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Brooklyn Baby

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Brooklyn Baby


Bucky had a schedule. It was a good schedule.

On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays he worked out of the little coffee shop around the corner from his apartment. When Bucky and Gabe first moved in, he planned to avoid BrewTea and the Beats like the plague.

It sounded like the pretentious Petri dish where hipsters were spawned and grown out of Free Trade organic blends, brewed by the power of alt music and unnecessarily chunky scarves. The joke was on him though because the specialty drinks were affordable and delicious, the free Wi-Fi was better than the connection he actually paid for, and he was there regularly enough that he had an unofficial official table. It was located right by the window and had an outlet, the only one in the entire shop.

All he had to do to enjoy these benefits was ignore the oversized tortoise shell glasses, skinny jeans, and floral flat brims. It was a high price but it was one he was willing to pay. He was also doomed from the start because after he complained about the ridiculous shop to his sister, she applied for a barista position and secured it immediately.

So, there was a schedule. Bucky had a schedule. It was a good schedule. It worked well. It was a damn good schedule. Due to aforementioned schedule, Bucky had no reason to worry that this week in particular, he needed to connect to a conference video call.

He should have realized he was tempting fate. Things had been going so well.

Bucky hadn’t thought things could have turned out this well after getting blown the fuck up by a roadside IED. He lost his left arm, the whole thing. A very useful thing he would have really rather kept. Bucky knew he was lucky. Lucky that he didn’t die, that he managed to warn the rest of his squad right before things went boom, that they pulled him out in time so the only thing he lost was just his arm.

It still kind of felt like nothing good could ever happen again after he was honorably discharged due to his injury. A covert ops sniper wasn’t much use with a missing arm and panic-inducing PTSD.

Then he somehow got into the Stark Industries program for vets and Bucky had an arm again, albeit a metallic one. Sometimes he wondered if he would have stayed overseas if he qualified for the program right after the explosion. If he would have stayed in the desert ready to follow orders and pull the trigger when asked.

So, Bucky moved back to Brooklyn and Gabe came along for the ride. He had his best friend, a fancy as hell robot arm that worked like a real one because Tony Stark was a mad fucking genius, and a great job.

Bucky always had a knack for strategy. No matter if it was a street fight or a mission. It made securing a swanky, strategy consulting job in NYC pretty easy. In any case, it certainly didn’t hurt that he could whip out a decorated military history and a trusty dose of the old Barnes charm.

Bucky pushed his way through the doors to BrewTea and the Beats ten minutes before the conference call started.

He stopped short when he realized his unofficial official table was taken.

It’s not like it was his official official table, but come on. He actually needed the outlet today. Bucky frowned to himself and went to order a ginger molasses latte. Becca was busy bustling around preparing the drinks, so he didn’t want to interrupt.

If the call didn’t outlast his laptop battery, it’d be fine. He would really rather not share the table. They technically fit two but it was a cozy fit. Bucky grumbled, setting up his computer at a table against the wall. That way he could keep an eye on the unofficial official table and make a move if it became available.

As his laptop booted up, Bucky eyed the guy at the table.

He was intimidatingly attractive. Literally the hottest person Bucky had ever seen in his entire life and his clientele sometimes included models. The guy was all blonde hair and blue eyes, an unreal color like some sort of Walt Disney shit. He had the kind of body that made Michelangelo’s David seem inadequate.

Bucky wrenched his gaze away from the guy who was busy frowning, somewhat adorably, at a number of magazines spread out on the table in front of him. Wait a minute.

He glanced back over to confirm that Hottie McHotter than Hot wasn’t even using the outlet. Did he not realize that was the only outlet table and he was just wasting it? Bucky shook his head. Whatever. He wasn’t the table police. He needed to chill out.

Becca delivered Bucky’s latte with an apologetic look towards the unofficial official table. “I almost told him that the table was taken but it’s technically against store policy to allow reservations,” she whispered.

Bucky accepted the coffee gratefully and shook his head. “It’s not your fault. I know I have to share it,” he told her, fully aware that he sounded despondent.

Becca snickered and tugged at a lock of his hair. “You need a haircut, bro. You’re starting to blend in with the natives.”

“That’s the point,” Bucky told her. “I can’t let them know I’m an outsider or they’ll mob me with thrift shop recommendations and Bon Iver. The hair is my in.” Becca dimpled at Bucky, laughing as she returned to the counter.

He made a mental note to stuff a few extra tens in the tip jar. Becks was trying to save up for study abroad in London and there was no way she would take the money from him directly. Bucky put his headphones on and logged into the call, pulling up an adjacent document to take notes.

The call was one of a series for an ongoing rebranding merger with a major packaged food producer. Bucky took notes, providing insights where he could and he lost track of time. It was only when his laptop pinged, the low battery warning popping up, that he realized it had been close to three hours. He checked the unofficial official table in a panic.

The guy who was most likely a hallucinatory sexual fantasy instead of a real person was still at the table and still not actually using the outlet. Bucky didn’t really have a choice here. He put the call audio on mute and paused the visual connection as he gathered up all his belongings.

Becca watched him, highly amused as he purposefully strode towards the other table and dropped everything across from the table stealer. Oh dear God, he was even more attractive up close. The guy stared at him a little wide-eyed, his confusion evident. Bucky couldn’t care about that right now.

Although, he did get distracted when he noticed the magazines were all flipped open to stories about Destiny’s Child.

Was this guy reading three different articles from 1999 about the R&B trio? What the fuck. Bucky shook his head. He really needed to plug in. He had 2% battery left and the results of his research project were just being mentioned, he had to unmute.

“Hi there,” Bucky said to the guy while he connected the charger to his laptop and then crawled halfway under the table to plug it in. The blonde let out a startled noise. “Sorry, don’t mind me,” Bucky carried on, dissembling and trying to downplay the weirdness as he popped back up.

The guy continued gawking wordlessly and Bucky took the seat across from the most beautiful man in all of existence. “I’m in the middle of a business video call and my computer is dying. This is the only plug and you’re not using it. I’ll buy you a coffee to make up for interrupting you and forcibly making you suffer through this awkwardness because man, is this awkward. These tables are meant for two but come on, it’s really more like one and a half and since your muscles have their own muscles, it’s like a whole other entity there. Jesus, I need to stop talking, sorry.”

Bucky snapped his mouth shut and cued back into the call. He valiantly tried to ignore the guy staring at him for another long minute before returning to his magazines. Bucky listened to them recap his portion of the project and answered all of the follow up questions easily.

Honestly, at this point he was hoping the call outlasted sex-on-a-stick over there because he was not looking forward to the call ending and being at the table without a barrier. Since today all of his luck seemed to have run out, the call ended twenty minutes later and cute as hell was still there.

He glanced up from the screen and saw the blonde quickly avert his gaze away from Bucky. Bucky smiled slightly and slid out of his seat. “So, what can I get you?” he asked, gesturing towards the counter.

The guy seemed slightly more composed now that there was a lot less barging around and stream of consciousness happening. “You really don’t have to do that,” blondey blondey hot ass said. How was it even fair that his voice was attractive too?

“I really do,” Bucky disagreed.

The blonde smiled slightly and ducked his head. Bucky realized horrifyingly that his breath caught in his chest at the sight. “Okay,” the guy relented. “A caramel crème brûlée latte.”

That was classy as fuck.

Bucky nodded and tried not to do anything humiliating on his way over to the counter. Becca smirked as he ordered the drink and a pistachio rose latte for himself. “What?” he hissed quietly when the smirk didn’t let up as she punched the order in.

She shrugged. “Nothing,” Becca sing-songed. “It’s just nice seeing you chatting with other customers for once. Especially ones that look like that, holy moley.”

Bucky sighed, running a hand down his face. “Yeah? It’s not just me? He’s like unnaturally good-looking, right? Maybe he’s an incubus.”

Becks took the money from him and slipped it into the till. “Strong theory. I’m going to go ahead and stick with the one that he’s just really fucking hot and not a sex demon but what do I know? Go find out for the both of us.”

Bucky grinned and crammed a few twenties into the jar. She deserved it.

He went to go sit back down and noted that the guy was now onto the magazine headlines stage where Beyonce was going solo. What the hell was even going on? “Um,” Bucky eloquently managed. “So, why are you tracking Beyonce’s life history through tabloids?”

The blonde pulled an embarrassed expression and shuffled the magazines to the side. “I’ve got a list that my friends put together ranking the most important pop culture events I need to know. I, uh—was out of the loop for a long time on this kind of thing.”

“So, you’ve got a friend who’s a big Beyonce fan?” Bucky asked with interest. Morita slowly wore him down on the Beyonce front. Bucky had been a fan of a few of her songs but didn’t quite get the hype until Jim sat him down for an education.

The guy nodded, “I fell behind on the list but I had some free time and figured I’d catch up. I’m really sorry about taking over the table with the outlet. I had no idea.”

Bucky waved the apology off. “It’s no big deal, it wouldn’t have been an issue if I wasn’t on that call. I’m sorry that I hijacked your table and then word vomited all over you.”

“I don’t mind,” the guy said and he was absolutely genuine about it too. This was doing nothing to assuage Bucky’s assumptions about him being an incubus.

Becca swept over with their coffee. “For the gentlemen,” she said brightly, sliding the drinks onto the table. She waggled her eyebrows at Bucky as she passed behind the guy.

Bucky took a sip of his latte when the blonde cleared his throat. “Thanks. I’m Steve, by the way.” Oh, wow. Maybe Becca’s comment about his socialization was not unwarranted.

He had apparently forgotten how basic introductions worked. “Bucky,” he told him in return.

Steve’s mouth twisted up a little at the corner. “Nice to meet you, Bucky.”

Bucky blinked at the guy/incubus. What even. Normal people were not this authentically sincere in their small talk. Steve’s phone began to ring and he reached for it.

“Rogers,” he answered, tone crisp and formal. He suddenly froze, eyes darting over to Bucky who looked back over at the sudden movement. Bucky glanced around them but nothing seemed to be amiss. Maybe the phone call was bad news? He continued drinking his latte. It wasn’t any of his business.

Steve relaxed after a moment, nodding along to the call. “Okay, copy that. I’ll be there.” He hung up and fidgeted with his coffee. Bucky didn’t want to pry.

So, instead, he focused on what other magazines Steve had with him. “What else is on that list of yours?” he asked curiously.

Any of the strange tension seemed to disappear as Steve responded. “Oh. It’s a pretty long list. So, once I cross one off, I just move to the next one. After Beyonce it’s Andy Warhol, Pokemon, Harry Potter, Bruce Lee, N’Sync, and Steve Jobs.”

Bucky laughed at the variety of suggestions, “Well, at least you’re getting a wide spectrum.”

“What would you add to it?” Steve asked curiously, looking at him over the rim of his coffee mug.

Bucky frowned in thought. “What are you interested in?”

“I like art,” the blonde admitted, slowly like he wasn’t sure he was allowed to share that. “And food.” He seemed stumped at that point and Bucky was somewhat concerned that Steve couldn’t think of anything else.

“Jason Mecier,” Bucky said with conviction. “He makes art out of food. It’s a triple whammy. You got art, food, and he does a lot of portraits of celebrities for more pop culture exposure.” Steve scribbled the name down on an actual physical list he was keeping in a spiral notebook.

Bucky was seriously not sure what was going on with this guy but it was endearing.

The door jangled open and another unreasonably attractive person walked into the coffee shop. He was dark-skinned and filling out that t-shirt very nicely, smiling even as he looked around. His expression lit up further when it landed on Steve. “Hey! You ready to go, Cap?”

Freezing in place again, Steve shot an anxious glance between the man and Bucky. “Yeah, just give me a minute,” he mumbled as he piled the magazines together and shoved them into his bag.

“Cap?” Bucky repeated in confusion. “Are you in the military?” he asked.

The new guy’s eyebrows shot straight up and he choked on a laugh. “Yeah, man, you in the military?” He put a weird emphasis on the question and Bucky looked between the two of them strangely.

“Yes, kind of,” Steve said stiltedly.

“Kind of?” Bucky frowned. “I always thought of the military as something you’re in or you’re not. For example, me. I was in and now I’m not.”

“You’re a vet?” the new guy said with interest. “I do counseling at the V.A.!” he enthused.

Suddenly Bucky realized he forgot to introduce himself again. “Dammit, sorry. I’m Bucky Barnes and yeah, I was a Sergeant in the army. Black ops,” he said.

“Black ops? I didn’t know that,” Steve said, looking surprised.

Bucky snorted. “Weird, right? That I didn’t immediately tell the guy I just met I used to shoot people in all sorts of dead of night, clandestine ops. Normally, that’s my favorite opener. It goes over really well. Doesn’t terrify anyone, ever.”

The new guy clapped Steve on the shoulder. “The man makes a good point.” Then he turned towards Bucky. “I’m Sam Wilson, nice to meet you.”

The guy had such a natural, easy smile that Bucky couldn’t help but smile back. “So, you’re active military too?” Bucky asked. 

Sam’s face did that amused-surprise-thing it did before. “Kind of,” he said, repeating Steve’s words ironically. “I was para-rescue overseas and then took on a more administrative role with the counseling until recently.”

Bucky nodded. He knew things just happened sometimes and you had to roll with it. Boy, did he know that.

Sam excused himself to go order a coffee and then walked back over, glancing thoughtfully between the counter and Bucky. “So, I know people say you can end up looking like your pets, but can you end up looking like your barista? You two look a hell of a lot alike,” he said. 

Snorting, Bucky shook his head. “That would be because she’s my little sister, Becca.”

“That makes more sense,” Sam admitted.

Steve smiled softly to himself. “Did you start coming here to visit her?”

Bucky shook his head. “Nah, I told her about this place when I moved in nearby. The name hooked her and then it was all downhill from there because she found her people.”

Becca delivered Sam’s coffee and came to a stop beside Bucky, eying him judgmentally. “That’s rich coming from you, man-bun.”

“I already told you,” he sighed. “It’s so they don’t realize I’m infiltrating.”

Becca crossed her arms, cocking her hip to the side. “You have to give it up at some point, Buck. You’re wearing plaid over a band tee and converse. You are one of them.”

“Am not,” Bucky muttered under his breath. Sam and Steve watched the two of them, heads swiveling back and forth as they tried to subdue their snickering.

“Oh yeah?” Becca asked and that there. That was a dangerous tone of voice. That was a ‘I’m about to win this argument and humiliate you at the same time’ voice. He lost most of his arguments with Becca this way because he riled her up and refused to back down.

“I know about your tumblr,” she said smugly. Bucky started to open his mouth and argue that there was nothing particularly hip about that before she gleefully continued, “Not that one. The secret one where you reblog street fashion and foam latte art.”

Bucky groaned and slunk down in his chair. “Goddammn Gabe ratted me out.”

Becca nodded and started back towards the counter, high off her victory. “By the way, ma wants to know where she can get that bookcase shaped like a tree you reblogged yesterday.”

Scrambling back up in his seat, Bucky’s eyes widened in horror. “Wait, wait. Becks, please tell me ma doesn’t follow my blog.” He reblogged way too many half naked humans for that to be a comfortable thought. They were artsy fashion shots, not straight up porn, but still.

“She really likes that ‘hot guys holding puppies’ blog you added to your feed,” Becca smirked before disappearing back around the counter.

Bucky groaned in mortification. It only got worse when he abruptly realized that Sam and Steve were both still very present and witness to the entire thing.

There was a very long pause.

Sam took another sip of coffee, scrolling through his phone. “Huh, I like this 101 Dalmatians post they did with the fire station. That’s a good idea,” he said, turning the phone for Steve to see.

Bucky knew exactly which post he was talking about. Steve nodded as he read the post, “And it went towards a donation for the humane society.”

Sam looked at Steve with a contemplative expression. “That’s something to think about.”

“Are you guys trying to raise money for charity?” Bucky asked curiously, trying to blow past the horrifying reveal his sister just dropped.

Steve spluttered a little and shrugged before frowning at his friend. He was blushing as he mumbled, “Come on, Sam.”

“I’m just saying,” Sam said in a placating tone, raising his hands in a harmless gesture. “It would rake in some big bucks. We’ll see what Tony thinks.”

Steve looked skyward and shook his head. “He’ll love it.”

“No doubt about it,” Sam agreed easily.

Bucky tried to follow where they were going with this but gave up. Now that he had met Sam though, he was curious about his contributions to the pop culture list. “So, which suggestion was Sam’s?” Bucky asked, glancing back at Steve.

Steve looked confused for a second before picking up the conversation jump. “Harry Potter,” he sighed.

Sam nodded, pointing at Steve for emphasis. “You bet your ass it is.”

Steve pinched the bridge of his nose. “He talks about it all the time,” he told Bucky. “I never know what’s happening.”

“Which is why you need to read them,” Sam said sagely.

Bucky laughed before stoking the fire. “After all this time?”

“Always,” Sam practically shouted, clutching at his heart dramatically.

Steve looked between the two of them with exasperation. “Didn’t you say the meeting starts at 3:30?”

Rolling his eyes, Sam glanced at his time before blanching. “Whoops, yeah. We got to go.”

Steve stood up and Bucky became very aware of how tall and broad he was. The incubus theory was still running strong. It was normally very bad odds for people who had such nice faces to be equally as nice as said faces.

Steve was an anomaly. The anomaly to end all other anomalies.

“Thanks again for the coffee. I hope you have a great rest of your day. It was really nice to meet you,” Steve said, swinging the bag over his shoulder.

“Uh, yeah. You too,” Bucky mumbled stupidly. He wasn’t even sure that response made sense. His brain was too busy flat-lining to worry about that.

“See you around, Bucky,” Sam waved as they hurried out to make their meeting on time.

Becca came over and dropped into Steve’s vacated seat. “Wow,” she said, reaching over and pretending to wipe drool from his chin.

He swatted her away, “Hey, now.”

“Just trying to help,” she said innocently.

Bucky glared at her, crossing his arms in a huff. “Maybe I’d believe that if you didn’t publicly announce to two of the most outrageously good looking people I have ever seen that I reblog pictures of hot men with dogs.”

She shrugged, entirely unapologetic. “I was doing you a favor. If they were assholes about it you don’t want to hang out with them anyway.”

Bucky had to admit she had a point. “Yeah, yeah,” he grumbled.

“You’re welcome,” Becca grinned before darting away again and leaving Bucky alone so he could get more work done. He pulled his coffee closer and settled in.

Back at it again with the unofficial official table.

Bucky got sucked into a last minute project and ended up working overtime in the office for the next two weeks. It was only as he strolled into BrewTea and the Beats that he realized he forgot another crucial perk in his work-from-home deal.

He didn’t have to dress up to go to the coffee shop.

He was allowed to wear jeans and a hoodie. It was great. Except for that one time the company president needed to videochat him. Bucky had to kneel on the floor, with only his head in the screen to pretend he wasn’t wearing a sweatshirt with a giant, light up robot on it.

Dugan thought he was hilarious. He really wasn’t but the damn sweatshirt was too comfy.

Bucky’s table was wide open today and he was glad. Definitely glad and not in any way disappointed that Steve wasn’t there taking up the space. He dropped off his bag before going to the counter.

“Pomegranate whipped cream latte, please,” he ordered, dropping more money in the tip jar for Becca. “Monty told me to try it for him and describe the experience in excruciating detail so he can life vicariously.”

She rolled her eyes at the unsubtle money deposit but mumbled a thanks under her breath. “Monty is going to overdose on sugar and caffeine when he finally gets here.”

Becca finished punching the order in and shot Bucky a coy look. “Go ahead and ask me what happened last Friday.”

“What happened last Friday?” he asked dutifully.

“Broad, buff, and beautiful was here and he asked me how often a certain someone came into the shop,” she gushed.

“You mean the someone being me, right?” Bucky clarified, somewhat in disbelief.

She rolled her eyes. “Yes, I mean you, dumbasss.”

“Well, don’t get too excited. This could all just be a ploy because he needs to feed,” Bucky told her reasonably. The more he thought about it, the more traction this theory had.

“He is not a sex demon,” Becks sighed.

Bucky waited at the counter as she made his drink. “You don’t know that,” he told her. She passed over his drink, shaking her head and Bucky thanked her before setting up at the table.

Bucky only realized the day had passed when Becca stopped over to peck him on the cheek as her shift came to a close. “You in for the long haul today?” she asked, kicking out the chair across from him to sit down.

He shook his head, saving the summary report he was working on and closing his laptop down. “Nah, I have to get to Stark Tower for my monthly tune up,” he told her, wriggling his shiny, metal fingers.

She perked up, “Awesome! I’ve got to head into the city for class, we can make the trek together.”

They hopped on the subway and Becca waved, blowing kisses as she got off at the Columbia stop for her chem lab.

Bucky got off shortly after to fight street traffic towards the monstrosity that was Stark Tower. Part of the terms and conditions of the shiny robot arm were that he go in for regular assessments and upgrades. After all, it was an experimental study and they needed all the data they could get.

He went through security and got in line to check in for his appointment. The fancy lab floors required an escort, so he couldn’t just head on up. Bucky got bored and started playing a round of scrabble with Dernier on his phone.

The fucker always won, swooping in with outrageous word combinations that racked his points up crazy high. Bucky still enjoyed playing even if it raised his blood pressure when Jacques pulled out shit like ‘incandescence’ on a triple word play.

“Bucky!” someone shouted and he looked up in surprise.

It wasn’t like his name was all that common. If someone was yelling that out, they had to be talking to him. Bucky glanced around, his eyes focusing in on the guy in a bomber jacket and aviators. He flipped the sunglasses up as he got closer and Bucky realized it was Sam.

“Hey, Sam,” he greeted, flashing him a smile as the man approached.

“What brings you to this eye sore of a place?” Sam asked, gesturing to the entire building as a whole.

Bucky raised his left hand, the light glinting off the metal plates. “Got a standing date with Stark’s scientists every month,” he explained.

Sam blinked in surprise. “You’re a participant in his vet program? That’s awesome, man.”

Bucky nodded, “I was lucky enough to qualify and it’s been pretty cool being a part of something that makes a big impact on so many people. It’s way ahead of the current prosthetics market, it does a lot of good.”

Sam grinned brightly. “Stark does manage to get some things right, sometimes.”

“Might need to borrow your sunglasses with all that shade,” Bucky whistled. “You’re not impressed by the boatloads of money, science genius, or superhero status?”

That immensely amused expression of Sam’s flashed across his face again. “Guess not.”

Bucky shrugged. He knew that Stark’s personality and his inventions were two separate things but it was hard not to be blown away by what he created. “It’s not just the prosthetics either. I have a friend in the program that suffered from some pretty severe hearing loss. Stark came up with this insane enhancement device.”

Sam gave him a strange look. “You’re not talking about Clint Barton, are you?”

Bucky’s eyebrows went up. “Yeah, I am. You know him too?”

“Oh, I know him,” Sam grinned, a strange weight given to the words.

The line moved forward and Bucky shifted along with it. “I met him when I first started the program. It was pretty soon after the accident and I wasn’t great company. Didn’t bother him at all, he came right on over with a giant pizza and introduced himself. Haven’t been able to shake him since.”

Sam shook his head on a laugh. “Sounds like Clint.”

“Sir?” the front desk called out and Bucky excused himself to go sign in. “Someone will be with you shortly,” the man promised as Bucky stepped to the side.

Sam waited with him, chatting about a tumblr page dedicated entirely to cheese recipes until a security guard could escort him to the elevators. “Wilson,” the guard nodded at Sam respectfully.

“Miller,” Sam greeted back, walking over to the elevator with them. Bucky figured he must have some sort of business in the building. Stark worked with SHIELD and SHIELD worked with the military. There were tons of floors. Who knew what was even in the place.

“So, I tried that cheesy bun recipe with the garlic butter and I swear my nephew cried,” Sam said continuing their previous conversation.

“Pretty sure I did too when I made that one,” Bucky agreed. The elevator dinged and the doors slid open. Miller gestured for Bucky to step off with him.

“Nice seeing you again,” he said to Sam, shaking his hand as they parted.

“You too, man,” Sam grinned, before pressing his thumb to a scanner and lighting up one of the top-level buttons. What the hell.

Sam must do something super important with the military. He waved as the doors slid shut again and Bucky followed Miller to the lab.

He checked in, updating his current health forms before waiting to get called back. There was a rotation of doctors running the program but Bucky had seen most of them at least once by this point.

“Mr. Barnes,” a nurse called and he followed her into the back room. Bucky had done this enough that he knew to remove his t-shirt before sitting down to wait.

“How are you today, Bucky?” Dr. Bruce asked as he joined him, flipping through the charts.

“Good,” he answered. “Got to ride into the city with Becks today, so I was spared having to suffer next to an audiobook listener or a manspreader.”

Bruce huffed a small laugh. “I thought it was a pretty great story when you got stuck next to that guy listening to those self-help tapes about erectile dysfunction,” he admitted.

Groaning in horror at the reminder, Bucky shook his head. “I blocked out that nightmare. I didn’t even realize they made self-help tapes for that. It was literally a motivational pep talk for his dick. We made direct eye contact at one point and I don’t think I have ever experienced anything more awkward in my life.”

He opened and closed his eyes deliberately to clear the memory away. “So, how are you, doc?”

Bruce scribbled something down while chuckling. “Still quite a story. I’m doing well. Some of the research Tony and I have been working on for months is finally producing results. So, I’m happy.”

“That’s good news,” Bucky agreed, letting Bruce take his temperature and move onto blood pressure.

“Anything bothering you or seem unusual with the arm’s functionality?” Bruce asked while he flipped open the panel at the base of the arm, hooking it up to run diagnostics. Bucky shook his head no and Bruce made a pleased little hum.

As the diagnostics ran, Bruce told him about his rooftop garden and how the almond tree finally produced nuts. “Of course, the squirrels ransacked the whole thing and now all I’ve got are empty shells but I’m just happy it grew.”

“Squirrels?” Bucky asked, baffled. “How do they get to the top of Stark Tower?”

“I thought that to myself but then I caught one in the act. Its head practically rotated 360 degrees and I’m almost certain its eyes glowed red,” he joked. Bucky barked out a laugh and looked towards the screen as it pinged.

Bruce read over the results and nodded. “Everything is in good shape. Today the only adjustments are to fine tune some of the motor functions.” He let Bruce get to work, watching the city bustle outside the window.

Everything was done within the hour and Bucky set up his next appointment after promising to send Bruce some of BrewTea and the Beat’s peppermint chai tea. He got back from his appointment and started cooking for the night.

Dinner was almost ready when Becks knocked on the door at seven o’clock. He let her in and bustled over to the oven to check the potatoes.

Since he and Gabe had moved back to Brooklyn, they instituted bi-weekly dinners with Becca, where they all took turns hosting. The rest of the Howling Commandos were still active duty. Dugan, Monty, Dernier, and Jim were stationed overseas, finishing out their most recent tour.

After the accident, Gabe, who knew more languages than Rosetta Stone, requested an internal transfer to work code cracking in NYC. Nobody really wanted to say no to the guy who dragged Bucky out of the flaming wreckage from the explosion and could take his talents elsewhere if they refused the transfer request.

Gabe joined them when Bucky was buttering the cornbread.

He walked into the kitchen and took a deep breath. “It smells like heaven in here. I must have died sometime between the trip from the elevator because someone definitely pissed in there. It did not smell like heaven at all.”

Bucky snorted as he sliced the bread into triangles. “Pretty sure that was the guy from 2C. He looks guilty every time I say hi when I’m getting the mail.”

“Probably 2C,” Gabe agreed. “Remember the time he was hammered and kicked down Mrs. Robinson’s door because he thought it was his apartment and the key didn’t work.”

“And the time he was crawling around the halls with Monika’s cat, meowing at everyone,” Becca added.

Bucky pulled the pork chops out of the oven. “Don’t forget when he went into all of the apartments that didn’t have their doors locked and took the plants into the hallway before setting off the fire alarm to water them.”

“That guy cannot hold his liquor,” Gabe mused.

They all took a seat at the table and dug in. Gabe stuffed a giant bite of food into his mouth and moaned shamelessly. “Can I marry your cooking?” he asked once he chewed and swallowed. “Is that legal? That guy had sex with his car on My Strange Addiction, this is less weird.”

Becca made a face. “Things are getting very American Pie here. I would like to tap out of this conversation.”

“But food marriage,” Gabe said, raising his plate.

“I think the normal course of action would be to marry Bucky and not his cooking,” she pointed out.

Both Gabe and Bucky made identical faces of horror and Becca laughed. Gabe was one of his best friends and essentially his brother. That was just wrong.

Gabe got formally and informally invited to all the Barnes family events. His mom thought it was hilarious, and not at all embarrassing or awkward, to joke that Gabe was the result of her fling with the milkman.

“I love you, man. You know I do. But no way, no how,” Gabe said, shaking his head.

“That was more traumatizing than the thought of sex with inanimate objects,” Bucky shuddered.

“Something is wrong with you guys,” Becca sighed, shaking her head. Bucky high-fived Gabe enthusiastically.

“You know it,” Gabe agreed, shoveling in another mouthful of potatoes.

“So, did you tell Gabe about the incubus?” Becca asked when they moved onto dessert. She cut a piece of the cookie bar and added a scoop of ice cream before passing it to Bucky.

“The what now?” Gabe asked, already half way through his own piece.

“Incubus,” Becca repeated. “A demon that feeds off sex.”

Gabe resumed eating his cookie bar. “You guys watch too much Supernatural.”

“No such thing,” Bucky argued. “And I pitched the theory to Jim. He’s on board.”

Both Becca and Gabe eyed him judgmentally. “Pitching conspiracy theories to Jim is like pouring gasoline on a fire. If this gets him started on that JFK thing again I swear I’ll punch you right in the nads,” Gabe said.

Bucky grumbled to himself. He was fully aware Jim would agree with him. Morita always loved a good intrigue.

“He’s too good looking,” he mumbled into his ice cream.

“Tell me more,” Gabe prompted, helping himself to a second piece.

“You know Buck’s got that unofficial official table at the shop, right?” Becca asked and Gabe nodded.

“With the outlet,” he garbled through his mouthful. Bucky nodded, pointing to him appreciatively. Gabe knew what was up.

Becca continued the story. “So, new guy takes the table and during a business call Bucky’s battery is dying. So, he has to join him to use the outlet. New guy, by the way, is hot as shit. Hotter than hot. Dime doesn’t even come close. He’s a stack of Benjamins.”

Bucky kept nodding along in agreement. “So. He’s a sex demon because he’s too hot?” Gabe asked as he tried to catch up.

“That and he’s weirdly charming. Unnaturally charming,” Bucky added.

Gabe reached for another cookie bar and when no one said anything about it, put it on his plate. “You got a mad playground crush on this guy and your first assumption is that he’s a sex demon?”

“You can’t pronounce incubus, can you?” Bucky asked suspiciously.

Gabe leveled him with a stern look. “I can speak languages you haven’t even heard of. I’m so fluent the U.N. hounds me constantly to become a goddamn ambassador. I literally write corrections for language courses and you think I can’t pronounce that word?”

Bucky took a sip of his beer and raised a challenging eyebrow. He called this bluff. “Yup,” he said, popping the p.

The frown on Gabe’s face split into a wide grin, teeth bright against dark skin. “This is why I never play poker with you, Barnes.”

Bucky shrugged. “My dad is a card shark. We had to play poker to win our allowance. If you didn’t go for the kill, you’d never get it.”

“It’s true,” Becca sighed. “I begged him to just let me take out the trash or mow the lawn.”

“I love your family,” Gabe told them with absolute sincerity. “So, are we watching the new episode of Dancing with the Stars, or what?”

Clint strode into BrewTea and the Beats and spotted Bucky at the unofficial official table.

“What should I order?” he demanded, squinting at the menu like it would reveal the secrets to life. He had already been texting Bucky non-stop about how there were too many options and he didn’t know what to do. The hysteria had started at 2 AM and continued until Clint walked through the door.

“Go with a cherry cheesecake latte, extra whip,” Bucky told him absently, trying to wrap up his sentence. Clint had such an insane sweet tooth. He had to like that one.

Bucky’s phone chimed. It was a text from Clint. More specifically, the ghost emoji and a string of exclamation points. Bucky looked up and saw Clint staring at him from the line, gesticulating wildly. He turned back to his computer to ignore him.

Clint slid into the seat across from him with a huff. “Bucky, this is a serious decision,” he reprimanded.

“Uh-huh,” Bucky agreed absently. He finished the paragraph he was working on before saving the document and closing his laptop. “So, what’s up? I invite you here all the time and you normally get as far as looking up the menu and panicking about what to pick before backing out.”

“That’s not true,” Clint said. “Okay, yeah. It is true but everything looks so good. I don’t know what to pick because I want it all,” he whined.

“And again, you said yes now because—,” Bucky trailed off, sipping his own drink.

Marie, one of the other baristas, dropped off the order. “Where’s Becca?” Clint asked, craning his neck around as he sniffed his drink.

“You do know she only works part-time because she’s a college student, right?” Bucky asked.

Clint swirled the liquid around in his mug before sticking his pinky in and sampling the taste. “But I’m here,” he said like it should have been obvious that she would also want to be there.

“Which you announced would be happening at 2 AM on a day she has class,” Bucky reminded him.

Clint grumbled under his breath before taking an actual drink. A look of pure delight crossed his face. “This isn’t coffee, this is liquid magic,” he breathed. He took another drink, humming to himself. Clint glanced around the coffee shop, taking it all in. “You really weren’t kidding when you said this was hipster ground zero.”

Bucky raised his eyebrows and nodded, eying up the other coffee shop patrons. So many high-waisted jeans. He looked at Clint in alarm when his friend started to violently choke on his latte. “Are you okay?”

Clint coughed, pounding ineffectively at his chest. He leapt up and grabbed something off the wall. Bucky leaned over to see what he had. “What is that?”

Flipping through the pages of what appeared to be a glossy photo spread, Clint cackled maniacally. “Oh. My. God. I haven’t gotten a look at this yet.”

Bucky moved to peer over Clint’s shoulder. It was an Avenger’s spread, a page for each member. “What the hell?” Bucky frowned.

Marie passed by the table and saw that they were looking at the pictures. “Oh! The Avengers are raising money for charity,” she explained. “My favorite is Black Widow,” she told them.

“Goals,” Marie vowed as she went behind the counter. “Badass goals.”

Clint hadn’t stopped laughing as he flipped through the pages four more times. “Seems like a good way to raise money,” Bucky shrugged. “A firehouse did something like this on tumblr with puppies,” he told Clint.

That just made Clint lose it even further, clutching his stomach and hiccupping. “I know, buddy.” He clapped Bucky on the shoulder, “I know.”

Bucky went to sit back down and drink his coffee. If Clint was going to have a nervous breakdown, he at least wanted to be well caffeinated. “Is everything okay?” Bucky asked mildly.

Clint finally put the spread back on the wall and sat down, chuckling to himself. “Great, I’m great.”

“Okay,” Bucky drew the word out skeptically.

Picking his coffee up again, Clint took another drink. “Sam and Steve kept talking about how good the coffee was here. So, I figured if there were three people saying that, it had to be true.”

Bucky glared at him. “Just me wasn’t enough?”

“Of course it was but the menu was the problem. Nat told me to stop being an idiot and that I was probably bumming you out.” Clint shrugged. “So, here I am.”

Bucky snorted. Clint’s girlfriend, Nat, always sounded pretty cool from what he heard about her. He had yet to meet her because she had some crazy government job and always seemed to be traveling. “Thanks I guess?” he said.

“You are very welcome,” Clint told him, as if he was doing Bucky a favor.

Bucky suddenly realized he could pitch the incubus theory to someone that actually knew the answer. Not only that, but he had the added bonus of Clint being completely unable to judge him.

Clint was convinced that the strawberry kiwi smoothies he regularly bought in Manhattan were laced with crack and yet he still continued to buy them.

“Is Steve an incubus?” Bucky asked.

Clint spluttered on his coffee and started laughing again. “What?” he asked, once he caught his breath.

“An incubus,” Bucky repeated. “Doesn’t he seem a little too perfect?”

Clint nodded thoughtfully. “Yes, yes he does. That is actually a pretty good theory but no, Steve isn’t a sex demon.”

“Sure,” Bucky said, not at all convinced.

“You’re not too up to date on pop culture either, are you?” Clint asked, looking at Bucky with narrowed eyes.

“Like what’s up with Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth?” Bucky tried.

“Not quite,” Clint said. “Valiant effort though.”

Bucky shrugged. “People’s lives are their own. I try not to pry.”

Clint grinned and it wasn’t the manic one, it was a genuine smile. “I know, man. That’s why you’re awesome.” He finished up his coffee and went to order another one to go. “Want to wait outside Becca’s lecture hall and embarrass her when she comes out?” Clint asked.

“Yes,” Bucky answered immediately, grabbing himself a latte for the trip too. “Should we loudly discuss how she once hugged our math teacher from behind because she thought it was our ma or that she accidentally dated the mailman for a month?”

“Marty the Mailman, poor sap,” Clint sighed, holding the door open for Bucky.

Bucky stopped short when he saw Steve in BrewTea and the Beats.

He had kind of figured he wouldn’t see him around again. Or really, that the entire situation last time was a vivid fantasy.

In which case, he needed to have a talk with his subconscious because he’d like to think he had a better imaginative repertoire than embarrassing himself in front of attractive men in coffee shops.

“Hey, Bucky!” Steve called, waving him over to the unofficial official table. Oh wow, yeah, look at that. In his head, whenever he thought about running into Steve again, he was smooth and not at all intimidated by how insanely unreal the man was.

The glaring issue here being how that was never going to happen. Bucky started sweating a little after just making eye contact with the guy.

“Hiya, Steve,” Bucky greeted, coming to hover by the table. “How you been? 90s pop drama treating you well?”

Steve’s nose wrinkled up. “I’m alright. I had to travel for work and fell behind on the 90s drama. How about you?” Oh God. They were exchanging small talk. Next thing you knew they’d be discussing the weather and taxes.

Bucky shrugged, “Can’t complain. I’m currently working a project to help a firm in D.C. manage political scandals. It’s very primetime. Pretty sure Olivia Pope gave me my assignment.”

“There are firms that manage political scandals?” Steve asked in surprise.

Bucky nodded. “Oh, yeah. There are firms that manage anything you can think of,” he winked.

Steve ducked his head forward at the gesture, an endearing pink flush spreading across his cheeks. Bucky tried not to pat himself on the back for managing to exhibit, in one shining moment, that he wasn’t a total mess.

Steve shifted the papers on the table and motioned towards the empty chair. “You’re welcome to join me,” he said, looking somewhat hopeful.

For all of Steve’s everything, he seemed a little lonely and Bucky knew how much courage it took to reach out from that place. “Thanks,” he grinned, sliding into the open seat and setting up his laptop.

Becca brought over the smores mocha latte Bucky ordered last night when he was talking to her on the phone. “Got to say this is a new low, big bro. We’ve never had an overnight queue before,” she teased.

Bucky rolled his eyes. “Please, Monty was already placing orders a year in advance. You better be updating that list because I only pass along his requests.”

“I’ve got it covered,” Becca reassured him. “I remember when you guys crashed at home during leave while I was in high school. I thought he was actually going to kill Dum Dum for knocking over those Colombian coffee grounds into the dishwater.”

“Jim did have to hold him back,” Bucky agreed. “But he already got one good swing in by then,” he told Steve.

Steve laughed, his posture relaxing. The somewhat guarded expression he normally maintained cleared from his face. “Members of your team?” he asked. Bucky nodded, flipping his computer around to show Steve his background photo.

It was taken after a particularly grueling mission and the Commandos were just as shocked as anyone that they pulled things off to make it out all in one piece. Each and every one of them was filthy and coated in unspeakably disgusting substances but they were grinning impossibly wide, arms thrown over one another.

“Best bunch of idiots I know,” Bucky said, shaking his head as he pointed everyone out.

Becca squinted at the photo, leaning closer. “Is that a dead fish on Gabe’s shoulder?”

“Don’t ask,” Bucky told her as Steve snickered. She shrugged, offering to tip off Steve’s cold brew before getting back to work.

Steve glanced up at Bucky thoughtfully as he took a sip of his fresh coffee. “That’s kind of how I feel about my team too,” he admitted.

Bucky looked up from his screen. “What? That you’re shocked they possess the competence to tie their shoes let alone complicated mission parameters and somehow you’re still inexplicably attached to the fucking dumbasses?”

Huffing out a startled laugh, Steve shook his head in agreement. “Yeah, pretty much. To be fair though, only a few of them make me feel like that,” he dissembled.

“Ain’t that always the case?” Bucky asked, raising his eyebrows knowingly.

Steve nodded in commiseration. “They’re the best bunch of idiots I know too,” he reassured Bucky before shuffling his papers around and directing his attention to whatever it was he was looking at.

Bucky was halfway through his pivot table from the data the D.C. firm provided on incident categories when Steve cleared his throat. “I checked out Jason Mecier,” he told him, aiming for casual and missing.

“Yeah?” Bucky grinned. “That was a pretty new addition. Did you jump the list for me, Steve?” he asked teasingly.

Steve shrugged his giant shoulders, rubbing at the back of his neck self-consciously. “I’m sure the others things are important too but yours had food and art.”

“Winning combo if I’ve ever heard one,” Bucky agreed. “What did you think?”

Steve seemed to light up at the question. “It’s amazing. The detail he gets in the mosaics, his unconventional medium choices, and the way he chooses his materials to reflect the portrait subjects. I love that kind of art, the kind that’s made from everyday life. Something that doesn’t seem like art but becomes it when put in just the right place.”

Bucky blinked at the passion in Steve’s words. He hadn’t been kidding when he said he liked art. “Pass over that list then, buddy,” he directed.

Steve looked confused but handed the spiral notebook over. Bucky began scribbling down the names and descriptions of unconventional material artists. Shadow artists, artists who created sculptures out of burnt books, portraits made of rolled up papers, of dice, suspended landscape pieces, an artist that created images by kissing her canvasses with lipstick. Steve scanned the list when Bucky handed him the notebook back, his eyes widening.

“Wow,” he breathed. He looked up at Bucky again with a strange expression on his face. Something intensely grateful and fond. “Thanks, Bucky,” he said quietly sincere.

“No problem,” Bucky shrugged, trying to fight the wave of embarrassment. “There are a couple of galleries around here that exclusively feature unconventional materials, you should check them out.”

Steve nodded. “Yeah!” he agreed, darting a glance at Bucky. “We could, um. We could exchange numbers and go sometime?” he asked uncertainly. “I grew up in Brooklyn but it’s really changed over the years and I still haven’t gotten the hang of it especially since I’m living in the city now.”

Bucky blinked in surprise. That almost sounded like a date. Almost.

If it wasn’t for the fact that Steve was so far out of his league he was both nine thousand leagues under and over the sea. Steve just needed a friend, a kickass friend like Bucky.

“I’m game,” Bucky finally said, rattling off his number for Steve. He got a text a few seconds later to add to his contacts. Bucky shook his head, clearing it of any date-like delusions, and remembered what Steve said about Brooklyn.

“It really has changed a lot,” he agreed. Bucky recalled getting back on U.S. soil and being baffled about what the hell had happened to Brooklyn. It was record shops, indie venues, and flea markets with animal silhouette screened tanks and wooden arrow furniture everywhere. “Damn hipsters,” Bucky grumbled, lowering his voice and glaring at the other patrons.

Steve looked amused as he eyed Bucky’s outfit. “You’re wearing a denim button up with a leather jacket and suede loafers,” he pointed out.

“At least my pants aren’t skinny,” Bucky defended, gesturing to has black, non-skinny jeans.

Steve raised an eyebrow, “You’re counting one out of four as a win?”

“Yes,” Bucky sniffed.

Steve shrugged. “Alright, then.” He got distracted moments later by his phone pinging and frowned at the screen. “Duty calls,” Steve sighed, packing up his things quickly.

Bucky nodded, “I hear that.”

He offered out a fist and Steve looked bewildered again before gently bumping his giant knuckles against Bucky’s. “Sam just taught me about his,” Steve told him, looking pleased that he knew the correct protocol.

“Taught you about fist bumps?” Bucky asked, eyeing Steve with some level of judgment. “You really have been out of the loop.”

Steve shook his head ruefully. “I’d say living under a rock but under a sheet of ice is close enough.”

Bucky shrugged at the comment. “Life’s got a funny way of turning out.”

Pausing, Steve cocked his head, a smile splitting across his face. “It really does. I’ll see you around, Bucky. Stay clear of Japan for the next few days,” he said before waving himself out the door.

Bucky frowned at the strange send off but got distracted by a work email. It only came back to him the next day when he was munching on a bowl of Reese’s Puffs, watching the morning news.

The Avengers were running underfoot some sort of third-grade science experiment gone wrong. A Dr. Frankenstein-esque situation powered by a nuclear power plant.

Bucky watched fascinated as the teddy bear creature stomped around, nearly squishing Thor with a giant, marshmallowy fist. He shoveled another mouthful of cereal in as he dialed Clint’s number.

Clint loved this kind of freaky shit. Especially when the monster-of-the-week looked like a reject from a bowling alley claw machine.

“Hellooooo?” Clint answered, voice muffled by background noise. It almost sounded like screaming and gunfire.

“Are you playing Halo right now?” Bucky asked, eyes narrowed in suspicion.

Clint scoffed. “Does playing a video game when I should be at work sound like something I would do?” They both paused for a second and the background noise continued.

Bucky let his pointed silence answer for itself. Clint started snickering. “It absolutely does, but no. So, what’s up?”

Bucky couldn’t tear his eyes away from the sentient Pillsbury Doughboy. “You watching the news? There’s a thing in Japan that looks like the real life version of that Cuddle-Buddy lady’s creations in Kim Possible.”

Clint’s quiet chuckling turned into very obvious laughter as he guffawed. “Oh my God. That is 100% accurate. Weirdly specific and so so accurate.”

“Come on,” Bucky groaned, shaking his head. “Iron Man and the Falcon are wasting an opportunity up top to distract the thing.” The grotesque cotton-stuffed nightmare was very preoccupied by the reflective skyscrapers and almost swatted a plane out of the sky. It would work like a charm.

“Hold that thought,” Clint told him, a series of shuffling fabric noises filtering through the line as Bucky watched Iron Man and the Falcon begin to perform showy flying maneuvers to catch the thing’s attention.

He nodded, self-satisfied. There, they figured it out.

“Sorry, where were we?” Clint asked a moment later.

Bucky glanced back down at his cereal. “I’m in my underwear, halfway through a cereal cross-word puzzle where the tricky solve was ‘peanut-butter-choco-tastic’ when I saw this bullshit. Wanted to make sure you knew about it,” he explained.

He could hear Clint grinning through the phone. “Just like a bad SyFy movie, right? Bet the producers of Sharknado are shitting themselves with the possibilities.”

Bucky was only half-listening, frowning as Captain America started to corral the giant disaster towards a dam. “Not that way. There’s a dam three miles west,” he muttered. There was a conspicuous silence on the phone and abruptly Captain America began to direct the nuclear active pile-of-fluff the other way.

“Who says players can’t hear you shouting at the TV?” Bucky joked.

An explosion flashed on screen and it sounded through his cell phone at nearly the exact same time. He stared at the TV, pulling the phone away for a moment.

“Clint,” Bucky said slowly. “Are you in fucking Japan right now?”

After a moment of silence, Clint cleared his throat. “Well, uh. Officially, my current location is confidential information, which I am unable to disclose. Unofficially, Tokyo has these fish-shaped waffles called ‘taiyaki’ that they sell on the street and they are bomb, my friend.”

Eyes wide as the chaos continued, Bucky breathed out, “Holy fuck.”

“I know,” Clint agreed. “It’s so adorable. At first I was confused if they were actual fish waffles because that sounds messed up, but it’s normal waffle batter in the shape of a fish. I got custard in mine. Nat went with the sweet potato.”

Bucky pinched the bridge of his nose. He swore that when Gabe and Clint hung out, more than half of conversations got waylaid into food.

“Why did you answer your phone mid-op?” Bucky sighed.

The eye-roll was literally audible. “You know the sniping drill. I’m just sitting here doing my thang. I can multi-task, I’m not currently taking any shots.”

“Remaining quiet is sort of key,” Bucky pointed out sarcastically. “Something you often struggle with.”

“Me on the phone is not tipping anyone, or anything, off,” Clint argued. “It’s way too loud here.” He paused for a second. “Oh, wait. Hold on.”

Bucky waited, watching the Black Widow drop down onto the thing’s head and secure some sort of device in place. It looked like she was shouting into her comm. He could hear Clint’s voice muffled slightly.

“Does taking a personal phone call in the middle of a mission sound like something I would do?” There was a stretch of quiet. “Because yes, I absolutely did do that.” Clint huffed out a long sigh. “Yeah, yeah, okay. For the record, I would like to point out that isn’t nearly as bad as that time in Geneva when somebody just couldn’t keep their pants on, Tony, and—,” he stopped talking and Bucky was idly curious about what happened in Geneva.

Clint came back in full sound. “So, I have to go,” he told Bucky apologetically before devolving into mean imitations. “‘Pay attention, Clint.’ ‘You’re not here to chat with your BFF Jill, Clint’. ‘You won’t get any more fish waffles if you don’t hang up, Clint’.”

Bucky laughed. “No worries. Enjoy the freak of puff-ball nature, stay safe.”

“Will do,” Clint promised. “I’ll see if I can ship a fish waffle to you. Think dry ice would work? That’s a thing, right? Hey, Nat, can I send a fish waffle back to the U.S. with dry ice?” There was another stretch of silence before Clint grumbled. “No one else is as impressed by these fish waffles as they should be. I need Gabe to back me up. Is he around? Put him on the line.”

Even Bucky heard the shouting of Clint’s team members through the comms at that remark. “Jeez, I was kidding,” Clint pacified.

He lowered his voice to Bucky, “No, I wasn’t.”

“I know,” Bucky assured him. “Sorry, he’s already at work. Guess you’ll have to try that dry ice thing.”

Clint hummed in agreement. “I’ll find some and you guys will see. Catch you on the flipside, Buck,” he said before hanging up. Bucky put his phone back on the counter and watched, trying not to find the fact that the gooey toxic monster looked like it had gummy bear teeth hilarious even as it destroyed a train station.

The world was a strange place.

There was a moment right after he threw his phone on the couch that it almost looked like Captain America said his name. Bucky blinked at the TV in confusion before dismissing the thought.

That didn’t even make any sense.

Clint had tried teaching him how to lip read and that was one skill he was not ever going to pick up. It got to the point where Clint just started the day off by sending him clips from the ‘Bad Lip Reading’ YouTube channel.

Bucky shook his head, watching the broadcast come to a close with the Avengers successfully subduing the thing before getting dressed and heading to work.

Bucky wrapped up his project for the day and dragged a chair onto his side as he waited for Gabe. The Commandos had internet connection from an undisclosed location and they were going to video chat the shit out of this situation.

Gabe darted towards him immediately, grabbing the earphone from Bucky’s outstretched hand. He was practically vibrating in his seat. “Feels like we haven’t all gotten together in 70 years,” Gabe said, while simultaneously texting his coffee order to Becca.

Snorting, Bucky booted up the connection and couldn’t help but grin when he saw the Commandos on his screen.

They all began shouting over each other, Dum Dum literally pushing Jim’s face to the side as he bellowed a greeting the loudest of them all.

“Salut bande de connards!” Bucky said brightly. Everything devolved into raucous laughter.

Jacques raised a hand to his forehead in mock affront. “Mon Dieu, Monsieur Buck-a-boo. You kiss your mother with that mouth?”

Bucky groaned at the nickname, “Still not letting that one go?”

“Never,” Monty exclaimed. “Do we need to get the napkin?”

“No,” Bucky began to protest but it was too late as Dum Dum darted off screen and returned triumphantly, waving the napkin around.

He cleared his throat and read off, “I, Sergeant James Buchanan Bucky Barnes, do solemnly and drunkenly permit my squad to call me Buck-a-boo for all of ever and ever.”

Gabe snickered at his expense while Bucky pointed to the screen. “Monty and Dernier weren’t even there that night.”

“You said squad,” Jacques pointed out.

“We going to get written up for unregulated use of Buck-a-boo?” Monty asked.

“I missed your ugly mugs!” Jim interrupted sincerely. He hadn’t stopped smiling since the call started.

“Ugly mug, my ass, Morita,” Gabe shot back. “You looked in a mirror lately or do they all break when you get too close?”

“Me?” Morita scoffed. “You seen that thing Dum Dum’s growing on his face?”

Bucky had noticed the mustache situation. It was pretty hard to miss. “This old thing?” Dugan asked, patting at his facial hair and looking inordinately proud. “It’s very distinguished,” he insisted.

“Very distinguished,” Monty agreed. “Just like the one my grandfather had in WWII.”

Everyone laughed and Dum Dum flipped them all off.

“Catch us up, Sarge,” Jim asked, leaning towards the screen. “What’s a day in the life like these days?”

Bucky shrugged. “I work most of the week here at the shop doing research and reports. I did a project with the NFL and one with Nabisco, so that was pretty cool.”

“Like Oreos?” Jacques asked, wide-eyed. “Did you get free samples?”

Gabe clapped his hands together, remembering all the snacks. “Tons,” he said reverently. “We sent some to you guys in a care package.”

Jacques sighed, “I know but there are never enough Oreos.”

“What about you, codecracker?” Monty asked Gabe.

Gabe cocked his head to the side. “Busy all the time but I love it. I’ve got some pretty crazy shit in the works that I can tell you about once it’s all done.”

“Fancy New Yorkers,” Jim whistled.

Bucky rolled his eyes. “How about you guys? What’s going on over there?”

“The usual,” Dum Dum said, waving a dismissive hand. “Top secret, dangerous, important. But hey, we did get a new addition to the team!”

Gabe and Bucky exchanged confused frowns. Bucky knew Rivers replaced him as a sniper and Taffert took over Gabe’s translator role. There were no other available slots. Dum Dum leaned down and suddenly a floppy-eared, big-eyed, splotchy-spotted dog was blinking at them.

“No way,” Gabe gawked.

“Way,” Dernier announced gleefully. “Meet Sergeant Bark.”

The dog woofed joyfully into the camera and Bucky threw up his hands. “No, absolutely not. That is not his name.”

“It is,” Dum Dum, corrected. “Ain’t that right, Sarge Bark?”

The dog woofed again and Bucky gave them all the stink-eye. “I hate you guys.”

Monty clucked his tongue and went off screen to return with another napkin. “I, Sergeant James Buchanan Bucky Barnes, do hereby declare from the bottom of my drunken and honest soul, that I may tell you all that I hate you but you are the best group of guys I have ever worked with. You’re my best friends, you’re my brothers, and you’re my lifelines. I’m proud to serve with you. I love you all even when you suck major balls.”

“Why are only my napkins on hand!” Bucky exclaimed in embarrassment.

“Yours and Gabe’s are on top,” Dernier shrugged. He grabbed another one, “I, Private First Class Gabriel Gabe Jones, do drunkenly and not at all shamefully admit that while I am not normally attracted to men, I have an insanely huge crush on Willem Dafoe. Even though everyone is yelling at me as I write this, telling me he looks creepy and has a bad guy face. It’s not his fault he’s so sexy.”

“He’s on my list,” Gabe vowed for the hundredth time. “Have you seen him in Platoon, man?”

Monty laughed and glanced back towards the piles. “We miss you guys.”

Dum Dum clutched Sergeant Bark closer to himself as he mumbled, “It’s not the same here without you two.”

Bucky adjusted his shirt cuff, trying to clear the sudden lump in his throat. Gabe sniffed and blinked rapidly, his eyes welling up. “Some pollen in here or some shit,” he muttered.

“Here too,” Morita added, wiping at his face. Dum Dum lowered the dog back down and tossed a ball somewhere off screen.

Bucky huffed a laugh. “Read us some of those napkins we missed,” he urged to lighten the mood.

The four of them clamored over one another to get to the safety box that doubled as a filing cabinet for drunken napkin declarations. That thing made it through every mission with them and if it were ever confiscated, would confuse the ever-living-fuck out of whoever opened it.

Dernier made it back first and read off, “I, Corporal Timothy Dum Dum Dugan, sincerely and drunkenly promise to never again eat fifteen bean burritos and then bunk with anyone I want to remain friends with.”

Dum Dum shrugged unrepentantly, cackling as he picked the next one. “I, Private First Class James Montgomery Monty Falsworth, truly and drunkenly admit that I have a very serious problem with trashy pioneer era romance novels.”

Monty opened his mouth to argue and then closed it again. “It’s fine literature,” he muttered as he grabbed another napkin. “I, Private First Class James Jim Morita, with a sorrow-filled and drunken heart, confess that I ate all of the unit’s pineapple rations while sleep walking so I didn’t even get to enjoy it and then threw it all up on my commanding officer.”

“Such a waste,” Jim moaned, lowering his head in a moment of silence before sorting through the pile for a napkin of Dernier’s. “I, Private First Class Jacques Hon Hon Hon Dernier, would like to proudly and drunkenly inform the world that for an entire half a year I successfully disguised the fact that I had no idea what my mission handler’s name was while working with him daily.”

“Not everyone has talent like mine,” Jacques preened, brushing fake dust off his shoulders.

Bucky shook his head, laughing at them all. “You guys are ridiculous.”

“Got a countdown for the end of tour?” Gabe asked, still snickering.

Monty rolled his eyes. “To the minute.”

He pointed at Dum Dum who dutifully rattled off, “One year, eight months, five days, and nine hours.”

Always the practical one, Gabe shot them a serious look. “You decided what you’re doing next?”

The four of them averted their eyes from the camera before Jim piped up. “We decided we’re heading stateside after this one.”

“Better not be because of me,” Bucky threatened.

Dernier left a tiny bit of space between his thumb and his pointer. “Just a little, Sarge, but only because no one’s as good a shot out here. You’d kick all their asses at a carnival.”

Bucky glared at them. “I’m down and out. That doesn’t mean you all need to duck out too.”

Monty threw his head back dramatically. “The man gets a medal of honor and thinks everything is about him.” He looks back into the camera. “We’ve been in the game so long it’s hard to remember what it’s like being normal, Buck. It’s time we head home.”

“All or none,” Dum Dum said, tapping the tattoo on his upper shoulder. The matching one they all had of a stylized, howling wolf. “The army’s got plenty of jobs for us on that side of the ocean.”

Bucky turned when he felt someone wrap their arms around him from behind. Becca leaned over and waved at the screen. Everyone waved back frantically. “Think you can unplug the headphones so I can say hi?” she asked hopefully.

Gabe narrowed his eyes at the screen. “Promise to be on your best behavior if we let you say hi to Becks?”

A chorus of ‘Yes’ was interrupted by Dum Dum shouting “Hell no!” Bucky unplugged the headphones anyways. They all screamed Becca’s name before immediately shouting over each other to talk.

“Are you the smartest kid in the whole damn school?” Jim yelled.

Monty raised his voice as he shouted, “Thanks for sending the coffee in that last package, we had to beat guys away from it.”

“Talk science to us!” Dernier demanded, pounding his fists down.

Dum Dum stroked his facial hair in slow motion. “Is my mustache hip enough to get me through the door? Becks, be honest. Is it?”

Becca laughed loudly, hooking her chin over Bucky’s shoulder as she answered the questions. “Yes, obviously. You’re welcome. The only two non-silver metals are gold and copper. And dear lord, Dum Dum, you look like you’re ready to pose in a family picture with Davey Crockett. You can definitely get in with that.”

“You get the mid-term care package we sent you?” Monty demanded.

Becca grinned. “Just got it yesterday and sent you boys one back. I’m looking forward to using some of that flash powder in the lab.”

Dernier saluted her as Bucky whirled back to the screen. “What the fuck did you send her and how did it not get flagged?”

“That’s for us to know and you to never find out,” Jacques winked.

“Menaces all of you,” Bucky said. “Swear my blood pressure went down the minute I shipped out.” Becca laughed and waved to everyone before darting back to work.

“That was just the good meds, Buck-a-boo,” Jim told him, shaking his head.

A loud knock sounded through the audio as a voice off-screen began to speak. “Wrap it up. You’re expected to be mission ready at oh-six-hundred.”

“Copy that,” Monty said, nodding before pulling a face towards the screen.

Gabe interlocked his fingers behind his head, kicking back. “No curfews on this side, gentlemen. Bucky and I can stay up as late as we want ill-advisedly watching the first five seasons of Parks and Rec.”

“Fuck off, Jones,” Jim grumbled. “You already get to mooch off all his good cooking, no need to kick us while we’re down.”

“Did I mention we’re doing steak strips next week?” Gabe grinned.

Bucky shrugged as everyone groaned enviously. “I’ll cook for you guys. In one year, eight months, five days and seven hours,” he teased.

Dernier cocked his head to the side. “Did we not read off the napkin that says sometimes we pretend Sergeant Bark is Bucky and go about the entire day treating him like our actual Sarge?”

Bucky choked on a laugh as Dum Dum started rattling off a mission report. “All bacon treats accounted for, sir. We tried to locate the missing squeaky bunny but terrain was too unstable, we had to cut our losses.” Someone shouted off screen again and they all stared at each other glumly.

“Well, I guess we have to go,” Monty sighed.

Bucky fiddled with the screen absently to distract himself from saying goodbye. “Let us know when you have web access again.”

“Of course,” Jacques scoffed.

“We love youuuuuuu,” Dum Dum cooed, only half joking.

Gabe shook his head, smiling down at his lap. “We love you guys too. Stay safe out there.”

“We’ll try,” Jim promised.

“Better do more than that,” Bucky sighed. “Miss you, losers.”

“He does love us,” Monty cried out. Bucky laughed and joined in the emphatic goodbye waving that had begun.

Dernier started to blow kisses while crooning depressing French song lyrics when Jim cut the feed off shouting, “Bye!”

Gabe closed the laptop, still smiling to himself. “What a bunch of morons.”

“The best kind of morons,” Bucky sighed. “I miss them every fucking day and it terrifies me that we’re not there to watch their backs.”

Gabe clapped a hand on Bucky’s shoulder and gave him a little shake. “I know. Me too, man. They’ll be here before we know it though. I knew they couldn’t stay away. Bunch of little chicks in the hen house.”

“Am I the hen?” Bucky snorted.

Gabe nodded decisively. “Damn straight. You know we’d follow you to hell and back.”

“With only mild complaining,” Bucky agreed.

The door jangled open and Bucky glanced over, stilling in his seat when he saw Tony Stark march through the door with a stunning redhead.

Bucky had met Tony Stark once when he first started the program in a blur of an initiation event. He saw him occasionally around the Tower or at various program fundraisers but they had never really interacted.

Stark surveyed the shop with interest as he turned to the woman he was with. “The name is both delightfully punny and pretentious. Does that cancel out or does it get a point?”

She rolled her eyes. “I forgot to bring my grading rubric. I told you I’m only here for the coffee.” Stark nodded absently, squinting at the string lights along the walls and the comfy, mismatched furniture.

“That’s Tony fucking Stark,” Gabe hissed under his breath in awe.

Bucky nodded distractedly. Something about the redhead seemed familiar and he couldn’t quite place it. She caught him staring and raised an eyebrow in his direction. Bucky looked away immediately, pretending to seem preoccupied.

“This menu is huge,” Stark complimented, staring at the extensive listing of specialty coffees. He glanced towards the redhead again. “What did you say was supposed to be good here?”

The woman shrugged, “Clint said the cherry cheesecake latte was and I quote ‘like an orgy in his mouth’.”

Bucky scrambled for his phone. That’s why he recognized her, from Clint’s phone screen.

That was Clint’s girlfriend, Nat.

He thumbed out a text to Clint and tried to stop staring at her. It didn’t really work as five seconds later her phone pinged and she typed something, getting another series of responses and texting back before looking up, right at Bucky.

She left Tony Stark staring at the menu to make her way over. “Hi, I’m Natasha,” she said, extending a hand. “You must be Bucky.”

Bucky met her firm grip, nodding along. “Yeah, nice to finally meet you. Did Clint tell you to say hi?” he asked suspiciously.

She huffed out a laugh and flipped her phone for him to read.


Clint: nat u @ brewtea n beats?

Nat: Yes?

Clint: !!!!!!!!! SAY HI 2 BUCKY!!!!!!!!

Clint: probs mjr qt staring like a creep leather w jacket n combat boots

Clint: bby blues drk hair roboarm v charming

Nat: How does someone look charming?

Clint: ull c

Nat: I retract my previous question.


She shook her head. “I’d ask if you’re that predictable or if Clint has a crush on you but I already know the answer is both.”

Bucky laughed. He was definitely right. Nat was awesome.

He turned in his seat, “This is Gabe.”

Gabe shook Natasha’s hand, looking very pleased with her solid handshake. “Nice to meet you, guessing you’re the kickass woman we hear so much about from Clint?”

She nodded, flashing them a small smile before it turned into a sigh when Tony called out. “Oh my God, Nat. Help me, what am I supposed to pick? There are too many things.”

“Sorry, be right back,” she apologized before heading back over and muttering about grown men and menu options. Bucky did have to agree with her. This was the second time she had to help someone through the process now.

Becca wandered up front and saw Stark, stopping in her tracks. “Uh, I can walk you through the specials or help you try and identify a drink through your preferred favor profiles,” Becca offered, blatantly gawking at him.

He nodded, “Excellent, let’s try that flavor profile thing.”

After ten excruciating minutes, Becca whipped up a triple shot, turtle brownie macchiato for Stark. Nat looked exasperated as she ordered a chocolate peanut butter latte, glancing towards Bucky and Gabe with another eye roll at Tony.

Becca handed Tony’s coffee over and stumbled over the words as she mumbled. “Mr. Stark? I just wanted to say thank you.” Bucky tried not to take it personally that Stark got his coffee instantly delivered.

Stark held the coffee suspended between them in confusion. “I know I’m rusty on the ‘manners’ thing but aren’t I supposed to thank her?” he whispered to Natasha.

“Pretty sure she isn’t talking about the coffee,” Nat explained patiently.

Stark tapped his nose, pointing at Nat, “Ah.”

Becca smiled slightly as she finished punching in the order. “I meant for all the work you do with your veteran’s program,” she clarified.

Some of Stark’s smug veneer fell away as he grinned. “Oh! Yeah, it’s going well. When I was fiddling around with some of the tech for the suit I bounced ideas around with my friend, Rhodey, and it went from there. There’s so much we can do. It’s one of my favorite side projects.”

Becca listened, nodding along and getting Nat’s drink together. “It’s a really great thing you’re doing, Mr. Stark,” she told him as she passed over Nat’s drink along with his change.

Stark gave her another appreciative grin before dropping a casual hundred dollars in the tip jar with a wink. Becca’s jaw dropped open and she turned to stare at Bucky in disbelief. He just shrugged in response.

Bucky watched in surprise as Nat started to lead Stark towards their table. “Another point for the cute barista and one more for her complimenting my work,” Tony mused.

“Mmmmhmmm,” Nat agreed, ushering him onward without him seeming to notice. They came to a stop at the table and she pulled over two more chairs to join them.

Tony sat down unthinkingly, taking a drink of his coffee. “This is the best coffee I have ever had in my life,” he moaned, curling over it protectively.

He looked back up again and frowned when he saw Gabe and Bucky. “Who are they?” he asked Nat suspiciously. Then his eyes flicked between Bucky and Becca. “Nat,” he hissed. “I’m seeing two versions of the cute barista.”

She literally covered her face with her hands as she sighed. “That would be because they’re related, Tony.”

“How do you know?” he sniffed.

She gestured towards Bucky. “This is Clint’s friend, Bucky. Remember, he met him in the program trials? Bucky’s sister, Becca, works here and this is his friend, Gabe.”

Tony’s gaze dropped to the arm. “Oh,” he said, nodding. “Oh, oh, oh,” he repeated, glancing at Gabe and Bucky. “I’m Tony,” he said after another delay.

“Hello, Mr. Stark,” Gabe said, trying to play it cool.

Bucky just raised his eyebrows, “Hey.”

“Sam and Steve were right about this place,” Stark said, taking another look around. “I will admit I was somewhat skeptical when Cap gave it a thumbs up. Figured it was a senior special kind of thing.”

“That’s because you’re an idiot,” Nat told him, matter-of-factly. He nodded along to the criticism, acknowledging it as a fair point.

Bucky frowned slightly, glancing between the two of them. “So, how do you guys all know each other?” It seemed a little weird that Clint and Nat knew Stark who also knew Sam and Steve. There must be a lot of job opportunities through Stark Tower.

Tony started to laugh, shaking his head. “Good one,” he said, continuing to look around the shop, inspecting the postcard collage wall.

Nat’s eyes widened as she watched Bucky’s confused expression. “He’s not kidding,” she said quietly.

Stark’s gaze swung back to Bucky. “How do we all know each other?” he repeated, putting a weighty emphasis on the question. “You’ve met Steve, right? Steve Rogers? Captain Steve Rogers?” Nat rested a hand on Stark’s shoulder and gave a squeeze, hissing Tony’s name in warning.

She turned to face Bucky more fully, who was now having a confused non-verbal conversation with Gabe. Bucky didn’t get where Stark was going with this.

Shooting them a reassuring smile, Nat patted Tony’s shoulder in another show of exasperation. “Work stuff,” she said with a shrug. “Our paths crossed.”

“SHIELD?” Bucky guessed. He knew Clint had some mysterious SHIELD job. That would actually make sense.

Natasha nodded vaguely with an amused smile. “I’m guessing you don’t follow celebrity gossip very closely?” she asked, sipping her coffee.

“Like what’s up with Miley and Liam?” Bucky tried again.

“Right? What is up with them?” Stark demanded. “Are they engaged? Are they not?”

Nat shook her head at them both. “Fascinating, really.”

Tony got distracted by a group of people walking through the doors that looked like the cover of a Mumford and Sons album. “His beard,” he admired. “It’s so bushy. Does he store things in there? If I had a beard like that I’d keep extra screwdrivers around. Never have enough of those.”

Nat pointedly ignored Tony as she continued asking Gabe about his semester abroad in Paris. “So, I was fluent in French by that point along with German and Spanish. The other ones I picked up in the service or overseas. Bucky here taught me Russian,” Gabe explained.

The redhead swiveled in her seat. “Where did you learn?” she asked, in perfectly accented Russian.

Bucky shrugged before responding easily in kind. “Spent my first tour in Moscow. It was sink or swim. Well, more like vodka or stroganoff.”

Nat laughed. “The appetite comes with eating,” she recited dutifully, affecting an exaggerated tone, just like every respectable Russian matron who smacked his cheek with a kiss and shoved a plate of food his way.

“Is that Volgograd I detect?” Bucky asked, arching an eyebrow.

Looking pleased, Nat nodded. “I’ll offer a biscotti for anyone who can correctly identify it by its former name.”

Tony was still drinking his coffee and staring at the Mumford and Son beard, clearly not understanding anything they were saying. Gabe understood but only offered a shrug.

“Stalingrad or Tsaritsyn?” Bucky clarified.

She whistled. “Impressive. Most people get Stalingrad if they get anything. Only Russian natives reference Tsaritsyn.”

“I stopped in at a watchmaker’s shop when I went to check out the Kremlin and the guy gave me a rundown of Russian history,” Bucky explained.

“And you remembered it?” she asked, amused.

Bucky nodded. “History is important.”

“Oh God,” Nat groaned in English and Tony looked over.

“What?” he asked, looking intrigued by this reaction.

“I kept giving Clint shit about his huge crush on Bucky and I have to take it all back now,” she said, looking irritated.

“Why?” Gabe asked in confusion.

Tony started laughing, pointing a finger in Nat’s face. “She’s got one too!”

Bucky’s eyes went wide. “Sorry?” he offered. His phone chime went off and he saw he had a message from Clint.


Clint: wats ur opinion on 3sums

Bucky: Favorable. Why? You got a SHIELD in with Captain America and Black Widow for me?

Clint: omg u got no clue how hilarious this is


Bucky looked up when Nat made a strange muffled snort. Her slim shoulders shook with mirth as she read something on her phone before making eye contact with Bucky and clapping a hand over her mouth.

Tony leaned over and read the message before throwing his head back, laughing like the mad scientist he was. “That is amazing,” he vowed looking delighted.

Rolling his eyes, Bucky put his phone back down after sending Clint the shades emoji. “You’ve met Captain America and Black Widow, you should understand.”

Tony leaned his elbows on the table as he made eye contact with Bucky. “Yes, I have met them. It’s almost like you have too.”

“A six degrees of Kevin Bacon situation doesn’t count,” Bucky said slowly, like maybe Stark was confused.

“I give up,” Tony said, throwing his hands up. “I’m grabbing another coffee and inquiring about the ownership structure of this establishment. Then I have to meet with DOD.” He wandered to the counter and both Bucky and Gabe looked towards each other.

“Did he say he was inquiring about the ownership structure of the coffee shop?” Bucky asked.

“The DOD?” Gabe repeated. “I thought Stark Industries stopped making weapons?”

Nat just shook her head. “You’re better off not asking questions when it comes to Tony. Well, it was a pleasure to finally meet you both.”

Bucky and Gabe nodded in sync. “Pleasure was all ours,” Gabe grinned.

“You’ll have to join us the next time Clint stops by,” Bucky told her. “I make a mean homemade pizza,” he promised.

“I’ve heard,” she assured him. “I’ll definitely take you up on that offer.”

Nat waved and joined Tony at the counter, trying to prevent him from making Becca give him another lengthy flavor profile assessment. Gabe stared, still awed as Tony tried to duck around the tiny redhead blocking his path. Bucky’s phone buzzed again.


Clint: srsly tho dramatic irony 2 the max


He rolled his eyes and sent the poop emoji back because sometimes it was the only way to effectively communicate with Clint.

Bucky jolted awake, chest heaving and soaked in sweat. Another nightmare about the explosion.

He stumbled into the bathroom, expelling the contents of his stomach and fighting the wracking sobs overtaking his body. When he opened his eyes again, he saw Gabe sitting with his back against the wall beside the toilet, knees drawn up. He held a waiting glass of water in his hands.

“Debrief?” Gabe prompted, his voice soft in the early morning hush of the bathroom.

Bucky nodded. “In five,” he managed, the words rough and grating in his throat. He gratefully accepted the water, rinsing and spitting out the taste of bile before taking an actual drink. Bucky finished half the glass before putting it down and closing the toilet cover to rest against.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath before repeating the details of the dream. “It was a supply run,” Bucky started.

“Affirmative,” Gabe said.

“Monty, Dum Dum, Jim, and Dernier were behind us with enough C4 to shoot everyone to the moon,” he said next, keeping his eyes shut. “You were riding with me. Another unit was behind us, joined in on our supply run. A big unit.”

He could tell Gabe nodded as he said, “Affirmative.”

Bucky took another breath. He heard everyone’s voices blending together as they sang. Gabe’s deep, melodious tone did most of the work, carrying everyone along. “We were singing Sweet Home Alabama through the comms,” he said, shaking his head slightly.

Bucky heard the smile in Gabe’s voice as he said, “Affirmative.”

“Even though none of us are from Alabama,” Bucky complained. It was an argument he would never win.

Gabe sounded exasperated as he said for the thousandth time. “I’m telling you, you don’t need to be from Bama to enjoy seventies southern rock. So, what happened next?”

“I identified hostiles at ten and two,” Bucky said, tensing up.

Gabe’s tone didn’t waver. “Affirmative.”

“We continued forward?” Bucky asked, his voice shaking. The next part of the dream was that they drove onwards and the IEDs went off, killing the entire surrounding towns, the squad accompanying them, and all of the Commandos.

Bucky knew. He knew that wasn’t what happened but his dreams always seemed real. Too real.

“Negative,” Gabe told him, not unkindly but in no way unclear. “Permission to continue the debrief, Sarge?”

Bucky nodded, his face cool against the plastic of the toilet seat. “Once you identified the hostiles you knew something was wrong and gave me three orders, sir. First, send the signal to evac the surrounding villages. Second, cover the Commandos and the nuclear reactor of a weapons horde Dernier had put together. Third, call in the birds to get an overhead,” Gabe said.

That made more sense. The nightmare slipped away as Gabe spoke. “What next?” Bucky asked.

He heard Gabe swallow heavily in the quiet. “The locals were evacuated and we were sitting tight for the overhead when hostiles began to take fire. You repositioned the Humvee to block them in and gave the order to fall back.”

“Affirmative,” Bucky said quietly, recalling the situation more clearly with each word.

“After you moved closer, you saw them getting IEDs in place and made sure we understood we had to get the weapons as far away as possible,” Gabe was almost whispering, his words still steady.

“Then the IEDs detonated,” Bucky said.

He remembered. He remembered that moment between giving the order and the bombs imploding. Where, for one half second he was relieved that he saw everyone pulling back, that the bastards wouldn’t blow Dernier’s precious dynamite and everyone in a ten-mile radius into the ground.

He remembered unbearable heat suffocating him on all sides and then he remembered nothing.

“Affirmative,” Gabe confirmed.

“Casualties?” Bucky asked tentatively. He knew this. He read all the reports, demanded everyone tell him exactly what happened, but it never mattered after a nightmare.

Gabe continually went through this routine with him for months. Unfailingly patient and more than Bucky deserved.

“Thirteen insurgents, five locals, two army members, and your left arm, sir,” Gabe told him. Bucky clenched his eyes closed even tighter. Gabe slid the water glass into his hand again.

The shock of cold stopped him from panicking further. “I should have—,” he started to say and Gabe made a curt little huff of noise.

“You didn’t set those bombs, Buck,” Gabe said, tentatively resting a hand on his bare shoulder. “Your orders saved the lives of forty-eight locals and sixty-six members of the U.S. army. That was just on site, Sarge. If they blew that tank, there would only be a crater in the desert where we were. It would have annihilated everything for miles. You saved hundreds of lives.”

Bucky breathed through the nausea. Through the guilt that he didn’t save everyone. That he somehow survived. “You extracted me from the Humvee?” he asked, stumbling over the words.

“Affirmative,” Gabe said.

“You came to New York for me?” Bucky pushed. Gabe never came outright and said it but Bucky knew it was true. He had been too selfish, too glad Gabe was coming back with him, to tell him not to.

Gabe sighed. “I came for me, Buck.”

Bucky finally opened his eyes, blinking through the darkness to stare at his friend. “What?”

Gabe shook his head, staring down at the burn scars on his hands. “Two deployments, three tours, fifty-nine covert ops, and I have never been more scared in my entire goddamn life as I was watching that truck blow up with you inside.”

Bucky blinked at him in surprise. Gabe laughed, a soft whoosh of noise. “Fucking stupid, right? It’s not like I’m fresh on the block. I know what’s at risk. I know what it’s like to lose your friends, your brothers in arms. Something just changed that day and I knew I couldn’t stay in the field. I couldn’t give everything the way I had before and that’s dangerous for everyone.”

“Gabe,” Bucky started to say and the other man shook his head.

“Let me finish,” Gabe argued. “You think I came here for you, that I came here because your sorry ass needed the help and I was the sucker that took the job.”

Bucky’s conspicuous silence was answer enough.

Gabe snorted. “You’re dead wrong though. I came here because the Commandos are always in too much shit for a member of the team not to be on the top of their game. I love the army and I love protecting this country, I just couldn’t keep doing it that way. This was the out I needed. So, I took it and there was no way I was letting you get left behind.”

Sitting up, Bucky frowned. “I wasn’t getting left behind.”

“Like you wouldn’t have been feeling sorry for yourself, moping all the way up to your man-bun, if we were still all over there carrying on without you?” Gabe rolled his eyes. “I needed something new and you were going towards that something new.”

Bucky nodded, glancing back down at the floor. He had no idea Gabe had felt that way. “Sorry,” he mumbled.

Gabe shrugged. “It’s not on you. I didn’t tell you because I was embarrassed. Felt like a coward. Started going to counseling and it helps. I just kept thinking, what kind of soldier does it make me that I could do the kind of shit we’ve done and then tap out like this?”

“You’re one of the best I’ve ever worked with, Gabe,” Bucky told him honestly. “It’s better to tap out because you feel too much than stay in and feel nothing at all.”

Especially in their line of work, they came across those kinds of operatives. The ones that didn’t seem to care what sort of collateral damage they caused as long as they got the job done.

Gabe flashed him a small smile. “Yeah, well. The Commandos stick together, man. I don’t know if you thought this was some HAGS kind of bullshit, but you’re in this for the long haul.” Bucky grinned, shaking his head and drinking the other half of the water.

“What now, Sarge?” Gabe asked once Bucky drained the glass.

He rolled his shoulders back and thought about how to get rid of the excess adrenaline. “I think I’m going to go for a run.”

Gabe dusted his hands off as he stood up. “Alright, let’s go.”

Bucky frowned up at him. “It’s 3 AM, Gabe.”

Looking affronted, Gabe gestured towards his legs. “You telling these bad boys they’re not invited? They’re just itching for a shot to pound some pavement.”

Bucky snorted and accepted the hand Gabe offered to pull him up. “No, ‘course they’re invited.”

Gabe laughed, “Good, because when I went to bed last night they were all ‘What the hell, Gabe? Time for sleep? I thought we were going to run at ass o’clock’ and I just said ‘Nah’. So, they’re real happy now.”

“You’re a good man, Gabriel Jones,” Bucky told him, shaking his head.

Heading out of the bathroom to change, Gabe turned back and waggled his eyebrows. “I got it from our mama.”

“No,” Bucky groaned. “Stop encouraging her.”

Gabe cackled as he walked away. “I don’t think you even heard her telling everyone at dinner last week that the milkman was offering chocolate and she said yes.”

Bucky choked. “Why would she fucking say that? What is wrong with her?”

“Seriously, I love your family,” Gabe shouted from the hall.

Bucky had really only gotten about a quarter mile from the point where Gabe shouted that the loser had to buy ass o’clock morning breakfast pastries. He was too busy laughing to keep a steady pace because Gabe had tripped over a fire hydrant shortly after declaring the race.

He kept yelling about grievances against the city and submitting outside interference to the ref from behind him. Bucky still had the lead but not by much. He glanced over his shoulder to see Gabe flicking him off, arms and legs pumping as he tried to catch up.

When Bucky turned back around, he almost ran right into someone jogging the opposite way.

Bucky pulled up short, stumbling forward. The guy he nearly collided with caught his shoulder to steady him. “Oh, God. I’m so sorry,” Bucky apologized, before getting a good look at the guy under the streetlight.

“Bucky?” Steve exclaimed.

“Hey!” Bucky greeted, still trying to catch his breath after almost running into a brick-fucking-shithouse of a man. He hadn’t been looking where he was going but since no one was out right now it hadn’t seemed like an issue. Until now, of course.

Steve still seemed surprised, looking around and catching sight of Gabe as he got closer. “I’ve never seen you out here before,” he ended up saying.

“Had trouble sleeping,” Bucky explained. “I don’t normally make pre-sunrise jogging a habit. Seems like you do though?”

Steve shrugged. “I have trouble sleeping too and it’s quiet, not many people around. I like it better.”

Bucky glanced around the deserted path. “Yeah, I can see that. I like it because we ran so many ops in the dead of night. Weirdest part of adjusting to New York was doing everything during the day.”

“Makes you sound like a vampire,” Steve laughed. Bucky tried to pretend he didn’t end up staring at Steve suspiciously for bringing up the supernatural.

He still wasn’t entirely convinced he wasn’t an incubus.

Gabe puffed over to them, grumbling about the fire hydrant. “That damn thing wasn’t there the five seconds before I got to it,” he complained.

“Someone must have put it in your way,” Bucky agreed, rolling his eyes.

Gabe started to tell him to fuck off when he turned towards Steve to introduce himself and the words died in his mouth. “Holy, shit,” he swore, eyes huge. Bucky could sympathize. Steve was quite a sight to behold.

The reaction made Steve tense up. “I’m Steve,” he introduced, drawing his name out significantly.

The two shook hands as Gabe stared back and forth between Bucky and Steve. “I’m Gabe,” he finally managed before squinting at Bucky. “You’re Steve. Steve from BrewTea and the Beats,” he said slowly, realization dawning on his face.

“Yeah,” Bucky said, nodding. “That Steve.”

They didn’t even know any other Steve. Jesus, at this rate he was probably going to bring up the incubus theory. Normally Gabe had a lot more cool than this. Steve’s outrageous good looks must really be throwing him off.

“So many things make sense now,” Gabe muttered, shaking his head.

“Okay?” Bucky said. “You feeling alright? Did you hit your head when you tripped over the fire hydrant?”

That seemed to snap Gabe out of it as he pointed at Bucky threateningly. “I was sabotaged,” he growled.

“Course you were, buddy,” Bucky said.

Steve seemed more relaxed now, watching the two of them interact with a small smile on his face. “You were in Bucky’s unit, right?” he asked.

Gabe nodded, still looking a little awed in the face of Steve’s own face. “That’s right, the translator. Got put under his command half way through my first tour and came to New York with him at the end of my last. Stuck on this asshole like glue.” Bucky shook his head fondly.

He twisted at the hips and bent down to touch his toes, stretching out. Bucky turned towards Steve to see him already staring. “Want in on our little wager? Loser has to buy ass o’clock breakfast pastries?”

“Winner’s choice?” Steve asked brightly.

“Someone’s confident,” Bucky laughed. “Sure, winner’s choice. First one to the Hudson?”

They all looked at each other before taking off. “Watch out for fire hydrants!” Bucky yelled as he started sprinting.

“Fuck you and everything you stand for, James Buchanan Barnes!” Gabe shouted as he ran beside him.

They both did a double take as Steve blew past them.

Bucky and Gabe hauled ass but for all their effort it looked like they had been running through molasses when they got to the river a full twenty minutes after Steve. Gabe heaved in gulps of air, collapsing on a bench as Bucky bent over to catch his breathe.

“Did you eat the entire aisle of Wheaties?” Bucky demanded when he didn’t feel like his lungs were trying to escape his body.

Steve laughed. The motherfucker didn’t even look winded. Definitely inhuman. “So, since you’re both losers, who is paying?”

“Hey,” Gabe grumbled. “Give us a minute.”

Bucky pulled his shirt away from his chest in an effort to become less sweaty. “We are both losers,” he sighed, acknowledging the sad truth.

“One of us is always huge loser though,” Gabe pointed out. “I’m looking at you, Barnes.”

“Bullshit,” Bucky said, pulling at his shirt again. “Oh my God, am I dying?” he complained, giving up and using the fabric to wipe at his face.

Gabe let out a choked laugh and Bucky looked up to see him looking at Steve. He glanced over and saw the blonde pointedly averting his gaze, the red flush that was absent from his run suddenly visible.

“What ass o’clock breakfast pastries are we having then?” Bucky asked.

“Bombolonis,” Steve said decisively.

Gabe lurched up off the bench like he was resurrected from the dead. “Bless your precious soul,” he vowed. “I’ll be a loser any day if it gets me some of that custard-y, deep-fried goodness.”

“You got a problem, Gabe,” Bucky told him as they all began to amble towards 47th Street.

“Definitely,” Gabe agreed.

“It’s people who don’t lose their cool over bombolonis that have the problem,” Steve said.

“Here, here,” Gabe seconded.

They made it to the bakery and Steve went up to order, insisting on paying even though he clearly won the bet, saying something about unfair advantages. “I like this man more and more every minute,” Gabe told Bucky from the counter.

His eyes widened in realization a second later. “Holy shit, I see your point about the incu—inca—sex demon thing,” Gabe said, shifting a suspicious glance towards Steve.

Bucky nodded along with him. “Right? See, I’m not making this shit up.”

“I’m not eating all these bombolinis by myself, fellas,” Steve said, joining them with a giant box of pastries.

“Fellas?” Bucky mouthed questioningly before getting distracted when faced with a proffered custard doughnut.

“No, you aren’t,” Gabe agreed. “I don’t care that your biceps are larger than my head. I’d fight you for these,” he vowed, taking a bite with his eyes closed.

“Isn’t another one of your friends obsessed with coffee?” Steve asked Bucky. Bucky nodded through his mouthful. “Are they all obsessed with various foods or beverages?” Steve asked curiously.

Bucky shook his head no as Gabe went on to inform Steve about the various character flaws the remaining Commandos had.

They polished off the whole box, stopping to grab something to drink on the way back through town. People started emerging as normal morning hours approached. “It was nice to meet you, Steve,” Gabe told him, shaking hands with the guy and looked stunned all over again.

“Same here, Gabe,” Steve grinned. “Well, I’ve got to head back into the city. I promise I haven’t forgotten about the exhibit, Bucky. My schedule is really hectic but the minute I have a free day I’ll let you know.”

Bucky shot him a thumbs up as Steve waved and jogged off.

“I’m sorry, did I hear that correctly?” Gabe demanded once Steve was out of sight. “You got a date with Sex Demon Steve?”

“It’s not a date,” Bucky said, rolling his eyes. “I just gave him a few exhibit suggestions and he asked if I wanted to go with.”

“Is the exhibit your naked, willing body?” Gabe asked, entirely straight-faced.

Bucky swatted at his head. “Come on, man. I don’t have a shot in hell, stop giving me false hope.”

“There was nothing about the way that man admired your sweaty abdomen when you wiped your face off that implied you didn’t have a shot,” Gabe told him smugly.

“Wait, what?” Bucky said dumbly as Gabe walked away. “Gabe, what do you mean? Gabe! Come back here. Don’t think you can run away after bringing that—oh shit. Are you okay?” Bucky trailed off, staring down where Gabe had somehow tripped over another fire hydrant.

“This is a joke, right?” Gabe groaned, wiping gravel off his skinned knee. “I’m writing the mayor a strongly worded letter about fire hydrant placement in this city.”

“You do that,” Bucky encouraged, pulling him to his feet.

“While I’m at it, I’m going to ask them why New York pigeons and squirrels are just plain meaner than any other place. Is there some sort of fight club for small rodents and birds we don’t know about?” Gabe grumbled, mostly to himself.

“I’ll look up Chuck Palahniuk’s info and you can send him a letter too. Ask him if that was the real inspiration for Tyler Durden,” Bucky said, making sure he kept the pace slow for Gabe.

“Good, because I bet it was,” Gabe told him, waving a fist.

Bucky shook his head, laughing as they wound through the streets back to Brooklyn. Back to the apartment he was lucky enough to share with one of his best friends.

“I bet it was,” he agreed, just to get Gabe to tell him the squirrel with the pocket knife story again.

Bucky ducked out onto the “balcony” of Stark’s Tower from the gala.

It was essentially a continuation of the floor, extending out over the city. He sort of felt like Stark played the Sims and decided half his house should be a glass skywalk.

Bucky leaned over the rail, looking down at the city. It was constant motion, all blurs and sounds. He took a steadying breath, letting himself relax in the quiet. Bucky stayed outside for about ten minutes before deciding that was probably as long as he was going to get without getting in trouble.

After all, another part of the terms and conditions for the fancy as hell metal arm were the promotional gigs. People oohing and aahing over the tech at these fancy shindigs.

He turned around to go in and walked straight into a wall of muscle, which belonged to Captain fucking America.

Bucky bounced right off and wow, yeah. That hurt but also was exactly what Bucky would have expected the man’s pecs to feel like.

“Uh,” he said blankly, staring at the spangly outfit.

Captain America seemed just as caught off guard. Bucky vaguely understood that Stark was an Avenger and therefore must work with the other Avengers, up to and including Captain America, but this was still unexpected.

Still, there was something weirdly familiar about the guy and Bucky was certain he had never met Captain America before. He damn well would have remembered that.

“Are you okay?” Captain America asked him, looking concerned.

Naturally, Bucky would get the amazing opportunity to meet a national hero and he used that opportunity to ricochet off him like a pinball.

He nodded in response before managing any words. “Sorry, Mr. Captain,” Bucky apologized before blanching.

Mr. Captain? Why would he say that? How did that even make sense? What the fuck. “Mr. America?” he tried and then just sighed.

If someone could just intervene and punch him in the face right now that would be a blessing at this point. The guy’s name was Steve, wasn’t it? Why didn’t he just say that? That seemed too personal though, like you couldn’t call the Queen by her given name without permission. This was the same, right?

“Jesus. Please just ignore me,” he ended with, rubbing a hand down his face.

Captain America huffed out a quiet laugh. “I normally save Mr. America for the pageant circuits,” he confided, his mouth curled up into a smile on the unmasked part of his face.

Bucky couldn’t help but snort as he glanced at the guy again. He had a familiar hunted look in his eyes as he scanned the balcony, only relaxing when he saw it was mostly empty.

“Not a fan of Stark’s parties?” Bucky asked curiously. He’d think that type of publicity was par for the course for a superhero.

Captain America shook his head. “Not really, no,” he said.

He turned to look at Bucky and that strange sense of déjà vu hit him again. Something about the guy’s broad shoulders or the slope of his mouth seemed familiar. Maybe his adolescent self spent a few too many hours staring at pictures of the guy?

Bucky couldn’t be blamed because holy hell was he something.

“I would have been looking forward to it more if I knew you were going to be here,” Captain America said with a shrug. Bucky choked on his own saliva.

What? That sounded like a line.

That sounded like a really good line, but the guy didn’t deliver it like he was flirting. He said it genuinely. Which made no sense at all because he didn’t know Bucky.

“What?” Bucky managed to strangle out. “I’m sorry, have we met?”

He was pretty sure that was the only time someone had pulled that question on Captain America.

“What?” the blonde repeated. A frown pulled his lips down as he stared at Bucky.

Captain America looked baffled for a second before his mouth fell open on a small ‘oh’ as he glanced at his extremely patriotic and well fitting uniform. Captain America shook his head, the frown turning into a disbelieving little smile as he reached up towards his helmet.

“You seriously don’t rec—,” he started to say before he was interrupted.

A man in a clean-cut, tailored suit cleared his throat. “You’re needed inside, Captain.”

The easy-going, conversational side of Captain America seemed to transform immediately as he turned all business. His posture went from comfortable to military precision in a second flat and his voice was commanding as he responded,“Of course, excuse me just one moment.”

The other man nodded, stepping back in wait. Captain America looked towards him and Bucky saw the muscles in his jaw jump as he clenched his teeth together, biting back his words.

“Another time,” he finally said, sounding regretful. “Enjoy the rest of your night,” he told Bucky, following up his first immensely confusing statement before going back inside.

Bucky looked around, trying to figure out if he had any witnesses to the strange sequence of events he could talk to. No such luck.

He shook his head and slipped back through the doors, heading towards where he left Gabe. Unsurprisingly, his friend was still stationed near the doors where the wait staff went in and out as he networked.

Nobody could say Gabe didn’t have his priorities straight.

Gabe was talking with a strawberry blonde in a rose colored dress and strappy heels. “Buck,” he called out, waving him over.

Bucky squeezed past the Governor of New York. “Hey, sorry, just needed some air,” he apologized once he made it to Gabe.

Gabe brushed it off, “I know you hate these things.” He turned towards the blonde, “I was just lucky enough to score the invite because his sister had a night exam.”

Now that Bucky was facing her, he recognized the woman as Pepper Potts, Stark Industry’s CEO. He met her during the program’s initiation too.

“I don’t hate them,” Bucky tried to backtrack hastily. He didn’t want to offend Ms. Potts or insinuate he wasn’t grateful for the program.

She laughed, plucking up a glass of wine from a passing try. “Honestly, I’d be more surprised to hear you actually enjoyed Tony’s parties. He doesn’t know what ‘moderation’ means,” she told them, shaking her head.

Bucky stuck out a hand to introduce himself. “I’m Bucky—,” he started to say before she finished for him.

“Barnes, I know,” she smiled kindly, shaking his offered hand. “We’ve met before,” she told him. “I’m pretty good with names and faces and even if I wasn’t, I make a special effort to be aware of anyone involved in S.I.’s non-profit programs. It means so much to us that people are willing to trust S.I. with something so important. It’s only fair to show you that you’re important too.”

Bucky tugged at his tie in embarrassment. “That’s awful nice, Ms. Potts,” he said, his face warm at her earnestness.

“Pepper,” she insisted. “Gabe was just telling me about BrewTea and the Beats. I’m trying to find out what I can about the place before Tony decides to go and buy it. He’s addicted,” she told them with a smile. “I’ve only been there once or twice but I did appreciate the atmosphere and the menu variety.”

“It’s a nice little spot,” Bucky agreed. “A few too many hipsters but can’t complain with those lattes for those prices.”

Pepper paused for a moment, the champagne flute inches from her lips. She flicked her gaze down Bucky’s entire being. “Your suspenders and bowtie are very fashionable,” she told him, absolutely meaning it.

Bucky was 100% convinced that Pepper Potts was an angel sent down from heaven to bless this earth.

“Thank you,” Bucky said, mollified. He adjusted his cufflinks with a pointed look at Gabe. He had been giving Bucky shit all night.

“Very fashionable,” Gabe said with a tone. “Very hip, one might say.”

Pepper valiantly maintained a pleasant expression and didn’t even crack. “One might,” she agreed.

“Pepper!” Tony shouted, appearing beside her with a wrench.

“Uh,” Gabe said, blinking at his sudden appearance.

“Bucky, Gabe,” Tony greeted, nodding at them both. “Wrench,” he said, waving it around with emphasis.

“That is a wrench,” Pepper said mildly, waiting for him to continue.

Tony looked confused for a second before gesticulating with the wrench once more. “Think beyond the wrench, Pepper,” he told her, as if that made any sense.

“Oh, you finished your rechargeable prototype,” she said, deciphering the inarticulate rambling.

“Exactly! Come on!” he enthused, tugging Pepper away.

“Enjoy your evening,” she called back to them as Tony led her away, chattering excitedly.

Gabe shook his head. “That man is no doubt a genius but he needs to use one of them tools to fix the screws loose in his brain.”

Bucky snorted, looking up as Nat appeared in front him. She held a hand out towards Bucky in invitation. “If you would be so kind, Mr. Barnes,” she said in Russian. “It’s nice to see you again, Gabe.”

“You too,” he said before Bucky laughed and took her hand, leading Nat towards the dance floor.

“I’d be honored,” he told her.

She smiled appreciatively. “All I want is to dance with a handsome man in a nice suit and not have him stare at my chest the whole time,” Nat sighed. “You’d think those are pretty low standards.”

“You did make the informed decision to date Clint,” Bucky reminded her.

Nat laughed, the sound husky and deep. “Clint only dances when he’s drunk enough to show me what he thinks is an accurate rendition of the Kazachok.”

“Is it?” he asked curiously.

Nat sighed. “No, not even close.”

Bucky shrugged. “It’s tricky to squat and kick simultaneously,” he pointed out.

“So say the weak,” Nat said in a deadpan. She had the best straight-faced delivery Bucky had ever seen.

Shaking his head, he raised an eyebrow. “I was trying to give Clint a break. Me? I dance a flawless Kazachok.”

“Of course you do,” Nat said, patting his shoulder patronizingly.

“I do,” he insisted. “The Kazachok went hand in hand with raising my alcohol tolerance one handle of Green Mark at a time and quoting GoldenEye constantly.”

Nat snorted, looking reluctantly impressed. “Where’d you learn? That’s not normally something American heathens are read in on.”

At that, Bucky rolled his eyes. “Did I not tell you I learned to speak Russian in self preservation? I kept getting pulled into undercover ops. Before I even worked black ops, by the way. Didn’t speak any Russian at all. They had me say I preferred conducting business in English while translating through the comms. I repeated everything with an exaggerated Russian accent. Know why I got pulled in?”

“Because you pass as vaguely Eastern European,” Nat said immediately as if it as obvious.

After Bucky glared he muttered, “Literally the dumbest shit I have ever heard no matter how many times people say it like it’s not. Anyway, learned Russian and somehow got in with a prominent local family. Did Russia right under the tutelage of Uncle Boris and Aunt Anya.”

“Sounds like a good time,” Nat admitted.

“It was,” Bucky agreed. “I still keep in touch with them too. God, three years in Russia and every minute was fucking crazy but I loved it.”

Nat smiled at him, a real one that reached her eyes. “You’re a gift, Bucky Barnes. One who is going to have to teach my boyfriend to properly Kazachok if he insists on subjecting everyone to his flailing.”

Bucky twirled her once and then again. “Why haven’t you taught him then?”

“And give him a shot to record that? I don’t think so,” she told him, shooting a dirty look towards where Clint was currently perched on an exposed beam.

“Fair point,” Bucky agreed, following her lead as she turned the steps into a waltz. “But how do I show him? You don’t just whip out the Kazachok.”

Nat looked relieved, like she finally found someone who really got it. “That’s what I said.”

“I’m guessing he made a bad joke about whipping something else out?” Bucky ventured.

Natasha’s long-suffering expression was answer enough. He couldn’t help but laugh as he followed her improvisation, reversing the steps before finishing with a fancy dip. He tugged her up and she blinked at him, pushing her hair back.

“You are dangerously charismatic,” she said, eyeing him speculatively. “Have you considered working for SHIELD?”

Bucky snorted. “Is this a recruitment pitch?”

With a shrug, Nat headed off the dance floor towards the bar. “What are you drinking, Mr. Barnes?”

“Are you trying to get me hammered so I’ll Kazachok and accept this job offer?” Bucky asked suspiciously.

Nat shot him a wide-eyed, innocent expression before ordering a screwdriver. “Both would be unreasonably optimistic. Just one works for me.”

“Whiskey sour,” Bucky sighed, giving his order to the bartender.

“Bucky!” Dr. Bruce greeted as he joined them with a Pellegrino. “Normally you’ve hightailed it out of here by this point of the night.”

Bucky grinned. “Same goes for you, Doc. I’m still here because I met Captain America and Pepper Potts. Then Nat pulled me out for a turn on the dance floor.”

Bruce nodded as Nat whipped towards him with interest. “You met who, now?”

“I’ve technically already met Pepper at the vet program kick-off,” he explained, accepting the drink from the bartender and reaching for his wallet.

Nat swatted his hand away. “I’ll excuse you since you’re apparently gone by this point, but no one pays for anything at Stark’s get-togethers. He likes to pretend he’s a benefactor.”

“It’s nice that you chose ‘benefactor’ instead of ‘sugar daddy’ like Tony normally does,” Bruce told Natasha.

Bucky still passed over a tip, which the amused bartender accepted before swiftly performing a neat little trick and dropping an origami elephant on the rim of his glass.

Flashing a small smile, Nat shook her head. “So, Pepper. Pepper, you’ve met before,” Nat said flatly, looking incredibly unimpressed.

“He did probably meet Pepper at the kick-off,” Bruce agreed, looking confused by Nat’s behavior. “Did you get Cap’s autograph?” he asked Bucky with interest.

“Oh no!” Bucky groaned. “I didn’t even think about that. How often do you get the chance to meet Captain America? No one is going to believe that I actually did.”

“I get the sense you’ll have another chance,” Nat said, patting his hand. “A very strong sense.”

“Okay,” Bucky said slowly, leaning over to sniff Nat’s drink. “How much alcohol is in this thing? You’re soothsaying.”

“Not enough,” she mumbled darkly before pecking his cheek. “Thank you for the dance, Mr. Barnes. Consider my offer,” she told him before disappearing into the crowd.

“I am going to regret asking this but then again I do work with Tony Stark on a daily basis. The offer wasn’t sexual in nature, was it?” Bruce asked, looking reluctantly curious.

Bucky laughed and nearly sloshed his drink. “No,” he assured. “Clint already made that offer a while ago. She asked me to consider SHIELD.”

“Of course he did,” Bruce sighed before cocking a head to consider Bucky. “SHIELD, though. That’s not a bad idea. They have all kinds of work. You could keep doing strategy.”

“I’ll think about it,” Bucky told him, polishing off his drink and looking around for Gabe. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, Doc. I got a nice, comfy bed calling my name and a new episode of House of Cards to watch.”

“Amen to that,” Bruce agreed. “My own bed is calling my name and a neuroscience special on synapses.”

“We’ll do a spoiler swap next appointment,” Bucky told him before spotting Gabe trailing after a waiter holding a tray of bacon wrapped shrimp. “And I need to go intervene before Gabe accidentally gnaws off someone’s finger.”

Bruce waved goodbye and Bucky went to go save the poor guy who was just trying to get two feet away from the kitchen door.

They headed down the street towards the food trucks and Bucky felt more relaxed than he had in months.

He was glad Clint convinced him to go to the shooting range. Of course, it had been issued as a direct challenge to his abilities as a sniper, but still. Bucky enjoyed himself and got to fall back in the comfortable rhythm of counting his breaths, finger steady and systematic on the trigger.

Clint swung his arms wide at his sides, shaking his head. “That was both really anticlimactic and also one of the most exciting things ever,” he told Bucky, as if that made sense.

Bucky shrugged, “I had fun.”

Clint nodded enthusiastically. “Me too, man. That was awesome. I was 97% ready to kick your ass and 3% ready to be an ungracious loser but the tie really just snuck up on me.”

“I’m comfortable saying we’re evenly matched,” Bucky said.

He had honestly been kind of stressed about the outcome of them going to the shooting range together because while Bucky knew he’d be disappointed if he lost, Clint would have been insufferably annoying.

Clint grinned and clapped him on the shoulder. “Oh, I am too. It’s just that nobody has even come close to that for me and I mean ever. Not to brag, but I am. I’m kind of a big deal on the marksman circuit. We should take this show to the competitive paintball arena, we’d be unstoppable.”

Bucky rolled his eyes. He had to admit, it did feel pretty awesome to have the range manager put their names on the very top of the high score board and wax poetic about how he’d never seen shooting like theirs before.

“So, I’ve never eaten at this place but it does specialty chili cheese dogs,” Clint gushed excitedly.

Bucky shook his head at Clint as he darted over towards the truck, getting in line and inspecting the menu. “Should I go with the loaded, fire truck chili cheese dog or the Thai twist chili cheese dog?” Clint asked him, but Bucky wasn’t paying attention because people were turning and pointing to something towards the west.

He glanced over and that was definitely a problem. “Oh, that’s not good,” Bucky said, staring at what looked like a mushroom cloud in the distance, mutated robotic somethings swarming from the location.

“Nah, man. You have to go with five as a baseline,” Clint reassured him, still scanning the food cart’s menu.

“What?” Bucky asked. He ripped his eyes away from what was no doubt bad news to stare at Clint.

“Five,” Clint repeated. “If there are more than five blatant health code violations, then you can be concerned.”

“That’s disgusting,” Bucky told him in no uncertain terms. “It’s a miracle you’ve only gotten food poisoning twice if those are your operating standards. Besides, I meant that,” he said, pointing towards the area where black smoke was now pluming.

Clint looked over and swore, reaching for his cell. “Dammit, I need to call in,” he looked back at the food cart longingly.

Bucky rolled his eyes, “Tell me which one you want and I’ll order for you.” Clint looked like he was having a crisis for a moment before deciding on the Thai option and went to call in.

Bucky waited in line and overheard pieces of the conversation. Something about robots attacking people. Of course they were.

He joined Clint with their lunch as his friend narrowed his eyes at something over the phone. “What do you mean Tony said whoops?” he paused before sighing. “Oh, okay. That’s not his fault then. No, it’s not, Nat. Just because there are robots involved, doesn’t mean it’s automatically Tony’s fault. I’m sure this baddie does have some sort of techno hard-on for Stark but who doesn’t these days?”

He paced back and forth before gratefully taking the chili dog from Bucky. “I’ll just stay on the line,” he said as he balanced the phone between his cheek and shoulder to start eating.

“Do you work with the Avengers?” Bucky mused curiously. It would make sense that Clint’s role would cross over into Avengers related activity since SHIELD was so entangled with the group and Clint knew Stark pretty well.

“Do I work with the Avengers?” Clint repeated slowly, staring at Bucky.

“Because of SHIELD,” Bucky elaborated, trying to clarify since Clint seemed confused.

“Yes,” Clint said, eyebrows high on his forehead. “Yes, I do.”

“That’s cool,” Bucky told him with a shrug. “I met Captain America,” he told Clint.

Clint nearly dropped his phone as he jolted in place. “Oh, thank God,” he groaned. “I wasn’t sure if you were just trying to downplay it or if you actually didn’t know but it was getting ridiculous.”

“What?” Bucky frowned. “I met him at Stark’s charity gala thing out on the balcony. It was really weird. I think he thought he knew me?”

Clint stared at him, his face a literal depiction of exasperation. “Seriously?” he demanded, before getting distracted when Nat clicked back onto the line.

“Bucky just asked if I work with the Avengers because of SHIELD,” he told her. “And then he said he met Captain America at the charity gala and it was weird because Cap seemed to know him.” Bucky rolled his eyes at Clint’s dramatics. Nat said something else and Clint tipped his head back.

“Oh my god, Nat. What if he never figures it out? I mean the guy is still going around thinking Steve is an incubus. Clearly his theory developmental processes need work,” he hissed.

“Nobody has provided evidence proving otherwise,” Bucky defended, pointing at Clint.

“Ugh, fine. Yeah, okay. I’ll stay at my current location and wait for further instructions,” he said before hanging up and focusing entirely on his chili dog.

“Heading into work?” Bucky asked, finishing off his own lunch.

Clint nodded through his mouthful. “You should get off the streets,” he told him, cheeks bulging.

Bucky squinted. “Is this like a Chitauri situation or like that guy who accidentally aerosolized alien LSD in Central Park and people were literally tripping on rainbow cats and chocolate thunder bolts?”

“More like option one,” Clint confided.

Bucky nodded and reached for his phone. “I’ve got to make sure Becks is safe then.”

Clint scarfed the rest of his hot dog and nodded as Bucky dialed. “Becks?”

“Bucky? Holy shit, what is going on out there? Are you okay?” his sister asked frantically.

“Hostile robots,” Bucky sighed. “I’m fine, are you okay?”

“I’m in the chem library, the school won’t let anyone in or out and we have to get away from the windows,” she said, whispering. “I don’t know if I should be on the phone.”

Bucky already knew he was going to end up heading her way. He wouldn’t be convinced she was safe until he saw her. “Okay, stay where you are. I’m coming to you.”

“Buck,” she protested. “That’s a dumb idea, I don’t want you getting hurt.”

“I’ll be fine,” he reassured her. “I’m coming anyways, so keep an eye out and stay safe.”

She sighed. “Okay, I know there’s no point in telling you not to. You stay safe too and be careful. I love you, Bucky.”

“I love you too, Becks,” he told her before hanging up and dialing his parents.

The home line went to the machine and he tried his dad’s cell. “Hey, Bucky! What’s up?” his dad greeted, not sounding at all concerned or surrounded by robots.

“Where are you and mom?” he asked hurriedly.

“Connecticut, there’s some furniture road show thing. Your mother has been trying to hunt down a bookcase she saw on the internet. It looks like a tree?” his dad hazarded. “I don’t know. Is everything okay? Why are you asking?”

Bucky let out a sigh of relief, at least that was one less thing to worry about. “Okay, stay out there. New York City’s under attack, hostile robots. I’m going to go get Becca, I just wanted to make sure you guys were safe.”

His dad huffed out a concerned noise. “Jesus. Let us know when you’re both somewhere safe and be careful, Buck.”

“I will,” Bucky promised before hanging up.

Clint looked at him expectantly. “I’m heading into the danger zone. You let me know once you’re with Becca and when you guys get to safety. If I don’t hear from you, I will call you and I will be pissed, got me?”

Bucky nodded, pulling Clint into a hug. “Got you. Be careful out there.”

“You too,” Clint nodded.

“Going off to save the city,” Bucky joked, shaking his head. “A big hero.”

Clint threw his hands up as he shouted, “Oh my God.” He shook his head, sending a farewell salute before jogging towards the sirens, going against the people mobbing the opposite direction.

Bucky was grateful they went to the shooting range. If he was in Brooklyn, he would have needed to get into the city and both the roads and public transport were a bad idea. He darted through alleys and side streets, jogging towards the Columbia campus.

So far nothing had spilled out into this part of the city but it was only a matter of time.

His phone rang and he saw Steve’s name on the screen, answering as he ran around trying to locate the right library. “Hey, Steve,” he answered as he jogged.

“Bucky, there’s trouble downtown. You should get somewhere safe,” he said in a rush.

“Yeah,” Bucky agreed. “I’m trying to find Becca and then we’ll get out of the city,” he said. “The military going in?” he guessed.

“Something like that,” Steve agreed, sounding relieved with his response. “Be careful, Bucky,” he said quietly.

Bucky couldn’t help but smile even as he doubled back across campus. How many fucking libraries were there? “You too, Steve. Talk to you later.”

He got to the chem library only to find the doors locked. Bucky sighed before flipping out a knife and jimmying the door open, closing it and turning the lock again. He called Becca once he was inside, trying to scan the students for his sister. She directed him downstairs to a musty smelling room for book repairs.

Becca threw her arms around him once he walked inside. He patted the back of her head reassuringly, “It’s okay.”

He sent off a text to his parents and Clint, informing them that he was with Becca and they were both safe. “Should we just stay here?” she whispered. Bucky looked around the library.

Underground was probably a good option but this was an old building and the campus was too easily accessible. “I’d feel better staking down somewhere else,” he admitted. “Somewhere out of the city,” he told her.

“You know Auntie Jan has that reinforced bunker from the Cold War in her basement,” Becca suggested. Aunt Jan lived in Queens. That was the best option they had though.

Bucky nodded, “Sounds like a plan. It’s going to be a long trek though.”

“Do we have a choice?” Becca asked him with wide eyes.

“Not really,” he admitted before tugging her hand and they snuck out the back before school security could stop them. Things had worsened significantly since Bucky was outside last.

Robots were on campus now, jerky in their steps and shooting something like lasers from their hands. He passed by a security campus center and darted inside. Bucky grabbed a handful of flares and dropped them in the decorative concrete trash basins as they ran to deflect the robots from the students.

“Stay behind me,” he urged and Becca shadowed his steps as they edged along buildings to stay out of sight. Their luck only held up until they reached the outskirts of campus. Bucky turned the corner and there were four robots in the street, panels lighting up in recognition once he was sighted.

“Don’t come over here,” he ordered Becca, glancing back to see that she was staying put. She looked terrified but she didn’t come any closer.

Now that he was looking, Bucky saw that there were different types of robots. The jerky laser pointing ones were just one kind. The one approaching him operated smoothly and the swing it delivered was like an anvil.

He ducked out of the way and tried to grab the thing’s arm to wrench it from its socket. At first nothing happened. Then he twisted harder, the metal plates whirring in his metal arm, and he accidentally ripped the thing’s entire arm off.

Bucky dropped it in alarm before realizing the robot was still coming. He picked the robot’s arm back up and used it to smack the thing in the head, circuits sparking before it fell to the ground uselessly. Another robot approached, this one with drills for hands, stabbing towards him.

He used the detached robot arm to smash his way through the rest of them until they were all down. Bucky whirled back to check on Becca.

She darted forward, breathing erratically. “That was so scary and so awesome,” she told him, her voice shaking.

He huffed out a laugh before pulling her along. Gabe called while they were walking and Bucky picked up, keeping his voice low. “Are you safe?” he asked, before Gabe even got a word in.

“Me? Yeah, I’m holed up in a military fortress here. I’m calling about you, Buck,” he said.

“Becks and I are working our way to Queens,” he told Gabe, peering around the corner and seeing it was clear.

“You need to get off the fucking streets,” he hissed.

“We’re trying,” Bucky told him hotly. “I’m not hunkering down somewhere we’re in just as much danger as out here.”

“Yeah, I know. I get it,” Gabe sighed. “Keep your head on straight out there and don’t get yourself killed. Say hi to Becks. I expect to see you for dinner tonight and if you die I’m going to reverse haunt the fuck out of your dead ass.”

“Love you too, Gabe,” Bucky said sardonically before hanging up to focus on the situation.

Bucky tried to stick to the quieter streets but he couldn’t always tell based on noise whether there were robots present or not. He figured out he could essentially rip off any part of the robot’s bodies to use as a weapon and that’s how they made it to the edge of the city. Bucky dropped one of the robot’s heads, wiping the leaking oil off on his jeans.

When they heard shouting and gunfire, Bucky tugged Becca around the corner. Local cops had set up a barricade, taking shots at the approaching robots to try and hold them off. The robots had their own version of a frontline that were taking shots right on back.

Bucky scanned the area and saw that their best bet was to divide the unit, varying their shots between long and short range to keep them at bay. It was a little like playing Plants versus Zombies. One of the officers went down and then another as they started to pass before Bucky couldn’t just leave them to be picked off.

“You need to split your cover,” he told the commanding officer, keeping his hands up in a harmless gesture so he didn’t startle anyone armed.

“What?” the man barked, looking not at all pleased with the interruption.

“You need half to cover long range and half on short,” Bucky told him.

The man growled out a frustrated noise, ignoring him to continue the current strategy. A minute later he took a shot to the head. The second in command stared at her fallen superior in shock before looking towards Bucky.

She turned towards the remaining officers. “Split the coverage, now,” she ordered, voice demanding and clear.

The shift helped at first but the squad didn’t have enough officers who were accurate at long range. Bucky glanced at Becca who sighed and nodded. Bucky leaned down, grabbing the assault rifle from the dead commander and settled in position.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” the new commanding officer snapped.

Bucky raised an eyebrow at her before jerking his head towards the robots. “Providing cover,” he told her easily before taking fire.

He took out the incoming lines, shots hitting straight through the circuitry in the center of the chest. All of them fell to the ground, crumbling where they once stood, six hundred feet back behind barricade. He continued until he was out of ammo and glanced around for a new cartridge.

One of the officers handed another over hastily. The commanding officer stared at him, stunned. Bucky gave her a wry smile. “Former military black ops sniper,” he told her with a shrug.

Bucky focused on the long-range targets until the robots seemed to sense continuing in this direction was a bad strategy and redirected. He stood up, glancing around and nodding to the officers.

“Keep up the good work,” he said with a nod and they all watched him and Becca continue running towards Queens.

At first, when Bucky came across an abandoned NYPD artillery vehicle he thought it was good luck.

There were grenades and rifles and standard issue glocks lining the walls, left over from whatever happened. He strapped four of the rifles to his back, stuffed two glocks in the waistband of his pants and loaded Becca’s backpack with the grenades. She grumbled about her laptop but only half-heartedly.

When they rounded the truck, Bucky flinched when he saw the massacre that had happened. The officers hadn’t gotten very far.

Bucky took out the few remaining robots before continuing on. Becca made a retching sound and they stopped as she got sick, heaving over the pavement. “Who would do something like this?” she gasped, eyes red rimmed and horrified. He shook his head helplessly and pulled her to feet again.

It became something of a system.

Bucky scanned the area, took out any threats and dragged Becca closer to Queens with each step. They had to slow down at a major intersection where abandoned cars had plowed into each other, metal crunched and steaming. Bucky used it as cover, moving forward until he heard someone crying from the wreckage.

He and Becca exchanged a wide eyed glance before making their way over to a mini-van, jig-saw jammed in the center of a four car pile up. Bucky saw an unconscious woman in the front seat, blood trickling from a head wound. There were three kids in the back, all trapped by the compressed metal of the car.

One of the girls screamed when she saw Bucky’s face in the window and he tapped his lips. “We can help,” he told her. “But you have to say quiet so they don’t know we’re here.”

The girl nodded, eyes huge as she watched Bucky pass the backpack over to Becca. He took stock of the vehicle and picked the back rear window. “I need everyone to close their eyes and cover their heads,” he told them all.

Three tiny heads ducked down as Bucky used his left arm to punch through the back window. That thing was really astoundingly versatile. He made a wide enough opening in the glass to climb through but stopped short when the smallest little girl, who had to be about five, started wailing.

“Sonny is underneath,” she warbled. “You have to help Sonny first.”

“Are any of you hurt bad?” Bucky asked. The kids all shook their heads at him.

The girl in the middle spoke up, “Only a little.”

Bucky glanced towards Becca as he jerked his head. She looked around the car and then shot back up, her face pale. “He’s pinned under the car,” she told him tightly.

Then Bucky noticed what he thought was a broken window from the accident was actually shattered from a body flying through it. He moved around to crouch low and saw big eyes blinking at him from the undercarriage of the car. “Hi, Sonny,” he said quietly.

“Hi,” the boy said and his voice sounded wet, like something was wrong with his lungs.

Bucky assessed the area before lifting his head. “Becks, I’m going to hold the car in place so it doesn’t shift on him. Can you climb in and get the kids out?” She nodded immediately, crawling through the back window and helping to untangle the kids from the seatbelts and crushed plastic.

“Bucky,” she said once she got the boy out and the little girl from her car seat. “The girl in the middle is stuck, the front console smashed backwards and it’s trapping her legs.”

Bucky nodded. “Okay,” he breathed. “Sonny, what’s your sister’s name in the middle?” he asked.

“Eva,” he rasped out.

Bucky lifted his head and raised his voice. “Eva? I want you to hold on, okay? I’m going to lift up the car and get Sonny out because if I climb in to help you it’ll squish him. The car is going to move but you’re going to be alright.”

“Okay,” Eva agreed, her voice breaking in the middle.

Bucky closed his eyes, he wasn’t even sure he could do this. He still had to try. Bucky used his left arm and after a moment of uncertainty, the car wrenched upwards, groaning in protest.

Eva shrieked and Bucky tried to keep the car level so he didn’t hurt her any further. He leaned down and carefully shifted Sonny out, keeping him as still as he could while only using one arm. Becca scrambled over to help keep him stationary and reposition Sonny flat on the ground.

Bucky lowered the car down and climbed inside. The plastic was jammed, pinning Eva’s legs from the knee down. “Ready?” he asked her, waggling his eyebrows a little to get her laughing.

She took a deep breath and nodded. Bucky used his left arm to tear the plastic apart, freeing her legs. Eva stared at his arm in wonder, “Whoa!”

He grinned and lifted her up, passing her off to Becca before climbing into the front seat and extracting their mother next. “Are your legs hurt?” Bucky asked Eva carefully.

She kicked them from her seat on the ground, wincing at the motion. “Maybe,” she said, glaring down at them.

Becca stared at Bucky uncertainly. The mother was still out cold, Sonny was hurt badly, and the other three kids just stared back at them.

Bucky sighed and crouched down to his knees. “So, I met Sonny and Eva. My name is Bucky, what are your names?” he asked with a small, reassuring smile.

The littlest girl smiled back even though it was shaky. “Lisa,” she said.

“Roy,” the boy told him, watching Bucky with wide eyes, still in shock from the accident.

“Okay,” Bucky nodded. “It’s nice to meet you all. This is my sister, Becca.”

Becca waved. “Hi, guys,” she said quietly.

The mother moaned quietly, her eyes flickering open and she sat up, crying out. Bucky steadied her and she started to weep when her kids flocked towards her. “Thank you,” she said, looking up at Bucky. “Thank you so much.”

Bucky shook his head. “You don’t need to thank me, ma’am,” he told her and her eyes shone with tears as she shook her head. “We can’t stay here,” he said, looking around.

He didn’t mean to ruin the reunion but it was a miracle no robots had appeared yet. “Can you walk?” he asked her and she got to her feet, looking unsteady for a moment before nodding.

Bucky leaned over Sonny. “How are you feeling, buddy?”

“Like I was stuck under a car,” he said, making a face at him.

Bucky huffed out a laugh. “What hurts the most?” he asked, trying to do a quick field assessment for critical injuries. If they couldn’t move him they were screwed.

“My chest,” he said. “And my stomach.” Bucky glanced down and nodded. That was primarily where he was trapped, the metal digging into him and cutting through.

“Can you follow my fingers?” he asked, running a few tests for mental cognition and carefully prodding around his neck.

“He needs the soonest hospital we can find but we can move him,” Bucky finally determined. He shrugged out of his canvas jacket, ripping it into strips to bind around Sonny’s midsection and chest to help with the bleeding.

Eva was able to walk but it was more of a hobble, so Becca hefted her into a piggyback while carrying Roy. Veronica, the mother of the four, carried Lisa. Bucky strapped Sonny to his back and shifted the rifles to hang over his chest.

The trek resumed again and Bucky made sure to hang back, only taking long-range shots because he couldn’t fight without risking Sonny.

“You’re really good at that,” Sonny told him after he took down his tenth robot with a direct chest shot.

“I was in the army,” he told him, trying to keep his steps even and not jostle the kid’s injuries any further.

“I like Call of Duty,” Sonny told him. “I’m pretty good at that.”

Bucky huffed a quiet laugh. “I play that too, you should tell me your username. Bet I’d kick your butt.”

“You’re on,” Sonny said with a laugh that turned into a hacking cough. He was in pretty bad shape. Bucky scanned the areas they cleared for a hospital but they were kind of stuck.

“Who knows a good road trip game?” he asked after a long, tense half an hour of skirting and shooting at robots.

“Like the alphabet game?” Eva asked, turning her head to look back at him.

Bucky shrugged, “You start, show us how to play.”

“Hi, my name is Annabelle. I’m from Alabama and my favorite food is apricots,” she said, before looking at Roy to go next.

He cleared his throat. “Hi, my name is Bootstrap Bill,” he paused for a second, flashing a gap-toothed grin as everyone laughed. “I’m from the Black Sea and my favorite food is barnacles.”

The game continued, with robot interruptions, while they walked for what felt like hours. Sonny was wavering in and out of consciousness and they needed to find him medical attention sooner rather than later.

Bucky’s phone began to ring and he almost ignored it but saw Clint’s name. “Hello?” he answered with a sigh.

He had a lot going on right now and talking to Clint was not his priority. Still, he remembered he hadn’t checked in and Clint was totally capable of hunting him down.

“Is that your dumbass I see with assault rifles strapped to your chest, carrying a kid down 222nd street?” Clint demanded.

“My mom makes us keep a swear jar,” Sonny told him helpfully from where he could clearly overhear the conversation.

“Uh,” Bucky trailed off, glancing around and trying to find him.

“Up top at your ten,” Clint told him and Bucky saw a figure standing on the roof of a parking garage. A figure with a bow and arrow.

“I think you must be confused,” Bucky said, squinting at the roof. “I’m looking for my friend Clint, not Katniss Everdeen.”

“Ha fucking ha,” Clint huffed. “Like I haven’t heard that one before. Anyone need medical attention? Your entourage looks a little rough.”

“Oooh, I have to pay five dollars for that one,” Sonny whistled.

Bucky laughed, “Yeah, Clint. Watch that potty mouth and we do need some help. No hospitals nearby though.”

Clint sighed. “Get towards the overhang of the bank and stay put, I’ll cover you.”

“Stay put for what?” Bucky asked. Clint didn’t respond and Bucky hung up before ushering everyone towards the bank.

None of the robots got anywhere close because Clint took care of the perimeter until a fucking hovercraft appeared and touched down in front of them. One of the doctors that Bucky recognized from Stark’s program came out, urging everyone inside.

Becca helped Bucky untie the straps keeping Sonny in place and placed him carefully on a stretcher. “Come on, we can take you somewhere safe,” Dr. Helen reassured, getting ready to close the door.

Bucky hung back when Becca tried to pull him into one of the seats. “Bucky,” she said. “Come on.”

He shook his head, drawing his sister into a hug. “Becks, I can help people out there. It wouldn’t be right to sit safe when I can do something.”

Becca closed her eyes, tears slipping down her cheeks. “I knew you were going to do this,” she sighed into his chest.

“I’ll see you after it’s all over,” Bucky promised.

Becca nodded, tears flowing freely now. “You better. I can’t lose you, Buck,” she told him, fingers clenched in his shirt.

“I’ll be careful,” Bucky promised, his voice getting stuck in his throat. “I love you, Becks. Have fun with the kids.”

She nodded, hugging him one more time. “Love you too, Bucky.”

“Bye, Bucky!” Lisa shouted, clinging to his legs. Bucky grinned, giving her a hug and passing her over to Veronica again who literally had not stopped thanking him the entire time and didn’t stop now. Eva and Roy came over to hug him next and say goodbye.

Sonny clutched his hand tightly, squeezing as Helen rushed around, taking care of him. “Thank you,” he said, his voice giving out part way through.

Bucky nodded, smiling down at him. “You won’t be thanking me after I look you up on Call of Duty, rangerdanger0708,” he told him, shaking his head. Sonny smiled at him before Bucky nodded towards Helen and jogged off the hovercraft.

Once he cleared the door, it took off and Bucky saw Clint waiting for him by the bank. “Knew you wouldn’t be going somewhere safe,” he sighed. “Come on,” he waved.

They jogged down the street towards an enclosed area to wait. “Rendezvous point,” Clint told him, tapping his comms. Bucky nodded, looking up when Iron Man landed beside them and his helmet flipped open to reveal a grinning Tony Stark.

“Bucky! You’ve been kicking ass and taking names. The arm is doing even better than I thought it would be. On a scale of 1-10 how much strain was there when you lifted that mini van?”

Bucky stared at Stark. “Did you expect program participants to be lifting cars?” he asked in disbelief.

Tony waved off the question. “I mean, not necessarily but also I was like, why not?”

Clint rolled his eyes and Bucky glanced between Stark and Clint suddenly realizing he was with a guy holding a bow and arrow and running around with an Avenger. “Holy fuck, you’re Hawkeye,” he blurted.

“Yes!” Clint literally shouted in excitement. “Jesus fucking Christ. Yes, yes I am.”

“So, you work with the Avengers because you are an Avenger,” Bucky sounded out, replaying their earlier conversation.

“Yes,” Clint agreed. “Man, this has been a long time coming here. I wanted to tell you but SHIELD said we’re not allowed to directly disclose our identities. Nat squeaked out a loophole that if someone figures it out we can confirm it but you were just not picking it up.”

Bucky looked towards Stark who shrugged. “I already blew my cover from the start, no surprises here.” Bucky looked up again, jaw dropping as the Falcon swooped overhead before landing in front of them.

“Cap and Thor are taking down one of their pods near the strip mall over there,” the Falcon told them, all matter-of-fact before spotting him. “Hey, Bucky! Glad you’re alright, this shit is Saturday-morning-cartoon crazy again.”

Bucky stared at the Falcon unblinkingly as everything clicked into place. “Sam?” he exclaimed.

Sam flipped up his goggles and beamed at him. “Got a Precinct 45 near the Columbia campus who’s been talking about some black ops sniper who covered their asses and held down the position that ended up being the tipping point to shut things down on that side of town.”

Bucky pointed between everyone, opening and closing his mouth. “Holy shit,” he said weakly.

They all looked up when Captain America came running over. “Thor went towards Midtown where the attack started to see if he can find the central power source.” He did a double take when he saw Bucky, eyes flicking to Sonny’s blood on his shirt.

“Bucky, are you hurt?” he asked in concern.

“How does Captain America know my name?” he hissed at Clint, getting to the point that he wasn’t even sure he was actually awake right now. This was all just insane.

“How does Captain America know his name, Steve?” Clint asked, with what was clearly a leading question, as he turned towards the blonde.

Oh God. Steve.

It all fell into place in an embarrassing tidal wave of comprehension and retroactive humiliation.

“Steve,” Bucky said faintly. “Steve Rogers. Captain Steve Rogers.”

Steve looked concerned as he approached, inspecting Bucky’s bloodstained shirt more closely and realizing it wasn’t bloody from his own injuries. “Yeah?” he asked.

“Now you see my point,” Tony said smugly.

“You’re Captain America?” Bucky asked, eyes wide and voice ridiculously high.

Captain America reached up and unlike last time, actually tugged the helmet off. Standing there right in front of him was Steve.

The Steve he knew from the coffee shop. The Steve that was still sex demon level attractive, even covered in sweat and soot and destroyed robot oil.

“That,” Bucky breathed. “That, makes sense,” he finally said. He paused before he stared at the helmet. “Is that a chin strap?”

“I thought the jig was up when he knew your full name,” Sam told Steve with a shrug.

“I dropped so many hints,” Clint told him, shaking his head. “So many. All the hints.”

Steve looked like he felt bad everyone was making fun of Bucky. “I thought you knew,” Steve said quietly. “I thought you knew and you just didn’t say anything. It was nice not having to be Captain America all the time. I didn’t realize until the gala that you actually didn’t know.”

“I knew Captain America’s name was Steve Rogers. I just assumed he couldn’t be the only Captain Steve Rogers, like ever,” he said slowly and when said aloud, yeah, he really was an idiot.

“That could be true,” Clint shrugged. “But how many blonde, gigantic Captain Steve Rogers in NYC do you think there are?”

Bucky sighed and avoided eye contact with everyone. “I don’t know,” he grumbled. “You can’t just go around accusing your local, friendly, coffee shop incubus of being Captain America,” he muttered mostly to himself.

“Coffee shop, what?” Steve asked, bewildered.

Sam guffawed as he burst into a fit of laughter while Tony looked like all his dreams had come true. “You thought he was an incubus?” he asked, eyes wide in delight.

“He did,” Clint confirmed. “I still support his initial theory, it totally has traction despite the reveal being a super soldier origin.”

“What’s an incubus?” Steve asked, looking around.

“We’ll let you google that one on your own, Cap. Make sure your safe search is off,” Stark winked.

Steve still looked confused but blushed at the implication all the same. Bucky continued staring at them, still trying to process what was going on. “Is everyone I know an Avenger?” he asked, eyes flickering over them all.

This was just ridiculous. Someone didn’t just go around accidentally and unknowingly befriending an entire group of superheroes.

“No, of course not,” Stark said, shaking his head. “But you have met all of us except one.”

Except him, apparently. How was Bucky this much of an absolute idiot?

“Oh my God,” Bucky groaned.

“That’s the one you haven’t met,” Stark agreed.

“Nat is Black Widow,” Bucky said, staring at Clint, who nodded. He frowned trying to think of who he knew that could possibly be the Hulk. What was his real name, again? Bruce something?

Oh wow. “Dr. Bruce!” he yelped. “Dr. Bruce is the Hulk?”

“See, I knew you were smart. That incubus thing must have really been the roadblock,” Clint mused, shaking his head.

“I proposed a threesome with your girlfriend,” Bucky realized, suddenly even more horrified.

Clint shrugged. “To be fair, I had already offered that, which is what prompted your comment.”

“What?” Steve asked, looking bewildered while Tony continued to cackle.

The Avengers all as one turned towards the direction of Midtown. Bucky joined in belatedly to see a huge bolt of lightning come from the sky and implode, creating a giant blue plume of smoke. All of the robots in the nearby vicinity collapsed as whatever powered them was destroyed.

“Well, that’s taken care of,” Tony said, clapping his hands together.

“What about whoever initiated the attack?” Bucky frowned.

“Already apprehended,” Steve told him with a definitive nod. “We caught him trying to escape to Staten Island. Brought him straight to Fury.”

Bucky wasn’t even going to ask who Fury was in the fear that it turned out he knew him too and the guy worked at his gym or was his boss.

“So, now clean up and rescue?” Bucky ventured.

“Yes, sir,” Sam agreed. “Pepper deployed Tony and Bruce’s newest toy, heat seeking drones to scan for survivors and send out coordinates for assistance.”

Steve pulled the helmet back in place and looked determined as he ordered the team to split up and cover the town by region when the coordinates were triggered. Everyone went where they were told, casting amused glances towards Bucky as they left.

It was just down to Steve and Bucky and his brain was still spinning. So many things made complete sense now. Man, his observational skills had gotten terrible since he left the army.

“Bucky, do you uh—want to come with me and help cover my quadrant?” Steve asked uncertainly.

“Sure,” he agreed in a daze and followed after Steve.

Steve who was Captain America.

Bucky snapped out of it pretty quickly when they came across the first set of triggered coordinates where a family was trapped in a collapsed building.

Eventually the city seemed to be getting its legs back under its feet, emergency services and hospitals back in the game as Steve and Bucky went where the coordinates guided them. It was nearly ten at night when Bucky stopped to check the time.

“Oh, shit,” he swore. “I need to call and check in with my family,” he apologized to Steve.

It wasn’t a big deal anyways because the guy was busy chatting with a group of elderly women they evacuated from a hair salon. Bucky called to check in with Becca, his parents, and Gabe to let them know he was safe.

He was still on the phone with Gabe, laughing as his friend complained. “I meant what I said about seeing you for dinner, Barnes. I haven’t eaten yet and my stomach is slowly devouring itself, so you better get in gear.”

Steve approached him cautiously. It was the first time all night that things had really calmed down. The police and firefighters took on the last few coordinate triggers, finally giving them a break.

“Hey,” he said, jerking a thumb over his shoulder. “If you want to grab Becca and Gabe, Tony’s ordering food in at the Tower.”

Bucky turned his attention back to the phone where Gabe was still telling him how hungry he was. “It’s your lucky day, Gabe. Tony Stark’s got your tab tonight. Becks is back in her dorm, go pick her up and come to Stark Tower.”

“Stark?” Gabe repeated. “What the hell? Oh, did you finally figure out that your hot as hell coffee shop buddy is Captain America?”

Bucky groaned and dragged a hand down his face. “Yes, Gabe,” he said snottily. “I did figure out that my hot as hell coffee shop buddy is Captain America. What kind of bro code is that shit? You totally knew when we saw him jogging and didn’t even say anything.”

He could hear the shrug in Gabe’s words. “He introduced himself as Steve, I figured he didn’t want to go drawing attention to it. I thought you knew at first but realized your dumbass had no idea, still going on that he was an inc—incu—, whatever the fuck that is.”

Bucky rolled his eyes. “I don’t understand the hang up here. You know so many languages. How can you not say something that’s only three syllables long? It’s the same beginning as incubator and I know you can say that.”

Gabe made a scandalized noise. “James Buchanan Barnes, you know I hate that word and all variations of it. How dare you.”

Snorting, Bucky shook his head. “I’ll see you soon, Gabe.” His friend hummed in agreement before hanging up.

“So, I looked up what an incubus was,” Steve said, gesturing with his phone. He was standing there, right where Bucky had definitely forgotten he was able to hear his entire conversation.

Steve looked hilariously confused. “I figured you didn’t think I was a member of the Californian rock band, Incubus, but a ‘male night spirit demon engaging in sexual activity which may result in death.’”

Bucky made a vague, desperate motion, trying to blow past the conversation. “So, what’s Tony ordering for dinner?” he tried valiantly.

Steve was still frowning at his phone. “It says normally the prey is female but some lore believe the incubus to be bisexual.”

Bucky buried his face in his hands. “Steve, I didn’t actually suspect you were a sex demon.” He lifted his head again to see Steve watching him in amusement.

“You did a little,” he argued.

“Okay, a little,” Bucky relented.

“Because you think I’m hot as hell,” Steve said, sounding smug about it too.

“What? I never said that,” Bucky told him, mortified.

Steve grinned, “You just said it when you were talking to Gabe on the phone.” Oh wow, Bucky really should have let the robots take him out of his misery.

“I might have done that,” Bucky hedged. “But I didn’t think you were an incubus just because you’re uh—well you, know,” he trailed off, gesturing at Steve’s everything.

“No,” Steve said, entirely straight-faced. “I don’t know. What am I?”

Bucky threw his hands up in exasperation. “What do you want me to say? That the first time I saw you I thought I was having a hallucinatory sex fantasy that was unrealistic because you are literally more gorgeous than even my subconscious can comprehend?”

Steve blinked in surprise, his mouth dropping open. “Oh,” he said, his voice faint.

“Yeah, oh,” Bucky said grumpily, crossing his arms. “There was that and the fact that I’m weirdly endeared by everything about you to the point that it seems unnatural, almost supernatural. I don’t normally get along with people that well or find them stupidly charming after five minutes. You’re the worst and clearly an incubus. This conversation really only brings me back to square one.”

Steve still looked a little floored by the rant. “Well, I guess the serum is to blame for the whole, uh, you know part,” he said, imitating Bucky’s gesture towards his everything. “I’m also weirdly endeared by everything about you though, which seems pretty counterintuitive to the incubus thing. I don’t think I’d actually be a very good sex demon, since I’ve only had sex once, but I am bisexual. So, you were sort of right?”

Bucky stared at him. “You’re counting one of four as a win?” he asked.

“Yes,” Steve nodded and suddenly he was much closer. “If I kiss you are you going to assume it’s because I’m attempting to feed off your sexual energy and kill you?”

“Only if you want me to,” Bucky told him nonsensically.

Steve laughed brightly and Bucky couldn’t help but think the dirt smeared on his face made his eyes look bluer. “I’d rather you assume it’s because I find you incredibly attractive, and I like that you say whatever you’re thinking, and you understand what I’m trying to say even when I don’t know how, and you care about people so much, and you know about really fantastic unconventional materials artists, and you’re clearly a hipster even though you don’t think you are, and—,” he cut off as Bucky pressed his lips against Steve’s, mostly to get him to stop talking.

Hearing all of his qualities listed out like that was just embarrassing.

Steve got with the program pretty quickly for a supposed non-sex demon. His huge hand slid into place to fit against Bucky’s jaw, resting a thumb against the edge of his mouth. Steve rested his other hand on Bucky’s hip, the heat sinking through his shirt and making him shudder.

Steve’s fingers dug into his skin when Bucky traced his tongue against Steve’s lips, a moan slipping out at the contact. Bucky kissed him more deeply and when Steve glided his tongue into Bucky’s mouth, he sucked hard.

Eyes wide and mouth reddened, Steve jerked back, gasping for breath.

“You okay?” Bucky asked in concern. For all of his incubus suspicions, he didn’t want to make Steve uncomfortable.

“Yeah,” Steve said and he looked embarrassed, a flush high on his cheeks. “I um, I liked that,” he mumbled. “Just startled me.”

Bucky tried not to laugh because he didn’t want to make Steve self-conscious but the blonde saw the smile anyways and rolled his eyes.

“Maybe you’re the incubus and you’re just trying to deflect so no one figures you out,” Steve said.

“That would be a good plan,” Bucky agreed.

“Guess there’s only one way to find out,” Steve shrugged and his gaze made Bucky feel warm as it scanned over him.

Bucky raised his eyebrows. “What happens if two incubi try to out-incubus each other?” he asked.

Steve snorted on a laugh. “Guess there’s only way to find that out too,” he said, shaking his head and starting to walk away.

“Wait, what? Steve, seriously, are you an incubus?” Bucky shouted after him.

The blonde just turned to look at him over his shoulder and sighed. “They’re going to eat all the food if we’re not back in time,” he said and sadly it worked as a successful distraction method for Bucky.

“What did Stark order?” Bucky asked, repeating his earlier question.

Steve grinned. “Pretty sure he called all the open delivery restaurants in New York City and ordered everything on their menus.”

“We better get there before Gabe,” Bucky warned. “We once had an op where he didn’t get to eat for two days and when we got back to base he was so hungry he didn’t pay attention to what he was putting in his mouth. He ended up eating two napkins, part of a plastic fork, the cracker packaging, and a whole ketchup packet, because they got in the way.”

Steve laughed, his shoulder bumping against Bucky’s as they walked. “Once New York is up and running again there’s this gallery I’ve been meaning to go to with my hot as hell coffee shop buddy.”

“That so?” Bucky asked. “Sort of sounds like a date if you ask me.”

Steve glanced at him out of the corner of his eye and shrugged. “It could be, if he wanted it to be one.”

“He does,” Bucky assured him. “He’s just worried about his mortality because see, he’s got a theory—,” he yelped, stumbling about four feet to the right after Steve hip-checked him.

“So sorry,” Steve said insincerely.

Bucky tried to have a stern talk with himself that Steve being an asshole wasn’t in any way something that made him more attractive. It didn’t work. He groaned, tipping his head back.

“Dammit, even that’s endearing,” he complained.

Steve’s face split into a wide grin. “This, this is going to be supernaturally fun,” he teased, whistling to himself as they made their way to Stark Tower.

Bucky ordered a five alarm, chili chocolate latte as he trudged up to the counter.

Becca laughed in his face at the bags under his eyes. “This is what happens when you stay up too late playing video games with fourteen year olds,” she chastised.

“I can see why Veronica needs the swear jar, Sonny is mean when he’s on a mission,” Bucky told her, listlessly handing her the tip money directly. “Here, just take it. Too much effort.”

She rolled her eyes and stuffed it in the jar herself. “You know you don’t need to do that anymore, right? Since Tony bought the place, Marie and I make ninety-five dollars an hour because he said the decimal was in the wrong place before.”

Bucky grunted in response and she shook her head. “Go sit down before you hurt yourself,” she shooed him away to get his drink ready.

Bucky turned and froze in place. He was tired but he wasn’t so tired that he missed the four guys in BDUs lounging at the unofficial official table.

“Holy fu—,” he managed to get out before he was crushed under the combined weight of the Howling Commandos, Gabe dashing through the door to join the pile.

“Sarge! Sarge! Oh wow, I haven’t gotten to yell that in person for so long. Sarge!” Morita shouted while getting elbowed in the face by Monty.

“Did we surprise you? Did we pull it off? I wasn’t sure Gabe and Becca could handle it but I think we did it, you look surprised,” Dernier said while Dum Dum twisted so Bucky and Gabe could see his face.

“Lookit the stache, boys. Soak up the glory and look at it,” he demanded.

“This place smells just like I thought it would,” Monty sighed, taking in a deep breath. “And you smell delightful too, Sarge. What is that? Cocoa butter? Smells like cocoa butter with maybe a hint of shea.”

“I am so happy right now,” Gabe mumbled incoherently into the mass.

Bucky struggled to release himself from the many-limbed octopus hug as he gasped, “I can’t breathe.”

“Aw, he’s so overcome with joy he can’t breathe,” Dum Dum said as he patted Bucky on the head.

“No, you’re actually constricting his larynx,” Jim observed, nudging his arm out of the way.

Bucky grinned at them as they drew back slightly. “I’m so glad you’re all here,” he told them before they ended up in a giant hug again. “I didn’t know you guys were taking leave,” he said once everyone was crammed around the unofficial official table and he was inhaling his coffee.

“Hence, the surprise,” Dernier said dryly, eyes scanning over the menu critically.

“Yeah, we need to scope out the place since we’ll be moving here in six months, eleven days and four minutes,” Monty said in a casual tone that was ruined by the fact that he couldn’t stop smiling.

“You’re all coming to New York?” Bucky asked excitedly.

“We’re all coming to New York!” Jim confirmed.

“Officially signed the papers this morning. We’ll be joining Gabe at Fort Hamilton,” Dum Dum told him as he stuffed three croissants in his mouth.

“Gabe’s been pretty successfully handling overseas black ops at a remote location so they wanted to expand the program,” Monty said, looking like he was in heaven with approximately fifteen coffee mugs surrounding him.

Dernier nodded, “We’ll also be teaching incoming recruits the ropes, God help them.”

“Are we going to turn into hipsters when we move here too?” Dum Dum asked in concern.

Gabe rolled his eyes. “No. I managed to hold out,” he told them reassuringly.

“Uh, I did too,” Bucky said, affronted that they weren’t including him in the conversation. The Commandos all swiveled their gaze to Bucky and eyed his outfit.

“You’re wearing joggers,” Monty said.

“With a colorblock windbreaker,” Jim added.

“Are those Vans?” Dum Dum squinted. “Are you planning on skateboarding in 2002?”

“Was he always like this and we didn’t know because of the uniform code?” Dernier asked the Commandos seriously.

“That would make sense,” Gabe nodded. “I did see a picture of him before he enlisted wearing one of his grandpa’s old sweaters.”

“Oh my God,” Dernier said suddenly. “Does this mean we get blanket invites to the Barnes family shindigs?” he asked in delight.

“Ma’s going to have get that addition sooner rather than later,” Becca said from over Bucky’s shoulder as she stopped by the table, smiling at everyone.

“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me they were coming in,” Bucky complained. He could totally believe that actually.

Becca rolled her eyes. “I’m just glad they stopped by before you got here. I knew they were coming and I still screamed so loud I scared the typewriting hipster with the noise cancelling headphones.” He could totally believe that too.

An evil smirk crossed her face. “Now, me? I can’t believe you didn’t tell me you were dating Captain America. I had to find out from Stark, Bucky.”

Bucky choked on his coffee as the Commandos, minus Gabe, all turned to stare at him as their voices rose in a tidal wave of sound. He couldn’t really tell what they were yelling but it mostly seemed to be variations of ‘what the fuck’, ‘Captain America? Like the Captain America?’, and ‘holy shit’.

The other coffee shop customers probably hated them right now. On the bright side, since Tony now owned the place, at least Bucky didn’t have to be worried about getting kicked out.

The shouting finally mellowed down before Dum Dum got in one last, “Fucking Captain America?!”

“Yeah, I just said he was,” Becca said slyly, letting that one sink in before the hollering started up again as everyone slapped him on the back.

“Slanderous accusations against my personhood,” Bucky called after her.

“I thought Bucky was crushing on le incube,” Dernier said, turning to Gabe with a frown.

“He is,” Gabe agreed. “Same dude, dude just happens to be Captain America.”

“Do you gossip about me?” Bucky asked, somewhat horrified.

Gabe huffed at him. “Like you don’t do the same thing? I know Monty didn’t find out about Darcy Lewis by reading an astrophysics science journal.”

“I think he just insulted my intelligence,” Monty said to Bucky with a pointed sniff.

The Commandos went abruptly and suspiciously quiet as the door to BrewTea and the Beats jangled open. Bucky looked up, remembering right then that Steve mentioned he was going to stop by after a briefing.

Bucky tried to gesture back towards the door and towards freedom but Steve looked confused and the flailing caught the attention of the Commandos.

“I’m freaking out right now,” Morita admitted under his breath as they gawked at Steve. “I thought if this ever happened I would be so cool, like hey, you’re my hero. I enlisted because of you, you’re awesome.” He took in a panicked breath. “I’m not handling this well at all,” he muttered hysterically.

Dum Dum’s mouth hung open in shock.

Monty’s attention wavered after five seconds since he was still attempting to drink as many coffees as possible at one time.

Meanwhile, Dernier surveyed Steve with interest before he said, “Bucky, ce gars a l'air bâti comme un putain de cheval de trait. Est-ce que c'est pareil sous le capot?”

Steve stopped by the table before heading to the counter. He tilted his head at Dernier and said, "Un gentleman ne moucharderai pas.”

Dernier smiled wide. “Buck, qu'est-ce que t'as fait pour faire croire à une icône nationale que t'étais un gentleman?”

“Rien, il est merveilleux mais il avait déjà une case en moins avant,” Bucky confided.

Gabe laughed at Steve’s disgruntled expression. He shook his head, gesturing towards Bucky as he said, “Un gentleman comme on en fait plus, hein?”

“Don’t know why I thought that,” Steve grinned at Gabe as he continued up to the counter to order a coffee.

“What just happened?” Morita demanded. Dum Dum was still staring at Steve and Monty looked up from his coffee finally.

“What?” he asked belatedly.

Steve joined them again. He wedged a chair in beside Bucky, pressing his leg flush against him. “Hi,” he said, greeting them all. “I’m Steve.”

They went through introductions and the Commandos shook Steve’s hand with varying degrees of deference, ranging on the low end from Monty not caring because Steve wasn’t made of coffee beans and Jim, hyperventilating the entire time. They got to talk for a while before Steve checked his phone.

“Sorry, fellas. I’m needed back at the Tower,” he apologized as he got to his feet.

“No worries, sir. Duty calls,” Morita said, hilariously somber.

Steve looked bemused for a moment before shaking his head. “It was great to meet you all. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone stateside when your tour is up.”

The guys all shouted their goodbyes and Steve hesitated uncertainly by Bucky’s chair for a moment. Bucky rolled his eyes and tugged the front of Steve’s t-shirt, pulling him into a kiss. The Commandos hooted and hollered but Bucky valiantly ignored them.

Steve flashed him a small smile as he stepped back, “Bye, Buck.”

“I’ll text you later,” Bucky promised, waving him out the door.

“Never in my youth did I ever think I would find myself a member of a black ops team sitting in a hipster coffee shop while one of my best friends made out with the national hero who was a seven-decades-long human popsicle,” Dum Dum finally said after a lull of silence.

“I don’t think I’m breathing,” Morita muttered, rubbing at his chest. “I think I forgot how all of my basic bodily functions operate.”

Every single one of the Commandos pointedly scooted their chairs away from Jim.

“He’s a lot sassier than I expected,” Dernier added contemplatively.

“I like him,” Monty shrugged. “Definitely see why you thought he was a sex demon though.”

“Right?” Bucky said, vindicated once more.

“How the hell did you not recognize Captain fucking America?” Dernier asked after thinking things over.

“Hey, it’s not like I expect to see celebrities in real life. If there isn’t a headline with their name attached it’s hard to tell when they’re incognito,” Bucky defended.

“Yeah,” Dum Dum agreed. “But he wasn’t incognito, he’s clearly recognizable and I know you had a huge crush on Cap because he made your list, so you could recognize him.”

“I hate this conversation,” Bucky told Gabe with a sigh.

“Because you’ve had it approximately a million times now?” Gabe asked pleasantly.

“That’s probably it,” Bucky agreed.

“All I’m saying is that Sergeant Bark would never have been this unobservant,” Monty added.

“Never,” Jacques nodded.

Bucky closed his eyes and let out a long, drawn-out sigh. “I don’t know why I missed any of you. You’re assholes.”

“It’s true,” Dum Dum agreed. “But you love us because we’re assholes.”

Grumbling to himself, Bucky crossed his arms. Gabe took pity on Bucky and deflected their attention. “Did we tell you guys there’s a place in Manhattan that does all you can eat ribs with mac’n’cheese and cornbread for $25?”

Jim practically toppled his chair as he leapt up. “Why are we still here? Why did you not tell us this immediately? Why did we not take the cab there? I don’t even like coffee that much.”

Curving his arms around the mugs to pull them closer, Monty looked scandalized. “You take that back right now.”

Bucky waved Becca over to transfer Monty’s coffee into a more travel-friendly form. He helped her pop the caps on and move things into beverage trays as the guys burst into raucous laughter at a story Gabe told about the last Barnes family dinner.

“It’s good to have them home,” she said quietly with a fond expression. “You and Gabe are going to need to get a bigger place, you know.”

“Oh God, who’s going to rent to the six of us?” Bucky said. “I wouldn’t rent to the six of us.”

“Hell no,” Gabe agreed, cutting in. “We’ll figure it out. We’ve got time.”

“Not right now we don’t,” Jim exclaimed. “We got BBQ to eat, dammit. On your feet, men. Go, go, go!”

He grabbed Jacques and pulled him up, kicking at Dum Dum. “Grab your coffee, Monty. Gabe, lead the way.” Bucky watched them all amble towards the door. The other BrewTea and the Beats customers looked relieved that they were finally leaving.

“Sarge!” Jim called at the door, looking back. “We’re waiting on you.”

Becca squeezed his metal hand when Bucky didn’t move. He stood there, staring at his team, at his best friends. He finally nodded and squeezed Becca’s hand back.

“Move out,” he said hoarsely. The Commandos all cheered, grinning.

A BBQ chant started up and Bucky couldn’t help but laugh. “One year, two months, seven days and four hours till we can roam these streets full time,” Dum Dum said, looking around with interest.

“Full time?” Gabe mocked. “Are we just going to be snapping our fingers and walking single-file?”

“Yes,” Dum Dum said solemnly. “Better get ready.”

“We’ll be ready,” Bucky promised, slinging an arm around Dum Dum’s shoulders and humming Sweet Home Alabama.

“Where the skies are so blueeeeee,” everyone crooned together in response, horribly off-tune except Gabe.

“We’ve talked about this!” he complained. “Why are you guys always flat?”

Bucky snorted and continued humming as Dum Dum sang the lyrics louder and louder while everyone tried to pretend they weren’t with him.

Business as usual.

Steve stuck his head around the corner, rapping his knuckles against the wall. “You almost ready?”

Bucky sat up from where he was sprawled on the couch watching Chopped. “Is Tony absolutely sure he wants all the Commandos living in the Tower? I’d rather avoid a ‘take these things back where they came from or so help me’ situation.”

Shaking his head, Steve grinned. “Yes, he’s sure. He’s running around getting things ready for the welcome party right now with your parents. He loves having you and Gabe here and there’s plenty of room.”

Bucky leaned over the side of the couch. “You know, I haven’t wanted to ask because I’m not sure if I’m making this up or if it’s actually happening. I’m not sure which is weirder.”

“What?” Steve frowned.

“Sometimes when I wake up during the night, I swear Tony’s there,” Bucky told him, reluctant to even say the words out loud.

Steve’s confused expression cleared. “Oh, oh right. I forgot to warn you and Gabe. When Tony can’t sleep he doesn’t like to be alone but doesn’t want to actually say that. So instead, he pushes limits.”

“He is very good at that,” Bucky agreed.

Steve wandered closer, sinking into the cushion beside Bucky as he got sucked into watching the contestants scramble. “Both Nat and Clint literally almost killed him, so he avoids them. Bruce tries to give him tea, Sam gives good advice, I spar with him, and Gabe doesn’t even wake up.”

Steve trailed off, looking concerned when one of the cooks almost forgot a basket ingredient before continuing. “Tony said when he comes by you, you get really confused but somehow always manage to give the exact same advice Tyra Banks does ten minutes beforehand.”

“I knew it didn’t make sense that I was having so many dreams about America’s Next Top Model,” Bucky said triumphantly.

Steve nodded, watching the judges critique the dishes. “I had to ask Clint what ‘smize’ meant.”

“You do it all the time,” Bucky told him, shifting to rest his head on Steve’s available knee.

Steve glanced down at him, a smile tugging up the side of his mouth. “No, I don’t,” he said.

“You do too,” Bucky argued. Tapping at the corner of Steve’s eye. “You’re doing it right now.”

Steve rolled his aforementioned eyes in exasperation. “But they’re not actually smiling when they do that, except with their eyes.”

Bucky grinned. “Has Tony come in when you’ve been there?”

“Yep,” Steve said. “Exactly twice before he told me I was too annoying because I kept asking questions.”

“The irony is painful,” Bucky observed dryly. “What were you asking questions about?”

Steve looked away from the TV again when they cut to a commercial. “I didn’t know what a ‘go see’ was, or what editorial meant, or how a ‘runway walk’ was different from a normal walk.”

“You were obnoxious on purpose,” Bucky said, eyes narrowed as he realized what Steve was up to.

“Yep,” Steve said once more. “Worked like a charm too.”

Bucky laughed and Steve grinned, dragging his fingers across the stubble on Bucky’s jaw before sinking them into his new haircut. Since the Commandos were going to be around full-time again, Bucky was not about to deal with the unending commentary on his hair.

“Nat said this is called an undercut,” Steve said informatively. He curiously pushed his hand through the longer, messy portion of Bucky’s hair before running a thumb across the shorter bits.

“Yeah, I think so,” Bucky agreed, paying attention to the show as it came back on through half-lidded eyes.

“She also said that this is equally, if not more, hipster than your previous hairstyle,” Steve added.

Bucky groaned. “No, it isn’t!” he argued. “I don’t know why everyone keeps saying I’m a hipster. I’m clearly not.”

Steve paused and Bucky opened his eyes more fully, shifting to look at him. “Buck, you’re wearing rolled up maroon pants with a v-neck and a cardigan,” he said like he was trying to break the news gently. Bucky blinked at him and then threw his arm up to cover his eyes.

There were only so many times every single member of his family and each of his friends could say things like that before realizing there had to be some merit there.

“This is rock bottom. I’ve hit it.” He sighed loudly before asking, “You legitimately think I’m a hipster, don’t you?”

Steve nodded, looking amused. “Oh, yeah.” He resumed running his fingers through Bucky’s hair. “But I’m an incubus, so who really cares?”

Bucky prodded Steve with a sharp jab to the stomach. “It’s all fun and jokes until you pick your time to strike,” he said. “I’m onto you, Rogers.”

“Okay,” Steve agreed congenially.

Unable to move past this hipster thing, Bucky kept stewing. “And seriously, I’m the hipster? You’re the guy who just had a four-hour conversation with a guy who made paintings out of organic kale smoothie bottle caps, bought mason jars instead of cups, and unironically likes Donnie Darko.”

Steve didn’t even respond. He just made a gesture towards the living room wall where there was a giant, early 1900s lithograph map of New York City, jaunty twine string lights, and a rustic looking ladder with succulents in geometric terrariums on each step.

Bucky glared at the wall. “Gabe helped decorate too,” he said petulantly.

“Not that wall,” Steve argued, looking smug and still annoyingly perfect in every way. Bucky sulked for a while as they watched the second contestant get eliminated. “We need to get going soon though,” Steve said.

Bucky looked at the clock and frowned. “Steve, the guys don’t get in for another three hours and Gabe’s not even off until two,” Bucky pointed out.

“Speaking of which, weren’t you supposed to be working today?” Steve asked.

Bucky huffed out a laugh. “I was. Fury sent me home. He told me to leave because my happiness was off-putting and that he was glad he only had one eye to witness it.”

Steve laughed, smile bright and wide as he looked down at Bucky. “Bet you’re glad you made the switch to SHIELD with a work environment like that.”

“He’s a big softie,” Bucky shrugged. “Becca made him a specialty latte called ‘Nick’s Knack’ and it almost looked like he was going to hug her before he remembered he was a badass with a billowing coat.”

“He does have great coats,” Steve agreed.

They got sucked into the episode again, watching the dessert round begin and wincing in sympathy that they had to somehow incorporate pig snout.

Bucky looked away from the TV towards Steve again. “I should blow you before we go.”

Steve’s gaze snapped down to him immediately as he made a surprised, choking noise. “I’m listening,” he finally managed after a moment.

“The Commandos have a long-running tradition of bursting in on people having sex,” Bucky explained.

Steve looked flummoxed. “Intentionally?”

Buck nodded, trying to figure out how to explain what had initially began as legitimately bad timing and turned into a horrible, embarrassing practice. “They pretend it’s accidental but it never is.”

“The doors lock,” Steve reminded him.

Bucky scoffed. “If you think a locked door is going to keep anyone living in this Tower out of a room, I don’t think you’ve been paying attention. Just last week you broke Bruce’s pantry by leaning on it.”

Steve flushed, rubbing at the back of his neck. “I didn’t meant to do that,” he grumbled.

“I know,” Bucky reassured him. “You also didn’t mean to break my bathroom door.”

That got Steve to narrow his eyes at him. “How is it my fault the door broke when you asked me to fuck you up against it?”

Bucky had a blissed out expression on his face as he fondly remembered the incident. “It was worth it,” he told Steve, patting his knee. “Even having to tell Tony to fix the door.” He looked at Steve thoughtfully. “The wall should be sturdier than that,” he added.

“It should be,” Steve said, watching him with interest. “Want to find out?”

Bucky pretended to think things over but it was a lost cause because Steve had already slipped a hot palm under his shirt, skating along his stomach. “Fuck yes,” Bucky said, pulling Steve down into a kiss.

“Hope you two aren’t naked!” Clint called out as he traipsed into the room, approximately forty different paper garlands wrapped around his person.

Bucky reluctantly released Steve. “See? Told you I should have blown you. It’s already happening,” he hissed out between his teeth.

Steve bit his lip to keep from laughing and tried to make himself slightly more presentable, pushing his hair back from his forehead as he turned towards their friends.

“Speak for yourself, Barton,” Tony said from beside him, wielding a stapler and a ten-pound bag of confetti. “So, Becca and Pepper have teamed up to get things ready for the party and they’re ruling the Tower with an iron fist.”

Clint nodded in agreement. “Nat already escaped. She said she had to do recon but that’s bullshit. She’s totally meeting Sam for Godzilla rolls.”

Bucky glanced at Steve and suddenly realized why he was trying to get going. Steve maintained a neutral expression and Bucky rolled his eyes. “You should have told me Becca was helping with the party and I would have been ready to leave yesterday,” he whispered to the blonde.

Raising his voice, Bucky shrugged at Tony and Clint. “We have to get Gabe from work and pick up the guys,” he told them apologetically, scrambling to his feet. “So sorry.”

“Bullshit!” Clint shouted at Bucky’s hasty retreat. Tony just resumed stapling the paper chains, trapping Clint in the mess.

Steve smiled serenely and followed after. He fell into step with Bucky as they hustled down the hallway. “Let’s get naked in the garage then go meet Nat and Sam for sushi before grabbing Gabe and the Commandos. We need to stop at BrewTea and the Beats too. Everyone has an order in,” Bucky told Steve as they half- jogged to the stairs.

Steve laughed, shaking his head. He grabbed Bucky’s hand, tugging him through the doorway, “Mission accepted.”

“I have to tell you. I know Captain America and he’s taught me—,” Bucky got interrupted as Steve kissed him breathless, pinning him in the stairwell.

“Buck,” he said, catching Bucky’s gaze as he blinked in surprise.

Blinking a few more times and stopping to appreciate how close Steve was standing to him, Bucky managed a dazed, “Wha?”

“I can teach you a few more things,” he said lowly, mouth grazing Bucky’s ear.

Bucky pulled back to squint at him. “How do you expect me not to think you’re an incubus when you say things like that?”

Steve rested his head against Bucky’s shoulder in exasperation. “Are we doing this again?”

“We’re doing this always,” Bucky told him before Steve cut him off again, kissing him deeply and pressing his hips forward, nudging Bucky up to sit on the railing.

They stopped when confetti began to rain down from above. “I told you they’d only make it to the stairs,” Tony said, leaning over the railing from the floor up, continuing to sprinkle the glittery shreds of paper.

“I thought they had enough self control to make it to the garage,” Clint complained, rustling as he moved, the paper crinkling.

Steve sighed and rested his head against Bucky’s shoulder again. He stepped back and continued pulling Bucky down the stairs. “See you guys later,” Steve called up, waving cheerfully and entirely ignoring their comments.

Bucky snickered. “Let’s get out of here before Pepper finds us. I have no problem running away from Becca because she’s the worst when she’s got a clipboard and an inflated sense of purpose. Pepper though. I can’t say no to Pepper.”

“I know,” Steve said fondly. “She pitched that mentoring program and you were a goner.” Bucky didn’t even try to argue. Steve was absolutely right.

“How’s that list of yours going these days?” he asked, thinking about the last school they visited when Steve gave a presentation on Van Gogh.

“Pretty good,” Steve said. “I have all these really great friends who contribute to the list. Plus, there’s this one guy in particular who gives the best suggestions.”

“That’s nice,” Bucky said blandly.

Steve grinned, palming the side of Bucky’s head to bring him closer and kiss his cheek. “It is,” Steve agreed. “He’s a mess but I’m stupidly in love with him.”

Bucky paused, halfway into the car. “I think that was sweet?”

“It only took approximately eleven years for him to figure out I was Captain America,” Steve continued. “He didn’t care at all though, didn’t treat me any differently. That’s more than I can say for anyone else.”

Bucky paused, ducking his head to hide his grin as Steve continued. “And the first time I met him? Wow, I thought Tony didn’t have a filter.”

“Hey,” Bucky argued, pointing at him as Steve slid into the driver’s seat.

Steve smiled widely. “I’m really looking forward to hanging out with Sergeant Bark.”

“I still can’t believe you pulled the Captain America card to get Sergeant Bark stateside,” Bucky shook his head.

Steve didn’t look bothered in any way. “Clint is convinced Lucky and Sergeant Bark are going to hit it off. Plus, can’t split up the Commandos.”

Bucky crossed his arms huffily. “You’re not allowed to do that. You can’t use my own unit to mock me. They already have that covered.”

Pulling out of the garage, Steve slipped his aviators on, a manic smile growing on his face. “I’ve got some highly coveted drunken napkin declarations headed my way too,” he told Bucky.

“No!” Bucky shouted. “No way, we have a pact. Access is limited to Commandos only, buddy,” he glared disapprovingly.

Steve shrugged, unconcerned. “I promised Jim he could use the shield once and he threw you under the bus faster than I could make the offer.”

“That’s, that’s—,” Bucky trailed off, slumping in his seat. “That’s very Machiavellian. I hate you but I’m also really into you right now.”

“I know,” Steve said brightly, winking at him over his sunglasses.

Bucky rolled his eyes and leaned back against the headrest. “If we pull over, will we have time to get the coffee, sushi, and Gabe before the flight arrives?”

Steve didn’t swerve exactly but he put his blinker on immediately, winding down a side street and turning the car off. “Buck, are you just trying to cross ‘parking’ off the list?”

“Mmmmhmmm,” Bucky told him, unbuckling his seatbelt and working on Steve’s next. “I know that Notting Hill was next but if you’re okay with rearranging?”

Bucky trailed off as Steve laced their fingers together. “I’m okay with rearranging for you,” Steve said, entirely genuine.

Bucky stared at the man in front of him, at his unreal jaw line, and blue eyes no words could ever match. At the way Steve was relaxed and comfortable in his own skin.

Then Bucky kissed him, because he had to. “I’m going to buy you a foam art latte,” he told Steve seriously.

“With a heart? Or a penis?” Steve asked suspiciously.

Bucky paused for a moment. The last few times Steve and Bucky stopped into BrewTea and the Beats, Becca had taken some creative liberties. “Fair question. I would like to reiterate once more that I’m not actually 100% certain Becca is my sister.”

Steve laughed as Bucky continued. “But it’ll be an American flag. Ask me why.”

Playing along, Steve raised an eyebrow. “Why?”

“Because you’re my hero, Stevie,” Bucky said and didn’t even flutter his eyelashes dramatically or pitch his voice four octaves higher like he normally did when he gave Steve shit about his prolific status.

Steve blinked in confusion, uncertain what to do when that proclamation was made in complete earnestness. Let him try it on for size once.

“Captain America is?” he questioned, forehead furrowed in confusion.

“Nope,” Bucky said. “Besides, if we’re talking my favorite Avenger, it’s definitely Nat. Sorry not sorry.”

Steve made a spluttering noise, only half-protest, because really. He already knew that. They all did.

Bucky was pretty sure that even the Avengers’ favorite Avenger was Nat.

Bucky splayed his hand out on Steve’s chest. “You, Steve. Not Cap. You’re my hero.”

Steve gaped at him before a flush started to spread, red creeping down his neck. “Me? No one’s every said that before,” Steve mumbled, glancing at Bucky shyly.

“I know,” Bucky nodded. “I realized that the other day when you put your Captain hat on, with the booming voice and stoic, long-distance liberty gaze. I wanted to make sure you know that it’s not Captain America that’s the hero, it’s you.”

Steve sat there stunned, hands clenched around the steering wheel.

“Okay,” he finally said, sounding awed as his gaze flitted over Bucky. “Well then, I’m definitely getting you a penis latte.”

Bucky couldn’t stop laughing, even when Steve tackled him into the backseat.

Soon everyone he loved would be together at the Tower for a ridiculous party and Bucky wouldn’t rather be anywhere else. He grinned into Steve’s shoulder as the blonde bear-hugged him for all that he was worth.

Bucky silently thanked everything holy for that pretentious, punny, hipster-explosion of a coffeehouse for bringing him home.