Steve hadn't been back to Brooklyn since...well, since his own death. It wasn't like he'd been avoiding the place, he'd just never had an assignment that took him to New York, and he hadn't left anyone behind who mattered enough to check in on. Returning now felt both strange and appropriate; strange in that the neighborhood bore no resemblance to the city he'd left, but appropriate that he'd finish the last of his required angel rotation assignments right here where he'd spent his mortal life. It was like he'd come full circle, in a way.
Thinking of things coming around again, Steve was happy that fashion had made a full circle back to clothing that wasn't horrible. The last time he'd needed to take corporeal form had been in the early '90s, and he'd been forced to blend in with the goth crowd. This time, his cover identity meant dressing in what Coulson called "hipster" style, which Steve understood to be "what he used to wear when he'd been alive." It felt kind of comforting to be dressed in a button-down shirt, v-neck sweater, work boots, and straight-legged jeans. (Although any jeans that fit Steve were, by definition, "skinny jeans".) Black-framed glasses, which he didn't actually need, and a military-surplus style backpack completed the broke-but-stylish effect, and he blended in easily with the Saturday morning crowd on Court Street.
His assignment lived in a three-bedroom pre-war walkup, only blocks away from transportation, shopping, excellent restaurants, and a large park. Steve knew that from the ad that James Barnes had placed, desperately searching for a roommate to fill an immediate vacancy. A vacancy that Steve had created by arranging for Bucky's previous tenant to be offered a once-in-a-lifetime job opportunity at the Sorbonne which required moving to Paris with only a few weeks' notice. To make certain that he'd be the top candidate for what would otherwise be a prime rental in Brooklyn Heights, Steve had blocked all but the most off-the-wall of e-mail applications from going through. (If he couldn't legitimately beat out the woman with 23 cockatiels, or the guy who insisted the apartment be painted entirely in "blood orange" before moving in, he didn't deserve his wings.) Steve had to admit, technology had made angelic meddling much simpler. Repeatedly bump one resume to the top of the list, weed out any legitimate roommate contenders, and he'd easily created a spot for himself in Bucky's life.
The ad hadn't lied - it took Steve only ten minutes to make the walk from the subway station to the address he was looking for. Technically, he could have chosen to simply appear on the sidewalk right in front of the tall, brick-fronted townhouse, but people might start screaming over a man materializing in their midst. So he'd gone the old-fashioned route, finding an empty subway platform in the Bronx where he could take physical form before hopping the 5 train all the way to Brooklyn. The journey had given him time to get accustomed to having a body again, and especially to practice the concentration necessary to keep his entire body from manifesting. Keeping his wings in an ethereal state while the rest of him remained solid required constant focus; it was like trying to go through your day keeping your fingers crossed. Better to get back in the habit in a train full of strangers he could mostly ignore before having to interact directly with his assignment, where his attention would necessarily be divided.
Steve admired the facade of the classic townhouse as he pressed the buzzer for the fourth floor apartment. The building was well-maintained, the brickwork enhanced by white trim, a surprisingly classy royal-blue front door, and neat rows of bright green hedges. He was willing to bet the top floor even had a view of downtown. As much as he was dreading this assignment, at least he'd be living in style while he was stuck here.
He was expecting to be buzzed in, but instead heard the pounding of feet on the stairs - apparently, Bucky was eager to welcome his new tenant. Steve had gone through the case file, of course, but was still surprised when the door was flung open by one of the most attractive men he'd ever seen. Athletic build, dark hair pulled back in a messy bun, soft blue eyes (or were they grey? green?), and an incredibly friendly smile added up to a much more compelling presence than Steve had expected. Not that he cared, of course, what Barnes looked like, other than to note that it would make his job easier. But then, it was cupid duty - any angel worth the title should be able to pull this off without breaking a sweat, no matter what the assignment looked like.
Steve drew his focus back to the task at hand, because Bucky was greeting him with, "Hey, Steve Grant, right? I'm Bucky. Really glad you could come by." The angel corps had been forced to take precautions in the internet age after a few instances when someone had decided to Google the new person in their life and stumbled upon evidence of that angel's actual human lifetime. Therefore, Steven Grant Rogers from Brooklyn had become Steve Grant from Boston in any assignment that required a cover identity. Another thing he'd have to keep in the back of his mind.
"Nice to meet you. Bucky? Is that a nickname?" Reaching to shake the hand that had been offered, he replied as though he hadn't taken a crash course in this man's entire history. They'd exchanged several e-mails to set everything up, but Bucky had signed all of his simply "Barnes." Bucky nodded but offered no explanation, instead turning back into the building as he motioned for Steve to follow him up the stairs. In his human life, Steve could never have handled four flights on a regular basis, but death had cured him off all his physical ailments. It had also made permanent his scrawny physique, something for which he was less grateful. He hadn't thought about that in ages, since he was rarely in physical form, but following Bucky's easy, muscular, stride up the stairs somehow brought back his mortal insecurities. This was the kind of guy he'd always envied - healthy, strong, attractive, and seemingly confident. He understood now, with decades of angelic oversight under his belt, that appearances could be deceptive. But still, this guy needed help finding love?
Reaching the very top of the stairs, they emerged onto a landing with a single door. Bucky's apartment occupied the entire fourth floor and, according to his ad, also had a private rooftop deck. Steve was expecting something nice, but as Bucky ushered him in, his jaw dropped. He couldn't help the soft "wow" that slipped out, because the apartment was amazing.
Bucky laughed. "Thanks. I'm an interior designer. When I bought this place a couple years ago, it was a complete gut job - I think even the rats were covered in bad '70s wallpaper. But I wanted something I could put my own stamp on, and it was a good deal, so...yeah." He trailed off, sounding embarrassed, but Steve was too fascinated looking around to fully notice. The apartment opened directly into a cozy living room that managed to somehow be warm and inviting even though the walls were painted black. Bucky had added a cushy sofa in brown leather, geometric print drapes, and vintage-looking accent pieces. Steve wanted to move into that room and never leave. The guy was talented, and Steve wished like hell that he was there as a muse - imagine what Bucky could do with even more inspiration?
Instead, he was stuck helping him find a romantic partner. First things first - finalize the rental agreement and lock in his position as Bucky's roommate. "This is awesome. Now I'm really glad the bedroom comes furnished," he joked. Bucky seemed relieved, like he'd been worried that Steve wouldn't like the apartment that was clearly his passion project.
"Yeah, let me show you the rest. If you like the room, and the apartment, I've got the lease agreement printed out and you can move right in." The living room opened onto a beautiful, sunny, kitchen that looked like it never got used for anything more complicated than making coffee. A hallway led to a surprisingly spacious bathroom, complete with a giant claw-foot tub, and three bedrooms. The first two doors led to Bucky's bedroom and office, but the doors were closed and Steve couldn't get a peek. Oh well; he'd have plenty of time to snoop later when he ditched his body. Opening the final door with a flourish, Bucky announced, "And this is the rental. We'd share the bathroom, but there's a desk in here and everything so you'd have plenty of personal space for studying or...whatever." He trailed off, seeming anxious for Steve's reaction to the room.
Steve had never paid much attention to decor, but it was clearly important to Bucky, and befriending Bucky was important to his mission. So he was determined to put on a pleased reaction even if this room didn't live up to the rest of what he'd already seen in the apartment. He needn't have worried, though, because Bucky was good at what he did. The furnishings were simple - a bed, a desk and chair, a few accents and some lighting - but Bucky had made the room feel simultaneously polished and inviting. The walls were an antique blue, but other than that, Bucky had wisely allowed the view to be the true star of the show, and Steve had guessed right - it was spectacular.
Dropping his bag, he turned to Bucky with a grin. "Where do I sign?" Even if he hadn't needed to live here for this assignment, it was a space he would have gladly spent time in. He'd always thought of furnishings as just...functional. You needed a bed to sleep in, a roof and walls to keep you warm and dry. Honestly, when he'd been mortal, he hadn't really had the budget to think beyond those basics. But with just a few pieces, Bucky had managed to create a sense of safety, of comfort and home in this room. Steve acknowledged it now as a form of art, a term he would have previously reserved for the grand spaces of the world, places like Versailles or the Taj Mahal. Art was something he could appreciate, and respect, and it gave him hope that he might not find this rotation as completely annoying as he'd feared. If he actually liked his assignment - which wasn't always the case - and they got along well, the time would pass quickly.
Back in the kitchen, Steve made a show of reading through the lease before signing it with a flourish. The wonderful blue room with the view of the city was now his for six months, but Steve would be gone long before then. He would, of course, find an appropriate sublet to finish out his lease so that Bucky wouldn't be left in the lurch. Unless Bucky decided he'd rather have his soon-to-be-matched partner move in than fill Steve's spot. It was definitely possible that Bucky'd be more than happy to get rid of his roommate when "Steve Grant" dropped out of school and moved home due to a family emergency.
Paperwork taken care of, Bucky gave Steve keys to the building and the apartment, then offered to show him "the rest." That consisted of a communal basement laundry room (that Steve would have to make use of for show) and the private rooftop deck. Before heading up, Bucky offered Steve a cold drink - "I don't drink alcohol, so I've got soda, iced tea, or water" - and they ended up watching the sunset while munching chips and salsa, drinking orange cream soda, and talking over Bucky's grand vision for the rooftop space that so far consisted of two lounge chairs and a rusty table.
"I'm telling you, it's gonna be spectacular. Wood planking, like a suburban deck, over half the roof. Then artificial grass over the other half. Only I'm gonna put the grass on a thick underlay, so we can stick croquet stakes and wickets in it. I've wanted my own croquet set since I saw Alice in Wonderland. When I'm ready to put the time and money in up here? I'm gonna find an artist to make wickets that look like arched playing cards, just like in the cartoon." Bucky was grinning like a loon, and Steve found he was actually enjoying spending time with the guy.
"If you do that, you've gotta get pink flamingo mallets." The animated version of Alice had been released after his time, but being an angel was the type of job that came with an eternity of spare time to soak up pop culture. He'd loved all things Disney since Snow White had hit theaters in '39, plus he found Bucky's enthusiasm - the sheer passion with which he described his vision for the space - mesmerizing. When Bucky described it, Steve could really picture what the barren rooftop could become - twinkling lights draped overhead, cushy seating areas and a grill for warm summer nights. He was almost sad that he wouldn't be around to see it happen.
Bucky was off and running, though, trying to decide if he knew any woodworkers who wouldn't balk at carving a set of flamingos for him. Or if he'd be better off having those 3D-printed, which was apparently an option these days; Steve needed to do some catching up on the most recent tech advances. More importantly, though, he needed to get down to business on the reason he'd been sent: to find Bucky a match. The sooner he got done, the sooner Steve could move on to his own dreams, which didn't include cupid duty or rooftop croquet flamingos. Accepting another soda - where had Bucky found butterbeer? - Steve settled in to enjoy the sunset. Once Bucky and the rest of the city were asleep, he'd get to work.
As an angel, Steve could sleep, but he didn't actually require it. Which worked out well, since the middle of the night was the perfect time for research and intervention. Around eleven, he decided it was quiet enough in the apartment that Bucky was probably in his room for the night, and therefore unlikely to notice that Steve was not in his room. Standing up from where he'd been lying in the very comfortable bed and enjoying his city view, Steve let go of his physical form with a sense of relief. He loved having a body, but having only most of his body was exhausting. Becoming fully ethereal meant he could stop focusing on keeping his wings from taking form, with the added bonus that he could move around at will - in his angelic form, he'd have to actually put in effort to be seen by human eyes. It was time to arrange a match for Bucky, and Steve already knew where to start.
With no more than a thought, he was across town in Williamsburg, in the apartment of the woman who'd been first on Bucky's list of potentials. The list contained thirty-three names in total: people who had been identified as being of an acceptable age, gender, sexuality, and general interest group that they might be a match for his assignment. They were all close enough geographically that arranging for them to cross paths with Bucky was logistically plausible. Most importantly, they all shared the quality that had gotten Bucky assigned a cupid intervention: they wanted desperately to find romantic love, but had shown no success at obtaining it on their own. No doubt Bucky had shown up on many lists of potentials in the past, and the people on this list would eventually be assigned cupids of their own if they continued to fail in their quest for romance. For now, though, they were Steve's to work with. He couldn't imagine needing a list of thirty-three people to find a husband or wife for one guy, not when all the hard work had already been done by the dominion angels in just creating the list. He figured it shouldn't take him more than two or three tries, tops, to set Bucky up with a match.
Since anyone on the list would do, Steve had just started at the top. Wandering through the darkened apartment, he reviewed what he knew of the woman who lived there. She was an up-and-coming executive for a respected security tech firm in Manhattan, loved jogging, and volunteered frequently at a shelter for the homeless. A sharp yowl alerted him to the fact that she had a cat, one of those weird hairless things that people sometimes got when they were allergic. Or maybe she just liked animals that looked like small, angry, aliens? Either way, it was a complication, because animals were much more capable of perceiving his presence than people and this cat seemed determined to alert its owner to the invisible intruder. Sure enough, a pretty brunette wandered out of the bedroom wearing boxer shorts and a tank top, but after a brief and one-sided discussion "Dobby" followed her to bed. (If the cat was named after the house-elf in Harry Potter, Steve liked this woman already.)
He couldn't see anything in her apartment that would indicate the match might go poorly. A brief review of her photos, calendar, and computer turned up nothing that would set off alarm bells - she showed no deep, hidden, hatred of interior designers or Alice in Wonderland, and didn't seem to have any romantic prospects already on the horizon. Her weekly firing range visits meant she'd be well-prepared if the oft-discussed zombie apocalypse ever did come to pass, although he had it on good authority that wasn't going to happen this millennium. All in all, he couldn't see why she and Bucky wouldn't hit it off immediately, both of them being smart, single, attractive and, apparently, in need of love. He poured through the data from her Metro card, and found she took the A train into Manhattan every morning. Bucky had mentioned a meeting in Chelsea the next day; Steve could definitely make that work for him.
Satisfied that he'd be finished with this mission within a few days, Steve drifted back to Bucky's apartment with a smile. As soon as Bucky and his match realized that they were in love with each other, Steve would have completed his full rotation of assignments and he'd be eligible for promotion. He made a few quick adjustments to be sure Bucky would end up on the same train as his future love, then decided to resume his physical form. He wanted to actually sleep in that comfy bed while he had a body to appreciate it with, and he didn't expect to stick around long enough to have many more chances.
The morning played out exactly as Steve had hoped. He sat quietly in his room, listening as Bucky got ready for his early appointment. The guy got points for being a very considerate roommate; if Steve hadn't already been awake and listening, he would never have realized that Bucky was moving around out there. Even once Bucky was ready to walk out the door and discovered his keys were missing, he didn't immediately come to Steve's room to wake him up and ask his new roommate to lock up behind him. Instead, Steve listened to a few minutes of frantic searching and increasingly agitated curses. When he judged it had been long enough that Bucky would miss his intended train - and get on the one Steve needed him on instead - he took pity on the guy and wandered out of his bedroom with a yawn.
"Steve!" Alright, maybe he felt a little bad for hiding Bucky's keys when he heard the relief in that voice. But it was all for a good cause, right? "Man, I'm glad you're awake. Can you lock up after me? I can't find my keys and if I don't get out of here right now, I'm never gonna make my meeting on time." Steve nodded, pretending to be bleary with sleep, and Bucky threw a messenger bag over his shoulder before tearing out the door. Steve took a moment to retrieve the stolen keys from his own room - why did a grown man have a superhero keychain, anyway? - before locking the front door and shifting into ethereal form.
After that, it took some doing to be sure Bucky would get on the exact right train. Steve jumped ahead to be sure his candidate had made it onto her usual train and to figure out which car she was riding in. Returning to where Bucky was jogging down the street, he cleared a path to allow him to get to the platform on time, creating a cold zone that people instinctively moved away from. Bucky made it to the subway station unobstructed, just as the A train was pulling in, and Steve again used temperature to guide Bucky to the car he needed to be on. He also took the opportunity to drop Bucky's keys in his messenger bag for him to find later.
By the time Steve got his couple where they needed to be, he was drained. It took a lot of energy to change the temperature, and he'd had to resort to actually sitting in one man to get him out of the way. Once he'd finally cleared a spot next to the elegant brunette, he'd had to suffer through Bucky waiting to see if anyone else in the vicinity wanted the seat before taking it himself. Move faster, Bucko, you've only got a few stops to pull this off. Finally, though, his assignment and his potential match were seated next to each other. Steve gave her bag a little jolt, just enough to have it spilling into Bucky's lap, and...perfect. A book slid out, and Bucky handed it back with a casual, "That book is amazing - I couldn't put it down. Read the entire thing in one night." His case file had mentioned that he was a skilled and prolific flirt, and he didn't let Steve down. It was subtle, though - lots of eye contact, some naughty smiles, a lot of licking and biting his lips. Steve found his gaze drawn to Bucky's mouth over and over again, and was pleased to see that the potential match was having the same problem as she tried to articulate some point about potatoes and dust storms.
It continued to puzzle him that someone who could go from friendly to enticing in the blink of an eye would somehow need an angel's help to find love, but it looked as though Steve had gotten the job done. They were both laughing, talking animatedly, and seemed to have an instant rapport. Their body language was promising - as they shifted slightly to face each other more and continue the conversation, their knees pressed together, and neither pulled away.
She was blushing now, just a bit, and Steve didn't think this was a woman who blushed often. What had he missed? Didn't matter; he figured this was practically a done-deal when she asked, "So what are you heading into the city for?" It was an invitation to take their conversation beyond the book she'd now tucked back into her bag, and an opening for Bucky to suggest that they meet for lunch or coffee once he'd finished with his appointment. Steve frowned as Bucky instead launched into a detailed description of the penthouse redesign he was working on. Steve's confidence began to fade when the woman stood to exit and Bucky hadn't yet made plans to meet her again, or even asked for her number.
As Steve watched in shock, the potential match exited the train and the doors slid shut behind her. Everything had been perfect. She'd been on the list, and Bucky had clearly been attracted to her - he'd flirted so blatantly that even Steve had found it sexy! She'd been receptive and friendly, but Bucky hadn't even tried to take it further. Steve glared at his assignment, which might have had more effect if he hadn't been invisible. Bucky pulled out his phone and began reading e-mails, oblivious to the fact that he'd not only wasted a perfectly acceptable shot at finding love for himself, he'd ruined Steve's chance at finishing this stupid mission with the first candidate. He couldn't arrange a second "accidental" meeting; one or both of them would probably find it suspicious and assume the other person was stalking them. Match-ups with a stranger were a one-shot deal, and now Steve would have to choose another candidate from the list.
Frustrated, Steve blinked back to Bucky's - their - apartment. There was no logical excuse for Bucky's behavior, and he'd have to figure out why the idiot hadn't followed through on his obvious attraction. Tonight, he'd offer to cook dinner for his new landlord and get to know what was going on in his head. In the meantime, he'd begin researching the next candidate on the list and figuring out how to arrange a meeting. Which Bucky had better not mess up. Stealing a butterbeer from the fridge - not great roommate behavior, but he'd replace it later, figured he deserved it, and they were delicious - Steve settled in with his list. It was time to research and, okay, pout.
Thanks also to the RBB mods who made participating in my first bang so easy, to starlitmorning for her valiant beta efforts, and to lostromanianpuppy for filling my desperate last-minute proofreading needs.
"Hey, I think that guy just winked at you."
Steve hadn't had an opportunity that first night to make dinner for Bucky, or pick his brain about what had gone wrong with his attempt at match-making. In fact, he barely saw or spoke to his roommate for days - the guy basically came home to sleep and shower. If not for their brief encounters in the kitchen each morning while Bucky filled a travel mug with coffee and toasted a bagel, Steve wouldn't have seen him at all. For any typical roommate, the situation probably would have been bliss, but Steve's success depended on figuring out how Bucky's mind worked, and that was hard to do if they never even spoke.
Bucky had created possibly the most relaxing, inviting, downright welcoming home that Steve could ever have imagined, and he spent almost no time in it. Instead, he spent all day working - meeting with clients, visiting vendors, basically running around the city either figuring out what people needed or procuring it. His evenings were filled with what Steve thought of as more work: gallery showings, cocktail parties, events that could have been fun but which Bucky treated as opportunities to make more contacts for his business. Steve, of course, shadowed him through all of this, ghosting along to observe his assignment. If he was never going to have the chance to interact with the guy directly, he could at least try to gain some insight from the way Bucky acted around others.
It was the most ridiculous waste of Steve's time imaginable. He was required to do a rotation in each angel classification before receiving his final placement, but it frustrated him to no end that his talents were being wasted on finding this man a date. Really, like people couldn't manage to hook up without the help of angels? Bucky could have asked any of the people who ogled him in the gym every day for their number; there'd been several who'd made it obvious they'd be happy for a little romance with the well-built brunette on the treadmill. If he really wanted love, there were plenty of websites and apps and magazine articles that could help him find it without angelic intervention.
Not that he even appeared to want it. Bucky was what Steve's mom would have referred to as a social butterfly - he seemed to know half the people in the city, and those he didn't know became his friends within five minutes of meeting him. Bucky could go to a party and by the time he left, he'd have ten new contacts in his phone and plans to grab coffee or play basketball or hit up happy hour with most of them. But he didn't bring anyone home, didn't seem to really be looking for his "one true love" at all - just collecting enough acquaintances to fill a stadium.
It didn't matter, though. Whatever Bucky was doing wrong, Steve had to do right, or he'd never be done with this silly assignment. He'd consulted his list, and decided to go to the opposite end of the spectrum. Clearly Bucky had found something in Steve's first attempt that just hadn't been what he was looking for, so Steve hoped to strike gold by going with someone wildly different. Bucky's list included both male and female potentials, so Steve had chosen a man this time. Someone less serious, more playful. Less mature and reserved. It took him a bit of surveillance, working his way through the men on the list, but Steve thought he had the perfect candidate. If Bucky'd found something to dislike about his first match, well, this next one should be right up his alley. And the guy had just shown interest in Bucky.
"Shit, really? Which one?" Bucky sat up straighter and scanned the players on the ice, but with the heavy padding, they pretty much all looked the same. Still, Steve had a specific guy picked out, and he had winked. Which was no surprise, since Steve's research had shown that Bucky was exactly his type. Steve had positioned them perfectly for Bucky to see and be seen - front row, right next to the penalty box. Given his roommate's apparent inability to turn down any social event, it had been easy to convince him to come along when Steve suddenly "lucked into" some Rangers tickets, telling Bucky a friend had come down with the flu and couldn't use them.
"Number eighty-eight. Power forward." As he said it, the guy checked someone else into the glass right in front of them, winking at Bucky again before pushing off to chase after the puck.
"Whoa." Bucky gulped audibly, and Steve couldn't blame him - that man was prime Norwegian beefcake, with a grin that said he knew it. He was also one of the few openly gay players in the NHL, which was a definite must. Steve wasn't going to set Bucky up in a relationship that he'd have to hide. He hadn't thought about his own sexuality in decades - hadn't thought about sex or romance in relation to himself since he'd become an angel. But during his human lifetime, he'd never been able to tell anyone that he preferred men; the consequences would have been severe. He wasn't going to put Bucky in that position; any male matches would have to be as out about their sexuality as Bucky was about his bisexuality.
"Steve, did you see that? Tell me I didn't imagine that!" Bucky grabbed his arm, practically making Steve dump his soda, but he'd forgive him because yes, Steve had seen that. Number eighty-eight was definitely willing to be open about who and what he wanted, because he'd just given Bucky a look and licked his lips as he skated by.
"You did not imagine that. That man wants to eat you," Steve joked, while mentally giving himself a pat on the back. After his death, he'd spent the required decades observing humanity, learning about people and how best to help them. Since graduating to active duty, he had excelled in every rotation he'd ever been assigned. Steve had expected cupid duty to be the easiest of all, and had been a little shocked when his first attempt at completing such a simple task had fallen short. But he hadn't lost his touch, that first failure must have been a fluke.
The towering Norse god was caught cross-checking and moments later was in the penalty box, putting him only one sheet of protective plexiglass away from Bucky. He made good use of his two minutes in the box, and by the time he was back on the ice, Bucky had the guy's number in his cell phone and a mile-wide grin on his face. Obviously, Steve's second selection for Bucky was going to do the trick.
Steve gulped. He tried to make himself look away, because really, he wasn't some kind of voyeur. He'd only popped into Bucky's bedroom to make sure everything was still going well. Bucky had actually brought someone home - a first since Steve had moved in, and surely an encouraging sign. He'd only wanted to take a glance because Bucky had proven that he was perfectly capable of failing to capitalize on a good thing. But these two needed absolutely no help from Steve, and were enthusiastically...capitalizing...all on their own. In ways Steve had never imagined, and if he had, he wouldn't have believed them possible. Honestly he hadn't known that anyone could be that flexible, but somehow Bucky was making it happen. And his partner was - well, he had to be some sort of god, because there was no way a mere human could have that sort of stamina and strength. Surely the things they were doing had to be painful, if not possibly illegal, and definitely unsanitary. But also somehow beautiful. Both men were in peak physical condition, not to mention stunningly attractive, and seeing them move together was like watching a piece of art come to life. As Steve watched, Bucky wrapped his hands in that long blond hair and begged for more. More??? There couldn't possibly be more. But with a laugh, the god did something with his hips, and apparently it was the more that Bucky had been asking for because he was shouting...
Steve blinked back into his own room. He was surprised to find himself panting and a little bit shaky. He'd never had the chance, in his human life, to experience sex, and as an angel had always wondered what the fuss was about. But after what he'd just seen, he thought maybe he understood a bit better why everyone went to so much effort trying to obtain it. Even just watching had been overwhelming. And apparently, he'd be spending the rest of the night listening, because almost as soon as the shouting from both men had died down, the moaning had started up again.
Settling onto his own bed, Steve told himself that he couldn't simply leave the apartment until they were finished. What if something went wrong? He was so close to completing the mission, he couldn't afford to leave the rest to chance just because he was unnerved listening to Bucky's desperate, blissful, cries through the wall. He'd have to stick it out, in case any further intervention was required. Whatever it took to complete the mission.
Steve woke in the morning when he heard the shower turn on. The fact that he was still in the apartment was a bit of a disappointment, but not terribly surprising. The very moment that Bucky fell in love with someone who loved him in return, Steve's mission would be considered complete and he'd find himself back in the angelic realm. He'd hoped - but not expected - that the two might fall in love by the end of their first night together. Obviously, things hadn't been that instantaneous, and he'd have to stick around a little longer, nudge them along.
First step: figuring out what the situation was like outside his room. Steve faded into Bucky's bedroom to see which man was still in bed, only to find the room empty. The place looked like someone had trashed it - all the bedding was on the floor, the mattress was half off the bed, and the lamp on Bucky's bedside table had fallen and shattered. That explained the crash he'd heard around 4am, which he'd been - he admitted it - too embarrassed to investigate. But where was the golden god? Unless they were both in the bathroom?
Before witnessing the previous night's display of sheer physical exuberance, the possibility wouldn't have occurred to him, but now Steve realized that the two men must be in the shower together. They'd clearly had no boundaries, no shyness, and there was no question they'd both have woken up sweaty and sore and, well, messy. So they were cleaning up together, which Steve decided was a good sign - they wanted to continue their closeness. Steve needed to wait to leave his room until only Bucky was in the apartment, to avoid interrupting any bonding the men might do this morning. He'd just check in on them, see if he could figure out when their guest would be leaving, and be sure his assignment hadn't been - injured, or anything - during the night's activities.
In the steam-filled bathroom, Steve couldn't hear anything over the sound of running water. On the other side of the shower curtain, Bucky and his date weren't talking. Maybe they were kissing? Curiosity overcame any sense of propriety, and Steve blinked himself into the bathtub. He'd only stay a moment, to reassure himself that everything was on track. But he froze in surprise when he saw that only Bucky stood beneath the spray of water. After a night like they'd had, the potential match had just...left? Maybe he'd gone to pick up breakfast.
Steve stared at Bucky's face, searching for clues. Bucky looked tired, but not unhappy. He was leaning forward, hands against the wall as though he could barely hold himself up, allowing the hot water to pour over him. Searching for any signs of injury, Steve scanned Bucky's body, but he appeared perfectly intact. From his broad, muscular, shoulders down to his perfectly rounded ass, everything about Bucky seemed to be more than fine. Not the kind of man you'd walk away from in the morning. As Steve watched, Bucky reached for the shampoo, letting out a soft moan when the movement apparently aggravated muscles sore from the previous night. But whatever injuries he might have weren't visible, and apparently not severe enough to keep him in bed.
Bucky turned his back to the water to rinse out his hair, giving Steve the chance to examine his front side for any damage. With all the screaming he'd heard the night before, Bucky couldn't have emerged unscathed. There were several bite marks, nearly hidden by the light dusting of hair on his chest, but otherwise he seemed okay. Or mostly so. Lathering shower gel over his body, Bucky winced and gasped softly as he gently soaped his penis, which was clearly tender.
Steve retreated to the kitchen, making himself a cup of tea to help settle the sudden shakiness he was feeling. He'd just wait until Bucky emerged for breakfast to find out why his match had left so early that morning, and when they planned to see each other again.
Bucky finally appeared twenty minutes later, walking a bit stiffly but otherwise in a seemingly good mood. Steve waited until he'd poured himself a cup of coffee and joined Steve on the couch before diving in. There was really no way to be subtle about it, so he decided to go for a teasing roommate tone and hope that Bucky would confide in him.
"So. Get up to anything interesting last night?" Steve asked with what he hoped was an inviting grin.
Bucky moaned, again, as he shifted on the couch with a slight wince. "Man, I'm so sorry. I didn't expect things to get so loud or I would have suggested we go back to his place. I'm not normally such an ass to my roommates, I swear." He took a long drink from what Steve now smelled was tea laced with honey, sighing with pleasure, and Steve realized that Bucky's voice had sounded a bit hoarse. Like he'd done so much shouting last night he could barely talk. Or like his throat had been rubbed raw.
Steve shook his head; he needed to focus. "Don't worry about it, man. If that guy had winked at me, I would have brought him home, too. Don't suppose he has a brother?" That was it, keep the tone light, and he might get some details without seeming too obviously curious. Belatedly, Steve realized that he'd just revealed his own sexuality to someone else for the first time - he couldn't have told anyone when he'd been alive, and since he'd become an angel, it just hadn't been relevant.
Apparently it was still irrelevant, as Bucky let the comment slide without any reaction. Instead he laughed, low and a bit rough. "I'm pretty sure that man is one of a kind. God made him and just acknowledged that perfection had been achieved, no point in trying any further, the ultimate specimen has been created." Taking another sip of tea, Bucky shifted on the couch again, trying to find a comfortable position. "I don't think I'm going to be able to walk for a week. Or speak. Or think. Sorry, tmi."
Too much information? There was no such thing, this was Steve's mission on the line. As much as it made him...uncomfortable...to hear about Bucky's sexual activities, he needed to know if there was anything he could do to push this process along. "Yeah? So you think he'll be coming over again tonight?"
Shaking his head, Bucky gazed out the window with a far-off look in his eyes, like he wasn't seeing the trees waving in the breeze outside but instead replaying the previous night in his mind. "No way, man. Last night was epic. Earth-shattering. But that kind of sex? Nobody's meant to have that more than once in a lifetime. It would break me. My mind couldn't handle it, let alone my body. I'd never survive that guy for more than a night. No mere mortal could."
Steve's jaw dropped. Bucky was letting his match walk away? Because he was too good? He couldn't wrap his mind around it, couldn't figure out how to reply to such an idiotic decision, and by the time he got over the shock it was too late. Bucky'd finished his tea, put the cup in the sink, and hobbled down the hall to start putting his bedroom back in order. Steve could hear soft groans of complaint as Bucky shoved his furniture back into place, but he didn't care. Let Bucky deal with his wrecked bedroom and his aching body on his own. There was no way Steve was offering to help the guy.
He just might murder him instead.
Okay, so Steve's third choice was a little bit dull. Maybe dry. He worked in some mysterious government job, so this wasn't totally unexpected. But Bucky really hadn't needed to get into a debate with him over government transparency and civil liberties. It was no wonder the guy had walked out of Starbucks in a huff. Steve seethed, but kept searching.
Bucky needed to lower his standards. As he ranted to Steve about match number four, it took all Steve had to keep his mouth shut. Just because a guy had ambition, wanted to leave his mark on the world, didn't mean he was evil. Surely number four hadn't been that bad. Okay, privately maybe Steve could admit the guy'd been a bit of a megalomaniac, but still. And of course, Bucky had been perfectly happy with the guy long enough to bring him home and bang him like a screen door in a hurricane. Steve had been forced to listen to another night of moans, shouts, and probable hair-pulling (was long hair a requirement to get into Bucky's bed?), but with nothing to show for it. Things had disintegrated when they'd decided to watch the news while drinking their morning coffee, and when Bucky'd begun a furious speech about free will, Steve had wanted to cry.
He went back to the list, crossed another name off, and continued the search for someone Bucky might actually make it to a second date with.
Two weeks later, Steve winced as Bucky slammed the door shut behind him. He'd honestly thought about hiding in his room, or just not being home, but if Bucky needed to vent to someone, Steve figured he deserved it. He scooted over on the sofa to make room, and bumped into his own wings. Shit. He'd nearly given himself away in his agitation, but luckily Bucky had been too agitated himself to notice the lapse.
"You are not gonna believe the date I just had." Bucky, usually the most even-tempered guy imaginable, practically kicked his shoes across the room as he toed them off. Yanking off his tie, he flung himself down on the couch beside Steve, rubbing his eyes as he slouched into the soft caramel leather.
Try me, Bucky, you'd be surprised. Steve had watched the entire disaster unfold, then blinked himself back to the living room before Bucky made it home. This one was entirely his fault. He'd tried to find someone who was a combination of his first two semi-successful attempts, who blended sex-god with intelligence. It had taken him a week to choose the guy, another week to arrange the meeting, and it had been his most epic catastrophe yet. Somehow, he'd failed to understand anything about the potential match he'd paired with Bucky. Closing the book he'd supposedly been reading for school, Steve bit the bullet. "What went wrong?"
Bucky groaned. "What didn't go wrong? I mean, the man is hot. A genius. A billionaire. He's gotta be bachelor of the year on every list in New York for ten years running. The problem is, he knows all that." Bucky sat up, swung around to face Steve. "It's like he was on a date with himself. He talked non-stop, about his charity and his latest work projects and his skydiving trip and his villa on Lake Como and his stock split and..." Bucky shook his head. "Anytime he stopped telling me how great he was, it was just to get on his phone and make notes to himself on some new tech he's designing."
Bucky continued ridding himself of the remains of his night out, tossing his belt on the table before unbuttoning his dress shirt. "I don't even know why he asked me out. When he stopped by my display, I thought that was the best moment of my career. Then when he asked me to dinner, I thought...no, it's the best moment of my life. But it's like he only bothers taking a date along so he'll have an audience. And maybe for the sex."
Steve nodded sympathetically. He'd been so pleased when he'd found the charity event as a way for them to meet, because he could give Bucky's career a little nudge along with his romantic life. Every spring, a select handful of up-and-coming designers were invited to create one room of their choosing. Steve had made sure Bucky's portfolio was seen by the organizers, and had been secretly a bit proud when they'd chosen Bucky to participate based on his design skill without any additional interference from Steve. As one of the sponsors of the event - who happened to own the building where it took place - Bucky's potential match had been guaranteed to attend. He'd wandered the various displays, bidding on a few rooms just to keep the action going, but Steve had gently nudged him in the direction of the stunning modern bedroom layout that Bucky had designed.
"When he bid on my room - hell, overbid, by a lot - I thought, wow something in my work really speaks to him. Maybe we have something in common, if he liked what I put together that much. But honestly, I think he just liked picturing himself in that bed." To be fair, it had been an amazing four-poster bed - Steve had wanted to crawl in it himself. But it was now installed, along with the rest of the pieces Bucky had chosen, in a bedroom at the top of the glittering tower that dominated the Manhattan skyline. Where Bucky clearly would not be spending the night with the winning bidder.
Which left Steve wondering, to be honest. "I'm surprised you didn't leave early." Or, on the other end of the spectrum, go home with his date. When Bucky had stuck it out through the entire miserable meal, Steve had assumed that he planned to go home with the guy and just turn it into a one-night stand. Otherwise, why not take off as soon as it was obvious how badly the night was going?
Bucky grinned, and just like that, his mood seemed to lift. "Are you kidding? I'm never gonna be able to afford dinner at Per Se myself. No way in hell was I missing out on a single course of that meal. That was my freakin' payment for making it through the date." He hopped up from the sofa, returning with a bottle of orange cream soda from the fridge. "Pretty sure I could have gone home with him if I'd wanted to, but I can't imagine that guy in bed. Probably only gets off if you tell him how smart he is. I don't think he even really cares who's with him, as long as they're hot. When I was getting my jacket back from the coat check - after I'd told him I was heading home - I heard him asking our waitress what she was doing after her shift." Bucky didn't seem bothered though, just shaking his head as he took a sip of his drink.
Steve, however, was bothered. He'd failed - again - and he'd never had this much trouble with a mission before. Maybe it was because he just honestly didn't see the point. He understood the need for love - he'd loved his mom deeply - but why weren't people satisfied with that? Everyone seemed so driven to find romantic love. It didn't matter, though, if he understood. The mission was to help Bucky find love, and Steve could never become a guardian angel if he didn't pull this off.
Which was another thing he didn't understand. All an angel had to do to choose a particular classification as their permanent role was to score well in their training rotation for that classification. Steve had perfect or near-perfect marks in every rotation so far, and could have chosen any of those, been done with his training. But Steve wanted to be a guardian - and there was no training rotation for guardians. Instead, for some reason trainees had to score well in every rotation in order to request permanent duties as a guardian angel. Including cupid rotation, a role at which he was currently failing.
Bucky nudged Steve's book with his toe. "What are you reading? Stuff for school?" Steve nodded - he'd grabbed a couple of books and a notepad before curling up in the living room, since he'd supposedly been home studying all night.
"Autobiography, a woman who volunteered with the Red Cross during World War II. Mostly the volunteers were there to serve coffee to the soldiers, greet them when they got off the ships and stuff. But she had some amazing adventures, and she's really got a good understanding of human nature. A lot of great insight into the people around her, especially in Germany after V-E day." Steve stopped himself. "Sorry, I get really caught up in this stuff." That was why he'd chosen it as his cover; if he needed to spend a lot of his time in the apartment with a book in his hand, it might as well be something he actually wanted to read.
But Bucky shook his head, and actually seemed interested. "No, tell me more - that's a hell of a lot more interesting than stock splits. I've always been into history, especially the 1940s." His smile was magnetic, inviting, and it baffled Steve that anyone could spend an entire dinner with the guy and not want to know everything there was to know about him. And when he laughed...
"You know, I've probably got more in common with you than with the playboy philanthropist tonight. Maybe you should date me, save me from any more bad dinners. We could just hang out here, talk about history, drink my butterbeer..." - he threw a pointed glance at Steve's beverage, and Steve blushed, having forgotten to buy more - "and make out." Plastering what was probably meant to be a comically suggestive expression on his face, Bucky dropped his voice. "What do you say, roomie...wanna get naked together?"
Steve forced a laugh, going along with the joke. "Sorry, I only date guys who can afford to take me to dinner at Per Se." But inwardly, he was rattled. Bucky was just too damned gorgeous for that expression to be anything but sexy, and in his half-dressed and disheveled state, he was pure temptation. He was also a flirt, which Steve knew from having watched him for weeks, so Steve felt confident he wasn't seriously interested. He was just being Bucky, and Bucky with Steve was obviously impossible.
So Steve circled back around to the book, telling Bucky more about the women who'd served away from the front lines during the war. And if Bucky seemed to hang on his words, to pay attention and ask questions as though he honestly wanted to know what Steve thought, to meet his gaze except for those moments when Steve could've sworn Bucky was staring at his mouth - well, he'd said he was interested in history. Steve reminded himself of that repeatedly as they talked well into the night, until they were finally too exhausted to see straight.
It was only after he'd crawled into bed that Steve realized that he'd stopped thinking of Bucky as his assignment, but instead as a friend. In fact, it had been hours since he'd thought of his mission at all.
This was it. Steve felt good - no, great - about the way things were going between Bucky and Sam. It was their third date, and Steve hoped this would be the one that sealed the deal. They'd met at the gym, thanks to Steve arranging for Sam to win a free month at Bucky's favorite workout spot. After spending a morning not-so-subtly competing to see who could go faster on the treadmill (Sam), who could bench press more weight (Bucky), and who could do more pull-ups (a draw), the two had introduced themselves and ended up grabbing smoothies together. That had been followed a few days later by lunch, which had gone really well in spite of the fact that Sam and Bucky seemed to bring out all the most stupidly competitive aspects of each other's nature. Whatever, it seemed to be working for them, since they'd made it to round three...dinner. Which Steve felt he'd arranged to perfection, and glancing around, he allowed himself a small pat on the back.
Bucky'd mentioned asking Sam to dinner, and Steve had been prepared with a restaurant suggestion just a couple of miles from their apartment. He'd made a few adjustments to the hostess's reservation book, and now the men were seated on an intimate outdoor patio that was perfect for romance. Brick walls covered in vines, candlelight, small fountains and a jungle of potted plants made it seem like Sam and Bucky were in their own world. With, of course, one angelic observer to make certain that the beautiful jerk didn't screw things up again. If Bucky excelled at anything, it was sabotaging a perfectly acceptable match, and Steve was going to prevent that from happening this time even if he had to sit in the bedroom with them all night.
Shaking his head to clear that image from his mind, Steve focused on the task at hand. They'd ordered drinks - wine for Sam, iced tea for Bucky - and an appetizer to share, but seemed perfectly content to just sit and talk for a while. Steve was happy to see them drawing the evening out, in no hurry for dinner to be over. As much as he hoped this date would end up with Sam and Bucky going home together, the nights he'd spent listening to Bucky have sex in the next bedroom had been incredibly awkward for Steve, and he wasn't really looking forward to that portion of the evening. This part, he was actually enjoying. Bucky had dialed his flirtatious charm up to eleven. He'd been giving Sam the full treatment - slow grins, subtle touches, devastatingly sexy glances from beneath impossibly long eyelashes. Steve couldn't imagine what it must be like to have Bucky focus that much attention on you, but he was sure Sam would be unable to resist. The candlelit beauty of the courtyard made even their dumb competitiveness seem like witty banter, a type of fierce foreplay.
"No. The Yankees? C'mon. Everyone hates the Yankees. You gotta cheer for the Mets." Steve sighed. No, even candlelight couldn't help these guys be less annoying. They bickered over everything. And sure, it might be fun to debate sports sometimes, or dissect a favorite movie, but somehow Sam and Bucky managed to turn every single topic into a challenge. He was exhausted just listening to them. And as far as Steve was concerned, baseball in New York had ended the minute the Dodgers left Brooklyn. Luckily, the server chose that moment to take the orders for their entrees, cutting off the baseball argument. Steve let out a relieved sigh.
He was surprised to find himself a little bit conflicted about ending the mission. Sure, it had been frustrating - he'd never struggled so much with an assignment. Plus he was ecstatic that he'd finally be qualified for the guardian angel role. But he'd actually enjoyed being Bucky's roommate; if they'd met during his human life, Steve was certain they would have been friends. And, watching Sam laugh at something Bucky had said, Steve was a little envious. He'd never been taken out for a romantic dinner by an attractive man who was interested in him. As an angel, that was an experience that was definitely not in his future, either. He had to admit that a small part of him wished he was the one sitting at that table with Bucky, that he was the one looking forward to a good-night kiss - maybe more - from those sinful lips. But that wasn't his mission.
"Are you kidding me?" Steve snapped to attention, because they were at it again. What the heck was the debate this time - Coke versus Pepsi? Soccer versus football? Sam and Bucky seemed to almost enjoy antagonizing each other; bickering was practically a sport to them.
"Buck, there's no debate. Wonder Woman would kick Supergirl's ass. Without even breaking a sweat." Sam slapped his hand down on the table for emphasis, startling the server who'd just dropped off their appetizer. "There's a reason one is a woman and one is a girl." If Steve had been in a physical body, he would have banged his head against the wall. Two grown men were hotly debating...comic superheroes?
Bucky just glared. "Wonder Woman is all about her equipment. Take away the lasso, the cuffs, the tiara, and she's got no chance. Kara would destroy Diana if she didn't have all her toys to play with." He switched his attention to their food, as if to indicate that the conversation was over. Steve hoped so too, because he really wanted them making sexy eyes at each other again instead of getting all fired up over pop culture.
Sam was an awful lot like Bucky, though, which meant he was unable to drop the discussion until he'd had the last word. "Seriously? Seriously?!?! Diana Prince was trained by the best. She's got eons more experience than Supergirl. She's the strongest fighter of all the Amazons, she's a brilliant strategist, and she's been fighting side-by-side with Superman and Batman for years. What's Kara got - heat vision? Chilly breath?" He laid it all out calmly, certain of his position. "None of that's a match for combat experience and training. Besides, all you gotta do to take Supergirl out of the game is bring a little kryptonite. Supergirl is just a watered-down version of Superman, and even he couldn't defeat Wonder Woman." It was Sam's turn to take a "point made, conversation over" bite.
"No. Fucking. Way." Bucky's voice was actually shaking a little bit, and Steve began to worry that this was somehow beyond their usual level of friendly debate. "Kara Zor-El is basically unkillable; you'd need at least a nuclear explosion to take her down for good. The best Wonder Woman could hope for is to put her out of commission temporarily. And you know what?" Oh shit, shit, and double-shit, Bucky was actually standing up and pulling out his wallet. "Everything Kara has comes from her. You put Wonder Woman on ice for a few decades, let Supergirl catch up to her in training and battle experience - Supergirl wins. You take away the fancy arsenal? Supergirl wins." He tossed a few bills on the table. This could not be happening, but Steve couldn't figure out how to stop it. Bucky grabbed a breadstick from the basket, using it to point at Sam like a professor giving a lecture. "You put those two against each other on an even playing field - equal training, equal equipment, just their own natural talents to rely on - Supergirl wins every time. Every time. And I don't need to spend another minute with anyone who doesn't get that." Still holding the breadstick, Bucky stalked out of the restaurant as Steve watched in horror.
Sam looked as stunned as Steve felt. They'd been doing so well, had really clicked, and he'd felt sure that Sam was the one for Bucky. That his mission would be finished, and he could finally move on to actual useful angel duties, instead of this cupid stuff. But no, Bucky had stormed out in a huff over superheroes. He'd ruined his potential match because of fucking cartoon characters. Steve's shock quickly shifted to fury. He'd worked for weeks to try and find the right person for Bucky, and the jerk had destroyed that in five minutes over something that wasn't even real. Meanwhile, all of the people who could have truly used Steve's talents - who needed a guardian angel to help with actual problems in their lives - were being left stranded while Steve was stuck here, watching Bucky screw up match after match.
By the time it occurred to Steve to shift back to the apartment, he was shaking with anger and frustration. He'd stayed in the restaurant, frozen in shock, long enough that Bucky was already home and stretched out on the couch, an arm tossed over his eyes like he was the one who'd had a bad night. Steve had no pity for him, not this time, spitting out, "So, how was your date?"
Bucky sat up, startled, but Steve didn't give him a chance to come up with some whiny excuse. "Let me guess. You went out to dinner with a perfectly great guy. An amazing, attractive, smart, funny man, one you told me you really liked. And somehow you found a way to fuck it up. You found some dumbass reason to ruin everything, to push him away, to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. You had the chance for love in your hands and went, nah, I don't need that after all." He'd reached his limit with this stupid assignment, with this stupid mission, with his stupid roommate who wouldn't know a good thing if it sat in his lap.
Bucky's eyes were wide with shock. "Steve, why do you care about my love life? And how did you just...just pop into the living room like a fucking ghost? And why in the hell do you have wings?"
Steve had blown it. He really and truly had; he wasn't supposed to expose himself as an angel - especially to his mission - except under the most dire of circumstances. Which these weren't, and he never broke the rules. That just made him angrier, that Bucky had gotten him so frustrated he'd completely forgotten to use the door, forgotten to keep his wings hidden when he took form. But it was too late to hide anything now. "Because I'm your cupid, you jerk! I have spent weeks trying to find you the right person. Arranging everything so you could meet people who'd be a match for you, find your one true love so I can finish this assignment and get the hell out of here. And tonight, you ruined it again! So yeah, I forgot to hide my wings. At least I'm not the idiot who just stormed out on a guy who could've been the one!"
Bucky was taking the whole angelic thing surprisingly well; Steve had heard of people fainting, screaming, or just going catatonic at the revelation that angels were real. Instead, Bucky zeroed in on Steve's mission. "I don't need someone to find my one true love," he spat, dripping disdain and even throwing air quotes around the phrase. "I'm doing just fine without it, and even if I wanted that, I wouldn't need an angel to help me get it." He looked angry more than surprised, but Steve wasn't giving an inch - if anyone had a right to be angry, it sure wasn't Bucky.
"Really? Cupids only get assigned to people who desperately want true, romantic, love but are incapable of finding it themselves. The dominion angels know what you truly want, your deepest desires, so you can deny it all you want but I wouldn't be here if you weren't after the fairy-tale ending. So you can tell yourself whatever you want, but I'm only standing in this room because you're lonely and desperate for love. I guess you can't admit that, though. Cause then you can't use not wanting it as an excuse for why you don't have any real, true, connections with anyone. You'd have to stop pretending the reason your life is filled with acquaintances instead of anything deeper is because you're happy that way." Bucky looked shocked, and then hurt, and Steve realized he'd gone too far. His mission was to help this man, who he'd grown to care about, and instead he'd lashed out at him in frustration and anger.
"Shit. Buck, I'm sorry." He dematerialized his wings so he could ease down on the couch next to his roommate, his friend. "I didn't mean that. I'm sorry. I just got so frustrated tonight. I really, truly, want to help you find the right person. But I can't do that if you're not even trying, if you keep pushing them all away." Since he'd already blown his cover to bits, Steve figured he might as well lay it all out there. "Until I find you the person you're meant to be with, until you fall in love with someone and they fall in love with you, you're stuck with me. You're my mission, the only reason I'm here. And I'm the best at what I do, I'm good at helping people, but I feel like you're fighting this every step of the way. You got in a fight with Sam over cartoon characters tonight." Steve shook his head, because there was no saving that match; however this conversation turned out, Sam was out of the picture. He'd sat at the table in shock for a couple of minutes, maybe thinking that Bucky would come back, but it had shifted to embarrassment when the server arrived with their entrees. By the time she'd returned with boxes so Sam could pack up the food to take home, claiming that his date had fallen ill, Sam had shifted into well-deserved anger. There'd be no second chance with him.
"Comic book characters. Cartoons came later." Bucky sighed, looking tired as he picked up his keys from the end table, running his thumb over the colorful "S" keychain. Steve had just assumed Bucky was a fan of Superman, but apparently the keychain was for Supergirl. Still, neither hero was a reasonable excuse for the kind of argument Bucky'd had with Sam that night. "She was Rebecca's favorite."
Oh. Oh, shit. Things fell into place a bit, since Steve had Bucky's background from his file. But Bucky didn't know that, so he turned to him and explained. "My sister, she loved Supergirl, from the time we were little. Used to say she was going to be her when she grew up, and made me be Superman for Halloween three years in a row so we'd match when we went trick-or-treating. We used to argue about which one was better, but for Halloween we'd call a truce on that and team up." Bucky dropped his head back on the couch and closed his eyes, gripping the keychain tightly. "I dunno why, something about Supergirl just clicked for her. Then when I was in high school, she got sick. I kept her keychain - Kryptonian symbol for hope, you know? Cause I didn't have much of that left, after I lost her. Rebecca always had it on her. Said when she couldn't figure out what to do, she'd just hold it and ask herself what Supergirl would do." Bucky laughed ruefully, and Steve's heart was breaking for him. "I'm thinking Supergirl probably wouldn't ditch a guy in a restaurant over fictional characters, huh? I was such a dick."
Steve laid a hand on Bucky's shoulder. "Yeah, you kinda were. But I get it." How could he not? There was no way Sam could have known that he'd hit a sore spot for Bucky, but Steve understood now why it was sore. Rebecca had been Bucky's favorite person, and her death had triggered a series of events that had changed his entire life. After reviewing his file, Steve had honestly been surprised by how happy, friendly, and mostly well-adjusted Bucky seemed to be. But apparently there was a lot of pain there that didn't show on the surface, and Steve wanted to kick himself for missing that. "Besides, it never would have worked out with Sam. Better to find out now that he's a Wonder Woman over Supergirl kind of guy than down the road when you're already planning the wedding."
That got the laugh Steve had been hoping for, then Bucky sat up and really looked at him. "Oh my god. You were there. You were there, and saw that mess. How were you...? Wait, where are your wings?" It had finally hit Bucky that Steve was an angel, and apparently his reaction was going to be sheer curiosity.
Steve had nothing to lose at that point, so he stood up and allowed his wings to reform. "Depending on the needs of the mission, I can be fully corporeal. Or I can become ethereal." He dematerialized, and left Bucky gaping at the space where he'd been. Well, the space where he still was, only Bucky could no longer see him. "Or, I can just materialize partially, keeping the wings hidden." And Steve was back to looking like a man.
Bucky blinked a few times, then to Steve's surprise, began to laugh. "A cupid. You're a cupid. Your tattoo finally makes sense. I just figured you got drunk in Vegas or lost a bet or something."
Steve flushed as he sat back down on the couch. Each angel was marked with the symbol of their calling, and so long as he was on this mission, his calling was romance. So he had a small heart-shaped tattoo on his left shoulder, a design that Bucky must have noticed on one of the days they'd sunbathed up on the rooftop. He couldn't wait to become a guardian, replace the stupid heart with a shield. "It's...as long as I'm on this mission, I'm marked as a cupid."
He could practically see the wheels in Bucky's head turning as he began to ponder the implications of Steve's mission. "Are you why I've been getting so much action lately? I mean, I've never had trouble getting a date, but damn." His head snapped up. "The hockey player. Oh my god, that was you. Did you shoot him with a magic arrow or something?"
"No! We can't force someone to be in love, I just create the right circumstances for you to encounter people who might be the right match for you. Try to get any obstacles out of the way. After that, it's up to you two to make it work." He raised his eyebrow. "Or to reject each other because the sex was somehow too good." Steve was still pretty bitter about that one.
Now Bucky raised an eyebrow. "Were you watching that, too? Mister I-can-turn-invisible?"
Steve couldn't decide if Bucky looked angry or...intrigued. But he shook his head. "No way. I'm an angel, not a voyeur. And I'm here to help you find true love, not just get laid. You don't need my help for that." It was mostly true. Steve had only peeked in for a minute. It had been more listening than watching.
"True love, huh? And you're only here because someone up there decided I desperately want that, deep down. Someone decided it's possible for me to have that." Bucky looked thoughtful now. "I always figured I was the guy who goes it alone, but you're saying I've been lying to myself." He looked to Steve for confirmation, and at Steve's nod, continued. "This is your thing? You're really here to find the right person for me? And you think that could happen - the whole one true love scenario?"
Again Steve nodded, and Bucky sat up straight, looking resolute. Maybe even hopeful, with a touch of excited. "Then I'm in. Let's do it. No more bullshit from me, tell me what I need to do. Find me my person, Steve."
It was exactly what Steve needed; Bucky's cooperation could make all the difference in finally accomplishing his mission. So he didn't understand why, as he reached to shake Bucky's offered hand and seal the deal, he felt just a little bit sad.
The subway station was crowded, as always for the morning rush, and Steve wished he could drop his physical form so people would stop bumping into him. But he needed to be able to speak to Bucky, who was practically vibrating with nervous energy as they waited for the next train. The match he'd chosen would be arriving any minute, and Bucky was just as aware of what was planned as Steve. It still felt strange to be doing this as a team, with Bucky fully prepared to meet his potential partner and Steve acting as his wingman.
Bucky had taken the whole angel thing surprisingly well, any skepticism apparently doused by having seen Steve materialize in their apartment with visible wings. He'd skipped over doubt and gone straight to curiosity. Steve had spent the rest of that evening answering questions about being an angel, about his mission, how cupids arranged their matches, and everything else Bucky could come up with. It had been refreshing, actually, to tell someone everything about his world. Although angels weren't strictly forbidden from revealing themselves, and Steve wouldn't be punished in any way for having done so, it was something to be avoided whenever possible. He'd never before let his mission - or any other human - know about what he was, and it had been fun to try and explain everything to Bucky.
No, angels didn't have halos, wear white robes, or float on clouds. Yes, wings were standard. No, he'd never actually met God and didn't expect to, any more than a typical military grunt expected to meet the president. Yes, he could will himself to basically anywhere, although longer distances took more energy.
"Can you appear any way you want?" Nope, Steve was stuck with the same form he'd had in his human lifetime; his only variation was in what portions of himself he wished to reveal in physical form. And while it had never occurred to Steve to use that skill for anything other than its intended purpose - the hiding of his wings - at Bucky's urging he'd tried it with other body parts. It had taken some concentration, but they'd both been laughing by the time he managed to completely hide everything except his head.
"Do angels actually carry harps?" Definitely not. Nor was Steve going to blow a trumpet or sing, ever. As far as he was concerned, a choir was simply the term used to refer to a group of angels, not a literal description of their activities.
"So you can go invisible, and you can teleport? Do you ever just, like, pop into the shower of some random celebrity?" Bucky'd been grinning over that one, but Steve had flushed as he insisted that no angel would ever take advantage of their powers that way. He assured himself that he was technically telling the truth - the only person he'd ever checked out in the shower was Bucky. And not for his own pleasure; he'd only looked because he'd been worried about Bucky after the Olympic-level workout he'd gotten with the ice hockey player.
Luckily, Bucky had started getting sleepy before he got around to asking any questions Steve really, really, did not want to answer. They'd both headed off to bed - "Do angels sleep?" "We can, but we don't have to." - and Steve had lain awake a long time, staring out his window at that amazing view and thinking. His mission would be so much easier, with Bucky aware of what was going on and willing to help. But he would miss everything, once he completed his task and was recalled. The soothing room, the gorgeous view, and, more than anything, Bucky. Once his mission was complete, returning to check up on his previous assignment - even in an ethereal state - would be very much frowned upon. Angels were meant to enter people's lives only briefly, for a specific purpose, as any prolonged angelic presence might interfere with free will. For Steve, that meant that in accomplishing his goal and helping Bucky find what he needed, Steve would be losing a friend.
After a restless night, Steve had stumbled into the kitchen for coffee and found Bucky fired up and ready to go. Knowing that Steve had a list of people he was likely to be compatible with, Bucky had been excited, anxious to meet his next match. Steve had spent the rest of the day looking over prospective matches, and by that evening he'd had Bucky strolling into the Williamsburg bar where his next match was grabbing a drink with friends.
Bucky'd looked hot as hell in a black t-shirt that was nearly see-through, and it had taken no time at all for his potential match - an archery instructor, of all things - to approach him at the bar. They'd talked until last call, then taken the conversation to an all-night diner and talked some more.
Their second date - Steve and Bucky had decided that five hours of conversation and having the other guy pay for your pancakes counted as a first date - had been a visit to Coney Island. Which had been going beautifully until they'd reached the shooting gallery. Bucky'd been enamored of a lime-green stuffed llama on the prize rack, and his date had announced he'd help him win one. It was the perfect scenario, giving him an excuse to wrap his arms around Bucky, showing him how to aim to defeat the subtle house advantages that were built into all the arcade games. Bucky'd taken full advantage, leaning into the other man and turning his head to ask questions with their mouths only inches apart. After a few breathless minutes - well, at least Steve felt a little breathless, watching it all - Bucky'd apparently decided to ease back the intensity, declaring he was ready to try shooting on his own.
And that's when things had gone sideways. Because Bucky, apparently, was a natural at shooting carnival targets. Meanwhile, his potential match had tossed down some money for his own toy gun, intending to win the llama for Bucky. It had quickly turned into a competition, with Bucky calmly hitting one bull's-eye after another while his date tried to hit the targets fast enough to earn the toy before Bucky racked up enough points to win it himself. In the end, Bucky's match had reached the required score and snagged the ridiculous green animal just moments before Bucky's turn ended with him three points shy of winning one on his own.
A carnival llama was, to Steve's mind, an even more ridiculous thing to get upset over than comic book characters. But the guy had muttered for the rest of the evening about how an interior designer shouldn't be able to shoot that well, insisting that Bucky must've had some sort of military training. And he hadn't called or returned Bucky's texts after that.
Steve had wanted to cry, a now-regular feature of this mission that apparently wouldn't be going away just because Bucky was on board now. "Seriously Buck, couldn't you have just...lost by more? Pretended to be awful? He's an archery instructor, his pride was all wrapped up in winning that stupid llama for you."
Bucky'd just raised an eyebrow at him, although the effect of his chilly glare was somewhat ruined by the pile of lime-green synthetic fur he was snuggling. "If he's a decent instructor, he should've been proud that I did so well after just a few minutes with him teaching me. And there's nothing stupid about Nigel." Steve had to admit Bucky had a point, at least about the archery guy. He wasn't about to weigh in on the value of Bucky's new pet, or the advisability of naming a llama Nigel - he knew that was an argument he had no chance of winning.
Instead, he'd spent a week diving into his list, determined that his next choice would be a little more...rational. He felt good about this one, even better than he'd felt about Sam, and so they were waiting for the C train and the woman he'd selected.
Steve glanced at Bucky and had to smile. His roommate looked good even when he'd just rolled out of bed or gotten home from the gym, but he'd taken extra care that morning and crossed the line into mouth-watering. His hair was pulled back in a messy ponytail that looked like he'd casually tied it back while walking to the station, but which Steve knew had required twenty minutes in front of the mirror and a lot of cursing. His outfit said, "I just grabbed whatever was in my closet," and nobody would ever guess that most of Bucky's bed was now covered in rejected choices. He'd ended up in worn jeans, a rumpled white button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up and only the front tucked in, and battered black motorcycle boots. On Steve, it would have looked ridiculous and sloppy, but Bucky pulled it off with casual grace. It was sort of nice to know that even stunningly gorgeous people couldn't actually just toss something together and look that good; it had taken a lot of effort for Bucky to look as though he'd made no effort at all.
Steve knew he'd put in the work, though, and that's what had him smiling. Bucky'd gone from insisting that he didn't actually want to find love to really trying to help Steve find it for him. The night before, when Steve had explained what he had in mind, Bucky'd been enthusiastic but also uncertain. Steve hadn't understood why someone who looked like Bucky, who was so incredibly popular and made friends so easily, would be so nervous about meeting a woman. Then Bucky had asked, "So, you really think this could work? That you can find someone for me, something that could last?" He'd looked at Steve with so much hesitance in his eyes, so unlike his usual confidence, and Steve had been reminded that Bucky truly didn't have anyone close to him. He had a lot of acquaintances, a handful of friends, and was liked by almost everyone who met him. But in the entire time Steve had been living with him, Bucky had never invited any of those friends over, or really done anything more intimate than grabbing drinks after work. (Steve wasn't counting the two men who'd made it to Bucky's bedroom - physical closeness was an entirely different game.) In fact, if pressed to identify Bucky's closest friend, Steve would have had to say...himself. Add to that, so far they hadn't had great luck in making a match stick, and Steve could understand why Bucky might be feeling a little unsure.
Whatever the reason, Bucky had clearly been worried that he couldn't find someone. But that was exactly why Steve had been assigned to him, and he'd hurried to reassure Bucky that his list was very accurate. Cupids had been making matches for centuries, and Steve had never yet heard of one failing to find a mate for their mission. They'd just need to take their time, try as many people on the list as needed, but one of them would be the right person for him. Bucky's relief had been palpable, although it had soon been taken over by curiosity, and more questions.
"What's she like?" Steve understood the desire to know, but he also wanted Bucky to get to know his match just as he would if he'd met her without any angelic intervention. So he'd refused to give more than a basic physical description - enough for Bucky to identify her on the train - and just explained what he had in mind for them to meet.
The C train pulled into the station, and Steve elbowed Bucky, who looked ready to leap out of his skin. Steve had done his research, and murmured, "Third car. She always takes the third car, stands holding the pole near the rear door." With a few subtle nudges, he put Bucky exactly where he needed to be - next to the classy blond gripping the pole with one hand, scrolling through something on her phone with the other. Sharon was a nurse, and from all the surveillance Steve had done on her, she seemed coolly rational enough that he wasn't worried she'd walk away over anything ridiculous. She was beautiful, smart, funny, and kind. Basically, everything he could hope for Bucky to have. Steve was torn between wanting this match to work for Bucky's sake, and hating the idea that if it did, he'd disappear from Bucky's life.
But they had a plan, and it was time for him to execute his wingman duties, although with a bit more...oomph...than just walking up to some girl in a bar and saying, "Soooooo, have you met Bucky?" Steve closed his eyes, needing to focus if he was going to use major energy without accidentally disappearing. Even New Yorkers might raise an eyebrow if a man just vanished in the middle of a crowded subway car - although he suspected they'd just follow it with a shrug, and spread out to fill his space. Steve had leaned against the wall at the rear of the car, partly to be near enough to watch what happened without making it apparent that he was with Bucky, but also to give himself as much physical contact as possible with the train. It took effort, but Steve held onto his solid form while giving their train a slight jolt in just the right direction.
It was a perfect nudge, and potential-Mrs.-Barnes lost her grip on the pole, stumbling straight into Bucky's waiting arms. Steve couldn't have done it better if he'd gone ethereal and just shoved her. Bucky, being a gentleman and also having expected exactly what happened, carefully helped her regain her balance and retrieved her phone from where it had fallen to the floor.
"Are you okay? That was a heck of a bump." It was the most basic of openings, but with Bucky's face and that grin - a devastating cross between sweet and sinful - he really didn't need a clever pick-up line to get her attention. Sharon responded with something equally banal, but Steve didn't care about her words. He was watching her face, the blush rising to her cheeks as Bucky gave all his attention to her, the subtle hints offered by her body language as she continued to lean in to Bucky even though she once again had a sturdy grip on the bar. Once she'd thanked him for his help and assured him she was okay, they exchanged names, then were left with a somewhat awkward silent pause.
"So, where are you heading? Is this your regular train?" Steve almost shook his head in pity - next thing, they'd be talking about the weather - but remembered just in time that he was visible. Still, at least she was continuing to talk to Bucky, and maybe the question was her way of hinting that she hoped to see him regularly on her morning commute. Bucky seemed to have lost some of his usual confident ease; maybe knowing that this woman might be the one for him was too much pressure?
He responded to Sharon's question, naming a stop in midtown apparently at random since he and Steve had made no actual plans for when to get off the train. He'd picked a destination one stop before where Sharon always exited, and it would have been nice for Bucky to have those few additional minutes with her, but it was too late - it would look strange now if Bucky didn't exit when he'd said he would. Still, he was making the most of that line of conversation, telling her about himself. "I don't actually have a regular train. I'm a designer, so I'm all over the city - visiting clients, choosing materials, checking on projects. Depending on the day, I could be heading anywhere from Harlem to Coney Island." Steve wanted to applaud; Bucky'd managed to move them on from the basic pleasantries.
Sharon followed suit, telling him about her nursing job and commiserating over the lack of a consistent schedule. They explored that common ground, and - yes! - Bucky used it to launch things where he wanted them to go. "Would you want to get coffee sometime, if we can find an hour that neither of us is working and we're both in the same area?" He accompanied the question with a shy half-smile - damn, Bucky's half-smile was one of Steve's favorite things - and a hesitant glance from under dark lashes. Steve knew, he just knew, that she wouldn't be able to resist that.
He'd popped the question just in time, and Sharon happily agreed just as they pulled into the station that Bucky had claimed as his stop. "That's great! I'll text you, we'll find a day that works. We'll make it happen." Bucky had to call the last bit out over the heads of people rushing onto the train as he backed out the door.
Steve had slipped off the train before Bucky, and was waiting on the platform. He watched Sharon's face, wondered why her expression had gone from excited to puzzled to disappointed. As the doors slid shut, Bucky was waving, grinning madly, but Sharon seemed to be trying to shout something to him. And then...then Steve knew, but the train had pulled out, and it was too late.
"Bucky." His roommate jumped up and punched the air, thrilled by the way things had gone with his match. Steve hated to bring him down to earth.
"What? Oh man, you were so right. She's cute and seems smart and funny and just...damn, Steve, you hit the nail on the head with this one." Bucky seemed so happy, and Steve was back to his now-usual state of wanting to cry.
"Buck, did you get her number?" He watched as the realization hit, as the smile slid off Bucky's face. "It's okay, her next shift is Saturday. You can be on the train again then, find her." It sounded lame even to Steve, but he just couldn't stand the idea of giving up on someone who'd been so right.
But Bucky was shaking his head miserably, and dropped onto a nearby bench in defeat. "No, I can't. I told her I rarely take the same train at the same time. That I don't have a regular train. If I show up again, four days from now, she's gonna know there's no way I just happened to get on that train and in that car. And that doesn't come off as cute or flattering, it reads as creepy stalker." Bucky rubbed his hands over his eyes, his entire posture radiating defeat.
Steve had assured him that they would find a match, that it would happen for Bucky. But his friend...his mission...was lacking in confidence. For whatever reason, he didn't think it could happen, and having this encounter fail had to be a harsh blow to whatever hope he'd been nurturing.
The only solution, Steve thought, was to get him back in the game as fast as possible. As soon as they got home, he'd choose another name off the list, before Bucky had time to lose faith. Bucky needed a match. And Steve needed to find him one, immediately, because a small, traitorous, part of him had been pleased when this went south, knowing it meant he'd get to stay.
Bucky needed to go out on a great date, immediately. Steve had spent the miserable ride back to Brooklyn trying to point out all the ways that things had gone absolutely right with Sharon - that she'd been interested, flirtatious, had wanted to see Bucky again. They'd been so close to success, they just needed to keep trying, and practice would make perfect. His strategy had backfired, because Bucky figured if he'd managed to screw up something that was going so well, there was no chance he'd ever be able to get it right. For some reason, Bucky was convinced that he was only meant to have casual relationships. The only thing that had given him hope for more was that Steve had been assigned to him, and Steve knew if he let Bucky continue to wallow, he'd lose that hope. It was time to get his mission back up on the horse, but without the pressure of knowing he was on a horse. Or something like that.
"Bucky, c'mon. We're going out." His roommate was slouched on the sofa, curled up with Nigel the llama and watching HGTV. It was tempting to just plop down and watch with him. Decorating shows got the same rise out of Bucky that a basketball playoff might get from the crowd in a sports bar - by the end, he'd be yelling at the screen, covering his eyes, and throwing popcorn in disgust when someone made an awful decision. Hanging out with Bucky and watching TV was honestly more fun than Steve could remember having in decades. But they'd done that for three nights, and if he didn't get Bucky out and socializing again, Steve was worried that he might stop trying, too. It'd be all too easy to just stop thinking about the mission and stick around for a while.
"No way, Steve. This woman is seriously thinking about choosing the second house. She's gotta be fucking blind if she can't see the potential in the first property - it has all the original hardwood! She just needs to rent a sander." Bucky was deeply offended by people who wanted move-in ready homes, and normally Steve would have enjoyed needling him, pointing out the positive aspects of the second house.
Instead, he grabbed the remote, hit the record button. "That's why you have a DVR - so you can go out, grab dinner with your roommate, and still yell at her later. I promise you, it won't change her decision." He turned off the TV and stood in front of it so Bucky would realize he was serious. "Go change. You're covered in fur." Bucky responded by throwing the llama at him, but Steve was quick to dematerialize and avoid getting coated in green fluff himself. He would have thrown the thing back, but Bucky was off the couch and headed to his room, so Steve decided to take the high road. For now.
An hour later, they were enjoying the view from one of the rooftop lounges that seemed to spring up all over Manhattan as soon as the weather turned warm enough. They'd snagged a couple of seats at a long communal table, and while the prices were ridiculous, Steve had to admit that the fancy grilled cheese bites they were sharing might be worth it. Bucky'd perked up once they'd left the apartment, and was laughing as he told Steve one of his endless supply of crazy client stories. With Bucky sitting across from him, good food, the city as a backdrop, and the sunset for mood...well, it almost felt like a date. It would have been the best date Steve had ever been on - the only date - if not for the fact that he'd chosen that bar, at that time, so he could set Bucky up with someone else.
"Hey, Steve?" Bucky'd finished his story, and as he signaled their waiter for a refill on his lemonade, seemed more relaxed than Steve had seen him in days. "Thanks. For getting me out tonight. This is nice." He waved a hand, indicating the entire rooftop, and Steve tamped down on a twinge of guilt over having brought Bucky there under false pretenses. "When I get down about stuff, I kind of just crawl in my cave and hide. It's easier to be alone. Or maybe I'm just used to it." Bucky's smile was rueful, a little sad, and it was all Steve could do to stay on his own side of the table when what he wanted was to offer a hug. "It's nice to have someone who won't let me be alone."
Steve had to remind himself, forcefully, that making sure Bucky wouldn't be alone was his mission. And that he was meant to accomplish that mission by finding Bucky's true love, not by keeping Bucky company himself. "No problem, Buck." He tried to lighten things up, because all of it was more than Steve could handle and still stay focused on the task at hand. "Figured if I didn't get you off the couch, you'd be talking to the llama pretty soon." Bucky snorted out a laugh, and some of the tension flowed out of Steve.
Casually, he glanced around - the potential match should be arriving soon. Steve hadn't lied to Bucky, exactly. He'd just decided it might be better, since Bucky seemed convinced that he was only meant to have casual relationships, if Bucky met his next match without realizing the guy was on his list. Less pressure all around if Steve waited to tell Bucky the truth until after they'd gotten past all the awkward steps. And if things didn't work, Bucky never needed to know that he'd missed out on another one of his matches. So Steve's plan was to just put Bucky in the path of his match and see what happened.
The lounge was beginning to fill with the after-work crowd, so Steve had created a bubble of frigid cold to keep the seats next to them open. Right on cue, the man Steve had chosen stepped off the elevator with a few of his coworkers. The men zeroed in on the empty stretch of table next to Steve and Bucky - at that point, pretty much the only empty seating in the place - and when they got close enough, Steve brought the area back to a comfortable temperature.
Steve had rushed the research a bit. He didn't know as much about this guy as he had about his previous choices, but at this point he figured the crucial thing was to get Bucky back into the game. He'd followed the man around at his office for a while that afternoon, and when he'd heard the group making plans to go out for drinks after work, Steve had decided to just take the opportunity that had fallen into his lap. If the guy turned out to be a bad fit, they'd move on to the next one, and so long as it was Bucky who walked away from things it shouldn't hurt his confidence at all. Especially if he never knew it'd been a potential match.
He couldn't do anything more obvious than ensuring some empty seats or Bucky would realize what was going on, so Steve was forced to leave it to chance. Or, he thought, maybe not so much. He watched as the potential match sized up the group sitting on the other end of the space Steve had cleared - seemed like college girls - and slid his gaze over Steve before zeroing in on Bucky with laser-like focus. He rounded the table, not-so-subtly elbowing one of his coworkers out of the way so he could grab the seat he wanted, his interest obvious.
"Hey, is this spot open?" Bucky glanced over, clearly prepared to offer a polite greeting, as the older man slid into the seat without waiting for an answer. The whole point of the communal seating thing (which Steve hated) was to let you get to know people, and Bucky was a pro at networking. But his words seemed to catch in his throat when he met the guy's eyes, and Steve could see the interest spark in Bucky's. Maybe just sexual, but if they got that far...well, the man was on the list because they were compatible. Maybe sex would get him past Bucky's nerves, and then they could build on that.
Their new dinner companion had definitely noticed the interest in Bucky's eyes and how flustered he seemed. With a smile that came very near to being a smirk, he murmured, "I'm gonna assume this is...available." He threw a glance at Steve, who offered him a bland smile, trying to subtly confirm that he and Bucky were not there as a couple. Seemed to be all the encouragement the guy needed, as he turned back to Bucky - who still hadn't managed a word - and amped up the wattage on his smile. "Looks like tonight's gonna be a good time. I'm Brock."
Bucky finally snapped out of his mesmerized state and, blushing, introduced himself. Steve hadn't seen Bucky blush before; it had to be a good sign, right? But then one of Brock's coworkers greeted Steve, and he found himself forced to actually socialize with the other guys so they wouldn't draw Brock's attention away from Bucky. By the time the server showed up with Steve's street tacos and Bucky's beef skewers (Steve might hate communal seating, but he loved the small-plates trend), introductions had been made all around. The food gave Steve an excuse to avoid talking and just nod at what others were saying.
Steve glanced across the table. Brock was doing a lot of talking, and Bucky was doing a lot of laughing, the sparkle back in his eyes. In fact, everyone seemed to be having a great time - Brock and his friends were tossing back beers and telling stories, while Bucky was hanging on Brock's every word. Steve was the only one not having fun. He felt miserable and out of place with this crowd, all of them Wall Street adrenaline junkies, brash and full of confidence. He hadn't felt so awkward, so painfully aware of his own shortcomings, since before he'd become an angel.
But Steve's happiness wasn't the point of the evening, and Bucky...well, he was glowing to rival the sun setting over the Hudson River. Steve's plan had worked better than he could have hoped for, and as Brock laid a hand on Bucky's knee, he wondered if he'd be listening to Bucky moan through the wall again that night.
Everything was going exactly as it should. Steve took another bite of his stupidly expensive taco, which suddenly tasted like sawdust, and considered where to buy earplugs.
Steve was saved from listening to Bucky scream in pleasure that night because Bucky didn't come home. In fact, he'd gone over to Brock's place in SoHo almost every night for the next week, stuffing a change of clothes in his messenger bag when he headed out for meetings. Steve had barely seen him, hadn't had a chance to ask how things were going or tell him that Brock was on his list or - well, just hang out together - since then. Bucky would wander in long enough to grab more clothes and whatever he needed for the next client, then run out the door again.
But Brock had a business trip to Hong Kong, and Bucky'd texted Steve, offering to bring home dinner. Steve's heart had given a little leap at the idea of spending time with his roommate, but he figured it was natural to be excited about checking on the mission. They obviously hadn't fallen in love yet, or Steve would have been recalled, but things had to be going well if they were spending so much time together. He could have checked things out himself, but now that Bucky knew what Steve was, it just felt...invasive, somehow, to go look in on him without Bucky being aware. Plus he really, really, just didn't feel like watching Bucky and Brock have sex.
Following Bucky's instructions, Steve had taken sodas up to the rooftop, and had just finished setting out plates and napkins on the crappy little plastic table when Bucky showed up with a bag of take-out. He tossed the bag on the table, grabbing Steve up in a tight hug, and the thought crossed Steve's mind that Bucky smelled even better than the food.
"Steve! I feel like I haven't seen you in forever. We are gonna eat burgers and drink..." - Bucky glanced at what Steve had brought up - "orange cream soda, and I have so much I need to tell you about." He settled into a plastic chair, digging in the bag to pass out cheeseburgers and fries. "Sorry I haven't been around this week. But Brock, man...I never thought I'd be into an older guy, but he's just magnetic. He's really intense, but at the same time, not serious about anything, you know?"
Bucky paused to take a bite of his burger, or maybe to let Steve respond, but he didn't really have anything to say so he just nodded. Bucky seemed happy, excited, relaxed. Looked a bit tired, but he probably hadn't slept all week if he'd been sharing a bed with his new boyfriend. Steve reminded himself that this was a good thing, for Bucky to be so absorbed in his match. But it was his job to keep things on track, so he encouraged Bucky to continue talking with a raise of his eyebrows and a "Yeah?"
"We've hung out every night, as soon as he's done with work, and it's - I've never spent that much time with someone, you know?" Steve refrained from pointing out that Bucky had, indeed, spent that much time with him - he knew Bucky was talking in a romantic sense. "But we haven't run out of things to talk about. I mean, we're not alone the whole time - we go out with his friends a lot, cause those finance guys do a lot of their networking in bars. So we meet up with whoever, stay long enough for him to have a couple drinks, to see and be seen. But still, we're together." Bucky looked down at his plate, dragging a fry through some ketchup, and a flush of color hit his cheeks for the second time since Steve had known him. "Then after, we go back to his place, and it's fucking amazing. Like no sex I've ever had. He just takes control and I never thought I'd be into that but I am, at least with him. Maybe cause he's older? He pushes all my boundaries and just forces me to feel, even when I think I can't take any more." Bucky closed his eyes, like he was lost in thinking about it. "You ever had sex so intense you almost want it to stop?"
Steve was glad Bucky's eyes were shut so he couldn't see Steve's own blush. He was tempted to lie, but there were so many ways this conversation could go that would end with him getting caught in that lie. "I've never had sex, at all."
Bucky's eyes snapped open, and his jaw dropped open too before he caught himself. "Wait you've never...like, never? Not even when you were alive?" Steve saw the wheels start to turn in Bucky's head. They hadn't covered all the details of Steve's life the night he'd accidentally revealed himself, with most of Bucky's questions focusing on angels in general rather than specifically Steve. "When were you alive? Wait. You were human at one point, right?"
Steve grinned. "Yeah, I was human. Back in the forties. But medicine back then wasn't so great, and I had a lot of health problems, so I traded that whole mortality thing in for an endless existence of helping jerks who steal all the crispiest fries and leave me with the soggy ones." Bucky laughed and slid some of his fries onto Steve's plate.
"The forties. So you wouldn't have been able to just go on a date with a guy, or even flirt with one, without worrying you'd end up in trouble." He was frowning, and Steve found he didn't mind sympathy if it came from Bucky.
"Dating back then wouldn't have been the safest thing, no. But even if I'd wanted to try, I was sick. A lot. Wasn't exactly the greatest catch. And angels don't date." Steve shrugged. There were a lot of things he'd missed out on, with his litany of health issues. Dating and sex were just two more things on the long list of stuff he'd never been able to do, and not even the top two. He'd been far more bitter over his inability to enlist during World War II and the fact that he'd never had a shot at playing first base for the Dodgers.
Bucky, however, was aghast. "Steve. Steve, that is so wrong. We need to get you laid." He got a funny gleam in his eye, then joked, "You and me, right now, over there on my crappy patio lounger. I'll show you what it's all about."
Steve shook his head, laughing. He needed to wipe that image out of his mind right away. "Yeah, I don't think Brock would appreciate that much." Bucky looked startled, like he'd momentarily forgotten he was dating someone. "Besides, I've seen it plenty of times. Doesn't seem worth letting the rest of my food get cold."
"Not worth it? Steve, my buddy, my pal, no burger is that good. You have no idea what you're missing out on. Whatever you've seen must have been crappy sex." Then those wheels were turning in Bucky's head again, and too late, Steve realized his mistake. "Steve. What sex have you been watching?" He leaned in close, resting his elbows on the table. "You don't strike me as a porn kind of guy. But you told me angels would never abuse their powers, spying on celebrities or whatever. And you definitely are not a rule-breaking kind of guy. So how..." Steve saw the moment it clicked, and looked down at the table with a blush. "It's not breaking the rules, or abusing your power, if you're doing it for your mission, is it?" Steve shook his head, waiting with dread for Bucky to make the final connection.
"Holy shit, have you been watching me have sex?" And there it was. But Bucky didn't sound angry, more amused, and Steve risked a glance at his face. "You have. You totally have. Did you already know everything about me and Brock?" He still sounded more curious than anything else, but at least that one Steve could honestly deny.
"No way, I haven't seen a thing you guys have done." Steve met Bucky's eyes. "It just felt too weird to check in on you, ever since you found out about me. Normally it's just part of the job, keeping an eye on my assignment, but now." He swallowed, looked away. "I dunno, it'd feel like spying."
Bucky was still grinning. "Yeah, I bet. But if it only feels weird now, that means you did used to check in on me, before the whole thing with Sam. So who'd you see me with?" Steve shook his head; no way he was answering that. But Bucky wasn't about to be put off. "The hockey player! Oh man, I bet you totally watched me with him. Hell, I would watch him in bed, no matter who he was with. The man was a fucking god. And you know it, don't you? You're blushing so hard, you can't even try to deny that one."
Apparently, Steve didn't have to answer - his face was doing it for him. He grabbed his soda, hoping the cool drink would help his body go back to a normal temperature. Then promptly choked on a sip when Bucky asked, low and smooth, "So. Did you like what you saw?" Steve's gaze flew up to meet his, and he would have sworn Bucky wasn't joking, but he had to be. The flirtatious smile, the wink - it had to be a joke. And the tension he felt, the thickness in the air, had to be his imagination.
He ignored the innuendo, the possibility that Steve might have enjoyed watching Bucky, and went with a hit to the ego instead. "Yeah, tempted to go track the hockey god down for myself, since you didn't want him." Bucky burst into laughter, and they were back on a normal footing again. Still, Steve excused himself to go grab another drink and the bag of bakery cookies he'd picked up the day before. He needed a few minutes, just a few minutes, to get himself together. Talking about sex with his sexy roommate made it nearly impossible to convince himself that he really hadn't missed out on much at all.
By the time they'd finished their dinner, and the truly excellent Levain Bakery cookies, Steve had worked the conversation back around to Brock. He felt like he knew his roommate well enough to predict his reactions a little bit, so he'd finally just laid it out there for Bucky, that Brock had been on the list. That they hadn't met by chance. As he'd hoped, Bucky wasn't angry, but instead seemed quietly hopeful.
"I guess part of me wondered. Like, you're here to find me someone for real, for long-term. Seemed like if this was just gonna be a hook-up with no shot of turning into more, you'd be trying to get me to move on. Go for someone who could be The One." They'd moved to the worn lounge chairs, and Bucky spoke quietly as they stared up at the few stars that weren't obscured by the lights of the city. "Kinda started to wonder if you were letting things be so you could stick around for a while. I get to have my fun with this guy, and you don't have to go yet."
Steve sucked in a breath. What could he say - yeah, he'd been tempted? To just ignore his duties for a while, and spend more time with Bucky himself. But that would have been so selfish, he could barely admit it to himself, much less to Bucky. "Nah, I just figured it put too much pressure on things when you knew. This way, you got to meet him and just have it feel natural, without getting yourself all stressed out over whether he might be your match." He had to ask. "Do you think...I mean, now that you know, do you think it could work?"
Bucky took so long to answer that Steve thought he might have fallen asleep. "I honestly can't see it. I can't see myself being that close to anyone. It's not him, it's just the idea of loving anybody like that. But you're here, so I guess I must really want that. Maybe, if Brock's on my list, I just need to trust that it could happen for me and work on letting him in."
Steve hoped, for Bucky's sake, that Brock was the one. That all Bucky needed to do was have faith in that possibility, and things would come together. But for himself, he selfishly hoped that he'd make it through the entire list without finding anyone for Bucky. That somehow, he'd be unable to complete his mission and never get called home. Because Bucky was the best friend he'd ever had, and he was beginning to think that leaving him behind was going to be harder than dying had been.
As the weeks went on, Bucky made an effort to spend more time with Steve and to include him when he went out with Brock. As much as Steve enjoyed being around Bucky, though, he began to decline when Bucky invited him to go out with Brock's group. It wasn't that they were mean, or that any of the guys had ever done anything to make Steve feel unwelcome. It just always felt a little off, somehow. Brock's friends went out every night after work, always to a bar. Bucky didn't drink, but loved to socialize, and seemed to at least enjoy the energy of being surrounded by people. Steve, on the other hand, hated the noise and the crowds and inevitably found himself wishing he was at home, reading.
If he was being really honest with himself, Steve had to admit that part of the problem was that he didn't like watching Bucky with Brock. The older man seemed possessive, controlling, too dominant. He always had his arm wrapped around Bucky like he was making sure his boyfriend didn't wander away by himself. If he caught Steve watching them, he'd draw Bucky into a kiss, staking his claim in the most blatant of ways. Bucky didn't seem to mind, though, and Steve knew his misgivings were probably just tied to his own increasingly complicated feelings towards finishing his assignment.
Still, when Bucky began to look more and more run-down, Steve started to wonder if maybe he should say something. And when Bucky missed a client meeting because he'd slept through his alarm, Steve knew he had to push aside his own confusion and try to get a handle on what was happening.
"Buck? Are you okay?" His roommate was stretched out on the couch, llama tucked under his head as a pillow, and had just hung up the phone after apologizing profusely to his client for having the flu. Which he most definitely did not have.
Bucky groaned. "I'm so tired, Steve. I don't know how they do it - I'm ten years younger than those guys, and I can't go out every night like this. I need sleep. I need to hit the gym. And I need a few nights in my own bed." He'd been spending so many nights at Brock's that Steve basically had the apartment to himself. "I can't believe I'm saying that. I mean, the sex is amazing. And I've been trying - really, really, trying - to believe this could be it for me, to open myself up to that possibility. But fuck, I just want to not fuck for one night."
"You look tired. Maybe just stay home this weekend, tell him you need to catch up on work." And hang out with me, Steve thought. We'll watch HGTV. We'll talk about books. I won't drag you out to happy hour.
His roommate rolled over and pillowed his head more deeply into green fur. "You might be right. Brock gets upset, though, he wants to be with me so much. He gets sad if I'm not there. But man, I'm so tired of bars. And drinking." He opened one eye, peered at Steve from beneath the hair that had slid loose of his ponytail. "I'm fine with people drinking around me. Just cause I don't doesn't mean they can't, you know? But I can't think of a time we've gone out that Brock didn't drink. Or even a time we've stayed in - he's always got a glass of wine with dinner, or whiskey after. Bloody Mary or a mimosa with breakfast. Makes me feel like he has to be drinking to be around me or something." The eye slid shut again, and Bucky missed Steve's worried expression.
"Maybe you should talk to him? Just...tell him that."
Bucky seemed half asleep, but murmured something that might have been agreement. Steve wasn't sure what he'd said, but figured the sleep was more important than the conversation at that point. He grabbed a soft throw blanket and tossed it over Bucky, then quietly retrieved a book from his room. Whatever time he had left in this mission, he was going to spend as much of it as he could in Bucky's company, even if it just meant watching him sleep.
Steve lay still, listening. He'd been curled up in bed, in his room that had Bucky's stamp on every inch of it, staring out at the skyline and letting his mind drift. When Bucky'd woken that afternoon after crashing on the couch for hours, he'd announced that he was staying home that night, getting some more sleep. But when he'd made the same announcement to his boyfriend, Brock had cajoled and pleaded until Bucky agreed to come over. Steve thought maybe the guy could have shown a little more interest in Bucky's welfare, but if he was in love, it made sense that he'd want to be around Bucky all the time. And since Steve knew that part of his irritation was sheer disappointment that Bucky wouldn't be staying home to hang out with him, he couldn't really fault Brock for feeling the same. But he would have sworn he'd just heard the front door close, and he hadn't expected Bucky back that night.
The quiet knock was also unexpected. "Steve? Are you here?" Bucky sounded upset, and Steve leapt off the bed to open his door.
"Buck? What..." Under the soft glow of the hallway light, it was clear that Bucky had been crying. He had his arms wrapped around himself like he was trying to hold it in, keep himself together somehow, and Steve couldn't resist. He reached out and pulled Bucky into a hug, asking softly, "Are you okay? What happened?"
When Bucky just shook his head and began crying in earnest, Steve pulled him into the room and gave him a gentle shove towards the bed. "Wait here." He slipped quickly down the hall, grabbing a box of tissues and a glass of water from the bathroom. He found Bucky as he'd left him, sitting on Steve's bed with his knees drawn up and crying faster than he could wipe the tears away.
Steve was furious with himself; whatever had gone wrong, he should have been there. He should've monitored things more closely, but he'd stepped back because it was too hard for him to watch Bucky and Brock together. And now, somehow, Bucky had been hurt. But Steve was there now, and he wasn't going to let Bucky down again. "Can you talk about it? Can I help?" He sat down on the other side of the bed, handed Bucky the tissues. After wiping his face and gulping down water, Bucky nodded. He seemed calmer, but shaky, and Steve gave in to the urge to wrap an arm around him.
Bucky sighed, dropped his head to Steve's shoulder. "I asked him, Steve. When I got there, he was making dinner. Having a glass of wine while he cooked. Then more while we ate. And after...we cleaned up, and I thought we were going to bed, but he got out the whiskey. So I just asked him why. If he really needed to drink to be with me. And could he please not." Bucky sniffed, started tearing up again, and Steve knew this was bad. He handed Bucky more tissues, and after a few minutes he went on.
"He got so angry." Bucky sounded baffled, but also resigned. "So angry. Told me he's a grown adult who can drink what he wants. That it had nothing to do with me, none of my business. He was furious, just kept going...all the same excuses. Same ones my dad used." Steve closed his eyes. He hadn't forgotten Bucky's history, he just hadn't put the pieces together, applied it to the situation at hand. "I left. He doesn't know it, or he's in denial - I guess I was in denial - but he's an alcoholic, Steve. He doesn't need to drink just cause I'm around, he needs to drink all the time. So I left."
Steve knew the basic facts, but the background file he'd received was only that - facts. What mattered here were feelings, and only Bucky could help him understand those. "You don't drink." He'd give him an opening, let him explain as much or as little as he wanted.
Bucky shook his head. "You know about my sister." Steve hummed a noise of agreement; they'd talked about her a bit after Bucky'd walked out on his date with Sam. "After she died, things got bad in my house. Real bad. My mom cried a lot. Dragged me to therapy, whatever. My dad...well, he didn't believe in therapy. So he used vodka." Bucky snuggled in closer to Steve, and he could only imagine that the old pain was swirling into the new pain. "Six months later, my parents were in a crash. Dad was driving, and he was drunk. Mom didn't make it. He lived, but the drinking only got worse after that." His voice was getting softer, slower, whatever energy had gotten him this far draining away. "I moved away to college, and never went back. Just couldn't stand to even look at him after that. Or to drink. But I could accept that other people did. My problem, not theirs, you know?" He looked up at Steve, and the look in his eyes was heartbreaking.
"Not like this, though. Tonight...it was like being back with my dad, when mom and I would try to convince him to stop. Brock was just like him, Steve. I don't know how I didn't see it. Guess I didn't want to. I've been trying so hard to let him in, and I don't do that. When you care about someone like that, and then you lose them, it just hurts too fucking much. But I really tried with him, and now..." Bucky was sobbing openly again, and Steve just slid down in the bed until they were lying down. All he could do was hold him.
"It's alright, Buck, let it out. I understand." He did, he really did. He couldn't even imagine how much it was going to hurt to lose Bucky, after the way he'd grown to care about him. But it didn't have to happen yet, so he held his friend while he cried and tried to figure out a way to bring Bucky joy without destroying his own.
When Bucky wandered out to the kitchen the next morning, Steve had already picked up donuts from their favorite bakery and had a full pot of coffee brewed. After Bucky had fallen asleep in his arms, Steve had lain awake all night, wishing there was some way he could both find Bucky the love he deserved and stay in Bucky's world himself. But that wasn't the way angelic intervention worked, so he'd greedily enjoyed every minute of having Bucky curled up against him, staying in bed until sunrise. He didn't want Bucky to wake up feeling awkward or embarrassed, though, so he'd slipped out to grab breakfast for them before Bucky began to stir.
His roommate looked awkward and embarrassed anyway, rubbing the back of his neck and avoiding Steve's eyes. Steve was envious because he also managed to look completely adorable, even with his wet hair slipping out of the tiny bun he'd tied it in, rumpled sweats, and a bleary expression on his face. When Steve crawled out of bed, he looked like a twelve-year-old boy who'd spent the night with a cat licking his hair into strange positions, but Bucky made you want to push him right back into the bed and keep him there.
And with that thought, Steve was also feeling awkward, so at least they were on even ground. He covered it by grabbing the donut box and holding it out towards Bucky. "Breakfast? You can have the vanilla bean or the Brooklyn blackout, or any of the square ones, but if you want the banana pecan you'll have to fight me for it." Bucky looked grateful for the distraction and grabbed a PB & J filled donut before making a beeline for the coffee maker. Steve took the rest of the box to the kitchen table, grabbing napkins and his own coffee along the way.
Bucky eased into the seat across from him, taking a sip before finally meeting Steve's eyes. "Sorry for last night. I don't do that a lot. Didn't mean to dump all over you like that." He looked even more embarrassed as he added, "And I definitely didn't mean to steal your bed all night. Sorry about that."
If Bucky didn't remember Steve holding him all night long, Steve wasn't about to make him feel worse by telling him about it. But the rest of that had to be corrected. "Don't you dare apologize, Buck. Everything that happened was my fault. I should have known he had a drinking problem. I just wanted you to get right back into things, and I set you guys up without looking into him enough." He wasn't going to forgive himself for that anytime soon. "I'm so sorry. I fucked up and you got hurt."
Bucky shook his head, reached for another donut. "Brock fucked up. My dad fucked up. You tried to help me, and when things got fucked up, you let me cry on you." With a grin, he added, "That's true friendship - putting up with the other guy's snot." It felt good, hearing Bucky refer to them as friends.
"Got a question." Bucky's expression had slipped back to serious. "Is there some kind of deadline on this? The whole cupid thing?"
Oh man, Steve hoped he wasn't looking for some kind of guarantee that he'd have his match within a specific time frame. Even working from a list of potentials, it was obviously going to be way tougher than Steve had anticipated to find just the right person. "No, it just takes...as long as it takes, I guess. We keep going until we find the one."
Bucky nodded. "Yeah, but you're basically stuck here until that happens, right? If you don't find my match, you can't leave." Steve blinked. What was Bucky getting at? "What happens once you're done?"
Steve swallowed, trying to stuff all his own conflicted feelings down deep and just answer Bucky's questions. "Well, yeah, I'm here until we find someone for you. But there's no rush. Once you and your match both acknowledge that you're in love - to yourselves, you don't have to have told each other yet - I'll get recalled. And then I can become a guardian angel."
Bucky looked puzzled. "Wait, you're not always a cupid?"
Shaking his head, Steve explained. "Nah, this is basically a training mission. There are sixteen classifications of angels, and to become a guardian angel I have to pass my training in all of them first. I've finished the others, so once I complete my cupid rotation, I can request to be placed as a guardian." That sent Bucky off on all kinds of questions about angelic training and Steve's experiences.
"Umm, I guess so far I'm best as a muse or an angel of death." He explained to Bucky about having been an art student during his lifetime, about understanding the fear of death because he'd so frequently been close to it himself, but his mind was whirling. He was happy to answer anything, especially since Bucky's mood seemed to lift with the distraction, but at the same time he wanted to drag them back to the original question. Why did Bucky want to know how long it would take? Was it possible he was sad over the idea of Steve leaving, too?
Curiosity satisfied, Bucky finally got back on track. "So are you like, in a rush to finish up? To become a guardian?"
"Not really. I mean, I've been working on this for most of a century. And I'll be doing it for eternity. A couple weeks or months are kind of a drop in the bucket, in comparison." Steve was surprised by his own answer. When he'd started this assignment, he'd been frustrated at the idea of spending even a few days as a cupid, but now he'd have been willing to put off completing his mission for years. Maybe decades.
Bucky nodded, staring into his coffee mug. "Would it be really selfish of me if I asked you to just...wait? To not find me another match for a while." He looked up at Steve, who couldn't even breathe, much less respond. Did Bucky want him to stay around that badly? "I can't do it again yet, Steve. I know, that makes me such a wimp - I have one bad relationship and I'm ready to give up." Leaning back in his chair, Bucky sighed. "After losing my family, I kind of figured I was supposed to be alone, right? Like a big fucking sign from the gods - don't get attached, that's not for you. But you're here, so I know that's not true."
Rubbing his eyes, Bucky seemed frustrated with both himself and the situation. "I haven't ever let anyone get serious, I always end things before I get too attached, but I really tried with Brock. Thought maybe I could actually have the whole happily-ever-after thing. I let him in, and I started to care. Last night just sucked, Steve." He took a deep breath and met Steve's eyes. "And I know it sucks, it's so shitty of me and I hate that I'm asking this. Keeping you from what you've been working for. But could we just wait a little while? I can't do that again yet."
Yet again, Steve wanted to cry. For both of them. He'd seen Bucky's casual friendships, casual relationships, but even knowing his family history Steve hadn't put together that his friend was terrified of caring too much about anyone and losing them. He'd been so blind, and Bucky'd been so brave to even think about dating any of the people Steve had tossed his way. And now the guy thought he was selfish for needing time to regroup before putting himself on the line again?
"Bucky, of course. The whole point of this is to make you happy, not push you into something you're not ready for. I'll keep checking out matches - believe me, I'm not letting you meet anyone else without researching the hell out of them. But I'm not gonna introduce you to another match until you tell me you're ready." If anything, Steve was the selfish one, for being disappointed that Bucky's reasons for wanting a break had nothing to do with wanting to keep Steve around. And for being glad that Bucky had bought him more time, that he could avoid finishing his mission a little bit longer.
Bucky's smile lit up the kitchen. "Thanks, man. That's a huge relief. I just need a couple weeks, maybe, to be ready." Laughing, he added, "And to get some fucking sleep. I feel like I could crawl into bed for a week and still need more time to catch up." He finished off his coffee, took the mug to the sink to rinse. "I think I might take some time off work, too. Just finished up a couple of big projects, and I can fiddle with some of my deadlines. Maybe it's time to finally put in some hours on the roof. Wanna build a deck with me?"
Steve could think of nothing he'd like better than to spend a couple of weeks working on the apartment with Bucky. "I'm in, but if I'm donating my labor, I should get a discount on my rent." Bucky laughed and, promising they'd negotiate a fair deal, announced he was going to grab a few more hours sleep in his own bed.
Finishing his own coffee, Steve was giddy. Bucky didn't seem to blame him at all for the mess with Brock. Steve would get a few more weeks, at least, of living in the gorgeous Brooklyn apartment with the best friend he'd ever had. And he didn't even have to feel guilty for not focusing on his mission; Bucky'd asked him to back off for a while. The morning would have been perfect if he hadn't reached for his banana-pecan donut, only to find that his roommate had left nothing but crumbs in the box.
"Steve, toss me that hammer, would you?" Not trusting his own aim, Steve grabbed the nearby tool and walked it over to Bucky instead, then took advantage of being on his feet to refill his water bottle from the cooler of ice water they'd lugged up to the roof. They'd only been at it for a week, but already he could see Bucky's vision beginning to take shape. It helped that Bucky seemed to have connections everywhere, and that he was so damned charming and likeable - he'd managed to get the wood for the deck and the artificial grass delivered all the way to the rooftop instead of having to lug it up five flights of stairs themselves. Not that there hadn't still been plenty of work for them to do. Steve had hammered, sawed, measured, and sanded until his eyes were ready to cross. But Bucky wanted to have the roof finished in time to throw a party for the 4th of July, and Steve wanted...well, whatever Bucky wanted.
June in New York was scorching, especially doing manual labor in the sun. Steve grabbed Bucky's bottle and refilled it as well, then thought better of handing it to him and instead poured it over his head, dancing out of the way when Bucky made a grab for his ankle. "C'mon, Buck, it's important to keep cool in temps like this. Gotta make sure you don't get heatstroke. Stay hydrated and all." Steve couldn't fall ill himself, but he still felt plenty miserable in the heat, and he knew Bucky had to be feeling it.
Dripping, Bucky gave up on the trim he'd been nailing around the decking and stood, shaking like a dog to try and dry off. "Pretty sure hydration means the water's supposed to go in me, asshole," he said with a laugh. Steve's own laugh caught in his throat as Bucky stripped off his wet t-shirt, using a dry patch to try and wipe some of the water from his face. He made Steve itch to have charcoals and a sketch pad, even though he doubted he could capture that sheer masculine grace on paper. In the afternoon sunlight, Bucky looked more beautiful than any statue or painting a museum could hope to have.
"So what's next? Now that the deck is almost done?" Steve loved watching Bucky work, the way he could look at a space and just see what it should become.
"Umm, I've got the guys coming tomorrow to install the underlay and the turf - getting that stretched and secured correctly is gonna take more than the two of us. So we can work on building the pergola, installing the lights. Everything else is mostly just hauling all the furniture and plants up the damn stairs." Bucky grabbed his now-empty water bottle from the ground and refilled it himself, then collapsed into a chair next to Steve to drink it. "Kinda bitter the guy can't get the croquet set done in time for the 4th, but what the fuck. We'll have another party for Labor Day. Use it then."
Steve wanted to believe he'd still be around for that, but September was a long ways away. And even though he'd kept his word not to introduce Bucky to anyone new, he'd been carefully reviewing potential matches on his list. Whenever Bucky decided he was ready to get back in the game, Steve needed to be prepared with a match who was flawless. He couldn't afford to let himself dream about sticking around for three more months.
"Bucky, you found someone who can make you an Alice in Wonderland croquet set. Take the win."
Bucky laughed. "Yeah, I guess you're right. I'm just greedy." He capped his water bottle and tossed it into a patch of shade, then grabbed the hammer and knelt down to finish up the trim. Steve, staring at the smooth expanse of Bucky's tan back as he pounded nails into the deck, felt a little greedy himself. But he set that aside, along with his water bottle, and got back to work.
Although Steve had once observed that his roommate spent almost no time at home, in the weeks that followed he seemed to spend every waking minute hanging out in the apartment with Steve. It was blissful - mostly.
"You fucking suck at video games. You're no challenge at all."
"Bite me. When I was alive, video games didn't exist."
"Yeah, and I bet you had to walk uphill both ways in the snow to get to school. Shit, you died again. I should get a handicap for playing with you on my team, like in golf."
"You wish, my friend, you wish. I could make you like it." Steve couldn't figure out how to respond to that, because he'd seen Bucky in bed, and kinda suspected he might be right.
Shoving an enormous blue planter into place, Bucky asked, "So why do you want to be a guardian? Is that like, the best there is?" Usually while they worked, they talked about dumb stuff - movies, sports, the same things any two guys would talk about. But sometimes, Bucky got curious and started asking Steve about angels.
"No, I mean, it's not like a promotion or anything. Technically. I mean, to me it is, kind of. It's just - all the other classifications, they're really specific, right? You're trying to help someone with one exact thing. Find true love. Prepare for death. But guardians are there to help people get through all the really messy stuff, the things that don't fit in a neat slot. Or to help them find their way when they're lost. In an existential sense, not like people who don't know how to read a map." Steve hadn't ever tried to explain to anyone why he wanted to become a guardian so badly. "Guardian angels, they can help someone who's struggling with mental illness, or dealing with a horrible loss, or even in life-or-death situations where a split second of angelic intervention could change the course of the world." He shrugged. "I dunno, maybe part of it is just cause I didn't qualify automatically, and I get kinda stubborn when someone tells me I can't do something."
Bucky laughed. "You? Stubborn? No way." He shifted the planter a few inches, glared at it as though it had offended him somehow. "How do you automatically qualify? Do some people just get to skip all the training?"
Nodding, Steve dragged over a bag of potting soil. "Yeah. If you give up your life for someone else, you get that option. Do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars." He would have dumped some dirt into the pot, but Bucky was shifting it again, back to what Steve would have sworn was the exact position it had started in. "If I'd been healthier, I would have enlisted. Fought in the war. Might have ended up on the direct path. But I died in a hospital bed, so it's taken me decades to get here. Are you done fiddling with that? Should I dump the dirt in?"
Seeming lost in thought, Bucky nodded, helping Steve tip the heavy bag into the pot. "So does everyone become an angel when they die?"
Oh. So that's where this conversation was headed. Steve was tempted to stop, to offer his friend a hug, but figured it was better to play it as casually as Bucky seemed to want. "No, not always. Everyone who's been basically a good person has the option of going through angel training, or they can move on to heaven." He wished he had some way of knowing what Bucky's sister had chosen, and his mother. But at least he could offer him some reassurance. "Either way, they get to choose what's going to make them happiest. What will bring them peace."
Bucky was quiet, staring at the flower pot like it held all the answers. Then he nodded, as though he'd resolved what had been bothering him, and clapped his hands together. "This pot? I'm pretty sure it needs to be on the other end of the deck."
Steve groaned and threw the empty bag at his friend. "You couldn't have decided that before we filled the damn thing?"
"I need to get laid."
Startled, Steve grabbed the remote, hitting pause. Bucky grabbed for it, but he couldn't just drop a bomb like that and expect Steve to keep right on watching House Hunters. "You're ready? You want to meet the next person on your list?"
Steve wasn't sure he was ready. He hadn't done enough research. Found someone perfect enough that he could be guaranteed they wouldn't hurt Bucky the way Brock had. And dammit, he wasn't ready to be finished - the past few weeks had been idyllic, and he wasn't ready to leave.
Bucky burst out laughing. "I didn't say I want to date someone and find true love and get married. I said I need to get laid. Totally different things, Steve. I mean, if I do find true love, I plan to have lots and lots of sex with that person. But love isn't really a requirement for me to want to stick my dick in someone." He regarded Steve with gentle amusement, and Steve blushed.
"I know that. I just thought...never mind. Your dick is your own problem." He restarted the show, flustered and off-balance. But Bucky grabbed the remote and hit pause again.
"You know, it doesn't have to be."
Steve had no idea what he was talking about. "What?"
"My dick. It doesn't have to be my own problem. It could be your problem." Bucky looked serious, but he had to be joking. He didn't really expect Steve to go out and help him find a one night stand, did he?
"I only deal with love, Bucky. I'm not a pimp."
Sitting up, Bucky turned off the TV entirely, and Steve wasn't at all sure he trusted the gleam in his roommate's eyes. "I'm not asking you to find me a date, Steve. I'm saying we should just fuck each other."
He had...absolutely no response to that. None. Bucky was looking at him with some strange mix of expectation, excitement, and...interest? And Steve couldn't manage to make a single word come out of his mouth. Bucky, on the other hand, seemed to have plenty of them.
"It makes perfect sense. I'm horny as fuck, but I'm not ready to go out and date again yet. And you? You're a cupid who's never dated. How are you supposed to understand why people get so nutty over sex if you've never had any?" Bucky was warming to his idea, while Steve was still trying to remember how to breathe. "Wait, can angels even do that? Are there rules against it?" For a moment, he looked concerned. "You still have all your parts and all, right?"
That got Steve's brain connected to his mouth again. "Yes, I can have sex, you jerk. Everything works just fine."
He should have lied. Should have taken the hit to his ego, and lied, because Bucky had no intention of dropping the subject. "Then that's it. We spend all our time together anyway. We just need to spend some of it fucking." In an instant, his demeanor flipped from cajoling to seductive. "C'mon, Steve. I'll make it so good for you. You know I can - you've watched me fuck. Didn't you ever wonder what it'd be like with me?" Bucky licked his lips, and Steve just about swallowed his own tongue.
"I need to...excuse me." Steve practically vaulted over the back of the couch and raced for the bathroom, locking the door behind him and leaning back against it. Bucky'd flirted with him before, ever since he moved in, but Steve had always dismissed it. Assumed he was joking, or just written it off to the fact that Bucky flirted a little bit with everyone. But he knew Bucky well enough by then to recognize that he'd been completely serious that time. Bucky wanted to have sex, and he wanted to have it with Steve. And sure, maybe Steve had fantasized some about that, but those were fantasies - not something that could actually be in his future.
He slid to the floor, his legs a bit wobbly as he realized he was actually considering it. Technically, there were no specific rules against it. And what Bucky said made some sense. How could Steve expect to help people, to understand what drove them, when he was lacking practical experience? So many actions were driven by desire, by lust; having sex might actually make him better at his duties.
Steve thumped his head against the door; at the very least, he needed to be honest with himself. He didn't need to have sex for angelic purposes; in fact, plenty of angels were asexual and did an amazing job. If he had sex with Bucky, it would be because he wanted to do it for himself. Because he wanted to know what it was like, and because he wanted to learn that from Bucky. Never in either his human or angelic lives had he been so tempted by someone.
He wasn't ready to make a decision. Didn't know what to do. So Steve took the only possible route when faced with a dangerously seductive roommate who'd offered to get him into bed - he slipped down the hall and hid in his room.
"What the hell, Steve? Why didn't you tell me the fourth was your birthday? We need to make this a birthday party, and I need to order a cake, and..." Bucky appeared seriously miffed.
Shaking his head, Steve put an abrupt halt to that line of thinking. "That is exactly why I didn't tell you, Buck. No cake, and no telling anybody else. I hate being the center of attention. Promise me." He'd intentionally kept quiet about his birthday for the entire month that they'd been working on the rooftop, and even though it had slipped out now, he wasn't about to let Bucky make him the center of attention at the 4th of July bash. The last thing Steve wanted was for a bunch of people he barely knew to sing happy birthday to him.
"You're no fun." After poking him in the arm, Bucky dropped the topic of birthdays, returning to his inspection of the finally-complete rooftop retreat. It had turned out better than Steve ever could have imagined, and he once again found himself in awe of Bucky's design skills. Half the roof was covered in soft artificial grass, and although Bucky was put out that he didn't have his croquet set yet, he'd set up a ring-toss game and a wooden lawn-bowling set instead. They'd poured blood, sweat, and a few tears into covering the other half of the roof with wooden decking, and it looked spectacular. The dark wood planks supported a matching pergola, which they'd topped with gauzy panels of fabric to filter out most of the sun. The long wooden planters they'd assembled now held trellises covered in bougainvillea and tiny twinkle lights.
Seeing everything put together, Steve decided hauling all the furniture up the stairs had been worth it. Bucky'd chosen dark woven seating with thick cushions, creating a cozy spot to relax in the shade. He'd replaced the cheap lounge chairs with a double-wide chaise, perfect for sunbathing or cuddling, and the ancient table had made way for a glass-topped dining set for six. Still...
"I can't believe you made me help you drag that gas grill up here. Nothing wrong with a bag of charcoal."
Bucky sighed. "Shut up, Steve. You know you'll love it when we're making perfect burgers tomorrow night." Steve shut up, because Bucky was probably right. It was the third of July, the project was finished, and the kitchen was filled with everything they could possibly need to have an excellent party. Steve had no reason to be grouchy. Except that Bucky had asked Steve to have sex with him, and then just...dropped it.
Sure, he was flirtatious, suggestive, but he'd always been like that. It had been different, two nights before. When Bucky'd suggested they have sex, Steve had looked in his eyes and known he meant it. And after retreating to his room, Steve had just about talked himself into agreeing. Only he couldn't say yes if Bucky never asked the question again, and Bucky was acting like it had never happened. Had he just been joking? Or had he changed his mind? Maybe he'd jerked off in the shower and decided he didn't need Steve to help him out, after all.
Steve didn't know what to do. The whole point of the two of them having sex was that it was supposed to be simple, easy. This didn't feel simple at all, and he was tired of wondering. "Why did you ask me to have sex with you?"
Bucky stopped fiddling with the strings of lights draped beneath the pergola, turning to give Steve his full attention. "Because...I wanted you to have sex with me?" He had a little smile on his face, but it didn't feel mocking, so Steve plowed ahead.
"Then why haven't you said anything about it since then?"
Looking baffled, Bucky ran a hand through his hair, which he hadn't bothered to tie back that evening. "Because you left. I asked you, and you literally left the room and didn't come back. I'm not an asshole; I'm not gonna make you feel like like you're being hounded in your own home. I want to have sex with you, Steve, but only if you want that, too." He seemed genuinely puzzled, and a little frustrated.
Steve blinked. He hadn't bothered to consider what it looked like from Bucky's perspective, him taking off like that. Just figured that Bucky had to know Steve wanted him; who wouldn't want Bucky? Oops. "It's not that I don't want to. I just needed to...think about it."
Bucky's expression softened, but his eyes...nothing soft there, it was all heat. He stepped toward Steve, ran a finger down his jaw, and Steve couldn't help the little shiver that ran through him. "You let me know when you get done thinking, okay?" Then he turned back to adjusting the lighting, muttering something about needing Edison bulbs instead.
Obviously, the ball was in Steve's court. He just had to decide if he wanted to play the game.
Bucky's 4th of July party was, by almost any measure, a complete success. The afternoon had seen an endless parade of friends, acquaintances, and colleagues stopping by to ooh and ahh over the rooftop design. Most stayed for at least an hour or two, munching on appetizers and sipping wine or lemonade. Some stayed the entire evening, and got to enjoy the first burgers off the new grill. Those who were around late enough were able to get a decent view of the fireworks on the East River, but after that, everyone began to drift home.
Steve didn't like crowds, and always felt awkward at parties, but he'd had a surprisingly good time. It was fun to watch Bucky play host, and he'd been a good one, making sure everyone who walked through the door felt welcome and included. Still, Steve was happy that it was back to the two of them, even if it meant clean-up duty. He roamed the deck with a garbage bag, collecting cans and bottles for recycling. Bucky'd run down to the kitchen to put all the leftover food in the fridge, and after all the noise of the evening, it was incredibly peaceful to be alone on the roof.
"Hey, Steve. Happy birthday." Bucky emerged from the stairwell carrying a plate, his hand cupped around a lit birthday candle to protect it from the breeze.
"You promised no cake." He wanted to be annoyed, but instead he was incredibly touched. Bucky'd honored his wishes by not telling anyone else, but still gone to the effort to celebrate.
Bucky grinned. "So I did. That's why these are cupcakes." He set the plate down on the grill long enough to take the garbage bag from Steve's hand and drop it in a corner, then grabbed the cupcakes and quietly sang happy birthday. "Make a wish, fast, before the wind takes care of this candle for you."
Steve closed his eyes. He knew exactly what to wish for. Couldn't happen, but wasn't that the point of wishes? To ask for something impossible? Opening his eyes, he blew the candle out, and Bucky plucked it out before asking, "Lemon or chocolate?" The candle had been in the lemon cake, but Steve had always had a weakness for chocolate, so he chose that one and wandered over to the edge of the roof, looking out at the city lights.
After tossing the plate in the trash, Bucky joined him, and they ate their cupcakes in silence. Steve couldn't remember ever feeling so at home, not in a place or with a person. The fairy lights cast a soft glow over everything, and he somehow felt both relaxed and incredibly energized. Standing next to Bucky while knowing that Bucky wanted him was like having a constant electrical charge running through his body. Steve had never experienced anything like it. He turned towards his friend, but didn't know what to say.
Bucky looked down, his smile reaching all the way into his eyes. "Hey there." Steve knew he could just leave things as they were, and he'd never be pressured to do more. But he wanted to know, to feel, to experience everything he'd never been able to try when he'd been alive. And he wanted to do it with Bucky.
"Hey." How the hell was he supposed to tell his best friend - his mission - that he'd decided to go ahead and have sex with him? Steve retreated into logic and facts. "I've been thinking. About what we discussed."
That statement got Bucky's interest, and his posture went from lazy to alert. "Yeah? Come to any decisions?"
Steve nodded. "I think...I think we should try it. Not all the way. I don't want to go that far at first. But you're right, I should have some experience. And you shouldn't have to be alone, just because you're not ready to date yet."
He wasn't sure what he'd expected, but Bucky didn't immediately make a move on him. "You got a specific idea of how far you want to go? Or will you just tell me to stop when we're there?"
Steve didn't know exactly what he wanted, so he shrugged. "I guess do what you want, and I'll tell you if it's too much."
Eyes dark, Bucky reached for him. "Yeah, I can work with that." Sliding a hand into Steve's hair, he pulled him closer, and then Steve's eyes drifted shut as Bucky's mouth met his. It was better than he'd imagined, and he could admit he'd imagined it a lot. He'd watched, and he'd wondered, but the reality of Bucky's kiss was something Steve never could have prepared for. His lips were soft, patient, coaxing Steve into kissing him back. Steve didn't know what to do with himself, but Bucky was more than willing to show him, and he soon had his hands wrapped in Bucky's hair while his friend confidently explored Steve's mouth with his tongue. Steve whimpered when Bucky pulled back.
Steve nodded. Too good. Amazing. "Yeah."
Hell yes. Don't you dare stop. "Yeah."
Bucky pulled him back into a kiss, but this time, slid his hands down Steve's back to pull their bodies tightly together. It was a wonder, a revelation, to feel every inch of that hard body against his and to realize every inch of it was indeed hard. Steve still had trouble wrapping his mind around that fact that Bucky would want him, but the proof was right there in Bucky's jeans, laying Steve's doubts to rest. Then Bucky was nipping at his jaw, his ear, sliding lower down Steve's body, and Steve could no longer think about much at all.
No matter how many eternities he lived through, Steve couldn't believe that he'd ever see anything as beautiful as Bucky kneeling in the moonlight. His hair loose around his face, eyes soft with arousal, lips swollen, Bucky looked like a pagan god. Or maybe an offering to the gods. He held Steve's gaze as he reached up to undo Steve's belt, then his jeans, giving him plenty of time to call a halt. But there was no way Steve could refuse this, and no reason he'd want to.
If he'd thought Bucky's mouth was incredible when he kissed, that was nothing compared to the feel of it on his cock. Steve jerked at the first touch of Bucky's tongue, unable to hold in his groan, and that was all the encouragement Bucky needed to suck Steve deep into his mouth. Steve wrapped his hands in Bucky's hair, not to control him but to hold it out of the way so he could watch as Bucky licked, sucked, and drove him slowly insane.
He couldn't stand it, it was too much, they had to stop. He never wanted it to stop. If he could have frozen time, Steve would have been happy to stay on that rooftop forever, watching as his dick disappeared between Bucky's lips over and over, faster and faster. Then it finally was too much, and Steve let out a shout, hips jerking as he spilled down Bucky's throat, eyes locked on each other until finally the shaking stopped.
Bucky pulled back, fastening Steve's jeans, but staring at Steve in wonder. "Beautiful." Steve was confused, he couldn't pull his thoughts together, then realized - Bucky was looking at his wings. Whatever control Steve had over his appearance, it had shattered along with the rest and he was in full angelic form, white feathers gleaming in the moonlight.
Standing, Bucky kissed him lightly, took him by the hand. "C'mon, Steve. Let's go to bed." And at that moment, Steve couldn't imagine ever wanting anything more than to follow this man wherever he wanted to take them.
Reaching into the fridge to grab a yogurt for breakfast, Bucky was satisfied to see that Steve had restocked the butterbeer - that stuff was a pain in the ass to find in bottles. In fact, he was pretty sure that Steve was the one who'd bought the yogurt, and Steve had definitely brought home the strawberries that Bucky swiped to add to his yogurt. All in all, his little cupid was turning out to be the best roommate that Bucky'd ever had.
And if that had been true before, it went double now that they'd added sex to the mix. Bucky couldn't help the satisfied smile that lit his face as he dug a clean spoon out of the dishwasher. They'd only been messing around for a couple days - since the night of Steve's birthday - but helping Steve discover all the physical pleasures he'd missed during his human life had become Bucky's favorite pastime. It wasn't the best, most skilled, sex that he'd ever had, but he hadn't expected that since Steve was doing everything for the first time. But there was something fantastic about being with a guy who was just doing whatever felt good, trying anything that came to mind, instead of a calculated series of moves designed to push his partner to the edge. They hadn't done everything yet, but Bucky was letting Steve set the boundaries wherever he was comfortable, and they'd been having so much fun that he honestly didn't mind waiting for more. He was sure that, in time, Steve would want everything Bucky could give him.
Bucky hoped they'd have enough time for that to happen. Rinsing and slicing the strawberries, he frowned. He really didn't see why they shouldn't take all the time they wanted. He was having a good time, Steve was having a good time, and his friend didn't seem to be in a big rush to get back to the whole cupid thing. Bucky was in no hurry to start dating again, even if Steve insisted that something deep and lasting was possible for him. Hell, the way things were going right now, Bucky didn't see why he needed a relationship at all. He had an excellent roommate who not only did the grocery shopping but was willing to have some fun between the sheets. Someone he felt comfortable talking to, had plenty of fun with, and never needed to put on a show for. Who the hell needed true love when he had Steve for a roommate?
Living with Steve had been easy before they'd begun fooling around, but Bucky was surprised that it was still easy. He'd never let any of his brief relationships get to the moving-in-together stage, and had always thought it might get weird, having someone you were sleeping with be around all the time. But that hadn't happened with Steve; it was just comfortable, the way things had been from day one. Nothing had changed, really. Only now, when he caught Steve ogling him while he was sunbathing on the roof, it was perfectly acceptable to slip off his swim trunks and invite his friend to join him on the comfy new chaise. Bucky could live with those kinds of changes.
Looking down at the breakfast he'd put together, Bucky felt a twinge of guilt. Steve had bought all the food, so it didn't seem fair for Bucky to eat it without him. He pulled a bowl out of the dishwasher, tossed another bagel in the toaster, and poured a second mug of coffee. On impulse, he also dug around in the cabinet of stuff he rarely used, coming up with a serving platter that he could use as a tray. It really didn't take that much more work to load all the food up and take it into the bedroom. When your roommate had given you a pretty decent handjob the night before, it was only natural to want to take them breakfast in bed, right?
It stood to figure that just when Bucky had been thinking about how easy everything was with Steve, how comfortable, the guy would wake up in a bad mood. Sure, he'd said thank you when Bucky'd popped into his bedroom with breakfast, but he'd been quiet, withdrawn, almost a little prickly. Bucky had been hoping that after breakfast he might get a repeat of that handjob - practice made perfect, after all - and had been itching to get his mouth on Steve again. Instead, Steve had hopped out of bed as soon as he was done eating, and stood at the window in a posture that could only be described as brooding.
Maybe his wings were bothering him. Even though it took concentration to keep them from materializing, Steve rarely let them out, saying that if he got too used to leaving them free it'd be even harder to remember to keep them hidden in public. Not to mention that Bucky's apartment hadn't exactly been designed to accommodate someone with a six-foot wingspan. But Steve's wings were free now, so either they were bugging him, or he was so deep in thought that he'd forgotten about them. Either way, Steve standing naked at the window with shimmering white wings was like something out of a fantasy novel. The majestic power of his angelic form was interrupted only by the small heart tattoo on his shoulder, which Bucky found charming but which Steve hated. (He'd learned fast that Steve got very prickly if Bucky referred to anything about him as cute, charming, or adorable - especially in bed.)
"Steve? You okay?" Whatever was bothering him, Bucky would be more than happy to try and make him feel better. But to do that, he needed to get Steve back into the bed.
"I'm fine, Buck. You can have the first shower." Whoa, there. Bucky sat up. Steve was most definitely not fine, and guys who brought their roommate...friend...fuckbuddy?...breakfast in bed did not deserve to be dismissed like the butler. He hopped out of bed, gently turning Steve away from the window to look into his eyes.
"Seriously, Steve, what's wrong? Are your wings bothering you?"
Steve shook his head, looking startled. "What? No. I didn't realize..." He shrugged, but didn't bother to tuck them away. Instead, he pulled away from Bucky and resumed his position staring out the window. "Just no point in you lazing around in my bed all day." What the hell? Bucky couldn't think of anything he'd done to justify the sheer poutiness in Steve's voice. Then Steve muttered, "It's not like we're gonna have sex or anything."
Wait. What? Was Steve miffed because they hadn't...? If that was why he was grouchy, Bucky had one hell of a surefire solution. "Are you mad at me that we haven't done that yet?"
Steve wouldn't meet his gaze, blushing furiously. "I'm not mad, Bucky. I just...you haven't even asked! We keep...I mean, it's amazing, all of it's amazing, but...it's like you don't even want to, or something." Bucky found it adorable (sorry, Steve, but that was the right word) that his friend could do so many things with him in bed, but got all flustered trying to talk about those things.
"Didn't we establish that I'm not an asshole? I told you I wouldn't push you for anything you weren't ready for." But asking wasn't the same as pushing, Bucky thought, and Steve was clearly waiting to be asked. He moved closer, lowering his voice as he wrapped an arm around Steve's waist. "Are you ready for that, Steve? Is that the problem - you're dying to know what it's like to fuck me, but I haven't offered?" Steve didn't respond, just closed his eyes and blushed more deeply. But Bucky understood his roommate pretty well, and guessed by his expression that no, he hadn't gotten that quite right.
"That's not it." Again he turned Steve towards him, this time sliding his hand down to get a firm grip on his friend's ass. With the sunlight streaming through his blond hair, over the shimmering white feathers of his wings, Steve was fucking beautiful, and Bucky found himself rising to the occasion, so to speak. "You're not frustrated cause you haven't fucked me yet. You're frustrated cause I haven't fucked you." Steve's sharp intake of breath, the way his dick jumped against Bucky's thigh, confirmed it. "You want to get me inside you? Feel me sliding in and out, slow and deep, harder and faster when we start to lose control?" Bucky was practically vibrating with need now, didn't know how he'd stand it if Steve said no. He couldn't let him say no.
"You gotta tell me, Steve." He slipped his hand over, fingers just skimming the spot he was now desperate for, making Steve gasp. "Gotta tell me you want me here. That you want my fingers and my mouth and my dick in you." Bucky wasn't about to play fair, he needed this too much, and leaned down to scrape his teeth across Steve's neck in the exact spot he knew would make his friend shake. "Say yes, Steve. Say yes and I'll give it all to you." He pulled back, waiting. As much as he wanted to take this all the way, he still wasn't an asshole, and it had to be Steve's call.
Steve finally opened his eyes, and Bucky was relieved to see they were hot, glazed with passion. He licked his lips, tried several times to speak, but finally just nodded and fuck, that counted as yes. "Wait right there. Don't move. Don't even think of moving." Bucky scrambled across the bed, digging through the nightstand for the lube. He didn't want to give Steve even a moment to get nervous and change his mind.
Turned out that wasn't a worry. As soon as he rejoined Steve at the window, his roommate was wrapped around him, kissing him the way he liked best - deep and hot and all tongue. Steve had picked up fast on everything that made Bucky moan with pleasure; even in just a couple of days, he already seemed to know Bucky's body better than anyone else Bucky'd ever had in his bed. And Bucky knew exactly what would drive Steve crazy, make him let go of his nervousness and his inhibitions. He put all that knowledge into play now, wanting to push Steve to the edge fast.
It took only minutes for Bucky to have Steve exactly where he wanted him - moaning, shaking, and digging his fingers into Bucky's shoulders. He'd had his fingers in Steve for the first time the night before, and with the aid of the lube, Steve's body welcomed him back like he'd been desperately missed. Still, Bucky took his time with that part, wanting Steve to feel nothing but pure pleasure when they came together. Finally, Bucky felt like Steve was ready, and he knew exactly how he wanted him.
"Turn around." It came out as more of a growl than he'd intended, but he was at the edge of his own control, too. Still, he was careful to be gentle as he positioned Steve so he was leaning against the window, looking out at the city below. That was...yeah, exactly it. Maybe the bed would have made more sense, but Bucky wanted him like this, with the sun streaming over his wings. And as Bucky carefully, gently, so slowly, slid into him from behind, it was every bit as perfect as he'd imagined.
Seemed to be exactly what Steve had wanted, too, as his low moan was definitely pleasure and not pain. "That what you've been needing, Steve?" Bucky panted. "Me inside you? Fuck, you're so tight, so perfect around me. Feels so damn good." He began to move, slowly, and reached around to wrap his hand around Steve's cock. "Gonna make you feel so good, too. Gonna make you scream my name." He needed that, wanted Steve to be drowning in just as much pleasure as he was.
He wasn't going to last long, though - being inside Steve felt too fucking good. So he stroked him, tight and fast and a little rough, trying to match the rhythm of his own hips but slowly losing control. He needed Steve to go with him, needed to make him come, needed to find their pleasure together. "God Steve it's too good...come with me come on I'm so close, you feel so fucking perfect...mmnnggg I gotta, I can't...Steve, please." Bucky was desperate, he was dying but he was okay with that as long as Steve was with him, he couldn't breathe and he needed to -
"BUCKY!" Steve was spurting over Bucky's hand, and it was such a fucking relief to be able to let go, he practically sobbed Steve's name as he emptied himself in that snug ass. Bucky was shaking, wrapping his arms around Steve's waist and burying his face in soft feathers as they both tried to remember how to breathe. He was exhausted, completely drained, and could barely move - but somehow also exhilarated. When he was able to move again, he turned Steve to face him, completely content to just stand there with his arms wrapped around him for...well, forever.
He'd had plenty of sex, maybe more than his share, but he'd never felt anything like he did at that moment. Being with Steve had been shattering, and not just for his cock. He felt simultaneously completely relaxed and filled with energy, at peace and yet so alive. Maybe it was because they knew each other so well? He'd never had sex with someone who'd started out as a friend. Maybe this feeling of rightness, the urge to freeze time and just remain in that moment, was because he and Steve had no need for pretenses between them. They were close enough that Steve had seen every part of Bucky and still liked him anyway; he didn't have to hide any part of himself from Steve. In fact, Steve was the closest friend he'd ever had, closer to him in some ways than even his family had been.
When the realization hit, Bucky felt it almost like a blow and had to fight not to stiffen up, not to let Steve know that anything had changed. He'd finally let someone in, allowed somebody to get close, after spending so long refusing to care about anyone enough to risk getting hurt. But in the end, it looked as though Bucky had been right - anyone he truly cared about, he was destined to lose. Because he'd gone and fallen in love with the one person absolutely guaranteed to leave him.
Bucky had exactly two weeks of what he could only think of as the most painful kind of joy. He had two weeks with Steve - in his apartment, in his bed, in his life, exactly where he wanted him. It was everything he'd always refused to allow himself to hope for with another person, and it was perfect, except for the part where he knew it had to end. Steve was an angel, and Bucky knew that the happy domesticity they'd settled into had an expiration date.
That expiration date came on a beautiful Sunday morning, when Steve plopped down in the extra chair in Bucky's office and announced, "I found her."
Bucky wouldn't pretend that he didn't know what Steve was talking about; he'd been dreading this moment ever since he'd realized how he felt. So he just set aside the fabric swatches he'd been looking at and gave Steve his full attention. "Okay?" It wasn't fair, he thought, for him to feel hurt. This was Steve's mission, and he couldn't achieve his dream - couldn't become a guardian angel - until he found someone for Bucky. It wasn't Steve's fault that Bucky'd developed feelings for him along the way.
Steve looked pleased with himself. "Buck, she's perfect. I've made sure of it this time, no surprises, I've been checking her out for a month." A month? The entire time they'd been exploring each other in bed, curling up on the rooftop chaise to watch the sunset, bickering over video games - the entire time he'd been falling in love with Steve, Steve had already been focused on someone he wanted to pass Bucky off on. Bucky shook himself out of it; he absolutely could not be upset with Steve for doing exactly what he'd been sent there to do. "You're gonna adore this woman, Bucky. I promise. And the set-up will be so easy; I got her invited to that charity thing we're going to tomorrow night. What do you think, are you ready?"
No. He was definitely not ready. Bucky'd been looking forward to the party, to taking Steve as his plus-one; they'd even gone shopping for a suit. He didn't want to meet some woman; he wanted Steve. But he knew that was the one thing he couldn't have, and he couldn't derail Steve's dream. If Bucky didn't go through with this and allow Steve to find someone for him, Steve would be stuck there forever, and while that might be exactly what Bucky wanted, it wouldn't be fair. He had to keep going, had to keep meeting the people Steve chose and trying, somehow, to fall in love with one of them instead.
So Bucky nodded. "Sure, Steve. Let's do this." He slapped a smile on his face. And if he loved Steve a little more fiercely, a little desperately, that night - well, Steve didn't need to understand why.
Steve straightened his tie, feeling nervous and awkward in the fancy suit that Bucky had chosen for him. When they'd gone shopping together, he'd actually been excited for this party - it had almost felt like he'd be going on a date with Bucky. They'd eat, they'd mingle, maybe even dance. Instead, Bucky would be doing all those things with his potential match, assuming that Steve did his job right - something he'd been failing at for a while now.
Bucky had asked him, after Brock, to take a break from his assignment, but it had been Steve's own selfishness that had let the break go on this long. He'd known that Bucky was happy again, stronger, certainly ready to put himself back into dating. Steve should have begun pushing him weeks ago to continue meeting people from his list; instead, he'd indulged his own desires. He'd been having too much fun as Bucky's friend, his roommate - his lover. Steve hadn't wanted to be recalled, hadn't been ready to give Bucky up, so for the first time in his angelic career he'd ignored his assignment and just...lived.
Steve finally understood why people were so fixated on sex; he could happily spend an eternity just touching Bucky. Finding new ways to make him gasp, make him shake or moan. It gave Steve a thrill of pride when Bucky lost control, yanked his hair, shouted his name. And when Bucky was inside him? When their eyes met while they were joined? It was like the world stopped turning and the universe held its breath. It was like dying and being reborn each and every time. Steve understood now why people were willing to pay for that feeling, take complete strangers home. He'd always assumed sex just felt good the way any physical pleasure might. How could he have known that it shattered your soul, put it back together stronger?
Steve liked to think that Bucky enjoyed what they did, too. He might not be experienced, might not be a perfect physical specimen like the hockey god or Bucky himself, but he felt confident that he at least brought Bucky enough pleasure that he'd kept coming back for more. Still, Steve figured part of that was just convenience. Bucky didn't want to start dating again, to continue the search for true love, and Steve was...well, there. Easily obtained. If Steve didn't push him, it seemed like Bucky might be happy to stay in that lazy rut, and even if Steve would have been thrilled to remain in that rut with him, he couldn't be that selfish. He'd already put this meeting off longer than he should have - Steve had finished his research on this match days ago, but hadn't been able to bring himself to tell Bucky. But he was a cupid, at least for now, and that meant he had to help Bucky along the path that would bring him true happiness. Which required, in this case, leaving the restroom.
He'd been hiding, he could admit it. The charity ball was in full swing, and with Steve arranging for their groups to be seated at the same table, Bucky'd met his potential match early in the evening. They'd hit it off immediately, and as Steve emerged from the men's room he quickly spotted them on the dance floor. Bucky and the stunning redhead were hard to miss. They were the most beautiful couple in the room, flowing gracefully across the floor like they'd been dancing together for years. Although, being a featured dancer with the New York Ballet, Steve though it might be impossible for her to look bad on a dance floor, no matter the partner. Still, she and Bucky looked right together. She had her arms wrapped around his neck, was laughing at something he said, and Steve couldn't help a tiny stab of envy at the way they just...fit.
Bucky looked happy. He had to focus on that; wasn't Bucky's happiness the entire point? Although in the last few weeks, he'd seemed to be happy with Steve, too. Had Bucky ever smiled at him in just the way he was smiling now? Had he looked into Steve's eyes as deeply as he was gazing into the ballerina's? He had no right to be jealous - Bucky was his mission, and the woman he was holding might be his match. But dammit, he was also Steve's best friend. His only lover. He'd spent months getting to know Bucky, helping him, learning him. He'd never known anyone else the way he knew Bucky.
And now, Bucky was staring into someone else's eyes like they might hold the key to his future. A future Steve would never be part of. It hit him like a freight train - he was in love with Bucky himself.
But that was nothing compared to the shock, the pain, when Steve found himself recalled from duty.
He hadn't been able to say goodbye. He'd known, of course, that he wouldn't - that as soon as Bucky and his match fell in love with each other, Steve's mission would be complete. If things had gone as he'd originally expected, this would be the moment when the dominion angels would arrange for Bucky to find a quick note from "Steve Grant" on his kitchen counter, something about a family emergency. Plus a check for several months rent. He wondered, idly, if that would still happen. But mostly, Steve was too numb to care about much of anything as he followed Coulson down the hall.
Steve had done his job. He'd completed the mission, found Bucky his match, and apparently it had been love at - well, at a couple hours of sight. But as soon as he'd returned, he'd been called to the director's office, and he really couldn't be surprised by that, either. Steve had revealed himself to his mission, engaged in a sexual relationship with him, and taken far longer to complete his assignment than ever before. He hadn't broken any rules, technically, but he'd definitely bent them.
"Wait here." Steve's supervisor left him in a pleasant room with a few benches and a view overlooking - maybe New Zealand? He'd expected Director Fury's office to be more severe, somehow, but then he didn't actually know the man at all. Most angels only knew him by reputation, although Steve had hoped to get a glimpse of their enigmatic leader during his induction ceremony into the guardian's corps. If he was in this much trouble, though, he couldn't imagine that becoming a guardian was still in his future.
"It's a nice view, isn't it." Director Fury was suddenly beside him, and Steve jumped. He didn't think he'd be able to force any words from his dry mouth, so he just nodded. "Let's have a seat, Steven." When Fury spoke, angels obeyed, and on shaky legs Steve directed himself to the closest bench. The director sat as well, then pinned Steve with the gaze of his single eye.
"You, Steve, have presented us with an unusual problem. Something I've never seen in all my years, and new problems are a damned rare thing in this line of work." Steve gulped. He knew angels had revealed themselves, plenty of times. But maybe...was he the first to have an intimate relationship with his mission? This was bad. Steve absolutely didn't want to be an unusual problem to Nick Fury.
"I'm...I'm sorry, sir. I don't really have an explanation."
Fury laughed. "You think I don't know the explanation? You fell in love, Steve. You went down and fell in love with your damned mission." Steve didn't deny it. What would be the point?
"My problem, Steve, is this. James Buchanan Barnes wanted to find true love. Badly enough that he worked his way to the top of the list, got himself assigned a cupid. That would be your dumb ass. And you did the job, Steve, he found true love." Steve had to close his eyes. He was happy for Bucky, so happy, but...it hurt, too, imagining him marrying the lovely ballerina. Starting a life together, raising a family.
Fury wasn't finished. "Now, how do you think it makes the cupid corps look if we match someone up with their true love, then immediately take them away?" Steve's eyes snapped open. What the hell had gone wrong? Oh god, Bucky couldn't stand to lose another person he cared about. It just wasn't fair, and Fury needed to fix it. Steve started to speak, but shut his mouth at the director's glare. "Never happened before, Steve, not in all my years. Never had a mission fall in love with their cupid, and vice versa. So what am I supposed to do with that? Tell the guy hey, sorry you're in love, but Steve getting all gooey for you means his mission is over so now he's gotta leave?"
Steve was stunned. Shattered might be a better word. Bucky loved him? But he'd been watching them dance, seen them looking into each other's eyes, and that had been the moment he'd been recalled. His mission was only complete once both parties realized their feelings for each other, which meant...
"That's right - he already knew he was in love with you. What triggered your recall was you finally figuring it out." Fury didn't seem angered by the situation; if anything, Steve would have said he was amused. "So what the hell are we gonna do about this, Steve?"
He was still in shock, but Fury clearly expected him to respond. "What...what can we do?" Fury was right, Steve had never heard of a situation like this. Was the director implying that there were options? Something that didn't involve Bucky and Steve both heartbroken and alone?
Director Fury leaned forward, hands on his knees. "This was your final rotation, Mister Rogers. You have passed every single requirement to become a guardian, which Coulson tells me has been your aim since the day you became an angel." Somehow, the news didn't fill Steve with the joy he'd expected. Becoming a guardian angel...well, compared to being with Bucky, it would just feel empty. Hollow. "So it seems to me that you, son, are faced with a choice. You have every right to be inducted into the guardian corps immediately. But you're also the correct match for Mister Barnes, and you have every right to that role, as well. You can go back, live a normal human lifespan, with all the risks and rewards that entails. It's up to you which path you want to take."
Fury was wrong, there was absolutely no choice to be made. "Send me back. If Bucky’s in love with me, I can’t let him lose another person he cares about, not even to become a guardian. I choose Bucky." Steve could barely breathe. He'd never imagined, not in all his fantasies, that this could be an option for him. But if a lifetime with Bucky was something he could have, then he would grab onto that with both hands and not let go. Even though whenever he finished that lifetime, he’d have to go through all his training again - he’d happily spend another century doing angel rotations, work his way back up, to have a life with Bucky first.
It was weird, and a little creepy, seeing a smile steal across the director's face - he did not strike Steve as a man who smiled often. "I think that's an excellent choice, Steve. But do you realize what you've just done?" He'd given himself another shot at life, a chance at happiness, but no - he didn't know what Fury was referring to.
"You had the opportunity to get exactly what you've wanted - to be a guardian angel. To have an eternity of helping people. Instead, you gave up your angelic immortality for someone else. You willingly gave your life for someone, Steve Rogers." Fury rose, patted Steve on the shoulder. "Looks like you just qualified as a guardian angel for the second time. We'll be seeing you back here for that induction, when you're ready. That better not be for some decades yet." And the director was gone.
With a flash, so was Steve.
Bucky had been crying for what felt like days, but was probably only hours. He'd held it together when he'd realized Steve was gone, convinced himself that Steve had just returned to their apartment. But deep inside, he'd known, had felt the absence the moment Steve had disappeared from this earth. It was a gaping wound in his heart, and Bucky couldn't imagine how he'd ever feel whole again.
He knew what it was to lose people, but that didn't make the pain any less agonizing this time around. Even when he'd convinced himself that he had to go out, had to allow Steve to find him a match, Bucky hadn't really allowed himself to think about what it would feel like to lose Steve. To turn around and know that Steve was gone from his life forever. And he sure as hell hadn't expected it to happen so soon.
The woman Steve had matched him up with had been wonderful. Smart, funny, a little bit sarcastic, and sexy as hell. Exactly the type of person Bucky would be interested in, and he had realized as they were dancing that he could, possibly, come to care for her. That she might actually be someone he could spend a lifetime with. But he didn't think he'd been there yet - he'd just been acknowledging that the potential was there, not actually falling in love with her. Apparently, that had been enough, because Steve was gone. Bucky had offered some lame excuse to the woman he was evidently going to fall in love with and bailed on the party, hoping against hope that Steve would be given time to pack up his things, say goodbye. But Bucky had been left alone, again, with only the stuffed llama he was sobbing on to keep him company.
"I hate that stupid llama." Bucky's eyes shot open, and - holy shit. Steve. He wasn't gone, he hadn't been recalled. Fuck, he'd probably only gotten tired of the party, run out for ice cream, and now he'd want to know why Bucky was losing his shit.
"Steve." Fuck it, he was telling the truth. "I thought you were gone. Like, for good. I was dancing, and then I felt it, and I didn't see how that could be cause I wasn't in love with her. But I thought you were gone." Bucky couldn't keep it together, closed his eyes before he started sobbing all over again.
"I was, Buck. I got recalled. As soon as I figured out I was in love with you." What? Bucky couldn't process that, his mind and his heart were just too exhausted.
"You're...but then how are you...but you're here. How are you here? You love me?" He couldn't put it together, but somehow, Steve had been recalled and returned. Did that mean he was staying?
Steve finally crossed the room, sat down on the couch and pulled Bucky close. "I'm in love with you. And I guess you're in love with me too - even though you never told me, you jerk - cause I completed my mission. So they gave me a choice, becoming a guardian or coming back to you." Steve looked into his eyes, and Bucky's heart hurt a little at the love he saw there. "I chose you, Buck. No question. I'd rather have one life with you than an eternity without you. But only if I can get rid of the llama."
Bucky laughed. How could he not? How could he not be filled with joy and hope, if something as bizarre and extraordinary as falling in love with an angel could happen in his life? "I only kept him to piss you off. Poor Nigel. He's done nothing to you."
Steve picked up the stuffed toy and threw it in the general direction of the trash can. "He's snuggling with my guy. I have a right to be jealous." There was nothing for Steve to be jealous of, though - Bucky couldn't imagine wanting to cuddle up to anyone but him.
"You did your job, Steve. You found me the perfect match."