.

“Go fuck off a cliff, Cap,” Barnes called over his shoulder.

Steve really didn’t have anything he could say to that.

He watched Barnes march away, kind of admiring the guy’s murder-walk for a minute, before he shook his head and snapped himself out of it. He glanced at the door, peering inside at the committee of eagles and stars in there who’d likely just decided to give Barnes the goddamn Medal of Honor or something, and Steve’s anger boiled over again. He broke into a jog, running after Barnes. If he had a minute he could come up with something more scathing to say than, ‘oh yeah, well you go fuck off a cliff.’

He caught up with the sergeant at the entrance and watched the man put his cap back on his head, adjusting his dress blues and the impressively wide array of medals that already hung on his chest. He jutted his chin out again and faced the sunshine, and Steve could see from where he stood that Barnes had closed his eyes.

Good, maybe this asshole actually had a conscience.

Steve was about to dart down the steps after him when he saw five men converging at the bottom of them, forming a half circle like they were about to confront their beloved Sarge for his treachery. Steve hung back, just within earshot. Call it fucking schadenfreude, but he wanted to see this.

“What’s the verdict, Sarge?” one man asked. He had the darkest, most beautiful skin Steve had ever seen, and he thought maybe that was the guy who’d been Barnes’s second in command during the Battle, the one who’d had the paint on his leg.

Barnes’s incredible jaw jumped again and he lowered his head.

“No!” one of the other men cried. “That’s fucked up, Buck, they can’t do that!”

The others began to clamber in closer, protesting, distressed. Barnes stood in the middle of them, his head bowed, his eyes closed.

“Can you appeal it?” another man asked. He was shorter, the guy with the struggling Mohawk, though it wasn’t struggling today. Hispanic. Or . . . did they call it Latino now? Steve needed more Google.

Barnes shook his head. “Dishonorable discharge,” he said, though it sounded like his tongue wasn’t quite working right. “I can appeal, but . . .” He shook his head and straightened. He stared into the distance over the heads of the other men for a few seconds, then shook his head again, swallowing hard. “Willfully disobeying direct orders. Failing to report in at the conclusion of a mission. Misappropriation of the Army’s property, Jesus Christ. I’m done.”

“Fuck!” one of the guys shouted, loud enough to scare the impertinent pigeons nearby.

Steve’s heart was going faster, almost enough to make him dizzy. There was no way he’d read this wrong.

“It was a tiny detour!" one guy protested. “What were we supposed to do, let aliens take New York City while we sat around with our thumbs up our asses?”

“How’d they even know we were there?” Mohawk asked.

“My fault,” Barnes answered in clipped words, his voice shaky. “I gave Captain goddamn America my name and rank. He turned us in.”

Steve stared, still eavesdropping, his shoulders hunching. He glanced around for something . . . yeah, something to hide behind.

“What?” one of the team asked, incredulous enough that he was almost laughing. “Why?”

They all stared at Barnes for an answer, at their Sergeant who’d led them through who knew how many battles, and he gave a helpless shrug. “Apparently, I . . .” He trailed off, sounding lost and hurt as he stared at his perfectly shined dress shoes. “Apparently I ‘lack honor’,” he finally answered in a hoarse, broken voice.

There was a stunned silence. For several seconds, no one said a thing, a moment of pure motionlessness as the world buzzed past around them. Then one of the guys huffed. “Geez, Buck, what’d you do to Captain America? Fuck his sister?”

The others began to make noises like they were trying not to laugh, but when Barnes snorted and looked away with a smile, the rest of the men began to chuckle and guffaw.

“Senior citizen discount,” Mohawk mumbled, which sent the rest into further fits of laughter.

Steve couldn’t even be offended. He recognized what these men were doing from his years with the SSR; they were trying to make the best of a shitty situation with their bleak, morbid humor. Suddenly Steve missed Dum Dum Dugan terribly.

“What do we do now, Sarge?” the beautiful black man asked finally. “You gotta appeal it. We weren’t due back on base, we finished our mission early for Christ sake! They can’t punish us for being better than they think we are!”

“They ain’t punishing you,” Barnes growled. “I told them I was there alone.”

“But Sarge –”

“First of all, you’re going to stop calling me ‘Sarge’. I’m a fucking . . . civilian now. Got to get used to it, I guess. Jesus, dishonorable discharge. I’ll be on fucking welfare in a month.” He looked like it was taking every ounce of control he had not to bury his face in his hands.

“I still got my paintball gun I accidentally stole from that place in New York,” one of the men offered. “We can rob a bank.”

Barnes tried to laugh. He really looked like he gave it his best shot.

Steve shook himself out of his horror and took a step forward. This could not stand. This wasn’t what he’d intended at all, and if he couldn’t fix Barnes’s predicament – which you could damn well bet he was going to try – he could at least let the man know he’d completely misread and misunderstood the entire thing.

It didn’t sit right with him at all, these men thinking badly of him.

One of the guys glanced over Barnes’s shoulder and saw Steve coming. He narrowed his eyes, jutting his chin out in an impeccable imitation of his sergeant, and he put a hand on Barnes’s shoulder to tug at him and prevent him from being able to turn and see Steve coming.

“Come on, Sarge,” the man said with an almost evil glint in his eyes as he stared Steve down. Jesus, Steve hadn’t seen that amount of malice and open combativeness in a man since he’d killed a goddamn Nazi. “Let’s go get you shitfaced drunk. And then laid.”

“You better take a shower first if you’re offering.”

The team led Barnes away, flanking him, surrounding him in a protective detail to rival the President’s, and hurried him away from the confrontation they’d thought Steve was bringing.

Steve stood on the steps, staring, until the group had disappeared. Jesus, what had he done to this guy?

Chapter Text

“Natasha? I need you to find me a guy,” Steve said as he walked into the common area of the temporary floor of Stark Tower the straggling Avengers were being put up in.

“Wow, Rogers, I don’t think we’re that close yet.”

“Ha.” Steve threw a file onto the coffee table.

Natasha peered at it, one eyebrow raised.

Steve could feel his cheeks heating up, but he maintained eye contact with her. “I need to find him.”

Natasha took the file in hand and perused it silently. “Good soldier,” she commented after a few minutes. “Great soldier.”

Steve cleared his throat uncomfortably.

She clucked her tongue. “Dishonorable discharge. What do you want with him? Give him a good talking to?”

Steve winced. “I might have sort of ruined his life. I know I ruined his career. I need to find him.”

Her eyebrows shot up higher, a smirk playing across her lips. “What did you do to him, bang him in a back alley in front of his CO?”

Yeah, Steve was definitely blushing now. Fuck the future.

“No,” he gritted out. “I reported his actions during the Battle of New York.”

“Wait, this is Hot Bandana Guy?” Natasha blurted, grinning now. “Barton hasn’t stopped talking about him for days. I threatened to stab him with a fork this morning.”

Steve could feel his shoulders tightening. He sighed, hard. “By threaten do you mean you stabbed him with something else first?”

“He dodged it. Why is this so important?”

“Apparently, his team wasn’t supposed to be in the City. By telling the brass they’d been there, I got them in a load of trouble. Sergeant Barnes took the heat for the whole team and they punished him for it.”

“Wow, Steve. Can I call you Steve? This feels like a ‘wow, Steve’ moment.”

Steve sighed again. Harder.

“And you want to find him now so he can, what, shoot you in the face?” Natasha asked, her tone merely curious rather than wry. “This has all the earmarks of a vicious origin story, you know that, right? This guy’s going to wind up hanging off the A of the tower with a sniper rifle aimed at your eyeballs.”

Steve finally winced, letting the guilt sit heavily on his shoulders. “I need to fix it. But I can’t fix it unless I can find him. The Army is stonewalling me. They keep saying it’s none of my business and even if it was a dishonorable discharge, Barnes still has plenty of enemies from past ops and they can’t just hand out his information.”

“They think Captain America is going to go haring off after an ex-soldier?”

“Well, I mean, I’ve done it before, so . . .”

Natasha laughed in his face.

“Can you find him?” Steve asked, dejected.

“Oh Jesus, please don’t make that face. I hate dogs.” Natasha stood, smoothing out her yoga pants. “Give me an hour.”

“You’re the best, Romanov.”

“I know.”

“Stop laughing at me!” Steve called after her, which had the exact opposite effect of what he’d intended. Her laughter rang through the halls as Steve was left alone with his guilt once more.

He looked back down at the coffee table, the file still where Natasha had left it. He picked it up once more, staring at the photo of the serious soldier with his ice-cold eyes. “Please don’t be an origin story.”

==

“What’s this about Capsicle creating new super-villains?” Tony demanded as he swanned into the common area that night.

Steve buried his face in both hands and slumped further into the couch.

“Cap ratted out Sergeant Hot Bandana Guy and his crew and got him dishonorably discharged,” Clint offered from where he sat at the dining table, drinking what Steve thought was his fifth cup of coffee.

“I did not.”

“Tasha says she’s having a hard time finding this guy,” Clint continued. “He’s already gone to ground, started cackling madly to himself in some lab.”

“Barton!” Steve barked.

“I would climb Hot Bandana Guy like a tree, supervillain or not,” Clint continued, talking mostly to his coffee now.

“What?” Tony asked from the kitchen over the sound of the blender.

“I can’t believe we saved the world,” Steve muttered to himself as he stood and trudged over to the table to join them.

“Neither can the news,” Bruce offered as he came in through the same private elevator Tony had exited a few moments before. He had a beaker of what looked like sludge in one hand and a tea cup of what looked like sludge in the other.

“What?” Steve asked distractedly as he eyed the sludges. He hoped neither of those was tea.

“The news is all over the whole Superheroes in New York story,” Bruce told him, angling toward the kitchen with his sludge. He put the beaker in the fridge. Noted. “Some of the local stations are airing video of the Battle, saying it wasn’t a team of super-powered people at all, just random mercs and very well-prepared, very armed citizens of New York being every day heroes.”

“Well, I mean,” Clint offered, waving his hand expressively as he turned up his hearing aid with the other. “Hot Bandana Guy.”

“I swear to god, if you say that one more time I’m going to spit in your coffee,” Steve grumbled.

“Hot Bandana Guy is in a lot of the footage,” Bruce told them as he sat across the table from Steve.

“I’m going to spit in your sludge,” Steve threatened.

Bruce clutched his tea cup to his chest. “Sludge!”

“Someone fill me in, please, I was busy unconsciously saving the world,” Tony grunted as he threw a box of old pizza onto the center of the table and then threw himself into a chair.

“My future husband was a badass on Battle day, and then Steve got him kicked out of the Army,” Clint explained.

Steve’s shoulders slumped. “Honestly, I can’t even refute any of that, I’ll be your best man.”

Clint chuckled and patted Steve’s knee companionably.

“Hot Bandana Guy,” Tony repeated, sounding dubious. “What, like, his bandana was on fire? Do we have fire people now?”

“No, he had a bandana on his face,” Bruce said as he skimmed the papers he’d had tucked under his arm.

“And he was hawt,” Clint added.

Steve banged his forehead into the table. “He has a name.”

“He does?” Clint cried. “What is it, I need it!”

Steve rolled his face against the expensive wood of the table. “Absolutely not.”

“JARVIS?” Tony called to the ceiling, which was still weird. “What is Hot Bandana Guy’s actual name? Were his parents just very confident?”

“Sir, his given name is former Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes,” the voice in the ceiling answered almost immediately, sounding absolutely judgy to Steve’s ears.

“Huh. Not much of a step up from Hot Bandana Guy,” Tony muttered.

“Give me your smoothie,” Steve demanded.

Tony scowled at him but hesitantly pushed the green smoothie he’d just blended closer to Steve. Steve grabbed the glass and tilted it, spitting into it and then shoving it back. Tony blinked at it, staring at both it and Steve in stunned horror.

Clint and Bruce both covered their glasses with their palms.

A hum from behind him had Steve looking over his shoulder, to find Thor standing there, frowning thoughtfully. “Is this another Midgardian custom I’ve yet to learn?”

“No!” came three shouts from the table as Steve nodded.

Thor looked between them suspiciously, then shrugged and sat next to Bruce.

“Wait, why are you here?” Tony asked.

“I am . . . in disfavor at home, for the moment,” Thor answered, wincing noticeably. “It was best if I removed myself for the time being. I hope I am still welcome?”

“Yeah, sure, big guy,” Tony said as he grabbed for his glass distractedly. Steve eyed it, watching and waiting to see if he’d take a sip.

“Wanna talk about it?” Bruce asked Thor.

“Decidedly not.”

“Good.”

“Hey, maybe you can help Cap with his Hot Bandana Guy problem, he’s in disfavor too,” Clint told Thor, and Steve made a lunging grab for his coffee.

Clint shouted in alarm and covered his mug, and out of the corner of his eye, Steve saw Tony put his smoothie to his lips and then jerk it away quickly, shoving it across the table.

Thor narrowed his eyes, looking at them all suspiciously. “I have missed something.”

“Cap’s guilty conscious makes him mean,” Tony told him.

“I warned you, I gave fair warning,” Steve insisted.

“You warned them, not me!”

“Who is Hot Bandana Guy?” Thor asked carefully. “Is he a new threat?”

“No,” Steve said decisively.

Clint and Bruce both made wavering gestures with their hands as they made ‘ehhh’ noises in answer.

“So, I think we definitely need to consider this Barnes guy a threat,” Natasha announced as the elevator door opened and she strolled in with a tablet in her hand.

Steve banged his head against the table again.

Natasha handed Tony the tablet, and Tony flicked his fingers to make shit fly up into the air above the table. Steve peered up at it dejectedly as he rested his cheek on his forearm.

They perused Barnes’s service records, making thoughtful humming sounds with a smattering of ‘huh’ from Natasha and ‘nice!’ from Clint.

“Told you future husband was a badass,” Clint told them after they’d gotten through the rather hefty service records.

“Mazel tov,” Tony grunted. He got up to go make himself a new smoothie. Natasha watched him go, then glanced curiously at the full glass on the table as if it might stand up and attack.

“When are these nuptials?” Thor asked Clint.

Clint beamed. “I got to find him and woo him first! Maybe tell him my name.”

Steve buried his face in his arms again and groaned. “Are you going to tell him you’re Hot Arrow Guy?”

“Cap! You think I’m hot?” Clint practically crooned to him.

“Fuck the future,” Steve grunted.

“Wait, is he allowed to curse?” Tony shouted over the sound of the blender.

==

“He’s not a threat,” Steve insisted as the morning sun was climbing past the windows of the tower’s common room.

“Cap, come on,” Tony groaned.

“Rogers, this is a career Army guy, okay, he has literally dedicated the last twelve years of his life to getting where he was, and in one day you yanked the rug out from under him because he played hero when it wasn’t authorized. That is . . .” Natasha stalled, shaking her head.

“That’s literally every villain ever,” Bruce offered when she couldn’t seem to find the right words.

“This is not a comic book,” Steve said, maintaining his calm by sheer force of his stubborn goddamn jawline.

“Well, there is a universe out there where it most certainly is,” Thor offered thoughtfully, staring at his glass of water suspiciously as if he thought maybe Steve had already spit in it.

“I refuse to discuss multiverse theory with you people,” Tony grunted. He was sitting cross-legged in an armchair, his arms crossed over his chest.

“What?” Steve asked as he massaged a non-existent headache away from his temple.

“Don’t worry about it, Cap. Listen,” Tony leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. “We have to at least flag this guy as a possible danger. He’s way too capable to be otherwise, and the fact that even I can’t find him is suspicious as hell, you have to admit.”

“Capable,” Steve repeated under his breath.

“Fuckable,” Clint added.

“Jesus, Clint,” Natasha growled.

“I’m sorry, okay, I need it!”

Steve sighed into his hands. “Have we found him yet, or not?”

“We got his home address, but it’s his childhood home in New York and it’s, uh, sort of under a building right now. So he had nowhere to go that’s on paper,” Tony answered.

“Wow, Cap fucked this guy harder than I want to,” Clint whispered. He probably thought Steve couldn’t hear him. Steve would believe that for his own peace of mind.

“He’s in the wind, is what I’m saying,” Tony finished.

“And he has a very loyal, very angry team that he left behind which he can rally,” Natasha told Steve. “We saw some of what they were capable of, Steve. There’s enough footage to get a good read on them, and you need to take this seriously.”

“I am literally the only person here who is taking it seriously!” Steve shouted. “I just want to find him. And tell him I’m fucking sorry. And see if I can get him a job with SHIELD!”

Natasha sat back, narrowing her eyes. “Huh. That’s not a bad idea.”

Steve pointed at her. “I’m going to spit in your hair.”

“Jesus, who knew Captain America was part llama!” Tony cried as he covered his smoothie and curled around it protectively.

“What about his team? They’d know where he is, surely,” Steve tried.

“I got three hang-ups and two, ‘I’m sorry, ma’am, I don’t know who that is’ when I called them up,” Natasha told him with a tilt to her head that could have been an apology. “All very polite.”

Steve ran his fingers through his hair, beyond frustrated. They were superheroes and shit, they should be able to find one man. “Bruce, is that sludge alcoholic?”

Bruce pursed his lips and glanced at Tony, frowning thoughtfully. “No, but it could be.”

==

Four months after the battle of New York, three after Steve had inadvertently demolished a good man’s life, SHIELD made a ‘request’ of Steve that he felt he couldn’t really turn down. He packed up his bag and headed to DC, dragging his feet the entire way and hoping Natasha would stop making fun of him for the whole supervillain creation thing.

So far, Barnes hadn’t popped up on any radar, though Tony assured Steve he was still looking for the man.

Steve simply threw himself into his work. And out of some planes.

He set up a routine, because good God, the future was just as boring as it was confusing. No one understood when he made a joke, or was sarcastic, and he got funny side-eyed looks when he cursed under his breath. An Agent of Goddamn SHIELD had patted his head one day in the locker room.

He tried to be social, going out to dinner and to bars occasionally, but mostly he stayed home and made himself into a blanket burrito and hoped no one tried to invade Earth tonight.

The only thing he did every day for the first month or so without varying his schedule was run. He ran every morning, pacifying his paranoia by varying his route because the paparazzi were scarier than German snipers and so, for that matter, were small children with stars in their eyes because they were always sticky and so small and how the fuck did they clock him on the street every single time when adults passed by him without taking any notice?

Honestly, if Barnes wanted to set up a nest on top of the Washington Monument and take him out, Steve might send him a thank you card from the Beyond at this point.

He was running around the monuments this morning, because they were pretty in the rising sun okay, and he was pushing himself hard. It felt good, freeing, to see just what limits his body could reach. He caught sight of a familiar runner, a guy he’d seen out a time or two on this route, wearing an Air Force sweatshirt. Steve’s nose twitched and he changed his route up, flying by the man at top speed.

When he was out of sight, he glanced around, switching back on his route so he could lap the guy again, just for fucking fun. The guy grumbled at him on the second pass, and shouted at him on the third. Steve laughed as soon as he was sure he was out of earshot.

When he came up on the guy for a fourth pass, all he could see were the man’s splayed legs on the other side of a tree. He chuckled as he slowed. He supposed he owed this guy a handshake at least, for aggravating him. No wait, what did the modern world call it? Trolling?

As he got closer, he heard the man’s pleasant voice, out of breath, wheezing out, “Man you were right, Captain America is an asshole.”

It surprised a laugh out of Steve as he rounded the tree and the airman came into view. Another man had joined the guy, and he was standing over the exhausted jogger with his hands on his hips, looking distinctly unimpressed. He was wearing running shorts and a dripping wet gray Army T-shirt. He had what looked like an elastic band on his head, keeping his sweaty longish hair out of his eyes. Steve cocked his head, trying to place the breadth of those shoulders.

Both men turned their heads to look at him when he laughed.

The man on the ground pointed a finger at him. “You,” he gasped.

The man standing squared his impressive shoulders, his eyes going from an affectionate crystal-clear blue to wide and blazing with hellfire. He pointed just like his friend had and shouted, “You!”

“Um,” Steve responded, cocking his head. His own eyes widened as he recognized Sergeant James Barnes.

Barnes lunged at him, but the airman managed to get off his ass in time to tackle Barnes to the ground, flattening himself over him and making like a starfish as he shouted, “Man, naw! You are not attacking a National Icon in front of a National Monument!”

“Sam!” Barnes shouted as he tried to get out from under the other guy’s octopus arms. “God, you are gross right now, get off me!”

“Not until you’re calm! Are you calm? You don’t look calm.”

Barnes stopped struggling and went limp, spread eagle in the grass under his friend. He sounded very calm indeed when he said, “I am going to stab you in your sleep. Right in the kidney.”

“Right or left?” Sam asked curiously.

“Right in the pancreas.”

“Dude.”

Steve cleared his throat. “Uh.”

Barnes managed to get a hand free and used it to point at Steve from where he was still sprawled on the ground. “You!”

“Yeah, we’ve established it’s me,” Steve muttered. “Sergeant Barnes?”

“Oh, hell no, don’t call him that, man,” Sam warned.

“Captain Fuck Off!” Barnes shouted over him. “Fight me!”

Steve didn’t know whether to laugh or just slink away. He managed to combine the two by pacing two steps and snorting instead. Like a bull.

“I’m gonna need you to calm your ass, Barnes,” Sam said as he went limp again, obstructing Barnes’s struggling under him. “This is so undignified. That is Captain goddamn America.”

“Captain goddamn America!” Barnes repeated, louder. And angrier.

Steve cleared his throat again. “I’ve been looking for you,” he told Barnes.

“I hope you brought lube this time!” Barnes shouted.

Several people in the park turned their heads when his volume reached inappropriate levels. Steve felt his ears heating. “Uh.”

Sam looked over his shoulder at Steve, giving him a little nod of his head. “Hi. Hey. Sam Wilson. I’m a fan.”

Barnes cried out and clocked him in the side of his head and sent him sprawling. Steve braced himself for an attack now that Barnes was free, but the former sergeant merely splayed on the grass, staring up at the sky as Sam Wilson rolled around beside him, holding his face.

“I’m sorry,” Barnes muttered to Sam. “That was slightly uncalled for.”

“Slightly!” Sam struggled to his knees and then staggered to his feet.

Steve made an aborted move with his hands out for him, like he was trying to help a toddler take his first steps.

“Jesus,” Sam muttered, rubbing his face. “Man, you cannot abuse something this beautiful, okay, it’s not right.”

You’re not right,” Barnes mumbled from the ground.

“Shut up, white boy. Yo mama.” Sam shook his head out again, then turned his attention on Steve.

Steve wanted to wilt, but he gave the man a small smile and lifted his chin instead, like he was preparing for a punch.

Sam stumbled closer, took a deep breath, then straightened up to his full height. He stuck out his hand. “Sam Wilson,” he offered.

“Steve,” Steve offered, feeling stupid.

Sam gave him a charming smile. “No shit.”

Behind him, Barnes groaned and rolled to his hands and knees, hanging his head. “Jesus Sam, what are your elbows made out of, razors?”

Sam gave Steve an even more charming smile. “Nice to meet you.”

“Is it?” Steve asked dubiously.

Sam winced. “I’ve heard a lot about you from my roommate.”

Steve’s eyes drifted back to Barnes, who was still slumped on the ground and rubbing whatever body part Sam had managed to elbow. His ribs, it looked like. “Yeah,” Steve said hesitantly. He glanced at Sam, like the man could tell him if it was safe to talk to Barnes. Sam shrugged and shook his head, looking like if he wasn’t grinning then he’d be bugging the fuck right out of there.

“I’ve been looking everywhere for you,” Steve said to Barnes.

“Wish I’d known,” Barnes growled as he raised his head and stared up at the sky again. He was still facing away from Steve and Sam. “Could have given you directions to the nearest cliff.”

“So I could go fuck off it?” Steve asked.

Sam snorted and then turned it into a pretty convincing cough as he turned his side to Steve and looked away, crossing his arms.

Steve took a tentative step toward Barnes, making sure it was a noisy one. “I wanted to apologize.”

Barnes lowered his head. “If I don’t turn around, you aren’t actually here, and I won’t want to punch you in the face in front of the Jefferson Memorial and five thousand kids.”

Steve frowned. “Sure. That’s how it works.” He glanced at Sam again.

Sam gave him another beaming smile. “We’ve been working through his murderous tendencies.”

“Well, thank God for that,” Steve drawled. “How many does he have left.”

“Oh, all of them. I’m apparently a shitty counselor.”

“You are a shitty counselor,” Barnes snapped, glancing over his shoulder to glare at Sam. “My VA counselor clotheslined me in a National Park.”

“We’re not in a National Park,” Sam argued.

“The Nation’s Capitol, then,” Barnes mumbled.

Sam shrugged, giving him that distinction, apparently.

Steve glanced between them. Barnes was obviously not in the proper state of mind to hear the overly rehearsed apology and explanation Steve had ready. “I should probably go.”

Sam nodded, still smiling. “Yeah, self-preservation is not an instinct you want to lose at this particular moment, my man.” He pulled a wallet out of his pocket and dug a card out of it, handing it to Steve. “Give me a call when you want to try again. I’ll have backup to moderate and shit.”

“Yeah, that’s . . . yeah.” Steve took the card, peering at it and then at Barnes, who was just now pushing himself to his feet. The man looked . . . well, he looked damn good. Bulkier with muscle now than he’d seemed the last two times Steve had laid eyes on him. Which meant he’d probably been doing nothing but rage-fueled exercise for the last four months, planning his revenge. Great. Steve clutched the card, telling himself he would call Sam Wilson that very night and arrange a more . . . sedate meeting, where he could explain and try to start making amends. He could see the time for a tactical withdrawal though, and this was it.

“He’s fine,” Sam assured Steve when Barnes groaned and shook out his shoulders. Barnes still hadn’t turned around.

Steve gave him his best Captain America Is Disappointed In You For Being a Lying Liar look. “Yeah, he looks it.”

“He’s not armed,” Sam said in the same reassuring tone.

“Yet,” Barnes growled at the water in front of him. Yeah, Man With a Plan, time to retreat.

Sam was still beaming that charming smile at Steve, and he looked like he was trying not to laugh. When he spoke, his voice was high-pitched and squeaky with the effort of holding the laughter back. “This is the best day of my life.”

Steve almost cried with relief when his phone chirped at him. “I’m gonna go.”

Sam merely nodded, no longer able to speak without laughing. Barnes huffed and bent over double, groaning as he clutched at his ribs and cursed under his breath. Steve held up the card to try to let Sam know he’d be contacting him. Sam nodded, his shoulders shaking almost imperceptibly

Natasha drove up in a sleek fuck off car and Steve practically ran to get into it, the card clutched in his hand. He’d rather go jump out of a plane.

==

Steve was sitting in a jump seat with Natasha beside him, the roar of the plane engines in his ears. He glanced at her, steeling himself. “So . . .”

“Yes?”

“I think Barnes might be a problem.”

Natasha gave him a small, sideways smile. “One problem at a time, Rogers.”

==

“This is fucked, this is so fucked,” Steve muttered under his breath as he and Natasha limped away from a goddamn crater full of Steve’s hopes and dreams. “Fuck Hydra!”

“Shh,” Natasha hissed.

“New Jersey!” Steve hissed back at her. “I told you all evil comes from New Jersey!”

“You told me!” Natasha growled back at him. “Shut up and keep moving, they’ll be following.”

“Are you sure you can’t walk yet?”

Natasha tightened her grip on the back of his jacket, leveling him with a look that was far more regal than anyone being carried bridal style through the woods of New Jersey should be able to manage. “Are you saying I’m heavy?”

Steve shook his head jerkily. “No, ma’am.”

After another mile, Natasha wilted on him a little, resting her head on his shoulder. She was obviously in more pain than she had let on. He held her tighter and pushed on until they stumbled across a parking lot, where he promptly bashed a window out of a car and hotwired it.

“Borrowing?” Natasha asked him in a weak, amused voice as she leaned against the back door.

“Fuck New Jersey,” Steve growled.

Once they were on the road, they both eased up a little, relaxing in the anonymity of the dark. “We need allies we can trust, Steve.”

Steve nodded. “I got a plan.”

Bozhe moi.”

==

Steve lost the card. But Natasha was still a spy, so, “Sam Wilson, he works at the VA?” was enough to get an address by the time the sun rose.

They showed up on his back door like something a mountain lion had dragged up and left as a consolation prize, and knocked on the glass. A moment later, Sam opened the door to them, his eyes flicking from one to the other. “Man, naw.”

“I’m sorry, Sam?” Steve tried.

“Barnes is going to murder you on my new rug,” Sam huffed.

“Everyone we know is trying to kill us,” Natasha told him, looking pitiful and shaky.

Sam glanced over his shoulder. “This is going to end in domestic violence,” he muttered, stepping aside to let them in.

Steve gave him a sideways glance, frowning as they trudged into the kitchen.

“Wilson?” a voice called from the back of the house. It was shaking with laughter. “Did that bird try to attack you through the window again?”

“Yes, stay in your room!” Sam yelled as he closed the door.

That was probably the worst thing he actually could have said, though, because a moment later Barnes was in the doorway to the kitchen, a gun pulled on them, wearing nothing but his boxers and a scowl.

He narrowed his eyes at Steve, glancing at Sam over Steve’s shoulder. Steve held his breath, Natasha tense at his side, until the man received whatever signal from Sam and lowered his weapon.

“Absolutely not,” Barnes grumbled and disappeared back into his bedroom.

Steve and Natasha shared a glance, then both of them looked back at Sam. Sam shrugged. “This is fun!”

==

They sat around the kitchen table explaining themselves, with Barnes radiating enough pure hatred to run Tony’s tower for a year through the whole speech.

When they were finished, Sam crossed his arms and nodded. “Where do we start?”

“Absolutely not!” Barnes shouted. He stood up and shoved Sam out of the kitchen as Steve and Natasha shared another loaded look between them.

They were being quiet, but Steve could still hear them in the hall. Barnes was hissing so much he might as well have been wrapped in one of Steve’s blanket burritos and slithering around on the floor. “I’ve been here done this, Sam, you play the hero and you get fucked, okay. You’re going to lose your job, your house is going to get squished, and you’re going to wind up a pancake on the ground outside the Triskelion.”

Sam huffed what sounded like a laugh. “You didn’t wind up a pancake on the ground outside the Triskelion.”

“I don’t fly! I wound up with you and that’s just as bad!”

Steve scowled, glancing at Natasha. “Fly?” he whispered to her.

“Can you hear them?” she asked.

“Never mind.”

When Sam came back, Barnes trailing behind him like an angry cat who wanted to be cuddled but didn’t want to be touched, Sam was giving them that winning smile of his. “Where do we start?”

Steve shook his head, glancing at Barnes guiltily. “He’s right, Sam, we can’t ask you to do this.”

“Hey, Captain America drags his raggedy ass to my back porch and asks for help, I’m in.”

Behind him, Barnes gagged and turned away. He shook his head, his eyes closed, his hands on his hips. “Fuck it,” he finally sighed, turning to look at them. He seemed almost betrayed by what he was saying. “Where do we start?”

==

Steve was in the back seat of Sam’s car, watching behind them as a full STRIKE team barreled down the highway after them. Barnes sat in the front seat, calmly reloading his weapon, the wind from the broken windows whipping his hair around. He didn’t seem to notice.

“Sam?” he said, his voice deadly soft and almost intimate. He turned to look at Sam as the man tried to weave his way at high speed through traffic. “I’m going to kill you so slowly.”

Sam nodded. “That’s fair.”

==

Steve could almost consider it a proper team. He knew he trusted that no one with him on the riverbank was Hydra, anyway, and that was all that mattered. Sam and Barnes flanked him, Maria Hill in the lead, picking her way down the embankment with the Triskelion shining in the distance.

Steve glanced at both men, his chest full of pride and nerves and something he couldn’t quite define that felt like affection, or at least camaraderie.

He cleared his throat. “Barnes?”

“Fuck off,” Barnes grunted, his voice muffled as he adjusted the mask he’d snatched from Fury’s dam bunker.

“After this I’d like to explain myself a little better. And offer you a job.”

Fuck off,” Barnes said more emphatically, then followed Hill down the embankment.

Steve eyed Sam with narrowed eyes.

“He’s a kitten,” Sam told him reassuringly. “A fluffy, angry, kind of psychotic kitten.”

“I can hear you, assholes,” Barnes said over the comms.

==

They sat on the bank of the river and watched as the helicarriers shot the ever-loving shit out of each other. Steve’s shoulders hadn’t eased off until he’d gotten word that Sam had safely made it into Fury’s helicopter, and now Steve and Barnes sat dripping side by side, peering into the sky.

“So about that job,” Steve finally said without taking his eyes off the destruction.

“Ugh, you can fuck right off,” Barnes muttered as he struggled to his feet and staggered away with his arm held tightly to his side, heading for the flashing lights and medical assistance in the distance.

“Is that a maybe?” Steve called after him.

Barnes responded by staggering to a slow, meandering stop, and then collapsing face-first into the underbrush.

Chapter Text

Bucky woke to a strange ceiling, a strange bed, and a strange oxygen line stuffed up his nostrils. Not to mention the strange blond sitting beside the bed with his hands clutched together, staring dazedly at Bucky’s blanket-covered feet.

“What,” Bucky croaked.

The man startled when Bucky kicked a foot, and he reached to his ear like he had a comm unit in. “You’re alive!”

“What.”

“Hey,” the man said with a smile that seemed kind, but immediately made Bucky suspicious as fuck.

“Hi?” Bucky responded, still fighting off the daze of the drugs he knew were pumping into his arm through that IV. He’d been in this situation before, except there’d been more cave walls and less modern art.

“I’m Clint. Do you know where you are?”

Bucky swallowed against his dry throat, parched from the oxygen and the pain medicine. “Hospital?” he guessed.

“Close enough,” Clint offered as he scooted his chair closer. “You’re safe. You’re in Avengers Tower.”

“Stark Tower.”

“What?”

“Fuck the Avengers,” Bucky grumbled.

“I’m gonna need that in writing,” Clint said as he looked around the bedside table for something. Apparently he needed a pad of paper and a pen, which he held up to Bucky with a hastily scribbled IOU written on it. “Sign right there.”

“What.”

Clint laughed and set the pad and pen back down, leaning closer. “You remember me? We met very briefly after the Battle of New York.”

“Yeah, you’re the Hot Arrow Guy,” Bucky managed to get out, feeling like he was breathing gravel. “Can we get this thing out of my nose, please?”

Clint was beaming at him as he helped Bucky remove the oxygen. “You good?” Clint asked carefully.

“As soon as I get this IV out I’m going to hit you with a bed pan and escape,” Bucky told him, forming the words carefully. He’d done this song and dance, drugged and interrogated by a friendly face who had supposedly rescued him. Bucky Barnes was a lot of things and his mama did not raise him right, but he wasn’t stupid.

“Okay, cool, cool. Fair enough,” Clint said with a nod of his head. “Steve said as much.”

“Fuck that guy,” Bucky grumbled.

“He’s probably going to want that in writing too,” Clint stage-whispered. He was still grinning. “He hasn’t stopped talking about you for three days.”

“I’ve been here for three days?” Bucky asked, wishing he had the capability to sound as horrified as he felt.

“You lost a lot of blood. Broke your left humerus. Apparently concealed a head injury in the midst of battle,” Clint listed off, shaking his head like he was disappointed. Then he grinned again. “My man, you and me, made for each other.”

Bucky tried to clear his throat. “How bad was my head injury, exactly?”

“You’re not hallucinating,” Clint told him, turning serious finally. He offered a small smile that somehow made Bucky feel better. “Sorry. All that’s in that IV is saline and pain meds, because bro, you need them right now, trust me.”

“Probably.” He realized that yeah, he could feel the numbing and floating sensations that came with narcotics. Oh, hello old friend, Bucky had missed you.

Clint was still talking. “Steve was obsessing over you after the Battle of New York, so I started ragging on him about it, which sort of backfired because I developed an honest to God real crush of my own in the doing. I’ve seen your file. And I’ve seen you shoot. You’re pretty damn amazing.”

“I’ll take that from the Amazing Hawkeye,” Bucky mumbled as a spare synapse finally fired and he remembered this poor guy’s codename. It was not, in fact, Hot Arrow Guy.

The smile Clint offered him this time was shy, his head lowered. Bucky held up his fist, the right one, the one that wasn’t in the huge fuck you cast up to his armpit, and Clint pressed his knuckles very gently to Bucky’s in commiseration.

“Sam?” Bucky asked, and his heartrate monitor began to go faster at the thought. They’d seen Sam land hard. They’d seen him leap from a goddamn burning building without a parachute like he was trying to tackle a helicopter. Fucking idiot better not be dead.

“He’s okay,” Clint answered hurriedly. “He’s walking it off. Said he’d come see you when his ass didn’t hurt. Cool guy, he your boyfriend?”

“He’s out of my league.”

“Doubt it.”

“Did we win?” Bucky finally asked in a smaller voice.

Clint grimaced. “In a matter of speaking. I haven’t gotten all the details yet, I was saving a medium-sized village in Fuckoffistan at the time, but from what I hear the government is kind of shitting a kitten right now.”

Bucky closed his eyes. “Close enough.”

“What you did,” Clint continued carefully. Bucky opened his eyes and turned his head so he could focus on Clint’s words rather than drifting. Clint was watching him rather keenly. “Joining up with Cap just because he needed help, even after what happened to you. That was some shit, Barnes.”

Bucky closed his eyes again. “You need to talk to Sam. It was his stupid fucking idea.”

Clint hummed. “Yeah. Sure, Sarge.”

“Don’t call me Sarge,” Bucky responded automatically. “Ain’t that anymore.”

“You should be.”

“Take it to Captain fucking America.”

“Has he spoken to you yet?” Clint asked casually.

Bucky grunted and scrunched up his face in distaste. “To be fair, he tried. I wasn’t exactly in a listening mood the last . . . four months.”

“He really did look for you. The day after he found out what happened to you, he started. He set a Russian spy and a technical genius on it.”

“That’s terrifying. Is that supposed to be comforting? That’s not comforting.”

Clint laughed heartily.

“He wanted to get you on at SHIELD to make up for what happened,” Clint continued. “I don’t recommend tying my anchor to that boat, though, right now.”

“That doesn’t . . . wait, shit, that did make sense.”

“It’s okay, booboo, the drugs will taper off soon. You’ve got some fucking incredible drug resistance, you know that? We had to mess with them for hours to keep you under for surgery. We basically had to drag out the special juice they give Cap when he’s stupid.”

“You mean, what, water? Air?”

Clint almost choked as he tried to muffle a laugh. “I don’t think so, no. He and Bruce and Thor just call it ‘the sludge’.”

“Thor,” Bucky repeated dumbly.

“Yeah, he put some Asgardian shit in there, made it practically lethal to anyone who’s not enhanced,” Clint said pointedly.

Bucky grunted. “Yeah, I get that all the time.”

Clint cocked his head, frowning curiously. “Get what? People thinking you’re enhanced?”

Bucky had to work hard to raise one arm above his head, cocking his forearm. “Well I mean, come on. Welcome to the gun show, baby.” He thought maybe the effect was ruined when he flopped his arm back down like it weighed a hundred pounds. He fingered the IV bag of alarmingly nuclear waste-colored pain medicine. “Jesus, what is in this thing?”

But Clint was laughing so hard he couldn’t answer. He had his forehead pressed to the bed, shoulders shaking.

The door clicked and Bucky had to tear his eyes away from the IV bag, where he had been following a goddamn flower floating through the solution. A flower. The man who walked in practically blacked out the light from the hallway, his shoulders were so wide.

“I see the good Sergeant has come back to us,” the man said happily.

“Oh God, man,” Clint said as he raised his head and wiped his eyes. “This guy is a fucking riot. We gotta keep him, you think Stark will let us keep him?”

“I don’t want to get kept,” Bucky argued, closing his eyes against the bright lights and loud sounds from the hallway. “Take me back to the pound.”

The new addition apparently noticed his pain, because he closed the door behind him and moved with a quiet, alarming grace for such a big man, sitting in the chair on the opposite side of Clint.

Bucky squinted at him. “Do I know you?”

“I am Thor of Asgard,” the man said with a bow of his head. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Sergeant Barnes.”

“He doesn’t like that.”

“Don’t call me Sergeant,” Bucky said at the same time as Clint’s warning.

“My apologies. What would you like me to call you?” Thor asked, unruffled.

Bucky cleared his throat. “My friends call me Bucky,” he admitted in a hoarse voice.

Thor cocked his head thoughtfully. “May I be included in that number?”

Bucky closed one eye and squinted the open one harder. “If we were in a bar I’d let you call me anything you wanted, so sure.”

Clint made a choking sound on the other side of the bed. It sounded like a strangled laugh.

Bucky pointed at him without going to the effort of turning his head away from Thor, giving Clint a finger gun. “You too, Hot Shot.”

Clint responded with a little fist pump of triumph.

==

“Steve. Steve!”

Steve glanced up from the file he was reading, scowling as Clint bounded across the common room like a goddamn puppy doing a peepee dance.

“Steve!”

Steve shrugged and gave Clint a look. “Do I have to actually respond to you before you keep going with more words?”

“Barnes is amazing,” Clint gushed as he sat on the coffee table in front of Steve’s feet. “I’m in love.”

“Uh huh?” Steve offered when Clint didn’t continue.

“He’s hilarious. And even drugged up on your super sludge, he resisted interrogation like a goddamn boss.”

“Interrogation?” Steve demanded, rising halfway from his seat with a sudden surge of anger. “What the hell, Clint, what did you do to him?”

“Calm down,” Clint answered, raising both hands and suddenly serious. “I was just asking basics, trying to get a feel for him. And I had to ask him about the enhanced thing. He’s solid enough as it is, damn skilled, but if he’s been enhanced and he’s not exactly a friendly, then we could have real trouble. I had to at least ask him.”

Steve settled back down, shoulders still tense. “What’d he say?”

“He said welcome to the gun show and then babbled about how strong the drugs were. It was brilliant. Different tactic, but just as effective as Tasha, I swear.”

“Huh,” Steve grunted, unconvinced. “You really think he’s enhanced?”

“You did say he kept pace with you on the helicarriers. And he took a lot of damage before he collapsed. It’s a very real possibility.”

“Why would the military be so quick to get rid of him if he was enhanced?” Steve wondered aloud, frowning down at the files he’d been studying. Barnes’s files.

“Could be they had no idea. He’s real cagey about it. I left Thor with him, change of tactics. Barnes seemed pretty taken with him, so maybe he’ll spill more,” Clint said in the most fake off-handed tone Steve had ever heard. He turned a full Captain America glare on the man, but Clint just gave him a shit-eating grin. “Imma marry him.”

“Jesus, Clint.”

“Sweet baby Jesus is right,” Clint exclaimed happily as he pushed to his feet. “You want to come see him? While he’s all drugged up and cuddly?”

“Absolutely not, he’ll go full-scale Russia in winter if he sees my face.”

Clint made a doubtful sound, cocking his head and squinting.

Damn him. It was an intriguing enough reaction for Steve to roll his eyes and get to his feet, following Clint back to the medical floor.

It was kind of alarming that Stark had set aside a whole floor for medical, but whatever.

Steve edged into Barnes’s room behind Clint, closing the door with a soft click and leaning against the wall with his arms crossed. Maybe if he stayed there, Barnes wouldn’t see him. He already knew Barnes subscribed to the ‘if I can’t see it, it’s not there’ mode of dealing with shit.

Barnes was staring hard and pointing one finger at Thor, who was smiling down at him. The finger Barnes was pointing had a heartrate monitor on the end of it, the machine it was attached to beeping slow and steady. Honestly, Clint had a point. A lot of what Steve had seen while they were operating on Barnes was at least odd, and the man had kept up with him during the fight. He recalled his first impression of the guy – what the hell are you? – and he winced.

“I know why you’re here,” Barnes was telling Thor in a voice that only hinted at a slur. Steve had taken what was in that IV. Steve had serenaded the moon with the stuff that was in that IV.

“And why am I here, Bucky?” Thor asked gently.

Steve frowned in confusion over the name and glanced at Clint, who was staring at Barnes adoringly from the other chair and so didn’t give Steve shit for an explanation.

“You’re trying to get information,” Bucky said confidently. “And you’re here to make sure I don’t bolt. Because you are huge, Jesus.” He poked Thor’s pec with the tip of the heartrate monitor.

Thor’s smile widened. “Accurate on both counts. Do you want to make the task easier on me?”

“Absolutely not. Do I look easy to you?”

Thor narrowed his eyes, recognizing terminology he wasn’t familiar with and knowing better than to try and answer. Clint, however . . .

“In my fucking dreams, dude,” Clint muttered as he idly scribbled on the pad he’d lifted from the bedside table.

That drew Barnes’s attention back to him briefly. “How’d your report go?”

Clint glanced up carefully, studying Barnes. “Yeah,” he finally said on a sigh. “Okay, so you knew what I was doing. That was shitty of me, I admit. But my job is to keep the people in this building safe.”

“I’m not a danger to anyone who’s not holding me down,” Barnes told him, his voice so rough that Steve wanted to clear his own throat when he heard it.

“Noted,” Clint responded seriously.

“You are not a prisoner here,” Thor assured Barnes, and Barnes took at least three seconds to turn his head back to him, squinting again.

“You’re going to have to either sit on the same side or stop tag-teaming me, ’cause that flower is making the room spin.”

“That is, no doubt, the head injury you sustained,” Thor told him kindly, but he did pick his chair up and move to sit next to Clint.

Which left Barnes facing the empty side of the bed with his eyes closed and a muttered, “Goddammit.” He struggled to turn his head back so he could face them both, as they both struggled – and failed – not to show their amusement. “Fuck you both, you’re off the list.”

“Aww,” Clint said as his shoulders slumped.

“What list is that?” Steve asked before he remembered that he was trying to be a wall.

Barnes didn’t even twitch at the sound of his voice. “You’re not on it, fuck off.”

Steve narrowed his eyes. Yeah, this guy was enhanced as fuck. No amount of training made someone this lucid on the sludge. Unless Barnes still wanted to actively kill him, instead of just passive-aggressive him to death, Steve had dodged a real bullet with this guy. Of course, he was getting ahead of himself.

“Do you have . . . abilities?” Thor asked Barnes in that careful, measured voice of his that made you want to stuff your face in his chest and take a nap.

“I make one hell of a lasagna,” Bucky drawled. He swallowed hard, wincing like it hurt him to do so. Steve scowled harder. This was damn near cruel, poking him like this when he’d just regained consciousness.

“He means do you turn green or anything,” Clint clarified.

“My lasagna is not green,” Barnes insisted almost angrily, his eyes still closed.

Clint was grinning like he needed to be institutionalized. “God, I love this guy!” he told Thor and Steve.

“Spring wedding, Hot Shot,” Barnes growled out. Clint visibly shivered. “Wear a garter. Nothing else.”

Clint held the pad out to Barnes again and handed him the pen. Barnes huffed a laugh and made a squiggly line that may or may not have been legal in a court of law.

“Okay,” Steve said as his scowl began to reach Colonel Phillips is done with you assholes levels of danger. He pushed away from the wall. “We’ll come back to this later. Let him rest.”

Clint nodded as he tore the paper off the pad and folded it up. He stood and Thor followed his lead. “You’re alright, Bucky,” Clint said with a gentle pat to Barnes’s shoulder. He glanced at Thor and whispered, “We’re so keeping him.”

To Steve’s shock, Thor nodded, smiling happily.

Steve stood against the wall as they filed out, closing the door behind them. He hesitated as he watched Barnes shift in the bed, letting out a soft, shaky sigh as he moved around.

“Do you need anything?” Steve asked gently.

“I’d kick a puppy for a cigarette,” Barnes answered. “Keep making that face and you’ll do to kick, I guess.”

Steve sat on the edge of the chair next to his bed, resting his elbows on his knees. He stared at Barnes’s face for a long time while the man had his eyes closed, studying the lines of strain that marred the beautiful canvass underneath. “I promise you’re safe here,” he whispered finally.

“Your promises don’t mean shit to me,” Barnes growled out immediately, the slur and drawl both alarmingly absent now that Clint and Thor were both gone.

“I know,” Steve said softly. “I understand.”

Barnes opened his eyes to stare at the ceiling. He finally chanced a glance over at Steve. He looked remarkably lucid now. “Why’d you do it?” he asked, his voice hitting a lower register, probably so it wouldn’t reveal the shake that Steve could detect anyway. “They were all I had.”

Steve shook his head, swallowing against a knot in his throat. “I didn’t mean to,” he said, his voice so solemn he felt like he should have been in a confessional. “I never meant for that to happen to you. When you disappeared, I thought you and your men were being humble. It . . . I never dreamed it was because you’d get in trouble. I’d have kept your secret if I’d known. I swear to you, Sergeant.”

Barnes closed his eyes again. They’d started to water. “Don’t . . . call me that.”

Steve grimaced and sat back, sighing heavily. “I’m so sorry.”

==

Steve woke with a start, blinking at the Medbay room as the confused fog of unexpected sleep cleared. He glanced down at the odd pressure on his finger, scowling in confusion at the heart monitor attached to it.

“Shit!” he cried as he lurched to his feet and stumbled past the empty bed. He hit the hallway and looked up and down it, hoping Barnes’s escape had been what had woken him. There was no one in sight.

“JARVIS!” he called to the ceiling.

“Yes, Captain Rogers,” the ceiling replied, which was still weird.

“Where is Sergeant Barnes?”

“Sergeant Barnes kindly requested that I call him Bucky,” JARVIS replied in his merry English accent.

“That is not what I asked!”

“Bucky also requested I give the Avengers a message, Captain Rogers, as he was rather gently disabling my alarm system.”

Steve’s heart sank and he slumped against the wall next to the room’s door. “Yeah?”

“He would kindly have the ‘awesome AI in the ceiling’ remind the Avengers that he is not a stray dog and he is not a science experiment.”

Steve kind of wanted to punch the ceiling.

“Where is he, JARVIS?”

“Bucky has left the premises, Captain. I am unable to discern how or when, given that my alarm systems have just come back online.”

“Great.”

“My pleasure, Captain Rogers.”

Steve was going to punch the ceiling.

==

“Is there a reason there is a you-shaped hole in the ceiling of my Medbay?” Tony asked as he sat across from Steve in the formerly quiet and calm conference room Steve had been sitting – not sulking – in.

Steve glared at him.

Tony kept up the charade for a few more seconds and then grimaced in sympathy. “When we find him, we’ve got to ask him how he did that. JARVIS doesn’t get sweet-talked easy.”

A knock on the door had Steve looking up with way too much hope, but he couldn’t help it. When the door pushed open, Sam stuck his head in and raised his eyebrows in question.

“Hey, Sam,” Steve said with a wan smile.

“I hear you lost my boy.”

“Yeah. Sorry about that.”

Sam shrugged and limped into the room. He’d come out of the battle with a bad sprain, but otherwise he was pretty unscathed. Steve supposed that was a miracle, considering how panicked Barnes had been when they’d watched Sam fall out of the sky.

“Buck is a runner. Always has been, always will be,” Sam said as he pulled out a chair and sat with a huff.

Steve frowned at him. “How long have you known him?”

“Off and on for about seven years. I was part of the rescue that pulled him out of captivity.”

“He was a prisoner of war?” Tony asked carefully.

Sam nodded.

“Is he enhanced?” Steve asked, going for blunt because that seemed to be Sam’s style.

Sam’s face didn’t reveal a thing as he stared at the table. He finally looked up and said, “I don’t know.”

Steve’s mouth was forming an incredulous how when Sam continued.

“I didn’t know him before, you know? I don’t know what he was like or what he was capable of. All his men swore by him, said he’d always been a tough son of a bitch, and they did mean son of a bitch. But none of them would ever say a word about whether he was different, you feel me? He’s strong though. Real strong. Real fast, when he thinks I’m not watching.”

“Captain America strong and fast?” Tony asked.

Sam gave that a noncommittal shrug. “I really couldn’t say.”

“He thinks we held him here because of his enhancements, doesn’t he?” Steve asked, dread filling him like alien goo. “That’s why he ran.”

“Could be. But he’ll be back,” Sam said with utter confidence.

“How do you figure?” Tony demanded, leaning closer. He seemed a little too eager to get Barnes back for Steve’s liking.

“He left me here, didn’t he?” Sam answered, holding both hands out like they were full of reasons. “He’ll be back. You might not see him. But he’ll be back.”

“I want to know how he disabled my goddamn state of the art security,” Tony said as he slammed his hand down on the table. “And then I want to hire him.”

Steve huffed. “Get in line.”

Sam chuckled. “Good luck with that to the both of you.” He pushed out of his seat, stretching out his back muscles. “Oh, Barnes is also a goddamn nerd, so if you wave a cool robot at him you might lure him back in.”

He left them to chew that over, and when Steve narrowed his eyes at Tony, Tony was grinning. “I’ve got cool robots.”

“You do have cool robots,” Steve said with a slow smile.

“Dibs on first shot at Hot Bandana Guy,” Tony said as he launched himself out of his chair and headed for the door.

“You’ll have to fight Clint and Thor for him!” Steve called after him. He waited until Tony was out of his enhanced hearing range and bit his lip against a wry smile. “Probably me, too,” he said to the empty room.

==

Bucky was sitting under an awning with a cup of coffee he wasn’t drinking, watching as a crane cleared debris from the wreckage of the building he’d grown up in. He didn’t have any particular sentiment attached to the building, but when he’d run he hadn’t wanted to go far. Sam was in that Tower, after all, and Bucky didn’t leave a man behind. For overly long.

He fiddled with the coffee cup in his hands, pulling at the paper wrap but not tearing it. When he’d returned home from the military hospital in Landstuhl, he hadn’t been able to grip a coffee cup without it exploding in his fingers and shooting searing hot coffee all over his lap that he stubbornly wore for the rest of the day in protest. His newfound strength had been terrifying, as had everything else that had come from his delirious memories of his captivity. But his men had covered for his fumbling in the first few weeks, until he’d evened out again. No one had ever known. Not until now, and the goddamn meddling Avengers. Pricks.

He was still frowning at the coffee cup when there was a rush of warm air and a metallic thunk several feet in front of him. People startled and lunged away around him. He raised his head and stared at the Iron Man suit. The Iron Man suit stared back.

Then the Iron Man suit waved at him. “Hi there.”

“Hey,” Bucky said. They stared at each other for a few more seconds.

Bucky shot to his feet and threw his coffee at it. Stark watched the cold coffee dripping down his chest, and somehow the Iron Man mask looked offended as fuck. So Bucky threw a chair next that hit Stark in the face with a satisfying clank, then he went for broke and threw the table, too, before he turned and bolted.

“Dammit!” he heard Stark say through whatever speakers he had on the thing. “Wilson sent me!”

Bucky rounded the corner of the coffee shop into an alley as people took cover and screamed like goddamn banshees, Jesus Christ, Bucky was not made for civilian life. He started scrabbling for his knife so he could cut himself out of the bulky cast.

“What did you do to him?” he shouted around the corner, keeping an eye on the suit in the reflection of a car window.

“Nothing. We’re not the bad guys, Barnes. We’re on your side.”

“I just hit you with a table.”

Stark was silent for a moment. “Love tap?”

Bucky huffed a laugh and leaned harder into the side of the alley, gripping his Mark II like it could save him from a repulsor blast. “Yeah, I’d probably tap that.”

“Ha!” Stark shouted, pointing one armored finger in Bucky’s direction.

“You’d have to turn the speakers off first, though,” Bucky called to him.

“Wow, you are sassy. Barton was right.”

Bucky lowered his head, still keeping his eyes on the reflection because he had trust issues okay, but he needed a moment to take a breath.

“I hate Captain America,” he called, softer, hoping Stark would just . . . give up, maybe.

“Yeah, he has that effect, at first,” Stark said. He wasn’t moving, which meant he knew Bucky had eyes on him and was trying to keep him calm. “He’s a decent sort, though, if you give him a chance. And Jesus, do I want to get you into my workshop and watch you tear my systems apart.”

Bucky huffed another laugh, risking a single second to squeeze his eyes shut. “That is some weird innuendo, but it’s working for me.”

Stark was chuckling too, obviously letting the speaker systems allow the sound to come through for Bucky’s benefit. “You’re okay, Barnes. Come back with me. We’ll all sit down, talk. No drugs this time, that was a dick move.”

“So much innuendo,” Bucky muttered to himself. “Why.”

The Iron Man suit cocked its head. How did its head cock? Dammit, Bucky was not going to be lured in by a fascinating robot, he was not.

“I’ll fly you there?” Stark finally offered.

Bucky slumped against the wall. “Goddammit.”

==

“Lured in by a cool robot,” Sam said with a satisfied smile. “Told you.”

“Traitor,” Barnes snarled at him as he sawed at his cast with his very lethal combat knife.

It was kind of adorable. Steve was so fucked.

He sat at the opposite end of the table from where Barnes was ensconced between Clint and Tony. Sam sat in the middle of the table, like a moderator, with Thor opposite him. Natasha hadn’t joined them because, according to Bucky, she was something something something in Russian, Steve had no idea.

Bruce was in his lab, studying the information they did have on Barnes.

“I know you don’t trust us,” Steve offered.

Barnes was glaring at him, his face clearly saying, ‘no shit’, but he kept his mouth shut for the moment.

“We’re not the enemy,” Steve assured him.

Barnes narrowed his eyes. He gave himself several seconds, then Steve watched his shoulders relax, the hard lines of his face smooth out, and he slumped in his chair. “I know.”

Steve released a breath he hadn’t even been aware of holding in.

“You won’t be forced into anything you don’t want,” Tony said, looking between both Barnes and Sam. “If you say no, that’s fine. I’ll take care of it. Barnes, I’ll make sure you have a damn fine roof over your head and get more than reimbursed for that Army pension you lost out on. But what you both did in DC was goddamn impressive. And you may have noticed that SHIELD is having a rough day, so we need all the good guys we can get. This is officially a job offer.”

“Are you going to squish Sam’s house?” Barnes asked dejectedly.

“Not . . . on purpose?” Tony answered with a stray glance at Steve and a bewildered shrug.

“Accidental squishing is still not acceptable, Tony Stark.”

“Buck,” Sam whispered gently.

Barnes rolled his eyes. He stared at Sam for a long time, the two of them not moving a single muscle between them but obviously communicating in the way of old friends. Finally, Barnes sighed and Sam grinned.

“We’re in,” Sam announced.

Clint held out a fist and Barnes knocked his against it lazily.

“Welcome to the Avengers Initiative,” Steve said to them both. “Thank you. Sam. Barnes. Thank you both.”

“Shit. I’m gonna have to tell my mom,” Sam muttered to himself, and Barnes nearly laughed himself out of the chair. Sam pointed at him and stood. “I’m blaming you when I talk to her.”

“What? Hey!”

Sam just pointed at him again to silence his protest as he left the conference room.

Barnes grunted and eased himself out of his seat with extreme care. He was obviously still in pain, which made his escape from the Tower even more impressive in Steve’s eyes. “Might as well start calling me Bucky,” he told them as he moved around Clint’s chair. Then he pointed at Steve in mimicry of Sam’s exit. “Except you.”

Steve gave him a small smile. “What should I call you?”

“You don’t call me,” Barnes ordered as he walked out the door. He called out from the hallway, “Now, who’s gonna hook me back up to the flower IV?”

“Kinky,” Tony said as he stood and followed Barnes out.

Steve sighed as he looked down the table at Clint and Thor, who were both beaming at him like he’d just done something wonderful for humanity.

“Well done! I quite like them both, they’ll certainly be great assets,” Thor finally said, sounding satisfied. “It will be nice to have another man in the air with us. And Bucky will prove to be quite as fascinating to spar with as you are, Steve.”

“Sniper buddy!” Clint added in a sing-song voice.

“We actually saved the world once,” Steve mumbled to himself, shaking his head in disbelief as he stared at the glass tabletop. “Fucking incredible.”

Chapter Text

Steve was being a wall again. He was leaning against the heavy padding of the large gym in the basement of Avengers Tower, watching the team go through their motions. Every once in a while he’d call out orders, advice, or encouragement to each member. That was his job, after all.

He couldn’t bring himself to call out to Barnes, though. Bucky. Steve called him Bucky in his head and had to be very careful not to say it out loud if the man in question was within hearing range. And Steve had learned that if he could hear Bucky, Bucky could goddamn well hear him. Whatever the extent of his enhancements, they rivaled Steve’s own.

Steve had discovered that the first time they’d sparred and he’d wound up gasping on his back and staring up at Bucky’s rage-inducing smirk.

Steve hadn’t tried to spar with Bucky again after that, because one cold shower a day was enough for his iced cappuccino ass, thank you very much.

Yeah, Steve had a problem. He seemed to share that problem with Clint and at times Tony and possibly Thor, which Steve didn’t want to think about. Bruce liked both of the new additions, and he seemed to see Bucky as an odd source of calm in the storm of his anger issues. Steve’s theory was that Bucky was the only living being Bruce had ever encountered who was angrier than the Hulk was most of the time. Natasha wasn’t as taken with Bucky as the others, but Steve could tell that she did at least like him. Sam, though, Natasha prowled around Sam like she was an offended cat, brushing up against him occasionally and bringing him dead birds and live mice to teach him how to feed himself. Except her versions of small animals were expensive Russian vodka and rare ammo.

Sam didn’t seem to know what to make of it, but he kept on smiling.

Steve almost wished, sometimes, in the dark of the night when his thoughts couldn’t get past his blankets, that Bucky was as easy to get along with as Sam was. But then, Steve wondered if he’d be as fascinated by the man if that were the case. He didn’t want to climb Sam Wilson like Everest, so Steve would take what he could get from Bucky Barnes.

They hadn’t actually been on any missions in the few short weeks that Bucky and Sam had been with them, but the training had been non-stop and very productive for team bonding. Bruce had managed to distract Tony from a full-scale disaster last week by burying him in Bucky’s test results while Tony had been rambling about building a Mark 30-45, so that was always progress too. Tony’s best friend, Colonel Rhodes, had saved the President the next day, so it had worked out okay.

Steve could feel the itch under his skin, though, that told him something was coming. Maybe he really was nothing more than a machine of war, too wrapped up in battle to enjoy peace when he had it.

“Hey, asshole,” Bucky called from the sparring ring, and Steve locked onto him like a golden retriever recognizing his name. “Smoke’s coming out of your ears.”

Steve reached up to his ear before he could stop himself. The future was weird, okay, and he did not discount anything.

Bucky bit his lip and looked away, looking like he was desperately trying not to laugh. He waved a hand at Steve. “I haven’t kicked your ass in a while, come on.”

Steve steeled himself and straightened up, shaking his tense shoulders out. “Yeah, fine.” He moved to the ring, shimmying out his stiff arms. How long had he been standing there with his arms crossed, Jesus Steve, you are not actually a wall.

“Penny for your thoughts,” Bucky offered as Steve got closer.

“That the going rate?”

“For yours? Yeah, that’s probably fair market value.”

Steve hated himself a little for the laugh he huffed out. Then Bucky sucker punched him and danced away, hopping around with his fists raised like goddamn Bugs Bunny ready for a brawl.

“Oh, you’re gonna pay for that,” Steve growled as he launched himself into the fight.

Bucky laughed almost as hard as he hit.

==

When Steve walked into the common area, finding Bucky sprawled upside down on the couch with his feet sticking up over the back and the tips of his hair dragging against the carpet was not exactly what he’d been looking for. He veered that way anyway, forgetting his hunger at the sight.

“What the fuck?” Steve said as he came to stand in front of Bucky, hands on his hips.

“Stark and Banner are doing science,” Bucky answered, sounding oddly gruff since he was upside down.

“This is science?” Steve asked dubiously.

Bucky leveled him with an upside down scowl. “Are you saying I’m doing science wrong?”

Steve hesitated in the face of those eyebrows. “No?”

“Cap! Just the person we needed!” Tony called from the dining table, where he and Bruce had several projections floating in the air between them. “Get upside down!”

“What.”

“It’s best not to fight it,” Bucky advised, still upside down. “All I wanted was a goddamn Pop Tart.”

“I told you I’d feed you when I was done,” Tony called over.

“That was three hours ago!”

“You’ve been upside down for three hours?” Steve asked, incredulous.

“I’ve lost the ability to monitor time. And my sense of smell, is that normal?”

“No.”

“Steve! Upside down!”

Steve glanced around at the common room’s comfortable couches and armchairs. “What the hell,” he muttered, and climbed into an armchair, turning himself upside down and mimicking Bucky’s sprawl. He glanced over to find Bucky giving him a thumb’s up. Or was it a thumb’s down? It was probably a thumb’s down. Gravity. “Science is hard,” Steve said to him.

“Tell me about it,” Bucky grumbled, closing his eyes. “Stark I can feel blood rushing to my hair.”

“Write that down,” Tony drawled, just enough of a tease that Steve was pretty sure he wasn’t writing that down.

“What the hell,” Steve asked himself again, looking up at the floor.

“If they ever make a reality show of the Avengers in their natural habitat, the world will be a much safer place,” Bucky mused.

Steve hummed. “Yeah, we’re terrifying.”

“How’s the hunt for Hydra going?”

“Still pinpointing bases. We can’t hit one until we have them all, they’ll fortify.”

“Yeah, they’ll never see us coming, what with the giant steaming pile of wreckage in the Potomac getting in their eyes.”

Steve shrugged. Upside down. That felt weird, he wasn’t going to do that again. “I can’t feel my lips.”

“Can you feel your eyeballs throbbing now, though?”

Steve squinted. “Yes?”

“Science,” Bucky intoned.

Steve was still counting the loops on the fuzzy rug above him when the alarm blared and red lights began to flash. He rolled ass over tea kettle and popped to his feet, blinking away the rush of blood from his head. Bucky was far less graceful in his efforts, and when he got to his feet he staggered and grabbed both of Steve’s arms to steady himself with a mumbled, “Whoa, head rush. Jesus Christ.”

“Okay?”

“Science,” Bucky said again as the four of them scrambled gracelessly toward the elevator.

JARVIS gave them the briefest of rundowns as they rocketed toward the armory and the quinjet. Tony peeled off to his lab and the Iron Man arrays as Steve and Bucky darted off for the lockers. Bruce meandered to the little wet bar in the corner and began to fix himself a cup of his sludge tea.

“We never settled your call sign,” Steve said to Bucky as they both got dressed hurriedly.

Bucky was hopping around on one foot trying to pull on a sock and close the buttons of his tac pants at the same time. “We’ll figure it out,” he grunted before falling against his locker and finally succeeding in getting his pants buttoned up.

Steve pulled on the mostly blue stealth suit he’d liberated from SHIELD before he’d blown it up.

“That suit’s better,” Bucky told him as he began lining his entire mass of muscles with weaponry. “Has body armor, right?”

“I was actually consulted in the design of this one. The other one was . . . not my idea.”

“Well, that’s comforting,” Bucky drawled.

Steve glanced at him carefully. He was pulling an elastic band over his head, settling it around his neck. Then he pushed it back up and took his hair with it, shoving it out of his eyes. He hadn’t shaved in several days, but Steve had to admit that he pulled off the look. It made him look a little dangerous, headband notwithstanding, not the kind of guy a grandmother would pinch on the cheek, like they did to Steve every goddamn time he walked down the sidewalk.

Bucky pulled on the mask he’d stolen from the dam bunker. It covered the entire bottom half of his face.

Steve scowled. “Why the mask?” he found himself asking. He’d been wondering since the first time Bucky’s eyes had lit up when he’d seen it in Nick Fury’s stash and lifted it.

Bucky’s eyes crinkled like he might be grinning behind the mask. “Air filtration. Not getting clocked on my fine ass jaw. Comm unit that doesn’t make my ear hurt. Staying anonymous. This shit’s better than the bandana any day of the week.”

“Huh.”

Then Bucky took his bandana from the pocket of his tac vest and wrapped it over the mask. Steve stared at him.

“What?” Bucky asked blithely. “I got a reputation to uphold.”

Steve narrowed his eyes, not sure if Bucky was fucking with him or just kind of weird.

Bucky’s eyes narrowed in mimicry. “Are you critiquing my outfit while wearing a giant star on your chest?”

Steve glanced down at the star, scowling. “What’s wrong with a star?”

Bucky’s eyes softened right before he pulled on a pair of protective glasses like the ones he’d worn the day of the Battle of New York. They were tinted red. When he spoke, his voice had softened too. “Nothing.”

They made it to the quinjet as Bruce was strolling up the lift gate with his tea. The others were pouring in from different directions, various amounts of gear already on. Once Stark clanked up the lift gate, Clint closed it up and lifted off.

“What’s the story?” Clint asked as he maneuvered them out of the Tower.

“JARVIS got a lead on Loki’s scepter,” Maria Hill answered over the radio. “We’re going after it before they can move it again.”

We have a frog in our pocket,” Sam muttered as he checked over the new wings Tony had made him. Barnes chuckled as he adjusted in the seat next to Sam and sprawled his long legs out.

“We need two new call signs,” Steve said to anyone who was listening, which was hopefully the entire jet since he was supposed to be in charge of this shitshow.

“Falcon,” Bucky said immediately, pointing at Sam.

Sam looked up, eyes widening briefly. “Man, that sounds kind of badass. Thanks, Barnes.”

Bucky gave him what Steve knew had to be a shiteating grin, even if he couldn’t see it. “In honor of your husband back home. How many windows did he hit trying to make sweet, sweet love to you?”

“Man, I hate you,” Sam mumbled. “Still sounds cool, I’ll take it.”

Steve was trying desperately not to smirk. He eyed Bucky. “And you, soldier?” he asked. “Hot Bandana Guy is a bit of a mouthful.”

“That’s what she said,” at least three voices said into Steve’s ear through the comms.

Bucky was obviously smirking behind his mask and bandana. “That works.”

“You want us to call you Hot Bandana Guy over the comms?” Tony asked in utterly sadistic glee.

Bucky gave his head a shake. “Soldier works just fine.”

Steve blinked at him in shock, feeling his face heat up for absolutely no goddamn reason. Bucky had been adamant that anyone who called him any version of Sergeant in the last few weeks would become intimately acquainted with his boot up their ass, vindictively insisting he could find even JARVIS’s ass if he tried hard enough, so the easy acceptance of Steve’s gentle teasing was . . . new.

Sam was looking Bucky up and down critically, a small frown on his face. “Nice glasses.”

“Can’t see shit,” Bucky grunted and took them off. He handed them to Sam and took a clear pair out of a pocket somewhere.

Sam watched him slide them on and grinned widely. “There’s those winter baby blues that feel like home,” he teased. He slid the red glasses on like a fucking boss and leaned his head against the hull.

“The Winter Soldier,” Steve said, against his better judgement.

Bucky cocked his head, looking at Steve curiously. “You misquoting Thomas Paine to me? These are the times that try men’s souls?”

Steve shook his head earnestly. “The Summer Soldier and the Sunshine Patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country.”

Bucky’s face was inscrutable behind the mask, and his eyes gave away nothing as they bored holes into Steve’s soul. “But he that stands by it now,” Bucky murmured.

Steve nodded, relaxing. Bucky had gotten what he was aiming at; hadn’t taken it as an insult, but rather the deeply sincere praise Steve had meant for Bucky’s willingness to step into fights that were not his own. But he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.

From the front, Natasha sighed heavily. “That sounds like some Russian horseshit.”

Bucky grumbled under his breath, glancing around the interior of the jet.

“Man, sit still, you’re like a toddler who’s got to pee,” Sam growled at him.

Bucky stopped squirming, looking as chastised as he possibly could behind the mask and bandana and glasses. He hung his head and nearly whined. “I’d give my left arm for a Pop Tart right now.”

==

They dragged Bucky kicking and damn screaming onto the waiting jet, the blood from his wound trailing after them, stark red in the snow. Steve’s stomach was curdling at the sight of it, and at the sounds of pain like a wounded animal caught in a trap that Bucky was still making. Tony was tossing things over his shoulder left and right, trying to find the right dosage of opiates that would calm him. Bucky writhed on the floor of the quinjet, like he was trying to struggle away from the pain.

“Shit. Shit!” Sam was shouting over and over as he worked on Bucky’s arm.

Steve ripped his helmet off and tossed it into the darker reaches of the jet, dropping to his knees on Bucky’s other side.

“Hold him down!” Sam ordered. His voice was shaky but his hands were working steadily.

Steve pressed down on Bucky’s chest and Bucky screamed, fighting back, thrashing.

Thor flew through the back of the jet on a rush of wind and electricity humming in Steve’s ears and landed already running. He threw himself over Bucky’s legs, helping Steve hold him down.

“I’m sorry,” Steve kept whispering every time Bucky screamed. He was repeating it over and over. The sound of Bucky's usually melodious voice being torn apart by screams was something Steve never wanted to hear again.

“If we don’t get him out now, he’s gonna lose this arm!” Sam shouted at Steve, but the words barely registered over the sounds of battle and blood and the roars of the Hulk.

“Don’t leave them,” Bucky gritted out, his eyes screwed shut. “Don’t leave them.”

Steve pressed his communicator. “Back to the jet now! Barnes is critical, we have to move.”

“We won’t, Barnes, we won’t leave anyone behind,” Sam soothed as he continued working, his arms covered in Bucky’s blood all the way to his elbows. He glanced up to meet Steve’s eyes, anger and desperation and sadness all mixed up in them. “He’s gonna lose this arm.”

Bucky made a humming sound that turned into an almost growling whine. He squirmed again as Tony finally managed to jab a syringe of their finest sludge into his thigh. “First person . . . first person to offer me a Pop Tart is gonna get shot in the ass!” Bucky shouted to the top of the quinjet.

==

Clint was lying on Dr. Helen Cho’s table, having his side lasered up. He was staring listlessly at the ceiling, and Steve was watching him worriedly. When Clint was calm and quiet, it was all wrong. Everything was all wrong.

Clint had encountered an enhanced in the field and gone down, and Steve had never heard the kind of cursing he’d listened to when Bucky responded to that. He had squeaked out a shocked, “Language,” which had made him want to shoot himself in the face after.

Bucky had been too far away to take up Clint’s position, so Steve had repositioned everyone, sending Sam to fly there and take up Clint’s duties as Clint was evacuated, and ordering Bucky to abandon his high vantage point and hare off into the castle after Tony as backup while Steve was fighting his way in from the ground. When Steve had gotten to them in the bowels of the castle, Stark was standing under a lurching Chitauri space whale, staring at Loki’s scepter, and Bucky was viciously tasering a teenage girl in the face, who writhed around on the ground and screamed.

If Steve had gotten there sooner, would Bucky have walked away under his own power rather than having Steve and Tony drag him out, bloody and broken?

Steve ducked his head, feeling the weight of the world settling on his shoulders.

“Hey,” Tony said as he bumped his shoulder into Steve’s. “None of this is on you.”

“Tell that to what’s left of Barnes’s arm. Cho’s machine can’t . . .”

“Too much damage, too much tissue loss,” Tony answered in clipped, pained syllables. “I can fix this, though.

Steve frowned and glanced at him, refusing to let hope find a niche inside him.

Tony was nodding, his jaw set. “I can fix this.”

“What are you going to do, make him a new arm?” Steve asked, a little cruelly, but the tone was aimed inward, not at Tony.

Tony was still nodding as he watched Clint get patched up. “Yeah.”

==

While Tony and Bruce were bivouacked in their lab working on a state of the art bionic arm, Thor took possession of the scepter and returned it to Asgard, where he assured the rest of them it would be safe and cause no more harm on Midgard. Steve had frowned for long seconds before remembering Midgard was Earth. He needed sleep before his brain just shut off completely.

He couldn’t keep himself from pacing, though, going up and down the Tower stairs from the holding cells where the two enhanced kids were being tended to, up to the medical floor where bloody gauze still littered the hallway outside the operating room.

JARVIS notified him when Bucky was out of surgery and waking up was eminent, and Steve had never moved so fast in his life. He poked his head into the recovery suite, peering at the motionless figure on the bed. Sam sat slumped in a chair beside it, head bowed, hands clasped in front of his face like they were the only thing holding it up.

“Hey,” Steve whispered.

Sam glanced up, his eyes endlessly sad.

Steve looked from him to the bed. Bucky seemed smaller, without the arm, fragile and far too still for the man Steve had come to know as having more restless, pent up energy than a box of curious kittens.

“What’s the verdict?” Steve asked haltingly.

“Well. He’s ambidextrous, so there’s that,” Sam said, voice tattered all to shreds.

Steve realized Sam had probably been up here all alone while Bucky was in surgery, and from the sound of it, he'd spent a lot of that time either crying or struggling not to. Steve chastised himself for not realizing it earlier; he should have been taking care of his demoralized and worried team, not pacing like a tiger in a cage

He slunk into the room and leaned against the wall beside Sam, sliding down to thump on his dejected ass. “This is my fault.”

“He won’t think that, and neither should you.”

“I pulled you both into this.”

“It’s called free will, Steve, you fought for it in World War Two.”

Steve huffed.

Sam was silent for a moment, then he began to chuckle. “Oh, man. He’s going to be so pissed. No one’s ever going to believe him when he tells them how he lost his arm.”

“Giant space whale fell on me isn’t quite as far-fetched as it was two years ago,” Steve argued.

“He used to say the scars on his leg were a shark bite,” Sam mused. “And the one on his forearm was a polar bear. And that his back got all scarred up by a bigfoot when he went on a bender in Nepal.”

Steve couldn’t help himself, he began to laugh softly.

Bucky groaned from the bed. “That last one was true.”

Sam lurched forward and Steve scrambled to his feet. “Hey,” Sam said gently.

“Don’t baby me, Wilson,” Bucky growled, his eyes still closed. “They called him Bigfoot for a good reason, but he could suck a watermelon through a straw.”

Steve very firmly did not think about that with an artist’s eye.

Sam gave a relieved laugh, entire body melting against Bucky's bed as his tension drained out. “He’s okay.”

“I am definitely not okay,” Bucky argued. “Where’s my Pop Tart?”

“Where’s your gun?”

“Up your ass, Wilson.”

Sam laughed again and took Bucky’s remaining hand between both of his. Bucky squeezed it so hard, Steve watched the blood drain from the tips of Sam’s fingers. Sam didn’t complain.

“Stark hasn’t left his lab,” Steve told Bucky. “Says he won’t ’til he’s made you a new arm. He and Banner and Cho are working round the clock, trying to figure it out.”

Bucky nodded and swallowed hard, forcing his eyes open to blink at the ceiling. His eyes were glazed over, as gray as a dove at a funeral. “Never liked that arm anyway. It was never right.”

His eyes darted to them when neither man could find the stones to laugh at his joke.

“At least he’s distracted,” Bucky added after a pause. “Stark. Way he was looking at that scepter was bad news.”

Steve merely nodded, not sure what to say.

Bucky’s throat clicked when he swallowed again, meeting Steve’s eyes relentlessly. “Sorry I dropped a space whale on your head.”

“Don’t be,” Steve choked out. “I’m sorry I thought you were gleefully electrocuting a teenage girl for fun.”

Bucky closed his eyes again, a smile flitting around the edges of his lips. “Oh, I was.”

==

“It’s metal,” Bucky said as he stared at the arm Tony had presented to him.

Tony shifted nervously. “Yeah, I mean, I do my best work in –”

“It’s awesome,” Bucky whispered with what truly sounded like awe in his voice.

Tony’s deflated and gave a relieved laugh. “Glad you like it.”

Steve watched with keen eyes from his post in the chair beside the bed. As soon as Sam had vacated it, Steve had taken over and refused to be budged. Bucky under the influence of the sludge was a much kinder companion than Bucky under the influence of no sludge.

“How’s this going to work?” Steve asked Tony.

“Cho and Banner are still kicking the tires of the procedure, but essentially we’ll hardwire a cuff into his nervous system. The arm’ll be detachable, but it will also respond to movement just like a real arm. And it’s a mixture of vibranium, titanium, and adamantium alloys, so you’ll be able to punch through a tank with this baby and not even break a nail. Figuratively speaking, of course. Not quite on par with Cap’s shield, but damn close.”

Bucky ran two fingers over the smooth metal of one of the articulating plates. “This is some shit.”

Tony looked pleased, his spine straightening as he rocked back on his heels and stuffed his hands into his pockets. “Indeed!”

“Thank you, Tony,” Bucky said in the most sincere voice Steve had ever heard the man use.

“Hey,” Tony replied, lowering his voice to match Bucky’s tone. “You had my back. I’ve got yours.”

Bucky looked up at him through the curtain of his hair, still looking small and fragile in that hospital bed. He gave Tony a small smile, nodding.

Tony nodded back, both of them experiencing some very manly emotions they didn't want to acknowledge. Tony seemed pleased, but also a tad uncomfortable with the suddenly sincere atmosphere in the room, so he nodded again and turned to head for the door.

Bucky cast a glance over the arm once last time, then called after Tony. “Hey, where’d you hide the sex toys in this thing?”

“Middle finger!” Tony called without missing a beat as he rounded the corner and disappeared.

Bucky laughed and laid back in his bed. He was still almost smiling as he stared up at the ceiling.

Steve shifted uneasily. “You okay?” he asked.

Bucky gave a one-sided shrug. “Feels weird. Nothing there.”

“I –”

“If you say you’re sorry to me one more time I’m going to make it your name.”

Steve snapped his trap shut so fast it made a sound. Bucky laughed a little giddily and closed his eyes.

The IV with the flowers in it was running steadily. He must have hit the button for another dose as soon as Tony'd reached the hallway, in more pain than he was letting on in front of everyone. Except Steve. Steve had to wonder why Bucky was allowing him this glimpse of a vulnerable moment and stonewalling even Sam.

“You’re okay, Steve,” Bucky drawled, his words lengthening, the drip of sludge pulling his tongue like taffy. It was the first time, to Steve’s knowledge, that Bucky had said his name. He liked the way it sounded a little too much.

Steve swallowed against the tightening in his throat. “Aw,” he managed with that aw shucks tone he knew drove Bucky to murderous rage and tossing empty strawberry containers. “You say it but you don’t mean it.”

“You’re right I don’t, I don’t know what came over me, you’re still an asshole.”

Steve found himself grinning. That was more like it.

“I’d still climb you like a fireman’s ladder though,” Bucky admitted, hazy and honey-warm. Steve felt heat melt into him as he choked on air. Bucky smirked crookedly in his half-drugged state, like even now he knew what effect his words were having. “If I could duct tape your face closed.”

Steve couldn’t help himself. He started laughing, tears forming in his eyes that seemed so at odds with what he was feeling.

“You’re kind of incredible, Barnes, you know that?”

“Eh. I’m all right,” Barnes murmured, shimmying to show off his missing arm.

“Well. You’re not wrong.”

==

It only took Bucky a month to get right with the metal arm Stark had fitted him with. He spent most of that time falling into walls and running into doorways and inventing new ways to curse, if Steve’s observations were anything to go by.

He had never heard the type of curse words Bucky Barnes could spew at an inanimate object, and Steve had lived through the Depression and the trenches of World War Two.

Bucky’d started trying to curtail his language when he realized that, the moment any of them left the Tower, roughly three dozen small children and twice as many paparazzi were always waiting for them. No one had recognized Bucky on the street yet, thanks to his bandana, but the metal arm was going to be harder to hide and Bucky knew it. He had called the coffee table a son of a oven roasted bagel one morning and Steve had needed to leave the room. Laughing while Bucky was raging was asking for a boot thrown to the face.

But he’d finally gotten back into fighting shape, and Steve was watching the shape of his fighting quite aggressively right now, head cocked, lips parted, not blinking for fear of missing a single move as Bucky and Natasha whirled across the mats together. They both used their thighs around the neck . . . liberally. And that arm was a work of goddamn art, forming itself to match Bucky’s other well-muscled shoulder perfectly.

Clint came up to stand beside Steve, cocking his head at the exact same thirty-five degree angle as Steve’s. “Is there such a thing as a metal arm kink?”

Steve shook his head. “Don’t look at me right now.”

“Yeah, same,” Clint said distractedly. He walked off, whispering what sounded like, “Sweet baby cheeses.”

==

Aside from a teammate losing a limb to a space whale, Steve thought the first six months of their new team dynamic had gone pretty well. It was only inevitable, then, that it would all go tits up like a milk cow in a draught.

It wasn’t aliens. It wasn’t Hydra, although Steve had his suspicions on that note. It wasn’t some mad scientist in a lab doing things with mold they shouldn’t be, that would be next month and an even bigger pile of shit. No. It was the Army. Not an army. The United States Army.

The media had finally recognized one of the new Avengers as the man with the black bandana from both the Battle of New York, and the Triskelion, and the Avengers had been forced to issue a bit of PR nonsense about their new additions. They were public figures, so Sam’s and Bucky’s anonymity couldn’t last forever. They didn’t give any photos or their full real names, so both of them were still safe on the street to walk in the faceless masses. But they had to release their codenames and certain pieces of their backgrounds to satisfy the hundreds of inquiries they received. The public began to get acquainted with Sam; the Falcon, and James; the Winter Soldier.

One sunny autumn morning, Steve was drawing a nice little sketch of the Brooklyn Bridge and Sam and Bucky were in the common area kitchen, making pancakes and bickering like brothers whose mother had just turned her back to them in a grocery store for three whole seconds. It was a pleasant, normal morning in Cap-land, right up until Uncle Sam’s goddamn Army came calling at Avengers Tower, demanding to have Sergeant James B. Barnes remanded into their custody.

Pepper met them at the front door when JARVIS alerted everyone to their presence. She’d been splitting her time between the Tower and Malibu, busy alternately running SI and trying to prevent Tony from boning the Winter Soldier.

She’d been able to wrap them up in security checks and red tape for almost an hour to give Steve and the team time to scramble up a plan, but they’d eventually gotten past her. They’d run right into Maria Hill standing in front of an elevator with her arms crossed, and all four MP’s who were escorting the high ranking official and his aide had shifted nervously.

The Avengers were all lounging around the conference room, no reason, naw, we do this all the time on our weekends, we’re definitely not here to make trouble or shoot you if you try to take our murderous cyborg kitten. Bucky sat with his metal fingers loose on the table in front of him, his other arm tucked against his side in an insolent lounge. Steve would put good money on those fingers being wrapped loosely around that Mark II of his, though, and there was nothing about Bucky that didn't look absolutely deadly right now.

Honestly, Steve was so far gone for the asshole he’d let that Mark II slide against his throat, as long as Bucky’s mouth followed it.

“Whoa,” Steve said under his breath, shaking his head at the table.

“What’s all this about?” Tony demanded as soon as the Army general and his aide stepped into the conference room.

The man balked when he saw the assembled Avengers all staring at him. He rallied quickly, jutting his chin out.

“Sergeant James Barnes,” he announced, eyes landing on Bucky.

“Ain’t no one here by that name,” Bucky drawled, his voice low and lethal and goddammit Steve had a problem.

The general narrowed his eyes. “You’ve been accused of war crimes, Sergeant. We’re here to take you into custody. You’re to stand in a military tribunal to answer for your actions.”

“War crimes,” Steve blurted.

“Wow, that is bullshit,” Tony added, actually laughing. “You realize we have access to his entire service record, right? Clean as a goddamn whistle on paper”

The general paused, giving Tony an assessing gaze. “And how is that, Mr. Stark.”

“They fell out of my computer when the aliens attacked,” Tony answered blithely, lying just like Bucky had back when he’d faced his hearing about the Battle of New York.

Bucky stood from his seat, moving deliberately, sleek and graceful, making it seem like it took forever to reach his full height. Steve’s eyes followed him the entire way, a tingle going up and down his spine.

The gears and servos in the metal arm purred as Bucky walked up to stand in front of the general. “You think you can drag me back after you tossed me out?” he asked calmly. He clenched the fist, making the plates of the arm shiver up and down. The MPs gave each other wild-eyed glances from the door. Bucky lowered his voice, until Steve was pretty sure he was the only one who could hear, aside from the man intended to. “You think you can take me and paint a white star on my arm and set me back in the desert to do your dirty work?”

The general, to his credit, didn’t step back and he didn’t break eye contact. He was sweating like Steve in his Battle of New York spandex, though.

“Sergeant Barnes,” the general said with forced authority.

Bucky took another step closer. The MPs gripped their weapons in their holsters. “Don’t call me Sergeant,” Bucky growled. “That ain’t for you.”

Steve stood up before the MPs could get more squirrelly. They’d prepared for this. “Tony?” he said in his best Captain America voice.

“Yes, Captain America?” Tony responded gleefully.

Steve gave the general a huge grin and pointed at Tony. “Hit the red button.”

JARVIS, who was a bro, Steve would admit, popped a giant red prank button - that cried out in a horribly false Southern accent, “That’s Some Bullshit!” when you pressed it - from the hidden console in the middle of the conference table. Tony slammed his palm on it, probably hitting the real button on the StarkPhone in his pocket, and blue words and pictures began to stream across the room.

The general watched them all whizz past behind Bucky’s head in bewilderment.

“Barnes’s service records,” Steve offered up for him, because he hated to see a man in uniform look that stupid for too long. “His real service records. Being streamed directly to the public.”

“Captain Rogers!” the man said through gritted teeth.

“If you come after him again with bullshit charges, if the Army or any other entity so much as looks longingly in his direction,” Steve snarled, stepping up next to Bucky and making a united front of enhanced muscle in front of the soldiers. “I will personally make it my mission to dismantle every. Single. One of you.”

The general stood motionless and silent for several seconds. Then he glanced between Steve and Bucky, over their shoulders at the others - at Clint perched on top of the windowsill with his bow across his back and at Natasha casually sharpening a blade longer than her arm, at Tony grinning maniacally and Bruce stirring his green tea idly - and he turned on his heel and walked out, the MPs hustling after in his wake.

“Elevator twelve is the fastest!” Tony called out after them.

“So helpful, Tony,” Bruce drawled as he sipped his tea.

“Stark?” Bucky asked in a quiet voice. Steve wanted to reach out to him, but he refrained. Barely.

“Yeah?” Tony asked carefully.

“Will this arm take paint?”

“Yeah,” Tony answered more decisively. “Just like Steve’s shield.”

Bucky nodded, staring at the door. “Time to affiliate myself.”

“With what?” Steve blurted.

Bucky cocked his head and looked sideways at Steve. “You.”

Chapter Text

“Hey Stark?” Bucky asked as Tony was meticulously monitoring the painting of the red star on Bucky’s metal shoulder.

Tony hummed tunelessly.

“Can you make me a new tactical unit?”

“What did you have in mind?”

Bucky squinted into the middle distance as he thought about it. His old tac gear was beat all to hell, and frankly, it reminded him too much of being in the Army. He wanted to move as far away from that as possible, now that he had thrown his lot whole-heartedly into being a fucking Avenger. This was who he was now, it was time to own it.

“I need as many straps and hidey holes as you can fit onto me; I want more weapons than a rural community in Texas.”

“Noted.”

“And maybe coat it in that new liquid ballistic material shit you accidentally made instead of coffee the other day? That would be nice, too.”

“Black?”

Bucky gave him his best eat shit and die look. He’d had a lot of practice with it, and it was a damn good one if Bucky did say so himself.

Tony blinked at him. “Right. Black, yeah. What else? You still like your mask?”

“The mask is good. Wouldn’t mind a few backups like it. Free rein to tinker with them. The uniform needs to fit better than my old gear, though, I’ve gotten caught in the extra material too many times. I refuse to die in a knife fight because I was wearing MC Hammer pants. And the metal arm needs to be cleared. When I shift it, the fabric gets snagged.”

“Plus, it looks badass.”

“That’s the main reason, let’s be real here.”

Tony nodded and hummed again, and Bucky knew he was making notes in his head. “Straps and form-fitting, one-armed black body armor. So . . . you want to look like a dominatrix in combat boots?”

Bucky looked at him again, eyes widening gleefully. “Yes!”

They giggled like schoolboys as they designed the new uniform well into the night.

==

Over the next six months, the Avengers played nice with the press, played nice with charities, played nice with several other nations, and played as dirty as Tony did at Monopoly with anyone trying to take over the goddamn world.

==

“Hey boys,” Natasha’s voice came smooth as silk over the comms. “I need a little help.”

Steve and Clint were the first to her location, followed in seconds by Sam, Bucky, and Tony. Bruce was still in the jet, since this wasn’t a Code Green yet. Thor had fucked off back to Asgard to deal with his daddy issues and hadn’t even sent a Christmas card. The terror twins were still in their rebellious stage, so they were in holding cells in Avengers Tower. Very nice holding cells.

Steve scowled as he came up behind Natasha and looked over her shoulder at the thing that sat in a little blue bundle inside a packing crate. It was crying. “What?”

“It’s a small human,” Natasha explained.

“Baby,” Bucky announced, doing an about face and aiming for the door. Steve snagged him by one of the straps on his uniform to keep him there. Those were super convenient when they weren’t taking the star role in Steve’s dirtiest dreams. Tony peaced out while they struggled.

“What do we do with it?” Clint asked, shouldering his close-quarters composite bow.

Bucky opened his mouth to answer, and they all shushed him immediately. No one wanted to know what he was going to say.

“We have to take it with us,” Steve finally said, to the surprise of absolutely no one. “Does anyone know how to carry one of these?”

“Like a bomb,” Bucky offered.

“I got this,” Sam said as he stepped forward. He reached into the packing crate and gathered the sobbing bundle in his arms. “Hey there, sport,” he crooned.

The baby sniffled and blinked at him. Then it opened its mouth and let loose the most ear-piercing shriek Steve had ever heard. He momentarily flashed back to flying Chitauri and had to shake himself.

“I don’t got this!” Sam cried, sticking his arms out to hand the baby off. Bucky shoved his hands into the straps of his suit. Steve shoved his hands behind his back. Natasha just stared at Sam, daring him to give her that baby.

It turned out that Clint knew how to carry a baby. He did not, however, know how to make one stop crying. It took Steve a long time to realize Clint had turned his hearing aid off.

“Make it stop,” Bucky ordered as he sat opposite Clint and the wailing infant in the jet. “Make it stop now.”

Clint gave a helpless shrug and held the wailing baby out to him. That was a level of desperation Steve had never seen on a man and hoped to never see again.

Bucky took the baby in his gloved hands and narrowed his eyes at it, cocking his head. “Come on, now, little man,” he said to it. “Walk it off.”

Steve leaned forward, then sat back. Then leaned forward again, opening his mouth hesitantly. “Barnes.”

Bucky sat the baby on his armor-covered knees and bounced his feet. The baby flailed its arms and gasped as he bounced, eyeing Bucky as warily as Bucky was eyeing him. Blessed silence came down on the interior of the jet and Steve sighed in relief. “See?” Bucky said to the baby, his voice gentling to a low croon. “Life’s not so bad, huh? Nobody likes a crybaby, though. Suck it up.”

The baby babbled back to him, giggling as Bucky made faces at it. He grabbed hold of Bucky’s metal thumb and didn’t let go, gnawing on it happily.

Bucky grimaced. “Ugh, do you know where those fingers have been, kiddo?”

Sam barked a laugh. “Do you?”

By some miracle, neither the baby nor Bucky was reduced to tears for the rest of the flight.

From then on, the Avengers as a group shoved Bucky in front of crowds of small children and ran whenever they made public appearances. Children seemed to love him, possibly because he was cranky and made no effort to hide it when he muttered, “I am the goddamn Winter Soldier,” under his breath as they crawled all over him. Plus, he had a metal arm, which even Steve wanted to play with.

Bucky eventually accepted his role as the baby whisperer, but he didn’t do it gracefully by any means. He then managed to become a media darling for a few weeks after he cursed in front of a young mother and her two children, and then apologized with a chastised, “Shit, sorry. Wait! Shit!” on national television.

==

“Does anyone know this angry raccoon with the rocket launcher who keeps raising us on the big screens?” Steve called out into the common room.

“You shouldn’t talk about Barnes that way, it hurts his feelings,” Clint called back.

==

“What the fuck is an Ant-Man?” Bucky asked as he read over the latest reports.

“Man, naw,” Sam grunted and stalked out of the room.

==

“Who the fuck is Doctor Strange?” Tony asked as he came into the briefing room.

“I refuse to deal with magic,” Steve stated decisively, and closed the file.

==

“There’s a giant black cat in Wakanda they want us to check out,” Natasha said as the morning’s meeting started.

“But it’s Africa,” Bucky grunted with a bewildered shrug.

==

“There’s apparently some dude calling himself Namor the Sub-Mariner, Prince of Atlantis,” Bruce read out to the rest of them. “Walked out of the waves onto Rockaway Beach in a shiny mermaid speedo. Huh . . . says his last name is . . . McKenzie? Namor McKenzie? What the fuck?”

“I’m Irish,” Steve announced.

“I don’t like getting wet,” Bucky gritted out violently.

==

“Thor apparently got lost in space again,” Maria Hill announced as she came into the briefing room.

“Who? I don’t know her,” Tony said as he sipped his coffee.

==

“Robot clones?”

“Nope,” Bucky replied and walked right out of the briefing room.

==

After the baby in a bomb shelter incident, they’d gotten into a groove paired off in twos and threes, rarely needing the entire team for any one mission unless it was a Hydra or AIM raid. Steve had set up a rotation to take care of any and all calls for assistance, but that also left them with tons of down time.

Avengers and down time were not good bedfellows.

And Steve needed to stop thinking about bedfellows.

And whoever had designed the team showers for post missions could just go die of blue balls now, just like Steve was going to. The stalls were partitioned, but they were meant for people Natasha’s height, not Steve or Bucky’s. And Steve may have been a good Irish Catholic lad in his youth, but that had fallen apart just like his faith in humanity once he’d caught sight of Bucky under the flow of water in the stall next to him. Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.

Steve and Clint fought for the same shower stall for nearly a month until Bucky mysteriously laid claim to one of the center stalls, instead of the corner he had started out in, and opened up both of his sides to better viewing. Steve honestly wasn’t sure if he did it in the manner of a benevolent dictator allowing them their fun, or if he was just getting double the views for himself.

Steve didn’t care.

Bucky had shocked him at first, with his random and seemingly offhanded mentions of being attracted to men and women and anyone who was beautiful, basically. He’d stared at the green chick who’d shown up on their communicator screen alongside the angry raccoon last month with his mental wheels blatantly spinning for long enough that Steve had started to worry about his brain function.

But Steve hadn’t exactly been sheltered in his youth. He’d grown up in one of the most notorious queer neighborhoods in New York, he knew what was what and he’d been around a few blocks. He supposed it was the casual attitude that had stumped him, tossed out with the same careless ease in which Bucky did everything.

Steve kind of loved that about Bucky Barnes. He was who he was, and if you didn’t like it, fuck you.

It didn’t do anything to help Steve’s predicament, though. Neither did the alarm they got one December night when he and Bucky were on call.

Yeah, the mold. Fucking mold.

Technically, according to JARVIS and Maria Hill, they were spores. Steve and Bucky listened diligently as Bucky flew the quinjet over the fly-over states to the high desert, where the innocuous research labs were situated so the deadly toxins and evil fungi they played with wouldn’t level a large population when – not if – they got out.

“If you fall off another building on this one, I’m going to start calling you Captain Crunch,” Bucky told Steve as he flicked their landing gear down and checked the headwinds as they came in.

“I didn’t fall off the last one, I fell out of it,” Steve muttered as he ran over the schematics of the lab one last time.

“Thought you told Sam you jumped.”

“That’s what I said. I jumped out of the last one.”

Bucky made a huffing sound that may have been a laugh.

“JARVIS?” Steve said, looking up out of habit. “What does this stuff do?”

“The spores that have been released inside the laboratory are not lethally toxic, Captain Rogers, as the inhabitants of the compound are still alive inside. We cannot, however, ascertain the effects the spores have on human anatomy as we have no further data.”

“It didn’t transmit with the call for help?” Bucky asked with a frown.

“The call was sent at precisely 21:09 local time, Soldier. By 21:11 all inhabitants were incapacitated. No other transmission has been incoming.”

Steve and Bucky shared a worried glance.

“JARVIS, have Stark on reserve for this one. His suit may be the only thing safe to go in there.”

“Of course, Captain.”

“So polite,” Bucky said in a sing-song as they touched down.

Steve unbuckled and stood, going to pack any gear they might need. Right now this was a recon and containment situation, not a rescue. None of the life-signs in the lab were reading critical. That’s why only the two of them had been sent. He left the life support gear in the plane.

Bucky strapped on his mask, checking the reserve of oxygen to make sure it was full. Steve grabbed a regular gas mask out of the back and tugged it on. Bucky was just as loaded with weapons as he always was, but Steve was starting to think the man slept in them, so he said nothing about not killing civilians this time. Not that Bucky had a habit of killing civilians, but Steve did have a habit of warning him not to do it.

They walked single file up to the blast doors of the lab, Bucky on Steve’s six where he almost always was these days.

“It’s quiet,” Bucky commented.

“If you say, ‘too quiet,’ I’m going to punch you in the balls,” Steve warned without turning to look at him.

“Dammit, Steve.”

They entered the lab through the containment protocol, concerned that whatever had gotten loose would be in the air and escape if they weren’t careful. When they got inside, the labs were indeed too quiet, and the emergency lights were blinking, flashes of yellow sodium light flaring in and out through the darkness.

“Okay, hello migraine,” Bucky muttered and went to the side of the containment doors to flip a switch or two, He finally found the right one and shut the emergency beacons off. Another flip, and the power flickered back to life ever so slowly.

Bodies littered the floor. It looked like the occupants had been trying to reach the safety of the containment doors when they’d been taken down by whatever had been released. Steve fought not to move toward them.

Bucky came up to stand beside him, peering down the hallway. Steve frowned when he noticed that almost every victim on the floor had been reaching for the next, as if they’d been pulled backwards. Fingers were still wrapped around wrists and ankles, some of them holding hands. Their clothes were also in complete disarray, like they’d been torn at or blown off by something . . . very strong.

“Creepy,” Bucky observed. They shared a guarded look, their wide eyes the only thing either of them could see. “Fire containment procedure? Pushed them back?”

Steve just shrugged. He had no idea. He sort of hated that he was suspicious of the fact that everyone in this hall had been trying to help their co-workers in what they’d probably assumed was a life or death situation. It was the twenty-first century and Steve Rogers was a charred cinnamon roll who’d been in this world too long, he would expect a brawl before he’d expect a human chain of self-sacrifice.

Bucky held up the little doodad Stark had given them. It beeped green, signaling the air was safe to breathe.

Steve hummed dubiously.

Bucky nodded. “I ain’t taking my mask, off, dude, you do you.”

“Nope,” Steve answered with a shake of his head.

They moved forward together as if signaled to do so, each of them stopping to check the pulse of each victim they passed. After several calls of, “Got a pulse,” and, “Unconscious but breathing,” and, “This one’s alive, too,” they stopped checking with each other.

The tips of Steve’s fingers were starting to burn by the time they reached the end of the hallway. He frowned and shook his hand, looking at it curiously.

Bucky noticed. Bucky fucking noticed everything. “Okay?”

“Uh.”

“Captain Rogers, Soldier,” JARVIS said in their ears.

“Go for Soldier, JARVIS,” Bucky acknowledged.

“New data collected seems to indicate the spores are not breathed in, but rather absorbed through the epidermis. I would suggest not touching any of the victims unprotected.”

Bucky and Steve stared at each other as Steve continued to shake his hand.

“Motherfucker,” Bucky grunted.

==

Bucky was running. He was running as hard as his enhanced system could go, taking turns so sharp that he sometimes collided into walls and bounced off them, only to keep running without looking back. He had to find a goddamn blast door strong enough to hide behind.

“JARVIS!” he shouted.

“Go for JARVIS, Soldier.”

“Send help!”

“Backup ETA is one hour, Soldier.”

“Send help faster!” Bucky shouted as he rounded another corner and leaped over an unconscious scientist who he should shoot in the flapjacking face for being a spore-meddling douchecanoe!

“God speed, Soldier,” JARVIS said in his ear.

“Fuck you, JARVIS, fuck you right in your hard drive!”

JARVIS didn’t respond. Bucky took another hard right and threw his back against a wall, gasping for breath. “I’m sorry,” he said to his comms. “That was uncalled for.”

“Quite alright, Soldier,” JARVIS said primly. “I do believe he is gaining ground, however.”

“Fuck!” Bucky shouted and turned to sprint down the hallway. He could hear the running steps coming up behind him. Jesus, he had to start running again. He’d put too much of his physical conditioning into his upper body to deal with the metal arm. “Never skipping leg day or cardio again, I swear to God. If I die because of cardio I am going to be the angriest ghost ever!”

“Noted, Soldier,” JARVIS said in his ear. “Duck.”

He dove to the ground and curled into a ball as he felt the attack coming from behind. Steve launched himself over Bucky and landed in a tight roll in front of him, coming up in a sliding crouch, facing Bucky with a feral grin. He looked like a goddamn lion on the plains and Bucky was a baby gazelle.

Bucky pushed up to his elbows and looked at him. “Steve,” he said carefully. “Listen, pal.”

Steve dove for him just as Bucky scrambled to his feet and knocked him flat on his back. They were both breathing hard from the chase through the basement hallways, but Steve had certainly handled the exertion better than Bucky was. “Too many weapons. Too heavy,” he said to the ceiling that was spinning above him. “Fuck Texas!”

Steve grabbed both his wrists and held them down, sitting on Bucky’s stomach and knocking the wind out of him. And Bucky didn’t have a lot of wind left after all that running.

“Steve,” Bucky tried again desperately as he stared up at the man. “Snap out of it, Cap, come on!”

Steve leaned over and pressed the tip of his nose to Bucky’s mask, making Bucky go cross-eyed.

“What,” Bucky grunted. He’d been expecting a little more . . . violence.

“Hi,” Steve said lazily.

“What?”

“You smell good.”

“Don’t eat me.”

Steve nuzzled his mask. “You feel good, too.”

“Don’t touch me, okay, Steve, just . . . don’t touch me, don’t touch me!” Bucky begged as Steve pawed at him with languid strokes, seeking out skin. Steve grinned again. “Steve!”

Steve rubbed his face all over Bucky’s, and Bucky silently thanked Thor’s daddy for his mask kink. He was also extremely grateful that the last update Stark had made on his arm had installed sensors in his fingers to check for life signs, and he’d used the metal hand while he was touching every single infectious thing in sight.

Steve, however, no, Steve had to use his stupid human fingers and get infected with whatever the fuck these spores did, and instead of being a good person and passing out like all the other assholes down here, Super Serum Steve wanted to fucking cuddle. Cuddle! Bucky had run himself into the ground to avoid a cuddle?? Why would they make that, who would need a cuddle spore?!

“You’re warm,” Steve said to him.

“You’re heavy,” Bucky wheezed out.

Steve responded by laying all two hundred and then some pounds of enhanced muscle on Bucky and going boneless. Bucky squeaked.

“JARVIS,” he gritted out.

“Yes, Soldier?”

“Please don’t tell anyone I made that noise.”

“Your secrets are safe with me, Soldier.”

“Good man.”

“If you insist.”

“Give us a kiss, Buck,” Steve crooned against the side of Bucky’s protective neck gear.

“Oh, God.” Bucky blinked up at the ceiling. He had two options here. He could try to wrangle Steve back to the surface and get him into the containment chamber and hope, risking skin contact with him the entire way. Which would . . . there was no telling what would happen if Bucky lost his wits and had no reason to refrain from ripping Steve’s clothes off like he’d witnessed some of the scientists had done before passing out. Or he could lay here and have Stark find them like this.

“Okay,” he muttered. He gave Steve a nudge. “Pride over smarts. Come on, Cap.”

Steve nuzzled up into Bucky’s neck. Bucky’d had Tony reinforce the collar of his suit a month or so ago, thank Christ on a cracker for that mean chick with the garrote. When Steve didn’t reach skin on that attempt, he started pawing lazily at the straps of Bucky’s tac vest.

“Yeah, good luck getting that shit off, pal,” Bucky drawled. He and Stark had made sure this shit was layered, okay, Bucky was tired of getting shot.

Steve pulled Bucky’s Mark II out of the holster at his thigh and aimed it at the straps.

“Holy sucking chest wound, Steve! Not the knife!” Bucky yelled in a panic, grabbing Steve’s forearm to keep the knife at bay. He pressed his metal hand against Steve’s face and shoved him up, squirming and sliding out from under him. He didn’t want to injure the asshole, but he didn’t want to molest him in a spore-induced haze either. If he was going to molest Steve, it was all going to be consensual, goddammit!

Steve grabbed a strap and yanked Bucky back under him, sliding him clear across the concrete floor and between his spread legs once more. Okay, that was kind of hot. Shit. He leaned over Bucky again, grinning down at him. “Hi, Buck.”

“No!” Bucky shouted, bonking Steve on the nose with his metal fingers. Steve collapsed with a sob like a scolded puppy and hugged him hard until Bucky squeaked again.

That was how Tony found them exactly twenty-seven minutes later. “Well,” he said when he clanked into view.

“Don’t lift your faceplate,” Bucky groaned from under Steve’s substantial weight.

“Is he asleep?”

“God, I hope so.”

They called in the EPA to deal with the cleanup of that disaster. They dragged Steve, shield and all, through the containment blast doors and diligently stood under the spray to make sure none of the spores were clinging to their suits or weapons, then hauled Steve’s unconscious body to the quinjet.

“Cuddle spores, huh?” Tony said as soon as Bucky sagged into the pilot’s seat.

“Why?” Bucky asked the universe. “Why would they need that?”

“I suppose it would have interesting anesthetic properties if they could stabilize it.”

“Tony, no.”

“Tony, yes! I wonder if we could add it to the flower sludge,” Tony mused as he flopped into the co-pilot’s seat, wearing only his under armour.

“Stop trying to make that shit stronger!”

“You’re going to build up a resistance to it eventually! Stop getting limbs hacked off!”

“Please don’t science me tonight, Stark, I’m begging you.”

“I kind of like it when you beg.”

“I’ve been groped enough tonight, thanks.”

Stark just hummed terrifyingly as Bucky lifted off, with Steve curled up and blissfully asleep in the back of the jet where they’d dropped him on his ass.

==

Steve shuffled into the common area, barefoot and still wearing soft flannel pajama bottoms and a worn gray T-shirt that almost didn’t make his skin feel like it was on fire. The only thing that didn’t make his skin feel like it was on fire was the slide of skin on his, and just no. He had his head down, his hands clasped in front of him so he wouldn’t touch anything or anyone.

He knew Bucky was here, because JARVIS had politely informed him of such.

He stopped at the edge of the seating area, shuffling guiltily. Bucky looked up when he heard him, blinking at Steve.

“Steve,” he greeted neutrally.

“Hey,” Steve croaked out. “Um.”

“You okay?” Bucky asked carefully. His shoulders were tense, probably coiled and ready to launch himself into the air ducts to get away if Steve gave chase again. “Still feeling . . . off?”

“No. I mean, yeah, I’m okay. I’m good. I, uh . . . I’m sorry.”

Bucky put the report he’d been scribbling on aside and stood to face Steve. “You don’t have to apologize.”

Steve winced and looked away, staring at the darkened windows. “I really do. God!”

“Steve, it was chemical warfare. You wouldn’t apologize if your eyes watered after getting pepper sprayed, right?”

Steve ducked his head. “Probably.”

“Valid,” Bucky muttered.

Steve tried to curl his shoulders smaller.

“Hey. It’s okay,” Bucky said again, his voice low and soothing. It made the hairs on Steve’s arms raise. He’d been assured that any lingering effects were now out of his system, but it still made him antsy and he wasn’t quite convinced the tests were accurate. Plus, the memory of gleefully chasing Bucky through the halls and tackling him into a snuggle wasn’t going away any time soon. Bucky’s gentle voice cut through his mental agony. “Steve. You’re okay.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“No one got hurt. No harm, no foul. In a week, I’m sure it’ll be as hilarious to us as it is to everyone else already.”

“Mm, doubtful.”

Bucky responded with a warm smile. Steve blinked at him. He wasn’t sure he’d ever been on the receiving end of that particular look. Not from Bucky.

“What?” Steve asked warily, turning slightly away in case Bucky was about to smack him or something. Smacking things was the only thing that made Bucky smile like that.

“Nothing. Sorry. It’s just . . .” Bucky gave a little laugh and shook his head. “You were kind of cute. Sweet, even.”

“Ugh,” Steve offered, and turned away.

“No, hold on.” Bucky grabbed for Steve’s elbow, halting him. “I’m not making fun of you, I swear.”

Steve gave him the most dubious look he was capable of. Which was like critical mass dubious.

“I’m serious,” Bucky insisted, squeezing Steve’s arm gently.

Steve looked down at the cool metal fingers digging into his arm, then back up to search Bucky’s face for any signs that he was teasing. Bucky was still smiling, but it wasn’t his usual devious smirk. His eyes were warm.

“I’d even do it again some time,” Bucky added, his smile finally quirking. “When you’re in your right mind.”

“With my face duct taped shut, right?” Steve drawled.

Bucky hummed. “Nah. Not anymore.” Then he gave Steve’s arm a little tug. “You are in your right mind, now, right?”

“That’s what they tell me.”

“That’s what they tell me, too, but we both know that’s bullshit.”

Steve huffed a laugh.

“Are you?” Bucky asked seriously.

“Yeah,” Steve whispered.

Bucky bit his bottom lip, letting it slowly slide from his teeth like he was a goddamn porn star.

“Shit,” Steve hissed as he watched, captivated.

Bucky tugged him until their chests pressed together, and he brushed his nose against Steve’s. It was an oddly endearing action. Steve felt his chest squeezing, nerves tumbling through him. Bucky ran metal fingers down the side of Steve’s face, watching Steve’s eyes for whatever cues he was trying to find. Steve hoped like hell he was finding the right ones. Then Bucky smiled almost sweetly and pulled him into a kiss. It was just a chaste press of their lips, but Steve fucking whimpered into it, grabbing at Bucky’s shirt with both hands.

“Yeah?” Bucky whispered against his lips once he’d pulled away a fraction.

“Yes,” Steve found himself gasping like his life depended on it. “What was that for?”

“Well, you asked for one. And God help me, I’d do just about anything you asked for, Steve.” Bucky took his hand and gripped it hard. “Come sit with me.”

“Sit?”

“Yeah, sit,” Bucky repeated as he pulled Steve onto the couch and rearranged him so Steve was leaning against him, cuddled up under his arm. “I want to make damn sure that shit’s out of your system before I steal another one of those. Just in case you . . . change your mind, or . . .”

Steve was tense for a few seconds before he let himself relax into the warm body next to him. As much as he wanted another kiss like that, he could appreciate that his mind and body were both still a little addled, and he appreciated even more that Bucky could not only tell, but also that he gave a shit. He snuggled down until he had his head on Bucky’s thigh, the muscle somehow the perfect pillow when Steve knew for a fact it was hard and unyielding when it was wrapped around your neck and stopping blood flow to your brain.

He dozed with Bucky’s hand carding through his hair, the sparking and itching under his skin finally easing away with the gentle contact.

“Thanks, Buck,” Steve mumbled softly as he felt sleep closing in.

“Mm. No problem, Captain Cuddles.”

Chapter Text

Bucky was dragging his feet as he came into the common area. Steve watched him with a worried frown. His shoulders were slumped and his face was drawn with lines of exhaustion. Steve would still fuck him, but he didn’t look great.

“Still at it?” Clint asked Bucky in sympathy from his vigil by the coffee pot.

“I keep killing them. They keep coming back with reinforcements,” Bucky answered dejectedly.

Steve scowled, looking between the two of them. They hadn’t been on an assignment since last week. And Bucky and Clint rarely went together unless two snipers were required. If it were Sam he’d guess they were talking about one of those video games they liked to play where they could get shot but not bleed. But Bucky didn’t play anything that wasn’t Mario Kart.

“I can’t even find the place they’re breaking through!” Bucky cried as he held both hands out toward Clint, looking like he was begging for help. “I wipe out one battalion, an hour later they’re back like I wasn’t even there!”

Clint winced and shook his head. “How are you killing them?”

“Chemical warfare and deep psy ops,” Bucky muttered darkly, his scowl deepening.

Clint barked a laugh. “Nice.”

Steve finally found his tongue. “What the hell?” he blurted. “Who have you been massacring and is it sanctioned?”

Bucky glanced over at the dining table where Steve sat, eyes wide like he hadn’t known anyone else was in the room. “Hey, Steve,” he greeted.

“Don’t ‘hey’ me until I know who you’ve been mass-murdering.”

“The ants!” Bucky shouted with another gesture at Steve. “We are on the seventieth floor! How do I have ants in my living room?”

“Ants,” Steve grunted. “You’re talking about killing ants.”

“I sprayed so much Lysol on those little motherfuckers I couldn’t even breathe, I had to leave!”

Steve shook his head and stared.

“I can still feel them on me,” Bucky was muttering under his breath, brushing at his arm. His metal arm.

“You’re running a tactical simulation about ants in your head right now, aren’t you?” Steve asked.

“They keep sending scouting parties!” Bucky shouted, standing up and running his hands through his disheveled hair. He looked like he was working up to a nice mental breakdown. He was due, one Avenger per month. “It makes no sense! If your scouting parties come back dead you don’t send more!”

“How do they come back if they’re dead?” Clint asked, a smile slipping across his expression. Steve narrowed his eyes. Clint was working Bucky up on purpose. Good, that meant Steve didn’t have to work to do it.

Bucky made a wounded sound from the back of his throat.

“Does Ant-Man know how many of his friends you’ve Lysoled to death this weekend?” Clint added.

Bucky whipped around, eyes widening and lips parted. “Oh God, you think I Lysoled Ant-Man?”

Clint shrugged and wavered his hand in the air.

Bucky frowned and looked down. “At least he won’t take long to bury.”

Steve lurched to his feet. “Okay then,” he said in a voice loud enough to knock Bucky out of his sociopathic tendencies. “Come on, Buck, let’s find something to do with you until your rooms aren’t toxic anymore.”

Bucky was still frowning distractedly as he followed Steve out. Steve slowed and waited until Bucky came abreast of him. “How long have you been fighting the good fight, exactly?”

“Four days now,” Bucky answered despondently. “I feel them crawling on me in my sleep.”

“Sounds like you should spend tonight in a different bed,” Steve said with a careful glance at Bucky.

Bucky’s head jerked up and he blinked at Steve. A slow smile began to spread as their eyes met. “That an offer, Steve?”

Steve jutted his chin out, hoping it would make him feel braver. It didn’t. “Do you want it to be?” he asked despite the nerves churning through him.

Bucky stopped walking, and Steve took two extra steps, then turned to face him. Bucky seemed to be deliberating as he studied Steve, so Steve was silent, waiting in only slightly less agony than slowly freezing to not-death.

“Yeah,” Bucky finally said softly. “Yeah, I think I might.”

Steve grinned and took a step closer, staring into Bucky’s eyes so hard he thought he could probably drown himself in them. “You’ve been in my head since the first time I saw you,” he whispered.

He could see the flush spreading across Bucky’s tanned cheekbones, and he sort of wanted to lick them.

“Is that right?” Bucky asked, a little breathless.

Steve offered him a grin that felt a little predatory and took another measured step. They were close enough now that he could feel Bucky’s breath on his lips. “I think it’s high time the rest of you was in me as well, don’t you?”

Bucky blinked slowly at him again, his lips parting on a word that never made it past his brain. Steve had never seen Bucky struck speechless, and if he hadn’t been angling at getting laid, he probably would have made fun of him for it.

He’d definitely do that later.

Bucky snapped his mouth shut and swallowed hard, cocking his head as he looked Steve up and down. “Holy shit, Steve,” he finally groaned.

Steve grinned at him as Bucky grabbed him by his shoulders and spun him around to shove him toward the bank of elevators.

JARVIS’s voice floated down from the ceiling above them. “Elevator twelve is the fastest, Captain Rogers.”

“Thank you, JARVIS!” Steve called over his shoulder as Bucky practically propelled him down the hall with both hands on Steve’s back.

“God bless America,” Bucky groaned.

They damn near defiled elevator twelve.

As soon as they stepped through the doors, Bucky shoved Steve face first against the back of the car and pressed against him from nose to toes. Steve pushed back against him and they both groaned. Bucky yanked something out of his pocket and tossed it at the corner of the ceiling, and Steve heard a little electrical hiss.

“Well that was rude!” JARVIS admonished.

“Right in the eye in the sky,” Bucky growled.

Steve laughed breathlessly.

“I was wondering how long you would deliberate before you decided I was serious about this,” Bucky whispered into Steve’s ear. He grabbed the collar of Steve’s shirt and yanked, exposing Steve’s neck so he could drag his teeth across the skin.

Steve shuddered and let his eyes drift closed. “Exactly twelve minutes and thirty-nine seconds.”

Bucky snarled. “Then why the fuck has it been a week since I last kissed you, huh?”

“I’m almost a hundred years old, I move slower than I used to.”

Bucky yanked at his arm and spun him around to slam him against the wall again. Steve bit his lip against a whimper and grinned, closing his eyes and laying his head against the wall like he was basking in the warmth of the sun.

“That mean you’re gonna break a hip on me?” Bucky asked against Steve’s lips.

“Depends on how many times you can go.”

Bucky growled again. And people accused Steve of being dog-like. He had Steve pressed up against the cold wall of the car with his hands and hips, and before another thought could pass through Steve’s mind, Bucky was kissing him like he suspected Steve might be concealing a new Mark II in there. All Steve could do was groan into each kiss and clutch at the back of Bucky’s shirt, bunching the material up in his fists and making it ride up to reveal skin over the waistband of Bucky’s boxers. Steve slid a hand over the warm espanse and dragged his nails across the small of Bucky’s back.

Bucky shivered and groaned, biting Steve’s bottom lip in retaliation. “Do you fuck like you fight?”

“I don’t know,” Steve answered dazedly. “I’ve never fucked anyone I’ve fought before.”

The elevator dinged politely.

“Let’s find out,” Bucky whispered.

They stumbled out onto Steve’s floor and down the short hallway to his door, still pawing at each other and kissing too often to actually be able to get their shirts over their heads. Steve managed to put his palm against the security screen and get them into his apartment, and they tumbled into the foyer like a herd of clumsy puppies on slick linoleum. Steve finally lost his patience and yanked at the seams of Bucky’s T-shirt, ripping it right down the side.

Bucky froze and stared down at the fabric that fell to their feet. He nodded to himself. “Yeah, works,” he said, then tackled Steve into the foyer wall.

Steve felt plaster crunch under his shoulderblades and retaliated by grabbing both of Bucky’s well-defined shoulders and hefting himself up. He wrapped both legs around Bucky’s waist and held on like a howler monkey after a bag of popcorn in a safari park.

Bucky held his weight like it was nothing at all and pressed him against the wall again, biting and licking at his mouth. His fingers dug into the backs of Steve’s thighs. “Tell me you’ve done this before,” Bucky gasped between kisses.

Steve batted at the concealed sheath in the small of Bucky’s back. “Not with someone who was armed.”

“You don’t know that, people get creative with their weaponry.”

Steve laughed almost giddily and exposed his neck so Bucky could kiss and nip his way down to his collarbone. Bucky was solid against him and so fucking strong. Steve had actually been fucked against a wall before, but he hadn’t been able to punch tanks back then so it hadn’t exactly been an impressive feat to hold him aloft the whole time. Now it was a different story since Steve was roughly the size of a Fiat. Knowing Bucky could match him strength for strength, and was willing to go hard or go home, made every nerve in Steve’s body tingle with anticipatory delight.

Bucky managed to get Steve’s shirt pushed up until it was under his armpits, but he didn’t seem inclined to actually get it over his head. Steve did not care. He was tired of dreaming about this and then dealing with Catholic guilt in the morning. If he was going to feel guilty he was going to get fucked first!

He grabbed at Bucky’s jeans and yanked at them.

“Don’t you fucking tear those off me, they make my ass look amazing,” Bucky snarled.

“Yeah, I know. I want to have them framed.” He fumbled between their bodies, trying to get Bucky’s jeans unzipped.

Bucky bit his collarbone and gnawed on it like a dog with a bone. “Son, I am going to wreck you,” he threatened with his mouth full.

“Please,” Steve breathed out before he could stop himself.

Bucky pushed away from the wall, taking Steve with him. He carried him a few steps, kissing him once more as Steve made like a koala and held on.

“I’m not fucking you in the goddamn foyer,” Bucky explained when Steve made a questioning sound during a kiss.

“Is that a modern euphemism?” Steve mumbled. “If it is, I definitely want to get fucked in the foyer.”

Bucky gave a breathless laugh and stepped off the hardwood floor of the foyer and onto the same hardwood floor of the living room. He sank to his knees and slammed Steve onto his back. “There, that’s better.”

Steve laughed as he held onto Bucky’s neck. “My foot is still in the foyer.”

Bucky grabbed the back of Steve’s thigh and hiked the leg up over his hip.

Steve nodded as Bucky settled between his legs. “Better.”

Bucky was heavy on Steve’s chest and bulky with muscle under Steve’s palms and he tasted like mints and goddamn could he kiss. Steve buried his nose in Bucky’s hair when Bucky started pressing teasing kisses down his chin and neck, aiming for Steve’s chest.

“You smell like Lysol and mass death,” Steve told him.

Bucky’s head popped up and he narrowed his eyes. “Do you love the smell of Lysol in the morning?” he asked, mimicking an accent Steve knew he’d heard in a movie they’d watched recently.

Bucky was grinning and Steve laughed breathlessly. Bucky’s almost manic energy settled and his smile softened as their eyes met. “God help my black heart, Steve, but I’ve wanted you for a long time.”

Steve’s breath caught in his throat as Bucky’s icy blue eyes pinned him in place. “I thought you still hated me,” he said shakily.

Bucky crawled back up his body and peered down at him, brow furrowing, biting his lip – good God he had to stop doing that when he wanted Steve to have higher brain function. “I did. I do!” he insisted with something like alarm.

Steve arched an eyebrow at him.

Bucky scowled, his brow furrowing in apparent distress. “That’s a damn lie,” he grumbled. He sighed and put more of his weight on Steve, then quietly admitted, “Only thing I’ve ever put my whole effort into and failed at doing.”

Steve brushed his thumb down the back of Bucky’s neck. “I promised to be Clint’s best man when he married you,” he blurted. Dammit that had not been what the script in his head was telling him to say. He wasn’t sure how to speak to this man without either fighting or being an asshole, though, even getting on his back and spreading his legs wasn’t going to fix that in short order.

Bucky blinked, looking nonplussed. “Well that’s going to make fucking you awkward.”

Steve bit his lip against a smile. “Is it?”

“Nope,” Bucky said happily, and accompanied it with a slow, sensual, downright filthy kiss. It was different than the rushed, lust-filled kisses of before. Steve’s hands were shaking when he buried them in Bucky’s hair. Bucky pressed his hips against Steve’s, and Steve groaned into his mouth when he felt how hard Bucky already was.

Bucky pushed up onto his palms and looked Steve over, sliding his metal fingers against Steve’s exposed stomach.

“Oh God,” Steve gasped up at the ceiling. “Shit, I do have a metal arm kink.

“You and half the city, pal,” Bucky drawled, still tracing shapes into Steve’s skin.

Steve took a shuddering breath and his eyes darted down to find Bucky’s again. Bucky was peering up at him carefully.

“This is the first time I’ve done this since the arm thing,” he admitted hesitantly.

Steve wasn’t sure what to say, though his entire being filled with smug joy over the fact that Bucky hadn’t been banging every person who’d flirted with him since he’d joined the Avengers. He carefully wrapped his fingers around Bucky’s metal wrist and gave it a gentle tug. Bucky spread his fingers obligingly and Steve threaded his into them, pressing their palms together. Then he pulled, bringing his arm to rest on the floor above his head, letting Bucky hold it down. Bucky’s breaths were coming harsher and faster as he loomed over Steve and met Steve’s eyes.

“As much fun as this is,” Steve murmured. “I think we should move this to the bedroom.”

Bucky swallowed hard enough that Steve heard it. “Yeah?”

Steve cracked a grin. “Well, I mean, that’s where the lube is.”

Bucky’s tongue darted across his bottom lip and Steve wanted to bite it, but before he could go searching for it, Bucky had shoved himself off the floor and was pulling Steve up by the hand he still clutched in his metal fingers.

Steve finally got his greedy paws on the goddamn zipper and popped the fly of Bucky’s jeans open. Bucky retaliated by yanking Steve’s shirt over his head while Steve was trying to lean in for another kiss, and Steve wound up almost biting his shirt before Bucky tossed it away.

Then Bucky grinned and darted away from him. Steve’s swipe at him almost caught his shoulder, but then he was forced to give chase. He caught up to him in the doorway of the bedroom and slammed Bucky up against bookcase beside the door. The bookcase wavered dangerously as they tried to climb into each other.

Bucky got the upper hand, mostly because he stuck it down the front of Steve’s pants and led him toward the bed by his dick.

The bookcase crashed into the floor with an almighty clatter as Bucky tossed Steve onto the bed.

Bucky didn’t even pause, and Steve dug his fingers into Bucky’s ribs and tugged him until he was positioned between Steve’s legs again. Bucky kissed him and then kissed him again, and again, both of them writhing against each other, skin heating as it pressed and slid against skin.

“I’ve thought about this,” Bucky confessed, then nipped Steve on the chin. “So many times, I’ve thought about this.”

“Me too,” Steve told him and started trying to shimmy his sweatpants further down his thighs.

“I thought up so many America puns for this,” Bucky added, kissing down Steve’s neck and chest until he sucked at one of Steve’s nipples. He jerked his head back to glare at Steve. “And I can’t remember a single one of them now!”

Steve stared down at him. “Fuck me,” he demanded.

“Yes, sir,” Bucky breathed out, then shoved his jeans down to his knees, taking his boxers with them. He tugged Steve’s sweatpants all the way off and viciously discarded them like they had personally offended him. He had to stand to get his jeans off, though, and Steve rolled to his belly and started commando crawling toward the bedside table. He was rummaging around in it for the bottle of lubricant he kept in there when Bucky plastered himself to Steve’s back and licked the back of his shoulder. Steve could feel Bucky’s hard cock pressing at him demandingly and he would do anything to get that inside him.

Lube clutched in his hand, Steve shoved up with all his strength and lifted Bucky with him, getting to his hands and knees. Bucky adjusted, either too horny or too grateful to complain, and Steve felt him shift to fit his knees right inside of Steve’s on the mattress. He shoved out with the left one, forcing Steve’s legs to spread wider.

“Yeah,” Steve urged, shoving the lube back at him. That metal hand gripped Steve’s hip, and Bucky’s warm fingers brushed Steve’s as they made the handoff. “Come on, Buck. Be a patriot and do it for your country.”

Bucky grumbled even as he laughed. The click of the cap being opened on that bottle of lube was the most beautiful sound Steve had ever heard.

Despite how eager they both obviously were, Bucky took his time, peppering Steve’s back and hips and ass with kisses and scrapes of his teeth, torturing Steve with every slide of his lubed fingers, first one, then two at a time, making sure Steve was good and ready and begging for it by the time he was done.

Steve buried his face in the bedcovers and gave him an agonized groan as Bucky slid three fingers into him.

“Steve,” Bucky finally growled, and a shiver ran up Steve’s spine at the sound of his wrecked voice.

“Come on,” Steve answered. “I’m good, come on!”

Bucky pressed the head of his cock against Steve’s ass and bent over him. He kissed Steve’s spine and rolled his hips, forcing his way in. “You’re good,” he repeated. “You’re so fucking good, Steve.”

Steve’s breath left him as Bucky shoved into him. He reached behind him and scratched at Bucky’s flank, trying to find a grip on him. Bucky’s fingers tightened on Steve’s hips.

“Yeah, leave bruises,” Steve ordered, sounding just as wrecked as Bucky had promised he would be.

Bucky groaned wordlessly, then rolled his hips to slide in further before pulling back, teasing Steve with the swollen head. “Good God, you feel good,” Bucky whispered. It almost sounded like he hadn’t meant Steve to hear it, but then he said it again, louder. “You feel so fucking good, Stevie.”

Steve grinned into his sheets. It had taken getting Bucky’s dick in his ass, but he’d finally gotten Bucky to call him something that sounded more affectionate than Captain Fuck Off.

Steve shoved back against him and Bucky sank as far into him as he could, his hips pressed to Steve’s ass and his dick buried so deep Steve thought he might taste it when Bucky came inside him. They both cried out plaintively like the sudden rush of pleasure was the other one’s fault.

“Jesus, Steve, give a guy a minute not to shoot his load,” Bucky gasped.

“Nuh uh!” Steve shook his head furtively. He braced one palm against the headboard. “We’ll go easy the next round. Fuck me, Buck, come on!”

Bucky cursed under his breath and wrapped his metal fingers over the top of Steve’s shoulder. His other hand still gripped Steve’s hip, holding him in place brutally as he rolled his hips forward. It shoved Steve’s face toward the bed, but Bucky’s hands held him up, strong like iron and hot like flames on Steve’s skin.

Bucky, it turned out, fucked just like he fought; hard and brutal and graceful and leaving Steve panting with his face in the mattress.

They did it all again an hour after Bucky pulled out the first time, Steve straddling him and holding his hands down as he rode him, stealing kisses and watching Bucky’s face the entire time.

They didn’t bother getting out of bed for the rest of the evening, knowing that trying to take a shower would just land them right back in the same sticky situation. Steve fell asleep with Bucky’s metal arm draped over his hips and Bucky’s leg tucked between Steve’s knees.

When his eyes blinked open, sunlight was just beginning to stream through the windows, and neither of them had moved a muscle throughout the night, save for the two seconds Bucky had jerked and brushed an imaginary ant off his metal arm.

Steve lay there basking in the morning after feeling that always came with filthy, dirty, all-nighter sex, a smile on his face despite the fact that he knew they were both probably gross and he was going to have to burn these sheets.

Bucky’s fingers curled against Steve’s lower belly, gripping into him and telling Steve that Bucky was awake as well. Steve grinned. It only took a little maneuvering and even less lube, considering Steve was still full of Bucky’s cum, for Bucky to slide in one last time and fuck him with slow, dirty rolls of his hips as they both lay on their sides and gasped each other’s names.

They both missed the sunrise completely.

==

Steve had carefully moderated his thoughts when it came to fucking Bucky. He knew it might have just been the one night they shared, and if that was all he got, then that was all he got. He hoped desperately that Bucky wanted more, but he was keeping that hope viciously in check.

They’d shared breakfast and argued over whether it was technically brunch once they’d dragged out of bed and gotten showers. Bucky had been forced to borrow one of Steve’s shirts when he left because Steve had reduced his to rags.

Steve still smiled to himself when he remembered the lingering kiss Bucky had given him before he’d stepped out into the hall and strolled toward the elevators.

It had been three days since their dalliance, and Steve knew they were both orbiting around each other carefully. Neither Steve nor Bucky was exactly the type to sit and talk about his feelings, and with each passing hour, Steve became less and less aware of just how he could approach Bucky and discuss it.

He knew he wanted more from Bucky. He wanted everything from Bucky. And he thought Bucky at least wanted him a little, if the things he’d said when he was fucking Steve were anything to go by.

But Steve knew just as well as anyone that words said during the heat of passion were often less than reliable. And Bucky had spent the better part of a year hating Steve’s guts, so there was that too. The sexual tension was no longer unresolved, but it was still there. It was there every night with Steve’s hand on his dick, dammit.

Bucky’s attitude hadn’t changed much. He was still curt and grumpy and wielded jokes and scathing rebukes like they were knives. But he also gave Steve sincere, almost shy smiles when their eyes met, and he had only called Steve Captain Asshole once in three days.

So, Steve was confused. He was also being a chickenshit, but he wasn’t going to alert his biographers to that fact just yet.

He was deep enough in thought that he was frowning as he unwrapped his hands in the gym. He’d just beaten the literal stuffing out of a punching bag but he still felt antsy, skin crawling like it was trying to get him to move.

The doors to the gym whooshed open and Steve glanced up.

Bucky strolled in, wearing his usual gym shorts and thin T-shirt, a glittery pink headband in his hair making the longer strands lay back and the shorter ones stick up like that poison-spitting dinosaur from Jurassic Park.

Steve wanted to go hump his leg. And then ask him what bet he’d lost to be wearing that headband.

“Hey,” Bucky called with a wave of his hand.

“Hey yourself,” Steve called back, returning his attention to the tape on his knuckles.

He heard Bucky’s gear bag thump onto the floor by the sparring ring, but Steve had learned early on that it was nearly impossible to actually hear Bucky moving unless he was doing something that made his arm whine. He glanced over his shoulder to see where Bucky was, only to find him standing with his hands on his hips, head cocked and staring at Steve.

Steve’s eyebrows shot up and he squared his shoulders, turning to look more closely at him. “You okay?” he called over.

Bucky put both hands out in front of him, holding them still and then wiggling his fingers. “Yeah?” he answered, turning it into an uncertain query instead. “Are we?”

Steve curled his lip up in confusion. Was Bucky speaking in the Collective We now, or was this the conversation Steve had been diligently avoiding for three days? “Huh?”

Bucky grunted and started toward him. Goddammit he was doing the Murder Strut. Steve had a real serious love/hate relationship with that Murder Strut.

“Are we okay?” Bucky asked again as he got closer.

Steve licked his lips, shocked by the way his stomach began to turn over and over the closer Bucky and his uncomfortable feelings conversation got.

Bucky frowned harder when he got a good look at Steve’s expression. “Did we fuck things up?” he asked, sounding worried and kind of ill.

Steve shook his head jerkily. “No. No, of course not.” He gave a nervous little laugh that was just embarrassing. “You’ve seen how bad things go when I fuck up, and nothing’s on fire or trying to kill me, so . . .”

Bucky stopped about six feet away, and Steve felt like a cuddle spore under a microscope as Bucky studied him. A look of pure dread sank into Bucky’s features and he shoved his shoulders back and rocked on his heels like he’d just suffered an invisible suckerpunch. “Shit, we did, didn’t we? We fucked things up.”

Steve took a deep breath to get his nervous giggles under goddamn control again and then he shook his head decisively. “No,” he insisted. “We’re fine. We’re adults, adults don’t get weird about things like sex.”

“Have you ever met an adult?” Bucky asked, voice gone completely flat. “That’s, like, literally the number one thing adults get weird about.”

Steve’s answering smile felt like a grimace. He lowered his head, scowling at the last strips of tape he was unwrapping. He balled them up and tossed them in the general vicinity of the trashcan.

Bucky hummed under his breath as he took a few wary steps closer. Steve realized he was doing it on purpose to let Steve track where he was.

“Look, I know I said a lot of things the other night,” Bucky started, hesitating around the shape of some of those words. “I’m sorry if I said or did something that made you, y’know . . . feel off.”

Steve glanced up at him from beneath his Maybelline-can-suck-it eyelashes, using them as cover like he used to in his tiny youth when he wanted a guy to fuck him in an alley behind a bar.

Bucky was still meeting his eyes, but it looked like he was forcing himself to do it. His jaw was tight and his lips were pressed into a thin line. His eyes, though, that’s where Steve’s attention was always pulled. They were the color of the ice in the Arctic below as the sun glinted off the nose of the Valkyrie. Steve’d thought the color was beautiful then, too.

The longer Steve looked at him, the tighter Bucky seemed to coil. He wasn’t moving, he was actually as still as a statue. But Steve realized with a pang that he’d been studying Bucky from afar long enough and hard enough that he knew a lot of Bucky’s tells. If Steve said, ‘Boo,’ right now, Bucky would curl into a ball like a militantly armored pillbug and roll right into a disappearing act.

Steve lifted his head, jutting his chin out in an attempt to find a sense memory of when he’d been brave. “You didn’t do anything wrong, Buck,” he said in his most earnest voice. He was sort of horrified that his ‘earnestly talking about the best dicking of his life’ voice was the same voice he used on stage to convince people to buy War Bonds.

Bucky turned his head just slightly to the left, narrowing his eyes, like he was trying to get a different angle on Steve with his peripheral vision. “Why did you just Buy My War Bond me?”

“Because I’m socially awkward and it’s apparently a coping mechanism I wasn’t aware of until just now,” Steve said with a sigh, his shoulders slumping a little. Ugh, he was too sweaty from his workout to deal with extra amounts of nervous sweating like this.

“We made it weird,” Bucky concluded in a dejected voice.

Steve sighed through his nose. “You know I’m almost tragically attracted to you, Buck.”

Bucky blinked at him, which Steve had just recently deciphered meant he was too shocked to do anything else.

“You knew that, right?” Steve asked nervously.

Bucky’s tongue darted across his lower lip, another nervous tic that Steve hadn’t discovered until after sucking on that very same tongue.

“I always thought you were messing with me, like Clint and Tony do,” Bucky finally said haltingly.

“Clint is not messing with you, he wants to have your sniper babies.”

“He’s getting an anatomy book for Christmas.”

Steve managed an honest smile at that, but it was a weak one. “I’m not messing with you. I haven’t been. I was actually hoping I was being subtle.”

“Do you know what ‘subtle’ means?” Bucky teased gently. “Because you have yet to unlock that achievement.”

Steve merely cocked his head, still frowning, still staring into those eyes that could have sunk the Titanic. “I’ve told you before,” he finally said seriously. “I think you’re incredible.”

Bucky snorted. “And I’ve told you to go fuck off a cliff, but I only meant it the first three times.”

Steve shrugged helplessly. “I’m not sure what you’re asking me, here.”

“I guess . . . I mean, sex is sex, it doesn’t always mean anything beyond that. But I –” Bucky shook his head and closed his eyes, putting his hands back on his hips and lowering his head. He stared at the floor for a few seconds, brow furrowed. His entire stance read as pure frustration. “I guess I was hoping if you were willing to . . .” Bucky shook his head again, staring at the floor harder like he was trying to read a hidden teleprompter.

Steve so desperately wanted to close the distance between them and hug him until his spine relaxed.

Bucky finally took a deep breath and forced himself to look up to meet Steve’s eyes. He looked ready to throw himself into a jet engine, but his voice was small and sad when he asked, “Is it because I lack honor?”

Steve felt himself pale. It was like ice flooding his entire being and it was just as unpleasant as the feeling had been when the Valkyrie had been sinking with him inside it. He took an impulsive step toward Bucky, only to witness the man tense even further, like he was expecting Steve to launch himself at him. He still looked impossibly sad.

“No,” Steve gasped out as fast as he could get it past his lips. “Bucky, no.”

“As far as reasons go, it’s an acceptable one, Steve.”

“Buck, stop,” Steve gritted out, and he did take a few steps closer, risking the militant pillbug just to be able to reach out and grip Bucky’s metal bicep. Once he had hold of him, Steve relaxed a little. He had chased Bucky through enough hallways for one lifetime, he didn’t want to have him bolt now.

But grabbing onto Bucky in this particular moment was like gripping a live wire and hoping it didn’t make you piss your pants.

Steve kept him at arm’s length, staring at him with a ferocious amount of anger and shame and pain roaring through him. “When I said that to you, it was the biggest lie I’ve ever uttered outside of my own head.”

Bucky’s jaw was still tight, and he was blinking rapidly as his eyes began to swim a little.

“I’m so sorry,” Steve said, the words breathy and desperate. “The only way I could have thought that was if I had never gotten to know you, never learned the truth about what had happened. I said it when I thought you were trying to take credit for your team’s actions, I had no idea you were falling on your sword that day.”

If it was possible, Bucky looked even more hurt than he had before. “That’s why you told me that?”

Steve could only nod. His throat was too tight to allow more words through.

Bucky’s eyes went distant and he stared at a spot somewhere to the left of Steve’s feet. “I thought . . . I really thought you just tolerated me because of the team,” he admitted, an audible tremor to the words.

“Buck,” Steve whispered brokenly.

“I kept telling myself you were wrong about me. Tried to hold a grudge so it wouldn’t sting quite so bad. And I’m a black belt in holding grudges, I thought it would be easy.”

Steve licked his lips, not sure if he was supposed to interject or let Bucky get this out. This right here, this was why Steve didn’t talk about his feelings with anyone but his pillow. He was super bad at it.

Bucky inhaled a deep, tremulous breath. “When I was sixteen my mom’s boyfriend tossed me out of the house. I didn’t speak to my mom again, for not stopping him. I didn’t even take a bereavement leave when she died.”

Steve’s mind flipped rapid-fire through a series of curses, platitudes, Bucky’s name and all his nicknames, and a few useless apologies as he continued to stare stupidly at Bucky’s face.

“But just a couple months of you, and I couldn’t even remember what it felt like to hate you,” Bucky finished, finally shifting his stance so he was just barely meeting Steve’s eyes again. “I kept telling myself if I was good enough, maybe you’d change your mind about me.”

“Bucky, Jesus,” Steve finally blurted. “You gave your arm for this team, what more did you think I’d want from you?”

“Technically it was taken, it’s not like I gave it away on purpose,” Bucky muttered, and a charming flush began to rise on his cheeks.

Steve shuffled a few inches closer to him. “The moment I saw you rage-shoot an alien in the face in the streets of New York, I thought you were the most amazing thing I’d ever laid eyes on.”

Bucky glanced up at him warily. “That’s gay, Steve.”

Steve laughed against his will, and Bucky gave him a watery smile. Steve gripped the metal arm harder, right over the red star Bucky had emblazoned on himself to affiliate himself with Steve’s stars and stripes.

“Bucky,” he said emphatically. “Listen to me for one second. I’ve never wanted anything the way I want you. Any way I can have you. If being the guy you loved to hate was the only role I could play, then I was going to take it and say, ‘thank you can I have some more’ while I was at it. The other night with you, that would fuel me for the rest of my life if it had to.”

Bucky’s breathing had gone erratic, his face still a little flushed as Steve poured his heart out to him. He was apparently out of jokes to deflect his own feelings with.

“Do you want more than just that night?” Steve asked, letting all the hope in his massive body pour out with the question. Bucky’s façade was breaking down, the pain and wariness being replaced by beautiful relief and maybe even a little bit of his own brand of hope. Steve found himself forming an almost manic grin and he shook Bucky hard enough to make his hair wave. “Because I would give my left arm for more with you.”

Bucky’s face morphed into one of utter outrage, an expression Steve had come to know and love so much because it usually meant Bucky was about to start spewing invective at inanimate objects.

Bucky shoved Steve’s hand off his shoulder, flipped a latch under his armpit, and yanked the metal arm out of its cuff.

Steve barely had time to hit the deck before the arm sailed over his head.

“You’re an asshole, Steve!” Bucky shouted, pointing a finger from his remaining hand when Steve popped back to his feet like a whack-a-mole. “I was being all sincere and vulnerable and shit! And look! Now I’ve thrown my arm away and I can’t even hug you!”

Steve dug his fingers into the front of Bucky’s shirt and dragged him into a crushing embrace. He buried his face in Bucky’s neck and inhaled deeply, squeezing him as hard as he could until Bucky squeaked.

Chapter Text

Clint didn’t speak to Steve for almost a week. It was a pleasant silence.

The month after Christmas saw more quiet around Avengers Tower than Steve was used to, but he and Bucky had managed to fill the downtime creatively, so no one was going to hear Steve complaining.

Bucky’s issues with abusing mistletoe had been addressed with a firm hand after Steve had started finding the little bundles sewed into the elastic of all his boxers

The man was an absolute delight to Steve, even if he was still a hard exterior shell of sarcasm and rage issues. Steve was beginning to see the layers beneath with more and more clarity, and he was barreling headlong down a highway with no off-ramp to being utterly in love. It was going to break his heart absolutely in two when Bucky got tired of their games, but Steve just did not care. He would carpe the shit of out this diem while he had the chance.

Aside from the copious amounts of naked time, Steve’s relationship with Bucky didn’t shift as much as he’d expected it to once they’d aired out those truths down in the gym. They still threw verbal barbs at each other like Frisbees and tossed the shield around during sparring like the biggest Frisbee ever and fought over strategy when they planned Hydra raids. Bucky had even cussed him and called him Captain Fuckface while they were cuddling in bed one morning. Bucky still snarled at him and made fun of him, and Steve still made puppy eyes at him until Bucky got disgusted and tried to smack him.

Bucky still flirted outrageously with everything from JARVIS to the potted plants in the lobby.

Steve wasn’t jealous. He didn’t think. But he sure as shit didn’t like it either. He trusted Bucky’s loyal heart, though, and he knew Bucky wasn’t the type to sneak around behind someone’s back unless he was wielding a garrote. When Bucky was ready to move on to greener pastures, he’d tell Steve first, Steve was sure of that.

Steve was making scrambled eggs and pancakes in the common area kitchen, still in his pajamas, when Bucky strolled out of the elevator in his gym clothes, purple headband making his hair reminiscent of a startled cockatoo.

“Well, if it isn’t the Man with a Pan,” Bucky drawled as he got closer.

“No,” Steve grunted.

Bucky goosed him with his metal fingers and Steve yelped like a Chihuahua.

“JARVIS please save a recording of that sound for me,” Bucky called to the AI as he opened up the refrigerator. “That was delightful.”

“Of course, Soldier. Shall I make it your text notification ping?”

“You read my mind, JARVIS.”

“Asshole,” Steve muttered.

Bucky merely laughed softly, perusing the interior of the fridge. “Ugh, Bruce left another beaker in here.”

“Don’t drink it.”

Bucky hummed dubiously. “Yeah.”

“Do not drink it.”

“The last one turned out okay,” Bucky argued, closing the door with a thump and rattle of glass.

“The last one made your tongue tingle like Pop Rocks for a day.”

“I didn’t hear you complaining.”

Steve hummed as his eyes went unfocused, recalling that particular blowjob.

“Stop with that face, Jesus,” Bucky growled. He came up behind Steve and settled his fingertips on the bones of Steve’s hips. He rested his chin on Steve’s shoulder and Steve winced a little. Sharp jawlines were fun to look and lick at, but not so fun to be stabbed with.

“You’re off the rotation today, right?” Steve asked as he picked up his second frying pan and rolled the melted butter around the bottom.

Bucky hummed.

“Got plans?”

“Well,” Bucky drawled mischievously. Steve reached back without looking and pulled the headband off his head so his hair would calm the fuck down. Bucky didn’t even stop talking as he allowed it. “I figured I’d eat breakfast. Then drag my hot fuckbuddy to bed and stay there for another eight hours.”

Steve smirked and cracked an egg. “Is that all?”

Bucky hummed again, and Steve could sense the confused frown Bucky was now sporting, even if he couldn’t see it. “Yeah? Why, am I forgetting something? I’m forgetting something, aren’t I? You’re smirking.”

Steve turned his head to place a kiss at Bucky’s temple.

“I’m forgetting something.” Bucky pushed away and stepped to the side so he could see Steve’s face. He narrowed his eyes. “It’s not your birthday, right?”

“That’s in July.”

“Really?” Bucky asked with a disbelieving scowl. “I always sort of assumed the July Fourth thing was PR.”

“Nope,” Steve responded with a cheeky pop to the end of the word. He was still smirking, because a confused Bucky was as cute as a goddamn red panda on YouTube.

Bucky held his breath for a second, scowl deepening. “Is it my birthday?”

Steve just laughed.

“Steve,” Bucky damn near whined, slumping his shoulders. “It’s not fair to not remind me of something and then demand make-up sex later for forgetting.”

Steve grunted. “Sorry to inconvenience you, Buck, I didn’t realize the sex was such a hardship.”

Bucky jabbed a finger into Steve’s belly. “Now you just want me to make a ‘hard’ joke. I don’t pluck low-hanging fruit, Rogers, that’s mean.”

Steve cocked his head, momentarily distracted. “Then what do you call what you did last night?”

“The best blowjob of your life, that’s what I call it.”

Steve could only shrug in agreement at that. Bucky was busy trying to stare a hole through Steve’s head.

“It’ll come to you,” Steve assured him, and he risked a sideways glance so he could watch Bucky’s mental wheels churning behind his eyes. They darted back and forth, his brow heavily furrowed, his fucking fantastic lips slightly parted. God, he was beautiful.

Bucky finally narrowed his eyes at Steve, then grumbled under his breath and turned on his heel to stalk out of the kitchen.

Steve began counting back from five in his head.

When he got to one, he heard the distinct sound of Bucky smacking his metal hand against the elevator doors and cursing as he stomped back toward the kitchen. Steve glanced over his shoulder, one eyebrow raised expectantly.

Bucky stalked back through the kitchen doorway. “It’s Valentine’s Day!”

Steve chuckled and flipped the heart-shaped pancake he was making.

He barely had time to set the spatula down before Bucky grabbed him and pulled him into the most heinously dirty kiss Steve had ever been given, and that wasn’t because Bucky was still sweaty from the gym. The things this man’s tongue could do, good Lord. Bucky bent him over backward, like they were posing for a War photographer on V-E Day.

Steve was laughing when Bucky finally let him get air. He was clutching at Bucky’s upper arms because he would not put it past Bucky Barnes to romantically sweep him up and then drop him on his ass after distracting him with that kiss.

But Bucky just held him tight and rubbed his nose against Steve’s like he had the very first time they’d kissed, a gentle smile on his lips. “I might have a huge crush on you, Rogers,” Bucky whispered.

“That’s embarrassing, Barnes.”

Bucky gave him another affectionate peck on the lips and straightened them both out again. But he didn’t let Steve loose. He just cupped Steve’s face between both hands, and Steve nuzzled into the cool metal of his left.

“I’m sorry,” Bucky said sincerely. “I completely forgot. Did you want to do something special?”

“I do something special every night,” Steve growled, nudging Bucky’s hand harder with his nose and mouth.

Bucky gave a low hum that he had to know made the hairs on Steve’s arms stand right up. “Sassy little shit.”

Steve kissed him, nice and slow and lazy, dragging his hands over his shoulders to wind them around Bucky’s neck. They stood that way for long seconds, maybe even minutes, more heartbeats than Steve could count, kissing and holding onto each other.

“Stevie,” Bucky finally murmured, voice low and intimate.

Steve’s belly flip-flopped and it felt like his heart was being squeezed out of his chest by all the giddiness settling in its place. “Yeah, Buck?”

Bucky gave him one last tender kiss. “Your pancakes are burning.”

Steve jolted and jerked his head to look at the pan, which was now smoking his charred pancake into something archaeologists would argue over a few hundred years from now. “Shit!”

Bucky was laughing at him as Steve slapped the burner off and waved a dishtowel at the smoke.

Once he could actually see the pancake in the pan again, Steve’s shoulders slumped.

“Aw, baby,” Bucky crooned, running two fingers up and down Steve’s spine. “It’s okay. That heart’s as charred and blackened as mine is, I’ll eat it.”

==

“Hey, Buck,” Clint greeted despondently when Bucky answered the knock at his door.

Bucky frowned at him. He had a butterfly bandage on his forehead right at his hairline, and his lip was split. Bucky could also tell that the very apple of his cheekbone was going to turn into a pretty spectacular bruise. “Hey. What’s wrong?”

Clint ran a hand through his hair. He had two of his fingers splinted up.

Bucky reached without thinking and grabbed his wrist, pulling his hand toward him to inspect his fingers. As he did it, he also dragged Clint into the apartment and closed the door. “What happened? Did your bow do this?”

“No. You speak Russian, right?”

“Yeah,” Bucky answered warily, still holding Clint’s hand in both of his and peering at the damage done to his two fingers. They were the main ones Clint used to draw his bow. He looked up and studied Clint’s face again, then pushed his hair off his forehead to scowl at the cut under the bandage. “That needs stitches, kid.”

“Yeah, it’s fine, I don’t mind the scar.”

Bucky’s frown was so deep it was going to start developing bioluminescent properties like in the Marianas Trench. “Who did this to you?” he demanded. Protective rage was bubbling up in him, the kind he hadn’t felt since he’d Tasmanian Deviled his way through a group of terrorists pointing guns at a bunch of Baby Rangers who’d called him Sarge the same way they said, ‘Dad’.

“I pissed off some street-thug level Russians and then met the ones on the level above theirs,” Clint answered with a shrug that Bucky thought was supposed to look careless, but only revealed that Clint may have had some bruised ribs as well.

Without asking for permission, Bucky plucked the hem of Clint’s shirt and shoved the material up to his chest, tilting down so he could get a better look at the damage. Clint hissed but allowed it. Bucky could see the obvious outline of a heavy boot beginning to bruise on Clint’s torso.

Before Bucky even knew it, a growl was rumbling through his chest and up the back of his throat. “Where are they?” he snarled.

“I didn’t come here to drag you into it, Barnes, I just needed someone who wouldn’t fuss while I take a nap on your couch and you keep watch for me.”

Bucky was still making growling sounds and pawing over Clint’s injuries as he rode the wave of protective anger.

“I miscalculated the not fussing part of your personality, obviously,” Clint added wryly.

Bucky straightened and looked into Clint’s eyes unapologetically. “Okay,” he finally agreed. “Come on, let’s you get patched up a little better. You can sleep and I’ll take watch, okay? But I ain’t promising not to fuss more, Hot Shot.”

Clint nodded tiredly and began shuffling off toward the bathroom.

Bucky looked up. Doing that when he addressed JARVIS embarrassed him every time, but even shame couldn’t break him of the habit. “JARVIS, connect me to Steve if he’s not busy, would you?”

“Of course, Soldier.”

A moment later, Steve’s voice filtered through the hidden speakers. “Hey, Buck, you okay?”

“Yeah. Did you really have nothing planned for Valentine’s tonight?”

Steve answered with a distracted hum. He must have been in the middle of something after all, but JARVIS had just deemed it unworthy of being categorized as busy. “I really didn’t. This afternoon was pretty much the extent of my plans, why?”

Bucky’s body jolted at the reminder of that afternoon. Steve on his knees was a memory that would do that, whether Bucky was standing in front of him or kneeling behind him. Both of which they’d done. He winced. He’d been looking forward to romancing and ravaging Steve all night long and then abruptly stopping at midnight like he’d clocked out of a job just to see Steve’s reaction to Bucky’s ‘special Valentine’s treatment’.

“I didn’t want to skip out on you if you’d planned anything,” he explained to Steve. “Something’s come up.”

“If that’s a pun that means you’re fucking someone else tonight, I might not handle that like a mature adult.”

Bucky huffed a little laugh. “It’s not.”

“Care to read me in?” Steve asked carefully.

Bucky glanced down the hall where Clint had disappeared. “Right now it’s not my place. But I will, if I can. Later?”

“Yeah, okay. Be careful, whatever it is.”

“Always am.”

“Such lies the Winter Soldier tells,” Steve teased.

“Such hypocrisy from Captain Cannonball,” Bucky lobbed back.

Steve was still chuckling when he signed off. Bucky stood gazing up at the ceiling with a delicate, smitten smile until he snapped himself out of it. “Jesus, that is embarrassing,” he mumbled as he headed down the hall to tend to Clint’s injuries.

==

“What the fuck is a Tracksuit Mafia?” Bucky asked while he re-wrapped Clint’s trigger fingers.

“They’ve been terrorizing the neighborhood my building is in with bad fashion and Kalishnikovs.”

Bucky glanced up in surprise. “You have a building, too? Do all the Avengers have buildings? I didn’t get a building. I bet Tony would make my building a set of barns just to be an asshole.”

Clint was smiling, but he still looked exhausted and distractedly worried. Bucky could usually get a laugh out of him even when he was actively bleeding out.

“It’s an old apartment building in Bed Stuy,” Clint explained. “I use it as a safehouse. Or I used to. I kind of stole it from the Tracksuits. Stole their dog too.”

Bucky pursed his lips, carefully not looking up at Clint again in case he clammed up. “Mkay.”

“They’d been using the building for mafia shit, dead drops. It put the people living there in danger, and it pissed me off. I went to confront them, and they were torturing this poor one-eyed dog and using him as bait for a dog-fighting ring, so I kicked their asses and stole the puppy.”

Bucky snorted a quiet puff of air. “Yeah, that sounds like something you’d do.”

“Then I bought the building out from under them.”

Bucky sighed. “Is that where you disappear to so much lately?”

“Yeah,” Clint answered guiltily. “I can’t just meddle and then abandon those people when they’re still in danger. I didn’t think it’d mean I was gone every night I’m not on-call”

“Honestly, I thought you were just sleeping in a nest on the Tower’s roof or something.”

They both laughed. For Christmas, Bucky had indeed given Clint an anatomy book as a joke. But he’d also given both Clint and Sam T-shirts he’d had specially screenprinted with ‘Caw Caw Motherfucker’, and Clint had worn it so often that it was already starting to go soft and faded.

“You don’t have to do this shit alone, kid,” Bucky admonished gently after he thought Clint had relaxed a little more. “This is what teammates are for.”

Clint winced, but said nothing. “I can’t have the Avengers descend on this building for a petty street-fight. It’d make those people an even bigger target. Not to mention blow up my safehouse.”

Bucky nodded. Clint was right, dammit. “Well. There are two or three Avengers who haven’t had their super secret identities splashed all over the news yet.”

“You’re talking me and you?” Clint asked with a frown.

Bucky gave a casual shrug. “And Sam, maybe, but I think his cover’s been blown since Thanksgiving. No one’s ever seen beneath my bandana, though.”

“I’m not pulling you into this.”

“You’re not. I’m putting myself right into the middle of this with you because you’re my friend.”

Clint swallowed hard, eyes going unfocused as they glistened. “An angel gets its wings every time the news calls you Hot Bandana Guy,” he finally mused.

Bucky knew for a fact that wasn’t what he’d been ruminating over with those tears it looked like he was trying to hold back swimming in his eyes, but he let Clint change the subject anyway. Because Bucky was nice like that. “If Tony hadn’t said that in a fucking press conference of all places, I might actually have some dignity left,” he grumbled darkly. He squeezed first-aid glue over Clint’s cut and pinched it shut with his metal fingers.

“It’s hilarious,” Clint argued. “Every time a reporter calls out Hot Bandana Guy to ask you a question, you go all, ‘I am the night!’ eyebrows on national television.”

“I do not.”

“Your scowling eyebrows and black bandana are a meme on Tumblr.”

“What?” Bucky asked in alarm.

“Yeah, people draw flower crowns and cat ears on you and call you a salty cupcake.”

Bucky groaned. “No wonder the last three villains have laughed at me.”

“Well, they stopped laughing when you shot them, so . . .”

Bucky gave an almost dreamy smile. “Yeah.”

Clint shifted on the toilet seat and Bucky caught the wince.

“Shirt off,” Bucky ordered, ducking to rummage through his first aid kit that was better stocked than a prepper’s apocalypse bunker.

He set a roll of KT tape aside and turned back to Clint when he realized Clint was struggling. He met Clint’s eyes, silently asking for permission before carefully pulling the shirt up and over his arms. He folded the shirt out of habit, even though it was torn and scuffed with dirt and blood.

He had to prod at Clint’s ribs a little to diagnose whether they were just bruised or broken, and he murmured apologies even though Clint wasn’t complaining.

“I don’t think they’re broken,” he finally announced.

Clint merely nodded. He’d probably been through this enough to be proficient at self-diagnosis. Bucky could feel the rage bubbling under the surface again at the thought of all the boots to the ribs Clint must have taken in his life. He wanted to wrap his metal arm around Clint’s head and keep him safe while growling, ‘Mine’ at anything that dared to breathe at him.

He followed the line of Clint’s ribs and intercostal muscles with strips of the bright purple KT tape. It was better than a bandage wrap in this case, wouldn’t constrict his breathing and risk pneumonia.

“I like the color,” Clint said in a strained voice.

“All for you, booboo,” Bucky said with a fond smile as he finished the last strip. He gestured toward his first aid kit. He had several different colored rolls of KT Tape; red, green, black, yellow, purple, beige, and blue. One for each of them.

“You’re a nerd,” Clint murmured affectionately. He was finally smiling a bit more earnestly. “I’d still have your babies, though.”

“You haven’t gotten to Chapter Four of that anatomy book, have you?” Bucky deadpanned.

“I admit it’d probably take us a long time of trying. It’s a sacrifice of my time and energy that I’m willing to make.”

Bucky chuckled and closed up his kit, shoving it back under the vanity cabinet.

“Where’s Thor’s color?”

“I got the Blaze Orange roll on backorder.”

Clint laughed, but immediately gasped and winced as he held to his ribs gingerly.

Bucky stood and got both hands under Clint’s arms to help him to his feet. Ribs were the worst. “Come on, Hot Shot, let’s get you in bed.”

“I’ve waited over a year to hear you say that,” Clint moaned. “Damn you, Cap.”

Bucky laughed as he took most of Clint’s weight. If he took any more, he’d be carrying Clint to bed the same way he carried Steve before he slammed him into something strong enough to support two super soldiers fucking on it. Clint clutched at the back of his shirt and made a valiant effort of not being carried, and Bucky murmured soothingly to him as he helped him get settled in his bedroom.

“I just need an hour,” Clint insisted. He rested his head on Bucky’s pillow and closed his eyes. “Then I have to go back.”

“Okay,” Bucky agreed as he pulled the blanket up over Clint’s chest.

Clint forced one eye open and examined Bucky dubiously. “You’re not going to argue with me? Try to convince me not to go?”

“No, you’re a grown-ass man and I’m letting you go whenever you’re ready,” Bucky answered, hands on his hips. “I’m just going to go with you when you do.”

Clint swallowed hard and closed his eyes again. “Thank you.”

Bucky brushed his hair off his forehead and kept his hand there, cool and gentle, until Clint’s breathing evened out. Then he went to his pointy things closet and started loading up.

==

“Captain Rogers, Bucky is hailing you once more,” JARVIS announced.

Steve glanced up – God he had to break himself of that – and he set the schematics he’d been studying on the coffee table in front of him. “Patch him through, JARVIS.”

There was a chime to signify Bucky was on the audio with him now.

“Buck?” Steve said worriedly. Bucky being cagey about a ‘situation’ had never ended particularly well, so Steve had every right to be fretting for the last hour or so. He hoped this was the all-clear message.

“How attached are you to my hair?” Bucky asked without preamble.

“Uh.” Steve blinked at the dark screen of the television for lack of anything better to frown in confusion at. “Not as attached to it as you are?”

Bucky didn’t even offer him so much as a nasty word for the bad joke. “So if I cut it short?”

“You don’t have to ask my permission to groom yourself, Barnes.”

“But I am,” Bucky grunted. He sounded like he was moving something heavy and shuffling around a lot, but Steve couldn’t make out the specifics. He also had an echo to his voice, like he was around a lot of tile. He might have been in his bathroom. “I know you like to use it as a handle.”

Steve flushed a little and glanced around the common room to see if anyone else was within range to hear them. “I do,” he acknowledged. “But I can still work with it as a handle as long as you don’t shave it off.”

“Noted,” Bucky responded, sounding distracted rather than pleased. If Bucky was too distracted to offer up innuendo, something was very wrong.

“Did you ditch me tonight to go on a spa day?” Steve asked suspiciously.

“Yep. Gonna get my nails did.”

“Buck, what’s going on?” Steve demanded. He gripped his knees with both hands, trying not to form his infamous Fists of Frustration.

“I’ll read you in tonight, okay? Can I still come by tonight even if it’s late?”

“You know my door’s always unlocked for you, Buck.”

Bucky grunted. “If that were true we wouldn’t need so much lube.”

Steve huffed, a smile threatening through his confused frustration. What the hell was Bucky up to? “You know if you need help, with anything at all, you can tell me, right?”

“I know, Steve. Don’t get all worked up, it’s really not a big deal. I just have to take care of it tonight, okay?”

Steve settled back in his chair, crossing his arms. If Bucky couldn’t see him pouting then he couldn’t make fun of Steve for doing it. “Yeah, okay.”

“Talk soon,” Bucky offered.

Steve answered with a soft, “Yeah.”

JARVIS ended the conversation, but not in time for Steve to miss Bucky quietly addressing someone else. “We’re all clear.”

Steve cocked his head, scowling. At least Bucky wasn’t doing whatever he was doing alone. “JARVIS?”

“Yes, Captain Rogers?”

“Who’s with Barnes right now?”

“I’m afraid I cannot reveal details of events occurring within the private residences of the Tower, Captain.”

Steve’s scowl settled in for a nice long visit, and he stared at the dark television screen for a long time.

==

The sun had just barely risen when the team gathered to forage for breakfast in the common area, but that was about the only thing shining this morning, if Steve’s opinion was anything to be believed. Bucky still wasn’t back, hadn’t sent any word of when or if he would be, and no one seemed to know where Clint had fucked off to either.

Steve didn’t know whether to hope they were together or not. Both Bucky’s beloved motorcycle and Clint’s innocuous, ancient truck were gone from the parking deck. If they’d gone off together they only would have taken one vehicle, right? But if they weren’t together, whatever Bucky was doing, he was doing it alone.

“Sirs, ma’am,” JARVIS announced just as Steve was finishing the last of his eggs and bacon. “May I direct your attention to a situation on the news, please?”

Steve shoved away from the table and he headed for the sitting area and the 75-inch television. The others ambled along after him, curious but not especially alarmed.

The television flicked on and then blinked to a local news station. There was something going on live, and the coverage was split between two screens as a reporter spoke in breathless whispers on a sidewalk somewhere. One screen was an aerial shot, circling over a scene on the street that looked more like a battlefield than morning rush hour tended to. Steve couldn’t tell where it was, or what the building was that was the focus of the shot, but he recognized a standoff when he saw one.

A man in full riot gear was standing on the step of a building that may have been a bank. It was certainly a business and not residential, anyway. He had an automatic assault rifle and possibly an explosive strapped to his chest. Every few seconds he would aim the gun at the news chopper and the picture would sway and waiver as the pilot tried to make them a harder target to hit.

Vehicles lined the sidewalks and street, both parked and abandoned, some of them all shot up with sprays of automatic fire, some with people crouching behind them and using them as cover from the shooter. On each end of the block, a police barricade had been set up, and SWAT teams knelt behind them with their large shields in front of them, ready to move if they needed to.

“What the hell?” Tony grumbled, then he sat on the edge of the coffee table to stare at the screen. Steve sat beside him, leaning in.

The other view from the news station was from ground level, and Steve could make out some details a little better. There were at least ten people cowering behind vehicles, obviously having been trapped out in the open and unable to make it to safety without getting mowed down. A hostage negotiator with a megaphone was talking to the shooter, and people were crowded behind the barricades like morons, willing to risk catching a stray bullet just for the opportunity to see someone else catch a stray bullet.

“Is this a Hydra thing?” Natasha asked JARVIS. “Or AIM?”

“It is not, to my knowledge, Agent Romanov. It appears to be a foiled bank robbery.”

“What?” Steve asked in confusion.

“That’s not usually our thing,” Bruce pointed out wryly.

“Are the NYPD asking for the Avengers to step in?” Steve asked.

“Captain Rogers, it appears that the Avengers are already on the scene,” JARVIS answered pointedly. Steve had no idea how an AI could have so much damn attitude.

“You talking copycats?” Tony asked in outrage. “Someone pretending to be us?”

“No, sir.”

Steve scowled and studied the screen harder. JARVIS helpfully added another news broadcast that showed a slightly different angle, one from each end of the street. The camera was performing a close-up sweep of all the civilians who were hunkering down behind the row of parked cars, no doubt going for ramped up ratings with the human interest aspect of people being in abject fear for their lives.

Steve’s lip began to curl angrily. Fucking vultures.

Then the camera landed on two men who were doing what could only be described as relaxing behind a Yellow Cab. They weren’t hunched up and cowering like the rest of the people hiding with them. In fact, one of them had his legs sprawled out in front of him, foot tapping like he was humming a tune, frowning idly at the StarkPhone in his hand.

“Oh, shit,” Steve blurted just as Tony pointed with a yelp and Natasha cursed viciously in Russian.

“What the fuck are they doing there?” Tony cried.

Just then Steve’s phone rang in his pocket and he jumped to his feet to scrabble for it. “Bucky!” he shouted.

“Heya, Stevie,” Bucky said casually, like he was calling from the grocer down on the corner to ask what kind of cereal Steve wanted. Steve could see him on the TV, talking on his phone and glancing over the hood of the taxi. “How’s it going?”

“What the fuck are you doing at a bank robbery shoot out?” Steve roared into the phone.

Bucky was silent, but on the TV he flattened his shoulders to the taxi again and peered around the crowd curiously. His eyes locked on the camera. When the cameraman noticed the handsome young man casually looking at him in the middle of a gunfight, he began to zoom in on Bucky’s face.

Bucky raised his hand and held his palm up to the camera, folding his middle and ring fingers to his palm and holding up the other three fingers like he was at a goddamn rock concert or something. “You’re watching me on TV right now, aren’t you?” he asked in a flat, defeated voice as he held the sign.

“Yes! Asshole!” Steve shouted. He scowled as he stared at Bucky. “Your hair looks good short.”

“Thanks, Clint cut it for me,” Bucky said, then flopped his hand back to his thigh.

Steve was about to comment on the good job Clint had done when he remembered that Bucky and Clint were currently in the middle of a shootout on live television. “Fuck! What are you doing there, Buck?”

“Clint had an issue he needed an extra hand with,” Bucky answered.

“Clint robbed a bank?” Steve stuttered.

“No, this was not our fault.”

“Bucky, I swear to God –”

“We were on our way back from Bed Stuy when this fucking guy ran out of the bank shooting the shit out of everything that moved. He killed three pigeons, Steve, guy’s an animal.”

“Are you okay?”

Bucky shrugged. Steve thanked all the stars that Clint was a handsome guy and that Bucky’s face was stunning, because the cameraman recognized higher ratings when he saw them and the feed was staying on Bucky, with Clint lounging at his side.

“We’re not bleeding,” Bucky hedged. “Guy’s got four extra magazines on him, we might be here a while.”

Steve damn near whimpered into the phone. “Are you armed?”

“No,” Bucky growled viciously. “We went in light and fast. All I’ve got on me are knives!”

Clint leaned close enough to shout, “My bow broke.”

“They’re not armed,” Steve informed the others, who were all watching the screen with wide eyes.

Tony sat up a little. “I can end this in five minutes.”

Steve nodded distractedly. “Buck, Iron Man’s on his way.”

“No!” Bucky and Clint both shouted urgently.

“What?”

“This guy is strapped to blow,” Bucky answered, and he turned to peer over the hood of the car again. Clint grabbed the collar of his blue peacoat and yanked him back down as the shooter sprayed the hood of the car with bullets. Steve could see brick dust making little poofs on the building in front of them.

“And he’s a little trigger happy,” Bucky added breathlessly. “If the Iron Man suit gets anywhere close he could take out this whole block. Stark’s not exactly stealthy. And don’t you dare send Sam down here, I swear to Christ, Steve.”

“We’ve been taking heat for meddling in civilian matters for months, Rogers,” Natasha reminded him.

“We can’t just stand here and watch, though!”

“That’s exactly what you’re going to do, Stevie,” Bucky growled into his ear. He was glaring at the camera again. “He’ll run out of steam sooner or later, and the NYPD can handle this. Barton and I are fine. We just have to wait it out.”

“You goddamn asshole,” Steve whispered, staring hard enough at the screen that he hoped Bucky could feel his eyes boring into him. “I’m going to kick your ass when you get back!”

Bucky nodded, his lips pressing into a thin line. “I look forward to it. Clint sends his love,” he added, then he took the phone away from his ear and ended the call.

“No! Buck!” Steve shouted, looking at his own phone to make sure the call wasn’t still connected. “Shit!”

He started to bring Bucky’s contact back up, but Sam put a hand on his arm to stop him. “The last thing you want is for either Bucky or Clint to be distracted right now, Cap,” he said gently. “They’re not helpless. You trust them to watch your back in the field, trust them now.”

Steve whimpered in the back of his throat and immediately blushed at the sound. He grabbed the remote and turned the volume on the TV up so they could hear what was going on.

“ – hostages racing to make phone calls to their loved ones before service in the area is cut,” the voiceover was saying. “What a moving moment that was. The hand signal this man made to the camera is one colloquially accepted as meaning ‘I love you’. What a poignant moment in the midst of such terror.”

Steve’s lips parted and he blinked at the screen. He could feel the others watching him, but he couldn’t tear his eyes away. The station played the tape over of the moment Bucky’s eyes had met the camera and he’d thrown the sign up, phone to his ear.

“Shit,” Steve whispered and sat down hard on the coffee table.

Tony placed a hand on his shoulder and kept it there.

The screen flipped back to a live feed just as the shooter began shouting, waving his hand at the news chopper again. He didn’t step out from the protection of the stoop, and Steve was pretty sure the NYPD wouldn’t bring out a sniper to end the situation just yet. He kind of wished they would, though, Steve would go down there and stab this guy with a plastic spork if it meant getting Bucky and Clint back into this building safe. So he could punch them both.

The man began firing again, spraying the cars and the building opposite him. The people trapped all cowered, covering their heads as glass shattered and bits of brick and concrete flew around them.

A line of bullets tore through a beautiful white Harley Davidson that had been abandoned in the middle of the street, and Steve winced in sympathy.

On the screen, the camera caught Bucky going absolutely rigid and staring at the bullet holes in the wall in front of him. He said something to Clint, looking incredulous, and Clint nodded and winced, reaching up to his hearing aid to fiddle with it.

To Steve’s utter horror, Bucky lunged to his feet and popped up from behind the taxi like a goddamn avenging prairie dog, turning to glare at the guy over the roof of it. “Did you just shoot my fucking bike?” he shouted, so loud that every mic in the area picked it up.

The megaphone cut out suddenly. The shooter froze. All eyes and video feeds turned to Bucky, horrified and stunned and possibly gleefully thinking of the ratings.

Bucky stalked around the front bumper of the taxi as Clint tried and failed to grab him by his ankle. The shooter aimed at him, but he didn’t shoot, apparently not certain how to handle someone crazier than he was.

Bucky rounded his bike and looked at the damage that had been inflicted, then whirled on the shooter again. “You shot my fucking bike! You know how hard that thing was to find, you pasty little cockmuppet!”

“Fuck you, man!” the shooter called back.

Bucky’s shoulders hunched forward and he began stalking toward the guy. He was in full murder strut mode. Even with the tac gear replaced by a well-fitting blue wool peacoat and wearing his favorite pair of faded jeans and scuffed motorcycle boots, he still made the damn walk look terrifying.

The shooter raised his gun and aimed it at Bucky’s chest when he got halfway across the street. “I’m gonna fucking shoot you if you keep moving, asshole!” the guy cried.

Bucky snarled and lowered his head, bunching his shoulders as he kept stalking closer.

The shooter opened fire. Steve screamed at the TV. Bucky raised his left hand and sparks flew with every round that hit his black leather glove, tearing holes in the leather and revealing the shining silver underneath. He bulled his way through the onslaught, blocking the bullets as they rained down on him, and then he reached out with his right hand to grab the barrel of the assault rifle. He didn’t snatch it away from the guy, though. He bent it. Then he clocked the guy in the side of the head with his metal fist, and the shooter went down like a ton of bricks.

Bucky stood over him, twisted gun still gripped in his hand, a snarl still baring his shining white teeth as his shoulders heaved. He tossed the gun to the ground in a fit of rage. “That was a fucking Limited Edition, you prick!” he shouted at the unconscious bank robber as the news crews continued to film.

Steve held his head in both hands and gaped at the screen. “Oh, my god,” he murmured. “Oh, my God, this is what my ma felt like every time I stepped out her door.”

“Welp,” Tony added. “There goes Barnes’s secret identity.”

Chapter Text

Steve was waiting in front of the elevator like a dog desperate for its master to let it go outside to pee after work. He could feel every nerve in his body vibrating. He was pretty sure even his hair was vibrating.

As soon as the elevator doors slid open to reveal Bucky and Clint standing there, Steve shouted and pounced.

Clint darted out of the way and did his best impression of the Roadrunner, but Bucky’s eyes just widened and he stood there in front of the attack. Steve grabbed him by both shoulders and shook him hard enough to rattle his brains around, then he punched him hard in the arm.

Of course, Steve naturally led with his right hand, so all he connected with was top of the line, high-tech metal.

It made a hollow clanging sound and Bucky stared at him, gaping, as Steve hopped around and held his aching fingers to his chest.

“Shit!” he shouted at Bucky.

Bucky gave him a bewildered shrug. “Hi?”

Steve snarled at him. “You dick! Absolute piece of shit on a stick! What were you thinking?”

“If this is some new foreplay you’re trying out, I’m digging it,” Bucky told him with a serious nod.

“Did you even think before you jumped in front of that gun?” Steve demanded.

“No,” Bucky answered, calm and toneless.

Steve opened his mouth to keep yelling, then snapped it shut again. “Well,” he said, pulling back a little. “That wasn’t as satisfying as I thought it’d be.”

Bucky gave him a helpless shrug. “I had a rough night, Steve.”

Steve deflated as he studied Bucky for the first time since he’d seen him on television. He did look tired and worn.

“How much damage did I do?” Bucky asked dejectedly.

“You mean to my nerves, or in general?”

Bucky winced. “Both?”

“Well my nerves are obviously shot, so let’s not even go into that right now.”

Bucky frowned harder and stepped forward, reaching to Steve’s face tentatively.

Steve bared his teeth at him. “Don’t even think about it, I deserve to be angry right now and if you touch me it’ll defuse me!”

Bucky’s hand flopped back to his side, his shoulders slumping.

Steve wasn’t feeling much mercy at the moment; five minutes ago he’d watched through his fingers as yet another angle on yet another news station showed Bucky catching bullets that had been aimed at his goddamn head. “Everyone and their cat knows you’re an Avenger now. They’re playing your little act of insanity on a loop on every news station in the country.” Steve waved his hand over their heads like he was reading an imaginary marquee. “Mystery Avenger finally unmasked! Hot Bandana Guy is just as hot as we thought! Is the newest Avenger a secret super soldier?! It’s no longer a theory, dear readers, we’d all definitely bang what’s behind that bandana! Rookie Avenger Winter Soldier has road rage issues. I can keep going, do you want me to keep going?”

Steve was shouting and he couldn’t make himself stop even though Bucky was slowly morphing into militant pillbug mode before his very eyes.

“Shall I recite the ledes from all five-hundred and nineteen broadcasts and articles that have popped up about your stupid ass in the last two hours?” Steve damn near bellowed. “Or should I just stick to the ones that only talk about your stupid ass because it looks amazing in those jeans?”

Bucky merely shook his head like a child being offered the chance to take himself to the time-out corner. He ducked his head and clasped his fingers together in front of him.

“What the hell were you thinking, Bucky?” Steve demanded. “It was just a goddamn motorcycle!”

Bucky nodded, playing with his metal fingers like he was hoping he had something in them to distract Steve from yelling more. “You gave me that bike,” he answered softly.

Steve’s jaw did a slow-motion drop to rival a Michael Bay special effect. “What?” he asked, choking on the word.

Bucky’s eyes darted up. “That’s the only thing I thought when I heard the bullets hitting it. Steve gave me that bike. I saw red.”

Every ounce of terror and rage Steve had been stewing in since he’d watched Bucky stalk across that street under a hail of bullets seeped right out of him. “Buck,” he whispered.

Bucky shrugged and shifted uncomfortably, glancing down the hall like he was wishing he’d bolted after Clint and tripped him to use him as an obstacle.

Steve chewed on his lip as he studied Bucky more carefully. He looked even worse now than he had when the elevator doors had first revealed him. Steve could see the lines of exhaustion pulling at his expression, a bruise forming under his jaw. His eyes were a flat gray, the way they always were when he woke up in the MedBay and stared listlessly at the ceiling for the few seconds he allowed himself to fall apart inside before sliding that mask with the stiff upper lip back on. He’d been gone since the previous evening, and Steve realized with a jolt that, with whatever he and Clint had gone to take care of, Bucky’d probably been fighting tooth and nail almost every minute since he’d left the Tower.

Steve’s heart lurched with a wave of guilt, making him feel ill. No matter how rabidly angry and scared he had been, he should never have greeted his friend – his lover – with anything but warmth after a night full of battle.

Steve took a step closer and Bucky lowered his head again. “Buck,” Steve whispered. “I’m sorry. Come on, come here.”

He slid his arm around Bucky’s shoulders, wincing at how tense Bucky was under his fingers. He grabbed him more forcefully and yanked him out of the elevator, pulling him to his chest and wrapping both arms around him in a tight hug.

Bucky was stiff for a second, then he slumped against Steve and returned the embrace, clutching at the back of Steve’s shirt and shoving his face into the hollow of Steve’s neck. A shudder ran through his powerful body, and he suddenly seemed so fragile as Steve held him.

“I’m sorry I punched you in your metal arm,” Steve offered quietly.

“I’m sorry my metal arm hurt you when you punched it,” Bucky mumbled against his neck.

Steve snorted, biting his lip to keep from laughing. There was absolutely nothing funny about this situation and he would not allow Bucky his typical escape hatch lined with sarcasm and jokes this time. He squeezed Bucky tighter. “I yell when I’m scared,” he admitted.

“Do you live in a state of constant terror?” Bucky asked, managing to sound both pitiful and incredulous.

Steve pinched him on his flank. It was hard to find anything to pinch, since Bucky was basically all muscle. Bucky flinched away from it with a little gasp anyway. He didn’t pull away, just clung tighter so Steve wouldn’t let him go. He didn’t need to worry about that, though, Steve’s body might as well have been entirely made out of cat hair because Bucky was never going to get Steve off him again.

“The hand signal you gave the camera,” Steve whispered, staring up at the top of the elevator car because there was a mirror there and he could see the way Bucky’s back muscles were bunching defensively under his hands. “What did it mean?”

Bucky cleared his throat. “It, uh . . . it basically means, like . . . rock on, I guess,” Bucky mumbled as he finally tried to push out of the hug.

Steve hummed. This was the first time he’d ever known for a fact that Bucky was actually trying to hide the truth of something. He’d lied guilelessly a few times – hell, a lot of times – including the very first time they’d met, but his lies were always blatant and harmless, and he’d never been this twitchy about it. At least Steve knew he had a solid read on Bucky’s tells now.

Steve didn’t let him escape when Bucky placed his hands on Steve’s hips in order to push away. After three seconds of overly aggressive inertia between the two of them, Bucky allowed Steve to tug him back in. He kept his eyes closed the entire time, not daring to let Steve get a look at them. Bucky’s eyes told the truth whether he wanted them to or no.

“Pretty sure ‘rock on’ doesn’t use the thumb, Buck,” Steve corrected in his gentlest voice, turning his head so he could speak against Bucky’s newly shorn hair. It was still longer than Steve’s, but shaved close at the sides and a gently wavy array of longer on the top now that the weight of his long hair had been lost. It was fucking adorable is what it was.

Bucky cleared his throat. It didn’t help how hoarse he was at all. “Must have got it mixed up with something else, then.”

“Mm. Doesn’t sound like you at all. You know sign language, don’t you, Barnes?” Steve asked, voice still soft since he was practically speaking into the shell of Bucky’s ear with his nose still buried in Bucky’s hair.

“Yeah,” Bucky croaked, his body going tense in Steve’s arms again.

“Tell me what it really meant,” Steve ordered.

Bucky rested his forehead on Steve’s shoulder in defeat. “It means . . . it means, ‘I love you’.”

Steve couldn’t stop himself from breaking into an almost giddy smile, so he hid it in Bucky’s hair. He tilted his head to nuzzle against Bucky’s neck and breathed against him, making Bucky shiver. Steve’s hands were trembling as he dug his fingers harder into Bucky’s wool peacoat. “Do you?” he asked softly.

Bucky was still and silent for long enough that Steve was beginning to think he’d have to shake Bucky again to dislodge some words out of his mouth. He wasn’t even breathing. All Steve could feel was Bucky’s heart racing against his own chest. Steve gripped the coat harder, preparing to pull Bucky back so he could get a look at his face.

But then Bucky released the breath he’d been holding in a faint, unsteady sigh. “Yes,” he answered, almost too quiet for even Steve’s enhanced hearing to catch. “Yeah, I do.”

Steve jerked and pulled back from the hug that had gone on long enough to now be classified as awkwardly clinging to each other. He gripped both of Bucky’s arms tight and held him in front of him so he could see his face. Bucky wouldn’t meet his eyes, though, he was diligently staring down, focusing hard on not looking at Steve at all. Steve gripped his chin tight and forced him to raise his head. Bucky closed his eyes as Steve did it.

“Will you look at me?” Steve whispered, tapping on Bucky’s chin and rubbing the pad of his finger against the stubble that had grown while he’d been gone all night. “Please?”

For a second it seemed like Bucky was going to keep his eyes closed and revert back to his tried and true theory of, ‘if I can’t see Steve, Steve can’t see me.’ But then he took a deep breath and forced his eyes open, meeting Steve’s almost defiantly.

Steve cocked his head, studying the face of the man he’d spent the last year falling atrociously in love with. He dragged his thumb across Bucky’s jawbone, still holding onto his chin so he wouldn’t lose those Arctic frost eyes again.

Bucky looked like he was standing in front of a firing squad; chin up, shoulders pushed back, eyes terrified and defiant all in the same swirl of beautiful winter blue.

“Buck,” Steve breathed out, shocked at how hard it was to pull air back into his lungs while Bucky was looking at him like that.

“I’m sorry,” Bucky said, his voice shattered and sad even though he was holding his body ruthlessly proud. “I know that’s not what you signed up for when we started this. But I lost that battle the first time I ever kissed you. We can stop this now, if that’s –”

“I love you too, Buck,” Steve said softly, finding the courage in himself to finally say it when he realized it was the only way to prevent Bucky from finishing the most incomprehensible suggestion Steve had thankfully never heard.

Bucky’s lips parted and his expression melted into shock.

Steve was holding onto his chin so hard he knew he was leaving bruises on Bucky’s skin. The metal arm shivered and whirred, recalibrating under Steve’s palm.

Steve melted into a soft, affectionate smile. “You want me to say it again?” he asked, giving Bucky a gentle shake that basically swayed Bucky’s shock-loosened body around like a ragdoll.

Bucky began to nod furiously. “Say it again.”

Steve slid his hands down Bucky’s arms, gripping his elbows instead and pulling their bodies flush again. He tilted his head and brought his lips so close to Bucky’s that the tip of his nose brushed Bucky’s cheek. “I love you,” he said, voice clear and confident.

He felt Bucky’s gasp against his lips, and he took Bucky’s lower lip between his own in a gentle kiss.

“Steve,” Bucky said shakily. He grabbed at the sides of Steve’s shirt, knuckles pressing hard at Steve’s ribs. He clutched at Steve’s torso like Steve was a rock wall and his fingers needed handholds to climb higher, pawing at Steve until he managed to stuff his arms inside of Steve’s hold on his elbows. He placed both hands on the sides of Steve’s face like Steve was something precious and fragile, then he shoved his forehead against Steve’s.

Steve wrapped his arms around Bucky’s waist. “I love you,” he repeated, head swimming as if finally admitting the way he felt was some sort of natural high.

Bucky pushed his nose and mouth against Steve and kissed him, hard and needy, whimpering into it. “I love you,” he whispered, then he kissed Steve again like he couldn’t decide which action was more important right then. He got another kiss in and then gasped, “I love you, too.”

“Will you be mine, James Barnes?” Steve asked, lips moving against Bucky’s.

“For as long as you’ll have me,” Bucky breathed. “I’ve been yours from the first time I yelled at you.”

Steve’s laugh was a little giddy. Bucky cracked a smile as they separated far enough to be able to look at each other. Bucky dragged his thumbs down the sides of Steve’s cheekbones, his eyes darting like he was cataloging every millimeter of Steve’s face.

“I’m sorry I met you at the elevator to bitch you out like an Italian grandmother,” Steve offered, swiping his fingers through the tips of Bucky’s hair.

Bucky snorted. “I’m sorry I turned into a murderous cyborg on a national broadcast.”

Steve hummed. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt that scared and helpless in my life,” he admitted. Even thinking back on it made his stomach turn over unpleasantly. “Watching you out there, knowing I couldn’t get there in time.”

Bucky winced and tilted his head to the side, like he was getting ready to lower his head in shame again.

“But,” Steve said pointedly. He slid one finger across Bucky’s enticing lower lip, eyes following the motion greedily. “I also learned something pretty important about myself from watching you like that, on all those different TV cameras, all those angles.”

“And what was that?” Bucky asked hesitantly, like he was too curious for self-preservation but was also self-aware enough to realize he’d probably regret asking.

Steve quirked one corner of his mouth into a teasing grin. He tightened his grip on Bucky’s hair and used it to pull Bucky’s head back just so, exposing his neck, forcing Bucky’s lips to part in the most obscene way Steve had ever seen. He leaned forward, growling his words against the tip of Bucky’s chin. “You’re hot as fuck when you’re bending assault rifles with your bare hand.”

Bucky’s tongue darted across his bottom lip and he made a strangled little sound in the back of his throat. His hands clutched Steve’s neck, fingers giving a little spasm before he dragged them down to hold onto Steve’s shoulders. “Shit,” he finally grunted. “Steve. Stevie. Please tell me you’re going to follow up on this and you’re not just teasing me as payback.”

Steve hummed low and mean. “Would I do that?”

Bucky nodded furtively and Steve tightened his hold on his hair to keep him still. He dragged his nose along the sharp line of Bucky’s jaw and then placed a kiss right under his ear.

“Fuck me,” Bucky murmured with feeling, more to himself than to Steve.

Steve grinned against Bucky’s skin. “That’s the plan, pal.”

==

“I had planned to be a vindictive little shit and make you go right into a debrief,” Steve admitted. He was gasping for breath, struggling to get every word out.

“Steve, shut up,” Bucky gritted out.

He writhed beneath Steve, hitching his knee up higher and resting his ankle on the small of Steve’s back. This was the first time Steve had ever topped Bucky and he was delighted to discover that Bucky was not a passive participant even when he was being fucked into a mattress.

They had grappled for the upper hand, rolling back and forth across the bed because they were pretty evenly matched, even when Steve was buried balls deep in Bucky’s ass. Steve had finally pinned him and held him down, driving his cock against Bucky’s prostate to make him scream. Bucky had stopped fighting to be in control, and instead wrapped his arms and legs around Steve and kicked Steve’s ass with the heel of his foot, demanding more and harder.

Steve was exerting so much pressure as he held Bucky down by his shoulders and pounded into him that the memory foam mattress would be praying for amnesia by the time they were done.

Bucky arched his whole body with each of Steve’s thrusts, sinuous rolls of his hips and shifts of his shoulders that made it a far more athletic endeavor than the missionary position had ever been intended for.

Steve was dying. He was goddamn gagging for more of this even while he was in the middle of it.

He thrust in hard enough to rock Bucky’s hips off the mattress and jammed his hand under Bucky’s back, holding his hips off the mattress so he could keep at his ass until Bucky begged.

“Steve!” Bucky cried, his voice cracking and his fingernails digging molten hot trails down Steve’s back.

“Consider this your debriefing, Soldier,” Steve growled into Bucky’s mouth right before he bit Bucky’s lip and refused to let go.

==

Steve couldn’t quite keep his eyes off Bucky during the team meeting that night. Bucky kept shifting in his seat, leaning on one arm of his chair and then readjusting to lean on the other one. Steve was starting to worry that he’d gone too hard on him, that maybe he’d actually hurt Bucky one of those times Bucky had cried out.

Bucky glanced up from his information packet and caught Steve watching him. He raised both eyebrows in question.

Steve furrowed his brow and mouthed, “Are you okay?”

Bucky gave him a look that said, ‘please don’t make me conclude that I’m in love with an idiot.’

Steve left it alone, but he was going to address it later, when they weren’t in public. He turned his attention back to his own packet with a sigh.

They had to get ahead of the press and make sure Bucky’s identity as an Avenger didn’t get painted by a brush the Avengers themselves weren’t wielding. The press was already getting a little carried away with speculation, and the internet had essentially lost its collective shit about what an angry, sexy, salty cupcake the Winter Soldier was.

Steve had laughed when he’d read over that section of their briefing packets. These people had no idea. Bucky had more salt in him than the Dead Sea. As far as Steve knew, the internet had already sort of loved the Winter Soldier. Now that they had the other half of his face to piece into the puzzle, there were entire discussion forums swooning en masse.

So far it was almost all positive, which was nice. But Steve didn’t want Bucky to be forced into trying to live up to an image that was more a creation of a world hungry for heroes than it was truth.

Steve had already been through that particular drier load full of spare change.

“We’ll release another official personnel packet first, we already have one ready for both Barnes and Wilson, releasing their real names along with photos this time,” Maria Hill was saying as she stood at the end of the table. “That should take some of the mystery out of the story. And Barnes, we’re going to need you to do a press conference. Officially take off the mask for the public in a deliberate way, instead of a squirrel with a knife in the road way.”

Bucky frowned, eyes darting from Maria to the tabletop like he was trying to figure out if he was the squirrel.

“And that’s it?” Steve asked. He was dubious. PR usually took a lot more than what Maria was laying out.

“A team press conference would be good too. Since Wilson has been unofficially recognizable for a few months now, we’ll have Barnes and Wilson do a few one-on-one interviews with people, after we put the whole team out there as a united front. That should take even more of the attention off Hot Bandana Guy over here and put it back where it belongs.”

“Where’s that?” Sam asked without looking up from his files.

“Somewhere else,” Maria said emphatically.

“Gotcha.”

Bucky raised his hand hesitantly, like he was trying to answer a math question in English class.

Maria rolled her eyes. “What?”

“I need to be coached before you put me into a live situation.”

Maria stared at him. “What?”

“My brain to mouth filter does not have a setting high enough for me to be interviewed on live television without me coming across as a psychopath.”

Maria looked from Bucky to Steve. “Is he serious?”

Steve’s eyes widened and he glanced at Bucky, whose eyebrows had gone from ‘I am mildly confused but still adorable’ to ‘I am the night’ as he stared at Steve and waited for his answer.

“No comment,” Steve offered with finality.

Bucky huffed.

“Look, we don’t have time to prep you. Just be yourself, okay,” Maria told Bucky in exasperation. “Answer only the questions they ask, don’t go off on weird tangents, and don’t talk about setting things on fire or shooting things.”

Sam began to chuckle. “You can’t tell him to be himself and then tell him he can’t talk about shooting things.”

“I don’t get paid enough for this,” Maria grumbled under her breath.

Steve knew that both he and Bucky were the only ones who heard her.

==

“I’m just saying, it was cruel to make me associate a debriefing with getting railed, okay? I should not be turned on by post-op meetings!” Bucky growled at Steve as they headed for the lobby of Avengers Tower.

“Are you saying you were squirming in last night's meeting because you were fighting a hard-on?”

“Awkward boner is the term you're looking for.”

Steve chuckled, biting his lip as his mind offered up several hi-def versions of the things he’d done to Bucky yesterday morning. And then again that night.

“Stop making that face!” Bucky shouted.

Steve flapped his hands. “I can’t, it froze this way!”

“Ugh,” Bucky offered as the elevator came to a smooth stop and the doors glided open. He stomped out of the elevator, Steve on his heels.

They were both wearing their mission-ready suits. Bucky had his metal arm and red star on display and his black bandana on his face. It was a little bit of flashy show and dance for the benefit of the press, but it couldn’t really be helped.

The others were already in the lobby, sitting at their seats behind a long table that had been placed on a raised dais in front of a crowd of cameras and seated reporters. Beyond the tinted glass windows of the lobby, a large crowd had formed. It wasn’t unusual for autograph seekers and Avengers fans to congregate outside, but the team tried not to engage them. If word got out that loitering around the front door of Avengers Tower would get you an audience with a superhero, the Avengers would probably never sleep soundly again.

When Bucky and Steve walked in, a low murmur began to filter through the waiting crowd. Steve was glad Bucky had walked in first. This way he not only got to watch that fine ass and those loosely rolling shoulders of the man himself stalking in front of him, but he also got to see the reactions Bucky got from everyone else as he went past them. Most eyes followed the metal arm. Some stared at the black bandana like they could see under it if they just wished hard enough. Almost every set of eyes trailed down to his ass as soon as he was past them.

Yeah, Steve thought to himself. Me too, random citizens!

Bucky took one of the center seats on the dais, between Sam and Steve.

They’d gotten one of the women from Tony’s stable of PR people to come moderate for them, and as soon as everyone settled down, she announced the start of the press conference.

“The Winter Soldier would like to make a short statement,” she said into a mic. “And then we will open the floor for a brief round of questions.”

She turned and nodded at Bucky, who sighed loud enough for Steve to hear it through his mask.

Instead of plucking the cue cards from his pocket, Bucky pushed to his feet, standing with both palms pressed to the table as his eyes scanned the crowd.

Oh shit. He was going off script. Steve could feel the rest of the team gleefully paying closer attention in anticipation of a show.

Several people in the crowd shifted nervously when their eyes met Bucky’s.

Even Steve would admit the effect was intimidating. All they could really see of him were his eyes and his metal arm. Bucky’s eyes were piercing and intelligent and haunting once you got a close-up of them, and the whole world knew what that metal arm could do.

His haircut even worked with his suit. Steve had always thought the long hair was amazing, but now with the undercut and the smoothed waves on top of his head, he looked like some apocalyptic badass out of a science fiction novel.

Bucky finally straightened to his full height, probably content in the knowledge that several reporters in the front row were about to piss themselves now. He reached to the back of his head and pulled the knot of his bandana.

An excited ripple of movement went through the crowd. They were about to get their first clear look at the Winter Soldier’s face. The press had been chasing their tails for a year, salivating over what might be hidden behind that bandana.

Bucky had his head lowered as he untied it, and when he pulled it off, he clutched it in his fist and raised his head again to glare out across the crowd. The mask beneath the bandana was pants-shittingly intimidating compared to the flimsy piece of cloth he’d just removed, and it appeared the crowd in front of them agreed with Steve.

Steve had to bite down viciously on the inside of his cheek to keep from giggling into a live mic.

Bucky stood motionless in the stunned silence as everyone blinked at him. He plucked the mic from the table and held it in front of the muzzle of his mask. “My name is Bucky Barnes,” he informed the gathered reporters. There was a general hum in reaction. “This is what I wear under that bandana. Because what we do is fucking suicidally stupid. Every time we walk out the door we risk not coming back. And you can damn well believe I cover myself in head to toe Kevlar and keep my goddamn face out of the papers.”

Steve stared up at his profile, his knee bouncing with unspent nerves. Oh God, he was going to prod Bucky into fucking him so hard tonight.

“After today, I won’t be able to go on the street without looking over my shoulder ever again,” Bucky growled into the mic. “So, fucking thanks for your concern.”

He dropped the mic on the table with a loud thump through the speakers and narrowed his eyes dangerously as he brought his metal hand up to the side of his mask. He unclipped it and yanked it off his face, dropping it on the table beside the mic and standing there straight and tall, chin jutting out stubbornly as camera flashes did their best to roast all the Avengers’ corneas and reporters began shouting questions all at once.

God, he was stunning. Captivating, even. And he was all Steve's.

Bucky stood under the onslaught for a full minute, letting them take their pictures, letting the cameras roll and send the footage directly into the homes of millions of people. Then he breathed out deeply and sat back down.

The moderator was staring at him, lips parted and eyes wide. When he made a gesture at her she jumped and brought her mic back up. “Okay, first question,” she said hurriedly. She pointed to someone in the third row.

“Soldier, who were you speaking to on the phone during the bank incident yesterday morning?”

Bucky narrowed his eyes. Steve could tell he thought the question was fucking stupid. “I called my boyfriend to tell him I was okay.”

That brought a moment of surprised peace, then the shouting and waving hands started again. “Are you gay?” and “What’s his name?” and one wailing, “What do we tell the children??” being shouted out by numerous different voices.

Steve had stopped paying attention to the crowd, though. He was staring at Bucky, his upper body turned fully toward Bucky and his mouth gaping rather unattractively.

Bucky glanced at him, obviously either catching sight of him peripherally or sensing Steve’s eyes on him. “What?” he grunted at Steve.

“Did you just call me your boyfriend?” Steve blurted in shock.

Bucky rolled his eyes heavenward and then banged his forehead on the table. The impact thumped against the mic like thunder in the stunned silence that followed Steve’s words.

Chapter Text

“Jesus Christ, Steve, your mouth flaps in the wind harder than your fucking uniform would if you ran it up a flagpole,” Bucky moaned.

He was holding his head in his hands, leaning his elbows on his knees. His right leg was bouncing rapidly, causing his arm to bounce with it, causing his head to vibrate just as fast as his foot was. It felt like progress, since the room was bouncing around in his vision just like his thoughts were in his skull.

Steve groaned pitifully against the floor in response.

He had dragged into the common room with his shoulders so slumped that Bucky’d wanted to put a book on the guy’s head and call himself Miss Manners until Steve straightened back out.

Bucky had perched on the couch, fully expecting Steve to follow so they could panic together in proximity. But Steve had bypassed him and headed for a rectangle of sunlight that was shining through the huge glass windows. He’d flopped to his belly in the middle of the warm spot and splayed his long limbs out, a dancing puppet with his strings cut. His face was still pressed into the floor, nose squished, eyes closed.

Bucky risked another glance at him, then immediately jerked his head away so he’d stop torturing himself with visions of Captain America’s fine ass and start focusing on the immediate problem. When he did that, though, he thought he might actually puke on his favorite boots.

“Oh, my God,” he muttered as he stared down at the steel toes of his asskicker boots. “I just outed Captain America.”

“No, you didn’t,” Steve said in a flat, exhausted voice that was muffled by the floor. “Captain America just outed Steve Rogers.”

Bucky dropped his head lower and fisted his hair in both hands.

He could feel the others moving around, but so far no one had come over to poke at them yet.

“What’s the fallout?” Bucky asked whoever was listening.

The movement in the room behind him stilled. Bucky had a feeling if he looked up, all the Avengers would be frozen in mid-motion like they hoped he couldn’t spot them.

Bucky’s leg started bouncing faster. “That bad, huh?”

Measured footsteps finally approached the lounge area where Bucky and Steve were having their bi-annual quota of meltdowns.

“It’s not so bad,” Tony offered.

Huh. Bucky would not have placed bets on Tony out of everyone trying to make them feel better during a disaster of their own making. He glanced up to see Tony standing over Steve, scowling down at him.

Tony dropped a circle of white cloth on Steve’s head. It took a minute for Bucky to realize it was the filter out of the coffee machine.

“Here, you lost this,” Tony said to Steve, then turned to go throw himself into an armchair.

Steve gingerly took the filter off his head and held it out in front of his face so he could look at it. Then he tucked it under his body and stuffed it between his chest and the floor. “Thanks,” he said earnestly before squishing his nose against the tile again.

“How bad is not so bad?” Bucky asked Tony.

“Well I mean, part of the population will always hate the Avengers, so at least now it’s the bigoted asshole part.”

Bucky shrugged and nodded.

“We should probably add my entire PR department to the threat list, though,” Tony added under his breath.

“Well!” Natasha said pointedly when she joined Bucky on the couch. “I, for one, am proud of you, Rogers. It takes a lot of guts to come out in front of the world.”

“It didn’t take guts,” Steve argued. “That’s like saying it was brave of me to trip into a ditch and fall on a grenade.”

Bucky pursed his lips, shaking his head. “This is my fault. If I’d just stayed behind that fucking car, we’d never have been in this situation.”

Natasha shrugged, obviously agreeing and not seeing the point in impeding Bucky’s self-flagellation. “We also wouldn’t be getting three dozen pairs of panties in the fanmail every day. I’ll never have to go underwear shopping again”

Bucky eyed her warily. “You wear underwear in that cat suit?”

“No,” Natasha said, taking a sip of her terrifying Russian tea.

Tony set his StarkPhone aside and peered at her. “I can’t tell if you’re joking or not.”

“We toss the ones that are used,” Natasha assured him.

Bucky shivered up and down and had to stand up to get the jitters out.

“Thanks for that EMP, Tony,” he said as he began to pace back and forth.

Tony spread his hands wide and grinned. “It was my absolute pleasure to hit a button that briefly fried the electronics in the entire building I’ve made my life’s work.”

Bucky winced but kept pacing.

“Hey, it was worth it to watch a bunch of journalists and reporters panic because they couldn’t be first to report the story,” Tony continued. “Sorry it took out your arm, though.”

“It kept me from braining anyone with it, so it’s all good.”

“I could have done without the seventy flights of stairs,” Natasha muttered darkly.

“Your ass will look fantastic,” Bucky tossed out distractedly.

Natasha sent him a glare full of Slavic spite. “The hell do you mean will?”

“What the hell do we do?” Steve asked the floor.

Bucky shook his head. “Nothing? I mean . . . denying it wouldn’t feel so great, if you’re asking me for my life experience.”

Steve shoved up and went from broken marionette to beached mermaid as he locked onto Bucky. “I don’t want to hide you,” he said almost viciously.

The sight of his determined face brought Bucky’s pacing to an abrupt halt. Bucky stared down at him. “I never thought you did, Steve,” he said gently. “But I know the way you grew up you had to hide it for your safety, I’ll never make you fight against that instinct, okay?”

“It’s a different world,” Steve argued.

Bucky nodded, feeling more composed now that he had someone else to focus on keeping calm. “But it’s still a scary one.”

Steve’s expression dropped, and he stared at the floor sadly. He was still for a moment, then he shimmied himself a few inches back so he was completely in the sunbeam again and pressed his face to the floor dejectedly.

Everyone was silent for a few seconds before movement in the kitchen area started up again; someone opening the fridge, Bruce’s spoon clinking against a teacup as he stirred his non-opioid sludge, Clint cussing at the coffee maker when he realized there was no filter in it.

Tony cleared his throat. “So, we have two options, if my memory of my past fuck-ups is correct. We carry on business as usual, don’t especially acknowledge the fact that you two are a thing, treat it as if it were just as normal as if Nat and Bruce hooked up.”

“Whoa,” Bruce called from the kitchen. “How would someone banging a giant green rage monster be business as usual?”

“That was a flawed example,” Tony conceded. “Or, we can book a couple of exclusive interviews, let you two talk it out, and then officially shelve it after the public has their taste.”

Bucky began to pace again. “Pros and cons?”

“Ignoring it will make it a juicier story, draw it out longer than anyone really wants it to go.”

Bucky nodded, glancing over at Tony.

“Second option carries the risk of putting two people with a coffee filter between them in front of a camera again.”

Steve reached under his chest and pulled the filter out again, holding it up to the sunbeam. “Can we sew this into my uniform?”

==

“Captain Rogers, what do you say to the public who’s worried that a gay man is at the helm of the Avengers?”

“I’d tell them I’m actually bisexual,” Steve drawled into the microphone shoved in his face as he paid for his Starbucks.

==

“Why should we feel safe now? How do we trust a strategist who’s been lying to us for seventy years?”

“The only lying Steve Rogers did for seventy years was on his back in the Arctic,” Bucky snarled at a blogger who saw his life flash before his eyes in the middle of the aisle at Duane Reade when Bucky turned his glare on him.

==

“How has this relationship effected Captain America’s ability to run missions? Aren’t the Avengers concerned about Captain America’s mental state?”

“I guess it is a legitimate worry that Barnes might be fucking Cap’s literal brains out instead of just figuratively,” Tony answered thoughtfully right before he slipped into the back of his limo.

==

It took about a month for the flurry to die down. Given how public the Avengers’ personas were by then, and how weird the Christian right was about anything that went up another person’s ass, Steve supposed it could have been a lot worse.

He was curled up on his side in bed, head resting on Bucky’s shoulder as Bucky’s fingers carded through his hair. He gave a soft sigh, and Bucky turned his head to press his lips to Steve’s forehead.

“You okay?” Bucky asked gently.

Steve nodded, turning the motion into a nuzzle as he dug around and pressed his face into Bucky’s neck.

“I’d do it all again, you know,” Bucky murmured, twirling the longer strands of Steve’s hair around his fingers.

“Yeah?”

“You’re one hell of a lay, Steve.”

Steve pinched Bucky’s hip and made him yelp. Bucky rolled and wrapped him up with both arms, holding him closer. He settled his metal fingers under Steve’s chin and forced him to look up.

“I mean it,” he said seriously. “I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

“Same,” Steve whispered.

Bucky kissed him and then tucked Steve’s head back against his neck.

“Move in with me,” Steve blurted.

Bucky was silent and still for long enough to make Steve nervous. “What?” he finally asked, sounding beyond confused.

“Move in here,” Steve said again. “Move in with me.”

“But . . .” Bucky pulled back so he could peer at Steve with narrowed eyes. “I thought I’d already done that.”

“What?”

“I only had the one bag of stuff, I brought it up here like two weeks ago. I haven’t left in a month, Steve!”

“Oh.” Steve scowled for a second, then grinned widely. “Well, make sure you leave a memo or something when we get married, so I can be happy about it.”

“That better not be you proposing to me Rogers, I swear to God.”

“We just moved in together, we should take it slow.”

Bucky huffed and stuffed Steve’s face back against his neck, probably to shut him up this time.

==

Steve was scratching idly at his ear as they sat around the conference table, going over several missions they’d been planning.

“Why the hell would anyone ask the Avengers to be involved in an undercover op?” he asked, waving at a buzzing bug that passed by him. “We’re kind of a big deal.”

Sam squinted up at the StarkBoard. “That one needs to go back to the FBI or something. Pass.”

“What about the AIM intel?” Natasha asked as she shuffled a few files and pulled out the one she was wanting. She used it to swat at the same flying bug before looking at the file with a keen eye. “They’ve got a huge facility up in North Dakota that’s giving off a lot of warning bells. They’re making something big up there.”

“That’s more our speed,” Bucky agreed.

“When are we going to let the Terrible Two out of their holding cells?” Tony asked. He waved his hand around his head, then scowled at the little bug as it pinwheeled off. “I need to look at the air filtration up here.”

“When they’ve learned their lesson and stop trying to kill Barnes every time he goes down there,” Steve answered distractedly.

“I apologized for electrocuting her in the face,” Bucky insisted with a wave of his hand. “Now she’s just being petty and shit.”

“All she does is scream every time she sees Barnes,” Bruce told them. “Something about a chair and losing his memories of the ’40’s.”

“Weird,” Clint grunted, his eyes following something through the air even Steve’s enhanced eyes couldn’t see.

Bucky snapped his hand out and grabbed something out of the air, he held it there for a second, frowning at his fist, then he opened it and peered at the bug in his palm that he’d apparently caught buzzing around his head. Finally. Steve hoped he squished the damn thing.

Bucky’s scowl deepened and he cocked his head at the insect. “Scott?”

There was a whooshing sound and Ant-Man grew to his full size, winding up straddling Bucky’s lap and upending his chair. All Steve saw were legs and hands flying over the top of the table as Bucky and Scott both shouted and tumbled backward.

“What the hell?” Bucky shouted. His heavy boot heel hit the table and then the chair rolled sideways and dumped them both into the floor.

Scott popped back to his feet and hit his facemask, revealing his grinning face. “First person who’s ever caught me barehanded! Thanks for not using the metal one, Barnes.”

Bucky’s fingers came up to grab the table, followed by his wildly mussed hair as he pulled himself up, shaking his head. “Jesus.”

“We’ve got a situation,” Scott told the staring Avengers. “Hank said he had it under control. He does not have it under control.”

Steve leaned forward to question him, but he didn’t get a word out before something large and gooey splatted into the floor to ceiling ballistic glass of the conference room’s windows. They all stared at the giant bug, it’s wings bent and broken, goo leaking out of its smashed body as it slid down the glass with a loud squeaking sound.

Scott shuffled guiltily. “Yeah, about that . . .”

==

“Why?” Bucky shouted plaintively into the comms. “Why are humans like this?”

Steve ducked as a giant hornet dive-bombed him, stinger aimed at him, looking to fuck him up in all the wrong ways. Steve made like a turtle behind his shield. The hornet clanked off the shield and wavered like it was dazed as its momentum catapulted it over Steve’s head and carried it a few yards before it crash-landed.

Tony flew over it like a crop duster and sprayed the concoction of organic, environmentally safe bug spray he’d made up in his lab. The hornet twitched and went still.

“Kamikaze hornets,” Steve muttered under his breath.

“Cap, from up here your shield looks like the front bumper of a Mack truck,” Clint offered up from somewhere on the tops of the buildings above Steve’s head.

Steve risked a glance at it and immediately regretted his decision-making skills. “Gross.”

“Arrgh!” Bucky shouted into the comms, without further explanation.

Steve peered up, only to find an oversized moth lumbering through the air, one of Bucky’s straps hooked under its leg as he was yanked off the edge of the building he’d been using as a sniper’s nest. He was still stubbornly gripping his rifle as he dangled like a wet kitten in its mother’s mouth, and instead of fighting with the moth who’d given him his ride, he raised the rifle and began picking off every oversized insect in the general vicinity.

“I need air support!” Steve shouted, his finger to the comm in his ear.

“On my way,” Sam assured him.

Bucky shot a dragonfly the size of a SmartCar out of the sky and it careened into a building, crashing through a window and disappearing inside.

The moth that had obviously been under the impression the shiny thing attached to Bucky was lighter than it actually was decided to give up, and it released the strap it had been holding him by, sending him into a freefall.

Steve watched in horror, his heart stuttering.

The velocity sent Bucky falling sideways, and he tumbled through the broken window fifteen stories up, right after the dragonfly. There was an almighty crash and clatter on the comms.

“I’m okay,” Bucky grunted a moment later.

“Never mind,” Steve told Sam once he’d lost visual of his boyfriend.

A moment later, the massive body of the dead dragonfly sailed out the window, landing with a heinous splat in the middle of the street.

“I thought Hank Pym was a West Coast dude,” Sam was saying as he buzzed the top of Steve’s head and then landed with a nifty kickspin a few yards away. “Why ain’t this happening to LA or some shit.”

“The Statue of Liberty being destroyed offers more poignant visuals?” Tony guessed.

“It was an accident!” Hank Pym insisted over the comms.

Steve wiped the sweat and grime off his forehead with the back of his gloved hand.

“I’m telling you right now, Cap,” Sam warned. “If I see a cockroach any bigger than the ones I grew up with, I’m peacing the fuck out of here, you understand?”

“Understood, Sam.”

The ground beneath Steve’s boots trembled. He looked down, frowning. “What?”

“Incoming!” Clint shouted. “Incoming, incoming, holy shit!”

“What’s coming?” Sam asked, glancing around wildly and holding both of his guns up.

“Aw, man, this ain’t gonna end well,” Bucky muttered. He waved what looked like a flower-printed pillowcase out of the broken window, and Iron Man flew toward it, letting Bucky wrap his metal arm around his neck so he could take him down to street level.

The ground shook when they landed, but Steve knew it wasn’t the Iron Man suit hitting that heavy.

“We might need a Hulk for this,” Clint told them.

“Banner’s more valuable in the lab with Pym right now. We’ll handle it,” Steve decided.

The creature came into sight as it plodded down a side road. It was at least ten times bigger than the hornet Steve had almost gotten intimate with.

“Holy shit,” Steve blurted. The bug was almost flat, a hard, triangular-shaped armored casing protecting its back while the underside seemed to be nothing but giant legs.

“What is that?” Sam cried.

“Is there anyone on this team who did not grow up in a city and knows what something other than a roach looks like?” Natasha asked breathlessly.

“It’s a stink bug,” Bucky answered. “They have them all over the South.”

“Stink bug,” Tony muttered. “What the hell, those things don’t even go here!”

On televisions around the world showing the battle, the Winter Soldier smacked Iron Man in the head with his metal arm for no apparent reason.

“How do we kill it?” Steve asked.

“You’re not supposed to kill them, they earned their names that way,” Bucky answered.

“We kind of have to kill this one,” Natasha argued.

Scott cleared his throat nervously. “Are we really going to gas the Big Apple with a stink bug?”

“Who’s ‘we’ here, Shrink Ray,” Sam cried. “This is your big hero moment!”

“I have civilians still in this building,” Natasha informed them.

“Soldier, help her,” Steve ordered. “We’ll take the stink bomb.”

Bucky didn’t hesitate before sprinting off in the direction Natasha gave him. Tony and Sam both took flight again, leaving Steve on the street with Clint as his eyes in the sky and a miniaturized Scott standing heroically on Steve’s shoulder.

“We have to get to its belly, that shell isn’t going to let anything through,” Steve told his team. “Stark, Sam, tip that cow over.”

Sam and Tony regrouped side by side, with Sam flying out in an arc to gain momentum, and then they rushed the stink bug, hitting it together and rocking its side up almost ten feet in the air. It wavered on its side as they flew past, and Steve launched his shield at it, hoping to hit a soft, vital spot and end this. The shield clanked against one of the bug’s flailing legs and went rocketing off in the wrong direction as the stink bug spun around on its side like a dreidel, and then the bug rocked back down on its feet with enough force to make the ground tremble and dust fly off the surrounding buildings. It impacted against the building next to it, taking out half the storefronts and sending brick and concrete flying.

Steve cursed.

“What?” Bucky demanded, breathing hard like he was struggling up floor after floor of stairs.

“Soldier, the building you’re in is destabilized, get those people out of there.”

“There’s kids up here,” Bucky answered. “Shit! Dammit! Son of a . . . wrong way, kid! Is that a swear jar? Are you kidding me right now!”

Steve edged warily around the stink bug, positioning himself in a crouch. Scott hopped off his shoulder and made himself person-sized again. He gave Steve a nod and crouched next to him like they were waiting for the starting gun.

“Air support!” Steve called. “Do it again, we’ll get under it and take it apart before it settles.”

“Steve,” Bucky warned.

“You sure, Cap?” Tony asked.

Steve knew if both Bucky and Tony were questioning his actions, what he was doing was monumentally stupid. “Yes,” he answered anyway.

Sam and Tony dove again, rocking the stink bug up on its side. Its giant legs flailed. Steve and Scott charged at it and Steve tackled it while Scott leapt and went tiny again, pushing the bug’s momentum over. Steve rode the thing to the ground, and the impact sent him rolling wildly, unable to stop his uncontrolled tumble. He crashed into the side of the building the bug had fallen into the first time, and from the very base of it as he sprawled and blinked dazedly up at the sky, he could see the structure leaning precariously.

“Shit!” he called when he realized the building was going over. “Bucky, get out of there!”

Bucky didn’t answer, and Steve pushed to his feet. A flailing stink bug leg the size of a grappling hook caught him in the temple and sent Steve flying into the side of the building like the proverbial bug on a windshield. His last thought as the world turned into a swirling black hole of nothing was that he was going to step on so many roaches if he lived through this.

Anyone at home who thought watching the Avengers battle oversized insects was a decent use of their evening’s time was treated to a dramatic shot from a helicopter of Captain America collapsing on the battle field. The building above him groaned and wavered, stonework and masonry raining down on the flailing upside down bug and the blue stealth suit lying motionless beside it.

A black figure sped down the sidewalk, Captain America’s shield clutched in the hand that wasn’t gleaming under the setting sun. The Winter Soldier dove into the shower of brick and stone, throwing his body over Captain America’s and curling both the shield and the metal arm over them both as the building imploded at its base and toppled into the street on top of them.

==

Steve had regained consciousness very briefly, blinking up at the silver underside of his shield in confusion. Bucky’s head had been resting on his chest, his body covering most of Steve’s, and there were sounds far away like shouting and rocks being shifted.

Steve had assumed they’d fallen asleep in a puppy pile while watching Jurassic Park and he let sleep take him again.

It wasn’t until he blinked his eyes open in a MedBay bed that his mind cleared enough to recall what had really happened. Now, he’d been sitting up in the bed, gumming some green Jell-o, watching the news for the last hour.

A lot of the broadcasts would occasionally play back the footage of the end of the battle, where Hank Pym had finally delivered a sort of stun gun to Scott and they’d used it to shrink any remaining giant bugs back down to their regular size.

And it seemed the press just couldn’t help themselves, because they kept showing the moment, over and over, where Bucky had used his own body as a human shield along with the real shield to save Steve from a falling building.

Steve’s stomach roiled and his heart squeezed every time he saw it.

Bucky was asleep in the bed next to him, muttering about ants and jerking his metal arm occasionally.

Steve could see just from the news footage that Bucky had abandoned his assigned task, sending the civilians he’d led out of their building off toward the police barricades before he’d sprinted toward Steve’s position.

Most of the broadcasts were ignoring that, talking instead about heroism and loyalty and teamwork. FOX News was harping on the Soldier for leaving innocent lives in danger to save his sinner boyfriend.

Steve couldn’t quite get the bad taste out of his mouth, and he knew it wasn’t just the green Jello-o.

Bucky groaned miserably when he fought his way back to consciousness. Steve shifted in bed, frowning as he tried to figure out how to call Bucky a reckless son of a whore while still sounding grateful that he’d saved his life.

“Ho, don’t do it,” Bucky muttered without opening his eyes.

“Bucky,” Steve said in the same tone his mother used to chastise him with.

“Oh, my God,” Bucky moaned as he turned his head away from Steve.

==

“We need to talk,” Steve said to Bucky as soon as they were alone in their rooms. Bucky was still walking with a bit of hitch in his giddy-up where his femur had been cracked. They were both otherwise mostly healed, though.

“Those are the most terrifying words in the English language, Steve,” Bucky warned. “The only way to make them sound scarier is to say them in German.”

Steve winced guiltily and ducked his head, clasping his hands together.

“Steve?” Bucky asked carefully, like he was just realizing that Steve wanted to have a serious conversation.

“I don’t want you to think I’m not grateful for what you did,” Steve said after he had taken a few moments to gather his thoughts. “I am. And I would have done the same if it had been you.”

Bucky nodded warily. He had his body turned a little to the side as he stared at Steve, like he was prepared to make himself a smaller target.

“And that’s the crux of the problem,” Steve explained, hating the way the words scraped against his throat and laid heavy on his tongue.

“I don’t understand,” Bucky admitted, still frowning in confusion.

“You abandoned your mission to do it, Buck. What if those people had been hurt after you left them defenseless? What if you’d saved me but cost two dozen innocent lives?”

Bucky frowned harder, turning to face Steve more directly. “Then I would have sent some fucking amazing condolence bouquets to their families,” he stated, as if he didn’t even have to agonize over it.

Steve lowered his head, closing his eyes. “I was afraid you’d say that.”

“Steve, what?”

“We choose each other,” Steve explained. “We choose each other first.”

Bucky nodded and shrugged like he was saying, ‘yeah, and?’

“That can’t happen during a fight like that, Bucky,” Steve insisted. “I don’t think . . . I don’t think we can do this and still be part of this team.”

Bucky’s brow knitted and his eyes darted over Steve’s face, trying to get a better read on him. “You saying you want to quit?”

Steve shook his head sadly. “That would be just as selfish a choice.”

Bucky was silent, staring at Steve. Steve couldn’t look at him so he closed his eyes.

“Are you kicking me off the team?” Bucky finally asked, sounding resigned.

“No,” Steve whispered. “No, the team needs you.”

He risked a glance just in time to see Bucky swallow hard, realization of what Steve was saying sinking into his expression.

“So, you’re breaking up with me,” Bucky finally said, his voice steady but his eyes reflecting the lamp light from the living room.

“I love you, Buck,” Steve said breathlessly. “But . . .”

Bucky merely nodded, holding up his hand so Steve wouldn’t finish. He turned and headed for the bedroom without another word, and not two minutes later he returned, his duffel bag over his shoulder.

“Alright, then,” he said, voice rough as gravel as he walked past Steve toward the door.

“Bucky,” Steve called after him.

Bucky didn’t stop, though, yanking the door open. “See you around, Rogers.”

==

It was the longest, coldest night of Steve’s life. He knew, on paper, the decision was the only one he could make. But his heart wasn’t made of paper.

When he got to the common area the next morning, his eyes felt like sandpaper, red-rimmed and bloodshot, and his head was full of cotton.

The other Avengers were assembled in the common area already, with three strangers standing with them. Two of them had cameras sitting on their shoulders.

Steve stood in his Iron Man pajamas and stared stupidly, utterly lost.

“Cap,” Tony greeted pointedly, jerking his head at the cameras. “The TV crew is here.”

“What the hell?” Steve asked, voice so hoarse he wasn’t sure anyone had actually heard him.

The elevator doors dinged behind him, and he didn’t have to turn around to know that it was Bucky. He was the only team member not already present. His steps slowed as he joined them, stopping next to Steve to scowl at the camera crew.

“Miss Pearson and her crew are here for that behind the scenes special we talked about last week,” Tony explained. “The one in the memo that was sent to everyone’s official e-mails?”

“I have an official e-mail?” Bucky asked, still looking confounded at the cameras.

The little red light blipping at them told Steve that the cameras were already rolling.

“Yes,” Tony said through gritted teeth. “They’re from the LGBTQA awareness group we’ve partnered with, doing a special on the two of you.”

The woman grinned and stepped forward, nodding at Steve and Bucky. She could obviously tell they were both off their game because she aborted the move to offer her hand to shake. “It’s a pleasure to meet you both, Captain Rogers, Sergeant Barnes. And thank you for agreeing to do this. After what you did during that last fight, this project is even more important. We have to ride the wave of public sentiment.”

Steve stared at her like a cow trying to start a tractor. “You’re doing your special report on me and Buck?”

She nodded, still smiling. “You’re the most famous LGBT couple in the world right now.”

Bucky groaned and looked up at the ceiling.

“Your story can bring so much understanding and support for kids who have nowhere else to turn,” the woman told them, practically beaming. “I can’t tell you how much it means to the world that you’re together.”

Steve glanced sideways at Bucky, feeling his face flush hot with panic and shame and regret.

Bucky ignored Steve to scowl right into the lens of the camera. “You gotta be five-finger fucking me right now.”

Chapter Text

Bucky was hunched over on the sofa in Steve’s living room, holding his head in his hands, his fingers clutching his hair so tight Steve was afraid he might actually pull it out.

“Buck,” Steve tried carefully.

“Don’t talk to me right now.”

Steve cleared his throat uncomfortably and nodded, chewing on his lip as he hovered awkwardly a few feet away.

“Okay,” Bucky sighed, raising his head and squaring his shoulders. He let out a long breath, reminiscent of the breathing exercises Bruce did when he was trying not to let the Hulk come out to play. “We can do this.”

Steve nodded in agreement, afraid to speak again.

“It’s just three days. We can pretend for three days to help thousands of queer kids who are on the street just like I was at sixteen.”

Steve’s tongue darted over his lips. “Buck, I’m sorry.”

“In the course of two measly years, you’ve managed to rip the only two things that felt like home right out from under my feet,” Bucky practically snarled, putting his head in his hands again and fisting the longer strands of hair on top. “I don’t care if you’re sorry anymore, it’s not enough. I was planning on stealing an IV bag of flower sludge and going into scary hobo hermit mode for a week, and now I can’t even wallow in some honest to goddamn misery like I deserve.”

Steve felt a wave of nausea blast through him. He’d thought, when he woke up after they’d defrosted him, that he’d never know that kind of mourning again. Losing his whole world, everything he knew and everyone he loved, gone forever to the passing of time. He’d been wrong, though, because watching Bucky distance himself from Steve because Steve had torn Bucky’s world apart, again, was so much worse.

He knew the decision he’d made had been the right one, for the team. He also knew it had been the wrong one on a nearly cosmic level.

“Bucky,” he started, his heart pounding in his throat, his lips feeling weird and tingly, blood rushing in his ears. He still had time to take it all back, didn’t he? He had time to fix it. But the pain and betrayal that had been sitting heavy in Bucky’s eyes all morning weren’t going to be easy to clear. The damage had been done. “Buck, I –”

Bucky looked up, frowning into the middle distance. He still had one hand in his hair even as he straightened his spine. “Steve,” he said dejectedly.

Steve stared at him with a mixture of dread and hope. “Yeah?”

Bucky’s shoulders slumped. Steve had seen that same exact expression on a dog in the park once after it had realized the stick in its mouth wasn’t going to fit in the hole it had just dug. “My metal fingers are caught in my hair.”

Steve’s hands were trembling by the time he got Bucky loose. He wanted to run his fingers through that soft hair and pull Bucky to him and beg for him to forget any of this had ever happened. But Bucky was tense next to him, his entire body coiled and his jaw set in a hard line that Steve hadn’t seen since the Pentagon. He would probably break Steve’s hand right now if Steve tried to touch him.

A knock on the door rescued the bones in Steve’s hand as he’d been reaching out anyway, and Steve jumped guiltily and lurched to his feet. “That’s probably the cameras.”

Bucky grunted in answer. “It’s just three days,” he repeated, like he was giving himself a pep talk. “Once they’re gone I’ll get out of your way again and get a start on that self-destructive spiral I know is coming.”

Steve’s steps were stiff and jerky as he left Bucky on the sofa.

Steve let the crew in with a forced smile and a nod to each of them in greeting. “Welcome to our home,” he offered, hating that the words made him want to drop to his knees and beg the Good Lord and Bucky Barnes for forgiveness. “How does this work?”

“We’re going to be shadowing you in public by day,” Miss Pearson explained as Steve led them back to the living room. “And on occasion we’ll interview you and your teammates. But this is the only time we’ll invade your personal space, Captain Rogers. And if at any time you want the cameras gone, all you have to do is say. We’re not here to get in your way.”

“I appreciate that, ma’am.” Steve gave her another small smile, but it felt like he was merely stretching his lips across his teeth rather than offering an honest emotion.

Bucky stood when they entered the room, swiping his palms up and down the front of his thighs as he shuffled nervously. “I’m really not great in front of a camera,” he warned Pearson.

“Dude, but your face is,” one of the camera operators said as he peered appreciatively at the screen of the massive camera on his shoulder.

“I’m sure you’ll do fine, Sergeant Barnes!” Pearson said, giving him an encouraging smile.

“Please don’t . . . you can call me Bucky. Or Soldier, if that works better. I’m not a sergeant anymore.”

Pearson inclined her head, her smile turning softer. “Whatever you want. Bucky.”

Bucky nodded uncomfortably and his eyes darted to Steve. Steve couldn’t help but reach a hand out to comfort the nerves he could see. Bucky froze, so quick that even Steve would have missed it if his hand hadn’t been on Bucky’s shoulder. Then Bucky seemed to sink into a completely different mindset, his shoulders rolling loose and the smile on his face seeming utterly genuine. It was that protective false coating of charming joviality Steve knew he had, the same one he dredged up to put on every time he thought one of his teammates was in more need of comforting than he himself was.

Goddammit, Steve loved him. He loved him with his very soul, and he’d actually convinced himself that breaking Bucky’s heart was a viable plan. This, this right here, was why Steve couldn’t have nice things.

The crew asked to interview each of them separately, so Steve left the room and trudged to his bedroom while they talked with Bucky first.

His memory foam mattress was cold and particularly judgy when he sat down on the end of it.

After a few moments of punishing silence, there was a soft ding over the speakers from JARVIS. Steve glanced up, frowning in concern. But JARVIS didn’t address him, and after a few seconds the voices from the living room filtered down to Steve.

“Can you tell us a little about Captain Rogers, from your unique point of view?” Pearson was requesting.

Steve heard Bucky clear his throat. “He’s, uh . . . Steve Rogers is the biggest asshole I’ve ever met,” he answered after a short pause. He huffed a laugh as Miss Pearson snorted unattractively. When Bucky continued, his voice was soft and almost sad. “But he’s also amazing. When we first met, we were a little at odds, and I tried my best not to like him. Kept telling myself there was no way it’d end anything but bloody for me if I started caring about him. But now . . . I’m pretty sure I’m never going to love anything else in my life the way I love Steve. I’d let that man put a bullet in my brain and all he’d have to do is say please.”

Steve realized tears were streaming down his cheeks as he stared at the ceiling.

“Dammit, JARVIS,” he muttered.

“Indeed, Captain.”

==

Over the course of the next three days, Steve learned a new meaning to the phrase ‘awkward boner’. He and Bucky had to act the happy couple in all the public spaces of the Tower as the cameras filmed nearby, and since they’d always been tactile, they continued on that way. Touching Bucky and knowing the promises of those touches were empty was a particularly fresh hell that Steve had not been prepared for at all. Bucky still shot him soft smiles when their eyes met, too. But Steve was the only person there who knew what Bucky’s eyes looked like when they were lying.

And when they retired to Steve’s apartment at night to hide from the cameras, Bucky would stalk off to the guest room and shut himself behind the door, leaving Steve to stare longingly at the other side of his bed into the small hours of the night.

The combination of the cameras and Bucky’s Ice Queen impression made it impossible for Steve to say the things he needed to say before his time ran out.

The cameras were set to leave the next morning, though, and as soon as they were in the lobby, Steve was going to grab Bucky by his hair and hold on until Bucky let him get words out. He just had to get through one last night of utterly despising himself to do it.

“You little son of a sourdough biscuit!” Bucky hissed from somewhere in the living room.

Steve jerked up to sit in bed, peering at the open door of the bedroom. He tossed the covers away and headed for the living room, steps light and careful, shoulders tense. The lamps were all still off, the blackout curtains drawn to close out the lights of the city below them. Bucky really only got creative when he cussed at inanimate objects, so Steve was fairly certain there was no real danger. Unless he included Bucky himself, in which case, he was currently sneaking up on some very real danger.

“Bucky?” Steve called from the hallway.

“Go back to bed,” Bucky responded, gruff and sounding exhausted. “Douchebag.”

Steve stepped out into the living room, peering through the darkness. Bucky was sitting on the coffee table, shoulders slumped.

“What happened?” Steve asked him.

“Stubbed my toe,” Bucky answered glibly.

Steve glanced around. “What are you doing out here?”

Bucky grunted and still refused to turn his head to look in Steve’s direction. “None of your goddamn business.”

Steve’s night vision was getting better, though, and he could make out a white rectangle on the couch that may have been one of the pillows from the guest room. “Have you been sleeping out here?”

Bucky raised his head to look up at the ceiling, probably closing his eyes like he always did when he was seeking a calm place in his mind so he wouldn’t have to go to jail as a consequence of his actions. “I haven’t been sleeping,” he admitted, his voice breaking on the last word.

Steve edged closer. “Me either.”

“I don’t care.”

Steve cleared his throat, his body heating up with shame and longing. “You sure? Because I still care a hell of a lot about you.”

Bucky made a snorting sound that Steve had only ever heard a rooting pig make before tonight.

Steve swallowed hard. “And I still love you, Buck.”

“What do you want from me, Steve?” Bucky shouted as he lunged to his feet and rounded on Steve. “You broke up with me, you can’t keep poking at me like this and rubbing it in! And you sure as shit can’t make me just stop loving you because you threw me out on my ass!”

Steve stared at him as Bucky’s shoulders heaved with every angry breath. “Buck, are you high right now?”

“Bitch, I might be!” Bucky shouted with a wild jerk of his head.

Steve deflated. “We can’t have this conversation if you’re not –”

Bucky launched himself at Steve, sending them both sliding to the hardwood floor in a tangle of muscle and cursing.

“What the hell, Buck?” Steve cried.

“All I had to do was keep hating you!” Bucky snarled as he grabbed Steve’s wrist and held it down. “That’s all I had to do, and I couldn’t, you little fuckshit!”

Steve managed to get out of his hold and Bucky flailed around with both hands, trying to grab Steve’s wrists again in the almost pitch dark. Steve played keep-away with his hands as he tried to squirm away, and Bucky finally jabbed him in the stomach to make him curl protectively around his only ticklish spot.

“Hold still so I can yell at you!”

“Buck, stop!” Steve pleaded, his voice wavering between a sob and a laugh.

Bucky put both palms on the floor beside Steve’s head, hanging his head as his shoulders slumped. He was breathing hard, every inhale a trembling struggle, every exhale a rough gust against Steve’s face. “Damn you, Stevie,” he whispered brokenly.

“I can’t ever say I’m sorry enough,” Steve murmured as he reached one tentative hand up to slide his fingers across Bucky’s unshaven cheek. “I can only ask you to forgive me, Buck. I made a mistake. Worst mistake of my life.”

“Worst mistake of your life was that spandex you wore to go fight aliens,” Bucky grumbled without moving. “Goddamn travesty.”

Steve managed a tremulous smile. “I need you.”

“Whether we’re together or not,” Bucky said softly, his voice going low and rough as a gravel road. “Whether you love me back or not. I’ll still choose you first. I’m always going to choose you first. Ain’t nothing you can ever do to change that, even if you break my heart every day for the rest of my life. So your self-sacrificing ass can just fuck off with that shit.”

Steve struggled to swallow against the knot forming in his throat. “I know,” he whispered, appalled to realize he was crying again. “I’m always going to choose you first, too, Buck. I just needed a couple of the worst nights of my life to realize I can’t change that, either.”

Bucky pushed his hands off the floor, still straddling Steve’s belly as he slumped back and wiped at his cheek.

Steve sat up to swipe his thumb over the other one, knowing Bucky shied away from using the metal fingers anywhere near his face because one black eye had been enough to teach him.

It was so silent in the apartment that Steve heard Bucky swallow. They seemed to realize at the same time how close they were, that Bucky was straddling Steve’s lap, that their faces were just inches apart. Bucky looked down between them, then around at the floor like he was surprised to realize where his knees and feet were.

“Sorry,” he mumbled.

Steve slid his hands over Bucky’s hips and up his back, hugging him closer as he peered up into Bucky’s shadowed face. “Can you forgive me?”

Bucky rested his forehead against Steve’s, breaths still uneven. “Yes. But you’re still an asshole.”

Steve never thought that his fucking heart would soar over being called bad names. “But can I be your asshole?” he teased.

Bucky pushed away from him with a groan. “That’s obscene, are you ashamed of yourself? I hope you’re ashamed of yourself. Jesus Christ.”

==

Steve had put up a token protest, knowing that Bucky had been in the sludge that night trying to drug himself out of his insomnia. But as soon as Bucky had done That Thing™ with his tongue in the middle of a desperate kiss, Steve had decided that he needed to be more picky about which battles he chose.

He dragged Bucky to bed with him, pulling him onto the mattress and urging Bucky to crawl over him. When Bucky did just that, settling himself between Steve’s legs, Steve squeezed Bucky’s waist with his knees, hanging on as Bucky kissed him and kissed him.

“Steve,” Bucky said on a sigh as he was trailing kisses down Steve’s chest. He pushed his face into Steve’s belly, muffling his words almost comically. “Jesus, I thought I’d never get to taste you again.

Steve dragged his fingers through Bucky’s hair. “Next time I’m stupid, please just hit me,” he requested shakily.

Bucky jerked his head up to glare at Steve, then jabbed him a good one in the solar plexus with his fist.

Steve made a sound like a deflating balloon and wheezed to get his air back. “Jesus!”

“You’re always stupid!” Bucky shouted at him.

“You’re not wrong,” Steve rasped.

Bucky draped himself over Steve again and bit his bottom lip, licking into his mouth as Steve moaned obscenely and wrapped his arms around Bucky’s neck. “I still fucking love you anyway,” Bucky admitted in a much more tender voice, dragging his thumb down Steve’s jaw.

Steve grabbed two handfuls of Bucky’s hair and kissed him possessively, making sure he couldn’t go anywhere by settling his heels on the small of Bucky’s back. He was never letting Bucky walk away again. Hell, after the last three days, Steve intended to hold onto his ankle and be dragged across the floor even if Bucky was just going into the next room to take a piss.

When they parted once more, they were both panting. Steve dragged his nails through the three days of growth on Bucky’s chin. “I want beard burn in awkward places,” Steve growled.

Bucky grinned mischievously. “Then make like a pancake and flip over, sweetheart.”

==

It turned out that none of the other Avengers had even known Steve and Bucky had split up. When Steve asked Sam if anyone was pissed at him for what he’d done, Sam had frowned at him and asked him in a wary voice, “Why? What did you do?”

“Nothing,” Steve had said quickly and beat a hasty retreat before Sam could question him further.

When he asked Bucky about it, Bucky just shrugged. “Sam ain’t my therapist.”

“You confuse me, Barnes,” Steve admitted with a shake of his head.

Bucky had toasted him with his glass of orange juice. “Right back atcha, pal.”

==

Steve was sprawled out in a windowpane’s full of sunshine in the common room, eyes closed, absorbing all the heat he could, when he heard the elevator ding.

“He’s doing it again.” Clint announced as Steve listened to two sets of almost inaudible footsteps approaching.

“I don’t know, man,” Bucky answered carelessly. “It’s like when a cat rolls over and shows you its belly, but then it bites you ’cause it was a trap.”

“I only bite you when you beg me to,” Steve mumbled without opening his eyes.

“Told you he was awake,” Bucky said to Clint. “It’s a trap.”

Steve smiled blissfully and didn’t move.

He heard them move toward the kitchen. He thought maybe they’d just come from the firing range. He could smell the gunpowder clinging to Bucky as he moved away and hear Clint’s quiver of arrows knocking softly against his bow. A stool scraped against tile. A plate clattered to the countertop.

“Eggs?” Bucky asked.

“Pancakes.”

“Man, fuck you, make your own pancakes.”

The refrigerator door opened with the angry protest only Bucky could cause it to make, and then a glass rattled as Bucky cursed creatively. The glass smashed, and Steve startled up, hopping to his feet and moving toward the noise.

Bucky stood in front of the open refrigerator door, body arched backward in what looked like absolute agony, head tossed back, eyes squeezed shut and teeth gritting so hard he was in danger of cracking them. Both of his arms were thrown wide, his metal arm recalibrating and recalibrating as fast as the plates could shift, every one of the powerful muscles in his body straining like he was trying to move but couldn’t. A lavender-tinted mist was cloying its way up his body, emitting from the shattered remains of what looked like one of Bruce’s beakers that he kept stashing in the goddamn community property refrigerator.

“Buck!” Clint shouted, and Steve barely caught him around the waist in time to keep him from getting closer.

“JARVIS, get Bruce!” Steve shouted in a near panic.

As Steve and Clint clung to each other like they were trying to withstand hurricane force winds, Bucky’s toes curled and his bare feet lifted off the ground.

He was hovering. Steve’s boyfriend was hovering.

“What the fuck?” Clint screamed.

“JARVIS, get Bruce faster!” Steve cried.

In what felt like no time at all, the lavender mist had surrounded Bucky’s floating body. Bucky was still gritting his teeth, but as soon as the mist reached his face, his eyes snapped open and he gasped in a shocked breath. The mist became opaque, completely obscuring Bucky from view, and then it dissipated just as fast as it had materialized with a resonant thumping sound. Bucky was gone just as surely as the strange mist, leaving the refrigerator door hanging open and the common room filled with horrified silence.

Time seemed frozen in place as Steve clutched tighter at Clint and stared at the space Bucky had just been.

“Fuck,” Bucky groaned from the floor behind the island.

Steve and Clint both scrambled around the island, and they reached Bucky just as the elevator spit Bruce and Tony out like a malfunctioning PEZ dispenser.

“What happened?” Bruce demanded as he skidded around the corner of the island.

Bucky was lying on his back, spread-eagled, blinking up at the ceiling. Steve and Clint were hovering, flapping around helplessly. They knew better than to touch someone who’d just levitated against their will, okay, Steve had learned a few hard lessons from the future.

“What was in that goddamn beaker?” Steve growled as he advanced on Bruce, pointing at the broken glass on the floor near Bucky’s feet. There was no liquid spill anywhere, just the glass.

Bruce eyed the beaker, then looked back to Bucky. “Oh.”

“Oh? Don’t just say ‘oh,’ what the fuck does ‘oh’ mean?” Steve cried.

“Well, I mean, it could have been worse,” Bruce answered with a wince.

“I’m not sure I’m okay,” Bucky mumbled from where he still lay motionless on the kitchen floor, blinking stupidly at the ceiling. “Did I just float? I think I just floated.”

“Really?” Bruce asked gleefully.

“JARVIS!” Steve shouted, snapping the word out viciously since there was nothing he could punch right now that wouldn’t punch back. “Order the biggest, ugliest green refrigerator you can find for Bruce’s labs right fucking now!”

“An excellent idea, Captain Rogers,” JARVIS replied cheerfully.

“What was that shit, Banner?” Clint asked, still hovering his hands over Bucky like he desperately wanted to touch him to see if he was real. Clint was not stupid, either, so he kept himself from doing it just like Steve had.

“We’re not sure,” Banner answered with an apologetic shrug. “It’s one of the substances we found in the last AIM raid. We’ve been doing tests.”

“What did it do to him?” Steve demanded. “What’s it for?”

“I can’t even guess, Steve. His physiology is so much different from any of the test subjects –”

“How different!”

“Well, I mean, they were mice, so . . .”

Steve began to growl. He didn’t even know he could make the sound that was coming from the back of his throat, but Bruce’s eyes widened and he took a tiny sidestep that put him behind Tony.

Tony had been uncharacteristically silent so far, and he was simply staring at Bucky with wide eyes. He reached into his back pocket and extracted two latex nitrile gloves, snapping them on his hands with practiced ease.

He moved away from Bruce, even though Bruce discreetly grabbed at his T-shirt to try to keep him from leaving Bruce to deal with a Steve who was doing his best Hulk impression.

Tony slid past Steve and shooed Clint out of the way, kneeling next to Bucky. He put a hand on Bucky’s forehead, then checked his pulse.

Bucky was silent, watching him like he was hungover and trying to recall the name of the person he’d just woken up next to.

“JARVIS, vitals,” Tony called as he gently poked and prodded Bucky.

“All of the Soldier’s vitals are reading normal, Sir.”

“Bruce,” Steve said through gritted teeth, trying to fake being calm since he wasn’t even in the vicinity of real calm. “What did that stuff do to the mice in your lab?”

“Nothing,” Bruce answered. “As soon as it was introduced to oxygen, it turned into a gas, wrapped around the mouse, and then dissipated. We think it was attracted to body heat, but that’s just about all we got out of it.”

“That’s what it did to Buck,” Clint told him before he crossed his arms and started gnawing on his lower lip and pacing.

“What happened to the mouse?” Steve prodded.

“Nothing,” Bruce insisted again. “The only thing we could ever even record with any certainty when we reintroduced the subject mouse back into the general mouse population was that the subject sort of slunk around the edges watching the other mice suspiciously, and the other mice just looked back at it like it was weird.”

In his mind’s eye, Steve smashed Bruce’s face into the countertop. Outside of his head, though, he could only ball his hands into Fists of Frustration and turn to look back down at Bucky.

“Barnes already does that! How are we going to know if he’s different now?” Clint cried in utter vexation.

“I’m right here,” Bucky muttered, waving a hand up and down his prone body. “You can all see me, right? I am right here, right?”

“You’re right here,” Tony assured him with a friendly pat to his belly, just like he was the upturned cat Bucky’d been comparing Steve to a few minutes prior.

And just like the upturned cat, Bucky curled around Tony’s arm, grabbing on with both hands and trapping Tony’s elbow between his knees. Then he bit him.

“What the fuck, Barnes!” Tony cried as he flailed his arm and shoved away, winding up flat on his ass. Steve and Clint both rushed to separate them, and Tony pressed the bottoms of both feet against Bucky’s metal arm and shoved, sliding them both across the tile, away from each other.

Bucky curled in on himself and flipped to his hands and knees, far more graceful than a human had any right to be, but Steve knew from past experience that that was just how Bucky moved. He was breathing hard, eyes wild. “What the fuck. What the fuck?” he shouted in a near-panic. “Did I just bite you?”

“Yes!” Tony cried, cradling his arm to his chest. “What the fuck?”

“I’m sorry!” Bucky practically sobbed. He hung his head, squeezing his eyes closed. “I have no idea why I did that!”

Steve stood uncertainly between the two of them as Clint helped Tony back to his feet and took his arm to examine the bite. Steve stared at Bucky for a few seconds of indecision, then took a careful step and took a knee beside him. “Buck?”

“What the fuck, Steve,” Bucky gasped out. Steve had never heard him sound so scared.

“Can I touch you?” Steve asked as he held his hand out for Bucky to see.

Bucky stilled immediately, going into his eerie sniper calm before he jerked his head to the side, narrowing his eyes at Steve. He held the position for four of the heartbeats pounding in Steve’s ears, then he gasped out another heavy breath as his entire body shuddered back into a loose trembling. He nodded hastily in answer.

Steve placed a hand between Bucky’s shoulderblades, letting it sit light so he could yank away if Bucky reacted badly again.

Bucky was still, his breathing rattling through him like he couldn’t quite get enough air. He had to be close to a panic attack with the way he was struggling and shaking. But he didn’t flinch away from Steve’s touch or try to maul him, so Steve would call it progress. He could feel Bucky’s panicked heartbeat fluttering under his palm.

“You’re okay,” Steve whispered to him. He glanced up at the other three, who were all watching with wide eyes. Steve brought his hand up to the back of Bucky’s head and slid it down to his spine, doing it again and again because he knew this relaxed Bucky after he’d woken up from one of his rare but horrible nightmares.

“I don’t feel okay,” Bucky argued, shaking his head hard enough to make his sweaty hair wave. “I am definitely not okay.”

Steve sat back with a thump, crossing his legs so he could sit there for as long as Bucky needed him to. As soon as he’d done it, though, Bucky edged closer and draped his entire body right across Steve’s lap.

Steve held his hands up and out, watching with wide eyes as Bucky did his damnedest to curl his entire massive body up in Steve's lap. They had done a lot of cuddling in their time together, and they’d found themselves in all kinds of positions both while sleeping and while fucking.

But Steve had most certainly never held Bucky in his lap like a goddamn cat.

Bruce and Tony were both frowning at Bucky and Steve now. “Is that normal?” Bruce finally asked carefully.

Steve shook his head.

“You sure?” Clint asked dubiously. “I’ve heard you two fuck and there can be some pretty weird things inferred from those sounds.”

Steve leveled him with a glare. “I’m fairly certain I would have noted it as an odd occurrence if this had happened before.”

Bruce looked from Bucky, curled up in Steve’s lap with his face pressed to Steve’s belly, and then to Tony’s arm. Bucky hadn’t broken the skin, just latched on and held it until he was forced away. Steve could see the imprint of his teeth in Tony’s forearm.

“Huh,” Bruce offered after a few seconds.

“I swear to God if I am forced to try to kill the Hulk to keep my sanity intact, I am going to die very disappointed in all of you,” Steve threatened.

“Can we try something?” Bruce asked carefully. “Just to test a theory.”

“Please,” Steve gritted out in the most polite voice he was capable of at this level of his rage issues.

Bruce cast a glance around the room, then went to poke at Clint’s quiver. Steve had been right; Clint and Bucky had just come from the shooting range.

“Do any of these have lasers on them?” Bruce asked.

Clint nodded and moved to pull out the appropriate arrow. He flicked a switch on the arrowhead, then handed it to Bruce.

Bruce covered the tip with his finger so the laser light wasn’t visible, then he moved closer to Bucky and Steve. He bent over, speaking in his most gentle of voices. “Bucky? Can you look at me for just a minute?”

Another shiver ran through Bucky’s body, and Steve felt it as if it was his own as Bucky draped across his lap. Then Bucky raised his head, but he was frowning at Bruce suspiciously.

Bruce gave him a tense smile. “You feel like yourself?”

Bucky frowned harder, then looked around himself. He seemed to only just now be realizing he had climbed into Steve’s lap. “What the hell?” he grumbled to himself, then disengaged his death grip on Steve’s shirt and pushed himself away guiltily. He knelt on the floor in front of Steve, hanging his head and visibly counting as he tried to control his breathing.

“I feel like myself,” Bucky answered diligently. “I think.”

Bruce nodded encouragingly, then he held up the arrow for Bucky to inspect. “I’m going to try something, okay? It won’t hurt. I won’t even touch you. Can you look at the floor in front of you?”

Bucky nodded miserably and stared at the floor like he’d been asked to do, shoulders slumped, cheeks heating with the barest hint of embarrassment. Steve’s heart was breaking as he cast around for something, anything, to do to make Bucky feel better.

Bruce watched him keenly for a few seconds, then he uncovered the laser and pointed it at the floor in the vicinity of where Bucky was staring.

Bucky immediately tensed and went completely motionless, that eerie steel-cold calm Steve knew he pulled from when he was looking through the scope of a rifle. His eyes were wider, locked on to the red dot floating on the floor in front of him, pupils dilating.

Bruce held the dot there for a few seconds, and then he yanked the arrow sideways and sent the dot sliding across the floor toward where Tony and Clint were standing.

Bucky launched himself after it with a push from his powerful legs, hurtling across the floor in a single slide toward Tony and Clint as if he didn’t even see them. He took them both out at the ankles as he slid across the tile floor, his hands pawing and scratching at the dot on the floor as he skidded right past it on his belly.

Bruce covered the laser again and shoved the arrow behind his back as Tony and Clint and Bucky all cursed and tried to disentangle themselves from the mess of flailing limbs they’d become.

“What the fuck?!” Bucky cried even as he remained sprawled on his belly and gaped back at Steve and Bruce with wide, horrified eyes. “It’s a fucking laser light, I know I can’t catch it!”

Tony groaned from where he lay on his back, his legs splayed over Bucky’s prone body. “I think we can now safely advertise the Winter Soldier as having cat-like reflexes.”

“So that’s why the other mice looked at the subject mouse weird,” Bruce mused.

Chapter Text

When Steve trudged into the briefing room for an update, Natasha was on the communications line with someone.

“So, this Black Panther in Wakanda,” she was saying, not looking up to greet Steve when he stopped in the doorway. “Is he actually part cat? Or . . .”

Her face revealed nothing as she listened to the answer. Her shoulders slumped ever so slightly. “So, he’s just a guy wearing a cat costume. Okay. No, we’re Situation Normal here. Thank you, we’ll be in touch.”

She pressed a button and took the headpiece off, turning to look at Steve with blatant sympathy.

Steve smiled grimly. “Situation Normal, are we?”

Natasha shrugged. “If it gets out that the Winter Soldier can be distracted from a fight with a laser pointer, we’ll be fucked, Rogers. Pardon my Russian.”

Steve nodded. She was right, and they all knew it. Especially Bucky. He’d been walking around like a – well, like a wet cat – for two days, guilty and hunched over in abject humiliation. They’d been lucky that no alarms had been raised requiring the whole team since Bucky’s affliction.

Natasha looked like she was trying to hold a marble under her tongue, and Steve waved a hand to tell her to go on and get it over with. It was a cat pun she was letting percolate; Steve could tell. He’d learned that particularly anticipatory expression on his teammate’s faces from repeat exposure.

“We can’t let that cat out of the bag,” Natasha stated in her most serious, mission-ready tone. Her words only wavered on a laugh at the very end, but she fought it off admirably.

Steve groaned and made the expression of utter disgust and pure homicidal rage that the Avengers had recently deemed Captain Pun Face. He knew that if he would stop making that face in response, the puns would lose their fun for the others and taper off. But he could not. Make his face. Stop.

“No luck there, huh?” Steve asked dejectedly as he waved at the map of Wakanda on the StarkBoard at the end of the table.

Natasha shook her head. “The guy is enhanced, or his suit is, but he’s just a man underneath. Dr. Strange said it wasn’t magic so he had to go groom his goatee, and Thor is still lost in space somewhere and we can’t get any other Asgardian to give us the time of day. I hate to say this, Steve, but the person most likely to find a fix to this is Bruce, and he hasn’t slept since Bucky went native. He’s coming up empty.”

Steve bit his lip, trying to keep hope alive inside him but failing so hard he was going to become a meme on the internet.

“We’ll keep looking,” Natasha promised, sounding viciously determined rather than amused any longer, which kind of surprised Steve since she’d never taken a particularly keen interest in Bucky one way or the other, unless she was admiring his fighting style. “Barnes is ours, Steve, we won’t go down without a fight.”

Her words warmed a cold, dead piece inside Steve that had been curled up and crying into a bottle of Tequila in his head for two days. He jutted his chin out, trying to put on a brave face. Epic Fail meme status aggressively achieved. “We have to fix him, Nat. It’s only been two days and I feel like I’m going crazy.”

Natasha’s lips curved into a knowing smirk that she visibly struggled to get control over. “He rubs up against you all day, doesn’t he?”

Steve whimpered and ran both hands through his hair. Screw the brave face, he was too horny for that shit. “And all night! Every time I wake up, he’s on top of me, touching me everywhere, breathing in my ear.”

Natasha chuckled softly.

“It’s not funny, Nat! Do you know how many cold showers I’ve taken in the last forty hours!? My hand is starting to cramp!” He held up his right hand as if she could see how much use it had been getting lately. When he relaxed it into the position it naturally assumed now, it immediately curled up like it was holding a . . . flashlight.

Natasha laughed harder.

“Yeah, laugh it up. Cap has blue balls and a patriotic dildo in the shower, it’s hilarious,” Steve ranted, his voice going utterly monotone until the very end, when it started rising to a panicked pitch Steve hadn’t realized humans were capable of hitting. “But it’s not me I’m worried about! He’s withdrawing into himself. I haven’t even seen him try to fake a smile since it happened, and he fakes everything except orgasms! I’m not sure what it will do to him if we can’t help him. I can’t lose him, I can’t!” Steve was now pacing back and forth with jerky, uncoordinated hand motions like he was a crazed orchestra conductor. “I can’t lose the love of my life just because he belongs at a Furry convention now!”

“Love of your life, huh?” Natasha repeated gently, her voice full of sudden concern and empathy. “Oh, Steve.”

Steve gritted his teeth, counting his breaths to calm him like Bucky did when he watched professional sports on TV.

“It’s not like he’s not still himself, Steve,” Natasha told him, choosing the same soothing tone over further teasing. “He’s still Barnes in there. He’s still the love of your life. Who loves you right back and does dirty things to you when you ask him to. He’d still gladly let you do those things to him, too, whether he has to stop mid-thrust to meow at you or not. You can still fuck the guy if you want to.”

“No, I can’t! I’m a member of the ASPCA!”

Natasha’s sympathetic façade cracked again and she tried to hide her smile with her hand. Her shoulders were shaking, though, laughing silently.

Steve made another desperate, pitiful sound. Just the word ‘thrust’ out of her mouth had made his belly swamp with the desire to run off and rugby-tackle Bucky to the ground so Steve could ride him off into the sunset.

“Steve,” Natasha said seriously after she’d gotten her mirth back under control. “We won’t stop looking for an answer to this. But you also need to make contingency plans, and you know it.”

Steve shook his head stubbornly, crossing his arms over his chest and jutting his chin out as far as it could go without a neck injury. No matter how smoking hot his boyfriend was, no matter how the serum had jacked up Steve’s libido to alarmingly astronomical proportions, no matter how good the sex was with Bucky Barnes, it didn’t matter to Steve. If they never had sex again, Steve would still spend the rest of his life at Bucky’s side. “Love isn’t all about sex. If we can’t find a way to reverse this, then I’ll still have him. I’ll still love him. That’s all that matters.”

Natasha stared at him pointedly. “That’s a noble sentiment, Steve. But you know as well as any of us how much Barnes thrives on physical contact. He’s going to start thinking you’re punishing him if you never want to do the do with him again.”

Steve stared at her in abject horror. He hadn’t even thought of that, but she had Bucky’s inner turmoil pegged. Bucky was absolutely blaming himself for this already – feeling useless and detached from his rightful spot on the team – and nothing the rest of the team could say or do seemed to alleviate that. Once he put together that Steve wouldn’t fuck him because he had too much cat in him, and not because he had too much trauma in him, it would crush Bucky all over again.

“Fuck,” Steve whispered. With feeling.

“What are you going to do if we can’t ever get rid of this?” Natasha prodded. Steve knew she meant well no matter how heavy-handed the advice she doled out, but he still kind of wanted to hock a nice big hairball into her hair. “Neither of you are the type to remain abstinent for very long. And you’re both too willing to fall on your own sword, no one wants to see America’s Sweet Tarts break up.”

“Again,” Steve muttered darkly.

“Pardon?”

“Nothing,” Steve said quickly. He stared at the tabletop for a long time, his scowl deepening the longer he pondered a future with his boyfriend acting like a cat. Right now, it was inconceivable to him to lay a lustful hand on a person who had been unable to resist chasing one of Tony’s miniature robots around the common room for an hour. But two days in, he could already feel his determination crumbling, missing the warmth of Bucky’s hands on him, holding him tight. Missing the connection they had forged the first time they’d put a hole through the plaster and scarred the coffee table for life. He was still Bucky, Steve told himself. And Steve still loved every piece of the man. Loved him and desperately wanted to feel Bucky inside him again.

“Steve?” Natasha said gently. “It’s time to make a Plan B. You’re going to have to decide what’s really important to you and your future; making your boyfriend feel like he’s still loved and desired no matter what, or going the rest of your life being celibate and miserable but at least you can look at a house cat without getting flustered.”

Steve sighed in resignation, looking back at Natasha from under his lashes. “Plan B is that I will donate every cent I possess to all the humane societies ever in the history of time to alleviate my guilt after I fuck the imaginary whiskers off my boyfriend,” he decided, then turned and stomped out of the briefing room, chased by the sound of Natasha’s laughter.

Steve stalked off in search of Bucky, but Bucky was getting a little harder to track down these days.

==

“Has anyone seen Barnes?” Sam called out worriedly.

“Try the fish tank down in the lobby, security caught him with his nose pressed against the glass earlier,” Natasha offered between sips of tea.

==

“Has anyone seen Barnes?” Tony demanded angrily, holding the mauled remains of one of his sweeper robots.

“He keeps insisting he’s not stuck in there and hissing when I try to pull him out,” Steve groaned with a glare at the air ducts above them.

==

Has anyone seen Barnes?” Natasha gritted out, her eyes going downright Chernobyl above the permanent marker someone had used to draw whiskers on her cheeks.

“He handed me a Sharpie and something about incriminating fingerprints before he said he needed to leave the country for a while,” Clint answered without bothering to look up and see his own fragile mortality bearing down on him.

==

For the most part, Bucky didn’t change much after the mystical mystery mist turned his finely-honed instincts into hairballs. He was still very much human in every way he’d always been. But certain stimuli, certain situations, had him reacting on base feline impulse that he couldn’t seem to control or anticipate and always left him mystified and embarrassed after he’d realized what he’d done.

They’d had to stop leaving anything on the kitchen counter, because whenever Bucky passed by a glass or a plate or any object at all sitting too near the edge, he would casually reach out and knock it to the floor as he sauntered past.

He always did a horrified about face, his face morphing from guileless innocence to pain and shame. Then he’d help to clean it up afterward, apologizing profusely and shaking his head.

Every time Steve sat down, Bucky would perch about three feet away and stare at him, unblinking, before finally slithering onto the seat beside him like Steve couldn’t see him doing it and pressing their shoulders together. Steve enjoyed the contact, but he did not enjoy the feeling of those predatory eyes on him beforehand.

Bucky did it to Sam, too, and sometimes Clint. They all let him indulge his impulses, and they all let him operate under the impression that his, ‘this is not the Bucky you are looking for,’ attitude was working when he snuck around seeking contact. If one of the others initiated the interaction, Bucky was aloof and warily kept his distance rather than being cuddly and affectionate. Even when Bucky was the one initiating his kitten snuggles, there was always a 50/50 chance that when he climbed into the seat beside one of them, he’d wind up sinking his teeth into any bare stretch of skin that was exposed and wiggling enticingly.

Steve was the only one he’d allow to touch him without Bucky prompting it, and Steve was also the only one he hadn’t made an attempt to bite yet. It was an odd about face, considering Bucky used to bite Steve all the time when he was buried deep in Steve’s ass.

The one time he’d bared his teeth at Natasha, shoulders hiking up like he was puffing up to make himself appear even larger and more intimidating than his over two-hundred pounds of Fuck This already was, Natasha had leveled him with a withering glare and said something sharp in Russian.

Bucky had deflated and sat on her feet in front of the couch for ten minutes. Then he’d abruptly jerked into action and bolted from the room for no apparent reason.

And at night, when Steve climbed into bed with a heavy heart and an even heavier issue between his legs, Bucky would stretch out across the foot of the bed, inexplicably using Steve’s bony feet as a pillow. An hour or so into Steve’s nightly attempts to go to sleep with a raging hard-on, Bucky will have weaseled his way up to the pillows along with Steve and thrown himself over Steve, mussed hair as close to Steve’s mouth and nose as Bucky could possibly get without suffocating him.

The entire team had learned in short order that if Bucky slunk into the room and laid out in the middle of the floor, not only did you not touch him like he seemed to be requesting, but you also pulled your feet up off the floor and tucked your wiggling toes safely under your body.

Sam could be thanked for that particular warning. He was still bitching about the amounts of eyeball bleach he would have to employ to rid himself of the sight of his best friend gnawing on his toes with gleeful abandon.

And Bucky would disappear. One moment he would be there, carrying on a normal conversation with everyone, and the next he would simply be gone to somewhere even JARVIS couldn’t find him. Steve almost broke down and ugly-cried on the third morning of this, when they took Bucky down to Tony’s workshop and attached a tracking device to the inside of his arm.

Bucky sat with his head bowed, not even putting up a fight to save his dignity. “I’m sorry,” he murmured to Steve as Tony fiddled with the device.

“I’m gonna make it your name,” Steve murmured, voice laced with heartbroken nostalgia.

Bucky shifted and weaved his head like he had tried to smile, but his body had vetoed the order.

Steve ran his hand through Bucky’s hair and Bucky closed his eyes and leaned into the contact. It was almost amusing, because no matter how reminiscent of a cat the action was, Steve was realizing that Bucky had always done that. “None of this is your fault,” Steve assured him. “We’ll figure this out, Buck. We just have to make sure you’re safe until we do. We have to be able to find you.”

Bucky ran his tongue over his lower lip, blinking his eyes open. “Cats are assholes,” he said decisively.

Tony cleared his throat as he struggled not to laugh.

“But I think I figured out why AIM made this shit,” Bucky continued, glancing at Steve carefully.

Steve’s shoulders straightened out, his spine snapping upright at the mere mention of AIM. He was going to burn down everything those bastards had ever touched. “Why?” he asked eagerly.

“Cats are pound for pound the most efficient killing machines in the animal world,” Bucky told him. “They’re also filthy, amoral murderers who play with their prey for shits and giggles. That’s why I love them.”

“Of course it is,” Steve murmured affectionately, which quickly morphed into horror that even Bucky’s everyday level of bloodlust was becoming charming to him.

“If you take a trained soldier,” Bucky continued, oblivious to Captain America’s impending moral crisis. “And augment him with certain instincts of a cat, you’d have a damn-near unstoppable wet works operative at your beck and call.”

Steve and Tony shared an uneasy glance. “Are you feeling particularly murderous lately?” Tony asked carefully.

“No more than normal,” Bucky mumbled.

“Comforting.”

Bucky shrugged. “I hear things I couldn’t before. I judge angles and velocity even better than I already did, even after the serum. If I see something moving fast, every nerve in my body tells me to chase it and then make it scream,” Bucky admitted viciously, his eyes going unfocused as he stared at DUM-E. He blinked it away and lowered his head, licking his lips again. He swallowed hard and tilted his head, closing his eyes again with a pained frown. His voice had gone soft and miserable by the time he spoke again. “It’s getting harder to control.”

Steve ran his hand over Bucky’s hair again. Steve loved him. He loved him so damn much.

“Honestly, that doesn’t sound a lot different from what you did before,” Tony offered.

“Great,” Bucky said, tone as dry and flat as one of Steve’s heart pancakes.

“I love you,” Steve told him, unwavering. “I’ll always choose you, Buck. No matter what happens.”

Bucky lowered his head further, a tear sliding from his closed eye and tracking down to the stubble he was growing again. Steve gently wiped it away with his thumb, his chest squeezing painfully.

“I started JARVIS on an analysis of the AIM files we confiscated during that raid,” Tony told them both, speaking around the screwdriver he held in his teeth and studiously ignoring the emotions clouding his workspace. “If there’s anything Bruce and I missed on the first pass, he’ll find it.”

“Thank you, Tony,” Bucky murmured miserably.

“Oh, and the ugliest refrigerator I’ve ever seen was delivered to Bruce’s lab this morning,” Tony added, like it wasn’t too little way too late for Bucky. “It’s pistachio colored.”

Bucky just sighed and struggled not to slump his metal shoulder while Tony still had three screwdrivers and a set of jumper cables inside it.

==

Steve was sprawled in his rectangle of sunshine, staring listlessly at the ceiling. He startled when Bucky’s face appeared over him. He hadn’t even heard Bucky coming.

“Steve,” Bucky greeted carefully.

“Hey, Buck.”

Bucky looked him up and down, shifting his weight from foot to foot. When he met Steve’s eyes again, he looked almost like he was pleading with him.

“What’s wrong?” Steve asked, concern cutting through the exhaustion that had settled heavily over him.

“Can I touch you?” Bucky asked in a small voice. “Just to lay here, for a minute. I know it makes you uncomfortable right now. But I . . .”

“Oh, Bucky. No, come here,” Steve said in the most soothing voice he could muster. He held a hand up to Bucky, and Bucky slid his fingers against Steve’s with extreme care. Steve tugged him down, and Bucky gratefully sank to the floor in the sunlight beside Steve. Steve offered his shoulder, and Bucky rested his head on it.

“I hate this,” Bucky admitted, speaking softly, like if the universe didn’t hear him it wouldn’t punish him for complaining.

Steve squeezed him closer, turning his face so he could press his nose into Bucky’s hair. “I know,” he said, then kissed Bucky’s forehead.

Bucky raised his face to Steve’s and they stared at each other for several seconds, both of them miserable and completely clueless as to how to remedy any of it. Bucky shimmied closer and gave Steve a chaste kiss. Then he ducked his head and shoved his face against Steve’s neck again, sighing despondently.

Steve dug his fingers into Bucky’s back, like if he could hold onto him tight enough, he could keep him safe and happy.

“Stevie?” Bucky mumbled against Steve’s skin.

“Hm?”

“Please don’t send me to the pound.”

Steve huffed a weak laugh and brought his other hand up to rest it against Bucky’s cheek. “You’re never getting rid of me again, Barnes. Even if you grow a tail.”

“Have you been watching Hentai again?” Bucky asked suspiciously.

Steve sputtered indignantly. “That was one time, and I was trying to find a recipe for calamari!”

“Uh huh.”

Steve’s laughter was a bit more genuine, and they fell into a warm, soothing silence.

Steve held him like that until the sunbeam left them. He was just preparing to move and save his back another second of the hard floor when the Assemble alarm began to blare.

He and Bucky hopped to their feet, running for the elevator. When they scrambled into it, Bucky turned to Steve, eyes wide and terrified. “Please don’t leave me behind because I’m a cat,” he begged.

Steve looked him over with an exasperated flop of his hands. “You’re not a cat, Buck!”

“I’m kind of a cat,” Bucky argued. “You won’t fuck me because you think I’m a cat.”

Steve made a strangled noise of protest in the back of his throat. He couldn’t exactly deny that line of logic. “We’re not leaving you behind,” he assured Bucky instead of trying to argue. “You’re a vital part of this team and we need you, laser lights or no.”

“I should probably take the laser sights off all my guns,” Bucky murmured as he frowned at the floor. “Just in case.”

Steve held his breath, staring resolutely at the elevator doors. “Yeah, good plan.”

==

In the end, Bucky being kind of a cat saved all their lives.

He didn’t follow orders for shit and he’d fallen asleep almost as soon as the quinjet lifted off, missing the mission briefing. Several times after an incredible shot took down an AIM goon right in the forehead, the team would hear a delighted rumbling sound through the comms that absolutely every single one of them pretended wasn’t Bucky’s pleased purring over a clean kill.

But after the Iron Man suit had been disabled with an electrical blast and locked Tony inside it, and the Hulk had tackled a launching missile and flown away hanging onto it like a seesaw, roaring into the distance, the bruised and bloodied team had been cornered by a squad of five AIM goons, one with a rocket launcher aimed at Steve’s face. All Steve could do was raise his badly broken arm and hope the shield saved all of them.

But Bucky had dropped from the rafters onto one of the goon’s backs before the trigger could be pressed, and the whole lot of them had gone down in a flurry of limbs and honest-to-god hissing, the rocket launcher clattering away, useless.

There hadn’t been enough of the five AIM goons left to piece together a single prisoner to handcuff, but they’d been able to take several scientists into custody, so Steve called it a wash in his report later.

Bucky had stalked past the team with that fuck you dirty strut of his, blood dripping down his fingers, eyes hard and alight over his gore-spattered mask. “Wolverine can suck it,” he’d said as he passed by.

Steve had stared after him voraciously. “Can I?” he’d called to Bucky’s retreating shoulders.

==

By the time the quinjet docked back inside Avengers Tower, the Avengers were, to a man, fighting sleep and doping themselves up with painkillers. They’d had to let Bucky pilot the jet back, which had been mildly terrifying before Steve had reminded himself that his boyfriend was still in there and it was fine.

Bucky had to help Clint limp down the loading gate, damn near carrying him bridal style by the time they were off the jet, and Steve and Natasha were dragging their feet after them. They’d stopped in a cornfield somewhere in Nebraska to pick Bruce up. He’d been sitting on the dud missile at the end of an ugly furrow in the earth and sweating in the sunshine.

“Sir,” JARVIS greeted as soon as Tony stepped into the armory. “The new files downloaded from your most recent outing appear to have yielded answers to the Soldier’s predicament.

They all perked way the hell up after hearing that. “Please tell me it’s good news, JARVIS,” Steve begged.

Beside him, Bucky had hunched his wide shoulders as small as they could go, his head hanging in shame. Steve reached for him and hugged him without ever tearing his eyes off the ceiling.

“It would appear the project AIM developed with the substance Dr. Banner acquired was suspended after they were unable to stabilize the results it yielded,” JARVIS explained.

“What does that mean?” Bucky asked, sounding both terrified and stubborn all at the same time. Steve hugged him harder.

“The effects of the formula were just as they had hoped, Soldier, turning trained operatives into virtual killing machines with heightened senses and honed kill instincts.”

“Sounds familiar,” Tony muttered, eyeing Steve’s anatomically perfect shoulders to waist ratio and the metal arm clutching at the shield harness on Steve’s back.

“But the effects were not predictable,” JARVIS continued, ignoring his creator’s sass with an aplomb the rest of them had not yet managed to acquire. “The test subjects became erratic and unstable. The scientists were not able to control them.”

“Shocking,” Bruce murmured. “They were cats, what did they expect?”

“Doctor,” JARVIS said, as if in agreement. “One of the notations made in the files likens their attempts to ‘herding cats’, followed by a symbol I have yet to identify that appears to mimic a frowning face with horns coming from its forehead.”

Steve bit his lip. He was pretty sure JARVIS had just described Captain Pun Face, but whatever.

“The primary reason the project was halted, however, was that the effects of the formula on the test subjects were not permanent. They could not devise a way to make it stable, and so the enhanced changes only lasted from two days to a week, at most. Rather like a bacterial virus.”

Steve felt his whole body deflating with relief. He met Bucky’s widened eyes, melting into another tight, grasping hug as Bucky let a gust of air escape his lungs. “Oh, thank God,” Steve growled into Bucky’s hair. “It’s gonna wear off.”

A moment later, Sam threw himself at Bucky’s back, hugging him and Steve both. “My best friend ain’t gonna need a litter box for his birthday!” he cried gleefully.

Bucky was shaking between them, but Steve didn’t know if he was laughing or crying or trying to restrain his instinct to gut Sam.

That night, it was Steve who tackled Bucky to the floor and bit him.

==

A week later, the only remaining pieces of feline that remained in Bucky were the ones he’d already had before the Purple Rain, as Tony had taken to calling it . . . even under duress.

Steve had never fully registered just how tactile his boyfriend actually was until he felt like a kitty-shagging pervert every time their skin made contact. Bucky had fully exhausted every pussy joke he had in reserve and had just started laughing hysterically every time Steve flinched.

But Steve was fully aware of it now, the many and various ways that Bucky made contact with Steve throughout the day. There were the obvious ones; when they’d wake up snuggled together and Bucky’s hand would drift over Steve’s torso appreciatively. When Bucky would press a gentle palm to Steve’s face and coax him into a smirking kiss. When Bucky shoved at Steve’s spine and forced him to bend over the coffee table and take it until he screamed Bucky’s name.

But then there were the smaller touches, almost more intimate than when they fucked. A gentle brush of fingers across the backs of Steve’s shoulders as Bucky passed behind his chair. An affectionate flick of Steve’s bangs as Bucky gave a feral grin at him before they sparred.

The way he would press the very tip of his nose to Steve’s and nuzzle him before moving away again.

Steve had never before been so hopelessly, helplessly, blissfully in love.

And he told Bucky that every night, right before Bucky would slick him up and push inside him and not let up until they were both breathless and sweating and grasping at each other in the dark.

==

It had been a slow week, thank God for small favors, and the team was mostly gathered at the dining table, eating breakfast in the kind of silence that fell upon a half-asleep group of people who knew each other too well to bother with filling it.

They were supposed to be training later today, but the longer Bucky peered across the table at Steve with the sunlight hitting his hair and shining like a halo around it, the louder the bed beckoned to him. Bucky fully intended to try his hand at convincing Steve to get back under the covers with him after breakfast was over, never mind the fact that Bucky had spent most of that morning’s shower on his knees with his mouth full.

He stirred his spoon through his cereal, watching the little Rice Krispies swirl. He hadn’t really felt the cat thing fading out of him, but one morning he’d woken up and hadn’t been filled with the insatiable urge to chase the dust motes floating near the window, so he’d pounced on Steve instead in celebration.

Everything was back to normal. Bucky could finally relax, stop blushing every time he wasn’t in control of his actions, and stop apologizing to his teammates for rubbing up against them without their express permission.

Luckily, they were all good teammates and good friends and marginally good people, so they’d all forgiven him and laughed it off.

The pistachio refrigerator in Bruce’s lab had been awarded with a magnet that claimed it was Employee of the Month.

Tony had tried to stick a Hello Kitty magnet to Bucky’s arm, too, but Bucky had stopped him with the power of his eyebrows alone.

Bucky glanced around at his team, his home, and smiled to himself.

He didn’t get a chance to bring his spoon to his mouth again, because once it got midway, a rush of superheated air blasted over the table and its occupants, followed by a heinously wet sucking sound and then a small explosion just five feet to his left. Bucky was blown right out of his chair and skidded across the floor to slam into the wall.

The room devolved into a panicked rush of action as Bucky’s brain bounced around inside his skull and everyone else scrambled, pieces of the Iron Man suit flying as Tony called it to him, guns being yanked from duct tape under tables, Sam shouting Bucky’s name in a panic. Bucky struggled to sit up, holding his bleeding head. His spoon was still clutched in his fingers and he almost gouged his eyeball out with it.

He blinked hard and then blinked again, trying to focus his vision. Steve was kneeling in the middle of the blast area, in full uniform somehow, the shield on his arm, his head bowed and his free hand planted on the floor like he was preparing to launch himself into action. Sweet baby Jesus, yes please, Stevie, do me hard.

Bucky closed his eyes tight and opened them again, struggling to focus. Steve’s Cap uniform looked off, too much red and white, and a brighter blue than the stealth suit he always wore.

Bucky tried to say his name but nothing passed his lips except a mortifying squeak.

Steve looked up and around him, eyes hard and piercing, cataloguing his surroundings as they darted over everything. He looked like a predator. A sexy, sexy predator.

His massive, armored shoulders slumped dejectedly and he stood, brushing a piece of what looked like sparkly paper confetti off his chest. “Dammit, Tony!” he snarled, glancing at Tony with more anger than Bucky was used to seeing in Steve’s expression when he wasn’t playing Mario Kart. “I’m still in the Tower, I told you this wouldn’t work.”

Tony popped the Iron Man faceplate up and blinked at Steve. “Uh.”

“Did you change?” Steve asked Tony with a cock of his head, pointing at the three quarters of the Iron Man suit that had managed to get into the elevator.

Tony huffed indignantly. “Did you?”

Steve eyed him warily and then examined the rest of the visible team members, which wasn't many of them considering everyone had dived behind cover and hadn't popped back out yet. His face went white as a sheet when his gaze landed on Bucky, though, who was still sprawled gracelessly and gaping, holding his spoon out like a weapon. “Bucky?” Steve whispered, almost in awe, taking an impulsive step toward him. “Christ! Bucky!”

He was blocked by a wall of angry Dorito in flannel pajamas before he could get closer, and Bucky shook his head again as he tried to blink away the double Steves.

“Who the hell are you?” the Steve in his Hawkeye pajamas snarled at the Steve in the Captain America suit. It didn’t quite strike Bucky as a fair fight.

Captain America took a step back, eyes going wide with shock. “Jesus fuck,” he gasped.

“Want to try that name thing again?” Tony offered.

Captain America glanced around at them, backing away further. “Son of a bitch. I’m not in the right universe, am I?”

The befuddled Avengers all shook their heads, even though they had no more clue than Bucky did about what was going on.

Bucky pressed at the back of his head again and brought his hand around to peer at the alarming amount of new blood there. “Mother mm shitballs,” he grunted as the room went wobbly.

Both Steves turned to him like he’d blown on a Super Soldier whistle.

“Buck,” Pajama Steve breathed and darted toward him, catching him by the shoulders as he went limp.

==

When Bucky regained consciousness, he was still seeing double, so he groaned in protest and closed his eyes again.

“Bucky?” Steve whispered. He felt a hand slide into his and squeeze.

“Steve,” Bucky tried to say. He wasn’t sure it was an entirely successful result, but Steve would get the idea.

“You’re okay,” Steve assured him.

“You keep saying that,” Bucky murmured. “I don’t think that meant the same thing in the 40’s as it does now. Did I just swoon like a fair maiden?”

There was a sobbing huff of laughter from the corner of the room and a careful few steps edging toward the bed. It was curious enough to tempt Bucky into slitting his eyes open again. He was still seeing double. But the two Steves he was seeing in his MedBay room were not quite carbon copies of each other.

“What the fuck?” Bucky groaned.

The Steve who wasn’t holding his hand gave a little half sob again at the sound of Bucky’s voice.

“Have you ever listened to Tony when he rambled about the Multiple Universes thing?” Pajama Steve asked carefully.

“Yes, unfortunately. Four hours of my life I’ll never get back.”

“Well. Turns out it’s not a theory anymore.”

Bucky squinted up at Pajama Steve and then darted a glance to the other Steve. “Huh.”

“I went through a portal that was supposed to take me to you,” Not His Steve told Bucky, his voice so tattered there was no way he’d been doing anything but sitting in this room and stoically not crying for hours. “I guess it . . . got confused.”

“It can get in line,” Bucky grunted.

Both Steves gave him an identical attempt at a wavering smile, and Bucky had to close his eyes again. “Oh, God,” he moaned. “It’s in stereo.”

When his whining was met with abashed silence, Bucky blindly fingered the IV in his hand. “Does this have flowers in it?”

“Flowers?” Not His Steve asked under his breath.

“No,” Pajama Steve answered. “It’s just saline right now.

Bucky nodded, squeezing his eyes shut tighter and swallowing against his dry throat. “Can you put flowers in it?”

Steve huffed a laugh.

Not His Steve was so confused that Bucky could feel it radiating off him even with his eyes closed. “Me too, pal,” Bucky commiserated miserably.

Chapter Text

Steve was a little concerned once he left Bucky alone to rest in the MedBay and dragged AlternaSteve out of the room with him. Bucky had looked like he was doing complex math equations in his head as he eyed the both of them, and that particular expression in Bucky’s eyes never ended very well for innocent bystanders.

For his part, AlternaSteve looked miserable. Steve finally understood the golden retriever jokes everyone kept tossing at him.

Steve cleared his throat and winced at the other man. “We should probably figure out what to call you,” he said apologetically. “If I know my team, and I do, you’re going to acquire at least a dozen unsavory nicknames in the next hour.” Like AlternaSteve, but Steve kept that to himself. “Unless we give them a concrete title.”

AlternaSteve nodded, trying to offer up a game smile. “What do they call you?”

Steve opened his mouth to answer and then snapped it shut. “That’s a long list.”

They both gave almost identical huffs. That was weird, Steve was going to need to start coming up with new reactions to things if he was this predictable.

“We’ll call you Cap for now,” Steve decided. “Is that okay?”

Cap nodded. “That’s what they usually stick with back home, so at least I’ll know to answer to it.”

“You hungry?” Steve asked, shifting from one foot to the other with nervous energy. He didn’t like leaving Bucky alone in that room, but Bucky had been starting to croon adoringly to the flower IV when they’d left him, so there was a chance Bucky would never even register they’d left him. “Want some coffee?”

Cap sighed. “Yeah. I guess I owe a more in-depth explanation to the rest of your team, too.”

“Maybe.” Steve looked him up and down, eyeing the Captain America suit critically. “I like the suit.”

Cap glanced down at his toes, then up again with a cautious glint to his eyes that said he suspected that Steve was poking fun at him. Steve smiled gently and jerked his head toward the elevators, starting to walk as Cap fell into step beside him. “Mine’s mostly blue, is all. I like this one. It’s different. I can get you some clothes to change into, if you want.” He glanced down at his pajamas. “Uh.”

“Did you fight the Chitauri in this universe?” Cap asked.

“We did.”

“In the spandex?”

Steve gritted his teeth and snarled, “The spandex.”

“Agreed. When I found out Coulson was still alive I made him eat that spandex,” Cap mused with a faraway smile on his lips.

Steve stuttered to a stop, gaping at the man. “Agent Coulson lived?”

Cap rounded on him, eyes widening in alarm. “He didn’t, here?”

“If he did, I didn’t get that fucking memo.”

“Huh,” Cap grunted, frowning thoughtfully. “I wonder what else is different.”

“Well, you said your Bucky Barnes was born in 1917, right?”

Cap nodded, jaw tightening and eyes going sad and glassy. “We grew up together. And he was my sergeant until . . .” He ducked so Steve couldn’t see him struggling with his emotions.

“Ours was born in 1982.”

Cap shook his head and sighed heavily. “But he still wound up a prisoner. Still wound up with the arm. Still wound up the Winter Soldier.”

“Yeah,” Steve agreed, cautious and curious because Cap looked angry and downright heartbroken. But the most recent polls Tony kept insisting on putting online had the Winter Soldier pegged as the favorite Avenger amongst ages fifteen to thirty-five. “He was a little aimless before this. When we made him into the Winter Soldier it was like he found his purpose again.”

Cap halted mid-step, eyes locked on the floor in front of him, whole body going still and dangerous. “Did you say ‘we’ made him into the Winter Soldier?”

Steve made sure to side-step closer to the elevator before he stopped moving and turned back to Cap, watching the man warily now. He was still in his goddamn flannel Hawkeye pants, and no one had even suggested taking Cap’s shield from him once they’d started getting answers. “You okay?” Steve asked carefully.

“Do you have a chair?” Cap snarled, eyes glinting dangerously as he locked on Steve’s face.

Steve pulled up short, lips parting. “Wanda Maximoff kept screaming about a chair whenever Bucky got near her. What does that mean?”

Cap narrowed his eyes, attention darting between Steve and the door of the room they’d just left Bucky in, like he was plotting how to barricade himself in there and wrap Bucky in a fuzzy blanket made of kevlar. “Did you wipe him? Did you put that arm on him?”

“Wipe him?” Steve repeated, shrugging in confusion. “I don’t know what that means. Bucky is here because he’s an Avenger. He was a hero in both New York and DC and so many times over again since then. He’s not . . . no one here has ever hurt him. Calm down.”

Cap didn’t appear to know the meaning of those words. His shoulders were still set in a hard, dangerous line, his fists curled at his sides. The shield on his back seemed bigger now, somehow. “Tell me Hydra’s role in this world.”

“Hydra . . . I fought them in World War II. You had a World War II?”

Cap nodded, gritting his teeth.

“A couple years ago, not long after the Chitauri attacked, Hydra made a move from within SHIELD. The Insight helicarriers?”

Cap nodded again. Good, he was still with Steve’s version of events.

“Bucky and Sam Wilson joined me and the Black Widow to help stop the Insight helicarriers from deploying. We destroyed the infrastructures of both SHIELD and Hydra –”

“Wait, Bucky fought with you?” Cap blurted, yes widening. “Alongside you? He didn’t . . . he wasn’t . . .”

“He’d just been discharged from the Army,” Steve hedged. If Cap was this protective of a Bucky he didn’t even know, Steve sure as shit wasn’t going to tell the guy the real story of how he and Bucky had met. Nope.

Cap’s voice was smaller when he asked, “He wasn’t fighting against you? For Hydra?”

Steve stared at him, mouth gaping, unblinking for so long that his eyes threatened to water. “Your Bucky is Hydra?” he finally managed to whisper.

“Not anymore,” Cap said with a vicious snap of his teeth. “They captured him during the War. Brainwashed and tortured him for decades, kept him in a cryogenic chamber when they didn’t need him. Strapped that metal arm on him and made him their hunting dog. He broke his programming and disappeared after Insight. That’s why we had to resort to that portal to find him.”

“Jesus,” Steve gasped. “No, that’s not what happened here. Bucky was a POW on one of his tours, and he did come up against someone who tested a version of the serum on him. That’s how he is the way he is. But he’s not . . . he was never. No. He lost the arm on a mission a few years ago, and Tony made the metal prosthetic. We’re his friends, Cap, we’re not the bad guys here.”

Cap was still tense, blue eyes suspicious and angry. He finally relaxed marginally, giving a jerky nod. “Sorry, I just . . .”

“I’d feel the same way,” Steve assured him. He looked Cap over with a burgeoning amount of fresh sympathy. “How long has it been since you’ve seen him?”

Cap struggled for a moment, opening his mouth and closing it to swallow heavily. “He pulled me out of the river after the Battle of the Triskelion. Then he just fell off the radar. He’s been in the wind ever since.”

Steve had no idea what to say. He glanced at Bucky’s MedBay door, then back at Cap, who had his eyes closed like he was trying to regain control of his emotions. “Okay,” Steve decided. He put a careful hand on Cap’s armored shoulder and turned him back toward the MedBay. “Why don’t you stay with Buck. I’ll bring you a change of clothes and some lunch.”

Cap studied him, unable to hide his surprise. “You sure?”

“I know what it’s like to want to find him and not be able to. Yeah, I’m sure.”

==

Bucky had a problem. Once Steve had loaned Cap some clothes to wear, there was no possible way to tell the two of them apart unless they were speaking. Their voices even sounded the same. The only difference was that Cap always sounded sad whereas Bucky’s Steve was just a sassy little shit. And apparently, Steve Rogers in every universe had that same haircut.

Bucky had put in an official request that His Steve grow a goddamn beard or something before he accidentally pinched the straight version of Captain America on the ass. Again.

Tony and Bruce had been in the workshop ever since Cap had poofed into existence beside the oatmeal and Rice Krispies, trying to reverse engineer a way to create the portal that would send Cap back to his own world. Where the fuck was Thor when they needed him? And Dr. Strange wasn’t answering their calls.

Cap’s team had covered enough contingencies that he had carried a small leather notebook with him into the portal with instructions of how to fix a multitude of fuck ups, should something go awry. Apparently, Not His Steve’s Avengers were just as used to shit going awry as His Steve’s Avengers were.

Tony and Bruce had taken the journal with them and barricaded the doors to the lab to find an answer. Until they did, there wasn’t a lot that could be done to help Cap aside from the occasional there, there pat on the shoulder.

He had found Bucky Barnes, he just hadn’t found his Bucky.

Not that it stopped him from watching this Bucky like a man in the desert staring at a double scoop of ice cream.

It had begun to make Bucky a little skittish, those eyes on him. He had spoken to Cap briefly while he’d still been recovering from his concussion, and the man had seemed shy and sad, apologizing over and over for knocking Bucky’s fine ass into a brick wall, and staring at him like he was a miracle.

Bucky knew he was sex on legs and stuff, okay, he had a mirror, but he’d never been stared at like this.

And Bucky was valiantly fighting the urge, but all he wanted to do when he saw the man was give him a damn hug and stroke his hair or something.

They’d given Cap quarter in Bucky’s old rooms, but Clint had apparently stumbled across him on a middle of the night Cinnamon Toast Crunch run, sitting in the common area at 4 am, staring out the windows at the controlled chaos of New York City despondently.

“He said the rooms smelled like Bucky,” Clint informed Bucky and Steve the next morning, looking as sympathetic as Clint ever did.

“This poor fucking guy, man,” Bucky muttered.

Steve just kept chewing on his bottom lip and frowning like maybe he was trying to memorize multiplication tables or something.

After the first agonizing day had passed with no good news from Tony or Bruce, and no one popping out of the woodwork to helpfully distract the Avengers by trying to blow shit up, Bucky and Steve bid goodnight to Cap in the elevator and carried on to their shared rooms.

As soon as Bucky crossed the threshold, Steve hit him from behind and slammed him into the foyer wall.

“Oof,” was all Bucky was able to get out before Steve was yanking him around to face him and kissing him hungrily. He fought back, biting at Steve’s lip and shoving at his shoulders so he could inhale once before he got lightheaded. “Steve, what?”

“I fucking hate the way he looks at you,” Steve snarled, pressing his powerful body against Bucky’s palms and bringing their faces closer together as he forced Bucky’s elbows into submission. “Now I know why dogs mark their territory.”

“If this is going to devolve into watersports, I’m going to have to call that my hard limit.”

Steve gave him a savage grin and kissed him again, pawing at Bucky’s jeans demandingly and shoving his shirt up to bare his torso. “I’m going to fuck you in the foyer,” he threatened.

“Oh, my God,” Bucky groaned.

Steve picked him up by the backs of his thighs and wrapped Bucky’s legs around his waist, then slammed him against the wall again.

Bucky gasped as his spine protested and managed to rasp out, “You’re a fucking dork!”

Steve bit his neck with a hum of agreement.

Bucky shouted in outrage. “Dammit, Steve! Why is that so freaking hot?”

Steve mumbled a reply that Bucky didn’t even try to translate as his eyes fluttered closed and he banged his head against the wall. “Ow,” he protested weakly. “Fuck, head injury.”

Steve froze and lifted his head to peer at Bucky in the dark. “Okay?” he asked seriously.

“Oh, that’s where you stop? You can hump Bucky’s spine into a hairline fracture against the reinforced walls but a little bitty concussion is where you draw the line?”

Steve shoved his hips harder into Bucky, holding him aloft with nothing but that contact as he reached both hands to the front of Bucky’s Captain America shirt. He bunched both fists in the material.

“Don’t you dare,” Bucky warned even as heat pooled in his belly and threatened to spread up his spine and halt all higher brain function. “This is my favorite shirt, Steven Grant Rogers, if you tear it I will rip you a new asshole.”

“Promise?” Steve growled in a tone Bucky had literally never heard Steve use. He gave him another of those wild, dangerous grins. “Then get it off,” he ordered, his voice hitting that one particular chord in Bucky’s nervous system that immediately made him want to drop to his knees and open his mouth as wide as it would go so Steve could stuff something into it.

“Yes, sir,” Bucky breathed.

Steve dragged his teeth across Bucky’s jawline as Bucky fumbled with the hem of his shirt. He managed to yank it over his head even as Steve continued to pepper his face and neck and chest with sucking kisses and possessive nips. They were both breathing harder when Steve popped the fly of his own jeans and shoved them and his boxer briefs down to mid-thigh.

Bucky’s heart was racing, taking in big gulps of air as he stared at Steve. It was like seeing him for the first time all of a sudden. He looked much more like the predator Bucky had seen crouching in the middle of that portal than his Steve tended to turn into. Bucky liked it. A lot. “Yes, please,” he whispered shakily.

Steve yanked away from the wall and spun gracefully, taking three big strides and unceremoniously tossing Bucky onto the kitchen counter like a bag of groceries. Ever since the day Steve had earnestly suggested using butter as lube so they wouldn’t have to walk the fifteen feet to the bedroom and an indignant Bucky had bounced the butter stick off his stupid face, they’d started stashing little travel packets of lube in weird places throughout their living space.

Steve dove his hand into a nearby drawer to scrounge for one of those packets, holding Bucky in place with a fist tightened in the back of his hair as they kissed.

Bucky managed to kick off his jeans and boxers, letting them slide over his dangling bare feet and to the floor.

Steve was still dressed, though, his shirt all wrinkled where Bucky had been gripping it, his jeans shoved down just far enough to allow Bucky’s inner thighs to slide against his bare hips.

Steve usually believed in erring on the side of caution when it came to fucking Bucky, since that wasn’t their usual MO. But Steve apparently had lost his mind tonight, because he only gave Bucky’s ass the barest of courtesy thrusts with two slick fingers before he was gripping Bucky’s hips and sliding him to perch precariously on the edge of the counter.

“Stevie,” Bucky groaned, threading his trembling fingers through Steve’s hair and tossing his head back to allow Steve room to place those kisses and stinging bites down his neck. He made a strangled, whimpering noise in the back of his throat as Steve rocked his hips and shoved that hard cock into him mercilessly. Bucky’s eyes popped open to stare at the shadows on the ceiling, tightening his arms and legs around Steve’s body as he tried to gasp in a single breath. He could barely breathe, much less speak. “Fuck!”

Steve rocked into him, humming a deep, resonant growl against Bucky’s neck. His hands clamped down on Bucky’s hips and he jerked Bucky’s entire body toward him, sliding him all the way in until they were as joined as they possibly could be. Both of them gasped and Bucky’s nails dug into the back of Steve’s neck.

Steve latched on to Bucky’s collarbone, leaving impressions of his teeth behind as he hefted Bucky off the counter. Gravity should have shoved him even deeper, but seeing as how Steve had already taken care of that, Bucky could only tighten his thighs around Steve’s hips and hold on to his shoulders as Steve held him.

Then Steve lifted him, fingers digging into the perfectly formed meat of Bucky’s ass, thank you very much, sliding Bucky almost all the way off his dick before yanking him back down.

Bucky cried out in shock, the sound echoing through the expensive walls of their apartment.

“Fuck,” Steve gasped, dragging his teeth over Bucky’s skin again. “You feel so fucking good.”

“I feel like a medium-rare steak you just found on a grill,” Bucky stuttered out.

Steve lifted him again, dragging him down slower as he rolled his hips with a possessive snarl.

Bucky flailed all four of his limbs, trying to keep them inside the goddamn ride.

Steve somehow had the extra brain cells to still control his legs, because he carried Bucky to the nearest wall and pressed him against it, fucking up into him fast and hard, leaving bruises all up and down Bucky’s neck and over his hips and ribs. Steve himself had devolved into animal growls and grunts as he laid his claim.

Bucky pressed his shoulders against the wall as hard as he could, giving him enough leverage to roll his hips and meet each of Steve’s thrusts, his ankles crossed at the small of Steve’s back and his hands pawing all over Steve’s flexing muscles.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Bucky was whispering over and over again, his eyes alternately squeezing tight and flying wide open so he could watch Steve’s face morph into one similar to something Bucky would see on Animal Planet right before he turned the channel so he wouldn’t have to watch the innocent little bunny get eaten.

“You –” Steve tried to say, but it devolved back into caveman grunts as he pulled all the way out and then forced the head of his cock back inside on the next roll of his hips.

Bucky made the sound of a rabbit being mauled on Animal Planet and grabbed for Steve’s bangs. He scrunched them up in his hand, getting them off Steve’s forehead so he could see where the hell he was aiming that thing.

Steve released one of Bucky’s hips and rather enthusiastically braced his hand against the wall two inches to the left of Bucky’s head. His palm went right though the plaster, causing Steve’s whole body to rock closer to Bucky and flatten him momentarily like goddamn Daffy Duck against the trunk of a tree.

“Oh, shit,” Bucky wheezed. “Fuck, Steve, fuck! Shit!”

Steve stuffed his face into Bucky’s neck, his entire body still working savagely, rocking Bucky’s whole goddamn world with each brutal, incredible, damn near divine like the face of fucking God thrust of his cock into Bucky’s body.

Bucky flailed his arms again, draping both elbows over Steve’s rolling shoulders, then he dug his fingers, both flesh and metal, into Steve’s back and scraped them up Steve’s flanks. He heard material rip under the metal fingers.

“Yeah, Buck,” Steve urged, his voice gone so rough that the apex predator formerly known as Steve wasn’t even recognizable anymore. He pushed deep and rocked there, panting from the exertion and pleasure, the head of his cock rubbing over Bucky’s prostate and making it feel like a supernova forming inside Bucky’s belly.

“Steve,” he panted, the word cracking out of his lungs when Steve’s momentum slammed him into the wall again. “Fuck, I’m gonna come if you don’t ease off.” He punctuated his warning with another loud scream as Steve yanked down on his hips again and damn near impaled Bucky on that dick that was so hard and big it should have been housed in a missile silo when Steve was horny.

“Ain’t easing off, Buck,” Steve snarled into the shell of his ear. His nose pressed into Bucky’s temple every time he fucked into him. “You’re mine. You can take it.”

“Goddamn,” Bucky breathed. “Goddamn! Are you hate-fucking AlternaSteve in your head right now?”

“Yes,” Steve hissed, hitching his hips as he grabbed at Bucky all over and did his damnedest to make sure Bucky would walk bow-legged for the rest of the week.

Bucky slid his palm over the back of Steve’s head, cupping it almost tenderly as Steve fucked him, desperate and ferocious and awe-inspiring. Then he draped one arm over Steve’s shoulder again and grabbed a fistful of Steve’s torn shirt.

Steve rasped out a tortured breath against Bucky’s cheek. “I’m gonna fill you so full of my spunk, the whole world’ll know you’re mine.”

Bucky’s voice left him and all he could do was moan like a goddamn slut as his mental litany burnt down to the very purest of repetitions; ‘Holy shit, holy shit, holy fucking shit.’

“Yeah,” Steve urged, breathlessly eager. “Come on, Buck, keep making those sounds for me. You’re so goddamn hot when you’re getting fucked.”

Another sound made it through Bucky’s gritted teeth that sounded rather like a poorly articulated, “Hng.”

Steve wrapped both his arms behind Bucky’s back, under his armpits, and curled them so he had both hands over the backs of Bucky’s shoulders. He used his newfound handle to keep Bucky firmly in place, preventing him from being rocked with each jerk of Steve’s hips, trapping Bucky there between himself and the wall with nowhere to go and nothing to do but get enthusiastically railed by a super soldier.

“Gonna come,” he managed to grit out. “Please, Stevie!”

“That’s it,” Steve crooned, his rhythm picking up, showing no quarter or mercy for Bucky’s impending loss of control. “Take it for me, Buck. You feel so fucking good!”

Bucky tilted his head back as far as he could while he was being slowly introduced to the plaster through osmosis. His lips were parted as he gasped and panted, and Steve took that as an invitation to lick into his mouth and kiss him like he was trying to taste Bucky’s soul.

Steve changed the angle on his next thrust and that was all she fucking wrote for Bucky. He arched away from the wall, body writhing against the restraint of Steve’s arms and chest and hips. Steve didn’t let up as Bucky shot his load. If anything, Steve’s thrusts came faster and harder as he fucked Bucky right through his orgasm. The continued stimulus had Bucky shouting Steve’s name plaintively, had him scrabbling at Steve to beg for mercy, had him bruising Steve up, had him drawing a long, thin line of blood across Steve’s upper back.

He was still twitching uncontrollably when his body went utterly limp. He clung to Steve desperately, but the grip of his legs was failing and his fingers couldn’t seem to remember how to do anything but spasm in protest.

Steve dug his patriotic eagle talons into Bucky’s ass cheeks and plucked him out of the brand new depression in the wall that they would have to claim was a ‘decorative choice’ later. He was still buried balls deep in Bucky’s ass when he took a step away and turned, then sank to his knees and laid Bucky on the floor of Bucky’s old friend, the goddamn foyer.

Steve grabbed behind both of Bucky’s knees and positioned them over Steve’s hips again. Bucky locked his ankles obediently. His ears were ringing and he could barely even hear the filthy praise that was pouring from Steve’s lips.

He wrapped his arms around Steve’s neck, but Steve immediately grasped his forearms and slammed Bucky’s hands into the floor.

A weak and mortifying, “Please,” was all Bucky could think to say as he watched Steve fuck him senseless from under his lowered lashes. “Come in me, Stevie,” he added once his brain started to reboot and come back online for him. “Fill me up, sweetheart, make it fucking run out of me.”

Steve drove deep and circled his hips, a shiver running through his massive body.

Bucky squirmed as Steve kept going, and Steve reacted by clamping down one large hand over Bucky’s joined wrists and wrapping the fingers of his other hand around Bucky’s neck.

“Oh God,” Bucky cried, jutting his hips up. Heat was already starting to flood back into him like high tide. His voice was strained when he told Steve, “Oh, God, that’s information I didn’t need to know about myself.”

Steve huffed a breathy laugh, warming Bucky’s kiss-chapped lips. He gave Bucky’s neck a playful squeeze.

“New kink, that’s a new kink discovered,” Bucky announced, frantic, struggling to speak and to breathe and to move so he could meet Steve’s thrusts with his own. “Forgive me Father for I am sinning,” he whispered weakly.

Steve kissed him forcefully, probably trying to shut him the fuck up.

In the distant buzzing and ringing of Bucky’s ears as he slowly but surely relegated the air left in his lungs firmly to the Friend Zone, Bucky heard a pounding from somewhere over their heads and the shout of his name.

Yeah, Bucky was getting pounded alright, thank you sound effects in his head.

Steve trapped Bucky’s lower lip between his teeth, and the sharp pain brought Bucky momentarily closer to awareness. The edges of his vision were darkening and he could feel in a detached sort of way that he was already hard again, cock throbbing as Steve’s belly dragged against it. Discount terrorist-cave super serum, at your service.

Steve cursed under his breath and went rigid over Bucky, moaning pitifully as came so deep inside Bucky that Bucky knew it would stay inside him right up until morning when he planned to use it as slick and ride Steve like a rodeo bull. Steve’s fingers squeezed Bucky’s throat tight enough to bruise for a mere second before he let Bucky go, and Bucky flapped his hands uselessly in Steve’s grip and writhed up into Steve when his second orgasm rushed through him and took no prisoners as he spurted against Steve’s abs.

There was a moment of intense calm when they both finished, filled with their heaving breaths and a weighted gauzy feeling settling over them. They stared into each other’s eyes, both of them looking a little shocked to find out that they’d finally managed to fuck in the freaking foyer.

The door a few feet away from their heads burst open, banging against the wall so close that Bucky felt it whip past the tips of his hair. Bucky raised his metal arm and covered the top of Steve’s head just before a red, white, and blue goddamn oversized dinner plate clanked against his forearm and rattled him down to his very teeth, then bounced back to land on the floor with a judgmental clang.

Bucky and Steve both froze for a breath, then they both looked up at the intruder in confusion.

“Get off him,” Cap ordered, his voice a dangerous snarl of rage and terror. He had a gun pointed at Steve’s forehead.

Bucky blinked at him, bewildered and still trying to recover from having his literal brains fucked out onto the floor. “Captain America uses guns in your universe?”

“Are you okay?” Cap demanded of Bucky.

Bucky peered at him, still upside down, and then looked up at Steve, who was still settled between Bucky’s splayed legs and looking down at him with wide eyes. “Yes?” Bucky answered uncertainly, squinting back up at Cap, outlined in the overly bright lights from the hallway.

Cap’s aim wavered uncertainly, his combative stance easing off. “I heard you screaming.”

“Oh?” Bucky grunted. “Oh! Oh. Yeah, that was . . . that was not a scream for help, friend.”

Only then did Cap appear to really take in his surroundings beyond ‘Bucky is in trouble’, and even in the dim light Bucky could see a blush rising on his cheekbones. Adorable.

“Shit,” Cap murmured. “You two . . . you two are together?”

“Kind of literally right now,” Bucky mumbled, glancing down at Steve’s heavy body and readjusting his legs so his feet were no longer resting on Steve’s bare ass. Steve’s muscles shifted against Bucky, and Bucky clamped down on him with his knees. “Don’t you dare yank that out of me in a Depression-era Catholic guilt-induced panic, I will end you.”

Steve’s guilty golden retriever eyes told Bucky that was exactly what he’d been about to do.

Cap moved a little closer and retrieved his shield, scurrying toward the door again once he had it in hand. “Well this is . . . awkward.”

“No shit,” Steve offered drily.

“Sorry for the interruption,” Cap mumbled, sounding like he wanted to go throw himself off a helicarrier into a sucking black Tesseract void. “I’ll just . . . yeah. I’ll be going.”

Bucky and Steve were left in the dark after the door snicked shut, their night vision completely ruined for the time being. Bucky snorted, and he felt Steve shaking against him as Steve tried not to laugh.

“Welp,” Bucky finally said. “I’m two for two with scarring Captain Americas for the rest of their lives. We should go find more universes and add to my collection.”

Steve hummed. “To be fair, you do sound like you’re being murdered when you get fucked.”

Bucky gave him a glare hard enough that it was probably infrared in the darkness. “Bite me, Rogers.”

He knew as soon as he’d said it that it was wrong thing to say. Steve damn near broke skin.

“You think Cap would be interested in a Bucky sandwich?” Bucky gasped as he tried to squirm away from Steve’s teeth.

==

Bucky just barely stopped himself from smacking Steve on the ass in the common area the next morning. He was wearing running shorts and shoes and a plain white T-shirt. Bucky eyed his back carefully, trying to figure out if this was Steve already back from his morning run with Sam, or Cap standing there innocently waiting for his pert little ass to be a victim of misidentification.

“Morning,” Bucky greeted, instead of the ass-slap.

Whatever version of Captain America this was, he jumped when Bucky spoke. He whirled around, spatula in hand, blush creeping over his face as soon as he caught sight of Bucky. Cap, then.

“Morning,” he practically squeaked, then cleared his throat and winced.

“Sorry about last night,” Bucky offered.

Cap shook his head furtively, turning back to the stove. “I tend to fight first and ask questions later. It was my fault.”

“Sounds like someone I know,” Bucky murmured. He pulled out a stool and sat, resting his elbows on the kitchen island. “I take it you and your Bucky aren’t . . .”

Cap shook his head jerkily again, making a little distressed sound in the back of his throat. He refused to turn around as he poked at whatever he was making for breakfast. It smelled like eggs. An omelet, maybe.

Bucky eyed him carefully, trying to separate his mannerisms and quirks from the Steve Rogers Bucky knew so well. “But not because you don’t want him, I’m guessing.”

Cap’s shoulders hunched like Bucky had just threatened him.

“Hey, I don’t mean to pry,” Bucky soothed. “Tell me to shut up, if you want.”

Cap was silent, his movements stilling. He finally reached for the knob at his hip and turned the burner off. “I could never,” he whispered brokenly. “I haven’t heard your voice in so long.”

Bucky’s heart ached for the guy, it really did. “You grew up with him?” he asked, his brain hurting when he tried to get all the pronouns right in a discussion where he was talking to his boyfriend who wasn’t actually his boyfriend about his not boyfriend’s crush on him but not actually him at all.

“Yes,” Steve answered, sounding pained.

“He was a Howling Commando?”

Steve nodded. “Best sergeant in the 107th. Hell. Best sergeant in the whole damn Allied army.”

“The 107th?” Bucky repeated in shock.

Cap finally turned to peer over his shoulder at Bucky. His eyes were red, like he’d been fighting tears since Bucky first spoke.

Bucky couldn’t keep the sympathetic head tilt from happening. Cap ducked his head when he saw it for what it was.

“Lots of onions in those omelets, huh?” Bucky suggested gently.

Cap huffed a weak laugh, then gave Bucky another careful glance.

“I was with the 107th too,” Bucky told him. “Like I said, I don’t mean to pry. You don’t have to say anything to me, if you don’t want. I understand what it must have been like when you grew up, if it’s even close to Steve’s story. But you’re literally in a different world right now, it’s as safe with a secret as you’re ever going to get.”

Cap continued to watch him guardedly, then his shoulders seemed to unwind just a little. “I loved him from the first day I really understood what love was,” he told Bucky in a soft, sad voice that still somehow sounded strong as iron. “I never told him. He was . . . well, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you.” Cap gestured over Bucky’s frame with the spatula. “He could have anyone he wanted.”

Bucky gave a shrug that basically said, ‘Ay.’

“And he wasn’t queer,” Cap stated confidently.

Bucky made a doubtful sound in the back of his throat and scowled. “Pal, I got enough queer in me I know some of it has to be bleeding into the next universes. You might be wrong about that one.”

Cap actually managed to laugh. “Yeah, you had a lot in you last night,” he muttered, then immediately looked horrified at himself. The wide-eyed look he gave Bucky made Bucky burst out laughing.

Cap blinked at him, his face flushing, before he let out a surprised laugh along with Bucky. His smile was so much heavier than Bucky’s Steve. This was what Steve Rogers looked like when he lost Bucky Barnes. The realization hit Bucky so hard that he felt like he needed to dive for the trash can and empty his stomach. He fought it back, though, casting a spare thought to his Steve and reminding himself to say, ‘I love you,’ a few more times a day.

Cap was still smiling softly as he stared at Bucky. “You’re not even from the same universe and you can still pull me out of my head.”

Bucky really couldn’t think of anything to say to that, so he gave Cap another warm smile.

“Is that Bucky Barnes’s job in every universe?” Cap mused. “Making sure Steve Rogers doesn’t lose himself?”

“I can think of a lot of worse things to make my eternal multiverse purpose.”

“He’s my best friend,” Cap murmured finally. “And he’s out there all alone.”

“You worried ’cause he’s alone, or ’cause he’s not with you?”

Cap glanced up, narrowing his eyes. “Is there a difference?”

“Big one,” Bucky answered with raised eyebrows. “When you find him . . . shit, I’m not gonna give you advice on your life in another world, pal. But I will say; the day Steve told me he loved me, it changed my life. Whole world went bright on me again.”

Cap stared at him with slowly widening eyes. Bucky offered him his most reassuring smile, which he’d been promised absolutely did not look like his, ‘I’m going to jam this Mark II up your urethra’ smile.

“If nothing else, at least you were true to your own heart. And if your Bucky is worth everything you’re doing for him, even if he doesn’t reciprocate the feelings, he’ll still be your best friend.”

Cap nodded and swallowed hard, ducking his head again. He was running a finger over his thumb nail, probably for something to do with his hands. He was fucking adorable, is what he was.

“Let’s get out of here, Cap,” Bucky suggested impulsively.

Cap looked up at him through the same impossibly long eyelashes Steve did when Bucky was getting blown, and Bucky had to school his expression quickly so Cap wouldn’t be able to tell that Bucky’s brain had stalled on sex.

“What’d you have in mind?”

“No point in keeping you cooped up in here,” Bucky said as he pushed to his feet. “Let’s go grab a hot dog.”

“It’s eight in the morning.”

“Then we’ll grab a fucking Starbucks and a cronut, Jesus,” Bucky shot back as he headed for the elevator, trusting Cap would follow him.

==

Cap handled the public a hell of a lot better than Bucky did. But then, Cap seemed to genuinely like people, and Bucky did not.

They were approached several times while they stood in line at Starbucks, and Bucky had to intervene the one time someone came up to Cap to thank him for being vocally bisexual. Cap had stuttered and the blood had drained from his face, so Bucky had shoved both coffee cups in Cap’s hands and wrapped an arm around his waist, thanked the kid for saying hello, and steered Cap right out of the Starbucks.

“So,” Cap was saying as they ambled along the sidewalk. “You two are really out, huh?”

“It wasn’t on purpose originally, but it worked out okay. It will for you too.”

Cap hummed dubiously. “I don’t know. My Bucky is sort of an internationally wanted world-famous assassin.”

Bucky’s steps stuttered before he righted himself. “He’s a what now?”

Cap winced. “Long story,” he muttered, diligently stirring his coffee with a swizzle stick that had a little plastic grinning Captain America head on the tip.

“Jesus,” Bucky grunted. “Okay so, you’ll need a good rebranding team, but still. You do you, Cap.”

Cap laughed under his breath.

Bucky’s phone began to blare an air raid siren in his pocket, and beside him Cap hit the deck, his coffee cup rolling across the ground and spilling everywhere as he covered his head with both hands.

Bucky stood with his phone clutched in his hand, distractedly thumbing the alarm to silent and staring down at the man. “Okay there, Cap?” he asked evenly.

Cap uncovered his head and looked up, peering around the sidewalk as New Yorkers blithely stepped over his prone form and continued on with their lives. “Uh.”

“Jesus, a Steve is a Steve in every world,” Bucky murmured before he put the phone to his ear. “Go for Soldier.”

“Buck!” Steve shouted in a panic. “We’ve got hits all over the City, Hydra STRIKE teams. Where are you?”

“Cap and I are taking the air,” Bucky answered as he offered Cap a metal hand and pulled him to his feet. “We’re okay.”

“Get back to the Tower, we need to coordinate,” Steve ordered.

“On our way,” Bucky answered as his eyes followed a black Nissan Armada rolling slowly along the street, the illegally tinted back window sliding down as it got closer. “Uh oh.”

“Uh oh?” Steve shouted into the phone. “What uh oh?”

Bucky didn’t even have time to get his metal hand up before the dart hit him in the neck. His fingers immediately went limp, the phone dropping and shattering on the ground. Fucking StarkTech, unbreakable his perfectly rounded ass.

Pain exploded through his kneecaps when they bashed into the concrete.

“Bucky!” Steve’s voice shouted from far away but also right in his ear. It wasn’t his Steve, though, his Steve was on the phone that had just shit itself on the sidewalk. That was Cap’s voice, calling to him. That was Cap shouting at the black-clad mercenaries who swarmed them, Cap who was fighting them off - fighting tooth and nail for a Bucky who wasn't even his Bucky - and sending one or two of those cocksure piece of asshole STRIKE douchenozzles flying into the side of the building while he was at it.

Bucky lost track of the fight when he pitched forward into the trash-filled water at the edge of the curb.

Chapter Text

Iron Man landed on the sidewalk with a little too much oomph and the concrete cracked under his feet. Steve jumped away from the suit, getting his glove latched around a missile on the Iron Man suit’s back in his haste and cursing and struggling to disentangle them as Tony tried to help him dismount.

They’d discovered the best way for Iron Man to carry any of them was to stand on top of his foot like a platform and hold onto his neck for dear life. Natasha was amazing at the maneuver. Steve was decidedly not.

Steve finally got loose and darted to the man who sat on the curb, his head held in both hands, rocking back and forth like the orderlies were late with his medication.

“Cap,” Steve said as he got closer, dread filling his entire body until it felt like he was moving through ice.

Cap didn’t look up when Steve spoke, just shook his head and began rocking harder. “I’m sorry,” he practically sobbed. “They took him right out from under me.”

Steve placed a hand on Cap’s shoulder, glancing around at all the emergency and police vehicles that littered the street corner, at the crowds of curious onlookers.

There were two black-clad Hydra agents handcuffed and sitting with their backs against a police cruiser, looking like they’d rather be taken to jail than face Cap’s rage again.

“How many were there?” Steve asked, forcing his mind to stay in calm mission mode rather than panicked my boyfriend just got kidnapped and all I can do is scream mode.

“I don’t know. Ten, at least. There were two vehicles. We saw the first one, but the second came up behind us in the middle of it. They shot him first thing, took him out of the fight. There were just too many, and I didn’t have my shield,” Cap rambled, not even taking a breath.

Steve squeezed his shoulder again.

“I’m sorry. I came here to find my best friend and I just wound up letting yours get lost instead!”

“This isn’t your fault,” Steve told him, firmly ignoring the tiny little ugly piece of his mind that was throwing fine china and screaming, ‘yes it is, this is all your fault!’

“You said they shot him?” Tony said. Steve hadn’t even noticed him coming up to them, which was alarming considering he clanked like a dumpster being emptied at five in the morning. He was standing in front of Cap, his face plate up, a scowl on his face. “How badly was he wounded? I’ve never seen Barnes take an injury that could knock him out of a fight completely.”

“I think it was a sedative,” Cap answered miserably.

Tony hummed and stepped away, going to pick something up. He examined it without comment for long enough that Steve had to pull his attention away from Cap to investigate what had Tony’s interest.

Tony was holding Bucky’s StarkPhone.

“So much for the unbreakable Model 8,” Steve muttered as he stared at the mess of crushed electronics.

Tony turned it over. “This was a bullet.”

“What?”

“It didn’t do this just from Barnes dropping it. Even stepping on it wouldn’t do this. Look,” he offered, pointing to an edge for Steve to look at. It definitely looked like a bullet hole.

“Someone shot his phone right out of his hand?” Steve said, bewildered.

Tony shrugged, looking just as confused. If he was right, then it was literally the only bullet that had been fired during the whole confrontation. And if only one bullet was going to be fired in a fight against the Winter Soldier and Captain America, Steve knew he sure as hell wouldn’t aim it a cell phone.

Tony turned it over and over. “Huh.”

Steve turned to peer over his shoulder at the roofs of the buildings around. He pressed the comm in his ear. “Hawkeye, find an angle you’d fire from. Search the area, see if there was a sniper up there.”

“You got it, Cap.”

“You got a theory?” Tony asked.

Steve shook his head. “Not right now, I’m just trying to look like I know what I’m doing.”

Tony huffed a mirthless laugh.

Cap still sat hunched on the curb, his hat pulled low over his eyes. All they needed right now was a photo of Steve Rogers standing here in his Captain America get-up with Steve Rogers sitting on the curb in front of him looking like a kicked puppy.

Steve circled around the scene a few times, trying to find something, anything, that would tell him why they’d taken Bucky and where they could have gone. Natasha came out and quietly escorted Cap into the back of the van she’d driven down from the Tower with enough audio and video they could use it as a mobile command station.

When Steve joined them in the back, they were watching the scuffle in several angles from cameras at businesses and street corners. Steve hunched down and watched.

Every time Bucky was hit with that dart, Steve and Cap both made an identical choked sound in the backs of their throats. It looked like Bucky dropped the phone as soon as the dart hit, but a slo-mo replay showed the impact of a bullet knocking it from his grasp.

It looked like it had to hurt when Bucky crumpled to his knees, and Cap was a whirl of frantic motion behind him when Bucky’s body went limp and fell.

Steve could see that Cap had done exactly what he would have, had he been there. Their fighting style was eerily similar.

“They didn’t even try to take you,” Natasha mused on their second viewing. She tapped her bottom lip with her index finger.

Cap shook his head. “They just swarmed me. Cut me off from him. I wasn’t the target, he was. I mean, Steve wasn’t the target, anyway.”

“Hm,” Steve offered, frowning as he watched two Hydra STRIKE members try to pick Bucky up. He was obviously more solid than they’d been expecting and they struggled for a moment to pull his dead weight off the sidewalk before a third man came to help them. They looked like they were still having trouble, though, bitching at each other about who was doing more of the lifting.

Steve had really never given much thought to how heavy Bucky really was. All that enhanced muscle, plus the metal arm, and then you add in the metric fuckton of salt Bucky was made of, he was probably hard to carry if you weren’t enhanced.

They dragged him toward one of the black SUVs bad guys seemed to buy in bulk, and then the vehicle sped off. In the foreground of the footage, Cap was fighting like a cornered alley cat, trying to go after him.

Steve put his hand on Cap’s shoulder, squeezing. “You did everything I would have,” he offered. “This isn’t on you.”

Cap sighed heavily, but he didn’t get a chance to respond before all the video feeds went to static with an ear-piercing whine of feedback. The picture wavered and slowly formed into one of the Hydra tentacle monsters that Steve would forever associate with that one Hentai comic he hadn’t been able to bleach from his brain.

“Tony!” Steve called, and Tony thumped down beside their van, peering in at the video as the Hydrapus dissolved into a video feed.

It was Bucky, his chin resting against his chest, his hair falling around him in photoshoot perfect cascades, his shoulders loose in the way only the unconscious could manage while strapped down to a metal chair by enough chains to make the Ghost of Christmas Past jealous.

They appeared to be in the back of a modified SUV or van, the chair bolted to the undercarriage, the inside panels reinforced to prepare for a Super Soldier.

“This message is for Captain Rogers,” a lightly accented voice informed anyone in the country who’d been watching daytime soaps while taking a personal day from work.

Both Steve and Cap bared their teeth at the screens.

A gloved hand gently stroked Bucky’s hair like the man was affectionately soothing a toddler, then grabbed a fistful of it and jerked Bucky’s head back, so the camera could get a good shot of his face. His eyes were closed, his lips parted and his facial muscles slack. He looked like an angel, and Steve pressed his trembling fingertips to the screen.

“You took something precious from Hydra,” the voice attached to the glove said. “And today, you will watch as we take something precious from you.”

Steve’s eyes were glued to Bucky’s face. That was the only reason he was able to see the ever-so-subtle curl of Bucky’s lips into a crooked smirk.

“Bucky, no,” Cap and Steve both whispered at the same time.

Bucky’s eyes shot open and someone near the microphone of the camera cursed. Bucky flexed his upper body and the arm made a horrendous whining sound, like the wheels of a tire spinning uselessly in a muddy hole. The hand released its grasp of Bucky’s hair, and the man who’d been taunting Captain America with so much confidence two seconds before screamed a panicked, “Sedate him!”

Bucky let out a goddamn primal roar that sent shivers up the spines of half of America, and pushed his impressive shoulders and arms outward. The chain that had been holding him snapped like it was made of spun sugar, and one of the mangled links of iron hurtled toward the camera’s lens as if the audience was supposed to be wearing 3D glasses. The screen shattered, obscuring the view of whatever was happening in the back of that soccer mom vehicle to make grown men scream like that, and then the feed cut out.

Steve and Cap both dove toward the screens, their hands splayed across the static, Cap praying to a God he still believed in and Steve cursing like Bucky did when the coffee table inexplicably moved an inch to the left to attack his toes.

Somewhere on the Jersey Turnpike, a black SUV with illegally tinted windows rocked back and forth as it sped down the highway, then careened into a guardrail and flipped right off the road.

==

“We found a traffic incident that involved the SUV the video feed was coming from,” Tony announced, and he pressed a button to pull up a map and several accident photos on the StarkBoard.

Steve sat at the head of the conference table, palms pressed together and held to the bridge of his nose like he was praying, glaring at the board. The SUV was on its side, crunched all to hell like it had rolled more than once.

“It looks like either a backup vehicle or a third party arrived before the first responders and picked up survivors. And Barnes wasn’t one of the bodies left behind.”

Steve let out a relieved breath at that.

“Could he have gotten away?” Cap asked, the hope in his voice almost heartbreaking.

Tony shook his head sadly. “If he had, he would have contacted us by now, surely.”

Steve and Sam both nodded in agreement. “Buck isn’t the type to give up without a fight,” Sam added. “If a second crew got to him without anyone reporting a bar brawl on the shoulder of the Turnpike, he wasn’t conscious when that car stopped rolling.”

Steve shivered as icy dread crept up his spine.

Tony rapped his knuckles on the wooden table top. “Way I look at it, these assholes aren’t even going to make it forty-eight hours before they pull a Ransom of Red Chief and contact us to beg us to take Barnes back.”

Cap let out a sobbing laugh, covering his face with both hands. “That was one of Bucky’s favorite stories. He read it to me every time I was bedridden.”

Steve found himself smiling weakly at the thought.

“Well, from what I know of this world’s Bucky Barnes, he studied that story for some sort of professional dissertation,” Tony mumbled.

Steve had to lick his chapped lips and clear his throat before he was able to speak. “What about his cat tracker? It’s still in his arm, right?”

Tony nodded. “I tried to ping it, but it’s either dead, Barnes removed it himself at some point, or they’ve got him shielded by something like a faraday cage.”

“Is there any way to trace the video feed?” Steve asked, casting around desperately for ideas. The state of inertia the team was in was slowly driving him to loosen his control of his more violent tendencies. “They’re going to try that again, I’d bet anything on it.”

“They’re using the same tech that Mandarin toolbag used,” Tony answered with a grimace. “JARVIS is working on it.”

“The Mandarin?” Cap asked. “You fought him here too?”

Tony shook his head. “No, Rhodey handled that mess. I was making Barnes an arm at the time, heard about it all after the fact.”

Cap stared at Tony with wide eyes. Steve kind of wondered what the result had been in Cap’s reality, with no Bucky around and Tony going up against the Mandarin instead of Colonel Rhodes. From the pallor of Cap’s face, Steve guessed the chain of events had been unsavory, to say the least.

“The Mandarin was an AIM creation. So, does that mean Hydra and AIM are trading tech?” Clint asked after a moment of frowning. “That can’t be good.”

“It is decidedly not good,” Tony agreed. “And I’m not buying the sole reason they made a move this risky is just to make Steve hurt. No one is spiteful enough to want to deal with a personally offended Winter Soldier.”

There was a low murmur of agreement around the table.

A knock on the glass from outside the Tower had everyone lunging for weapons and cover, but when Steve peeked out from behind his shield to see who was attacking them this time, all he found was Thor floating seventy-odd floors off the ground, Mjolnir in hand, grinning and waving at them like he was selling Girl Scout cookies door to door.

“Hey, Thor’s not lost in space anymore!” Clint cried happily.

==

“Nice haircut,” Clint offered as Thor settled into a seat around the conference table.

“Thank you. It was not my choice, but I’m told it suits me well enough.”

“Barnes is going to be giddy when he finds out he has the best hair on the team again,” Sam mused.

“Excuse you,” Natasha hissed.

“Hey, you wear a wig half the time and your hair doesn’t do that without two-hundred dollars of product. Barnes could stick his fingers in a light socket and still have good hair.”

Natasha shrugged in acquiescence.

“I understand we have misplaced the Soldier,” Thor said as he set Mjolnir on the table like a gaudy centerpiece. He glanced around the table, his eyes trailing slowly over Steve and then Cap. He narrowed his eyes at Cap, like he could tell which one of them was the wrong one. He hesitated a moment before leaning closer to Cap. “Chris?”

“Pardon?” Cap asked with a confused cock of his head.

“Mm, sorry, wrong alternate universe. Welcome, Captain. I assume you did not intend to end up here.”

“Yeah, turned left instead of right at the fabric of reality,” Cap drawled.

“That can happen to the best of us,” Thor commiserated solemnly before turning back to peer at the StarkBoard. “I would like to be of assistance, if I’m still welcome.”

“Of course you are,” Steve grunted. “You’re one of us, no matter what.”

Thor gave him a grateful nod.

“Any chance you can use some Asgardian mojo to find our boy?” Sam asked Thor, his voice laced with hope for the first time since they’d found out Bucky had been taken.

“I am afraid Heimdall could only pinpoint his location to the general vicinity of New Jersey.”

“Fuck New Jersey,” Steve snarled through gritted teeth.

“Oh,” Tony laughed. “I have a feeling Barnes is going to do that for you, if Hydra keeps him much longer.”

==

Bucky was working hard to moderate his breathing and his heartbeat, straining his ringing ears to listen.

“What the fuck are we supposed to do with him? The sedatives keep burning off faster and faster!”

“Then we’ll keep giving him bigger doses until it’s time to off him,” another voice growled. The second man sounded like his vocal chords had been abused to within an inch of their life, and his words were muffled like he had a mask on. Bucky growled before he could stop himself. If some Hydra douche had stolen his mask shtick . . .

There was more muttering and mumbling, but Bucky couldn’t pick up on anything else with any reliable translation.

Bucky had a feeling this group wasn’t exactly affiliated with the first group who’d nabbed him. That kidnapping had been organized and had a clear goal; namely, they only wanted the Winter Soldier for something and not Captain America. But this kidnapping was more of a smash and grab. They seemed to be running on a skeleton crew and were already talking about when to kill Bucky, not if. Great.

They had him restrained in another metal chair, which was bolted to the concrete. Once he got his full strength back and he stopped hallucinating that polka-dot dragon on the corner, those chains weren’t even going to slow him down.

He vaguely recalled this set of assholes trying to get his arm off him, tugging and twisting at it while he’d been bound to a table and laughed hysterically at them the whole time. The latch under his metal armpit was a bio scanner; only certain people could disconnect it. Of course, once they figured that out all they had to do was force Bucky’s human hand to touch it and pop, his metal arm would be a trophy on some Hydra dingbat’s hunting wall.

The door to the boiler room they were keeping him in screeched open and both Bucky and the man who’d just entered shivered at the sound.

“That’s cruel and unusual punishment,” the man told Bucky gruffly.

“So is your face,” Bucky muttered without looking up. His hair had grown long enough again to hide his eyes like a curtain when he ducked his head.

“That’s kind of mean,” the man drawled. “Considering your boyfriend is the one who dropped a burning building on it.”

That prompted Bucky into peeking up at him. He was dressed in a tac suit from hell, the armor all reinforced to no doubt compensate for his tiny dick, and the mask he wore was merely a grotesque exaggeration of the one Bucky loved. Bucky could see the mess of burn scars the mask failed to hide. He had the harness that crisscrossed over his chest smeared in what looked like either sidewalk chalk or the blood of an albino enemy, Bucky couldn’t be sure.

He squinted at the man, his head pounding from way too much narcotic and not nearly enough fun. “What the hell are you supposed to be?”

The man cocked his head, his eyes crinkling over the top of the mask. “If I said your worst nightmare, would you laugh in my face?”

“Probably,” Bucky admitted dejectedly.

The man nodded like it was as he suspected. “Call me Crossbones.”

“Crossbones. The fuck kind of name is Crossbones? Your mama wanted a puppy for Christmas and all she got was you, huh?”

“Ha,” the man calling himself Crossbones offered, flat and sarcastic. He jerked his arm and a wicked blade shot out from one of the guy’s masturbatory fantasies attached to his wrist. He moved closer to Bucky, wielding the knife arm menacingly. “Time for your fifteen minutes of fame.”

He brought the knife down on the chain that was looped through a ring on the floor to snap it right in half, and the chains all loosened and dropped around Bucky’s chair.

“You guys don’t pay for your own materials, do you?” Bucky asked as Crossbones dragged his limp body off the chair. “Jesus, use a key and save some chains, pal.”

He kept babbling nonsensically and giving the small number of Hydra dipshits they encountered advice and the occasional style point for any of their cooler weapons as he was dragged down a murky corridor that was so dank and depressing, it could only be a basement in New Jersey.

They restrained Bucky’s arms behind his back with yet another length of chains and thumped him down to his poor, abused knees in front of a wall that was displaying the Hydra octofucker in red on a black background. Crossbones loomed behind him, and two more Hydra red shirts - who Bucky intended to feed their spinal columns to later - flanked them on either side. Bucky raised his head to blink past the overly bright lights ahead of him and saw a camera set up, aimed at them. Great. This shit again.

The red light on the camera began to blink, then stayed on to signal they were live. Bucky scowled at the lens. They could have at least let him brush his hair or some shit.

“Cut off one head, America, and two more shall take its place,” Crossbones grunted to the camera. Listening to his destroyed voice was making Bucky realize how thirsty he was. “And Captain Rogers, we know you’re listening. Pay close attention.”

The edge of that blade settled on Bucky’s right shoulder, nestled up against his neck with one edge resting just under his jaw. Bucky quirked an eyebrow at the camera. This fucking prick, amirite.

“Meet the new head. If we can make the Winter Soldier kneel, we can certainly bring America to her knees.”

“Pal, I’ve willingly knelt in half the bathrooms of every divebar on the East Coast, you ain’t shit,” Bucky drawled.

Crossbones grunted like he’d been derailed from a script and was trying to recover. “Shut up,” he snarled, whacking Bucky on the side of the head with his bulky wrist gauntlet.

Bucky wavered sideways but righted himself again, shaking his head to clear it. His arm began to recalibrate, metal plates rippling up and down menacingly. “Uh oh,” Bucky intoned in his best mockery of fear. “You’ve pissed off the arm.”

“I said shut up,” Crossbones hissed.

Bucky shook his head, looking up at the camera with exaggerated wide eyes, like his life was the most metal game of ‘stop hitting yourself’ ever and he had no part in what his arm might do.

“You can’t reason with it when it gets like this, pal, you just need to give it its space,” Bucky advised just as the arm shivered and locked into battle mode. The chains wrapped around Bucky’s forearm began to screech in complaint.

“Fuck, not this shit again!” one of the other men howled, and Bucky heard the red shirts scrambling around behind him. Mm, he was going to kill them so dead in a minute.

A gun barrel pressed against the back of Bucky’s head and he felt more than heard the weapon cock. “Don’t fucking move!” Crossbones growled.

Bucky’s arm paused in its dramatics, but it didn’t settle down.

The man circled around Bucky, eyeing the arm warily, gun still aimed at Bucky’s head but just out of his reach. He wasn’t as stupid as he looked, then.

He stood there for a moment as he and Bucky stared at each other blankly in the tense silence.

“Is this where the Stockholm Syndrome is supposed to kick in?” Bucky finally asked solemnly.

Crossbones lunged in close, slamming one of those reinforced gauntlets into Bucky’s beautiful fucking face.

Bucky managed to keep himself from tumbling over sideways, turning with the impact and spitting blood to the side before he was dragged back upright by his shirt collar and righted onto his knees again. He hung his head, breathing harshly, letting the pain swell and sweep through him like an old friend.

Crossbones gave another frustrated growl. “Go ahead,” he taunted, waving grandly at the camera. “Beg for mercy in front of the world.” He followed it up with another vicious right hook that did flatten Bucky out this time. He toppled to his side, his shoulders screaming with the pull of the chains around his forearms, his arms trapped under him, his face a throbbing mass of, ‘the fuck did you just say to me?’

“You can either beg, or you can pray,” Crossbones ordered, voice dangerous and full of unholy glee behind the mask. “I don’t really care which.”

Bucky gasped and nodded, licking blood off his lower lip. He struggled to his side again and used his elbow to push himself back to his knees, body hunched in defeat and breaths heaving. When he finally looked up, he rolled his shoulders into a more inviting slouch and leaned his head back, parting his lips in his most coquettish pose.

“Let’s hear it,” Crossbones said triumphantly for the cameras.

Bucky closed his eyes and nodded again. Then he lowered his voice to a seductive purr. “I’m sorry, Daddy. I’ve been bad.”

The next blow knocked him right the fuck out.

==

“Shit, I’m starting to like this fucking guy,” the man JARVIS had identified as Brock Rumlow, AKA Crossbones, drawled to his compatriots just before the video feed in the conference room cut back to static.

“How embarrassing for the new head of Hydra,” Natasha murmured.

Steve had his face pressed into the table top, arms covering his head and shoulders shaking. He was both laughing and crying, because there was nothing else he could do right now.

==

The next video transmission caused the emotionally drained Avengers to start laughing almost hysterically, because it had apparently been set on a ten-minute delay, instead of broadcasting live like the last two disastrous attempts to communicate with them. It was the same new Hydra flag, the same five Hydra soldiers lined up in front of it. But Bucky hadn’t been put in front of the camera again. Hydra knew a losing battle when they kidnapped one, obviously.

Three of the Top Ten trending Twitter topics an hour after the second transmission had been cut were about the rogue Hydra communications, either directly or indirectly. One was a sentiment about Hydra being so incompetent that they even practiced bad BDSM etiquette. Another simply claimed that Bucky Barnes was the GOAT – whatever that meant, Steve had no idea and Sam had just laughed until he couldn’t breathe when he’d seen it. And the most popular one was merely filled with incredibly graphic requests addressed directly to the Winter Soldier’s mask. #YesDaddy. Even Tony had blushed when he’d skimmed those.

Several other hashtags had ebbed and flowed through the Top Ten, including #FreeBucky, #FindHimCap, and #NeverInvadeRussiaInTheWinter.

They’d been able to deduce that the group who had Bucky now was a rogue offshoot, completely separate from the Hydra teams who’d been crawling over New York City and taken Bucky in the first place. They still had no idea why Hydra had wanted Bucky in the first place. And whatever this rogue faction of Hydra was trying to get out of subjugating the Winter Soldier on live television, they had sort of missed their mark. They'd damn near turned the Winter Soldier into a folk hero in just seven minutes of video.

On the third transmission, Rumlow spouted nonsense about a better world outside of the chaos of choice and order through pain, the way Hydra had originally intended, and Steve hadn’t really been listening so much as voraciously studying the video feed for any clues as to where they might be. He was only half paying attention right up until two more black-clad Hydra operatives dragged Bucky’s limp body into the shot and dumped him face-first on the floor at Rumlow’s feet. They didn’t have nearly as much trouble dragging him as the men had out on the street.

Probably because they’d removed his metal arm.

Rumlow stood with his arms crossed over the X on his tac gear. “If your heroes can’t even protect themselves, who’s going to protect you America? And Cap,” he said into the camera, the same way he’d addressed Steve when they’d worked together on STRIKE One. “Consider this a thank you for dropping a building on me.”

Steve’s mouth went dry and he leaned closer, horror and nausea zipping through him. The ten-minute delay meant whatever he watched them do to Bucky from here on, it had already happened somewhere too far away for Steve to do a damn thing about it. Cap covered his head with both hands, watching the screen in horror.

“Public executions used to be held all over the world to keep order,” Rumlow snarled. He took a gun from his thigh holster and pointed it down at Bucky’s head. “And above all else, Hydra believes in order.”

“No,” Cap breathed at Steve’s side. He gripped the table’s edge. “Oh god, please, no.”

Steve could only stare at Bucky’s prone form, mouth gaping wide, unblinking in case he missed a miracle.

Rumlow cocked the gun, pausing dramatically to stare into the camera. He was playing to an audience of millions, and he knew it. He was probably enjoying the idea of everyone, especially Steve, waiting with horrified, rapt attention for his next move.

“Look!” Clint cried, pointing and standing so fast that he knocked his chair over.

Steve stood as well for lack of a better reaction, because he could not look any harder than he’d already been.

In the background of the video, where the Hydra flag touched the floor and bunched a little bit, a flash of silver reflected off the bright camera lights. A moment later it passed behind the combat boots of one of the standing soldiers and they could see it for what it was.

Bucky’s metal arm was pulling itself across the floor by its fingers.

“Yes!” Tony cried eagerly, hopping up and down with nervous energy. “It works! It fucking works!”

“What works?” Sam shouted, bewildered and looking from Tony to the video.

“The AI I installed in his arm!” Tony yelled back, gesturing wildly. They were all yelling, they were all standing, fidgeting, watching like they were at a goddamn racetrack trying to mentally will their lucky horse to run faster.

The arm got to the middle of the shot, stopping just behind Rumlow’s overdramatic dumb ass. It was holding a tiny canister in its palm.

Steve looked wildly from the arm to Bucky’s face, and he could see Bucky peering up at the camera now, plain as day, like he wasn’t about to have a bullet embedded into his brain as the world watched.

He remained motionless; the only part of his body moving was the metal arm not actually attached to his body right now. Bucky smirked slowly at the camera and sent the audience at home a cheeky wink. Then he squeezed his eyes shut. In the background, the arm flicked the ring off the canister it held.

The flashbang was blinding even over the video feed. Steve and the others all winced away from it, then crowded closer in desperation as thick red smoke filled up the feed. Steve could see movement but he had no idea what was happening. The sounds of a pitched battle rang through the conference room’s speakers, grunts and punches landing and screams of sheer terror rattling around in Steve’s ears.

The whole thing lasted maybe two minutes, all told. Steve held his breath for all of it.

When the red smoke finally began to settle heavy on the floor and the feed cleared up enough to see again, it showed Bucky sitting on top of Crossbones's motionless chest, casually cleaning blood off the fingers of the metal arm by licking his flesh thumb and rubbing at the metal with a frown.

Rumlow moaned and shifted under Bucky’s ass, jostling Bucky a little. Bucky wrapped his flesh fingers around the wrist of the metal hand, then lifted it and brought the thick shoulder end down on Rumlow’s head like it was a club. “Shut your melted face,” he grumbled. “Douchebag.”

He then gave the arm one more critical once-over and fitted it back into its socket, twisting it and locking it in with a loud click. He gave his shoulders an experimental shimmy and seemed satisfied when he tested a metal fist. Then he plucked a gun off the floor near his feet and pointed it just left of the camera lens, his icy blue eyes piercing and deadly.

“That thing still recording?” he asked the unfortunate Hydra intern they’d no doubt put behind the camera.

“Y-yes.”

“Yes, what?” Bucky prompted in a dangerously patient, polite voice.

“Yes, sir!” the trembling voice hurried to get out. “Yes, sir, Mister Sold- uh, Mist, uh . . . Winter . . . Mister Barnes. Sir.”

Bucky stared at him incredulously, like he could not believe such a simple prompt had led to so goddamn much sputtering. When the kid snapped his mouth shut hard enough that the mic picked it up, Bucky rolled his eyes. “Run it like you were supposed to. Where are we?”

“New Jersey. Sir.”

Bucky gritted his teeth, seething as he growled out, “Can you be more specific?”

By the time the kid got the more detailed answer out, Steve and Cap were already in a quinjet, Natasha’s voice on the comm unit relaying the address.

==

Bucky sat on top of his pile of unconscious fucktards for about twenty minutes before he heard the unmistakable sounds of Captain America fucking Hydra's mismanaged shit right up, and then a bellow of his name in Steve’s voice.

“In here!” he called back. When he raised his voice, the camera operator flinched and squeezed himself further into the corner Bucky had made him go take a time-out in. The kid was Hydra and he was sure as fuck going to jail, but he still looked too young and scared for Bucky to knock him out like he had the other ones.

The door to the room burst open, the hinges giving up on life almost immediately when they went up against Captain America’s angry dramatics, and the door slammed into the wall and dangled. Steve stalked into the room – wearing a T-shirt, jeans and Rainbow flip flops – clutching his shield in one hand and baring his teeth combatively as he scanned the room.

“Oh, thank God,” Steve breathed out, rushing over to where Bucky was just getting to his feet, and offering Bucky a hand up.

Bucky grabbed at him and pulled him into the dirtiest, neediest kiss he had ever partaken of. Steve made a muffled noise of surprise and went rigid as Bucky wrapped both arms around his neck and tried his best to physically force them so close they could become one giant blob of super serum. Bucky didn’t care if Steve thought it was Not The Time, Buck, he’d promised himself this would be his reward if he managed to live through this.

He bit at Steve’s lip and ran his tongue along the backs of Steve’s teeth and would have climbed him like a koala if he thought there was any conceivable way it wouldn’t merely lead to having dirty reunion sex in the basement of a Hydra bunker.

They parted breathlessly, Bucky’s heart hammering in his ears, Steve’s eyes wide and his still-glistening lips parted in shock. His fingertips were on Bucky’s flanks, the lightest of touches where he usually grabbed Bucky tight.

Bucky blinked at him.

“Well,” a voice said from the doorway. Bucky looked over to see Steve leaning against the mangled doorjamb, arms crossed over the blue stealth suit. “I’m just not sure how to take that.”

Bucky blinked at him, then looked back at the Steve he was still clinging obscenely to. “You’re not my Steve, are you?” he asked the man.

Cap shook his head jerkily.

Bucky gave them both an apologetic wince as he disentangled himself from Cap and took a step back, discreetly wiping his lower lip with his thumb. “Tiny bit awkward.”

“Just a bit,” Cap managed to say, even though he was breathless and his voice squeaked on the last word.

Bucky nodded and turned toward the door, shooting Steve a helpless shrug as he got closer.

“Where’s mine?” Steve purred under his breath as soon as Bucky was passing through the doorway.

Bucky grunted at him. “Moment’s over.”

==

“Okay but wait, why did they shoot my phone?” Bucky asked, giving Tony a bewildered shrug.

Tony mimicked the shrug. “I don’t know, but Stark tech does not just fall apart like wet tissue paper from a tiny little pocket .22 or some shit, okay, it had to be a high-velocity round.”

Bucky hummed and frowned.

Steve was pacing back and forth behind the sofa, shooting Bucky longing glances because he couldn’t fall apart and cry in relief on his boyfriend until the debrief was over. He was also shooting Cap surreptitious squints because Cap’s eyes kept going unfocused and he’d run his thumb over his lower lip whenever they did.

Oh, Steve was not a happy icecap right now, that was for sure.

“You’re thinking there was a third party shooter,” Bucky told Tony shrewdly.

“Well, I’m thinking it’s a mighty big coincidence if you were nabbed by two separate Hydra factions on the same day and also got shot at by someone who was apparently not with either group. Yeah.”

“That would be quite the coincidence, Bucky,” Thor added helpfully.

Bucky narrowed his eyes at Thor like he was about to lob a sarcastic dagger at him for stating the obvious. Then he cocked his head. “I like the haircut.”

“Many thanks! I like yours as well.”

Bucky ran his hand through his hair. “I need to trim it up again, it’s getting to that weird length between long and short and Clint used all my headbands to bundle his arrows.”

“Boys,” Natasha said softly. She sounded kind of done right now. “It’s been a long day.”

“Quite right,” Thor agreed amidst mumbling from the others. He stood to his full height and nodded at everyone like he was going to retire for the evening. He took a step away from the cluster of sofas and armchairs.

“Oh, wait, you forgot this,” Cap called after him, grabbing the handle of Mjolnir.

Everyone inhaled the same breath, ready to tell him there was no point, when he hefted it off the coffee table and held it out for Thor to take.

Steve stared at him. Tony’s mouth snapped shut like a bear trap. Thor took the hammer gingerly, peering closer at Cap, and Bucky started laughing, covering his face with both hands and falling to his side on the sofa.

Cap just smirked like he knew exactly what that hammer meant.

As the group was dispersing and heading to their separate quarters – Sam and Clint both giving a struggling Bucky tight hugs before they went – Steve took Tony by the elbow and held on as the others all moved further away, piling into the elevators and the stairwells.

“What’s up?” Tony asked Steve as soon as everyone else was gone.

“I don’t care if the earth is being attacked by giant purple aliens. I want your priority to be that damn portal to get him home.”

Tony snorted, and his mouth quivered before he finally restrained the smile Steve knew he was fighting. He cleared his throat and grew more serious, nodding solemnly. “I understand. But Steve, you know Barnes would never do that to you, right?”

“Not on purpose,” Steve growled savagely.

Understanding crept across Tony’s expression, and he did grin then. “Ah, the identical twin dilemma. Yeah, I dated that dilemma in my twenties. ‘I thought she was you!’ is never an excuse that flies.”

“Tony, please stop talking,” Steve begged, slapping his hands over his ears and retreating toward the elevator.

When the elevator doors slid open, Bucky was casually leaning against the back of the car, one foot resting on the wall, hands stuffed in the pockets of his dirty jeans, posing like a goddamn runway model. He glanced up from beneath his eyelashes and smirked when he saw Steve.

“What?” Steve asked uncomfortably, his body responding to the visual tease Bucky damn well knew he was.

“You know I love the shit out of you, right?” Bucky murmured.

Steve’s shoulders slumped and he sighed.

Bucky pushed away from the wall, taking the front of Steve’s shirt in his hand and tugging Steve into the elevator with him. He leaned against the wall again, pulling Steve in so Steve was standing between his suggestively spread legs as he leaned on the handrail that circled the car’s walls. “Thank you for rescuing me,” Bucky whispered against Steve’s lips.

Steve made a tiny whimpering sound as Bucky brushed the tip of his nose against Steve’s affectionately. He finally got his kiss, and it was just as raunchy and heated as the one he’d witnessed back in New Jersey. About damn time.

He was panting when Bucky set him free.

“Don’t be mean to Cap,” Bucky warned gently. “This is the second time he’s lost his whole world. And if you were the one trapped in his universe, I’d damn well expect his Bucky to protect you too. Heart and soul.”

Steve felt guilt and shame settle heavy in his chest, and he nodded obediently, feeling like a scolded puppy. “You’re right.”

Bucky nodded, like yeah, of course he was right. He pulled Steve into a tight hug, whispering against Steve’s cheek. “I’ll always choose you first.”

Chapter Text

Bucky smelled like their shared soap and shampoo and toothpaste, but he tasted like cigarettes when Steve kissed him that night. Steve pulled off him and cocked his head at him as Bucky lounged beneath him, watching him curiously. Bucky wasn’t used to Steve getting distracted once they got to this stage of being naked.

“Did you start smoking again?” Steve asked.

Bucky snorted. “Not on purpose. They gave me a Last Rites cigarette while I was tied to a chair ’cause they thought it’d be funny to watch me not be able to smoke it with my hands tied.”

Steve ground his teeth together, trying to shove down the latent rage he was still trying to find an outlet for. He hadn’t gotten to break near enough faces that evening as punishment for what they’d done to Bucky. Not nearly enough. He wanted to pull a Daredevil and go haring off into the night to beat up drug dealers and muggers while shouting, ‘heil this, you limp-dick motherfuckers!’ The only reason he hadn’t done just that was because Bucky had waltzed out of his shower using nothing but a hand towel to dry his hair, and Steve’s ship had gotten blown way off course halfway to Revenge Island.

“What’d you do?” he asked Bucky through his gritted teeth.

“I waited until one of them lit it for me, then ate it with the most delighted expression I could fake and made one of the weaker ones piss himself,” Bucky answered with an easy smile.

Steve puffed out a laugh before he could stop himself. “Gross.”

“It was. But it was worth it.” Bucky was still smiling serenely as he gazed up at Steve.

“And they call me dramatic,” Steve grumbled.

“Want me to go try to brush the taste out again?”

Steve shook his head and laid his weight out over Bucky again. “You’re a holy terror, Barnes.”

“Ain’t shit holy about this,” Bucky argued with a graceful sweep of his metal hand up and down to indicate himself.

“Oh, I disagree,” Steve whispered, kissing Bucky again before he could argue. Steve growled possessively and grabbed a handful of Bucky’s hair to keep him still.

Bucky moaned languorously, his eyes fluttering shut. A smile chased over his enticingly parted lips. “You’re doing this again? The territorial wolf thing?”

“Watching you kiss Cap was fucking surreal, Buck,” Steve snarled as he trapped Bucky’s lower lip between his teeth. “And if I’m being honest; it was kind of hot.”

Bucky growled softly and dug both hands into Steve’s ass cheeks to force Steve’s body into moving and offering him some friction. Steve could feel him still smiling. “Feeling particularly voyeuristic tonight, huh Rogers?”

“Mm. Maybe more exhibitionist than voyeuristic.”

Bucky made an intrigued sound, since he couldn’t form anymore words as long as Steve’s teeth were worrying his lower lip again. Steve kissed his chin and then made his hungry way up past Bucky’s phenomenal cheekbones.

“We should invite him to watch,” Steve crooned into Bucky’s ear, knowing what the idea would do to the man. Bucky rewarded his efforts with a full-body shiver and a tremulous sigh. Steve grinned savagely. “I can show him what to do with his Bucky when he finds him.”

Bucky grunted like Steve had just knocked the wind out of him. “Steve. You’re taking the concept of, ‘go fuck yourself,’ way too literally right now.”

Steve just laughed and dove into another voracious kiss.

They managed to progress to the point of Steve all slicked up and straddling Bucky, just one roll of Bucky’s hips away from being inside him as they kissed languidly, when there was an urgent chime from the tastefully hidden speakers in the ceiling. Bucky and Steve both groaned against each other’s lips.

“What?” Bucky grunted at the AI, rolling his hips almost unconsciously as Steve rubbed against him. The head of his cock slid easily into Steve and Steve made a strangled sound as he gripped Bucky’s shoulders.

“Pardon the interruption,” JARVIS responded, and he actually did sound apologetic, which would suggest that JARVIS knew they were about to fuck, which would suggest things about the Tower’s security system that Steve decidedly did not ponder for one second longer than he had to. He sat down hard and drove Bucky’s cock deep. They both failed at trying to muffle their filthy moans. JARVIS deftly ignored them. “But Sir requests you both join him in his workshop immediately.”

Steve groaned and faceplanted into Bucky’s chest. Bucky made an oof sound, then patted Steve’s head in a half-assed, ‘there, there.’ He bucked under Steve almost like he didn’t realize he was moving, and Steve met the movement with another moan and a demanding roll of his hips.

“Shall I inform Sir you will join him in fifteen minutes?” JARVIS suggested delicately.

“Twenty,” Steve and Bucky both answered simultaneously. Then they attacked each other with grasping hands and bruising kisses, and Bucky flipped Steve to his back to make the most of their new time limit.

The pace he set had Steve holding on for dear life and making desperate sounds that never fully formed a real word.

Bucky finished before Steve for once, since they were going for merely getting off instead of savoring it, and Steve was still writhing and pleading when Bucky pulled out of him and shimmied down Steve’s body. He disappeared under the covers and took Steve in his mouth so he could get the job done without making the sort of mess Steve would have to wear when they went down to see Tony.

Steve gave himself a few seconds of staring blissfully up at the ceiling after Bucky finished him off. Bucky raised his head and took the sheet with him, wearing it like a cape as he knelt over Steve’s thighs.

“You’re ridiculous,” Steve murmured fondly.

Bucky merely licked his lips and winked.

Steve rolled his eyes and gave Bucky a shove. “Come on. We keep Tony waiting much longer, he’ll bring the workshop to us. And that didn’t end well for my toaster oven last time.”

“Or the blender.” Bucky grumbled. He kept complaining under his breath about getting a day off as a reward for getting kidnapped on his day off as they both rolled out of bed.

When they reached the workshop, Tony and Bruce were both there, landing on the scary side of manic, and so was Cap, dressed in his sleepclothes just like Steve and Bucky now were. Steve could see Tony vibrating in place like he was standing on an active fault line.

“Oh, what fresh hell is this,” Cap muttered when he saw the marginally terrifying glint in Tony’s eyes.

“Clint introduced Tony to Five Hour Energy shots,” Bruce explained. He sounded exhausted, but also amused. “Tony was convinced that if one could keep him going for five hours, then pouring four of them into a smoothie would keep him going for twenty.”

“That’s not how math works, friend,” Bucky informed Tony gently.

Tony smacked his palm against the nearest work bench. “But I did it!”

“What did you do?” Steve asked carefully.

“I got Cap’s portal working!”

Steve came up short, lips parting in shock. “Really?”

“I can get home?” Cap asked eagerly.

“Well, there’s a .09 percent chance it will send you into deep space, but I’m pretty sure!”

Cap gave Steve and Bucky a terrified sideways glance.

Bucky shrugged at him. “Those are the best odds Tony’s ever given one of his projects, if we’re being honest here. There was a 2.7 percent chance my arm would become sentient and beat me to death.”

“Right,” Cap said slowly. “Your arm did become sentient.”

“But it beat other people to death. Not me.”

Cap stared at him. “Right.”

“We can send you home right now, Cap,” Tony offered with a huge grin. “Get you back to your boy.”

Cap nodded, licking his lips. “Well. Today’s as good as any to inadvertently be sent into deep space, so let’s do this.”

Steve looked him over carefully, then glanced at Bucky. He’d been waiting impatiently to send Cap on his way all this time, but now that his departure was inevitable rather than theoretical, it felt too heavy. Steve realized that he was going to sort of miss the guy. As Steve looked at him, Bucky gave Cap an encouraging smile and a nod.

“I’ll go get my things,” Cap announced. He turned to head back to his quarters.

Steve stepped closer to Bucky, taking his elbow gently. “Why don’t you go with him?” he whispered.

Bucky gave him a narrow-eyed once over. “You sure?”

Steve nodded. “As much as I hope it’s not, this might be the last time he gets to see any version of you. I know I’d need it. If it were me.”

Bucky smiled sadly, then patted Steve on the belly like he was a good boy before he turned and jogged after Cap.

When Steve turned back to Tony and Bruce, they were both watching him with raised eyebrows. “What?”

“You’re a better man than I am,” Tony told him with a knowing smirk.

Steve snorted. “Literally everyone already knows that.”

==

“You’re gonna be okay,” Bucky told Cap as the man pulled his suit on slowly.

Cap merely hummed at him.

“And you’re gonna find him.”

Cap glanced up at Bucky, his answering smile looking more like a wince.

“You’re going to tell him, right?” Bucky asked pointedly.

Cap inhaled deeply, then let it out in measured seconds as he picked up his shield. He seemed to force a smile onto his lips. “I’m gonna have to. It’s the only way I’ll be able see if all the Buckys out there kiss like that.”

Bucky chuckled and shook his head. “I’m guessing they do, since all the Steves are obviously sassy little shits.”

That got a genuine laugh out of Cap, and Bucky draped his flesh arm over the man’s wide shoulders as they walked together back to the elevators. Bucky didn’t release him, and as soon as Cap seemed to realize that he wasn’t going to, the tension in his body relaxed and he leaned into Bucky gratefully.

When they rejoined the others, the rest of the team had filtered down in their pajamas to bid Cap farewell. Bucky didn’t take his arm off Cap’s shoulder even though he could feel Cap tensing again, and he shot Steve a wink when he saw Steve smiling gently at them. Steve nodded almost imperceptibly. This was Bucky’s job, no matter which universe the Steve he was taking care of came from. Cap relaxed against him once more when Bucky jostled him playfully and squeezed his arm.

“If you find a way, try to let us know how things work out, huh?” Bucky said to him softly.

Cap swallowed hard. “I feel like I’m abandoning you to deal with this Hydra stuff all over again.”

Bucky placed the hand he’d had resting on Cap’s shoulder against the side of Cap’s face and patted his cheek. “You didn’t abandon him, you were fighting a war. And you’re not abandoning me, either. I’ve got a team around me. You’ve got more important things to tend to. It’s okay to put your needs first, Rogers.”

Cap nodded solemnly and offered Bucky a small, sincere smile. They stayed like that, Bucky’s arm around Cap and smiling softly at each other. Bucky heard a camera click and whir somewhere off to the side, and he smiled at Cap again warmly before they both turned their attention to Tony.

Tony was fiddling with a device that honestly just looked like a 1998-era universal remote from Radio Shack. Bucky stared harder at it. It was a universal remote from Radio Shack. “Tony, no,” Bucky groaned out loud.

Tony froze and looked up at him, eyes wide. The others were watching Bucky curiously to see if he’d explain his pained noises.

Bucky made an offended gesture at the remote. “He modified a universal remote!” he shouted at them, disproportionally angry over this.

Tony began to grin wickedly, but the others were all still frowning at Bucky in confusion.

“A universal remote! He probably had to order it on eBay for this joke!” Bucky damn near stomped his foot in outrage, the hand on Cap’s shoulder tightening against the armored plate under it. “He’s literally flipping through different universes with a universal remote!”

Tony dissolved into uncontrollable, manic giggling, and Cap and Steve both performed a Gold Medal-worthy synchronized Olympic facepalm.

Bucky half suspected that Tony had figured this portal thing out on Day One, but had just been waiting for that remote to arrive in the mail before he told them about it.

As Tony and Bruce readied the device, the others all came up to Cap to bid farewell. He got handshakes and hugs from them all – and one manly, unemotional nod from Natasha – then he turned to Steve and Bucky, fumbling nervously.

“Thank you for showing me what you have,” he said to them. “I’m leaving here with a little more hope than I arrived with.”

Steve slid his hand across the small of Bucky’s back and squeezed his hip affectionately. “I’m glad we got to meet you,” Steve told Cap. “When you find him . . .” Steve seemed to lose his words, and he just tugged Bucky closer to him, his grip turning a little desperate. “Don’t let go. Never let go.”

“Trust me. I don’t plan to.”

Bucky heard another camera click from somewhere nearby, but he didn’t pay it much attention. He pulled Cap in and gave him a tight hug, taking hold of the shield’s holster strap with one hand and patting the back of Cap’s head with the other. “Go get ’em, Stevie,” he murmured in the man’s ear.

Cap squeezed him once and then let him go. He shook Steve’s hand with a genuine smile.

Sam came up to them, holding a small stack of Polaroids. “We thought maybe, since your notebook made it through with you on the way here, these might be able to go back with you,” he told Cap, handing the stack to him.

Bucky peered over his shoulder as Cap flipped through them. There were photos of Cap with all the Avengers, most of them laughing or smiling, all of them taken during happy moments. Two of them were still a sepia color as they continued to develop. Half of them were of Cap with Bucky.

Cap sighed shakily and tidied the stack with care, placing them into one of the leather pouches in his suit, alongside his notebook. “Thank you,” he whispered, glancing up at Sam.

Sam nodded. “Tell that kickass Falcon you kept telling me about that I said, ‘cut the check!’”

Cap huffed a laugh and nodded. “I’ll be sure to tell all of them about their AlternaVengers.”

Sam grinned and stepped back, giving them enough space to open the portal. None of them particularly wanted to get sucked into Cap’s world with him. He’d told them some of his stories and each and every one of the team had noped right out of wanting to be in that universe. Whoever was in charge of their fate was a cruel mistress indeed.

Cap latched his shield on his back and squared his shoulders. “Okay. Let’s do this before I start thinking too hard about deep space.”

“Don’t think about deep space,” Tony advised seriously. “Think about your world. Think about your Barnes. Think about anything back home you can keep your attention on. Do not think about deep space or you will definitely end up there.”

Cap stared at him incredulously. “Well now all I can think about is deep space!”

Tony gave him a helpless shrug. “Don’t do that!”

Cap made a frustrated, terrified noise in the back of his throat. He looked down at the universal remote in his hand, his thumb resting on the button that would, in theory, zap him through time and space and set him down in another reality.

Bucky glanced at Steve. Steve was looking at him like he knew exactly what Bucky was thinking. “Do it,” he told Bucky with a determined nod.

Bucky hesitated. “You sure?”

“Help him.”

Bucky nodded, and he stalked up to Cap and squared himself doggedly in front of the man. “Steve,” he said to Cap, waiting until Cap met his eyes. Then Bucky took his face in both hands and kissed him.

Cap melted into him like Easter candy in the sunshine, and Bucky kept kissing him until the others were wolf-whistling at them, until Bucky was damn sure Cap’s mind was on nothing but Bucky’s tongue sliding against his. Then he yanked away from Cap with a gasp, taking his hands off Cap’s face as he stared into Cap’s wide, electric shock-blue eyes. They both inhaled shakily, eyes locked on each other.

Bucky gave him a soft, sad smile. “Push the button, asshole.”

Cap stared at him, unblinking and unmoving, but then he raised the remote. “Thank you, Buck,” he whispered, and pressed the button.

The portal opening was just about as violent and gross-sounding as the portal closing had been the day it had forever ruined Rice Krispies for Bucky, and the shockwave knocked Bucky right on his fine ass all over again.

==

“Hydra is still moving pieces on the board,” Maria Hill informed them at the start of the morning briefing. “What remains of SHIELD has been pushing back, but right now we’re in a stalemate. They can’t move forward with whatever they’re planning, but we also can’t counter until they’re already in motion. No one is gaining or losing ground.”

“We don’t have anyone in a position to retrieve information?” Natasha asked. She sounded unusually frustrated to Steve.

Maria looked just as frustrated. “Every CI and double agent we once had in place has been liquidated.”

“Every single one?” Clint asked, incredulous.

“Yes.”

“Sounds like Hydra had a handy dandy notebook of clues they were working through,” Tony muttered distractedly as he tapped at a keyboard made of laser lights on the table in front of him.

Bucky squinted at Tony, scrunching his nose adorably and curling one side of his upper lip. Steve stared at him, fascinated by whatever that particular expression meant for what was happening on the inside of Bucky’s head.

“Blue’s Clues?” Bucky asked Tony hesitantly.

Tony merely laughed in delight, and Bucky rolled his eyes, looking disgusted with both Tony and himself. Steve was fairly certain that was one of the children’s shows that Clint sometimes stared at in fascination when he smoked his medicinal weed.

He also seemed partial to the Backyardigans, and Steve would viciously deny it if anyone ever revealed that he had once sat with Clint and watched five episodes of that show back-to-back, completely of his own volition.

“Is that your way of saying maybe Hydra has a mole in our operation?” Sam asked Tony in annoyance.

“Yeah, basically. If they were able to root out every single leak they had, someone had to be giving them a roadmap.”

“Great,” Bruce huffed.

“So, we’re still at square one, here. And now we have to worry about leaks in a group of people who’ve been vetted to hell and back already,” Steve finally summed up. Everyone shuffled restlessly in the silence that followed.

“Well. We can make an educated guess and say whatever their end game is, they need a super soldier for it,” Bruce offered. “I don’t think it was a mistake or a random choice that they grabbed Barnes and not Cap when they attacked.”

The restless silence in the boardroom grew more aggressive.

“Maybe it’s not me they wanted, maybe it was the tech in the arm,” Bucky said suddenly, wiggling his fingers. “On paper, that’s really the only difference between me and Steve if all you want is the serum.”

Tony cocked his head, squinting into the distance like he was running numbers or equations. “You know . . .”

They all waited for him to continue, but he merely hummed and squinted at his mental equations harder.

It was almost a full minute of expectant staring later when Tony finally said, “Huh. Yeah, the right person with the right know-how could definitely use the tech in that arm to create a back door to JARVIS. And with that, you’d have unfettered access to the Tower, all the Iron Man suits, most of the other tech I’ve made each of you, and with some serious hacking, every project file on SI’s servers. Woof. That’s a lot of firepower if you go back far enough.”

Bucky blinked at him. “You made my arm the eyeball that opens a retinal scanner to the Avengers’ entire arsenal?” he asked, voice hitting a higher pitch than he was probably okay with. “Do you know what happens to eyeballs that open retinal scanners?!”

“They get gouged out of screaming businessmen,” Clint answered helpfully, nodding and throwing a frowning Thor a wink. Thor inclined his head, lips parting in a silent ‘ah’.

“Yeah, in retrospect hubris would have been the better route,” Tony mumbled, then he shrugged helplessly at Bucky. “But I wanted to see if I could do it!”

“Well, congratulations! You did it!” Bucky shouted.

Steve raised a hand to intercept a complete and utter meltdown from Bucky’s side of the table. “From now on, we’ll buddy system it. No Avenger goes anywhere without a partner. Especially not the walking eyeball over here.”

“Rude,” Bucky grumbled under his breath, lowering his head to scowl at his hands in his lap.

“We still need to address the sniper,” Clint told Steve. “I found his nest when we were looking for Buck. He didn’t even police his brass; he didn’t care if we knew he’d been there.”

“Did you take the casings?” Bucky asked.

“Yeah, they’re still with an analyst.”

Bucky ran his hand over his mouth and down his chin, frowning.

“Natasha,” Steve said after a moment of thought. “Do you still have connections in the less than savory areas of the black market?”

“Are there any other kind?”

“See what you can find about a price being put on Barnes’s head.”

Natasha raised one eyebrow, then gave Steve a curt nod. “I’ll get on it.”

“Thank you.” Steve glanced over at Bucky, who was watching him now with that worried frown still in place. Steve raised his eyebrows in silent question, and Bucky merely nodded at him.

They’d apparently come to the same conclusion; one attempt was a problem. Two attempts were shoddy planning. But three attempts? Three attempts were just bad manners. Three attempts meant someone was gunning for Bucky, and they didn’t care how the job got done or who did it, in the end.

==

“Okay, so, did you notice Cap’s gauntlets on his suit?” Tony asked Steve as they stood in the middle of the training mats.

“Sort of,” Steve admitted. “I liked his suit. It was nice. Very . . . flaggy.”

“Yeah, yeah. Well, his gauntlet had been modified, and I would recognize a Tony Stark original in any reality, so I started tinkering with my own version.”

“Modified how? And why is ‘tinkering’ such a terrifying word when you say it?”

“I dunno. He could call the shield back to him using magnets, a la Thor’s little buddy. Remember the giant stink bug?”

“Only when I wake up screaming.”

“Think how different that would have ended if you’d been able to call the shield back to you.”

Steve scrunched his eyes up and nodded. “Yeah, okay.”

Tony finished fitting the prototype of his device to Steve’s wrist. Steve tossed the shield to Sam, who was standing with the rest of the team on the other side of the training mat. When Steve glanced over at them, Sam, Thor, and Clint were grinning like children about to watch their friend take a tumble off the monkey bars, and Bucky was giving Steve a clearly pasted-on smile and a sarcastic pair of thumbs up.

Steve rolled his eyes at them.

Sam placed the shield on the ground and took a step back. Tony moved away from Steve, wearing more protective gear than Steve thought he’d ever seen Tony wearing.

“Should I be wearing that?” Steve asked him, gesturing to Tony’s Iron Man helmet.

“Nah, you’ll be fine,” Tony assured him, then closed the helmet on his grin.

“Uh huh.”

Tony nodded. Steve thought his shoulders looked like he was still smiling.

Steve sighed and braced himself, then he held his forearm out and clicked the button Tony had shown him. He felt the power behind the magnets whir to life. The shield began to rattle from where it sat on the ground, but it only moved about an inch.

Steve readjusted, bracing himself again, then he rolled the dial that upped the power on the magnets. His whole arm began to vibrate, down to his very bones. “I’m going to be sterile after this,” he muttered.

The shield slid across the ten-foot expanse between them, knocking against the toe of Steve’s running shoe, but not lifting off the ground.

“Kick the tires and light the fires, Rogers!” Tony shouted, pointing his fingers up.

Steve readied himself a third time, wincing pre-emptively because his Stupid Sense was tingling and he knew this was probably going to hurt. He jammed the power dial up as far as it would go. The shield shot up toward him, clanging against his forearm and almost knocking him over. He staggered and then righted himself, shaking his head. His entire arm was quivering from the power going into the supercharged magnets.

There was a general fuss from the team and frantic shouting that sounded a little more like panic than Steve thought necessary as he held the shield out in front of his face. He lowered his arm to peer over the rim of the shield, only to find Bucky sliding across the training mats toward him, his arm awkwardly stretched out toward Steve, like a man being dragged by an invisible horse. Sam and Clint both tackled him and held onto his feet to try to stop his slide. But all three of them were still being pulled closer, Sam and Clint digging their toes into the padded floor as they held on to Bucky’s ankles. Bucky was scrabbling at the mats with his one free hand, but there was nothing for him to grab to that didn’t just slide with him.

Thor stepped over and calmly sat Mjolnir on Bucky’s chest, stopping the whole clown car dead in its tracks.

Steve hit the off button on his prototype gauntlet, and both Bucky’s arm and the shield hit the ground with twin clanks.

“Jesus Christ!” Bucky shouted at Tony. “Calm the fuck down there, Magneto!”

“Guess I need to tweak the frequency,” Tony muttered as he tapped notes onto his StarkPad.

Steve looked from Bucky’s splayed and creatively cursing body, to the magnets on his forearm, one eyebrow cocked evilly. Then he glanced at Tony. “Can I keep this version?”

“Sure.”

“No!” Bucky cried, still struggling to get out from under Thor’s hammer.

==

“Hey,” Sam said as he strolled into the kitchen. Steve was just finishing his breakfast, and Bucky was going through some sort of obsessive compulsive nesting stage, so he was washing the communal pots and pans in the sink wearing rubber gloves up to his elbows and an apron that said Kiss The Cook My Ass.

“Morning, Sam,” Steve greeted.

Bucky offered a grunt in Sam’s direction.

“Morning, Cap. Can I call you Cap again or has that been permanently relegated to too weird?”

“It’s whatever,” Steve grumbled, poking at his eggs and bacon.

“Gotcha.” Sam patted Steve on the shoulder as he walked by. He hefted himself onto the counter next to the sink and jostled Bucky with his elbow. “We need bro-time, Barnes.”

“Is that code for, ‘my drunken night of bisexual experimentation wasn’t a phase after all’?” Bucky drawled.

“Ha. No. If your mouth couldn’t make me even a little bit queer, ain’t nothing going to.”

Steve perked up like an offended groundhog on the first day of spring. “Wait, what?”

“Nothing,” Bucky and Sam both chanted glibly.

“Bro-time,” Bucky repeated with a huff.

“Come on, I feel like I barely see you anymore.”

Bucky scoffed and set a frying pan on the rack to dry. “You literally dropped me twenty feet onto the back of an enraged sentient sunflower last week.”

“Did it hurt?” Sam asked.

“No.”

“Then quit your bitchin’. I got us Yankees tickets.”

Bucky peered at him suspiciously, but Sam was still offering him that sweet, gap-toothed smile that made even the most cynical of super assassins want to trust him, if Natasha was anything to go by.

“Yeah, okay,” Bucky finally said with a shrug. He glanced over his shoulder at Steve almost as an afterthought. “You good with that, Stevie?”

“Sure. I’ve got reports to catch up with today anyway, I was going to shut myself in my office.”

“Nice,” Sam said happily. He pointed a finger in Bucky’s face. “If you wear that goddamn Brooklyn Dodgers hat, I will end you.”

Bucky gave a whiny little huff and flapped his rubber covered hands. “But it’s the only hat I own that doesn’t make me look the Unabomber on the run!”

“If you’d shave your face more than once a week you wouldn’t have that problem.”

Bucky visibly sulked as he finished the last pan and then yanked a rubber glove off. He pulled at the left one, but it wouldn’t budge. He made another whiny sound of frustration in the back of his throat, and Sam heaved a long-suffering sigh and helped him get the glove off the damn metal.

“You’re a hot mess, Buck.”

Bucky lowered his voice, speaking to Sam and obviously hoping Steve couldn’t hear him over the sound of his crunching bacon.

“It’s hard to shave with the metal arm,” Bucky admitted to Sam pitifully. “I keep leaving bruises where I pull the skin taut.”

“Switch hands?” Sam’s offered, his playful irritation morphing into honest sympathy.

“Would you let me near your abnormally flawless skin with a razor in this hand?” Bucky asked, voice so flat that he could have patented the condensed sarcasm and retired on the profits.

“Not a chance in hell,” Sam agreed.

“So. Weekly visits to the barber it is.”

Steve was staring at them, forgetting to pretend he couldn’t hear. “That’s why you keep the scruff?” he blurted.

Sam and Bucky both jumped guiltily and Bucky cast Steve an apologetic grimace. “Part of it,” he admitted grudgingly. “You also told me you liked it like this, so I figured it wasn’t too big a problem . . . right?”

Steve couldn’t help but give him an affectionate, smitten smile. “I do like it. But if you’d rather be clean-shaven, all you have to do is ask. I could do it for you.”

“Mm,” Bucky responded noncommittally.

“You guys give like a one-minute courtesy warning before you start fucking, right?” Sam asked them with a suspicious glance between them. “One minute’s enough for innocent bystanders to get out of range, you know, you should give people at least one minute.”

Steve grinned slowly, and Bucky finally snorted and broke eye contact to duck his head. “What time is the game?” he asked Sam.

“First pitch is at 1:10. You got enough time to change before we head out.”

Bucky shot Steve one last unusually sweet smile and then untied his ridiculous apron and headed for the elevator. “Back in ten,” he called to Sam.

Sam watched until the elevator doors slid closed, then he turned to Steve, smile still on his face. “If it was anyone else, I’d be holding a grudge for stealing my best buddy from me,” he told Steve good-naturedly.

“Sorry about that, Sam.”

“It’s not nice to lie, Captain America,” Sam intoned in the same voice as every voice-over actor who’d ever narrated a commercial or news broadcast that tried to use Captain America to justify their viewpoints or sell their Made in China merchandise.

Steve stuffed an entire piece of bacon into his mouth and chewed obnoxiously as Sam narrowed his eyes at him.

==

The Assemble alarm began to blare, splashing red light across the white tile of the shower. Steve cursed and fumbled to get the rest of the shampoo out of his hair. He damn near broke his fool neck diving out of the shower and grabbing a towel.

He bypassed his clothes, holding the towel around his waist as he ran for the elevator to get to the armory.

He stumbled out into the quinjet loading bay, water still streaming down his torso in gleeful rivulets, clinging like they’d just achieved water droplet nirvana by being able to trace Steve’s ab muscles.

Everyone already in the armory stopped what they were doing and turned to look as Steve burst in with his giant white towel hanging off his hips.

“God Bless America,” Tony called when no one else moved or said anything.

“What’s the alarm?” Steve demanded.

JARVIS chimed at him. “Captain Rogers, there is what can only be described as a large red sock hovering over left field of Yankee Stadium.”

JARVIS created a cloud of glowing blue lines that formed into a projection of the stadium as it must have been seen from the broadcast of the game. Steve stared at the cloud, the baseball field clear as day with a large blob suspended over the left fielder. His mouth dropped open. “Goddammit!” he finally burst out with an unsatisfying shake of his fists.

He was now literally shaking his fists at a cloud and crotchety old man-yelling. Everyone else seemed to find it just as confusing as Steve did, because they were all gaping at him.

“Does he have a goddamn bad guy homing beacon shoved up his ass?” Steve bellowed at no one in particular. “What? He makes bad guy milkshakes in his yard? Makes his own soap with criminal catnip?! The whole fucking evil villain population in the Northern Hemisphere is thirsting after my boyfriend so hard I can’t even finish a fucking shower!”

Steve balled the towel up and tossed it as hard as he could at the ground. It landed with a wholly unsatisfying whoosh.

His teammates were all frozen, staring at him as he stalked toward the locker room bare-assed naked and grumbling about fitting Bucky with a backpack leash. Tony glanced at Bruce and they both shrugged.

“I’m guessing what Steve is trying to tell us is that Barnes and Wilson might just be at the Yankees game,” Natasha told the others drily.

Steve answered her with an affirmative, “Agh!”

Chapter Text

The first indication that something was wrong was during a late-inning pitching change, when the boos and jeers from the upper levels of the stadium began to filter down to where Bucky and Sam sat in the first row down the first base line.

Who the fuck did Sam have to blow to get these tickets, anyway? Jesus Christ.

Bucky leaned forward in his seat and peered up behind them, then glanced down at the bullpens to see which of the Yankees relievers was being called to the mound to evoke that particular flavor of New Yorker rancor.

Of course, the crowd had been booing like that intermittently for the entire game; either when the Yankees fucked up, or a Red Sox player breathed air.

Bucky fucking loved baseball.

Sam jabbed him in the ribs with one of his razor-sharp elbows and Bucky grunted in protest. “Jesus, Sam, I hope you have those fucking things registered in some sort of weapons database.”

“Look,” Sam said with one of his signature grins, jutting his chin out toward left field.

Bucky sat back with his mini-helmet of ice cream and rainbow sprinkles and peered into the gloaming, fighting to see past the stadium lights that were just now beginning to brighten to life. There were shadows and hazy light auras around the flickering bulbs that lined the upper edge of the stadium. Bucky finally made out the shape of a deeper shadow that was approaching the field. The upper levels must have been able to see it better and reacted accordingly. As soon as it passed under the lights and became visible to the entire stadium, the lusty booing rose in both pitch and fervor, the rest of the stadium joining in.

Bucky laughed delightedly, then he stuffed another spoonful of sprinkles with a hint of ice cream into his mouth.

It was a giant knitted red sock – or was that crochet? Bucky could never remember which was which, only that both knitters and crocheters would stab you in the eye with a large metal needle if you got it wrong – with a white heel and white toe and white words across the top band that said, ‘Go Sox.’ It appeared to be held aloft by two or maybe three drones, and it was lumbering its way high over the heads of the people in the outfield seats, toward the diamond. Whoever was controlling the three drones wasn’t exactly in sync, because they couldn’t seem to get it to go any further than left field without one of the drones going the wrong way.

The Yankees left fielder stood under it, looking up at it with his mouth hanging open. A few seconds of that, and the man took a giant step sideways, like he suspected the punchline of the joke was going to be dropping that sock on his head.

“Someone’s going to baseball jail tonight,” Bucky crooned.

“Red Sox fans are savage, man,” Sam murmured, shaking his head. He was smiling even wider, though. “Savage.”

Bucky laughed harder. They could barely hear each other over the booing now. The game had been brought to a halt, the players coming together in little groups near the bases, staring at the sock and shaking their heads and gesticulating. An announcement came over the stadium speakers, but the crowd was making so much noise, no one could hear what the voice was instructing them to do. New Yorkers fucking lived to boo, and Yankees fans had a lot of practice at it.

Bucky loved baseball. And Bucky loved New Yorkers. Bucky loved everyone in this bar!

He slung his arm over the back of Sam’s seat and leaned back in his seat, propping his feet on the wall in front of him since the security dude who’d been giving him the stink eye the whole game now had bigger problems than Bucky’s two regular-sized socks. Sam leaned into him and Bucky rested his hand on Sam’s shoulder. Sam shifted around to get comfortable and happily let himself be cuddled in public as he ate his popcorn, like it was the most natural position in the world for the two of them. It kind of was. They used to sit on Sam’s couch and do this, in the weeks and months after Bucky had been discharged. Sam thrived on human contact and Bucky was a goddamn professional snuggler who liked to feel like he was protecting the soft, squishy regular humans he loved. Bucky had missed their easy camaraderie over the last few months.

“Hey,” he said to Sam, leaning in closer so Sam could hear him and tightening the hold of his metal fingers around Sam’s upper arm. “Thanks for bringing me here, Sam. I missed this.”

“Yeah, man,” Sam said with a sideways grin at Bucky. “I did too.”

If anyone was watching, they probably looked like they were on a date and Bucky had just pulled a yawn and stretch move so he could steal a kiss.

Bucky watched Sam poking around in his bag of popcorn, the smile still gracing Sam’s handsome face. He realized suddenly just how little he’d seen Sam in the past half a year, missions and that one day he’d gnawed on Sam’s toes notwithstanding. “I’m sorry I haven’t been a great friend lately.”

Sam looked up at him, surprised. “Man, you’re living your life. No need to apologize for that. You remember what I told you the first time we ran into each other after you were discharged?”

Bucky squinted against the last rays of the setting sun over the edge of the stadium, thinking hard. “That I was a crazy bastard and to get out of the goddamn crosswalk before you run me over?”

“After that.”

Bucky hummed dubiously.

“I told you to find what makes you happy. And you did. I wouldn’t be any kind of friend if I begrudged you that.”

Bucky ducked his head to hide his silly grin behind his Unabomber hat. “Still,” he said when he glanced back up. “I’ll try harder.”

“Love you, man,” Sam said with a pat to Bucky’s knee. He kicked his feet up to rest beside Bucky’s, leaving his hand on Bucky’s knee as they lounged and enjoyed their stadium food in companionable silence. Well, silence if you didn’t count the almost deafening waves of boos from forty-thousand or so enraged Yankees fans.

Bucky’s sprinkle ice cream had turned into sprinkle ambient temperature cream, so he tipped the helmet to his lips with one hand and started drinking it like it was the least classy teacup ever. He had to arch his body and lean his head way back to be able to get to the next sip, since the helmet kept hitting the bill of his hat.

As his eyes were on the sky and he was finally getting sprinkles on his tongue along with his melted ice cream, a whoosh of sound and repulsor flames rocketed past above them. Bucky’s eyes followed it curiously as he drank from the helmet.

Iron Man dropped a dark object that really could have been just about anything, since Tony was Tony, and the object plummeted toward the field even as Iron Man hit the giant sock over left field with so much force that he had to have been working under the assumption it was solid and would need to be dislodged. Since it wasn’t, and it didn’t, both Iron Man and the giant yarn sock, complete with drones, went hurtling over the edge of the stadium gracelessly, off into oblivion and out of sight from the now wildly-cheering crowd.

“Huh,” Sam grunted, then absently tossed another piece of popcorn into his mouth.

Something thumped onto the field in front of them, and Bucky finished his mouthful of sprinkles before he lowered his mini-helmet and tore his eyes away from the dark sky to look back at the field.

A fully kitted out Captain America was crouching in the pristine grass of the first base line – Steve’s classic ‘I just got dropped from a great height and I am ready to fuck your shit up despite the pins and needles in my feet right now’ pose – his shield digging an inch-deep furrow into the turf where Steve had landed with it like a goddamn drama queen. Particles of grass shavings and brick dust and white chalk from the diamond were rising around him, disturbed from where his landing had fucked up the field.

Bucky blinked at him. So that’s what the plummeting object had been; a shooting star and stripes.

As far as heroic entrances go, Steve got style points for this one. The crowd around them seemed to agree, and it cheered and jeered even louder. The Red Sox first base coach and the Yankees first baseman were staring at Steve’s back from where they’d been chatting at first base during the game break, looking slightly nonplussed.

Steve raised his head, eyes darting around the crowd until they landed on Bucky and Sam like blue LED lasers. His jaw tightened and he pulled himself to his full height, shoulders looking particularly offended and impossibly wide in his armored suit.

Bucky blinked at him again. Then he took another distracted sip from his helmet to drain what was left.

Steve started gritting his teeth.

“Heya, Cap,” Sam called as Steve stalked toward them. “If you wanted a ticket all you had to do was say, you know. Damn.”

Over Steve’s shoulder, Bucky could see himself and Sam being shown on the giant screen in the outfield. The whole stadium was watching Bucky drink sprinkled ambient temperature cream now. Bucky gave the camera a little metal wave with the fingers that he still had resting on Sam’s shoulder, and the crowd noise went damn near nuclear.

“So much for your Unabomber disguise,” Sam drawled, tossing another piece of popcorn into his mouth and waving cheekily as well.

“Are you okay?” Steve demanded of them when he got to the wall.

Bucky and Sam shared an almost identical raised eyebrow between them, then shrugged and looked back at Steve. “Yes?” they both answered in tandem.

Steve narrowed his eyes dangerously.

Iron Man touched down with precisely zero respect for the Yankees grounds crew or the grass in foul territory, and stood beside Steve to stare at Bucky and Sam. Bucky would be forever fascinated by the way the Iron Man mask could sometimes look just as affronted as Steve’s expressive face.

Sam pointed at the spot where the sock had been hovering. “But good job on the floating fuck you from Boston,” he told Steve and Tony. “They couldn’t start play again until it was gone.”

Bucky grinned and rested his sticky mini-helmet in his lap, then he took his arm from around Sam’s shoulders to begin a slow, sardonic clap. Sam readily set his popcorn down and joined in, and they both sat there grinning, shaking their heads and mouthing exaggerated ‘wows’ and ‘incredibles’ in mocking admiration, cheekily applauding Captain America and Iron Man as the backs of Steve’s shoulders grew even more offended on the giant screen.

The people in their section began to clap in time with them, and soon the whole stadium was gleefully matching the slow, derisive applause almost as one. Being assholes; it was the only thing that could bring Yankees fans together faster than hating the Red Sox.

==

“This morning’s headlines are less than desirable outcomes from yesterday,” Maria Hill told the Avengers as they gathered for their morning briefing. If she could have caused a slow and agonizing death with her mind, Steve knew the whole lot of them would be rotting corpses in their chairs right now. And Maria Hill was too professional to kill them in all the ways she actually was capable of.

She brought up a serial killer montage of newspaper cuttings on the StarkBoard to illustrate her ire. Complete with the photos most of the news outlets had used to accompany their headlines.

‘Actual New Yorkers; Do the Avengers Hate the Red Sox?’ With a double shot of Iron Man connecting with the Red Sock and Captain America glaring off into the crowd to make it seem like he was staring at Boston, Massachusetts in the distance with disappointment in his All-American heart.

‘Put a Sock In It: Iron Man and Captain America Defend Yankees Honor.’ The newspaper had used the same two photos. They must have been on the AP wire.

‘Seventh Inning Streeetch; Was the Winter Soldier Putting the Moves on the Falcon During a Baseball Date??’ This one showed Bucky and Sam from what looked like a camera phone on the third base line. Someone had recognized them despite Bucky’s foolproof Unabomber hat and gotten a shot of the exact moment when Bucky had reached around Sam to put his arm across the back of Sam’s seat.

‘Trouble in Paradise; Super Soldier Duo On The Outs?’ The backs of Steve’s stressed, angry shoulders were in the foreground of this one, Sam and Bucky both looking at each other with twin smirks in the background.

‘Winter Soldier Caught Cheating by Superhero Boyfriend!’ Sam’s hand could clearly be seen resting on Bucky’s knee as they both lounged, and Steve was in his battle-ready crouch ten feet in front of them. The first laugh of the morning came from Bruce, of all people, because the photo also showed Bucky tossing his head back to drink from a tiny Yankees helmet, still completely oblivious to Steve’s presence.

‘Avengers Sighting Thrills New York Crowd During Yankees Game.’ Steve and Iron Man standing heroically side by side as the Yankees players on the field looked at their backs incredulously.

‘Iron Man Socks Oversized Yarn Creation Into Next Week.’ Iron Man fighting to shove the billowing yarn sock away from his helmet and hands so he could see where he was flying.

One headline was from the Boston Globe. ‘Avengers Declare War on Red Sox, Tom Brady, Samuel Adams Lager, Fun, and Freedom.’

“Aw, man,” Sam moaned as headline after headline clicked past. “Now I’m a homewrecker?”

“Twitter is already overflowing with hashtags,” Tony told them a little too gleefully. “Team Cap versus Team Falcon.”

Bucky was resting his cheek against his hand, barely rocking his chair with his toes against the floor. “One platonic cuddle and suddenly you’re Public Enemy Number One.”

Steve didn’t have much to add to the proceedings, so he kept his mouth shut. His jaw was so tight, he wasn’t sure he could have formed words anyway. He hated that anyone was doubting Bucky’s fidelity, or Steve’s unshakable trust in his boyfriend. He hated it more than he hated the headlines poking fun at the Avengers for coming out in full force to fight a giant sock.

“Steve?” Bucky said hesitantly, and when Steve glanced up from the spot on the table he’d been trying to make burst into flames, Bucky was watching him with a worried frown. “You good?”

Steve answered with a curt nod, then returned his gaze to the spot on the table that still hadn’t burst into flame.

“Do we even have to address any of this?” Natasha asked Maria.

Maria gave her a graceful shrug. “Not if you don’t want to.”

Everyone exchanged glances silently, then almost as one they all stood from the table and began filing out. Maria stared at the ceiling and seemed to be counting to herself. Steve remained seated, still frowning.

When Bucky realized Steve hadn’t moved, he did a hesitant two-step between the door and Steve’s chair, then turned to Steve carefully. “Steve?”

Steve shook himself and glanced up at Bucky.

“We’re good? Right?” Bucky asked softly.

Steve took a deep breath and pushed away from the table. “Yeah,” he answered, forcing himself to stand and shake the tension out of his spine. He waved at the headlines still being projected onto the board. “Pisses me off, is all.”

Bucky seemed to shuffle without moving. How he could dispel nervous energy so visibly like that without actually twitching a single muscle would forever fascinate Steve. “Are you pissed at me? Or Sam? ’Cause you know we’d –”

“No, I know,” Steve interrupted as quickly as he could. He put a hand on Bucky’s shoulder and turned him toward the door, falling into step with him. “I just hate that no one else seems to know that.”

“Only person I care about knowing that is you, Steve,” Bucky murmured, eyes still on Steve as they walked down the hallway.

Steve stopped and took Bucky’s elbow, turning him so they were facing each other. Whatever he had been planning to say, he lost track of it as he looked into Bucky’s eyes. He closed the distance between them and cupped Bucky’s chin in one hand, then he pressed a kiss to the corner of his frowning mouth. He stole another, deeper one before stepping back. “I love you,” he said simply, giving a helpless little shrug as Bucky’s lips twitched against a smile.

“I love you too,” Bucky said in the same matter-of-fact tone. He finally let the grin form. “Even if you do think I can’t handle a giant sock on my own.”

Steve rolled his eyes. “When JARVIS said, ‘giant sock’ we all thought he just didn’t have the vocabulary necessary to call it what it really was.”

“I beg your pardon?” JARVIS’s offended voice blurted from the ceiling.

Bucky narrowed his eyes up at the ceiling. “JARVIS do you watch us when we bang?”

“Pardon me, but it appears I’m needed in the workshop, Soldier. By your leave.”

The ceiling chimed to signify JARVIS essentially slamming a door in their faces.

“Should’ve known anything Tony created would be a pervert,” Steve grumbled as they continued on down the hall.

Bucky goosed Steve with his metal fingers and Steve jumped and yelped, grinning at the musical sound of Bucky’s laughter ringing through the hall.

==

Technically, the Avengers were still operating under the superhero buddy system. But Bucky was beginning to chafe at all the quality time he was getting with his worried teammates still treating him like the eyeball that could open SI’s weapons vault, so he took advantage one afternoon when most of the team was waging a vicious war that had started when Steve shot Clint’s car with a green turtle shell and then laughed maniacally as he followed it up with a red one that sent both Clint and Natasha soaring off the rainbow road. He’d laughed even harder when he’d lapped them and shot Clint’s barely recovering player with another green turtle shell.

The Avengers did not fuck around when it came to Mario Kart.

Bucky had slipped out of the Tower with JARVIS’s judgy silence directed at his escaping back, then he’d stepped into the crowds of New York City and disappeared.

He’d wandered the city unmolested for almost half an hour before he felt eyes on him.

He kept moving, walking with the flow, only glancing to the side when he passed something that could offer him a reflection. He hadn’t caught sight of anyone suspicious yet, but he knew they were there. He doggedly prevented himself from glancing up at the rooftops and giving away his search for a sniper. His only advantage was his tail not realizing he’d been made yet. He turned down a side street and plastered himself against the corner of a building, waiting.

A tiny old lady with a pink overcoat and a matching felt hat rounded the corner just seconds after Bucky, and she stopped in her tracks when she noticed him. Bucky cocked his head at her, one eyebrow quirked curiously at the anger suddenly on her ancient face.

She took her flower-printed cane in both hands and pointed it at him. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” she hissed at him in utter disgust. She jabbed him in the belly with the rubber end of her cane, and Bucky made a surprised oof sound and grabbed the end of the cane. He let it go as soon as he realized he’d done it, letting her yank it back. “Stepping out on that nice young man of yours for all the world to see. For shame!” Then she whacked him in the upper arm with the cane once, twice, three times as he covered his head and cowered away from her. Then she made a heinous hocking sound in the back of her throat and spit a horrifyingly large loogie on the sidewalk in front of his feet before stomping off.

Bucky stared after her, eyes wide and mouth hanging open, rubbing the brand new sore spots on his arm.

He still had his eyes on her angry, bobbing pink hat when the point of a knife was lovingly laid against his ribcage.

“Watch that arm, buddy,” a voice instructed right in his ear.

Bucky closed his eyes, cursing himself for getting distracted. Goddammit. Steve was going to put on a séance just so he could bitch out Bucky’s everlasting spirit in the great beyond.

“Little old ladies are the worst, aren’t they?” the voice asked.

“Listen, if you're going to try to kill me, can you save it for next week?" Bucky asked in exhaustion. "If I have one more attempt on my life this month, I've been threatened with a backpack leash.“

“I’m not going to hurt you so keep that arm in its holster, huh? I don’t want a brawl on the sidewalk. I got big enough problems as it is.”

Bucky tried to get a look at the guy with his peripheral vision, but the man was also leaning against Bucky’s building, out of even Bucky’s peripheral range.

“Let’s do brunch!” the voice suggested in a chipper tone.

“Mkay.”

Bucky finally got a look at his assailant as they started walking toward a little café with outdoor tables halfway down the block, even though he was staying a step behind. Well. ‘Good look,’ was probably being generous to Bucky’s skills just then. He was as tall as Bucky, and even the oversized hoodie he wore couldn’t conceal his athletic frame. The hood was pulled low to leave his face in shadow, so Bucky wouldn’t even be able to pick him out of a lineup at this point, and he wore the exact same pair of leather gloves Bucky often did when he didn’t want to deal with people clocking his metal hand.

The man merely linked his arm through Bucky’s metal one like they were strolling through the park on a Victorian date, the knife held snugly above Bucky’s kidney.

“You got me at a bit of a disadvantage,” Bucky pointed out. “You know me, but I don’t know you.”

“Buddy, everyone and their parakeet knows you. You’re the goddamn Winter Soldier. Big fan, by the way, I like the way you just . . .” the man held his free hand out and made it into a trembling fist as he seemed to search for the right words. “Kill things and stuff.”

“Right.”

“Big fan!”

“Uh huh.”

“I touch myself to your official poster.”

Bucky shook his head and mouthed a silent, “Wow.”

“I had to laminate it.”

“What’s your name?” Bucky asked a little more forcefully than he had intended.

The man made a little squeaky sound like he was a dog toy being popped by the jaws of a Rottweiler. “The Winter Soldier wants to know my name!”

Bucky rolled his eyes heavenward. “Why?” he directed at the clouds.

“Name’s Deadpool,” the guy answered, sounding almost normal again.

“I ain’t calling you Deadpool, pal.”

“Does that mean you’re going to call me?” the guy asked giddily.

Bucky snapped his mouth shut, frowning. Was he being kidnapped off the street or picked up in a bar? He honestly couldn’t tell anymore.

“Wade Wilson,” the guy offered after a few blessed seconds of silence, seeming to sense that Bucky’s brain had stalled out on him. He led Bucky to a metal chair on the sidewalk in front of a hipster café and Bucky sat, watching the guy carefully as he took the seat opposite. His face was still in shadow, but Bucky could see the mess of scars that covered what had once been an undoubtedly attractive face. “I was hired to shoot you in the face.”

Bucky’s eyebrows shot up and he opened his mouth to say something, but no words were forthcoming from the teleprompter in his brain.

“It was a lot of money, okay,” Wade continued defensively. “If someone was going to put a bullet in the mouth I jerk it to, it was going to be me.”

“Uh huh?” Bucky managed.

Wade flopped his gloved hands helplessly, shrugging.

Bucky studied him, frown deepening. “Were you military?”

“Canadian, yes. Briefly.”

Bucky blinked owlishly. “Canada has a military?”

“Sort of!”

“That sounds fake, but okay.”

Wade shrugged.

Bucky eyed him more carefully. “Are you the one who shot my phone the day of all the Hydra attacks?”

Wade shifted uncomfortably, but he nodded. “That was me, yes.”

Bucky hummed. “Impressive shot.”

“Not really. I was aiming for your head, so . . .” Wade admitted. “Sniper rifles are not my boss skill.”

“Oh.” Bucky scowled and looked down at the table. “Wow. We’ve been trying to figure out why someone would shoot my phone for weeks now. Jesus. Stark combed through every file on his servers trying to see what my phone had to do with anything.”

“My bad, dude.”

“It took him the better part of two months. He had to go to the MedBay with a Five Hour Energy overdose.”

Wade held both hands out, shrugging helplessly.

Bucky was still staring at the table between them, eyes unfocused in growing horror. “I’m never going to be able to tell him it was just a blundered head shot, he’ll lose his damn mind and spawn an army of murderous robots or something.”

“Sorry about that.”

“Are you?”

“Not really?”

Bucky nodded, pursing his lips as he tried to focus on the current situation. “So, if you’re being paid a lot of money to shoot me in the face, why do I still look like this?” Bucky asked as he waved his fingers at his face.

Wade clutched his hands together under his chin and tilted his head like he was swooning. If Bucky could see his eyelashes, he would bet they were fluttering. “It’s harder than I thought it would be to deface a work of art.”

Bucky narrowed his eyes and Wade began to giggle.

“No, seriously, they haven’t paid me yet,” Wade answered, dropping the simpering act. “And I got word last night that they aren’t going to, contract terminated. In the literal sense of termination, not the douchey assassin parlance meaning. So I thought hey, I have some information Sergeant Jawline might like and I’d get to meet the guy of my wet dreams all in one go.”

Bucky chewed on his lip. He honestly couldn’t tell if the guy was serious, messing with him, or just plain old text book crazy.

“The people who put the contract out, they wanted you dead and messy all over the place so Captain Possessive Eyes would lose his shit. Is he an animal in the sack? I bet he’s an animal in the sack.”

“He is. So, your bankrollers wanted the Avengers to actually go off the rails and avenge someone, is what you’re saying.”

“Oh, wow,” Wade whispered. “I never put that together with the whole name thing, that’s clever!”

Bucky fought the very real urge to facepalm. He had to keep his eyes on this guy, though. Wade was grinning, teeth stark white in the shadow of his hood. Bucky looked at him closer. Bucky’d been right, he had been quite the looker, before whatever horrible thing had made those weeping scars and wounds shot its load all over his face.

“Captain America and his Avengers are media darlings,” Wade told Bucky in a strangely in tune sing-song. “There aren’t many ways to attack them without immediately being labeled a villain.”

Bucky nodded. He’d seen that numerous times since he’d joined the Avengers Initiative. And he knew better than most on the team how public opinion could make your life easy or a living hell. He’d just been whacked repeatedly on the street by someone’s grandmother, for Christ sake.

“Captain America is a ticking time bomb of bad PR if anything happens to his Bucky Bear,” Wade added.

Bucky nodded harder. The man was totally right. He chewed on his lip some more, peering at Wade. “Why’d they pull out on you?”

“No condoms, I would think.”

Bucky narrowed his eyes, head jerking to the side.

“God, you’re a sexy beast when your eyes do that,” Wade sighed dreamily. He gazed at Bucky for a second before snapping back to attention. “You’ve read the latest gossip columns, right? Or were you really as bewildered as you looked when Grandma Moses back there made you her bitch?”

“You’re talking about the Yankees game.”

“Speaking of game,” Wade said, so gleeful the words must have been delicious on his tongue. “I haven’t seen the yawn and reach in forever, you smooth piece of ass, you.”

Bucky sighed dejectedly and did facepalm right into both of his hands. “I’m not cheating on Steve with Sam.”

“Who are you cheating on him with?” Wade asked. “Is there a waiting list? Can I sign up for that good shit right there? That’s some good shit mmhmm.”

“I’m not cheating on him at all!” Bucky shouted, and several heads turned their way. Bucky shrank further into his seat, shoulders going as tight as the metal fuck off arm would allow him.

“Well. I wouldn’t go advertising that too loud, ’cause that’s the only reason I don’t have millions of dollars making little baby dividends in my bank account.”

“They called off a hit on me because I cheated on Captain America?” Bucky asked, voice so dry he needed some KY down his throat.

Wade shrugged. “If Cap’s big ol’ heart is already a shattered ruin thanks to you, there’s no point in trying to shatter it more by killing you.”

Bucky grunted. “Fair point.” He watched Wade curiously as the man tore open three sugar packets from the middle of the table and poured their contents into his mouth. “Why are you really telling me this? Why reveal yourself at all?”

Wade shrugged. “I was hoping I’d get a grateful blowjob since you’re running around behind Cap’s back anyway. But I’ve also been through a few chapters of being a merc with no morals, it was time for some character development.”

“What?” Bucky asked helplessly.

Wade shrugged and nodded in commiseration. “Exactly.”

“Who put out the hit?” Bucky finally thought to ask.

Wade clicked his tongue. “I don’t show a guy all my tricks on the first date, honey bunny. I got mercenary/patient privilege to worry about here.”

“That is wildly unhelpful.”

Wade gave another sad, sympathetic nod. “Yeah, I hear that a lot.”

==

‘Winter Soldier Spotted Out and About Town With Yet Another Mystery Man on the Side!’

‘Avengers Mired In Vicious Break-up; Teammates Taking Sides In Domestic Civil War.’

Steve had to physically grab Bucky’s head and force him to stay upright that night at dinner so Bucky would stop banging his forehead against the wooden tabletop.

==

“Captain Rogers? How do you feel about all the photos coming to light of your boyfriend with other men?”

Steve sighed into the mic as he sat on the raised dais with the rest of the team. “You are literally taking photos of two people interacting with one another in public,” Steve answered through gritted teeth. “Only the most jealous and paranoid of people would ever assume that sitting at a table with another person will automatically lead to a sexual encounter.”

“But Captain –”

Bucky’s hand shot out and grabbed the mic that was positioned in front of him, his metal hand making the speakers whine with feedback. “You all must think I’m out of my damn mind,” he snarled into the mic. His voice lashed through the Tower lobby, making several of the gathered reporters flinch. Bucky pointed sideways at Steve. “This man is the love of my life, and I’m with him to the grave and back.”

A murmur accompanied his words and Bucky growled into the mic to bring silence once more.

“If today’s society is so fucked up that men can’t even share platonic contact with their male friends for fear of ramifications, then everything we’re up here fighting for is already a lost cause. Get the fuck over yourselves and go digging for dirt on the actual villains in this world, make our lives easier for once.”

He tossed the mic at the table and shoved his chair back, towering over the press in his full combat gear. Steve’s eyes stayed glued to Bucky’s back as he stalked off the dais and fuck-me-stupid-murder-walked his way to the private elevator that would take him to the residences.

There were a couple of camera flashes and clicks, but the lobby was otherwise stunned silent. Steve’s eyes scanned the gathering of press keenly. “I’m going to follow him, now,” he announced to the world in his most even tone. “And my exit is not going to be nearly as dramatic as his, but I can assure you there will be dramatics enough for us both when I get down on one knee and ask that man to marry me. It’d be nice if the media could give us a damn break for a while, so, y’know . . . feel free to show yourselves out.”

He set the mic on the table and stood to race after his wayward boyfriend. The rest of the team stood with him, and they were all still giving Steve a little golf clap when the stairwell door fell shut behind him.

Chapter Text

When Steve got to their apartment, Bucky was sitting on the sofa with his head in his hands, elbows resting on his knees, still dressed in the full Winter Soldier tac suit except for the mask and the boots Steve had seen lined up neatly by the door. He was wearing bright blue Captain America socks.

Steve smiled fondly at him, trying to shake off the melancholy feeling that they would never get a break from any of this. That splash of whimsical color amidst the matte black that made Bucky look like a tactical grade badass made Steve’s heart absolutely ache. The public thought it knew who the Winter Soldier was because they’d seen him fight, and they’d heard him growl through press conferences full of invasive, hurtful questions. They thought they knew James Barnes because they combed through every photo and newsreel and posted photos with flower crowns drawn on him and surmised that he was a big ol’ marshmallow (who’d still fuck them dirty on his motorcycle) under that gruff exterior because the camera sometimes caught a candid of his sweet, vivacious smile and his kind, winter-silver eyes.

The world didn’t know a damn thing about this man, though, and they never would because the world had made it crystal clear to Bucky Barnes that his thick, armored façade was all they wanted to see.

But Bucky Barnes was the kind of man who would layer himself in Kevlar and leather and armored plating and enough weaponry to make him bristle like a porcupine with a spare Barrett M82A1M, all so he could walk into the belly of the beast alongside the man who’d ruined his life. Bucky Barnes was the type of man who, faced with either losing his arm or leaving part of his team behind, had begged them not to leave until everyone was accounted for. Bucky Barnes loved and lost with his whole heart and soul, and he took so much pleasure in the little quirks life deigned to grant him that he blithely strolled into battle in a pair of garishly-colored socks with his boyfriend’s cartoon face on the toes.

Bucky Barnes would burn himself to ash for the world.

And Steve Rogers would burn down the world for Bucky Barnes.

Bucky hadn’t even bothered to turn the lights on, and he was bathed in the gentle glow of the city beyond the windows. Even now, even here, even broken in the lurid light, Bucky was so goddamn beautiful. Steve was struck yet again, like he was at least a dozen times a day, just how much he loved him. If this was the battle they had to keep fighting, standing united against a world salivating to see them fail, then Steve and Bucky would keep on standing. And they’d hold each other up when one of them couldn’t stand on his own.

Steve moved toward him, his heart heavy and sore as he took in Bucky’s defeated body language. “Buck?”

“I’m shit at this, Steve,” Bucky groaned without looking up. “You fucking deserve so much better than this horseshit.”

“I don’t know about what I deserve,” Steve hedged, moving closer slow enough that Bucky wasn’t startled when Steve finally sat next to him. He put his hand on Bucky’s back, trailing his fingertips over the back of Bucky’s neck since that was the only skin Steve could touch through the thick layers of his armor. “But I know what I want. And that’s you. It’ll always be just you, Buck.”

Bucky damn near whimpered, so Steve gripped the back of his neck and gave him a little shake. It made all his hidden knives rattle.

Steve grinned affectionately. “Just you and me, pal. Everything else is just noise.”

Bucky huffed miserably. He finally looked up, peering at their reflections in the windows on the other side of the room. “You’re some kind of special, you know that?” he whispered to Steve’s reflection.

Steve smiled sadly, just barely curtailing the very real urge he had to say, ‘I know you are, but what am I?’ He had a feeling Bucky wasn’t in the right frame of mind for that just now.

Steve sat with him in silence until Bucky finally turned his head to meet Steve’s eyes. “The guy in those photos, the one I was talking to at that café,” Bucky started.

“I know you’re not running around on me, Buck, you don’t have to explain yourself to me.”

Bucky closed his eyes and nodded, taking a deep breath. “Yeah, no. I know that. It’s just. He was the one who took a shot at me the day Hydra came after me and Cap.”

Steve stiffened, his fingers curling possessively on Bucky’s neck. “What?”

“He got the drop on me on the street after this tiny little mean lady beat me with her cane,” Bucky started.

“Wait, what?!”

“She had to be a hundred years old. She publicly shamed me for cheating on my, ‘nice young man,’” Bucky explained with a sardonic smile. “The public doesn’t know you’re a big ol’ jerk.”

“That’s fucked up,” Steve blurted.

“Tell me about it. She could have played for the ’27 Yankees. Anyway, he got the drop on me, but he just wanted to talk. His name was Wade Wilson. Goes by Deadpool.”

“I’ve seen that name in some of our reports.”

“Yeah, I knew it was familiar. Couldn’t quite place it at the time, though. He’s a merc. Freelance. He was hired to take me out of the equation so you’d lose your shit and go on a very un-patriotic killing spree or whatever.”

“Which I would definitely do,” Stave snarled. He grabbed at one of Bucky’s straps and bunched it in his fist for no apparent reason whatsoever.

Bucky nodded solemnly. “He told me that when the news started up the rumors that I’d cheated with every breathing thing in the Tri-State area and broken your heart, they canceled the hit.”

Steve scowled at him for a few seconds before the weight of that information hit. “Fuck,” he breathed. “And we just set the record straight in a live press conference.”

“Yep. I’d put good money on that hit being green-lighted again by morning.”

Steve bunched Bucky’s strap harder, gritting his teeth. “Why didn’t you tell me this when I talked you into that press conference?”

Bucky shook his head. “I would have done it anyway, Steve. There will always be people gunning for us because it’s who we are. But I refuse to live another heartbeat in this world when a single soul doubts that you’re the reason my heart beats at all.”

Steve stared at him, stunned and captivated, unable to breathe as Bucky ducked his head and swiped his fingers over his cheek.

“Anyway. At least we’ve gotten a peek at their playbook,” Bucky was saying as Steve’s world literally altered itself to form anew around the man sitting beside him. “Whoever this is, they’re coming at the Avengers in the public eye; tarnish our reputations and tear us down before launching a physical attack.”

Steve lurched to his feet, making Bucky startle and blink up at him. Steve squared his shoulders and jutted his jaw out and channeled every single ‘come at me bro’ meme he’d ever seen, and he grabbed two of Bucky’s uniform straps to heft him to his feet.

Bucky was staring at him with wide eyes, standing on the tips of his toes because he’d taken his boots off in the foyer like he was goddamn civilized, and Steve was still in his full combat suit.

“Steve?” Bucky tried hesitantly.

“No one,” Steve growled. “And I mean no one, is going to take you away from me. Never again. Over my dead fucking body, you hear me?”

Bucky moved slowly, like Steve was a grizzly bear that had just plucked Bucky out of his sleeping bag and told him he had a purty mouth.

“You’re okay, Stevie,” Bucky murmured gently, his fingers wrapping carefully around Steve’s wrists. “We’re okay.”

Steve’s nostrils flared as he tried to calm himself. He looked Bucky up and down ravenously, taking in every strap and buckle and empty holster he always had to force himself to ignore when they were on a mission. He let Bucky go, but Bucky held to his wrists, keeping them locked just inches apart.

Steve tugged at Bucky’s utility belt. “Leave all this on,” he snarled, then pushed forward into a hungry, brutal kiss.

Bucky made a sound that never made it past Steve’s tongue, and he grabbed a fistful of Steve’s hair and met the kiss with gleeful violence. His other hand pawed at Steve’s Captain America suit until he made it to the front of Steve’s pants and tugged.

“Fuck,” Bucky breathed out before he bit at Steve’s lower lip. “Jesus fuck, yes, Stevie.”

Steve managed to get Bucky’s pants undone, shoving them down just far enough that he could wrap his fingers around Bucky’s dick. He was already hard when Steve got hold of him. Good. Steve had needs. Steve had very pressing needs, and Bucky’s hard cock was the answer to all of them.

Bucky’s hands had been working their own magic, getting under the stealth suit and shoving it down to Steve’s thighs. He pushed and shoved at the rest of the heavy material, and Steve scrambled to help him. Soon enough, Steve was completely naked, body pressed up against Bucky’s tac gear and hanging onto Bucky’s neck as Bucky kissed him like Steve was here for his bi-annual conjugal visit.

Bucky yanked Steve’s head to the side by his hair, and leaned forward to growl into Steve’s ear. “Get on your fucking knees.”

He forced Steve down even as he said it, and Steve’s knees going weak were totally about the pressure of that metal hand in his hair and most certainly not because Steve had been trained like one of Pavlov’s dogs to drop and suck at that tone of voice.

Steve gripped Bucky’s thighs and trailed his hands up to his hips, his fingers gliding against the holsters and sheaths and hidden pockets all over Bucky’s uniform until he got to warm, bare skin. Bucky had his dick in hand, his other hand tightening in Steve’s hair, and Steve ducked to get the tip in his mouth with a grateful moan.

Bucky’s hand tightened on his hair, and Steve let Bucky guide him, pushing him down onto his cock and then pulling him off so slow it had to have been a sweet kind of torture as Steve’s tongue followed Bucky’s cock. Steve made sure it was sloppy and enthusiastic, getting Bucky wet and slick from root to tip.

He moaned every time the head hit the back of his throat, and Bucky rewarded him with a grunt or tremulous sigh every time.

Steve could have happily stayed right there on his knees, sucking off the Winter Soldier in his combat gear, but Bucky obviously had other plans. He yanked Steve off when Steve got a little too enthusiastic, and he ran his knuckles down the side of Steve’s face when Steve smiled beatifically up at him.

“You’re so fucking amazing, Stevie,” Bucky murmured, then he grabbed Steve up and slammed him chest-first into the coffee table.

Steve grunted and immediately spread his legs as wide as they could go, but Bucky kicked his knees back together, then leaned over Steve and pressed his metal palm into Steve’s spine to get his message across.

Steve moaned shakily and grabbed the far edges of the table. Bucky reached under the coffee table and yanked something loose from a strip of duct tape. In any other mindset, Steve would have laughed until he couldn’t breathe at the sight of the bottle of lube Bucky had stashed right beside a hidden gun. The man had priorities. As it was, though, Steve just couldn’t breathe to start with.

Bucky leaned over him far enough to whisper into Steve’s ear. “You want these?” he asked as he brought his hand around to slide the pads of his fingers down Steve’s cheekbone. Then he slammed his metal hand onto the table in front of Steve’s face and something cracked beneath it. “Or this?”

“That,” Steve answered as fast as he could, shifting his hips and trying to get friction on his aching cock. He moaned wantonly. “Oh, God. That. Please, Buck.”

Bucky switched hands, holding Steve down with his flesh hand and popping the cap of the lube with the metal fingers. Steve jumped and gasped when cold, slick metal teased at him and then pushed into his ass. Bucky only really gave him a courtesy prep, slicking him up liberally but only using the one thick, unyielding metal finger to fuck into him until Steve was pushing back against him, begging for more.

Steve could see their faded reflections in the window in front of him, and Bucky looming behind him in his full battle gear was maybe the hottest thing Steve had ever laid eyes on. He’d never be able to look at Bucky in the middle of a fight again. They were ruining him tonight.

Bucky planted his feet on either side of Steve’s knees, kicking the inside of his ankle at Steve’s thigh to make him push his legs together hard. “That’s it, sweetheart,” he crooned. “Tighten up for me.”

“Oh God, Buck,” Steve mumbled, pressing his forehead against the table. “Please!”

The head of Bucky’s cock breached him, swollen and hot compared to that cold metal finger. Bucky leaned his elbow beside Steve’s body, letting his weight rest against Steve’s back as he rolled his hips and worked his way all the way in. They were both gasping for breath by the time his pelvis rocked against Steve’s ass and he was buried as deep as he could get with Steve’s knees squeezed together like they were.

Bucky’s first real thrust into him rocked Steve’s body and the table underneath him. The straps and buckles pressed hard into Steve’s naked back, and Bucky’s breaths were harsh against the sensitive shell of Steve’s ear.

Steve shimmied his hips, trying to provoke Bucky into going harder.

Bucky grabbed up one of Steve’s hands, prying it away from the edge of the table and yanking Steve’s arm back. He pressed Steve’s wrist to the small of his own back, grip tightening almost to pain on Steve’s forearm. The entire action only took a few seconds, and Bucky hadn’t stopped fucking Steve with deep, punishing thrusts.

Steve risked a glance at their reflection again, panting, each of Bucky’s thrusts punching the air from his lungs faster than he could drag more in.

The sight of him naked and being held down against the coffee table with Bucky’s wraith-like reflection all in black, fucking him mercilessly, almost made Steve shoot his load right then and there.

“Buck,” he groaned, squeezing his eyes closed. “Oh, God, Buck. Fuck, I’m gonna come.”

“Do it,” Bucky growled, sounding like he was gritting his teeth. “But you’re gonna do it without touching that pretty dick of yours, sweetheart. And you’re gonna keep getting fucked even after you blow that load.”

Steve’s answering moan shivered out of him. Holy shit. Holy shit.

His rolling hips smacked against Steve’s ass over and over, his cock pulling almost all the way out before plunging in deep again on every thrust. The slick slide of the shaft and the tease of that swollen head were causing Steve’s nerve endings to go haywire, and he finally had to stop trying to meet each thrust and merely went limp, taking it, letting Bucky use his body in the most debauched and sordid of ways.

He kept trying to push his knees out to get Bucky in deeper, but Bucky would kick his leg back in every time, snarling viciously at him to tighten the fuck back up whenever he had to do it.

Steve cried out pitifully when Bucky hit his prostate the first time, splaying his fingers away from the edge of the table. Bucky grabbed Steve’s hand, lacing their fingers together and letting his elbow take more of his weight. He was heavy and hot on Steve’s back, the Kevlar of his suit dragging almost painfully against Steve’s oversensitive skin. Steve felt a gentle kiss pressed to the back of his shoulder, accompanied by the rhythmic pounding intrusion of Bucky’s hard cock, and he moaned again.

“You’re so fucking good, Steve,” Bucky breathed against Steve’s skin, rolling his hips languidly after one particularly deep thrust. He dragged his teeth over Steve’s straining trapezius muscles. “You take it so fucking good, Stevie. Look at you. God, you were made for getting fucked hard, weren’t you?”

“Buck! Oh, god,” was all Steve could say, over and over as Bucky murmured the filthiest of praise into his skin.

Steve was slowly losing all control, and he could feel his orgasm building, warm and heavy as he squeezed his muscles down on Bucky’s cock inside him.

“Yeah, Stevie. Good god,” Bucky rasped out with a grunt that made something deep and primal in Steve want to bare his neck. “You gonna give me something, sweetheart?”

“Yes,” Steve practically whined. “Yes, Buck. Take it!”

Bucky pushed himself off Steve’s body and shoved his metal hand under Steve’s belly. He tugged Steve up, still buried inside him, still holding Steve’s arm behind him, and then he threw their combined weight backward. When they landed on the sofa, the impact drove him so deep that Steve cried out for mercy, arching his back and rolling his hips almost frantically as he sat on Bucky’s cock and tried to make it hit the spot they’d just found again.

Bucky pulled his other arm behind his back and used the metal hand to trap them both between their bodies.

Steve moaned toward the ceiling, eyes squeezed tight, riding Bucky as fast and hard as the position allowed him. Bucky held to the spot on Steve’s shoulder that he had bitten earlier and shoved up with his hips, fucking Steve in a maddening counter rhythm.

Steve gasped and forced his eyes open, staring at the picture they made in the dark windows. Bucky’s long legs splayed out like he was watching a ballgame with a beer in his hand, Steve sitting naked in his lap, legs falling open, body arched and lips obscenely parted. Steve tried to burn the image into his brain.

“Come on, Stevie, spread those legs for me now,” Bucky cooed to him, free hand smoothing down Steve’s chest and belly to rest on the crease of his thigh.

Steve did as he’d been told, pushing his legs out and over Bucky’s flexing thighs, spreading himself out like an offering. He leaned back into Bucky’s bulk, feeling incredibly vulnerable as the Kevlar pressed into his unprotected skin and he laid himself wide open for Bucky to use. But it was also mind-blowingly seductive, trusting the man he loved so completely that baring himself whole and defenseless wasn’t terrifying.

Bucky pressed his open mouth to Steve’s back, his breaths hot and wet as he shoved up into Steve over and over. “Stevie,” he gasped. “Baby. I’m close. Close.”

Steve writhed in his lap, chasing the orgasm he could feel coming but couldn’t quite reach. He tensed every muscle in his body and Bucky’s shaky grunt in response came against his spine.

“Buck,” Steve pleaded. “Touch me. Please, Buck, I need . . .”

Bucky hummed, deep and primal, and he pressed his sadistic free hand that could have been jerking Steve off against Steve’s chest, right over his racing heart. He sank his teeth into the meat at the join of Steve’s neck and shoulder, then kissed the mark he’d left behind. “You can do it, sunshine,” he crooned against Steve’s neck.

“Bucky! Please, I can’t . . .”

“You can and you will,” Bucky snarled. Steve felt him grin against his skin. “How will you ever learn to do things for yourself if you always have a helping hand, hmm?”

“Fuck you,” Steve gritted. “Oh, fuck you so much.”

“That’s the spirit, Stevie,” Bucky taunted. He shoved his hips up and pulled Steve down, fucking Steve just like Steve had told him to. He felt amazing inside Steve, pushing at every muscle Steve tried to clamp down on him, the head of his cock brushing Steve’s prostate and sending swirls of pleasure through his belly and up his spine. If Steve hadn’t been so desperate to get off and to feel Bucky getting off with him, he’d be tempted to ride Bucky slow and easy so they could stay like this for hours.

Steve’s fingers flexed uselessly, desperate to have two handfuls of Bucky to hold onto. Bucky seemed to sense it and he let Steve’s arms go. Steve reached behind him, arching his back as he circled his hips, and he dragged his fingers along the criss-crossing straps on Bucky’s sides. The only skin he could reach was Bucky’s hips, so he gripped both of them and bucked his body, sitting down hard and earning a shocked gasp against his neck.

Bucky groaned, long and loud, rolling his hips up and driving into Steve so hard he lifted both of them off the couch. “Fuck! Stevie,” Bucky groaned, his voice breaking on Steve’s name and both of his hands clawing into Steve’s muscles.

Steve thought Bucky was coming inside him, and just the image of that alone had Steve’s whole body tingling, pushing him closer and closer to his own completion. The very thought of Bucky emptying into him could make him hot and bothered no matter where or when he had it. There was nothing Steve loved more than being filled up and knowing it was inside him for the rest of the day or night.

“Yeah, Buck, give it to me, come on,” Steve gritted out, tightening every muscle that was still on active duty as his brain enjoyed its furlough, trying to milk Bucky dry.

But then Bucky jerked into motion, shoving Steve back to his knees and banging his chest into the table again. Steve immediately braced himself with one hand and grabbed desperately at his throbbing dick with the other, thinking that’s what Bucky was aiming for. But Bucky was still hard inside him, still fucking him, holding onto his hips and yanking Steve back into him with every thrust.

“God, Buck,” Steve gasped. Then he managed to make that, “Hng,” sound he’d once heard out of Bucky and wondered how Bucky had produced it. Now he knew.

“Steve!” Bucky cried out, metal fingers clutching him so hard that Steve worried briefly about his hip bone.

If he broke a hip having sex, especially it if was overly athletic, tactical grade kinky sex, Steve would literally never hear the end of the old man jokes. Not until the sun burned out and all life on the planet ceased. The last word any living being in the universe would say would be an old man joke because Steve Rogers was 100 years old and broke his hip while getting banged by his 30-year old boyfriend . . .

Bucky pulled out of him just as suddenly as he’d shoved in, and Steve practically whimpered as he lost the pressure inside him that had been pushing him closer and closer to orgasm. Bucky pressed a hand into Steve’s spine to keep him from moving, then dragged it down Steve’s back and used his fingers to spread Steve wide open. Steve felt the head of Bucky’s cock drag up from his balls to his hole again, pushing but not breaching. The Winter Soldier was a fucking cocktease!

“Jesus, please, Buck!” Steve practically cried. He needed to get off, he couldn’t take much more stimulation without some goddamn instant gratification.

“Fuck, Steve. Fuck!” Bucky shouted through gritted teeth, and Steve pressed his cheek against the table so he could see Bucky over his shoulder. Bucky was looking down, stroking himself as the head of his cock settled between Steve’s ass cheeks.

“Yeah, Buck,” Steve urged as he jerked himself off along with Bucky.

Bucky stood, bending over Steve’s ass, and he stroked himself until he was coming, spurting across Steve’s ass and lower back, shoving his spurting cock back into Steve and rocking the head of his cock right there at the entrance as he emptied the rest into Steve. The cum sliding into the small of Steve’s back and the rest sliding nice and warm out of him after Bucky pulled out was the most sensual, indecent thing Steve had ever felt. His whole body locked up as he watched Bucky practically mark him, and as soon as Bucky’s metal fingers closed around Steve’s own and pumped his cock one last time, Steve came with a pitiful groan.

Bucky sank to his knees between Steve’s spread legs, chest heaving as he tried and failed to breathe, metal hand resting on Steve’s hip. He met Steve’s eyes as Steve laid there and watched over his shoulder, boneless where Bucky had placed him.

“Jesus,” Bucky panted, then he slumped forward and rested his forehead against Steve’s ass cheek.

Steve huffed an exhausted laugh, and they both slowly melted to the floor, curling up together and clinging to each other in the space between the sofa and the coffee table.

After a full minute of simply trying to breathe and calm their racing hearts, Bucky cursed softly.

“What?” Steve groaned.

Bucky matched the groan and tossed an arm over his eyes. “Now I gotta explain to someone how I got spunk all over my tac suit.”

“Well,” Steve said slowly, squinting up at the ceiling. “Just tell them you take the concept of ‘love thine enemy’ very seriously.”

Bucky answered with a derisive snort.

Steve rested his head against Bucky’s belly, staring up into the dim light of their home. He was smiling serenely at the thought of home as Bucky’s steady breathing lifted his head. Bucky’s hand came to rest in his hair, and Steve was distantly relieved that it was the flesh hand and not the metal one, after all the objects Steve had witnessed those metal fingers handling in the last hour.

He frowned at the nagging feeling in the back of his sex-addled mind that he was forgetting something. “I came up here to ask you something,” he mused with a frown.

“Mmhm?”

Steve squinted at the ceiling, trying to remember. But all his mind kept giving him was the image of Bucky in his lethally sexy tactical gear, looming large over Steve’s naked, defenseless body and bringing Steve nothing but pleasure. Steve shook his head, blinking the image away as his dick began to respond accordingly. He would not survive another round this soon after that one. Calm down there, little buddy, take a fucking hour off.

“What was it?” Bucky prompted after Steve had spent an awkward amount of time silent, thinking about dirty sex.

“Huh,” he finally said, waving a hand that felt ten times heavier than it should and shrugging as his eyes slipped shut to the gentle touches of Bucky’s fingers against his scalp. “It’ll come to me.”

“Ha. Well, something’ll come anyway.”

==

Bucky was in the middle of a pretty fucking delightful REM cycle when Steve jolted upright in the bed beside him and sent Bucky tumbling off the mattress and reaching for weapons to deal with the threat.

He popped his head up over the side of the mattress to peer at Steve, a knife between his teeth and a gun in each hand. Steve was sitting with the sheets pooling around his lap, wincing guiltily at Bucky as he rubbed the heel of his palm against one sleepy eye.

Bucky spit the knife out. “Steve, what the fuck?” he rasped.

“I remembered what I was supposed to ask you,” Steve answered, and even in the dark Bucky could tell that his damn ridiculous boyfriend was blushing.

Bucky stared at him, severely unimpressed.

Steve patted the mattress beside his hip, smiling bashfully. How the man could even pretend to look bashful in front of Bucky after all the places Bucky’s tongue and dick had been, Bucky had no idea. And how Bucky could still be charmed by this asshole, Bucky had no idea.

He replaced his emergency weapons in their hidey holes and crawled back into bed, mumbling under his breath. “Like living with a teacup poodle with anxiety.”

He settled onto his side, shoving his ass back at Steve in a not-so-subtle demand that he be snuggled, and Steve lined up behind him and wrapped his strong arm over Bucky’s waist, pulling their warm skin flush. Bucky sighed and settled into the warmth, eyes fluttering closed. “What were you supposed to ask me?” he managed to ask even as sleep was creeping over him.

Steve kissed the back of his neck. “It’ll keep ’til you’re awake.”

“Mm. Love you, Stevie.”

Steve’s whispered words lulled Bucky into a sweet, heavy sleep. “Love you, too, Buck.”

==

“What the fuck is the deal with this bullshit, Barnes?” Tony demanded as he stalked into the kitchen and waved a tablet Bucky’s way.

Bucky squinted at it, swallowing his mouthful of eggs before answering. “Didn’t you literally design that? Why don’t you know how to work it?”

Tony glanced at the tablet in confusion, scowling when he looked back at Bucky and stomped over to the table in an offended huff. “I know how to work it! I mean, what’s the deal with your equipment request? You need an entire new tac suit except for the boots and mask? What the fuck happened to the old one?”

“Okay, see,” Bucky said as he put his fork on his plate and turned to look up at Tony earnestly. “You remember Rumlow’s Crossbones X of mysterious purpose and origins?” he asked Tony, sketching a giant cross over his own chest.

“Yeah?” Tony answered with a bewildered shrug.

“So, imagine that happening to my tac suit, except Captain America was straddling my chest and providing the raw materials,” Bucky explained, drawing the invisible X again and then circling his finger around his whole chest and neck and lower face type areas to illustrate his point.

Tony stared at him, lips parted, and then his eyes drifted upward like he was picturing the scene Bucky had described. He nodded and set the tablet down near Bucky’s hand. “Make a list of any changes or additions you want on the new suit,” he said, then turned on his heel and stalked away. “I’m gonna go work on my brain-bleaching technology now!”

The elevator on the far side of the room dinged and the doors slid open. Steve stepped out in a pair of faded jeans and one of Bucky’s T-shirts. Actually, Bucky was 90% sure those were his jeans, too.

“Thank you, Tony!” Bucky called after Tony’s retreating back.

Tony scoffed. “You can thank me by never making me visualize Captain America jizzing on your face ever again.”

Steve practically screeched to a halt on the marble tile on the other side of the room, pulled a textbook perfect about-face, and stepped right back onto the elevator. Bucky waved hello and goodbye to him. The doors closed on Steve pointing an accusatory finger Bucky’s way.

Bucky laughed heartily, rubbing his tired eyes. “I mean, it wasn’t like he was aiming for my face.”

Sam and Clint offered tandem groans on the other side of the table.

Thor sat two seats away from Bucky with a thoughtful frown, pushing eggs across his plate. He finally looked up at Bucky with a solemn nod. “The mouth is a target that can be elusive when in the throes of passion.”

Sam and Clint’s tandem act continued as they both choked on their coffees, sputtering and coughing and whimpering at hot liquid up their noses.

Bucky raised his orange juice to Thor in a toast. “Here’s to practice!”

Thor grinned and clinked his glass to Bucky’s. “Indeed, my friend!”

==

When Steve finally found Bucky later that morning, he was out on one of the wide balconies off the common area floor, pacing back and forth with his phone held to his ear. He was gesticulating with his metal hand, the sunlight flashing and gleaming off it as it moved.

Steve watched it raptly for a few seconds, mesmerized by how beautiful the arm was.

The sliding door was silent when Steve shoved it open.

“Wade,” Bucky was saying through gritted teeth. “You can’t insist that we’re friends if you’re calling to tell me that you just took a ten-million dollar payment to put a bullet in my head. That is not how friends work!”

Bucky froze for a few seconds and then shouted. “No, it’s not! Friends don’t give friends forewarning! Friends don’t fucking try to kill each other in the first place!”

Steve hesitated in the doorway, but Bucky turned in his pacing and caught sight of him. He rolled his eyes and waved his hand at the phone, shaking his head at Steve. It was the most classic Brooklyn-accented, ‘this fucking guy’ Steve had ever seen without the words actually being said.

“Well what kind of proof did they tell you they wanted?” Bucky asked after another few moments of silence. He listened long enough to scowl, then added, “Huh.”

He met Steve’s eyes and pointed at the phone. He may have just learned something important, if the calculating look in his eyes was anything to go by. Steve nodded to show he understood.

Bucky tore his eyes away from Steve and pulled the phone away to gape at the screen, then he put it back to his ear and bellowed, “No, I’m not gonna meet you for brunch. You’re actively trying to kill me, numbnuts! Go fuck a light socket, Wade! Call me when you’re back on a good guy chapter!”

He jabbed the phone with a grunt, looking like he very much wanted to toss the thing over the edge of the balcony. Seeing as how they were seventy floors up, it would probably kill someone if he did that.

Steve wasn’t sure that was the reason Bucky decided against it, in the end.

Steve moved closer, frowning in concern. “What’s a good guy chapter?”

Bucky shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know, he keeps talking about story structure and character motivations, the man is insane.”

“I take it he’s back on the clock?”

“He says they upped their payment. He thought I’d like to know,” Bucky explained with a level of sarcasm Steve hadn’t known a single human being could achieve. “But he has to bring them the arm plus a flesh piece of me as proof of completion.”

“Which piece?” Steve asked dubiously.

“Dealer’s choice.”

Steve’s nose twitched as he tried not to smile.

“Wade has his eye on a particular appendage,” Bucky added sardonically, affirming Steve’s suspicions. “I looked through some files, did you know Wade’s signature weapon is a fucking katana? Who the fuck?”

“That’s gonna be rough for the piece he’s after, any way you slice it.”

Bucky grunted, thoroughly offended as Steve finally barked a laugh.

“Oh, by the way. Do you know why everyone keeps telling me congratulations this morning?” Bucky asked with a bewildered flap of both hands toward the common room, where half the team sat blatantly trying to read their lips through the window.

Steve could feel the heat rising to his face, so he ducked his head and turned to peer back at the windows, narrowing his eyes as the Avengers scattered like night crabs on a beach caught in the beam of a flashlight.

“It’s like they’re all shocked I managed to get out of bed and dress myself or something,” Bucky was muttering. “I do that every day, you know!” he shouted at their retreating teammates. Then added under his breath, “Mostly.”

“Did you watch the tape of the press conference from last night?” Steve asked carefully.

“No, I try to avoid watching myself be mean at people, it makes it feel like I might wake up my conscience, and it’s had a nice twenty year nap so far.”

Steve nodded, then offered Bucky a bright smile. “No idea what they’re talking about.”

Bucky narrowed his eyes. Steve knew he wasn’t stupid, but he also hoped Bucky had enough on his plate to just let it slide until Steve could find a good time to get down on one knee and just ask him. And Steve did still plan to ask him. Just maybe not in the same breath as they discussed Bucky’s imminent demise and stuff.

“Sounds like you were right, though,” Steve said after a beat. “They’re after the arm.”

“I guess it’s more valuable than my head,” Bucky muttered with a restless shrug as he began to pace again.

Steve couldn’t help but cast a careful eye over the nearest rooftops, even though they were much higher in the Tower than anything that surrounded them.

“Don’t worry, I sniper-proofed this balcony before I came out here,” Bucky told him without looking back at him.

“You know,” Steve said slowly. “We could just top their bid and bring Wade in. Give him a finder’s fee for whatever information he has.”

Bucky turned to face him, frowning in confusion. “Did the Army pay you a fuck of a lot more than they did me?”

Steve grinned and shook his head. “Probably. I mean, you got kicked out of it, after all. I got buried with the Medal of Honor.”

Bucky narrowed his eyes. “Too soon, Steve.”

Steve had to fight to keep from smiling wider. The glint in Bucky’s eyes was far from a dangerous one. “No,” Steve continued. “All we have to do is tell Tony it’ll cost him ten million and change, and he can tell the world he once put out a hit on the Winter Soldier for shits and giggles.”

Bucky stared at him, the human equivalent of a loading signal on a stalled video game for about twenty-five seconds before he huffed and started loading again. “Fuck it. It’s worth a try.”

Chapter Text

Tony flicked on the security feed from the lobby, waving a hand at it as he turned to Steve and Bucky, giving them a harried, confused shrug, like a father who’d just walked in on some shenanigans and Steve and Bucky were the kids inexplicably covered in dripping Yoohoo and feathers from the couch cushions.

“The Winter Soldier,” the man in the lobby was telling security. “He said to meet him here.”

“I did not,” Bucky snarled at the security feed.

“We’re BFFs!”

“We are not!” Bucky shouted, pointing an accusatory finger at the tiny little Deadpool on the screen.

Security was more concerned with the katanas the man in the red suit was waving around like they were particularly illustrative props than the words he was saying. One of the men drew his weapon as they yelled at him.

Bucky darted forward and hit a button. “Don’t shoot him!” he yelled into the comms channel the Tower’s security guards were tuned to. “If you shoot him it’ll just piss him off and get brains everywhere, stand down!”

Steve glanced at Tony and they both gave bewildered shrugs as Bucky darted toward the elevators.

“Buck, what?” Steve called after him.

“Barnes, he is literally here to kill you!” Tony added. “You’re not even wearing shoes!”

The elevator doors closed on Bucky looking back at them, holding his hands out helplessly.

“He’s not even wearing shoes,” Tony said again to Steve, like Steve might not have heard or noticed.

“Get me down there,” Steve barked at Tony.

Pieces of the Iron Man suit were already flying into the room, the doors to the landing pad sliding open. Steve grabbed his shield up and Tony slid one of his armored hands through the shield’s harness, holding onto Steve as they dove over the edge of the building and dropped seventy floors to street level.

That was not as exhilarating as Steve had been led to believe.

When they made it back into the building, they both set the Tower’s alarms off all over again. Steve rolled his eyes, so much for coming in quiet.

Bucky had already made it to the lobby, and he was pulling the security guards away from the half-circle they’d made around Deadpool, instructing them to clear the area. Most everyone who’d been in the lobby when Deadpool had sauntered in had already run out. People who visited and worked at Avengers Tower knew about tactical retreats.

Deadpool stood in a red suit that covered him head to toe, katanas in his hands. His head was cocked at Bucky as Bucky cleared people out.

“I got your message,” Deadpool said to Bucky as Steve and Tony came up behind him and separated in order to flank him.

Bucky put his hand out toward Steve, his eyes darting between him and Deadpool. Steve and Tony both froze.

“And?” Bucky asked carefully.

The red suit shrugged, the katanas swinging carelessly. “I got five minutes to spare for a friend.”

“You have two katanas?” Bucky asked angrily. “I thought it was just one! I can handle just one! What the fuck am I supposed to do with two?”

“Double penetration or bust, buddy,” Deadpool replied with a point of one katana at Bucky’s face.

Bucky took way too long with that intrigued, calculating expression on his face, in Steve’s opinion.

“Ehhhh?” Deadpool crooned with a nod and a point of both katanas at Bucky’s face. “There’s a man who knows what I’m talking about!”

“I was an adventurous twink in my teens, okay,” Bucky growled. “Stop waving those things at me unless you’re gonna use one.”

Tony groaned from the Iron Man suit. “That’s a picture I’m never going to be able to wipe out.”

“Same,” Steve grunted distractedly.

Deadpool sheathed one of the katanas. “Four minutes, friend. Where are your shoes?”

“Do I have four minutes, or are we talking about my missing boots?”

“I mean, I always pictured you in tac gear when we had our moment.”

Bucky narrowed his eyes. “You’re talking about sex, aren’t you?”

“Why, what are you talking about?”

“Steve, you stay back,” Bucky warned, pointing at Steve just as he was about to reach for the shield. Deadpool turned to peer at him and Tony, eyebrows obviously climbing. How did . . . how did his mask move?

Steve tore his eyes away from Deadpool and looked at Bucky incredulously. Well, there went their element of surprise.

Bucky shook his head, glaring at Steve pointedly.

Deadpool looked from Steve and Tony back to Bucky. “They think they can kill me, huh?”

Bucky shrugged helplessly. “Haven’t had the chance to read them in.” He sounded both calm and exasperated. Steve kind of wondered if Bucky just knew how to handle this guy, or if he was reacting the way Bucky would react normally to anyone in a Mexican Standoff. He kind of hoped it was the former, because the latter meant his boyfriend wasn’t just on the bus to crazy-town, he was driving it and Steve just hadn’t fully noticed before.

Deadpool raised the katana, the eyes on his suit squinting – how?? – and then he looked at the hand Bucky raised. “You think this’ll cut through that hand?”

“Considering that is my human hand, yes, I think it can.”

“Oh. Dude. What about the metal one?”

“I would rather that stayed a philosophical conundrum, Wade,” Bucky answered.

“Conundrum’s a fun word,” Deadpool said as he twirled the katana. “That’s what I like about you, Barnes. The conundrums.”

“Uh huh.”

One of Tony’s repulsors whined and Deadpool glanced back at them again. They had him surrounded but he did not look at all concerned about it. Bucky still had both hands up, trying to keep Steve and Tony from moving.

“Oh, wow, Captain America. Hi!” Deadpool said with a wave of his deadly blade. “I am a huge fan of your ass!”

Behind him, Bucky winced but didn’t move, staying in his raptor training position.

“Can I try to bounce a quarter off that thing when we’re done here?” Deadpool asked.

Steve stared at him. “No.”

“Aw. You were right, Barnes, your boy toy’s no fun.”

Over Deadpool’s shoulder, Bucky met Steve’s eyes and pursed his lips, shaking his head with a frown to deny ever having said that. Steve narrowed his eyes.

“You the one bankrolling this thing, Big Red?” Deadpool said to Tony.

“I was told ten million and change would buy me a hit on the Winter Soldier,” Tony answered. “And he’s kind of asshole. Gets more fan mail than me.”

“The worst, right?” Deadpool said with a nod. He turned to look back at Bucky, the katana sang when he spun it again. Then he sheathed it as well and squared off against Bucky. “I’m not going to take your money.”

Steve watched Bucky’s shoulders tighten, watched his face go blank as he prepared for a fight he seemed to think he wouldn’t win. He hadn’t even come down here with shoes on, much less armed. He was in his goddamn jeans and an undershirt, for Christ sake, that was how much faith Bucky had put in Wade Wilson being a good man.

Steve didn’t get a chance to move. An arrow whistled through the air and hit Deadpool center mass.

Bucky shouted what sounded like, “No!” as Deadpool looked down at the arrow and cursed.

Deadpool pulled two guns out of their holsters even as he hit his knees. Bucky darted toward him instead of for cover, skidding to a stop close enough to Deadpool to get in the way of any other possible shots any of the Avengers could have taken.

“Hold your goddamn fire!” Bucky cried.

Deadpool stuck both gun barrels in Bucky’s belly. Steve took a step, halting when Bucky went to his knees and put a hand on Deadpool’s shoulder. The guns were still jammed into the hard muscle of Bucky’s stomach, but he didn’t seem to care.

“If you knew that was going to happen, a heads up would have been nice,” Deadpool was saying to Bucky. “This was a new suit.”

“I didn’t,” Bucky assured him.

“Man can’t even hold a dramatic beat around here without risking an internal organ. I paused for breath, asshole!”

“You shouldn’t be dramatic around superheroes, dude,” Bucky told him as he broke the end off the arrow with his metal fingers. “Do I just . . . pull it through?”

Deadpool stared at him, the mask somehow looking exasperated. “Well I can’t walk around with it in there, Barnes, Jesus.”

“Right,” Bucky muttered. He stood again, positioning himself behind Deadpool and putting his hand on the man’s back to hold him steady. Then he yanked the arrow out with a horrible squelching sound and tossed it to the pristine marble floor. The arrow took bits of flesh and possibly lungs with it.

Steve could hear Tony making distressed sounds in his armor. He reached out to him and knocked on the face mask. “If you’re going to throw up, I’d take this off first.”

Iron Man shook his head. “I’m good.”

“I’m not,” Steve answered, and he turned his head away and squeezed his eyes shut to make sure he wasn’t going to dry-heave into a potted plant in the middle of a potential fight.

Bucky was back on his knees in front of Deadpool, a hand on the man’s shoulder, the other hand on the top of his head. “Doing okay?”

“Tickles a little,” Deadpool muttered. “Can I tell everyone I got jerked off by the Winter Soldier now?”

“You did just make the same sound Steve does, so sure,” Bucky said with a serious nod. He gently took the guns from Deadpool’s hands and put them back in his holsters.

“Best day ever.” Deadpool lowered his head and took a deep breath. It made blood bubble down his back.

Steve cleared his throat and shook his head, shivering. He took a step closer to the potted plant on his right. Just in case.

“How long does this usually take?” Bucky asked.

“Why, you got somewhere to be? Shit, give a man a minute to regenerate some things.”

“Sorry,” Bucky offered, looking genuinely chastised. “You need, like, a Gatorade or something?”

“You just want to see Gatorade spill out of the hole,” Deadpool said, sounding kind of hurt.

A smile flitted over Bucky’s lips. “Will it?”

“I honestly don’t know.”

Both men were silent for a few beats.

Then Deadpool sighed angrily. “Damn you, now I’m curious. Can we get a Gatorade over here!” he shouted, his words echoing in the deserted lobby.

“Wade. Did you come here to kill me?” Bucky asked solemnly.

Deadpool raised a hand and beckoned Bucky closer with two fingers. Bucky narrowed his eyes, then rolled them and seemed to decide he was going to put up with whatever Deadpool was going to do to him, and leaned closer.

Steve was shocked when the man didn’t do anything untoward, like try to plant one on Bucky or give him a wet willy or whatever bullshit this guy usually pulled. He just put his hand on Bucky’s cheek to keep him close and whispered into his ear for a long time.

Bucky’s face went through a series of emotions as he listened. The one it settled on was one Steve wasn’t sure he’d seen on his boyfriend when Bucky didn’t have his mask on; determined and dangerous and downright pissed. For the first time since Steve had encountered him on a street riddled with alien bullets, Steve was seeing him through new eyes; and Bucky Barnes looked like a man Steve might have been afraid to tangle with in another life.

The others just stood around and watched, just as lost as Steve was, as Deadpool and Bucky knelt in the middle of the now deserted lobby in a pool of blood, Deadpool whispering into Bucky’s ear.

Finally, Deadpool was done and Bucky sat back on his bare feet, shoulders slumped, head bowed. He finally took a deep breath and raised his head to look into the eyes of the mask again. “Okay,” he said. He didn’t remove his hands from Deadpool’s shoulder and head.

“No one’s ever sat with me before,” Deadpool finally said softly.

Bucky scowled at him. “Aren’t you usually killing everyone around you when this happens to you?”

“Well. I mean, yeah.”

Bucky shrugged as if to say, well then.

“Still.”

Bucky just patted Deadpool on the head and nodded.

“I don’t want their money,” Deadpool told Bucky after a while. “I took the job so no one else would. It won’t save you, I can only stall so long before they farm it out to someone else. But it will give you time. You were right, friends don’t try to kill their friends. And you’re my friend, Barnes.”

He held his hand up, pinky out. Bucky wrapped his metal pinky around it and Deadpool nodded.

“Thank you, Wade,” Bucky whispered, patting Deadpool on the side of the face before he rested his hand back on top of his head.

Deadpool was silent for a moment, his head lowered. Then he said, “I brought you as much as I could on them. I don’t have faces. But I took a recording.”

“Yeah?” Bucky asked, looking hopeful once more. “You got it on you?”

“Yes.”

Bucky waited a beat, then raised both eyebrows. “Can I have it?”

“You’ll have to get it. I can’t reach it.”

A long-suffering frown swept over Bucky’s face, and when he spoke, it was the voice of a man who already knew the answer to his question and hated himself for asking. “Where is it?”

“In my pants.”

Bucky looked down and pursed his lips, nodding. “Of course it is.”

“Only place I could put it.”

“You have three thousand hidden pockets on your suit, Wade.”

“All full of ammo! Geez, what do I look like, an amateur? You’ll have to get it. My arms aren’t working.”

“Your arms were working just fine when you pulled those guns,” Bucky argued, obviously fighting a smile.

Deadpool shrugged, noticeably holding both hands out as he did so. “Spinal injuries. I don’t know what to tell you, dude.”

Bucky shot Steve an apologetic glance, then went ahead and stuck his metal hand down Deadpool’s pants, glaring at Deadpool the whole time with an expression that would have made even Steve piss himself if that metal arm had been anywhere near his dick at the time.

“Hng,” Wade said happily.

Steve had yet to figure out just how that sound was made, but at least now he knew he and Bucky weren’t the only people in the world who made it. Steve also wondered if blowing Deadpool’s brains out would hurt the man enough to be worth the cleanup.

“I hope you consider this a down payment for services rendered,” Bucky said through gritted teeth just before he pulled out a flash drive and snapped Deadpool’s suit pants hard enough to make the man squeak.

“Buddy I’ll render any services you want if that’s the down payment,” Deadpool answered dreamily. “Was it good for you too?”

“Just like I’d always dreamed.” Bucky put his hand on Deadpool’s face and shoved him over into the pool of his own blood.

==

“So,” Steve said in the elevator back up to the residences. “Deadpool, what . . . regenerates?”

“Yeah, he can’t be killed,” Bucky answered. “Sorry, should have mentioned that before someone wasted an arrow.”

Clint just shrugged, completely unapologetic.

Bucky handed Tony the flash drive he’d basically had to earn with sexual favors, and Tony took it with two fingers of his armor.

“I’d . . . use a Clorox wipe on that,” Bucky muttered, wiping his hand on his jeans.

“Want one for your hand?” Tony asked.

Bucky sneered at him, but then he merely nodded as the elevator doors slid open.

As Bucky was searching through the cleaning products in the pantry, Tony got out of the Iron Man suit and went to put the flash drive in the nearest port, still holding it with his gauntlet on.

Steve waffled over which way to go, but he just couldn’t help himself. He leaned against the pantry door and crossed his arms. “So,” he started.

Bucky stopped rummaging and turned on his knee so he could give Steve a full-bodied glare that was still pretty effective even from the ground. “Are you fucking kidding me right now, Steve?”

Steve just shrugged. “You and Wade have been in more contact than I thought.”

“Have you ever had hostage training, Steve?” Bucky asked as he went back to riffling through the cleaning products. “You try to connect with your captor, make them see you as human.”

“Sure.”

“Same theory.”

Steve nodded agreeably. “Sure.”

“Ha!” Bucky cried, pulling out a plastic tube full of Clorox wipes. He yanked a wipe out viciously and started cleaning the medal hand with it.

“I honestly thought you were joking about those,” Steve admitted, laughter making his voice tremble.

Bucky growled wordlessly as he shoved Steve out of the doorway and stalked past him. “I have a feeling I’m going to be doing a lot of facepalming today, I need to be prepared.”

Steve followed in his wake, shaking his head. “What did he whisper to you?”

“I’ll tell you after we listen to this tape. I might be able to save my breath.”

Steve didn’t like it, but he shrugged in acceptance anyway. They took the party to the boardroom, and Tony started up the recording for them.

“Why in the hell would you want to take him alive?” a voice blasted through the room. Tony scrambled to turn the volume down.

“Because I started something with that man I intend to finish, General.”

Bucky jerked so hard at the sound of that voice that he rattled the table. Steve didn’t hear him make a sound, but he saw Bucky’s lips move around a horrified, ‘Oh, God.’

“You promised you would deliver him to me.”

“You’re the one who lost him, Lukin,” another voice hissed viciously. This time it was Bruce who gasped and jerked.

“And you found him! You had him! You could have ordered him to go when and where you wanted and I would have finished the project eight years ago! He would have followed orders right back to me because that’s what soldiers do.”

“I am well aware of what a soldier is supposed to do.”

“Then you’re also aware, General, that you’re the reason we lost him! I was one week away from having him. One. Week. I maneuvered his team to deploy right back to me! One week away from making that man into a weapon that could change the world, and you discharged him!”

“How was I supposed to –”

“The same soldier who escaped from my lab eight years ago performs the feats those news videos showed from New York, and it didn’t even cross your mind that he might be the soldier I’ve been searching for?”

“What’s done is done. Casting blame won’t get Barnes back any faster.”

“You’re right. But killing him is unacceptable. I can still use him, I can still make him what I intended. Hydra was close to being able to use the Chair, and I believe I’ve perfected it. But we have to get him alive. If your hired gun kills him, we’ll have to start all over again.”

“Barnes is the first test subject since Steve Rogers who was successful. There is no starting over.”

“All the more reason to take him alive, General.”

“Hm. If what you say is true, the Avengers will find him that much harder to stop now that he’s insinuated himself into their team. Your soldier will wipe them out before one of those bleeding hearts can stop him.”

“Indeed. And we’ve killed two birds with one stone.”

There was a long, tense pause in the recording. “Fine. We’re agreed. Get that mouthy merc back in here. I’ll give him the new parameters.”

They sat around the table, every single one of them leaning closer to the speakers like that would make the recording give them more information. It finally clicked and turned off.

Bucky sat back with a shaky sigh. “Wade said when they called him back in, there was a new party involved, someone backing the added cash. They offered him five for killing me, but ten for taking me alive. ‘Something they can work with,’ was what he said they told him, he wasn’t supposed to incapacitate me beyond my ability to heal it.”

“Did you recognize either of those voices?” Steve asked.

Bucky swallowed hard, struggling to keep his composure. He nodded. “The man called Lukin. I never knew his name. But oh,” Bucky closed his eyes and gritted his teeth, snarling as he said, “I’ll never forget his voice.”

“He’s the one who . . . gave you the serum?” Steve asked carefully.

Bucky merely nodded, eyes still closed, brow furrowed.

“The other man is General Thaddeus Ross,” Bruce muttered.

“He was in charge of my hearing,” Bucky added. He winced and lowered his head. “I’m sorry, Bruce. I know you’ve . . . dealt with him.”

“That’s one way to put it.”

“This explains why they tried to confiscate you last year,” Tony mused.

Steve was scowling, and he was watching Bucky’s face carefully. He saw it the moment everything hit Bucky, and the man seemed to crumple right before his very eyes. “Buck,” Steve whispered.

“The men who had me were Hydra,” Bucky said shakily. “I never even knew.”

“Barnes,” Sam said gently, a hint of warning in his tone.

“Are they right, Stark?” Bucky asked as he held his face in both hands. “Does Hydra have tech that could do what they’re wanting? Turn me against you all?”

“Short answer?” Tony hesitantly. “Mm. Maybe?”

“That’s the third time I’ve heard people talk about a chair that you could hear the capitalization,” Steve grumbled. “Damn, I wish we’d asked Cap more about it.”

“We could always go to NYU and see if Wanda will talk,” Clint offered.

“Leave that poor girl alone,” Bucky mumbled.

“Barnes, man,” Sam warned again in a hard voice. “No one can turn you against people you care about. I know. They tried that when you were captured, and you were halfway through tearing that place a second asshole when we dropped in. They thought they had you then, but all you did was protect your guys. And they think they can get to you now, but you ain’t any different than you were. Don’t borrow trouble now worrying about it.”

Bucky raised his head, closing his eyes as he took a deep breath. He blew it out slowly, his shoulders loosening. “Okay,” he whispered to himself. “So, they want me alive. That’s good. Gives me a fighting chance.”

“Us,” Steve barked.

Bucky opened his eyes and looked at him.

“It gives us a chance.”

Bucky jutted his chin out and gave Steve a determined nod. Steve wanted to drag him across the table and make everyone else in the room regret having eyeballs.

“So. General Ross’s people are one faction we have to deal with,” Tony said as he tapped a pen against the table. “And Hydra is another. Not to mention the AIM technology mixed up in this. What the fuck?”

“Could Ross be Hydra?” Clint asked after a few seconds.

“No, there’s no way he could have hidden his tracks well enough to escape the leak,” Bruce answered. “He’s just a douchebag.”

“We could release the tape?” Natasha suggested.

“There’s no way to prove it’s Ross. And then we’d still have nothing on this Lukin character,” Steve countered. “If we get desperate, we’ll release it.”

“I feel a little on the desperate side, Steve,” Bucky admitted.

“I know. But we have options.”

“I think the real question we need to be asking is, why would General Ross want the Avengers out of the way?” Bruce offered. “Why discredit us? Why plan to turn Bucky and send him to kill us?”

“Like you said,” Tony finally said, frowning at the table. “He wants us out of the way. Meaning we’re in his way. Of what, though?”

“He’s always obsessed over the serum,” Bruce mused. “He’s a warmonger. Peace doesn’t do anything for him. He wants a war. Any war.”

“Sounds a lot like Hydra,” Steve pointed out.

Bruce shrugged, nodding.

“Well, we cut off one head,” Bucky grumbled. “Looks like more than one grew in its fucking place, just like they told us it would.”

“I think we overlooked something about the day Barnes was taken,” Natasha said suddenly. That got all their attention. “All three different parties involved that day were essentially after the same thing.”

“Yeah. My sweet ass,” Bucky grunted.

Steve shrugged like he’d be in on that raid.

“Yes. But they were also after something else,” Natasha pointed out. “They all wanted to make sure the public thought the Avengers weren’t enough.”

Steve turned his chair toward her to cock his head at her, pursing his lips. “The mass broadcast of their taunting. If Captain America’s superhero boyfriend can be snatched off the street, so can anyone.”

“Steve, please never say ‘snatch’ again,” Sam requested seriously.

“And Rumlow even said it; if they could make the Winter Soldier kneel, they could bring America to its knees.”

“Look!” Bucky growled, slapping his palm on the table. “No one has ever complained so much about me being on my knees before, I’m starting to develop a complex!”

“Then maybe stay off your knees in front of bad guys!” Steve growled back at him.

Bucky narrowed his eyes and pointed at Steve in warning.

Natasha was nodding like neither of them had spoken. “And Deadpool took a shot at him under orders from these clowns, who are obviously planning on sending the end result of whatever they do to Barnes right back home to us.”

Steve leaned his head into the back of his chair, rocking a little as he thought it through. “Huh.”

“Hate to point this out, Cap,” Bucky drawled. “But when all your fearless leader’s got is ‘huh,’ it don’t inspire a lot of confidence.”

Steve narrowed his eyes at Bucky. “Huh.”

Bucky fought hard not to smile. He failed.

“Okay,” Steve said slowly, still calculating in his head. “What we know about these plans is that they centered around hitting me where it hurt the most.”

“Barnes,” Tony provided.

Steve nodded, casting an apologetic glance at Bucky. “So, what if we take my biggest weakness out of the equation?”

“You want to kill me now, too?” Bucky asked drily.

Steve didn’t smile at that. He just gazed at Bucky sadly and sighed.

“Wait, seriously?” Bucky blurted. “Jesus, you could just break up with me again, you don’t have to go full monty on it!”

“Wait, again?” at least three other Avengers echoed.

Steve rolled his eyes and rubbed a hand over his face. “When they thought Bucky was cheating on me, they called off the hit, if only briefly. I know it won’t stop this Lukin asshole. But it might take some of the heat off from elsewhere, give us only one front to fight on.”

Bucky was still frowning at Steve, only now he looked a little hurt under the confusion.

“So, you either need to dump him or kill him,” Tony surmised, waving his pencil between Steve and Bucky.

“Steve,” Bucky said, and Steve knew the tone of voice when Bucky was about to win an argument by playing the kicked puppy.

“Buck,” Steve said urgently, before Bucky could argue. “You told me the only person you care about knowing is me.”

Bucky’s expression grew even more terrible for Steve to look at, because it looked a lot like Bucky’s heart was breaking.

“We could fake his death,” Sam suggested carefully. “Next fight we get into, just release an announcement that he died from his injuries and keep him under wraps.”

“And if there is no fight?” Steve asked. “If they strike before one comes up? I won’t let that happen. If they believe Bucky’s no longer important to me, they’ll have to paint their target somewhere else.”

“Rogers, I don’t think . . .” Natasha winced without finishing her argument.

“They’ll still paint a target, though,” Sam argued.

Steve steeled himself and met Bucky’s eyes across the table. Before he could speak, though, Bucky pushed his chair back and stood, staring at Steve with a mixture of pain and anger.

“You do what you need to do, Rogers,” Bucky said without inflection. “I made my choice when we stepped in front of those cameras. And I told you why I made it. So you take that, Steve, and you do what you’re going to do. I won’t be a part of it.”

He walked out of the boardroom to a silence so heavy Steve could feel it settling on his chest.

==

Steve procrastinated for as long as he possibly could before he started outright hating himself. He made his way to the apartment he shared with Bucky and practically tip-toed in. He knew Bucky was hurt and angry, and while Steve absolutely did not want to face that kicked puppy during an argument, he was even more terrified that Bucky wouldn’t be here at all.

“Buck?” he called out from the foyer.

“What’s the verdict?” Bucky answered, voice low and rough.

Steve followed the sound and found him on the couch, lounging with his feet on the table. He didn’t move, just stared at the windows blankly. “Bucky,” Steve whispered pleadingly.

“Just give me my marching orders, Steve. I don’t feel like hearing you explain the reasoning.”

Steve ducked his head, sighing. “There is nothing I won’t do to keep you safe, Buck. You know that.”

“Yeah?” Bucky asked almost lazily. “Well, there are some things I’m willing to die for, Steve. And my right to say, ‘I love you’ out loud is one of them. I thought we were on the same page on that one.”

“We are,” Steve croaked out.

“Obviously reading different editions, then, ’cause you ain’t looking at the same words I am.”

Steve chewed on his lip, nodding. “Buck –”

“If you want to make the world think you dumped me, you’re gonna have to do it for real again,” Bucky stated calmly. “’Cause I promised myself I’d never play that game again, even if I got kicked into the street at sixteen.”

“That’s not what this is,” Steve protested heatedly.

Bucky didn’t react other than to shake his head almost slowly enough to hide the action altogether. “Yes, it is.”

Steve opened his mouth to argue, then snapped it shut again, blinking at Bucky stupidly. He’d never seen Bucky this sedate, this . . . Steve realized, staring at him in the same spot they’d been in just nights ago when Bucky had been despairing after their press conference, that Bucky hadn’t been broken like Steve had thought that night.

This was what Bucky looked like when he broke.

“You’re right,” Steve whispered.

Bucky didn’t even turn his head to look at Steve.

“Buck. You’re right,” Steve said, stronger and more confident. “This isn’t a path we can choose. I’m sorry.”

Bucky reached up and swiped his fingers over his eyes, nodding.

Steve could tell that nothing he said or did just then was going to make a dent, so he simply nodded and said, “I’m sorry. I was wrong. I’m going to . . . I’m gonna take a shower, okay?”

Bucky merely flopped his hand back into his lap. Steve headed for the bathroom, hating himself a little bit for even thinking the idea had merit. He’d lost sight of why they were fighting, too distracted by what they were fighting to see it.

Steve took his time in the shower, thinking about the night of the press conference, how Bucky had claimed he wanted the world to know Steve was the reason his heart beat. Steve fully intended to make Bucky forget he’d ever introduced this idea, and he knew a good way to do it. He hadn’t been able to stop thinking about that slow, easy ride he’d wanted to take that night, and he knew the odds of getting a better opportunity in the coming fight were slim.

So he took even more time after the shower, opening himself up, slicking himself liberally and fighting not to make any noise that would bring Bucky to investigate.

He dried off and then threw his favorite threadbare flannel robe on, not even bothering to secure the tie around his waist.

Bucky was still lounging on the couch in nothing but sleep pants, arms crossed over his chest, ankles crossed on the table as he stretched those long legs out. He had a set of headphones on his head, and he was listening with his eyes closed. Steve idly wondered if he had planned on sleeping out here tonight.

Steve didn’t give him any warning. He stepped over Bucky’s legs and then set one knee on the couch beside Bucky’s thigh.

Bucky startled, shoving his headphones off his ears and giving Steve an owlish blink. “Steve,” he greeted warily.

Steve answered by tugging Bucky’s sweatpants down his hips and working them out from under Bucky so he could toss them aside.

“What’s it?” Bucky asked in confusion.

Steve climbed up his legs to straddle Bucky’s thighs, then settled himself snugly in Bucky’s lap.

“You were right. I’m sorry,” Steve said solemnly. “Making the world believe I don’t love you anymore is . . . it’s too high a price for something that we don’t even know would work. And I’m not willing to pay it. I love you. And the world’s going to know it, whether it likes it or not.”

Bucky still had that little furrow between his eyes, the wounded puppy that Steve had been trying not to kick all day. He pressed his thumb to it and rubbed up Bucky’s forehead, trying to smooth it out.

“I love you,” he said gently.

“I love you too, Steve.”

“You forgive me?”

Bucky gave Steve lingering appraisal down and back up, and when he met Steve’s eyes again his tongue darted across his lower lip. Steve was forced to lean in and chase after it.

Neither of them said another word. They shared slow, lazy kisses and their hands drifted all over each other, languid and familiar and right. When Bucky’s hand drifted under Steve’s robe, aiming for his ass, Steve grabbed his wrist to halt him. Bucky blinked up at him, brow furrowing in confusion.

At least it wasn’t hurt, this time. Steve could deal with the confused puppy frown.

“What are you doing?” Bucky asked.

“What I want you to do,” Steve answered in his best seductive whisper against Bucky’s ear. “Is stuff my ass so full I’ll think I’m a Thanksgiving turkey by the time we’re done.

“What the . . .” Bucky grunted as his voice wavered on a laugh. He opened his mouth to respond, eyebrows tilting in even more confusion. He looked like he wasn’t sure whether to be turned on or to laugh harder.

Steve grinned and shimmied around, then he sank down on Bucky’s hard cock and bottomed out with a languid, filthy moan.

Bucky grabbed him hard by his biceps, panting out. “Jesus, Steve!” He sounded almost panicked until he got a good look at Steve’s blissful expression and seemed to realize that he’d slid all the way to the hilt without so much as a protest from Steve’s ass.

“I’m good,” Steve soothed, kissing Bucky gently and starting to move his hips.

“God, did you open yourself up in the shower?” Bucky groaned hazily.

Steve nodded as his forehead brushed against Bucky’s. “Haven’t been able to stop thinking about doing this for days. Seemed like as good a time as any.”

Bucky growled and helped Steve move into a position he’d be comfortable maintaining for however long this was going to take. And that was how they ended up over an hour later, with Bucky still lounging into the back of the couch and Steve sitting in his lap with his flannel robe covering them both, undulating his entire muscular body as he rode Bucky’s cock so slow that he could have kept it up all night.

Bucky was slumped so far down into the soft cushions that he may as well have been lying down. He had both feet firmly planted on the floor, keeping him from sliding further, and more importantly, keeping his lap nice and stable.

Steve’s long legs were wrapped around Bucky’s waist and his feet were stuffed under the back cushions. He had his hands on Bucky’s shoulders, spine straight, head tilted toward the heavens as he rolled his hips.

Bucky was alternately watching Steve move from under lowered lashes, and parting his lips on a breathy sigh as he closed his eyes and gripped Steve’s hips to slow him down when Steve got carried away.

Steve rarely hurried his rhythm, savoring every slow slide of Bucky’s cock, every tense muscle under his searching palms, every pass of Bucky’s talented lips and tongue.

By around the hour mark, the heat searing through Steve’s blood was becoming too much. He whimpered and picked up the pace.

Bucky dug his thumbs into Steve’s hips. “Oh, no you don’t, sunshine,” he growled. “Mm, you keep going just as you were.”

“Buck,” Steve huffed. His eyes fluttered closed as Bucky’s slick cock moved inside him, and Steve circled his hips to get at the better spots, the ones that made the good spots feel like a lukewarm hand full of lotion rather than this amazing full-bodied conflagration inside him.

Steve gripped both of Bucky’s shoulders, then leaned his temple against Bucky’s, holding on for dear life even though Bucky hadn’t been doing anything but shifting under him and helping him keep their patient rhythm. He wasn’t thrusting or grabbing or pushing or demanding. He was merely laying back where Steve had found him and allowing Steve to use him, even though he probably didn’t know the full reasons why Steve even wanted this.

“You feel so fucking good, Steve,” Bucky groaned, fingers clutching at Steve’s skin.

Steve was panting when he laid his head on Bucky’s shoulder. “How,” Steve gasped out. “How have you been holding off all this time? Ughm.”

Bucky nosed against Steve’s sweaty temple, a sly smirk pulling at his lips. “Oh, sweetheart,” he answered, voice dropping lower and sounding somehow more intimate and yet sort of sinister all in one pet name. He ran his fingers down the other side of Steve’s face. “Steve,” Bucky whispered, the name said like a prayer. “I’ve come in you twice since you climbed in my lap, sugar.”

Steve grunted as the air punched out of him.

Bucky’s strong hands helped him to sit back up, and Steve rolled his hips, squeezing his eyes shut and picturing it quite vividly. Bucky’s perfect dick deep inside him, shooting off and pulsing against the tight walls of Steve’s body. Continuing to fuck into the mess he’d left behind inside Steve. This was why Steve usually bottomed. Because the idea of having a piece of the man he loved pooled inside him made him tremble with the need for more and more and more.

“Buck,” he whispered reverently.

“Mm, thought you’d like that. And I’m pretty goddamn well on my way to a third,” Bucky admitted, voice strained. “Don’t stop.”

Steve sure as fuck didn’t plan to stop. An alien space whale could have crashed through their living room and tried to shove itself teeth first into the InSinkErator, and Steve would not have stopped this slow, filthy roll of his hips as Bucky’s cock moved inside him.

Bucky reached around Steve and dragged his fingers up his own dick to Steve’s ass, sliding the very tip of one finger into Steve to tease before he pulled away. His hand was covered in slick when he wrapped his fingers around Steve’s cock.

Steve huffed out the last breath of air in his lungs and his eyes rolled back in his head.

“That lube you got yourself ready with has been gone for a while, Stevie,” Bucky was practically cooing to him. “All that slick you feel running out of you? All that slick inside you making it easier for me to get into that tight little ass of yours?” He punctuated that with a sharp jut of his hips and grabbed the back of Steve’s neck with his metal hand. He pulled Steve forward and pressed their foreheads together, both of them breathing in short, difficult puffs. “All that slick in you right now is mine, sweetheart.”

“Buck,” Steve moaned again, speeding the rocking of his hips because he wanted Bucky to come inside him again, he wanted to know it was spurting into him, filling him up, so full that it was running back out with every slide of Bucky’s cock.

Bucky’s hands came to dig into his hip bones again, slowing his roll in the most literal of ways. “Huh uh, babydoll,” Bucky chided. His voice was less measured, more strained. “Don’t you hurry on my account.”

“I love you,” Steve blurted shakily. “God, I love you, Buck.”

Bucky kissed him tenderly, matching the easy rhythm, smooth as molasses on a springtime windowsill. “Love you, Steve,” Bucky whispered breathlessly, then he started up another kiss.

Steve continued to roll and circle his hips, licking and sucking at Bucky’s lips and tongue, his legs and arms wrapped around Bucky’s solid mass.

Bucky let out a satisfied hum, rather like a lion yawning in the sunlight. He had one hand on Steve’s hip, and Steve knew he was always fascinated by the way Steve’s hips would move when he was working their bodies together. His metal hand traced over Steve’s neck, jaw, and collarbone, dragging down Steve’s chest with one cool finger. Then he gripped Steve’s cock, letting Steve fuck into his fist with the movements of his hips.

Steve pressed his forehead to Bucky’s again, and Bucky grinned languidly. “You keep riding until you’re done with me, sunshine. We got nowhere to be. And I can take it.”

Steve reached behind him, his fingers gliding against Bucky’s hard cock, feeling the cum running out of him and getting all over him and Bucky and probably the robe. “Twice, huh?” Steve growled. “And still hard for me.”

“You’re so fucking tight, Stevie,” Bucky moaned in answer. “I’ve got that tight little ass of yours all wet and sloppy and loose, ain’t no way I’m getting knocked out of this one ’til I watch that dick of yours shoot off.”

Steve licked his lips and sighed, picking up his pace and chasing the tightening ball of pleasure in his gut. He could tell Bucky hadn’t been exaggerating about a third time, the look in his eyes was hungry and fierce.

“Come on, Steve,” he murmured.

Steve squeezed every muscle up nice and tense, and Bucky’s body went rigid beneath him. His beautiful lips parted on a puff of air, his eyes fluttering shut as his hands gripped Steve hard enough to break a normal body. He didn’t writhe or try to thrust up into Steve to empty himself, he just arched his back and let Steve ride him through it. Just like he’d done the first two times and Steve hadn’t known it.

“Shit,” Steve breathed reverently as he gazed at the man under him. He was a fucking masterpiece when he came; wild and ferocious and still completely in control of his entire body. “Fuck. Oh God, Buck!”

Bucky gripped the base of Steve’s dick and wrapped his metal arm around Steve’s torso. Steve was so close to the orgasm he’d been chasing since he’d slicked himself up the shower. He didn’t care how it happened now, as long as Bucky’s body was lined up with his when it did.

Bucky laid him out on the sofa, entire body spasming at the squeeze of Steve’s muscles. “Sh,” he soothed, kissing Steve almost sweetly as Steve tried to thrash and buck his hips into Bucky’s fist.

Bucky reached down between them and slid his fingers through the cum sliding out of Steve. He pulled out carefully, replacing his cock with three of his thick metal fingers.

Steve managed to make that odd, “Hng,” sound again that always fascinated him when Bucky made it.

Then Bucky kissed a blazing trail down Steve’s chest and belly. He licked the head of Steve’s cock, fingers squeezing the base so Steve couldn’t come even if he begged. Then Bucky threw himself to the side, taking Steve with him, wedging himself in between the back of the couch and Steve’s body.

He kept up the same slow, easy thrusts with his fingers, then took Steve’s cock in his mouth. Steve got the hint and grabbed desperately for Bucky’s silky soft hair, bunching it up so hard he was probably going to leave this couch with a souvenir.

Bucky gave him one encouraging push with the fingers in his ass, and Steve thrust into Bucky’s mouth with a plaintive cry. When Bucky was certain Steve had gotten the memo, he released his punishing grip on the base of Steve’s dick. Steve fucked his mouth without mercy, one hand tugging at Bucky’s hair, the other grabbing at a raised seam on the couch cushion in front of his hand.

It certainly didn’t take long for Steve to come down Bucky's throat, which was the main reason Steve couldn’t find it in himself to feel guilty for fucking Bucky’s mouth so hard that he wound up almost wedged in the crack of the couch cushions.

They fell asleep curled around each other on the plush, oversized couch. Bucky had wrapped his hand around Steve’s hips and idly smeared his cum all over Steve’s ass and the backs of his thighs, occasionally dipping his finger inside to let more run out. It was obscene and it was debauched and it was so goddamn hot Steve could feel his exhausted cock valiantly trying to pay attention.

Sleep had finally taken Bucky, and he’d fallen asleep with his hand clutching Steve’s ass cheek possessively. Steve couldn’t help but chuckle as he ran his fingers through Bucky’s hair.

He watched the man sleep for long minutes, cataloguing all the ways in which Bucky was the only person he would ever love again. He should buy a ring, do it the right way. He should plan it out so it would be perfect and romantic and . . . but that’s not really what they were, was it? Bucky may well have been a closet romantic, but if Steve tried to go that route, it would only put Bucky on edge. And Steve didn’t want Bucky to be on edge when Steve asked him the most important question of their lives.

Steve reached up and fumbled around over the arm of the sofa until his fingers landed on a StarkPhone sitting on the table. He pulled Sam’s number up and shot him a text message.

Proposing while naked and covered in cum: romantic and spontaneous, or a sign that you’re going to die alone?

Steve watched the little dots as Sam typed. Finally, he got a one-word response. Dude.

Is that your professional opinion?

Man, make like a sheepdog and get the flock outta here.

Steve chuckled and set the phone back on the table. He cuddled down into Bucky’s arms again, sighing happily as Bucky snuffled at Steve’s skin in his sleep.

==

Bucky was gathering his daily necessities before he headed down to the gym, knife, hair tie, knife, knife, .38 Airweight, phone, knife, and Tower ID. He lingered over one more knife but left it behind since he wasn’t actually leaving the Tower.

He thumbed his phone on to check the battery, and scowled when the screen opened to his text messages.

Had he texted Sam last night? He read over the messages, scowling harder. He had texted Sam last night. Jesus, was he sleep-texting now?

He read over the conversation, took a few seconds to be outrageously offended at Sam’s horrible pun, and then stopped dead when he saw the first message he’d supposedly sent.

He stared at it for a second, then turned right back around and stalked back to the apartment door.

“Rogers!” he shouted, stomping in to find Steve sticking his head out of the bathroom, still wet and awry from running a towel over it.

“Why do you only call me Rogers when I’ve done something wrong?”

“So you’ll know you did something wrong!” Bucky shouted back. He showed Steve his phone, pointing at the screen with his other hand just in case Steve needed some extra help figuring this shit out.

“Oh,” Steve grunted. “Shit, I thought that was mine.”

“Obviously.”

Steve squinted one eye at Bucky and stepped out of the bathroom. “Are we gonna have a talk about this?”

“Are you going to do it naked and wet?”

“Depends on the level of your ire, I suspect.”

Bucky grunted and shoved his phone into the pocket of his gym shorts. “Were you serious?”

Steve nodded, and Bucky hadn’t thought it possible for his already flushed skin from the hot shower to redden more. But miracles never cease and all that shit. “I was.”

Bucky cocked his head, truly at a loss for words. “You want to get married?” he finally asked with a flap of his hands that wound up sort of a shrug.

“I want to spend the rest of my life with you,” Steve answered sincerely.

Bucky nodded, still frowning at Steve. “Me too. But Steve . . .” He looked down at his metal hand, holding it up to show Steve his ring finger.

Steve’s frown went melancholy as he looked at Bucky’s arm.

“Stevie,” Bucky said, gentler as he stepped closer. He laid his palm over the red star on his arm. “I already wear you on me all the time. And we’re already spending the rest of our lives together. Do you really want a piece of paper for that?”

Steve stared at the red star, then at Bucky, looking shell-shocked.

Bucky tapped under his chin with two knuckles. “If you want it, I’ll say yes. But I’m standing here telling you, Rogers, I’m in this to the grave. No matter what.”

Steve continued to stare at him for long enough that Bucky was starting to worry he’d broken his boyfriend. Just when he was about to ask JARVIS to run analysis on Steve’s vitals, Steve darted forward and grabbed Bucky’s face with both hands, kissing him hard enough to leave a fucking impression of his nose in Bucky’s face.

“Jesus,” Bucky gasped once Steve let him have air.

“I love you,” Steve growled.

“Mmf!” Bucky responded when Steve kissed him again.

Once Steve was done trying to suck Bucky’s soul out of his damn body, he let Bucky go and met his eyes with a frown of determination. “Let me think on it?” he requested.

Bucky just nodded, trying to remember how to breathe air now that he had the opportunity again. Steve turned him toward the door and smacked him on the ass. “Go to the gym before Sam sends out a search party.”

“Gym. Right. Jesus.”

Bucky sort of ambled his way down there, and he was still frowning in confusion when Sam met him at the door to the locker room.

Sam was grinning a grin that had never ended particularly well for Bucky. “So,” Sam drawled. “You thinking about getting hitched after all those years of bitching about the institution of marriage to anyone who would listen?”

“Huh?” Bucky grunted.

“The texts you sent me last night. I assume those meant you and Steve got back on the same page.”

“I didn’t text you last night.”

Sam narrowed his eyes.

“That was Steve. He got our phones mixed up.”

“Oh. Well. That explains why you actually gave a shit about spelling and punctuation. Oh, man. That means I punned Captain America when he was actually asking for advice.”

“Man, sit on it, Birdbrain.”

“What are you gonna do?”

“I told him I’d say yes, if he really wants it.”

Sam’s eyebrows shot up so fast Bucky was afraid they’d have to spend half their gym time chasing those damn things around the room. “Really?”

“Really.”

“Huh. Cap caught himself the white whale, huh?”

“You know,” Bucky growled, stopping in mid-stride. “Considering I lost my arm to an actual whale, it’s not very nice to call me that.”

Sam pursed his lips, his expression caught between guilt and suspicion that Bucky was messing around with him. Which Bucky was, gleefully.

“I’m gonna be your best man, right?” Sam finally said as they kept walking.

“We’ll talk about weddings and shit if I don’t actually die this month, okay?”

“If that’s one of your requirements, Steve will be in the Most Eligible Bachelors list for the rest of his life.”

Chapter Text

The Assemble alarm began to blare through the tower right as Steve was setting his dirty dishes in the sink. He dropped them with an almighty clatter and bolted for the elevator. When he got to the armory, Natasha was already going through the checklist on the quinjet, and Tony was clanking down the walkway toward the hangar bay.

“What have we got?” Steve called out, jogging toward his locker and his uniform.

Sam and Clint and Bucky tumbled out of elevator twelve like dirty clothes hastily piled inside a closet.

“Hydra’s hitting the city again, at least seven different STRIKE teams reported, so far,” Tony called over.

Steve turned and pointed at Bucky. “You’re staying here.”

Bucky pulled up short just before reaching his own locker. “The hell I am.”

“This is the same move they made the last time they grabbed you,” Steve snarled.

Bucky stepped up closer to him, getting in his face. “You want me to stay behind? You’re gonna have to make me, Cap.”

Steve narrowed his eyes.

“Guys, we really don’t have time for a super soldier throw down,” Sam muttered as he pulled on his armor.

Bucky cocked his head, raising one eyebrow in challenge. Steve blew out a breath, trying to calm himself. “You watch your ass out there, Barnes,” he finally growled.

Bucky snorted and turned to his locker, yanking his tac suit out.

“I’m not fucking joking, Buck. They start maneuvering to take you, you ghost the fuck out of there, you hear me?”

“Heard you, Steve,” Bucky drawled as he got dressed.

Steve glared at him, pulling his tac suit on in jerky, annoyed motions. “Buck.”

Bucky turned to look at him, giving him a patient, solemn nod. “I heard you.”

==

“They’re moving on Barnes,” Tony called over the comms.

Steve jerked to look up at the building Bucky had been using as his most recent sniper’s hide. He’d started three buildings over and had been on the move since the fight started, hopping from rooftop to rooftop in damn near terrifying leaps that made Steve’s heart stutter every time he caught sight of one.

Of course, Steve couldn’t really say anything, since he had a habit of leaping off great heights with no parachute, safety net, or Sam to catch him. Still. Steve could have done without the added adrenaline rush, thanks.

But he could see Hydra STRIKE members scaling the building, grappling hooks over the edges. Bucky was grabbing them one by one and dislodging them, sending the unfortunate Hydra assholes plummeting to the sidewalk. Steve had no doubt there were men inside, rushing their way to the roof.

“Sam,” Steve ordered into his comm.

“Trying!” Sam called amidst the rattle of gunfire. “They’re targeting me, keeping me away from him!”

“Tony!” Steve tried, eyeing one of the men who was clinging to the side of the brick, just ten feet away from the top. His grappling hook had been dislodged, but he’d held on.

“They’ve got guns covering every approach,” Tony radioed back. “I’m down a repulsor, if I grab him we’ll sink like a stone.”

“Buck, get out of there!” Steve ordered.

“How?” Bucky replied drily.

“Figure it out!”

Bucky hopped onto the edge of the building and crouched down, aiming his rifle over the side at the last man who hadn’t fallen when his grappling hook had been tossed. The report of the gun was shockingly loud in the still of the cleared streets. Steve stared up at the silhouette Bucky made against the sky in his black tac gear.

Bucky’s silenced sniper rifle never echoed like that.

Bucky was motionless, his rifle still aimed. Then, as Steve stared up at him, his fingers loosened around the sniper rifle, and Bucky’s favorite weapon dropped like a stone, whirling end over end to shatter against the sidewalk beside the broken bodies of the Hydra soldiers he’d been killing left and right.

Steve saw the shadow of the mask move, Bucky looking down at his own torso. Then Bucky stood on the edge of the building, his metal hand held to his side. He wavered as he stood, listing dangerously forward before he righted himself and seemed to throw his weight back. He dropped out of sight behind the kneewall around the building’s roof, his body going limp and leaving nothing but a smear of blood on the edge of the concrete where he’d been standing.

Steve shouted wordlessly, the battle fading away and his mind on one thing and one thing alone.

The climbing Hydra soldier pulled himself up and over the wall, standing and peering down at the ground just in time for Sam to come in behind him and kick him right over the edge again. Sam landed on the roof with a flurry of wings and bullets, mowing down the soldiers who broke through the roof access.

“Sam!” Steve cried. “Is he okay?”

Steve could see Sam standing near the kneewall, looking around with his hand pressed to his ear. “He ain’t here, Cap.”

“What?”

“Barnes . . . he ain’t on the roof. There’s no one up here. There’s just . . . there’s a lot of blood.”

When Steve actually emerged from the haze of anger and panic he’d sunk into, his teammates were all watching him warily, and the streets were littered with dead and loudly dying Hydra goons. Steve was breathing hard enough for his gasps to make a rasping sound in his chest, and his cowl was gone, his suit covered in blood and gun powder.

“Rogers?” Natasha said carefully.

“Take me up there,” Steve snarled at Sam.

Sam just nodded, gripping Steve’s shield harness and hefting him into the air. He dropped him onto the rooftop where Bucky had been when he’d been shot.

There was a pool of blood where Bucky had dropped to the roof, and a smear where he had been pulled backward by someone. Steve could see where the heels of Bucky’s boots had dragged through the blood and left two tracks behind them. The tracks and the blood ended not three feet from where they started. Steve circled the spot, searching for tracks, droplets of blood, anything.

There was nothing. Even the gravel of the rooftop had been blown clear, like a tiny helicopter had landed on the roof and grabbed Bucky up.

“Sam,” Steve said, his voice terrifyingly calm. “Did you see a bogey in the air? Did you see anything?”

Sam had his red goggles off, glancing around the roof, looking thunderstruck. Steve had to say his name again before Sam looked up at him. “What?”

“Did you see anything land?”

Sam shook his head. “I was below the roofline. I only saw him fall.”

Steve put his finger to his ear. “Tony,” he said, his voice still flat and calm and completely in control.

“Go, Cap.”

“Did you see something on this roof?”

“I didn’t have eyes on it,” Tony admitted. “JARVIS is saying there was a pulse of energy from the rooftop.”

“Signifying what?”

“Could be . . . I don’t know. Could be anything. Something taking off. A small explosive. A rip in reality, Steve I don’t know. Where’s Barnes?”

Steve looked around the rooftop, at the pool of blood that meant Bucky had been mortally wounded. If he wasn’t on an operating table within minutes, he would bleed out, enhancements or no. He swallowed against the bile rising in his throat. “Barnes is gone,” he told the team.

Iron Man landed hard a few feet from Sam, repulsor spitting sparks, and Tony knocked the faceplate up. His eyes darted around, his breathing obviously fast even under the armor. “You meant . . . gone gone,” he muttered. “Where the fuck did he go?”

Steve merely bowed his head, closing his eyes.

“JARVIS, analyze the blood.”

“Sir,” JARVIS’s voice returned, loud enough for Steve and Sam to hear. “If all the blood on the ground is indeed his, the Soldier was fatally wounded. I’m afraid the window for finding and getting him to medical attention has passed.”

“Even with his enhanced healing?” Tony asked desperately.

“Yes, sir.”

JARVIS’s voice sounded mournful to Steve’s ears.

Tony and Sam looked from the blood to Steve, trying to follow his lead instead of lingering on the loss. Steve walked to the edge of the roof, staring off at the neighboring rooftops.

“Cap?” Sam asked, his voice shaky. “What do we do?”

“Find him.” Steve ordered. “And find me the sniper who took that shot.”

==

“It wasn’t me,” Wade Wilson said as soon as he sat down across the café table from Steve.

Steve looked up from the sketch of Avengers Tower he’d been drawing. He’d found Wilson’s phone number in Bucky’s phone, left sitting on a bench in the armory. Wilson was listed under ‘Bigmouth Bass’, in Bucky’s contacts. Steve had nearly cried when he flicked through to find it. Bucky hadn’t had a single name in his contacts, just descriptions and wry nicknames.

Steve relaxed his shoulders and sat back, staring at Wilson, expressionless.

Wilson shifted uneasily. “Barnes was my friend. And I don’t have many of those. It wasn’t me.”

Steve swallowed hard. “Do you know who it was?”

“I know who took the shot. I left his head at this address. In case you wanted it,” Wilson slid a piece of paper across the table to Steve. “I saved the rest of him for myself.”

Steve inhaled deeply, looking from the address to Wilson. “Did you make it quick?”

“Absolutely not.”

Steve nodded, his lips pressed together tight. He took as deep a breath as he had been able to the last three days. Then he nodded again. “Thank you.”

“You found Barnes yet?”

Steve shook his head. “Nothing.”

“If Hydra has him, or Weapon X has him, he might still be alive. That’s not a lot of comfort, considering this is me, still alive,” Wilson murmured, pushing his hood back to allow Steve the first good look at his face.

Steve blinked at the man. Bucky had told him about Wilson’s unmasked appearance, but it was still a shock.

Wilson pushed his hood back to shade his eyes and sighed heavily, staring at the table top. For the first time, Steve thought maybe he understood the weight Wade Wilson put behind calling someone his friend. He imagined the guy didn’t have many left. “If you hear anything . . .”

“I’ll keep you in the loop, Wade,” Steve murmured.

Wilson nodded, and they sat in silence for several long, heavy moments, both with their heads bowed in their shared grief. When Steve finally looked up again, Wilson was gone.

Steve sighed and slumped in his seat. He glanced around the café, his eyes grazing over every person there by habit. His breath caught when he saw a man standing at the crosswalk, head cocked, eyes shadowed beneath a Brooklyn Dodgers hat.

Steve smiled sadly and ducked his head. It wasn’t the first time he’d seen Bucky in a crowd in the last three days.

==

“I am sorry, Captain,” Thor murmured after he finished giving his report. “Heimdall cannot see Bucky. He is . . . he is no longer in this world, I’m afraid.”

Steve just nodded. It was real. This was real. And there was nothing left but to burn the world down around him. “Let’s get started, then,” he rasped out.

The Avengers all shifted uneasily around the table, exchanging glances and waiting for someone brave enough to put the reins on Steve. Steve waited, curious to see if anyone would even try, or if they’d help him light the match.

Sam finally cleared his throat, meeting Steve’s eyes. “Where do we start?”

There was a polite knock on the locked boardroom door.

“Come back later!” Steve growled in answer.

The answering knock was more insistent.

“JARVIS, tell whoever it is to wait,” Tony ordered, voice tired and hoarse. Tony had been taking Bucky’s death almost as hard as Steve and Sam. He blamed himself for not being able to pull Bucky off that roof before he was hit.

Steve frowned when he realized JARVIS hadn’t responded. Most of the team glanced up at the ceiling when the silence registered. At least Steve wasn’t the only one who still did that, Jesus.

Tony scowled. “JARVIS?”

The third knock on the door was to a little tune. ‘Shave and a haircut’ . . . the ‘two’ had a little force behind it . . . and the final ‘bits’ was a kick to the hinges that sent the door flying into the room and crashing to the floor right at Steve’s feet as he lurched away from the head of the table.

Steve stared at the intruder, refusing to blink in case the man disappeared or dissolved into a face that hadn’t been haunting Steve the last few days.

Bucky stood in the doorway, head cocked, fists clenched at his sides. He looked from Steve to the ruined door, then around at the team. “I did knock.”

“Buck?” Steve gasped, rushing forward.

Bucky raised a gun, aiming it right between Steve’s eyes. “No hugging,” he growled. “They told me you’re a hugger and I do not like that.”

Steve practically put burn marks in the floor as he skidded to a stop, hands out, frozen as his dead boyfriend held a gun to his head. He’d heard of nasty break-ups, but this was fucking ridiculous.

“What did they do to you?” Steve whispered.

“What did they not do to me, pal,” Bucky drawled. His eyes darted to the rest of the team. “Your boy is okay. Thought you might like to know.”

“What?” Steve asked desperately.

Bucky narrowed his eyes. “Look at me, Rogers. Do I look like your Bucky?”

Steve blinked past the shock, then he blinked past the barrel of that gun, and he looked Bucky over hard. He squinted and cocked his head. “Yes?”

Bucky rolled his eyes and holstered his gun. “Jesus Christ,” he muttered.

“You’re Cap’s Bucky,” Tony realized suddenly and stood a little too fast, because Bucky twitched toward his gun again. “Aren’t you?”

“He said that’s what you called him. Said to say hello.” He glanced around the table at the stunned Avengers, then looked sideways at Steve. “So. Hello, I guess.”

“You have our Barnes?” Natasha demanded of him.

“Steve was coming here to fill you in on his end of things. Stark made some improvements to the portal doohickey, he can control it a little better. But Steve has issues aiming it, has to focus on something. He focused on your Barnes. We came through just in time to watch that dumbass get shot, grabbed him, pulled him through to our world. The Tower medical facilities were his only chance.”

“Oh, my God,” Steve whispered, pressing his hand to his belly to calm the flurries in it. “And he’s okay?”

“Well he’s got about as much of my blood in him as I do now, but he’s recovering. Can’t make the jump yet.”

“Why didn’t Cap come with you?” Steve demanded.

The AlternaBucky gave a long-suffering sigh and rolled his eyes heavenward. “I got him into the hallway once. For thirty seconds. Convincing him to leave the actual universe? Pal, even I ain’t that persuasive.”

Steve shrugged and nodded. Yeah, he understood that. “Will you take me there?”

“Absolutely not, Jesus, you think I want that face in stereo?” Barnes grunted. “Besides. From what Flower Boy tells us, you’re gonna be needed here.”

“Flower Boy?” Clint echoed. No one who knew their Bucky would call him that, to his face or otherwise.

“He keeps talking about flowers, won’t fucking shut up,” Barnes groaned. “What is his deal with that?”

“Oh! Our pain meds here are made with Asgardian flowers,” Sam answered, standing slowly and staring at Barnes like he was a painting hanging in the louvre. “He’s probably in pain.”

“Trust me. He ain’t feeling shit,” Barnes replied with a smirk. “We don’t have flowers in ours, but I can guarantee you he’s feeling just fine.”

“Why didn’t you come sooner?” Steve snarled. “It’s been four days!”

Barnes turned a calculating, downright terrifying look on Steve, those ice-cold eyes even more effective than their Bucky’s most dire of expressions. “Do I look like a bike messenger to you, son?”

Steve swallowed hard and shook his head.

“Like I said. I was hooked up to an IV making sure blood was pumping into your kid’s veins for two days while they tried to find all the bleeds. That fucking portal isn’t exactly kind to the things it transports through reality.”

Steve swallowed and nodded. “Thank you.”

“I didn’t do it for you. And I ain’t here for you. Kid said Hydra was maneuvering on him. I’m here for them.”

“Why?” Steve asked, despite every instinct in his soul telling him not to question this guy again, because something about this guy absolutely froze Steve to his very marrow. He’d once thought his Bucky Barnes was someone Steve could have been wary of in another life. Well, here was the other life, and yeah, Steve was wishing he’d worn his brown pants today.

Barnes cocked his head, eyes narrowing. “Because they turned me into this. And I didn’t get a chance to say thank you in my world.”

There was silence in response. Finally, Tony spoke up in a small, careful voice. “By thank you, do you mean, ‘here’s how your spleen tastes, now eat it and stop screaming’?”

Barnes gazed past Steve’s shoulder at Tony, his expression going contemplative. He finally nodded. “Yeah. That sounds about right.”

Sam stood and squared his shoulders, asking Barnes, “Where do we start?”

Barnes snorted and turned on his heel, leaving them all gaping after him. When Steve got to the doorway, Barnes was gone.

Over the next two days, reports trickled in to the Avengers of several high-ranking officials dying in . . . creative ways. When Tony dug into each of them, without fail he found ties to Hydra or to AIM. The Avengers denied knowledge of the assassinations, and since their Hydra ties were coming to light, no one really cared too much about finding the culprit.

The press reported the same thing over and over; the assassins were ruthless and untraceable, working in a coordinated sweep across the country with the same MO, but traveling too fast to be one person. Most seemed to suspect it was the work of the Avengers, even though they were all seen in New York City at the time of several of the hits. The only real answer was that Hydra was cleaning house or turning on itself. In the end, no one really cared who was doing it.

One eye-witness to the gory demise of General Thaddeus Ross claimed the assassin had a metal arm. But since reports of the Winter Soldier on his death bed were also spreading through the news wires, that eye-witness was mostly ignored. And none of the Avengers would comment beyond a confused shrug for the cameras.

Steve was sitting at the dining table in the common room one night roughly a week after Barnes had visited them, staring off into the night and not really seeing past the lurid neon of the city. There was a pop and a whoosh of warm air, and when Steve turned, he was looking at himself.

“Cap,” he said, blinking at the man.

Cap gave him a nod in greeting. “Other Steve.”

“Your Bucky is terrifying,” Steve blurted.

“Isn’t he though?” Cap replied almost dreamily. He snapped out of it before the hearts could fully form in his eyes, and he grinned at Steve. “He says he’s fully eliminated the threat to this world’s Bucky Barnes. No one else will be coming for him to make him into what they had planned.”

“What did they have planned?” Steve asked. “I get the feeling you know.”

“I get the feeling you know, too,” Cap murmured, raising one eyebrow pointedly. “And you said it’s terrifying.”

Steve sucked in a breath, lips parted in shock. “Jesus.”

“He’s much better than he was.”

Steve grunted. “How could you have possibly convinced yourself that saying that would make me feel better?”

Cap winced. “He was always a little bit of a scary fucker. It’s an acquired taste.”

“How is he?” Steve asked, feeling a little desperate. “My Buck?”

“He’s healing. We think he can go through the portal now. I just wanted to come first, say hello. Make sure it was safe for him to come through.”

Steve was nodding urgently. “We’re ready for him. He can come home. Please.”

Cap smiled sadly. “I can’t aim where I land very well. Buck says I don’t quiet my mind enough. I have to visualize a goal. Buck, though, he could land on the ass-end of a gnat in mid-flight. So Buck will be bringing him back, in the MedBay.”

“Thank you for saving him. If you hadn’t been there . . .”

Cap nodded slowly. “Best not to linger on what could be.”

Steve blew out the breath in his lungs, holding it until they started to burn and he was forced to breathe back in. “You and your Bucky?”

Cap grinned. “Getting there.”

“I’m not sure whether to say congrats or warn you not to let him eat you.”

Cap actually laughed. “But what a way to go, right?”

Steve snorted. Dude, naw.

Cap tossed him a cheeky little salute. “Ten minutes. They’ll pop up in the MedBay. I’ll tell Buck to be nice.”

“Please,” Steve wheezed, returning the salute even as Cap pressed a button and stepped back into the portal.

They had obviously refined it enough that it no longer knocked anyone out when it opened and closed. They’d also figured out how to keep it from being an audible representation of the way the word ‘moist’ sounded on Steve’s ears.

He stared at the spot Cap had been, then shook himself into action and bolted for the elevators. “JARVIS, alert MedBay that Bucky’s incoming!”

“Of course, Captain. Ah . . . which Bucky shall I say is incoming? The nice one, or the one who essentially created a giant fuckfest in my system?”

Steve gaped at the ceiling. “Uh. Both?”

For the first time in Steve’s memory, JARVIS actually cursed just for the sake of cursing.

==

There was a pop in the middle of the hallway, and suddenly two men were standing where none had been. Bucky wore medical scrubs, the same blue as his eyes, and Barnes wore a soft Henley and faded jeans. Bucky had his arm around Barnes’s shoulders, sagging against him. Barnes was staring at them, gun already drawn, holding Bucky up with his metal arm like he would lug a bag of flour around.

Steve and Sam rushed forward to help take Bucky’s weight.

“Steve said I’m supposed to be nice,” Barnes announced as Bucky collapsed into Steve and Sam’s arms. “I don’t know how to do that, so I figure I’ll just head on.”

Steve looked up at him, grateful words on his lips. The look on Barnes’s face kept them there, rather than giving them voice.

Bucky raised a hand, holding his fist up to Barnes. Barnes gave a long-suffering sigh and pressed his fist to Bucky’s. “Thanks, asshole,” Bucky grunted.

“Shut your fucking face, kid,” Barnes muttered, sounding oddly affectionate despite the gruff voice. “Stay out of trouble.”

“Ha.”

“And quit bleeding all over yourself. Jesus Christ.”

“Nobody likes a quitter,” Bucky rasped out as his grip on Sam tightened.

“Nobody likes you,” Barnes grunted at him, grinning ferally.

Bucky actually managed to laugh as he finally got his feet under him. “Thanks,” he said to Barnes again, still a little breathless.

Barnes nodded solemnly. His eyes darted from Bucky to Steve. “Now we’re even.”

Steve nodded in return. “Thank you.”

“Keep his twink ass away from my Steve and we’re good,” Barnes drawled, winking at Bucky like it was an ongoing joke. Bucky responded with a raspberry that actually made Barnes laugh. He looked just like Steve’s version when he grinned.

Barnes hit the button on his device and stepped back into the portal, disappearing with a sharp salute and barely a whisper.

“He’s a lot better at the portal thing than Cap is,” Bucky murmured, staring at the spot. “Oh my God, he was so scary.”

Steve stared at him, clinging to him, breathing him in. “Buck.”

“Hey, Stevie,” Bucky grunted. He sounded breathless, and he was letting Steve and Sam take a lot of his weight. “Sam.”

“You fucking asshole,” Sam cried. “I thought you were dead! I cried over you!”

Bucky laid his head on Sam’s shoulder. “AlternaSam is mean,” he said, more and more breathless the more he spoke. “He looks nice, but he’s so mean. He only gives hugs after he frisks you for knives.”

Bucky collapsed against them, and together they carried him to the waiting bed. A nurse plugged an IV into the port still in his hand, and Bucky groaned gratefully.

Steve stared at him, feeling like his heart was beating again for the first time in a week. He could see a bandage wrapped around Bucky’s torso, a spot of blood where the wound was. Bucky was pale and he hadn’t shaved in far too long, but he was the most beautiful thing Steve had ever seen. He sat on the edge of the bed, drawing his fingers through Bucky’s short hair. “Buck.”

Bucky forced his eyes open and gave Steve a glazed, exhausted smile. “Hey, sweetheart.”

Steve tried to swallow past the lump in his throat, but he couldn’t manage it.

“If I hear ‘I told you so’ from your dumb ass, I’m gonna go back to the alternaworld and bang Cap out of spite.”

“AlternaBarnes will kill you,” Sam warned.

Steve barked a laugh and buried his face against Bucky’s neck, holding him as tight as he dared. “You asshole. I thought you were dead.”

“I woke up to my own face calling me an idiot,” Bucky groaned, nuzzling his cheek against the top of Steve’s head. “I thought I was in Hell. Do I look that judgmental? He was so scary.”

Steve laughed until he’d rid himself of all the anguish of the last days and simply held on tighter.

Chapter Text

“I don’t feel like myself anymore,” Bucky confessed against Steve’s chest as they lay in bed.

Steve drew his fingers through Bucky’s hair, scowling at the ceiling. “Why is that?”

“Alternate Bucky was so fucking metal everyone thinks I’m a cupcake now,” Bucky grumbled.

“You are a cupcake, baby.”

“I am not!” Bucky growled, shoving his face against Steve’s chest and rubbing his nose against Steve’s skin. He was still mumbling angrily when he added, “I am the night.”

Steve had to bite his lip hard to keep from chuckling. If he did Bucky would feel it. “JARVIS?” Steve said softly.

“Yes, Captain?”

“Can you connect me to anyone who isn’t otherwise occupied to give Bucky a little positive reinforcement?”

“Of course, Captain.”

There was a moment of silence as JARVIS scanned for anyone still awake, then Bruce’s voice emitted from the speakers. “Steve? Everything okay?”

“Bucky is having a crisis,” Steve told Bruce.

“I am not,” Bucky insisted against Steve’s chest.

“I . . . I’m not that kind of doctor?” Bruce replied hesitantly.

“Bruce, if you didn’t know Bucky, would you be afraid of him?” Steve asked, trying to keep the smile out of his voice.

“Ah,” Bruce answered. “Well, I’m the Hulk. So . . . no.”

Steve rolled his eyes. “If you weren’t a giant green rage monster, would you be afraid of him?”

“Well,” Bruce said, and then he was silent.

Bucky huffed against Steve’s skin, and Steve shivered violently in response.

“If I didn’t know him, had never had a conversation with him, had never seen him interact with literally anyone but a terrorist or alien, then . . . maybe I’d avoid him on the subway?”

“Everyone avoids me on the subway,” Bucky muttered. Steve could tell sleep was taking him. He was still exhausted all the time, recovering from his near-death experience and subsequent portal surfing.

“But I can tell you, since I do know him; if I needed help, if I needed someone to walk through a battlefield with me? Barnes is the first person I’d go to. Our Barnes.”

Steve squeezed the man in his arms as tightly as he dared, and he smiled up at the ceiling. Bucky was asleep. “Thank you, Bruce.”

“Is he okay?” Bruce asked softly.

Steve made a dubious sound as he thought about his answer.

“Steve,” Bruce said, still speaking softly, like he didn’t want to wake Bucky. “He’d built his entire identity around being the protector; the one people are too afraid to cross. It’s how he kept himself safe growing up. How he kept his Rangers safe. It’s how he keeps us safe. And he finally ran into a situation where he was helpless. I know a little something about that. So as tempting as it may be to tease him – especially because his mode of protecting himself is humor – take him seriously. He needs it right now.”

Steve blinked at the ceiling, a frown furrowing his brow. He ran his fingers up Bucky’s metal bicep. “I thought you weren’t that kind of doctor.”

“I’m not. But I am human. Sometimes.”

Steve smiled sadly. “Thank you, Dr. Banner.”

“Any time, Captain Rogers,” Bruce drawled.

JARVIS pinged to let Steve know they were alone once more. Steve held Bucky to him, dragging his fingers up Bucky’s metal arm. Bucky hummed in response. To hear Bucky tell it, the arm was just as sensitive to touch as his flesh arm, after Tony’s last upgrade.

“Is he right?” Bucky murmured.

“Hm?”

“Bruce. Is he right?”

Steve closed his eyes. Dammit. Of course Bucky hadn’t been asleep. He turned his head and buried his nose in Bucky’s hair. “Yeah, Buck. Yeah, I think he is.”

Bucky sighed softly, breath ghosting across Steve’s skin. “Yeah.”

“You’re the most amazing person I’ve ever known,” Steve said, nudging Bucky’s forehead, trying to get Bucky to look up at him.

Bucky just turned his head and kissed Steve’s chest, right over his heart. “I never thanked you.”

“For what, Buck?”

“If you hadn’t done what you did, if I hadn’t been discharged,” Bucky whispered. “I’d be just like him now.”

Steve’s blood ran cold, breaths hard to grab as he stared up at the dark ceiling. “You’d still be a good man.”

“I’d be their weapon. And they would have sent me right after you.”

Steve scooted down, rolling until he and Bucky were lying face to face. He brushed Bucky’s hair off his forehead, trailing his knuckles down Bucky’s cheekbone. Then he nudged forward and brushed his nose against Bucky’s. “Sleep,” he whispered, pressing a kiss to Bucky’s lips.

“You saved me, Steve,” Bucky said, his voice gone rough from emotion or exhaustion or both. “Even before you knew I needed it.”

“No.” Steve shook his head, kissing Bucky again. “No, Buck. You saved me. You saved me even before I knew I needed it.”

==

“Does anyone remember that AIM factory in South Dakota?” Natasha asked the group as they suffered through their weekly required team dinner. No one knew who had come up with the idea, but everyone was too afraid that it may have been them to say it was a stupid idea now, years later, when team bonding was a matter of living rather than effort, and so the weekly dinners continued.

“I thought it was North Dakota,” Bruce muttered as he poked at his curry.

Natasha narrowed her eyes. She obviously wasn’t sure which Dakota it had been either.

“What about it?” Steve prompted.

“It blew up,” Natasha told them. She shrugged as she shoved her salad around on her plate.

“Aw,” Bucky offered without looking up from his pasta. “I was so hoping to be turned into a duck or something this time.”

“Why would they make duck soldiers?” Sam asked.

“Ducking is an important skill for a soldier,” Bucky shot back.

Steve grunted at him. “Then why the fuck don’t you ever do it?”

“Fight me, Steven.”

“I would if you weren’t still a holy relic!”

“One hole does not a holy make, okay! That’s not the hole you should be focusing on anyway!”

“Oh, my God!” Clint shouted, his fork clattering to his plate. “Shut up!”

“I’m just saying,” Sam muttered. “Duck soldiers don’t make any sense. What are they gonna do, flap you to death.”

“Chickens, though,” Bruce offered with a wave of his fork. “Chickens are scary.”

Tony was peering off into the netherworld of his mind at the opposite end of the table, and the look on his face made Steve want to hide in a bunker somewhere. “Is it possible that we spend too much time cooped up in this Tower?” Tony finally mused.

Steve cleared his throat as everyone else peered at Tony critically. “Did you think of that because of chicken coops?”

“Maybe,” Tony mumbled, looking down again.

“Ducks don’t even have teeth,” Sam told Bucky almost angrily, like the idea of duck soldiers personally offended him.

Bucky stared at him across the table for long enough to narrow his eyes dangerously, then he tossed a buttered roll at Sam that bounced off Sam’s forehead and into his plate. Sam squawked.

“If you’d have ducked that wouldn’t have happened,” Bucky told him with a vicious grin that made Steve want to tackle the man to the floor and punch him. With his mouth.

“I grew up in a circus,” Clint was mumbling sadly, staring at his dinner. “I don’t deserve this.”

“My daddy loved Cap more than he loved me,” Tony told Clint with a mischievous glint in his eyes.

Natasha groaned and hid behind her wine glass. “I grew up in a Soviet slaughter house, what’s your point?”

“I’m just saying,” Clint groaned. “I miss the circus on team dinner nights.”

“I grew up without dinner,” Steve offered with his best sad puppy face as he stared at the basket of rolls in the middle of the table.

Bucky huffed loudly. “Jesus, Steve, there’s a reason they called it the Depression. Shaddup.”

“JARVIS?” Bruce said to the spot in the ceiling that Clint had finally smacked a robot sticker on so they could all pretend they were talking to JARVIS’s face when they looked up like idiots. “Is there anything in the world right now that we can go fight besides each other?”

“It would appear, Doctor, that the world is enjoying an odd peace right now.”

“Goddammit,” Bruce muttered to his curry.

The table was silent aside from the clinking of silverware on their plates.

Sam finally huffed. “Duck soldiers.”

Bucky and Steve both ducked and covered as if they’d planned it ahead of time, and Sam stared at them both like he was already hiding their bodies somewhere no one would find them.

Natasha held her glass out to Tony. “More wine.”

“Indeed,” Tony said as he filled both their glasses.

Thor had been sitting silently through the whole dinner, practically beaming as he ate. “This reminds me of home.”

“You poor, poor alien,” Clint murmured, shaking his head sadly.

“Do you think someone from an alternate reality coming here and fucking all their shit up messed with the balance of our universe?” Bucky mused after more minutes of intensely angry and overly aggressive silence.

They all peered at him. Steve squinted. Tony hummed.

“Nah,” Bruce finally answered.

==

“It messed with the balance of our universe,” Bruce announced as he came into the common room, reading something on his tablet. He took his glasses off and peered around the room at anyone there to listen.

Steve was sitting on the sofa, reading an honest to god paperback book like a civilized human being. Bucky and Clint were throwing darts at the life-size cardboard cutout of the Winter Soldier that someone had sent in the fanmail. All of Bucky’s first darts had singled out the flower crown drawn on his head, then mostly grouped around the spot on his torso that was still healing and keeping him from active duty. Clint’s darts had all hit . . . below the belt.

Bucky was apparently shocked and outraged at every. Single. Dart.

“Care to elaborate?” Tony called to Bruce from the dining table, where he had taken a full scan of a 1000-piece puzzle and was sitting beside the messy pile of pieces, putting the puzzle together in a digital display. Heathen.

“Well, HimBuckToo pretty much wiped the board clean,” Bruce explained. “Have you not noticed that we’ve had four weeks of nothing on the alerts?”

“Isn’t that kind of the point of what we do?” Clint asked. “Clean the slate, go home heroes?”

“We are home,” Bucky muttered.

Clint shrugged and tossed a dart without looking. Bucky yipped as the dart found its mark on his cardboard likeness.

The five of them were quiet, pondering one another in the silence. A shadow loomed across the window beside Tony, and he turned in time to see Sam plummet past the common floor with a joyous whoop.

“Yeah, okay,” Tony said to Bruce. “So it’s been a slow month. What of it?”

“I’m saying, we’re a group of people with very specialized skills,” Bruce answered. “And –”

“We will find you,” Bucky and Clint both finished in their best Liam Neeson voices.

Bruce rolled his eyes. “And we’ve been idle. If the next threat comes, when it comes, we might not be ready.”

Sam barrel-rolled past their floor, waving cheekily. Bucky and Clint both watched him go, then as if they shared the brain of a twelve-year old miscreant, they both looked at their collection of darts, then gave each other an appraising glance.

“Do not,” Steve ordered in his best Captain America Knows You Masturbate voice.

“Are you saying one dude did the job we’ve been trying to do for like five years now?” Tony said to Bruce.

Bruce shrugged helplessly. “I mean . . . he had a portal.”

“And he was one scary motherfucker,” Bucky added.

Clint barked a laugh. “He was basically you!”

“Naw, man. This guy had, like . . . squirrels juggling knives in his head, okay,” Bucky protested, flicking a dart at his cardboard face and grinning when he hit himself in the eye.

Steve watched with one eyebrow raised, waiting for someone else to comment on the irony because he liked sex too much to risk it himself.

“Did I tell you what he did to my mask? And my tac gear?” Bucky continued, speaking to Clint as Clint lined up another shot aimed at the family cardboard jewels.

“He crumbled the mask with his bare hand,” Clint parroted back.

“It wasn’t even his metal hand! That thing had stopped bullets!”

“Wait, what?” Steve gasped. “When?”

“Sorry, what?” Bucky said with an innocent blink at Steve.

“When did that mask stop a bullet to your fucking face?”

Bucky fiddled with his ear. “Are you talking to me? We were having a private conversation.”

Steve glared at him.

“I’m saying that maybe Alternate Barnes wiped our practice grid clear,” Bruce warned them. “He tipped the scales way in our favor. And we’re going to become complacent.”

Tony pursed his lips, nodding. “So, you’re saying I should invent a villain for us to fight, that’s what I’m hearing.”

“Absolutely not, Tony.”

“That’s what I heard, did anyone else hear it?”

Bucky and Clint both raised their hands.

Steve gave a long-suffering sigh as Sam swooped past the windows again. Clint and Bucky both tossed darts at him as he flew past, clinking against the ballistic glass.

“Oh!” Bucky shouted. He made a trigger motion at Clint, and they both perked up like puppies who’d just been tricked into a vet visit with promises of the park. Bucky reached under the coffee table and yanked a hideously large super soaker out from under it, and Clint leapt toward an air duct, pushing the grate out of the way to extract his own oversized, garishly colored plastic weapon.

Both of the guns were already full of water. They raced for the stairwell, and Steve could hear them clambering up to the next floor, where the landing pad for the Iron Man suits was.

Tony and Steve both gaped at them as the stairwell door clicked shut. Bruce adjusted his glasses and sat on the opposite end of Steve’s sofa.

“How long have they had those hidden?” Tony demanded.

Steve shrugged. “I didn’t even know they had them.”

A moment later, Sam’s barrel roll past their windows was interrupted as he started screaming, swooping in and out trying to avoid the constant streams of water being aimed his way. Their aim was . . . just as good as Steve would expect from the team’s crack shots.

After twenty minutes of blessed silence during which Steve realized that his book was actually horrible and put it aside, JARVIS gave a polite ping. All three of them glanced up. Even Tony had started doing it. “What it is, buddy?” Tony asked.

“You instructed me to alert you to any media concerning a member of the team, sir,” JARVIS replied, sounding droll.

“So I did, what’ve you got for us?”

JARVIS turned the television on, displaying the headlines.

Avengers Making It Rain. There was a photo of Bucky and Clint on the landing pad with their super soakers, gleefully shooting Sam in the face as Sam came in for a landing with his wings spread, his feet not yet on the landing pad as the other two aimed for him.

“Jesus,” Tony said with a grunt. He glanced up. “That was fast.”

“How . . . how did someone get that angle?” Bruce asked, pointing at the photo.

He had a point. They were seventy floors up, and the photo was from behind Sam’s back. It was a beautiful shot of the spread wings. And it was a beautiful shot of Bucky’s grinning face, but Steve decidedly did not linger on that aspect of it, because Bucky’s beautiful face had been scowling at him every night that Steve refused to fool around because Bucky’s beautiful fucking face was still healing from almost dying. Steve’s balls were a lovely shade of stealth suit.

“JARVIS, give me everything you have on the guy on that photo credit,” Tony ordered.

Ten minutes later, Tony had discovered the secret identity of this Spiderdude Steve had been hearing rumblings about.

“There’s no mystery in the world, anymore,” Steve mumbled, going back to his shitty book.

==

Steve realized he had a problem later that day, when he stepped out the front doors of Avengers Tower and right into the red suit and double katanas of Deadpool.

Steve blinked at him. “Wilson,” he greeted.

“Barnes is alive?”

“What?” Steve stared at him. “Oh.”

“Your ass looks amazing in those khakis and that’s a hard look to pull off so I’m not going to tell you you’re an asshole,” Wilson said with a red finger pointed in Steve’s face. “But dude. Dude. You’re an asshole!”

“Jesus, I’m sorry. Once we got him back my mind sort of went blank.”

Deadpool’s eyes narrowed.

Steve cocked his head, fascinated. “How does your suit do that?”

“A CGI crew in California.”

“What?”

Deadpool sighed and flopped his arms. “Is he okay?”

“Yeah, Wade,” Steve said, reaching to put a hand on his shoulder. “He’s still recovering. But he’ll be okay. I’ll call him down, you can see him.”

Another man came up beside Wade, a cigar held in the corner of his mouth, his sideburns the most outrageous Steve had seen since his Howling Commando days. “Was he the one who went Russia in the winter on Hydra?”

“I’m sorry, who are you?” Steve asked the man.

“Who are you?” the man replied.

“I . . .” Steve narrowed his eyes at the guy.

“Glad that’s settled. Did the Winter Soldier clean out Hydra and the Weapon X project, or not?”

“Sort of,” Steve hedged.

“Oh good, that’s cleared up,” Deadpool said with a clap of his hands. “We can go see Barnes now!”

The other man shot a blade out of something on his wrist and impaled Deadpool right through the ribs. “Did I say you could think? No.”

Steve took a step back, hand itching to reach for the shield that he’d left in his apartment. He looked closer at the blade, stepping forward again without realizing it. “Did that just come out of you? Jesus!”

Fantastic Sideburns stared at Steve, incredulous.

Steve poked the guy’s knuckles as Wilson’s blood oozed over his hand. “Doesn’t that hurt?”

“Yes!” Deadpool grunted.

The other guy was narrowing his eyes at Steve. “Are you Cap’s body double or something?”

Steve blinked at him. “What?”

“Listen, bub, if the Winter Soldier was the one who put the Weapon X project’s head up its own ass, I want to meet him.”

“Why?”

“To say thank you,” the guy explained, speaking like he was explaining trigonometry to a cat. He finally deigned to retract the blade or claw or whatever it was, and Wade gave a relieved moan, shaking it out and bleeding copiously.

Steve gave the stranger his best set of dubious eyebrows, which had gotten practice since he’d met Bucky Barnes.

“You see, Wolverine here, we were working together,” Deadpool explained.

“We were not,” Wolverine interjected with a vicious grit of his teeth. “I tripped over you bleeding in the woods.”

“And we saw Barnes bad-assing his way through the facility we were about to hit,” Deadpool continued. He pointed at Steve. “And I thought you were the animal in the sack! Woo boy! Remember I told you?”

“I have no memory of this,” Steve grunted.

“That’s what Barnes said, too,” Deadpool said, shoulders slumping.

“Wait, you met AlternaBarnes?” Steve said, holding his hand up.

Both men stared at him blankly.

“Yeah. He came through a portal. That wasn’t our Bucky Barnes.”

They both narrowed their eyes at Steve. “You saying he was in the wrong universe?” Wolverine asked. “This shit again?”

Steve gave them a shrug.

“I mean, studio deals,” Deadpool said to Wolverine.

Wolverine’s blade shot into Deadpool’s ribs again, accompanied by its two closest friends.

Steve clucked his tongue, glancing around the sidewalk. It was a good thing the media had lost interest in Avengers Tower in the last week or so, or this would definitely be on the internet. “So, yeah. The Winter Soldier cleaned house, but it wasn’t our Winter Soldier.”

“Barnes!” Deadpool exclaimed, jerking himself off the claws impaling him and throwing himself past Steve. Steve ducked him, only to find Bucky standing between him and the revolving Tower doors in his full tac suit and loaded for battle. He’d obviously been told Steve was out here watching Deadpool be stabbed repeatedly. Deadpool was hugging him delightedly.

“You’re alive!” Deadpool cried, clinging to Bucky, who was awkwardly patting him on the back and looking to Steve and the stranger for either an explanation or assistance.

“Good to see you too, Wade,” Bucky finally mumbled, returning the hug and then trying to extricate himself. He curled his lip at the fresh blood dripping down the front of his new tac suit.

Wolverine bristled when he saw Bucky, growling menacingly.

“Hi?” Bucky offered as Deadpool hung off his neck, crooning to him.

“You ain’t the right one,” Wolverine said, pointing one knuckle blade at Bucky.

“Thank God, if that was for him,” Bucky mumbled, eyeing the blades with a rather intimidating whir of his arm in response.

“The one we’re looking for was tougher looking,” Wolverine explained. “Like, seen some shit tough. Not . . .” He waved his claws at Bucky.

Bucky fluffed up like a cat chasing a laser light. “Excuse you! Anyone would look like they'd seen some shit after seeing that fucking haircut, Jesus.”

Steve’s shoulders slumped. He wasn’t going to get that Starbucks he’d been aiming for.

==

Clint and Bucky sat on the roof, their feet dangling over the rather thin air above New York City, sharing one of Clint’s medicinal hand-rolled ‘cigarettes’ that Bucky would claim was full of ‘herbs’ if Steve found them.

“Is this what a happy ending feels like?” Clint asked after a moment. “Is this winning?”

Bucky hummed, inhaling deeply as they watched Sam fly in a tight figure-eight above them. “Maybe?”

“It’s kind of boring,” Clint mumbled, like he was ashamed to admit it. Bucky handed the weed over, holding his breath. Clint took it with a distracted thanks.

“Yeah,” Bucky agreed after a while. “God, we’re assholes. Are we sitting here hoping for a disaster because we’re bored?”

Clint squinted into the distance, humming tunelessly. “Wow, yeah. When you put it that way.”

They looked at each other askance. “Winning,” they both said in tandem, then dissolved into a fit of giggles.

In the distance, Sam shouted to them, arcing high and then aiming at the Tower at full speed.

Bucky and Clint stared at him, both of them cocking their heads. “What’d he say?” Clint asked.

“Sounded like he said, ‘duck.’ Jesus, is he still on the duck soldier thing?”

Clint blew a stream of smoke toward Sam’s swiftly approaching form. “That’s Gold Medal holding a grudge.”

Bucky nodded and swung his legs idly.

Behind them, something landed with an almighty crunch and clatter, shaking the very roof under them and knocking dust and flakes of concrete from the sides of the Tower. Bucky gripped Clint’s arm with his metal hand and braced himself as the Tower seemed to sway. He was pretty sure Clint held on to the ledge by the power of his puckered ass alone.

Sam was still swooping toward them, flying as fast as his wings would allow. Clint cursed as he watched their weed plummet some seventy-plus stories toward the ground.

Sam pulled up and drew both his guns, pointing them over Bucky and Clint’s heads. The Tower alarms were blaring over the words Sam was shouting.

Bucky squinted at him and held his breath. “There’s something behind us, isn’t there?”

==

Steve watched on Sam’s Redwing cam as Bucky and Clint sat on the edge of the Tower roof – what the everloving fuck were they doing up there?? – and a massive orange ship crash-landed just yards behind them onto the roof.

He grabbed a mic and shouted into it. “Sam, get those fucking idiots off that roof before they get killed!”

“Which fucking idiots?” Sam shouted back, barely audible above the blaring alarms.

Steve stared as Bucky and Clint appeared to argue over which one of them should have to turn around and look to see what was behind them. “Oh, my God,” Steve murmured. “We’re the people entrusted to save the planet. Bruce! You were right!”

“Well, yeah,” Bruce called as he jogged toward the elevators.

On the security cams, Bucky finally pushed to his feet and turned just as a door was opening on the craft. From Steve’s angles in the control room, it looked like a tree stuck its head out to peer around. “What the fuck?” Steve muttered.

Bucky waved his metal hand at it.

“I am Groot?” said the tree to Bucky.

“Aw. All bark and no bite, huh, pal?” Bucky asked the tree.

A raccoon popped its head out of the ship, narrowing its eyes at Bucky. He pointed and then looked back inside the ship. “I’m gonna need that guy’s arm!”

Steve had the choice between bashing his face against the desk or sprinting to the roof to intercede before Bucky and a talking raccoon started an interstellar war or something. He wasted two precious seconds deliberating which course of action would serve him better.

==

“You could have given us a heads up that you were coming,” Steve said to the man who seemed to think he was in charge of the Guardians. Steve refused to think of him as Star-Lord.

“Sorry about that! Are you really Captain America? I read about you in the second grade.”

Steve stared at the man, mouth parted, mind absolutely blank of any suggestions for what to say.

“Anyway!” the guy said with a grin. He glanced around at the assembled Avengers. “Sorry to drop in like that. Oh! Thor! Dude, long time no see!”

“Hello, Peter Quill,” Thor offered with a grimace.

“I like these guys,” Bucky said from the corner, where he and the angry raccoon Steve had spoken to on the screen a few times over the years gleefully disassembled something that was either a tiny nuke launcher, or a trash compactor.

“Buck, please just . . . don’t talk right now. And stop poking that thing!” Steve pleaded. He turned back to the man, Peter Quill, and frowned. “And why exactly did you drop in?”

“Did you know there’s an intergalactic wormhole near this planet?” Quill asked.

Steve shook his head as Tony and Bruce both hummed, like maybe they’d had their suspicions.

“Yeah, we didn’t either,” Quill told Steve. “We were being . . . pursued. Wrongly pursued, I might add. And we stumbled across the Terran wormhole and . . . well, we know you guys, sort of, and we were hoping we’d be able to patch up the Milano here.”

Steve glanced over his shoulder at Tony, who shrugged. Steve sighed and turned back to Quill. “Yeah. Sure. Whatever. What was pursuing you, exactly?” Steve asked.

“Oh, don’t worry about that.”

“I’ve discovered when people tell me not to worry, it is precisely what I should be doing.”

“Ha!” Quill responded happily, blithely ignoring Steve’s question. “Rocket, time to leave your new best buddy and get to work.”

Bucky and Rocket, who was the raccoon apparently, both looked up with wide, innocent eyes, holding pieces of the possibly a nuke or possibly a trash compactor in their hands. Steve was horrified to find that the raccoon had attached pieces of the trash comnuketor to Bucky’s arm and was rigging it to do god knew what.

“Absolutely not!” Steve shouted at Bucky.

==

It turned out that Steve definitely should have worried about what was pursuing the Guardians. Because they found the wormhole too, funny enough. Ha.

Steve didn’t even make it to the bed. He sure as fuck didn’t make it all the way out of his stealth suit. He faceplanted into the sofa, one foot dragging against the ground, and groaned as he deftly ignored the smell of singed stealth tech and singed super soldier.

He heard the leather of Bucky’s tac gear shift and creak next to him. A hand came to rest on the back of Steve’s neck.

“Stevie,” Bucky whispered gently.

Steve groaned in answer.

“Come on, sunshine. I’ll help you shower.”

Steve absolutely did not want to move after the battle they’d just fought. But Bucky’s soft, persuasive voice in his ear could have raised Steve from the grave, and he pushed himself up. Bucky wrapped that metal arm around Steve’s waist and took more of his weight than either of them would ever admit to, helping him to the bathroom and then helping him out of his ripped suit as Steve sat on the sink counter and leaned his forehead on Bucky’s shoulder.

“You okay?” Bucky asked, turning his head and pressing his lips against Steve’s neck.

“I got the shit kicked out of me,” Steve admitted.

“I’m aware. I had a bird’s eye view,” Bucky murmured. Steve hummed. When Bucky spoke again, he sounded like he was holding his breath even as he said the words. “I can’t do this anymore, Steve.”

Steve swallowed hard and gathered enough strength to raise his head so he could look at Bucky’s face. Bucky was frowning, his head cocked, his mouth pulled down. “Can’t do what?” Steve asked.

“I can’t watch from above as you throw yourself at things that are trying to take you from me. Not anymore.”

Steve took in a deep breath.

“We don’t need two snipers. Not with Clint’s skill. Put me on the ground.”

“Buck,” Steve whispered.

Bucky’s hands tightened on Steve’s hips, where he’d basically been holding Steve upright. “Put me on the ground. Let me protect you.”

Steve rested his fingers on Bucky’s bruised cheekbone. Bucky had wound up on the ground in this fight whether Steve had put him there or not. He’d fought tooth and nail, like the berserker Steve had first thought of when he’d watched him fighting the Chitauri in the streets. His thumb slid across Bucky’s bottom lip and his tired eyes followed. “Okay.”

Bucky kissed his thumb. “Thank you.”

“I thought about it,” Steve blurted before Bucky could finish getting his stealth suit off.

Bucky glanced back up at him, eyebrows raised. “What?”

“Asking you to marry me,” Steve murmured, his eyes following Bucky as surely as they always had, as they always would.

Bucky straightened back up, his hands stilling on Steve’s ribs.

“Growing up, I knew that was where I was supposed to end up. Get married, have a family. My biggest fear was falling in love with a man and being forced to live a lie. Then I woke up here, and suddenly I didn’t have to be afraid of who I fell for. And then you came along. And you were the scariest thing I’d ever faced.”

Bucky swallowed hard, eyes darting between Steve’s.

Steve let his fingers slide down Bucky’s grime-covered face to cup his neck. “You’re still the most terrifying thing I’ve ever . . .” Steve whispered.

“Stevie.”

“Buck, all I want is you,” Steve gasped, holding to Bucky harder. “I don’t care what form it’s in. I don’t need a ring or a certificate or anything to tell me you’re mine, except you. So I’m not going to ask. I’m just going to tell you I’m yours, any way you want me.”

Bucky was silent, taking Steve in, eyes so intent on Steve’s face that Steve could feel himself blushing.

“How’d I ever get this lucky?” he finally asked Steve quietly.

Steve felt his lips quirk. “Maybe it’s ’cause it rhymes with your name?”

Bucky narrowed his eyes, and Steve snorted quietly before he could stop it.

“You just ruined an absolutely beautiful moment,” Bucky deadpanned. “I hope you’re proud of yourself.”

Steve raised his hand, showing Bucky the tiniest of spaces between his thumb and forefinger. “Little bit.”

Bucky took Steve’s face in his hands and kissed him gently. Steve could feel the exhaustion and pain sloughing off him like dust in a spring rain.

“Come on,” Bucky murmured, sliding his hands down to push and pull at the stealth suit. “Let’s get you cleaned up and go to bed.”

Steve nosed against Bucky’s neck and under his jaw. “I love you, Buck.”

Bucky kissed above the already healing cut along Steve’s cheek. “I love you too, Stevie.”