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It's the Best Time of the Year

Chapter Text

November 30, 2017

Steve buttons the navy pea coat and shoves his hands into the pockets.  He’s not cold, not really, but he likes to dress the part.  Maybe if he looks like he fits here, he actually will.  Sighing, he kicks at a fallen leaf – one of the last of its kind.  

The corner of his mouth quirks up.  He knows the feeling.

He got off the subway a few blocks shy of the tower.  Despite his morning runs, he likes the walk, likes the crowd.  Plus it’s a great reason to stop at his favorite coffee shop.  They feature a different flavor each month, and Steve wants one more spiced vanilla latte before they’re gone for good.   He snags another one for Nat while he’s at it, and tries hard not to blush when the guy behind the counter teases him about the sugary sweet drinks.

“Can’t get enough of our spice, huh?”

Steve looks up to see his favorite barista smirking up at him and feels his mouth pull into a smile in response.  He’s been coming to Stella’s since a few months after - well, after - and they all know him here.  It’s nice.  The employees all act like he’s just another regular, making him stand in line and pay full price for everything he orders, just like anyone else.  He usually leaves a buck or two in the tip jar, and everyone goes about their lives like there’s nothing special happening.  And Steve might have developed a little bit of a crush on the very attractive barista.  Steve doesn’t see him every day, and when he does, the guy’s usually pulling shots, and therefore not available for conversation.  But there’s something about him.  It’s nothing Steve would ever act on; the last thing he needs is to drag someone else into the circus that is his life.

But sometimes it’s nice to dream a little.

Steve hands over the money and waits for the drinks to be ready.  A few minutes later, the guy behind the counter catches his eye and holds up a pair of drinks.

“Thanks,” Steve says, trying to infuse as much warmth as he can into the word, because thank you for not treating me like Captain America, and thank you for not calling out my name, and thank you , for doing your job and smiling about it.

As Steve turns to leave, lattes in hand, a girl in her late teens and looking star struck throws her hand out at him.

“Captain, I just, you’re – I’m – you’re my biggest fan!” Her eyes are still shining even as the blush of mortification climbs up her neck, flushing her cheeks.

Steve can’t help the soft chuckle that escapes him.  He doesn’t mind the younger fans, but some of the adults are over the top enough to make a grown man blush.

Ducking his head, Steve says “Thank you,” and tries to pass, but the girl puts her hand on his arm, and Steve sighs.  He really hates when people touch him.  Grab him.  

Hates it.

“Yo,” the handsome barista says, coming out from behind the counter.  “What are you doing?” he asks the girl, his face incredulous, staring at where the girl is clutching at Steve’s arm.

“I don’t – I….” she looks down at her hand and pulls away as though burned.  “I’m so sorry, Captain – Mr. - …America?”

Pulling up his Public Face  (tm) , Steve nods at the girl.

“Maybe that stuff flies in Jersey,” the barista is saying, his tone scolding, “but you don’t go around putting your hands on total strangers here, now, do you?  What would your mother say right now?”

Flushing, the girl shakes her head.  “No.  No, I’m sorry.”  She scurries away, leaving Steve staring at the young man who came to his rescue.

“Sorry ‘bout that,” he says, and oh.   Oh.

In the fluorescent light that hangs over the cash register, his barista is handsome enough.  But here, standing in the light pouring in from the big front windows, he’s something else entirely.  Thick, dark hair tied up in a knot, with golden skin, and eyes that are blue and gray at once.  He’s looking up at Steve, face open, and his mouth – full, red lips and the way they curve up at the corners – Steve’s a goner.

“It’s fine,” Steve says, looking down to hide the flush he feels creeping across his face. “Thanks – uhm, thanks for that.”

The guy gives Steve a nod and Steve continues on his way, out of the building and over to the tower, ready to start another day.

Behind him, Bucky Barnes wipes his hands on his apron and watches Captain America walk away.

Chapter Text

December 1, 2017

“Buuuccckkky.  We need two more bottles of maple from the back.  And can you bring up another tray of scones?  We’re down to only one in the front case.”

“On it,” Bucky calls out, already heading toward the stockroom.  His day usually starts around four, when he goes for a run in the quiet, pre-dawn hours.  Then he heads to the bakery, and spends his morning loading trays of prepped pastries into already warmed ovens.  From there, it’s vats of cookie dough, two standing mixers creating a pleasant whir, while Bucky cuts cold butter into flour for the scone base.

By mid-morning, he’s usually ready for a break from all the flour and sugar and butter and takes a turn at the front register.  It has nothing to do with a certain American icon stopping in most mornings for a sugary drink – nothing at all.

Still, he can’t help the grin he gets as he pulls his hair cap off and tugs the sleeves of his Henley down.  His apron’s already a wreck – nothing new there – but he re-ties the strings before putting on the glove that covers his left hand.  Stark Tech is still pretty fancy stuff, and Bucky doesn’t appreciate the stares he gets.

Make no mistake – he’s grateful for the program that gives vets the sophisticated prosthetics, he is.  He doesn’t want to think about how much harder his life would be without it.  Having a fully functioning left arm and hand again enabled him to pick up his whole life where it left off.  But the number of people who feel entitled to touch it, and who ask nosey, embarrassing questions is too damn high.

It’s part of what rankles him so much when people won’t leave their local celebrity alone.  Somedays it seems like every move the guy makes ends up on the front page of the Post, and Bucky’s seen more than one person reach out and touch him, like somehow his celebrity makes him public property.  Doesn’t the guy do enough?

Bucky grins and rolls his eyes at himself.  The whole shop knows about his long-festering crush on Captain America.  He can’t help himself – he’s tried – and maybe if the guy had an ego like Stark, or was constantly in danger of tripping over his own two feet like Banner, maybe then Bucky wouldn’t be crushing so hard.  But Cap is tall and handsome – All-American Beefcake - and he’s nice on top of it.  That blush that he gets anytime someone recognizes him – it’s damn near enough to make Bucky swoon.

He’s just finished placing the last tray of Maple Pecan scones in the case when the Star-Spangled Man with a Plan himself walks up to the register.

“Aright,” he says, smile already on his face.  “What’s the flavor this month?”

Bucky smiles, glad to have a reason to talk to the guy for a change.

“Well, for the holidays, we have maple-pecan everything, and sugarplum scones.

“Sugarplum?  Are those just sugared plums?”

Grinning, Bucky says, “You’d think so, right?  Turns old-fashioned sugar plums were just hard candies or sugar-coated spices, nuts or dried fruit.  For these scones, it’s a mix of ground nuts, spices and candied orange peel.  It’s a little like fruit cake, flavor wise, but without the booze.”

Cap pulls back and studies the bakery case.  “Too bad,” he says.  “I like plums.”

“Me too,” Bucky says, his voice soft.  “So, you up for the maple pecan festival that is December?”

“Yeah,” Cap says, with a grin that could light up Times Square.  “Let’s give it a whirl.  And, uhm, can I get one of those scones?” He points to the maple pecan scones that Bucky just placed in the front case.  They’re thick, made with whole wheat flour, and topped with a layer of penuche frosting.  They’re calorie bombs, for sure, but somehow Bucky doesn’t think that’s an issue for this particular customer.

He hands over the scone while he pulls the shots, watching from behind the machine as Cap breaks off a piece and pops it into his mouth.  There’s a moment there where Bucky thinks he hates it, before Caps face melts into a blissful smile and he lets out a deep moan.

“Oh, my God,” he says, shoving another bite into his already full mouth.  “Oh my God.”

Face heating, Bucky busies himself by steaming the milk.  Yeah, he might be most of a vet who wakes up screaming sometimes, but he’s also the guy who made Captain America make that noise.  He steals another glance at the man and wonders for a moment just how close to the guy’s happy face that is, before he scolds himself for being no better than every other jerk who wants a piece of the guy.

“These are amazing,” Cap says, tossing the last corner of the scone into his mouth.  “Where do you get these?”

The grin that spreads across Bucky’s face is joined by a bright blush.  “You like ‘em?  I made ‘em.” And yeah, there’s some pride in his voice.  Bucky spends more time than is probably healthy searching the internet for recipes.  This one, though, this one is special.

“Can I do the frosting, Mama?” Bucky asks, peering over the counter on his tip-toes.

“I’m not sure you’re big enough,” his mother says. She’s whisking butter and sugar together over a hot stove, dribbling hot milk into the pan.  “You can bring the bowl from the freezer though.

Bucky drags his step stool over and opens the freezer, carefully carrying the bowl of very cold water to his mother.  She drops some of the liquid from the pan in, peers at it, then tells him to take it back to the freezer.  They’ll do this 2-3 more times before she’ll be satisfied.

The scones are already resting on the cooling rack, and there’s a sheet of waxed paper beneath it to catch the run-off frosting.  Bucky’s mouth is already watering, anticipating picking up little bits of it while they wait for the scones to cool.

Bucky’s family has a lot of traditions, and each is designed to recall a time and place.  At ten years-old, he already recognizes that you can’t have Christmas Eve without Uncle Mikey’s scones, enchiladas and tamales, and Auntie Trudie’s terrible trifle for dessert.  He knows that the one gift that he and Becca will be allowed to open tonight will be new pajamas, and that in the morning there will be Mickey Mouse pancakes with chocolate chips, and that they’ll be allowed to eat all of the candy in their stockings before they have to clean up and visit Bucky’s grandparents for Christmas dinner.

Each one of these things is backed up by a story, a memory, and even at ten, Bucky looks forward to these moments almost as much as he looks forward to getting gifts.

“Bring me a chair, Jamie,” his mother says, and Bucky grins, knowing that this will be the year he’s allowed to pour the frosting onto the scones.  Last year he was allowed to mix the butter with the flour, and eventually, he knows his Ma’s going to pass the making of the scones entirely on to Bucky.  He can’t wait.

Cap draws up to his full height before looking Bucky in the eye.  “You made these?  They’re – I haven’t tasted anything like this since I was a kid.”

Rubbing the back of his neck with his right hand, Bucky ducks his head before looking back at Cap.  “It’s the frosting, right?  It’s my mom’s recipe, handed down from her uncle.”  Then the smile falls from his face.  “He served in the 107th.  I just…wanna say thank you.”

Caps face grows soft as the words sink in, and Bucky’s not sure if he’s happy or sad about that.

“What was his name?” Cap asks.

“Michael.  Michael Baker, but everyone called him Mikey.  He, ahm.…” Aw, shit, why the hell did he bring this up again?

“He died in the second raid on Azzano.  If I recall, he took out more than a dozen of those goons before Hydra got to him.  I’m sorry,” Cap says.

“Hey, no,” Bucky says, his fingers itching to take the big guy by the hand.  “It’s just, growing up, Captain America was kind of a big deal in my house.  You wrote a letter – I think my mom’s still got it framed somewhere.”  Bucky shrugs.  “Anyway, it’s an old family recipe.  I’m real glad you like it.”

Bucky looks back down at his task, thankful for the big machine that stands between him and Captain America.  Fastening the lid on the latte, Bucky slides it across the small counter and shrugs.  “I’d say it’s on the house, but ya already paid.”

He gets a tentative smile and a speculative look from Cap, but makes himself look away, wiping foam from the steam spigot.

“I’m sorry, I’m being rude,” he hears, and looks up to see Captain America holding his hand out.  “I’m Steve.  Steve Rogers.”

Bucky can’t help the way his eyes widen before he throws out his right hand.  “Bucky Barnes,” he says with a soft smile.  Nice to meet you.”

Steve gives him one last smile before taking his cup and walking away. Bucky watches him go from behind the machine, so he sees the moment that Steve takes a sip of his latte.  He pauses on the street, that blissed out face making a reappearance as he sips, before he starts moving again, down the street and out of sight.

Bucky groans, leaning his head against the machine for a moment, before another customer turns up and Bucky gets distracted.

Chapter Text

December 2, 2017

“So what’re you saying, Sam?  These are all related?”  Steve sets the file down on the conference table.  The team is gathering for the morning briefing.  There’s been a string of occult sightings - glowing pentagrams, living skeletons, and the Avengers have been tapped to get to the bottom of it.

“Makes sense.”  Sam shrugs, as Nat comes alongside to study the photos herself.

“Hydra does like to dream big.”

“Yeah any bigger and we’ll be running clean up on the Hudson for the next two years like we did the Potomoc.”

“Does Fury know?”

Tony walks in then, carrying a large pink bakery box.  “I sent a cache of the files to somewhere in Patagonia.  I’m guessing the answer to that is yes.  Special delivery, Rogers.”  Tony sets the box down and slides it Steve’s way.

“What’s this?” he asks, opening the box.

Nestled inside are a dozen of the maple pecan scones from yesterday and a folded note.

“With respect?” Tony says, arching a brow.

Steve opens the note, already knowing who it’s from.

Dear Captain Rogers,

Had an overrun today.  Please enjoy.

With Respect,

Stella’s Bakery

The script is jagged and rough, black ball point on the back of receipt tape.  Steve lets himself feel warmed by the gesture before taking a scone and passing the box around to the team.

“These,” he says, “are straight out of Mrs. Philips’s kitchen, circa 1938.”  He takes a bite and a flood of salty sweet good hits his tongue.  He can’t bite back the moan of happiness as he chews, and he smiles.

“Young man!  Young man, come here.”

Steve sighs to himself before turning and trudging back down the hall.  Mrs. Phillips is waving a hanky at him, trying to get his attention.  Usually she asks him to bring in her mail, or to fetch her something from the corner store.

Steve is usually happy to comply.  Mrs. Philips doesn’t treat him like a sick kid who needs babying.  She always calls him young man, and Steve likes the sound of that.  He can’t wait to grow up big and strong, and be a real man.  He’s sick a lot of the time, but Mama says all he has to do is eat his vegetables and take his medicines and he’ll grow big and strong in no time. Today though, he wants to walk to the library for a copy of the Sunday comics.  Buck Rogers was left in a terrible fix last week, and Steve needs to see how he gets out of it!

“How can I help you, Mrs. Phillips?”

“I got a little ambitious this morning and made too many scones.  Be a dear and take these in for your mother, now, will you?  Poor woman working like she does.  She’s going to work herself – well, never you mind that.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Phillips.  I’ll take them right in.”

“You’re a good boy, Steven.  It’s nice to see a young man with such manners these days.”

“Uh, thanks, Mrs. Phillips,” Steve says, his face flooding with embarrassment.

“Alright, you go on now.  I’m sure you have better things to do than keep an old lady company on a nice afternoon.”

This is how she traps you, Steve thinks.  Still, he stops fidgeting.  “Aw, I’m not busy, Mrs. Phillips.  Is there something you need helping with?”

The old woman smiles at Steve, something soft and fond.  “Just like your father, Steven.  He was very fine man.  Very fine.”  She takes a deep breath and straightens from the doorway.  “No, you run off now.  Remember to take a scarf if you’re going outside.  Don’t need you getting pneumonia this early in the year.”

“I will, Mrs. Phillips.  Thank you!”

Steve turns and takes his key out from the chain around his neck.  If he doesn’t keep it there, he loses it, sure as anything, and then Mr. Graves, the landlord, gets mad when Steve’s Mama has to ask for a new one.

He places the plate inside, and peeks under the towel, before drawing it all the way back.

Mrs. Phillips made her famous oat scones with the thick frosting that tastes a little bit like butterscotch, but also a little bit like pancake syrup.  Steve spies a dollop of frosting that doesn’t belong to any of the scones.  He knows Mama won’t be mad if he has one, but he also likes to see how bright she smiles when unexpected treats like this come their way, so he doesn’t want to spoil it for her.

He picks at the dollop of frosting though, closing his eyes and savoring the sugary sweet.  Mama says too many sweets are bad for you, so Steve thinks it’s probably good that they don’t have them too often, because he could eat these scones all day long.

Instead, he replaces the towel and pushes the plate back from the edge of the counter.  Mama won’t be home until late.  She made Steve sandwiches for lunch and for dinner already, so he knows he’ll have to be a big boy and put himself to bed tonight.

Shrugging to himself, he grabs his scarf and heads down to the library.  He hopes no one’s ruined the Buck Rogers comic, and maybe, if the nice librarian is on duty, she’ll let him check out one of the advanced life drawing books.  The old, mean librarian says they’re too nice for little kids, but Ms. Lindstrom always finds a way to get the book into his bag when he’s leaving.

“These are great,” Tony says, breaking Steve out of his reverie.  Steve watches as Tony breaks off a corner of the scone for another bite.  “I had Dum-E scan them when they came in for adulterations.  Did you know they use organic flour?”

He’d felt bad for the baker yesterday.  He knew the guy felt awkward about bringing up the past.  Steve felt just as awkward and handled himself badly.  It threw their age difference into stark contrast.  Shared life experience, indeed.

Smiling down at his scone, Steve feels his face heat and pushes his thoughts away.  No matter how attractive the young baker is, dating him – or any civilian – is out of the question.

.

Later that afternoon, Steve stops by the bakery to give his thanks in person.  Part of him hopes that Barnes would already have left for the day, but part of him hopes not.

When he walks in, he’s unprepared for the lurch in his stomach.  Barnes is behind the counter, topping up the display of baked goods. He brightens when he spots Steve.

“Wasn’t sure I’d see you again,” he says, rising from behind the counter.

“Are you kidding me?  It’s Maple Pecan month!  I wouldn’t miss it.”

Barnes grins and walks to the big machine.  He’s wearing jeans and chef’s jacket, the sunny yellow apron from yesterday nowhere to be found.  Steve notices a glove on his left hand and wonders about it, but gets distracted by the fluid, graceful way Barnes moves.

“I just wanted to thank you,” Steve says.  He got himself here without any kind of plan and regrets it once he remembers that he’s never, not at any point in his life, been smooth.  He sticks his hand out, but is surprised when Bucky thrusts a cup of coffee into it.

“My pleasure, sir,” he says.

“Oh, don’t.  Please, call me Steve.”  There are enough people calling him Sir and Captain and even Mr. Rogers, which makes Sam double over with laughter, every time.

The grin that flashes across Bucky’s face is bright and genuine.

“Thanks.  Everyone calls me Bucky,” he says, and Steve just wants to know more.

They end up making idle chit-chat for a few minutes, before Bucky gives him a sheepish look.

“I’m really sorry, but I have to go finish the prep for tomorrow.  You’re welcome to, you know, stick around?”  Bucky gestures to the group of tables along the big picture windows, but the one set into the corner between the kitchen and a back door is the one that draws Steve’s attention.

He takes a seat and sips his coffee, watching the small café around him buzz with life.  There’s a young Latino boy behind the register, and an older Latina girl giving orders behind him.  Customers come and go, and off in his corner, Steve is unnoticed.  He makes a note to bring his sketchbook with him next time.

He’s just about to leave, remnants of his coffee gone cold, when the kitchen door bursts open and Bucky walks out, wearing jeans, boots and a leather jacket over a rumpled blue t-shirt.  He walks over behind the counter and speaks to the younger man before ducking his head in to check the cases once more.

Steve’s up and moving before he really knows what he wants, so when he gets to the counter, he founders for a moment, trying to come up with a reason to speak to Bucky.

“You didn’t let me pay you,” he finally says, answering the question on Bucky’s face.

Bucky shrugs.  “Call it a gift,” Bucky says.  “Only don’t get used to it.  My guess is you can put away some serious calories.  Wouldn’t want to bankrupt Stells.”  Bucky gives Steve’s body a cursory glance, but the wink that he ends his sentence with makes Steve’s mouth go dry.  It’s always weird being checked out, but Bucky makes it seem playful, not lascivious.

Blushing to his roots, Steve stammers for a moment before his attention is caught by a little wooden house sitting next to the till.  It’s about two feet by two feet, and the front is covered in numbered drawers, from one to twenty four.

“What is this?” he asks, running his fingers over the roof, which looks to be made of cinnamon sticks.  “Is it…?” he starts, then catches one of the tiny knobs for one of the drawers on his finger tip.

“It’s an advent calendar,” Bucky says, his face lighting with pride.  “You like it? My dad made it.  I put it up for decoration.”

“It’s beautiful.  Can I?” Steve asks, waiting for permission to open the drawer labeled One.

“Be my guest,” Bucky says.  “It’s mostly for show, but I miiight have filled the drawers anyway.”

Steve opens it to find a perfect, tiny origami crane, folded out of a one dollar bill.

“I love it,” Steve says, face flushed with delight.

“Keep it,” Bucky says, shrugging.

“No,” Steve says.  “I couldn’t.”  He shakes his head, but doesn’t seem to be able to move to put the crane back in the box.

“Come on,” Bucky says.  “Pay it forward, whatever.”  Then his face pales.  “Oh my God, I just told Captain America to pay it forward.  My ma’s gonna kill me.”

Steve laughs, a bright, booming thing that he couldn’t stop if he wanted to.  “Consider it done,” he says, liking the way he feels warm all over. “Tell you what,” he says.  “What say we trade?  I haven’t had an Advent calendar since I was a kid.  What if I promise to put something in for every day that I take something out?  Fair?”

“You’re on, pal,” Bucky says, and Steve’s stomach clenches because oh.   Oh.  Bucky’s eyes are sparkling and playful, and it makes Steve want to bench press his Harley if it means Bucky will keep looking at him that way.

He holds the little crane loose in his hand and says his goodbyes.  If he looks back once or twice on his way out of the shop, well, who’s to know?

Chapter Text

December 3. 2017

“Barnes?  You got an ETA on the patisserie?”  Stella calls back to Bucky and he groans.  He’s just running the torch over the tops of the S’mores variety.  He only needs to top the chocolate raspberry cakes with the candied violets and sprinkle the salted caramel ones with the large grain pink salt flakes and they’ll be done.  He’s considered making actual sugar plums for the miniature fruitcakes he has on tap for tomorrow, but when he looked up the process (32 layers of sugar?) he decided against it.  Instead, he places a couple of shiny silver and gold dragees next to the violets, liking the way they up the “fancy pants” quotient, as Stella calls it.

The holidays are always a crazy time for the bakery, but this year seems especially hectic. Or maybe it just seems that way since the only thing Bucky seems capable of thinking about these days is a certain national icon.

The back door bangs open and Stella stands in the doorway.  “Barnes!” she yells and he looks up, his best “are you fucking kidding me look on his face.”

“Where’s the fire, boss?  You didn’t even decide on a variety until last week.”

Stella breathes deep, a line of tension sliding off her shoulders as she sees the trays of beautiful, tiny pastries.  She’s a foot shorter than Bucky, with thick, dark hair shot through with silver, olive skin, and dark brown eyes.  Her lips are perpetually stained with hours-old red lipstick, and there’s almost always a smile just below the surface.  Bucky’d worked for her in high school, back when the bakery was still in Brooklyn.  Years later, he was in Manhattan getting his prosthetic adjusted at Stark Tower when he saw the sign for Stella’s Bakery and Coffee Café.  Curious, Bucky walked in, and had nearly been knocked over by Stella when she came around the counter at him.

They’d talked for a few hours, touching on his time in the desert, his arm, and what he wanted for his future.  She’d offered him a job on the spot, and spent months training him on the bakery side of things.  Once he’d gotten his feet under him, he found he loved the creativity of working in a kitchen.  They’d steadily expanded their menu from bagels and quick breads to include croissants, patisserie, and nearly anything else that struck Bucky’s fancy.  When Stella’s brother Frankie retired, Bucky became head baker, and each year he earned another ownership percentage.  For a kid who’d spent two months in a hospital bed and another six trying not to crush everything he picked up with his metal hand, it was a better life than he’d ever thought possible.

He’s thinking how there’s not much he wouldn’t do for her when she draws back to look at him.

“Potts,” she says, and Bucky stares at her.

“That supposed to mean something?”

“Pepper Potts called.   Someone sent over a box of the maple scones to the Avengers and now she wants us to design the dessert table for their holiday party.  We’re not that kind of place, Barnes.  We don’t have the capacity.  I don’t – I can’t –“

Bucky watches as she works herself up all over again.  Turning off the torch, he sets it down and walks over, puts his arms around her until she sags against him.

“Hey, Stells, relax.  You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.  This is my fuck up.  I can fix this.  Do you want to do their dessert table?”

“No,” she says, and Bucky can hear the pout in her voice.

“Really no?”

Mijo, I don’t know,” she says, her voice smaller.

“Look, if you want to cater their party, you know you can count on me.  If you don’t, just say the word.  I’ll be the fall guy on this.”

Stella pulls away, a derisive “Ha!” on her lips.  “And let down your big mancrush?  I don’t think so.”

Bucky colors, but doesn’t deny the charge.

“I’ll think on it,” Stella says, then picks up the container of salt flakes and takes a pinch.

“No!” Bucky says, and grabs a spatula, holding it in front of him like a weapon.  “Step away from the baked goods.”

“One time!” Stella says, laughing.  “One time I used salt instead of sugar and you never let me forget it.”

“Yeah, well one time was all it took.  Out,” he says, waving the spatula at her.

“You’re lucky you’re cute,” she says.  “Mr. America thinks so, too.”  She winks at him before walking through the kitchen doors.

Sighing, Bucky lets himself dream, thinking about Steve Rogers, his ridiculous shoulder to hip ratio, and that sweet, soft smile he wears when he thinks no one is looking.

Bucky continues to put the final touches on his pastries and is just loading a tray for the front case when Miles pops his head in.

“Stella says she needs you on register,” the boy says, and Bucky gives him a smile.

“I’m coming, I’m coming.  Time for your break?”

Miles shrugs, but holds the swinging door open for Bucky to pass.

As he finishes placing the last of the pastries in the case, he looks around the bakery.  It’s a little busier than usual, but nothing the team can’t handle.  He’s just about to check stock on the flavored syrups when something catches his eye.

Hunched over a tablet of paper at the staff table between the kitchen and back room is none other than Captain America himself.   Steve.

Smiling, Bucky pulls a couple of the tiny pastries from the case and drops them onto a plate before sliding over to the man himself.

“Afternoon, Steve,” Bucky says, setting the plate on the table.

Steve’s face brightens when he meets Bucky’s eyes.

“Hey, what’s all this?”  Steve asks, pointing the plate.

Shrugging, Bucky says “Just something I’ve been playing with.  Small food is very “in” these days.”

“Looks delicious,” Steve answers, smiling up at Bucky.  When he smiles, his whole face becomes open, happy.  It’s a nice change, Bucky thinks, from the serious, heavy looks he wears at press conferences.  “Can you sit?” Steve asks.

Looking over at the register, Bucky sees both Miles and America behind the register, trying to look busy but really just gossiping.  He realizes that Miles called him out of the back for just this reason and rolls his eyes.  “Sure, looks like the kids have the register covered.  I’ll need to go help out if it gets busy though.”

Steve smiles as Bucky sits down, and the two of them make easy conversation.  So easy, in fact, that Bucky is surprised to look up and see the day’s light is starting to dim.

“Geez,” Bucky says, looking at the time on his phone.

“I’m sorry,” Steve says, distress crossing his face.  “Am I keeping you?  I should go.”  Steve wipes his palms on jeans and starts gathering up his stuff. The afternoon seems to have slipped by while Bucky was chatting with Steve.  It’s funny – the guy might have missed out on the last 70 years of pop-culture, but he had definite opinions on damn near everything.

“It’s fine,” Bucky says, reaching out to still one of Steve’s hands.  Steve’s skin is warm under Bucky’s fingers and they both stare at Bucky’s hand over Steve’s for a moment.  “I mean,” Bucky says, pulling his hand away.  “You’re not keeping me from anything.”

“Yeah?” Steve asks, eyes going soft with something Bucky can’t quite name.  Yet.

“Yeah.  I just gotta wrap up some stuff in the back, and then maybe,” we can get some dinner, is what Bucky means to say.  Instead, Steve’s phone rings.  Steve looks at it with a wrinkled brow, before making an apologetic face at Bucky.

“I gotta go,” he says.  “I’m sorry – work.”  He says the last word with a shrug and Bucky smiles.

“Okay, yeah,” Bucky says, and glances over at the display case.  “You want a scone to go?”

Grinning, Steve declines before picking up and heading out of the shop at a quick clip.  Bucky watches him leave, a soft smile on his face.

It’s not until he’s heading out for the day himself that he thinks to look inside of the #3 box in the advent calendar.  He’d left a chocolate salted caramel macaron in there earlier in the morning.  When he opens the drawer, he barks a laugh.  Inside is a tiny T-Rex, folded out of a five dollar bill.  Still laughing, Bucky walks to the kitchen and places it on the shelf next to the other items Steve has left him: a glossy chocolate truffle that Bucky had deemed too pretty to eat, and a tiny sketch of Bucky in a comically large chef’s hat.

Smiling to himself, he makes a note to stop by the candy shop to pick up licorice whips for tomorrow’s advent gift: it seems it’s finally time to break out the meringue mice.

Chapter Text

December 4 th

Being Captain America is awesome and amazing and Steve loves it.  He does.  

But if one more fucking skeleton comes at him with a sword, he’s going to lose it.  All he wants is to sit at a table that leans a bit to the left, drink a cup of over-priced, over-sweet coffee, and have one of those amazing maple pecan scones.  It is not too much to ask.

“Cap, the sewer!”  Sam calls out on the comm, and Steve looks to his left just in time to see another 20 of these things pouring out of the sewer.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Steve swears, and leaps forward to start attacking.

“Language,” Tony says and Steve groans.  

“I’m never living that down, am I?”

Nat laughs, throaty and rich, just as Hawkeye warns Steve to take cover.  An arrow flies and a moment later the whole group of bad guys goes up in a tornado of shattered bones.

“Thanks,” Steve yells, taking out the stragglers.

As they wrap up, Steve spares a mournful thought for the scone he won’t be getting today, and the handsome barista who makes them.  The Avengers might have neutralized the threat, but they still need to figure out where it came from, and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Heading back to base, Steve lets himself think about his last conversation with Bucky.  It was so easy – no effort at all.  The conversation flowed like nothing, and Bucky…Bucky doesn’t look at Steve like he’s Captain America.  He looks at Steve like he’s just a man.  No one’s looked at him like that since Peggy.  It makes Steve feel….

It makes him feel.  Steve breathes deep against the tight feeling under his ribs.

“Cap?” Sam asks, and Steve starts.  He has no idea how long Sam’s been walking next to him.  “You alright?”

Finding a smile, Steve turns to his best friend.  “Yeah, Sam.  I’m good.  Good work out,” he says and Sam gives him his best crazy face.

“Is that what you’re calling it?”

“Well, it beats running laps around the park.”

“You are so wrong, Rogers,” Sam says, and the pair of them head into makeshift cafeteria, where someone seems to have bought out most of the local Costco.

After they’ve eaten and the team’s debriefed, Steve takes one last swing past the food.  He’s not sure what he’s looking for, but when he stumbles onto a stack of gingerbread men, he knows he’s found it.  He swipes a quart of milk and bites into the cookie, smiling with anticipation.

As he chews, though, he’s nothing but disappointed.  Instead of the intense spice of the gingerbread he remembers, this is bland, flat, and hard.  Finishing the cookie, he polishes off the milk and turns to the bunkhouse to catch some shuteye before the team heads back out in the morning.

He looks over at Sam, sleeping heavy, curled around Nat on a narrow cot and frowns.  That tight feeling in his chest is back, and he’s not sure what to do about it.  He doesn’t want to catch a crush on a civilian.  He doesn’t have the time, and he’s had no indication that his affections would be welcome.

A wry smile falls across his face.  He’s like a damn puppy, he thinks.  Someone shows him the littlest bit of affection and suddenly Steve’s seeing nothing but hearts.

“Get it together, Rogers,” he mumbles, pulling on sweats and laying down on his own cot.

Still, he falls asleep thinking of blue-gray eyes that crinkle up at the corners, and a bitten bottom lip that’s just begging for attention.

Two cots down, Nat’s eyes fly open, a slow, secretive smile spreading across her face.  Get what together, exactly? she wonders, before closing her eyes and nestling further into Sam’s arms.

Chapter Text

December 8 th

It’s not that he thinks he’s owed anything.  It’s not.

It’s just…yeah, okay.  He’s gotten used to taking a break around the same time every day, and sharing a cuppa with the prettiest pair of blue eyes he’s ever seen.  And sure, it’s nice to see someone enjoy the fruits of Bucky’s labor.  And Rogers definitely enjoys them.  The way he moans around every bite full of food should be illegal.  Hell, the guy’s shoulder to waist ratio should be illegal. Bucky thinks of the little meringue mice that he made for Steve, sitting and looking him (hey, they have eyes, okay?) from the shelf above his workbench.

Bucky sighs, then tosses the plastic bin of pizza dough that he’d started prepping earlier that morning into his backpack.  It’s just that he’s got a big, fat crush on Captain America is all.

Bucky makes a note to remember to stop at Mr. Delancy’s for a six pack on the way home.  The twilight’s fading fast and he knows that by the time he gets to the subway, it’ll be dark.  He’s tired enough that hitting his 9 o’clock bedtime should be no problem.

He leaves through the back door and turns to lock up when the shadow of a man catches his eye.   Great, he thinks.   Just what I need.

“All the cash is already in the safe, buddy, and it’s on a time lock.”  Bucky pockets his keys and turns to leave.  His heart’s in his throat, but he’s learned that if he doesn’t react, doesn’t show fear, that usually the creeps will bug out and walk away.

That’s what he’s hoping for, anyway.  What he gets is a throaty laugh that Bucky would know anywhere.

“Steve?” he asks, turning around.  “What the hell are you doing creeping around the alley?  Geez, you about gave me a heart attack!”

Steve chuckles, ducking his head.  “Just got back to town a few hours ago,” he says with a shrug.  “By the time I got over here, the shop was closed, but I saw the light in the back, so…”

“So you decided to hang out and stalk me like a creeper?”

Steve laughs again, and it’s full and rich and Bucky’s new favorite sound.  “I felt bad,” he says.  “I got out of here kind of fast and didn’t really get to say good-bye.”

“Translate: You thought if you looked pathetic enough, I’d take pity on you and give you a scone.”

This coaxes another laugh from Steve and Bucky smiles.

“Sorry to break this to you, pal, but we are actually out of your maple pecan scones.  Couldn’t give you one even if I wanted to.”

“Would you...by any chance...have gingerbread?”

Bucky shrugs.  “Fresh outta that, too.”

“Ah, it’s okay,” Steve says, but there’s something about the set of his shoulders, the way they curl in, it makes Bucky wanna take pity on the guy.

“You want, I can open up again,” Bucky says.  “Got some black and whites in the case, a couple of those little chocolate cakes you like.”

Shrugging, Steve says, “No, please don’t.  You’re heading home.  I guess I just wanted to say ‘hey,’ see how your week was.  I’ll catch you another time.”

Bucky’s Ma used to tell him that the only thing he did better than cooking was attracting trouble.  He’s kind of starting to believe her.

Bucky looks at Steve, the sad little set to his shoulders and the sad little set to his mouth, and makes a decision.

“You like pizza?” he asks.

“’M I from Brooklyn?” Steve responds.

“Good man,” Bucky says.  “C’mon, I know a great place, about 20 minutes away.”

“Yeah?” Steve asks.

“Yeah.  Chef’s a little questionable,” he says, looking down at himself.  “But the sauce is perfect.”

The smile that Steve gives him in response is bright enough to light up the whole alley, the whole night.

When they get to the subway station, Steve shocks Bucky by having his own MetroCard.  He shocks him again when Bucky stops by Mr. Delancy’s by picking up his own six-pack and then paying for both.

“You don’t gotta do that,” Bucky says, trying to push the money away.

Steve rolls his eyes.  “I get the feeling I’m about to have some of best pizza in Brooklyn,” he says with a shrug.  “Buying the chef a beer seems like the least I can do.”

Bucky grins at him and they cover the next two blocks to Bucky’s place in peaceable silence.

When they get inside, Bucky gives cap the nickel tour before squeezing most of the beer into his fridge and cranking his oven all the way up.

Steve whistles low at the oven, taking in the huge range with three ovens, six burners and a griddle.

“This is my best gal, Dotty,” Bucky says, pride coloring his voice.  It took him over a year to save up for her, and six months after that to convince the building super to let him install it.  Luckily, his kitchen is off an old air shaft, which was the perfect place for the industrial vent.

“She’s gorgeous,” Steve says, then cracks open a pair of the beers and hands one to Bucky.  They cheers and Bucky decides it’s now or never.  Steve doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who’d balk at Bucky’s shiny metal arm, but you never know.  Bucky’s in his own home, and he hates trying to cook with the glove on, so….

Bucky peels off the maroon long-sleeved hoodie he’s wearing, then takes off both of his gloves.  He doesn’t hear so much as an intake of breath from Steve, so he turns to face him.  To be honest, he likes Steve, a lot.  Probably too much.  He’d rather know now if Steve’s gonna have a bad reaction.  God knows the last two people he dated did.  Not to mention the one really creepy guy who kept trying to put his mouth on it.  

It wouldn’t have been so creepy if they hadn’t been out at a restaurant.

“So,” Bucky says, turning to face Steve.

“It’s StarkTek, right?”

Swallowing, Bucky nods and forces himself to meet Steve’s eye.

“If you want to talk,” Steve says, “I’ll listen.”  

Bucky shrugs.  “Kandahar,” he says, like that explains it all.  Maybe it does.  “I usually keep a glove on it in public, but…”

“But this is your home,” Steve says, and he gets up from the kitchen table and walks over to Bucky.  His movements and slow and measured, telegraphing everything in advance before he takes Bucky’s metal hand in his.  

It’s warm and there’s very light pressure.  The biofeedback on the hand is amazing, and Bucky was tempted to have them mute the heat sensation (and thus, never worry about potholders again), but now, with Steve holding it in his own hand so tenderly, Bucky’s grateful that they talked him out of it.

“Thank you, Buck,” he says, and Bucky about melts, right then and there.  “Thank you for trusting me.”

Bucky looks up into those damn dark blue eyes and feels his heart keen a little.  If Steve wasn’t Captain America, there is no chance that Bucky wouldn’t be crowding a little closer, taking a chance on a kiss from the man who’s owned most of Bucky’s daydreams for the last week.

But Steve is Captain America.  And Bucky’s not so sure that the guy’s not just being nice.  

So he grins and he shrugs and takes his hand back, turns around and gets to work making sauce and setting the dough for its final rise.  Steve watches him work, the pair making easy conversation.  It’s good, Bucky thinks.  He hasn’t felt this comfortable with someone in a long, long time.

Bucky’s on his second beer by the time the pizza’s ready for the oven.  He’s rolled half of the dough out thin and covered it in sauce, cheese and toppings.  The second pizza was placed in a cast iron pan, and Bucky flattens all but the very edges, painting the dough with sauce, a sprinkling of cheeses and a variety of chopped toppings.  He’s not sure if Steve’s a thin or thick crust guy, but he knows that each of these styles is a winner.

He watches through the oven door as the crust bubbles up and the cheese melts, timing it just right before he pulls one, then the other pizza out.  

“Smells amazing,” Steve says, from his seat at the kitchen table.  

“Old family recipe,” Bucky says, before letting each pizza cool on wide, wooden cutting boards.  

He’d originally thought maybe they’d watch a movie or something while they ate, but the conversation’s flowing smooth and easy, so Bucky doesn’t do anything more than turn on his wireless speaker and sets up one of his favorite mellow playlists.  It provides just enough background noise while they eat.

“This is - Jesus, Buck, why aren’t you selling this at the shop?”  Steve takes another monster bite of pizza, cheese stretching wide as he tips his head back to catch it all.

Call him crazy, but Bucky gets all kinds of happy when someone enjoys his food like this.  Gets a little happier when that someone looks like Steve.

Twenty minutes later, and they’re both holding their stomachs and moaning.  

“Why did I drink beer?” Steve asks.  “I could have used that space for pizza.”

Bucky laughs, a giggling thing that would embarrassing him if he wasn’t feeling so damned full and happy.  He has the mildest of beer buzzes going, and is carbed into next week.  Mostly he’s floating on how nice it is to have someone at his table again.  How nice it is to eat with someone who isn’t his employee or his family. He’s missed this.  More than he realized.

Nudging the tray with the last slice over to Steve, Bucky gets up and starts putting dishes in the sink.  

“No,” Steve says.  “Hey, no.  Let me do that,”

“Ha!” Bucky snorts.  “No guest of mine does dishes.  Geez, my mom’d skin me.”

“Yeah?” Steve counters.  “Well my Ma’d skin me if I let my host do the cleaning.”

“Sounds like we should get the two of them together,” Bucky says, and Steve’s bright smile fades, sadness pulling at the edges.

“Shit,” Bucky says.  “I’m sorry.”

Shrugging, Steve takes his plate and sets it in the sink, hip-checking Bucky aside.  

“I…forgot,” Bucky says.  “I forgot you’re, you know, Captain America.”

Steve turns, his eyes piercing as he stares at Bucky.  Slowly, the expression on his face melts from grief and sadness into something warm and brilliant; something real.  Bucky’s stomach swoops at having all that sunshine directed at him.

“I think that’s the nicest thing anyone’s said to me this century,” Steve says.  

It leaves Bucky feeling caught out. “Yeah, yeah,” he says.  “Don’t let it go to your head.”

Steve rolls his eyes at Bucky, and turns back to the sink, running the hot water over their dirty plates.

“Hey, no,” Bucky says.  “Leave that.  I got dessert if you’re interested.”

“Did you make it?” Steve asks.

Bucky nods.

“Then I’m interested.”  Steve wipes his hands on the towel hanging from the fridge and stands back.  Bucky brushes past him and opens the fridge, his springform pan covered in foil.  

“Any allergies I should know about?” Bucky asks.

“Not in this century,” Steve says, and Bucky’s reminded all over again that this man, this gorgeous, sweet, funny man, is actually Captain America.  

“Go on, sit down,” Bucky says, nodding to the table.  He’s probably never going to get used to this - being friendly with Captain America.  Cooking for Captain America.  Crushing on Captain America.

He slices into the cheesecake – spiced pumpkin with gingersnap crust - and looks over at Steve.  “You want coffee?  Espresso?”

“I’m good,” Steve says, eyeing the plates.  “I’ll take another beer.”  

Bucky smirks at him.  “Good man.”

They turn on a movie  - something from this list that Steve’s keeping – but they don’t watch it.  Instead, they make light conversation, teasing one another here and there, and putting away a couple more beers and a slice of cheesecake each.

“This is amazing,” Steve says, mouth full, and crumbs on his chin.

“You’re a mess, Rogers,” Bucky says, leaning over to swipe at the crumbs with his thumb.

Steve stops chewing, his eyes wide.  His skin is warm – hot under Bucky’s thumb – and Bucky thinks…he thinks he could probably just lean forward, or maybe Steve could, and Bucky could put his mouth on that full bottom lip that Steve’s been chewing all night.

He doesn’t though.

He takes his hand away from Steve’s face and wipes it on the napkin in his lap.  Steve closes his eyes for a moment and finishes chewing his bite.

“This is really good, Buck,” Steve says, his voice thick.

“Thanks, ah…thank you.”

The pair sit quietly together after that, and Bucky mentally berates himself for making things awkward.

Thing is though, in the moment, it felt like the most natural thing in the world to do.  Like touching Steve was nothing, like they do it all the time.

Bucky startles all over again when he realizes that they do.  It’s nothing for Steve to grab Bucky’s sleeve, or pull on his apron strings so that they flap loose while Bucky’s hands are full.  It’s nothing for Steve to offer his hand to shake after they spend any time together, and Bucky thinks nothing of taking it.

Or, apparently, putting his hands all over Steve’s face in the most awkward mom move ever.  

Ugh!

The movie ends a few minutes later, and Steve is up like a shot.  

“I’ve got an early -” he starts.

“Yeah, I’ve gotta -” Bucky says, and the two of them share an awkward smile.

“Thank you, Buck.  It was good of you to have me over.”

“Hey, anytime,” Bucky says, and means it.  

Still, there’s something in the way that Steve doesn’t offer his hand as he leaves that makes Bucky think this’ll be the first - and last - time that Steve Rogers darkens his door.

Chapter Text

 

December 10th

Bucky comes in through the back door and drops his backpack on the workbench.  He looks up at his collection - the various things that Steve has left for him - and feels a sharp tugging behind his ribs.

He knows it doesn’t make any sense, and he knows what he’ll find, but he goes to the box labeled 9 and opens it anyway.

A small, white mouse, made of meringue, with a licorice whip tail peers up at him.  It’s exactly where he left it yesterday.  

“Sorry, pal,” he says to the mouse and tries to pretend he’s not really saying it to himself.

He can’t help it.  He likes Steve.  He likes him.  His humor and his earnestness, how everything he’s thinking ends up right on his face.  How he holds himself responsible to the world.  

That perfect, gorgeous face.  

Shrugging, he goes back to the workbench and pulls on his chef’s coat.  There’s a box from his local brewshop - he’s guessing his candi sugar finally arrived - which means it’s time to pull out the molds for both springerle and speculoos cookies.  

Steve had asked Bucky about gingerbread, and Bucky is sorely tempted to make a batch - maybe see if it can work some sort of magic conjuring charm.  But he knows the world doesn’t work like that, so he doesn’t bother.  Gingerbread’ll be back on the menu soon enough, he figures.

Opening a box from under the workbench, Bucky begins to unwrap the cookie molds.  They smell of wood and the oil that Bucky rubs them down with at the end of each season.  He’d inherited a half dozen of them when his grandmother passed, but spent years collecting the others, salvaging them from flea markets and secondhand shops, until he had a collection he could treasure.

Now each mold holds a memory, a story.  

“Hey, Grandma, let me help with that.”  Bucky takes the mortar and pestle from his grandmother, where she’d been grinding anise seeds into powder.  

She watches him for a moment, her blue eyes bright and lively, then comes to guide his hand.

“Hold on, sweetheart,” she says, her ageworn hand coming to rest atop his.  “You don’t just mash, you have to push down, then slide it up.” She demonstrates, trapping the seeds between the pestle and the mortar, sliding them until there’s a fine powder left behind.

Bucky breathes the scent of the anise, sweet and spicy, and continues to grind the seeds.

“Why don’t you just buy them ground, Gram?”

“Hrmp.  Why don’t I just buy the cookies, while I’m at it?”

Bucky grins, picking the bowl up and holding it to his chest while he leans against the counter.  As long as he can remember he’s spent time in his grandmother’s kitchen, first watching, and over time, helping, as she did her traditional Christmas cookie bake.  The variety changes here and there, but a few constants always remain:  Irish butter cookies that melt in your mouth, springerle for Bucky’s mother’s side of the family, speculoos, and a host of bars and balls and cut-outs, all flavored with nuts or fruit or chocolate.  The gift box of cookies was his favorite thing to receive as a child, and now that he’s older, he can’t help but be fascinated by the alchemy of it - butter and flour and sugar, coming together to become greater than the sum of their parts.

“Come on,” he says to himself, pouring a small number of seeds into his own mortar and pestle.  “Time to make the donuts.”

 

The day marches on and Stella comes back to see him, bringing him coffee and plate a chilaquiles, then another coffee and half of a ham sandwich.  

“You are working too hard,” she says, tapping him on the shoulder and thrusting the sandwich into his hands.

“I’m fine, Stells.  You decide about that party yet?  We’ll need to bring in a little help, but I think we can do it.”

“I say no already.”

Bucky looks at Stella, surprised.  “But why?  Stells, we could have handled it, and that really could have been a big break.”

“I know,” she says, and shrugs.  

“Then why?”  It doesn’t make any sense - catering the dessert table for the Stark Holiday Party could have led to a ton of new business, new contacts - so many things.  

“I like my life,” she says, enunciating the words clearly.  “I like my shop and my people and I like to go home at night with my shows and mi gato .  Besides,” she says, smiling wide at Bucky.  “You’ll run things soon enough, si ?”

“Stells, you’re gonna live to a hundred and eight.  I’m never taking over this place.”

“And now he curses me,” she says, but she’s smiling and it makes Bucky smile, too.

As she walks through the back door, Bucky can’t help but feel a little lighter than he has all day.  

By the time he comes up for air again, there are dozens of beautiful cookies resting on cooling racks, each depicting a different scene - a christmas tree, a woodland cottage, a snowman.  Bucky’s favorite though is the same as when he was a child - a small bird resting on pine boughs.  It’s peaceful, and hopeful, he thinks.  Today, he could probably use a little of both.

He spares one last wistful thought for Steve, with his dark blue eyes and sassy mouth.  He might show up again, and he might not.  Either way, Bucky’s got a whole life to live.  Still, he can’t help but think how nice it would be to have someone like Steve to share it with.

Chapter Text

December 11th -

Bucky gets to the bakery a little before five.  It’s enough time to get the scones and croissants that he prepped the night before into the oven, and time to get a couple of batches of cookie dough going.  He sets a carton of dates on the counter, ready to soak in a little warm water so that he can peel off their papery skins.

He’d called his mother the night before, asking for Aunt Dottie’s walnut date square recipe.  It’s rich with dates and molasses, with a soft, brown sugar frosting that is a perfect foil for the bitter skins of the black walnuts. His aunt had loved it, said it reminded her of being a child and having a square on special occasions.  Bucky hoped it might bring back some happy memories for Steve as well.

When the cake has cooled, Bucky carefully frosts each square, placing a single walnut half on the diagonal, brushing each one with a bit of gold luster. Setting one square on a paper baking cup, he nestles it in the advent box labeled 11.  He opens the box labeled 10, and smiles.  Steve’s left him another origami dollar, though God knows when.  Bucky’s been downright loitering in the afternoons, but he hasn’t seen Steve stop by once.  He’d been so worried about that moment of weirdness between them.  He’d even ventured onto social media, looking to see if the Avengers were maybe off saving the world somewhere, but he didn’t find anything.

So he’s thrilled to see something new in the Advent box.  Maybe he didn’t blow it after all.  Sure, he’s got a crush on Steve, and he would love for it to be something more, but at the end of the day, Steve Rogers, human being, is smart, funny and kind.  Bucky would be grateful to call someone like that friend.  

He gives a mental shrug and pulls out the dollar.  It’s twisted into a dove, and Bucky smiles at it, turning it over in his hands.  

That’s when he sees it.  Breath caught in his throat, Bucky pulls at one of the wings, and the dove unravels into a hundred dollar bill.  Bucky goes cold all over.

Is that what Steve thinks of him?  Some schlub who’ll take money to stop bothering him?  It’s...God, he’s such an idiot!

Fingers shaking, Bucky drops the bill and turns to the back room.  He paces once, twice, then thumbs open his “Rat in a Cage” playlist and sets the speaker volume to max.  When Stella gets in, she’ll turn it down, but for now, Bucky can yell along with the music while he throws some very hard punches at some quite defenseless dough.

An hour later, Bucky’s worked most of his anger out of his system.  He can’t help that that’s where he goes first, especially if he’s feeling hurt.  It was like that before he lost his arm, and that instinct has only been reinforced since.

What’s left when the anger washes away though is hurt, and this one, he has to admit, hurts more than he thought it would.

He’s not gonna lie to himself: yeah, he wanted Steve.  And not because he’s Captain America, but because he’s beautiful, from the inside out.  Because anytime they’re alone together, that Captain America face falls away and Bucky gets to see Steve.  Gets to see a man who is kind and generous, and who most days seems like he could really use a friend.

Stella comes bustling through the back door, calling out to him in Spanish that she knows good and well he doesn’t understand.  She holds the hundred dollar bill up to him, and he gives her a sad look.

“It’s from Captain America,” he says, because it feels wrong to call him Steve when he’s treating Bucky like a stranger.

She gives him a questioning look, and he explains about the box and the trades.  He shows her his shelf with the origami crane and dinosaur, the glossy chocolate, still uneaten, a small metal top that’s perfectly balanced and seems to never stop spinning, a yo-yo, and a couple of other child’s trinkets that Bucky can’t help but love.  The miniature deck of playing cards is probably his favorite though.  Each time he looks at it, he wishes he’d had it when he was in the desert.

“Why this?” Stella asks, and nope, Bucky is not telling her about the dinner at his place and the way Steve had eaten a pizza and a half and how he’d looked with a string of cheese a foot long dangling from his mouth and how Bucky’d almost kissed him and ruined everything.  He is absolutely not telling her that.

“I am sorry, mijo ,” she says, her big eyes soft with affection, and Bucky shrugs.  As the saying goes, it is what it is.

It’s late in the afternoon, almost time to close, and Bucky’s got his hands full of dough.  Stella requested a full tray of the chive, bacon and smoked cheddar scones, and if he doesn’t have some of the cherry almond scones for America, he will face the wrath of an eighteen year-old girl who knows the full extent of her power and isn’t afraid to use it.

He’s just finishing with the chive scones when he hears Stella going off on someone.

“Not today, buddy,” Bucky says, wiping his doughy hands on his apron.

He’s just about to walk out to see who he needs to manhandle out of the joint when he hears the soft, pleading voice of none other than the Captain himself.

“No!” Stella says, and Steve takes a step back, his hands up.  

“I didn’t mean it like that.  I just -”

“Oh, what?” Stella asks.  “You just come in here ‘Oh, I am Captain America, oh, I am solving all the problems,” she says, and Bucky can’t help but laugh.  Poor guy’s getting his ass handed to him.  “And you with your little,” and here, Stella starts to lose her English, and she flaps her hands to imitate and bird, and then curves her finger and says “rawr!” and Bucky thinks he might just die watching his boss’s impression of a T-Rex.  “What, you think I don’t pay my people?  I pay good wages, I take care of them.  We are family ,” she says, and something in Bucky’s heart pangs.

“Yes, I’m sure, ma’am.  I didn’t mean anything - can I just talk to him?” Steve asks, and Bucky takes a step back, further inside of the kitchen.  He knows he should go out there and face the music.  If Steve wants to explain himself, Bucky should be man enough to hear it.

But if he does that, and if Steve says the wrong thing, then that means that Bucky’s sweet little daydream is over.  No more gorgeous blue eyes laughing as he yanks Bucky’s apron strings loose.  No more moans of happiness over Bucky’s latest creation.  No more friendship.  No more crush.

Bucky steels himself.  He washes his hands, unties his apron, slides down the sleeve of his shirt and puts on his glove.  He’s gotta save some pride.

When he walks through the swinging doors though, he finds Stella alone at the register, the day’s receipts in the bag for Bucky to drop at the bank, and her hair tied up in a kerchief like she’s ninety-five and not fifty-nine.

“You’re done almost?” she asks, when she hears Bucky walk up behind her.

“Yeah.  Just need to get the last of the scones in the fridge and wipe down.”

“Good.  You work too much.  Go out with your friends tonight.  See your pretty sister.  Come to work late for a change.”

Bucky quirks a grin.  

“Okay, no, don’t do that.  You know what I mean.”

“I gotcha,” Bucky says.  He wants to ask her about Steve, and he doesn’t.  If she wanted him to know, she’d say, right?  He doesn’t know what he wants, so he does nothing, but heads back to the kitchen to finish up for the night.

He tells himself he’s not even a little disappointed that Steve’s not waiting for him in the alley that night when he leaves.  

The next morning, Bucky opens drawer 11.  There’s a tiny, metal, Captain America shield.  The piece of cake is gone.

Chapter Text

December 12 th

Steve wakes up breathing hard, the back of his neck damp with sweat.  It takes him a minute to realize that he’s not in a hospital, that the smell in his nose isn’t antiseptics and that his mother isn’t laid out on the bed in front of him, using the very last of her strength to squeeze Steve’s hand.

“Shit,” he says and sits up, hugging his knees to his chest.

“Honey,” Sarah Rogers says, her fingers twitching against Steve’s.  “Honey, you have to promise me.”

“Ma, anything, you know that.  What do you need?”

“You’re a good man, Steven.  You promise me that you’ll stay true to yourself, no matter -” She breaks off, coughing, the spasms rocking her frail body.  Steve gets up behind her, helps her sit up to take some of the pressure off of her lungs.  The rag she holds to her mouth comes away bloody.  As she folds it away, they both pretend not to see it.

Bringing a cup of water to her mouth, Steve holds it steady as she drinks, then grimaces, turning her head away.

It’s another moment before he gets her settled back down, his hand back in hers, making sure she knows she’s not alone.

Steve would rather die himself than to let her feel alone now, even for a moment.

“Promise me,” she says again.  “No matter what, Steven, promise you won’t compromise who you are.”

“Ma, come on, now, you need to rest.”

“No,” she says, coughing again.  “I know – I know – there will be a time when you’re going to think that denying who you are is the right thing.  Don’t you do it, Steven.  No matter what anyone says.  No matter what.”  She rests back against the pillows again, but her gaze is piercing.  “I love you just the way you are, Steven, and up in heaven, God does too.  Now you promise me.”

Steve fights a moment of panic because oh, God, she knows, she knows, and then he battles it back down.

“I promise,” he says.  He’ll promise her anything, right here, right now, and from the look in her eye, she knows it.

She only lives a few hours after that.  Steve cries over her as the priest says last rites, hardly able to hear the man over his own sobs.  He tried so hard to be strong for her.

As he leaves the hospital that last time, the doctors and nurses line the halls, all passing on words of kindness and consolation.  None of it helps.

He gets home to find plates of food on his counters – Jell-O salads and potato casseroles, cakes and cookies and pies.  Who do they think was going to eat all this food?  The idea of it turns Steve’s stomach.

It’s not until three days after the funeral that Mrs. Weber comes to visit and won’t be turned away.

She sits him at the table with a plate of walnut date squares and a glass of milk.  He stares at them, unseeing, for what feels like an hour before she nudges him on, then returns to the kitchen to resume her cleaning.

It’s the only thing he can stomach for the next month or more – those walnut date squares and endless glasses of milk.

Breathing deep, Steve comes down from his nightmare.  He wishes his mother could see him now – strong and healthy, using his gifts to stand up for what’s right. He flops back onto the bed, blinking at the ceiling, knowing it’s no use.  He’s done with sleeping tonight.

Turning onto his stomach, he thinks about Bucky Barnes.  Logically, he understands that Bucky couldn’t know about Steve’s history with walnut date squares.  But in his gut, one more piece of the puzzle locks into place, telling Steve that it’s time to honor his mother’s last wish, and do something about his growing affection for the man who seems to be able to bake Steve’s very memories into life.

Picking up his phone, he texts Sam.  It’s too early for a run, he knows this.  But he grins just the same, knowing that Sam will hear the text alert even if he’s dead asleep, and that he’ll both tell Steve off and meet him for a run before the sun has time to rise.

 

It’s a cold morning in Brooklyn.  Steve laps Sam a couple of times before he’s ready to wind down and join Sam at a more leisurely pace. The pair run in silence until Sam finally breaks it.

“I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours,” he says, and Steve smiles.  He forgets sometimes that he doesn’t have to do it all alone.

“I screwed up,” Steve says.  “Not sure how to fix it.”

Sam’s eyebrows climb toward his hairline.  “Musta been bad the way you’re brooding.”

“Shut up,” Steve says, slowing his pace a little more.  “‘M not brooding.”

“Uh huh.  Yeah, okay.  I’ll tell that to Tony.  You didn’t save any of the bad guys for him yesterday.”

Steve rolls his eyes.  “Come on.”

“Alright, who’d you screw up with?  ‘Cause if it was Nat?  You can count me out of that mess.  We are not that good of friends.”

Steve’s laugh dies on his lips when he thinks of Bucky, and how easy it was to laugh with him.

He tries to think about what to tell Sam.  How to explain that Bucky doesn’t look at him like he’s a hero waiting to happen.  He doesn’t look at Steve like he can drop everything and save the world.  He looks at him – he looks at him like he’s a man, and if Steve’s right, there was some heat behind his gaze that Steve wants to see more of.

He’d hoped to follow up with Bucky the next day, but instead they were needed in Tasmania, tracking down a lead on some missing plutonium.  They’d found the chemicals, but had to battle through a mess of creatures to get to it.  Yet another mad scientist trying to one-up nature.

By the time he got back, too many days and passed, and after the awkwardness on the couch, Steve knew Bucky had to be thinking the worst.

So what does Steve do?  Goes ahead and gives him more ammo.

He’d been so desperate to restore their easy camaraderie that he hadn’t thought twice about using the hundred dollar bill.  He just needed a bill, and that was all that Tony had on him.  If he’d made a fuss, people would have asked questions, and Steve wasn’t ready for that.

Now, though, he’s desperate all over again.  If there’s anyone Steve trusts, it’s Sam.  So he makes his decision.

“There’s a guy,” Steve says, and Sam doesn’t say anything.  “I think…no, I know.  I like him.”  And there it is, out in the open.  Steve’s heart is pounding and it has nothing to do with how many miles he’s run.

“Alright,” Sam says, just easy and Steve’s not sure he’ll ever find his balance with that – how people are allowed to want who they want now.  “So how’d you screw it up?”

And so Steve tells him – about the advent calendar and the little gifts, about Bucky making him pizza and saving him scones.  About the walnut-date square that tasted like 1938, and how did he know how to do that?  Then he tells him about the night and how it felt like there was a kiss in the air until both of them backed away.   And then Steve was out of the country and out of communication.  And then the money.  Steve is so screwed.

“Okay,” Sam says.  “Not gonna lie, you really screwed up.”

“Gee, thanks, Sam.  I feel better already.”

Sam huffs a warm laugh.  “So there’s this thing we do in this century?  We call it talking.  Have you tried that?”

Steve doesn’t even have to think about it.  He reaches out and pushes hard, sending Sam tumbling onto the soft grass next to their path.

Sam comes up laughing.  “All right, all right.  I’m gonna take that as a no.”

“I don’t know what to say,” Steve says, offering his hand to pull Sam back up.  Sam braces hard though and pulls, bringing Steve down onto the grass beside him.

“Well,” Sam says.  “There’s always flowers, chocolates, promises you don’t intend to keep.”

He looks at Steve and Steve groans.  “You’re doing it again, aren’t you?  You know I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Flopping onto his back, Sam groans.  “It was nominated for best picture!  It’s animated.  You’ve seriously got to work on that list, man.”

“Oh, yeah.  It’s a top priority.”

“I don’t know why I bother.  You got no game at all, Rogers.”

“So help me!” he says, flopping on his back next to Sam.  “Saaaaam.  Help meeeee.  I don’t know what I’m doing in this strange new worrrrrrld.  Everything’s so different!  What’s a phone??  What’s the internet??  Help meeeeee.”

Shielding his eyes from the sun, Sam looks over at Steve.  “This is why I hate you.”

“Nah, you love me,” Steve says and rolls onto his side.  “Seriously though, what do I do?  I really like him.”

“Seriously man?  Talk. To. Him.  I know it sounds crazy, but it pretty much always works.”

Sighing, Steve sits up.  “Alright.  Talk to him.  I can do this.”

“You can do this.  Dude, you’re Captain America.  Suck it up, buttercup.”

“Hey! I know that one.  Why do you know that one?  You’re not a pilot.”

“You did not.”

“Oh, I’m pretty sure I did.”

The two of them laugh, reveling in the warm winter sun, when Steve remembers that he’s not the only one in the world with problems.

“Hey, so what was yours?”

Sam blinks, then groans, hiding his face. “I missed Nat’s birthday.”

Steve gives him a long look.  “What?”

“Her birthday.  I thought it was in the spring, but Clint clued me in that it was actually a few weeks ago.”

“Shit,” Steve says.  “We all missed it, then.”

“Yeah, but I’m her boyfriend.  The hell am I gonna do?”

Shrugging, Steve says, “Well, there’s always flowers, chocolates, promises you don’t intend to keep.”

“I will fucking end you,” Sam says, but he’s grinning.

“Look,” Steve says.  “Nat’s not really a big party kind of girl.  She’s made a career out of keeping attention off of herself.  What about something just for the two of you?  And we can do a cake and a dinner at the tower later.”

“Yeah, I just - I hate that I blew this.  I mean, how do you think that felt for her?”

Steve closes his eyes and thinks back on birthdays on the front, where no one realized it was July 4th.  And he thinks about the ostentatious party that Tony threw last year, and he’d felt more lonely during that party than he had during those days at the front.

“Whatever you do,” Steve says, “As long as it’s sincere, she’ll love it.”

“Alright,” Sam concedes.  “And just when I need a bakery hook up, you go and blow it.  Some friend you are, Rogers.”

“Samuel Wilson?  Believe me when I say that this is from the bottom of my heart:  Kindly go fuck yourself.”  Steve stands, grinning down at Sam.

Laughing, Sam holds his arm out for Steve to help him up.

“Oh no, you’re on your own.  Fool me once…” Steve says, already jogging backward.

“Oh so that’s how it is?”

“That’s how it is.” Steve laughs as he jogs away.

.

Steve starts with flowers.  He brings a big bouquet for Stella and asks if it would be okay if he comes back later.  She nods at the advent calendar and says “You tell me.”

When Steve opens it, there’s a cookie shaped like a piece of pecan pie.  It’s beautiful – too pretty to eat – but he finishes it in one bite.  It tastes like pecan pie, and Steve feels his heart turn over again.

He orders a coffee from America and takes a table on the far side of the restaurant.  He makes a quick sketch, then leaves it in the box, promising to be back by closing.

He returns just as Stella’s getting ready to lock up.  She gestures to the back, letting Steve know that Bucky is still there.

“I know you like it here,” Stella says, her accent thick and lovely on her tongue.  “Coming all the time, you are very good customer.”

Steve nods and ducks his head.  “You make him sad?  You don’t come here again, okay? Okay.”

Steve nods his understanding as Stella pats his chest.  He figures as shovel talks go, he’s getting off easy.  He’s grateful to Stella, and glad that Bucky has someone who cares about him like that in his life.

Moving toward the back, Steve watches Bucky through the windows of the swinging doors.  He covers a tray of croissants before moving them to a rack that Steve knows will roll into the walk in fridge, on hold for baking in the morning.  Steve takes a deep breath and walks through the doors.

“Hang on, Stells, almost done here, and then I’ll walk you to the subway.”

“Uhm,” Steve says, feeling awkward.  “It’s not Stella.”

Bucky turns to look and Steve feels his face flush.

“Surprised to see you here,” Bucky says, and that’s all that Steve gets to go on.

“Look, I want to apologize,” Steve says, and Bucky moves toward his work bench.  There’s a row of trinkets across that top, and Steve’s breath catches when he realizes that they’re all the little things that Steve’s put in the calendar for Bucky, the chocolate included.

Bucky shrugs at him, and Steve’s brain catches up with his mouth.

“I’m really sorry, Buck.  I didn’t mean anything by the money – I really just wanted to make you the dove, and that’s all that Tony had.  You were so good to me, taking me to your home and cooking for me, and then I made it weird and then I got called away, and I just – I just really want to be your friend again.  Is that – can we do that?”

Steve watches Bucky for a moment and he looks so good.  The bright yellow apron is stretched across his broad chest, and his shirt sleeves are pushed up, showing his forearms, both flesh and metal.  His hair is up in a tight top-knot and Steve’s fingers twitch to touch him but he stays himself.  Bucky’s not his to touch.  Not at all.

“How do you think you made it weird?” Bucky asks.  Steve flushes, because god, he really doesn’t want to explain this, but at the same time…he can’t ask for friendship and not offer something of himself up, too.  Something that’s not Captain America.  Something that’s just Steve.

“I almost kissed you,” he says, looking at his boots.

Bucky laughs and Steve has no idea what that means.  He looks up to see Bucky grinning. “You mean I almost kissed you, ” he says, eyes bright with amusement and god, god , he has missed this man.

Steve shakes his head, letting a hopeful smile show through.

“Wait,” Bucky says, head cocked to one side.  “You mean you…?”

“Yeah, Buck,” Steve says, his voice soft.

Bucky looks at him, head still cocked to one side, eyes searching.  He takes a step forward, and then another, until he’s right up in Steve’s space.  Without a word, with slow, steady movements, and eyes wide open, Bucky raises himself up the inch or so that he needs and brushes his mouth against Steve’s.

Steve chases Bucky’s lips with his, pressing back and then pulling Bucky in by the waist until the two of them stand together, flush.  Bucky’s the first to open his mouth, deepening the kiss.  At the first swipe of his tongue against Steve’s, Steve makes a soft noise at the back of his throat, and Bucky brings his arms up around Steve’s neck.  Steve walks them back to the workbench, then bends, picking Bucky up and settling him on the surface.

Bucky makes a startled noise, then wraps his legs around Steve’s, pulling him closer until Steve is settled into the V of Bucky’s thighs.

Breaking the kiss, Bucky leans his forehead against Steve’s, both of them breathing hard.

“Is this what you wanted?” Bucky asks, his voice low and throaty.

Nodding, Steve says, “So much, Buck.”

Bucky nips at Steve’s lower lip, and Steve smiles, pulling the lip taut.  

“Give me that,” Bucky says, his arms and legs tightening around Steve.

Tipping his head back, Steve says, “Come get it.”

Grinning, Bucky cocks his head, looking at Steve.  “Buddy if that’s a challenge to climb you like a tree?  Challenge accepted.”

Leaning up, Bucky uses his arms on Steve’s shoulders for leverage, and takes a playful nip at Steve’s jaw.

Holding him there, Steve breathes deep and lets the surge of emotion wash over him.

Bucky must sense it, must sense something, because he says, “I got you.” He holds Steve in a full-body hug, face pressed into Steve’s neck, metal fingers sifting through thick, blonde hair.  Steve breathes deep, and finds himself letting go of the ache that he’s been carrying for days.

“Thank you,” Steve says, and then quiets and lets himself be held.

It feels like an hour that they stay like that, Bucky clinging to Steve and Steve clinging back.  

“You okay?” Bucky asks, and Steve finds himself blushing.  

“Just wasn’t sure I was gonna get to have this.”

Drawing back, Bucky looks at Steve.  “Pal, I really hate to be the one to tell you this, but with a mug like that, you can pretty much have your pick.”

Steve feels his flush crawl down his neck.  “Yeah, but most people, when they look, they see Captain America.  I don’t…feel that way with you .  I can’t tell you what that’s like for me.”

Bucky’s face softens for a moment, before that mischievous look flashes in his eyes.  “I don’t know if I’m seeing Steve Rogers,” Bucky says.  “But I am definitely seeing something.”

“Something you like?” Steve asks, and Bucky grins.

“C’mere, punk.  Someone’s gotta keep your ass in line.”

Steve swoops in for another kiss, and they spend some time that way: kissing, smiling, teasing…it’s like nothing Steve’s ever experienced before.

There’d been a man in the war – Freddie.  He was young (weren’t they all), and he was kind and Steve had loved him, in a way.  He remembers thrusting slow into the man in his arms, laying on their sides because the cot was too narrow otherwise.  The tang of his sweat and the smell of his hair, the soft sounds he made.  The way he writhed against Steve until it was too much, until it felt like the whole world was crashing down around them. It was beautiful, maybe because of the war, maybe in spite of it.

Steve looked up Freddie when he came out of the ice.  It’s not like they were in love, but Steve was curious about how his life turned out.  He was glad to see that Freddie’d lived a long life – married with kids, grandkids.  A lot like Peg, Steve thought.

It was good. He was glad.

But this – the way Bucky kisses.  Steve sighs a smile against Bucky’s mouth, and Bucky gives it right back to him.

Then Bucky’s stomach rumbles as he stifles a yawn and Steve remembers that Bucky’s probably been up since before dawn.

“Hey Buck?” Steve says.

“Yeah, Stevie?” And Steve thrills at the use of the nickname.

“Why are there a couple dozen mice watching us?”

Bucky laughs.  “They’re meringue, you dope.”

“Yeah, but they’re staring.”

“Not an exhibitionist.  Good to know.  I’ll cross that one off the list.”

Steve flushes deep at that, he can feel it crawling down his neck to his chest.  “There’s a list?”

“Of things I want to do with you?  Maybe.”  Bucky’s grin is cocky and sure, but there’s some teasing behind it sets Steve right at ease.

“Hey Buck?”

“Yeah, Stevie?”

“Can I walk you home?”

The silly grin on Bucky’s face is worth the cheesiness of the line.

Chapter Text

December 13 th

Bucky wakes slow and groggy.  It takes him a minute after he’s hit the snooze button recall the events of last night – Steve’s apology, the kissing…all the kissing.  Bucky’d really wanted to invite Steve in, but he also knew that he wasn’t ready for much more than that, and if he invited Steve in, he’s likely to something he’ll regret in the morning.

His body is ready – more than – but Bucky wants more from Steve than just a tumble in the hay.  Besides, he thinks, running a warm hand down his body, he wants to enjoy the anticipation.  

Bucky takes his time in the shower, letting his hands roam his body under the warm spray.  The metal hand takes on the ambient temperature, but gets hot when he holds it in the water. He thinks about the way Steve kissed, how he seemed starved for it, greedy, but held himself back.  Feeling all of that restrained power directed his way was heady.  Bucky can’t wait to have it again, wants to know what it would be like with neither of them holding back.

He strokes himself under the spray, the prosthetic teasing across his nipples before sliding lower to cup and massage his balls.  Bucky can almost hear those soft little sounds that Steve made when they were kissing, can almost feel the scrape of Steve’s stubble against his cheek.  He gasps and hot water floods his mouth, making him think of the liquid heat of Steve’s tongue.

God, but he wants. Wants Steve on his knees, licking and sucking Bucky’s balls.  Wants him with his hands on Bucky’s hips, pressing into him slow and easy, teeth scraping at Bucky’s neck.  Wants to hear what he sounds like, all the pretty things that he’ll say.

Bucky’s mind races with his hand, thoughts filled with ideas and images that are downright pornographic.  He wants to coax Steve along, wants to praise him and taunt him, wants to whisper in his ear, get him hard without laying a finger on him.  He wants to talk to him until he’s leaking, clear drops of fluid that will dribble down his cock, and when he’s desperate and whining, then Bucky will take him in hand, in mouth, in body.

He thinks about Steve, what he’ll sound like, how he’ll feel.  He thinks about getting on his knees for the man, taking him, tasting him, feeling those slim hips buck against the soft restraint of Bucky’s hand, or the cool, heavy restraint of his prosthetic.  Bucky wants to hold him in his mouth, just hold him there, heavy and hard, skin slick with spit.  He wants to feel the moment of Steve’s undoing, the pulse of his cock as he comes, filling Bucky’s mouth, giving him something to swallow.

His shoulders pressed into the wall, Bucky’s hand speeds faster, thinking of Steve spilling onto his tongue.  One hard finger traces back behind his balls and he’s coming hard, panting into the steaming air, slick fluid mixing with the water, then swirling down the drain.

Thighs trembling, Bucky brings a hand up to rub across chest, surprised by the force of his orgasm.  For so long, getting himself off has been as perfunctory as brushing his teeth.  Just another part of routine maintenance.

It feels like Steve is already changing his life, whether Bucky’s ready for it or not.

.

Bucky gets into the bakery still half asleep.  He starts the espresso machine and checks the temp on the oven, making sure it’s set for the morning’s pastry bake.  He dumps a couple pounds of butter into one of the mixers and pours in the sugar that he’d measured the night before.  He lets the butter and sugar cream while he pulls out cream cheese, along with a flat of eggs and some previously washed spinach.  He tops the whole thing off with sliced ham and Swiss cheese, getting ready to make breakfast sandwiches.

By the time Stella gets in, Bucky’s got three trays of croissants in the case (jam and cheese, plain and chocolate), and is just finishing the last of the ham, Swiss and spinach croissants.  He’d also snagged a couple pounds of trumpet mushrooms, and thinks he might throw together some puff-pastry tarts for tomorrow.

He’s deep into his groove when Stella hip-checks him, then stands back, looking expectant.

He feels the flush creep into his face as he recalls the way he and Steve had made out in this very space, like a couple of silly kids.

“So,” she says, mischief in her eyes.  “You are happy today.”

Grinning, Bucky answers “I’m doing alright.”

“Alright,” she says, rolling her eyes.  “Okay.  We’ll see.”

It’s late in the afternoon when Bucky finally comes up for air. He does double prep on Thursdays and Fridays for the weekend, and he takes Sundays and Monday off.  Usually.

Okay, sometimes.  Sometimes he takes Sunday or Monday off, usually when his Ma or Becca calls and guilts him, or when Stella shoes him away when she arrives with Cosmi to do the morning bake.

When he peeks his head out to the dining area, he grins to see Steve sitting at his usual table.  Another man is with him, and Bucky knows enough to know that it’s the Falcon.  The guy is built, and between the two of them, they dwarf the small table.  Bucky slips around the back side of the pastry cases and loads up a small plate, which he then delivers with a grin.

Steve looks up at him with a huge smile, and Bucky’s pauses for a moment to take it in.

“Steve,” the other man says.  “You gonna introduce me or just leave me hanging?”

Blinking, Steve seems to come to.  “Yes! Geez, sorry!  Sam,” he says, gesturing to his companion.  “This is Bucky Barnes.  He makes pretty much everything here.  Buck, this is Sam.”

Bucky reaches out to shake Sam’s hand, his stomach fluttering a little at the use of the nickname and at Steve bringing a friend to meet him.  He and Sam exchange a firm, friendly handshake, and when Bucky looks back over at Steve, he’s got at least two of the baci di dama shoved in his mouth, and the guiltiest look on his face.

“I can’t believe you did that,” Bucky says, and Steve has the good grace to color.  Sam is giving him a very “I am not amused” look, and Bucky echoes it.

“Is he always like this?” Buck asks.

Chuckling, Sam shakes his head.  “Only with certain baked goods,” he replies, looking at the half-empty plate.

“You are such a punk,” Bucky says, and turns to get Sam his own plate of sweets.

When he returns, Sam thanks him and Steve catches his hand.  “Those were amazing, Buck, what are they?”

Bucky smiles, feeling warm all over. He doesn’t know for sure what he and Steve are to each other now, or what they started last night, but Steve is so openly affectionate that Bucky’s having a hard time keeping his heart in his chest.  It keeps crawling up to his throat or fluttering in his stomach.  It’s weird.

Bucky loves it.

“Baci di dama,” Bucky answers, “Only chocolate, with a coconut ganache.”

“Lady’s kisses, huh?” Sam asks, one brow raised, and Bucky colors.

“I didn’t name ‘em, pal,” Bucky says, and Steve squeezes Bucky’s hand before letting it go.

“I feel like I could eat my weight in those,” Steve says.

“Yeah?  One more, and that’s it.  You’ll get diabetes,” Bucky says.

“Not in this century,” Steve answers, and Bucky and Sam laugh.

“Keep an eye on him,” he says to Sam.  “He’s shifty.”

“You’re tellin’ me,” Sam answers, giving Bucky a warm smile, and Bucky smiles back.

It takes Bucky another hour or so to wrap up for the day.  When he peeks through the double doors, he sees that Steve is still there, but alone now.  He’s sketching something and looks deep in thought when Bucky walks over.

Steve notices him and gives him one of those killer smiles, bright and warm, like sunshine.

Closing up his sketchbook, Steve rises to meet him.  America and Miles are working the register, and he can see Stella chatting with a customer at another table.

“I’m heading out,” Bucky says.  He wants to spend more time with Steve, but he doesn’t want to be clingy,

“Okay,” Steve says, looking uncertain.

“Did you want to -”

“I was hoping maybe -”

They both smile, tension eased, and Bucky gestures for Steve to speak first.

“I was hoping you’d let me take you to dinner,” Steve says.  “It doesn’t have to be right now, I just….”  He trails off looking both eager and unsure of himself, and it’s so fucking sexy that Bucky wants to groan.

“That sounds great,” he says.  “I could really use a shower though.  Do you have someplace in mind?”

“There’s actually a great Italian place not far from where you live.”

“Gianni’’s or Bruno’s?  And be advised, Rogers: you will be judged on your answer.”

Steve rolls his eyes.  “Give me a break.  If you’re not a Gianni’s man, I don’t think we can be friends.”

Bucky smiles, relieved.  Gianni’s is the better restaurant, and it’s closer to his place.  Glancing at his watch, he says “I know it’s early, but does five work?”

“Five is great,” Steve says.  “Meet you there?”

“It’s a date,” Bucky says, and immediately wants to punch himself in the mouth.

But when he looks up at Steve, Steve is smiling, looking proud and pleased.

“It’s a date.”

Dinner is another experiment in easy conversation.  Bucky orders a trio of lasagnas, and Steve orders a small pizza, the soup, salad, and the rib-eye, with a side of pasta with cream sauce. When the waiter brings the food, the two of them give up any pretense of propriety and start eating from one another’s plates almost immediately.  By the time the waiter takes their mostly empty plates, they’re both sighing over their full stomachs.

“Why did you let me eat that much?” Bucky moans.

“No one had a gun to your head,” Steve responds, then leans back in his chair and places a hand over his belly.

“You look half pregnant,” Bucky says, smirking.

“I look good and you know it,” Steve responds.

Laughing, Bucky shakes his head.  “The sass on you.  Why don’t more people know this about you, Rogers?”

Steve shrugs and grins at Bucky, and Bucky feels warm all over.

They spend a few minutes arguing over the bill before Bucky capitulates.

“I did ask you,” Steve says.

“Only because I let you speak first.  I was being a gentleman!”

“You made me dinner, Buck.  Come on, let me do this.”

Steve’s looking at him, half earnest, half cocky, and Bucky finally shrugs.

“Fine.  But coffee’s on me tomorrow.  No buts.”

Raising his hands in surrender, Steve says, “I won’t argue,” and then smirks.

“That was too easy.  What’re you planning?”

“Not saying a word.”

“I don’t believe you for a second,” Bucky says, kicking at Steve’s shin under the table.

“You didn’t say anything about tipping,” Steve says, revealing the smuggest grin Bucky’s ever seen.

“Oh, you are such a punk,” Bucky says, reaching over to swat at Steve.

Steve catches his hand easily and holds it still for a moment, his grin growing soft.

“Takes one to know one,” Steve says, his voice soft.  “Jerk.”

Bucky smiles until his face hurts.  The waiter picks up the check and brings back change, and Steve leaves a ridiculous tip.

“Can I see you home?” Steve asks, and Bucky nods.

They take the few blocks hand in hand, strolling more than walking, neither of them saying much. Bucky lives in an old brownstone that’s been converted into apartments.  It’s a great old building and Bucky loves how much of the original brick and wood that the owners kept when they remodeled.

As they stand at the front stoop, Steve pulls Bucky in for a kiss.  In moments, the kiss flares hot, Steve pulling Bucky in, sliding his hand up under Bucky’s jacket and fisting his shirt, holding him close.  Bucky wraps an arm around one of Steve’s biceps and presses closer, until the two of them are chest to chest.

Steve’s hands settle on Bucky’s waist, and Bucky slides his metal hand up Steve’s neck, cupping it and holding him close.  It pulls a noise out of Steve, that same soft sound from the night before, and Bucky answers with a soft moan of his own.

Someone driving by honks and the two of them break apart giggling.  

“I’d ask you up,” Bucky says, pressing his forehead against Steve’s, “but…”

“We both have early mornings,” Steve says.  He pulls back until he’s looking Bucky in the eye.  “I don’t want to rush this.”  

Bucky closes his eyes and breathes a sigh against Steve’s lips.  “Me either.”

“When can I see you again?” Steve asks.  

Bucky shrugs, unable to hide his grin.  “Well, you know where I live and where I work, so….”

Steve smiles and chases Bucky’s mouth, stealing another kiss.

It’s new, Bucky thinks.  It’s new and it’s crazy, how easy everything feels with Steve, how effortless.

“Can I make you dinner tomorrow night?”

“I don’t know,” Steve says.  “Can you?”

“Punk!” Bucky groans, and pushes Steve away.  “Nevermind, pal.  Offer rescinded!”

Laughing, Steve reels Bucky in for one more kiss.  “I’d love that,” he says, and Bucky nips at his bottom lip, then gives Steve one last sweet kiss.

“Six o’clock,” Bucky says, pushing Steve away.  

“I’ll be there,” Steve grins, and watches as Bucky goes inside.

When he gets up to his apartment, he looks down at the street.  Steve’s halfway up the block, but turns, like he knows Bucky’s watching, and waves.

As Bucky gets ready for bed, he realizes he’s glad that things didn’t get awkward.

It’s not like he’s a virgin and it’s not like he’s a prude.  The idea of getting his hands on Steve distracts him a dozen times a day.  Still, he doesn’t want to get weeks or months into something and realize they’re not looking for the same things.

“Come on, baby.  Want you on your knees.”

“I swear to God, Brock, you like getting sucked off more than anyone I’ve ever known.”

“That’s ‘cause you do it so nice.  Come on, Bucky,” he whines, and Bucky slides to his knees.

Brock gets a little pushy with it and Bucky gags a couple of times, but soon enough, Brock’s pulling Bucky back up and flipping him over.  

“Nevermind,” he grunts, fingers sliding deep into Bucky.  “Want that ass instead.”

They have energetic sex for the next hour, Bucky finally coming as he jerks himself off, with Brock following right behind.

His ass is going to ache for days from this.  

Still, he thinks, as Brock presses a kiss against the back of his neck.  Worth it.

“Hey,” Bucky says, lying to the side and avoiding the mess on the bed beneath him.  “It’s my sister’s birthday on Friday.  We’re doing a barbecue on Saturday afternoon.  Thought you might want to come?”  He holds his breath, waiting for Brock’s response.  It’s the next step, Bucky thinks.  The two of the get along well enough, and Brock doesn’t seem to mind Bucky’s crazy schedule.  The sex is good, and...and Bucky thinks he’d like to start thinking about settling down.

“Saturday?” Brock says, wiping a hand over his face.  “Shit, man.  I’m sorry, I got plans already.”

“No big,” Bucky says, shrugging, but he can’t deny the trickle of hurt that creeps in.

“Look,” Brock says, turning on his side to look Bucky in the eye.  “To be honest, that’s not really my style, you know?  I’m not really into that whole meeting the folks thing.  I mean, this is good,” he says, reaching over to pinch Bucky’s ass.  “But I’m not really looking for much more.”

At that, Brock gets up and slides into his underwear.  Five minutes later, he’s gone, and Bucky’s not even mad.  Hell, he’s not even heartbroken.  He’s just...wistful.  

Shaking his head to clear it of the memory, Bucky doesn’t even waste time comparing Brock to Steve.  There’s no contest.  

Besides, Steve doesn’t seem to mind taking things slow in the least.  

That night, Bucky falls asleep with a soft smile on his face.  The next morning, he wakes up the same way.

Chapter Text

December 14, 2017

Steve wakes up hard, groaning and all but fucking his mattress.  His dreams had been thick with Bucky – the taste of his mouth and the feel of his body pressed up against Steve.  Steve had barely gotten himself in his front door the night before when he had his pants undone, fisting his cock and coming hot and wet into his hand.

Everything Bucky’d been signaling so far said that he wanted to take things slow, and Steve sure as hell wasn’t going to push.  Steve is happy just spending time with Bucky – it’s been so long since he’s spent time with anyone who wasn’t an Avenger.  Hanging out with Bucky, sometimes Steve forgets that he is an Avenger.  Bucky makes him feel like more than all of that.  Bucky makes him feel like a man.

A man who hasn’t had actual sex in almost a year, and whose body has been designed to go and go and go, but still a man.

Flopping onto his back, Steve takes himself in hand and lets his imagination run wild.  He imagines Bucky on his knees, that gorgeous mouth stretched wide around Steve’s dick.  Then he thinks of himself on his knees, Bucky looking down at him, maybe threading his fingers through Steve’s hair, holding him there, fucking into Steve’s mouth.

Part of him blushes at wanting that, and part of him wonders if Bucky would do that.  If maybe he’d hold Steve in place with his metal hand, maybe even fuck Steve, holding him down, making him take it….

“Fuck, Fuck!” Steve cries out, coming all over his stomach and chest.

He feels sheepish, his spend cooling on his chest, as the last of the fantasy ebbs away.  It’s something he’s always wanted, but never felt he was allowed to have.  His face burns bright at the thought of even asking for it. Still, his cock has perked right back up, very interested in Steve’s turn of thought.

Steve groans and takes himself and his relentless cock to the bathroom for a shower.  He knows he’s going to need to get off at least twice more before he can get on with his day.  A day that, hopefully, will bring a few more hours with his new favorite fantasy.

By the time Steve gets to the tower, he’s damn close to being late for their morning briefing.  They never did figure out where the skeletons were coming from, and Steve is bracing, waiting for the next hit.  It’s unlikely that whoever reanimated the creatures was satisfied with how quickly the Avengers pushed them back.  It felt very much like a test, and Steve’s not sure if they passed or failed.

He doesn’t like it.

By the time the meeting comes to a close, he’s got a head full of possibilities.

“You trying to murder that napkin with your eyes?” Sam asks, and startled, Steve looks up.

“What?”

“You were getting your glare on pretty good, man.  What’d that napkin ever do to you?”

Sighing, Steve sets the tattered thing down.  “This thing sitting right with you?” he asks.

“Not even a little. You?”

“Nope. It’s like they were testing us.”

Nat swivels in her chair.  “Makes sense.  See how we cope with what they send us, refine their strategy based on our response.”

“I don’t like it,” Steve says and takes up glaring at the napkin again.

“Just gonna have to get flexible, I guess,” Sam says, and Steve doesn’t miss the slight flush on Nat’s cheeks.

“I know,” Nat says.  “Let’s all go get some coffee.”  Her grin would be vicious if Steve didn’t know better.

“Sure,” Steve says, smiling.  “There’s coffee in the kitchen.  Maria just made a fresh pot.”

Nat glares at Steve, then blinks at Sam.

“I don’t know,” Sam says.  “I think I could do with one of those scones.  Why don’t we go over to that Buckery – I mean Bakery.”

Steve groans.  “Come on, guys.  Leave him alone.  Besides, he’s probably busy.”

“Sam?  I don’t think Steve wants us to get to know his new…friend.  That seems mean to me.  Does that seem mean to you?”

“Very mean,” Sam agrees, and Steve can see the way Sam’s eyes twinkle.

“You guys suck,” Steve says.

“Mmm,” Nat says, arching her brow in a way that makes Steve flush to his roots.  “Hey,” she says, turning to look at Steve full-on.  “Have you run a background check on him yet?”

“What?” Steve asks, honestly taken aback.

“Steve,” she says, in that tone that gets right up under his skin, the way it implies that he’s a child who needs looking after.  “You know how many Hydra ops we still have floating around, and AIM isn’t any better.”

“Nat, come on,” Steve says, exasperated.  “If Hydra’s coming at me, they’re not doing it with a pastry chef.” He looks at Sam for back up, but Sam looks away.

“Oh come on, not you too!”

“Steve,” he says, in that voice that Steve hates, the one that says ‘I love you man, but you might be wrong.’

“I”ll take care of it,” Nat says, with a shrug of her shoulder.  

“Please, don’t,” Steve says.  He loves his friends, and he knows they’re just looking out for him, but this...this isn’t what he wants.  Can’t he just spend some time with Bucky, get to know him?  Does it have to be the whole thing, and right now?  And what’s he supposed to say to Bucky?  ‘Hey, pal, before you get me down on my knees, can you sign some paperwork, maybe give a blood sample?’

He shudders just thinking about it.

“Nat,” he says, reaching out in hopes of staying her planned course of action.  “Please just let this one lie?”

Shrugging, Nat says, “You’re not just some guy, Steve.  I get it, but….”

“Jesus,” Steve says, his temper flaring.  “And you all wonder why I moved out of the tower.”  He moves around the table to pick up his folder and notebook before shaking his head at Sam and Nat again.  

Two hours later finds him soaked with sweat in the training room, his muscles finally beginning to ache as he strings up the fourth punching bag.  A light beeping alerts him to the time, and he starts, realizing he’s spent the better half of the afternoon working out his frustrations.

A lot of his anger has ebbed, and in its place is a hard seed of frustration - the same one that comes up anytime the team coddles him - along with a warm lick of anticipation.  Unwrapping his hands, Steve lets himself smile.  He’s got a date, and he’s not letting anything spoil it.

Steve arrives at Bucky’s a few minutes before six.  He’s got a six-pack of beer, a bottle of red wine, and a bouquet of sunflowers that he hadn’t been able to resist.  It’s not that he thinks Bucky’s a dame, he doesn’t.  Bucky Barnes is 100% beefcake, in a way that makes Steve’s stomach do little swoopy things when he focuses on Bucky’s forearms, or the muscles of his shoulders.  His thighs.

It’s just that Steve’s always been a little bit of a romantic.  His Ma used to tell him stories of when Joe Rogers courted her, how he could smile and make her feel like the only woman in the world.  Steve was always taken by that.  He’d always wanted to be that - the cause of someone else’s stomach fluttering, the reason for someone’s grin.

Bucky answers the door, wiping his hands on a towel and smiling bright.  The smile gets brighter when he sees Steve, and becomes something else altogether when he sees the sunflowers.  

Worth it, Steve thinks.  100% worth it.

“Come in,” Bucky says and leans up to brush his mouth against Steve’s before divesting him of the flowers and booze.

“Thanks,” Steve says.  “It smells amazing in here.”

Bucky grins bright, before ducking his head and walking toward the kitchen.  “Just some regular old meat and potatoes,” he calls out over his shoulder.  

Steve takes up the same spot he’d had a few nights ago, sitting at the kitchen table and talking with Bucky as he orchestrates the meal.  Bucky’s all long lines and muscled grace, his compact movements precise and stirring a kind of want, low in Steve’s belly.

With a sly grin, Bucky looks over at Steve.  “You strike me as a medium-well kind of guy, Rogers, but I’m telling you right now, I will kick you out of my house if you ask for your steak that way.”

Flushing, Steve smiles and looks down at his hands.  “It’s how I’ve always had it, Barnes, ” he says, and Bucky laughs.  

Once dinner’s plated and on the table, Steve pokes a wary fork at his steak, before picking up his knife and digging in.  Bucky watches from under long lashes, and Steve feels nervous, watching as the juices and some pan sauce pool under the meat.

“It ain’t gonna bite ya,” Bucky says.  “It’s not that rare.”

“Oh, fuck you,” Steve says, and takes a wary bite, his mouth flooding with flavor as he chews.  “Oh, Buck,” he moans, then hurriedly shoves another bite into his mouth.

Bucky gives him a satisfied smirk before digging into his own meal.

It doesn’t take long for the two of them to demolish the meal -- steaks, potatoes, crispy Brussels sprouts with bacon and shallots, and a tomato and red pepper tart that has Steve licking his fingers.

“I am gonna get so fat,” Steve says, groaning and pushing his plate away. The grin Bucky gives him is self-satisfied and sure.

“Here,” Bucky says, reaching over to fill Steve’s wineglass again. “I don’t have a super metabolism.  You’re gonna have to finish this off.”

The spend another hour that way: making easy chit-chat, trading stories and barbs.  Steve tells Bucky a little bit about growing up in the Depression and then being in the war.  He doesn’t get too deep, but there are some fun stories to tell about the 107th, and about the Howling Commandos in particular.  

In return, Bucky tells him a little bit about growing up in modern times, how the internet literally changed everything, and about how close he is with his family, how they’d supported him when he came out, when he joined the army, and then when he came home.  When his folks moved upstate, Stella all but adopted him, and he’s been making his way forward ever since.

“I can’t imagine it,” Steve says, toying with his napkin.  “When I was growing up, if you liked men, you kept your damned mouth shut about it, or you made yourself a target.  It seems a lot better this way.”

Bucky shrugs.  “Yeah.  Growing up during the AIDS epidemic made being gay pretty scary.  To be honest, I don’t think I would have handled it so well if it wasn’t for my Aunt Trudie and Aunt Kate.  Seeing a healthy, functional, gay relationship up close did a lot for me.”

“That’s amazing, Buck.  I’m so glad you had that.”

Bucky smiles and kicks at Steve’s foot under the table.  “How 'bout you?  How’s the adjustment going?”

Steve shrugs.  “I can’t complain,” he says.  “I’ve made some good friends, have a good job.  And hey, the internet?  Am I right?”

Laughing, Bucky says, “Do I even want to know?”

With a smirk, Steve touches the tip of his tongue to his upper lip.  

“Steve,” Bucky says, and Steve drinks in the way his face flushes and his eyes darken.  

“C’mere,” Steve says, voice low and growly, and Bucky doesn’t have to be told twice.

He gets up and walks to where Steve is sitting, pushed back from the kitchen table.  Without a word, Bucky straddles Steve, settling into his lap, hands on Steve’s shoulders.

“Here?” Bucky asks, and Steve surges up to kiss him.

It’s lovely.  Bucky tastes of wine and herbs and something sweet, and it doesn’t take long for Steve to fist his hands into the back of Bucky’s shirt, pulling Bucky even closer as Steve leans up into the kiss.

“Stevie,” Bucky gasps, then licks into Steve’s mouth.  

Steve settles his hands on Bucky’s waist, squeezing his hips and trying so hard not to grind up into him.  He feels breathless already, need sparking urgent in his veins.  Bucky must feel it too, Steve thinks, from the way Bucky’s fingers fist in Steve’s hair, and the way he presses his whole body against Steve.  

It’s gorgeous, the way Bucky kisses him, and Steve’s not sure he’ll ever quite get enough of it.  Before long, he’s pulling on Bucky’s hips, and Bucky’s grinding down onto him, before tossing his head back so that Steve can get at his neck, pressing sucking kisses against Bucky’s throat.

“Jesus, Steve,” Bucky breathes, and he pulls back to stare at Steve, eyes blown black and limned in a bright, clear blue.  His mouth is kiss bitten, lips slick and swollen, and Steve wants to feel the scrape of Bucky’s stubble under his tongue again.

“More,” Steve says, his voice low and wrecked just from kissing, just from wanting.

“Yeah,” Bucky answers.  “Yes.”

They kiss longer, rub against each other longer, and then Bucky’s got his fingers up under Steve’s shirt and Steve’s shaking at the touch. It’s not just that it’s been a long time since he’s had sex.  It’s that it’s been a long time since he’s had someone.  Someone who feels like they might be more than just sex.  Someone who feels.  

“Steve,” Bucky breathes.  “Steve, I want -“  Bucky backs away and then slides down, until he’s sitting on his knees between Steve’s legs, and Steve’s staring down at him.  Bucky presses his face against the hard outline of Steve’s dick through his pants and Steve chokes on his own spit.

Pressing his open mouth against the outline of Steve’s cock, Bucky breathes a hot breath that has Steve arching and shoving his fingers in Bucky’s hair.  

Pulling away, Bucky looks up at him through thick lashes, then catches his lower lip between his teeth before slowly, slowly letting it go.  He might have a sweet face, but there’s nothing but the devil in his eyes.

“Can I?” he asks, pressing his palm against Steve’s dick, giving him a little friction, but nowhere near enough.

“Buck,” Steve gasps.  “Yes, fuck, Bucky.”  

With a smirk, Bucky rubs his face against the front of Steve’s pants again, then reaches up to undo them, freeing Steve’s erection.

Steve sucks a breath as Bucky takes him in hand, then presses a soft kiss against the head before poking his tongue out for a soft lick.

It’s not enough, it’s nowhere near enough, and Steve shakes, trying to keep his hips still.  He wants Bucky to take him in, take him down, fast and smooth, but this…this is excruciating, and from the smirk on Bucky’s lips, he knows it.

“Gonna make you feel good,” he says with a slow blink, and then wraps his tongue around the head of Steve’s cock.  Steve watches for as long as he can, that bright pink tongue toying with him, dipping into his slit, flattening out before curling around the head again, and then it becomes too much.

Groaning, Steve closes his eyes and tips his head back, letting himself sink into the feeling of Bucky’s mouth on him.

“Uht-uh,” Bucky says, reaching up and drawing Steve’s head forward again.  “Eyes on me, doll.”

There’s something in the command of it, Bucky saying exactly what he wants while he’s giving Steve what he needs – it ratchets Steve’s desire up several notches as he opens his eyes and watches Bucky take him down.

It’s – oh, God – it’s too much, the sweet, warm, wet of Bucky’s mouth, those blue eyes watching as Steve starts to come apart.  And then Bucky closes his eyes and moans, taking Steve deeper, and Steve’s swearing, cussing and stuttering.  He can’t control it, and it’s too much.  It’s happening too fast, and he’s not going to get to-

“Bucky!  Buck!” Steve pushes hard on Bucky’s shoulders, and Bucky looks up at him, lips shiny and eye questioning as Steve tries to catch his breath.

“Gonna make me come,” he says, face flushing.

“Sweetheart, that’s the point,” Bucky says, his voice gentle with teasing.  Then he smirks and takes Steve in his mouth again, and he doesn’t have time to even think about bracing for it.  He goes from ‘Jesus, that feels good,’ to ‘Oh, God, I’m dying,’ in the space of seconds, coming hard enough to see stars behind his eyes.

Bucky gentles him through it, mouth soft and tender, hands digging into Steve’s thighs.

“Sweetheart,” he says, and when Steve opens his eyes, Bucky’s looking up at him, Steve’s still-hard dick between them.

“It’s, uhm,” Steve falters.  Since he’s been out of the ice, he’s dated exactly one man and one woman.  The woman didn’t seem to mind in the least that it took Steve a few goes before his body relaxed.  The guy made Steve feel shitty about it – like a bad dog doing something he shouldn’t.  But Bucky – Bucky looks like he’s staring down fucking Christmas – all lit up and bright with anticipation.

“That a serum thing or a Rogers thing?”

Relief washes over him, thick and easy, and Steve laughs.  “Serum thing.  Definitely a serum thing.”

Bucky smirks.  “This is gonna be so much fun,” he says, before winking at Steve and taking Steve back into his mouth.

Bucky sucks him off through another orgasm and then kisses him hard and long as he strokes Steve through a third.  It takes Steve less than a minute to catch his breath before he lays Bucky out, right there on the kitchen floor, and sucks him until he comes, salty and hot, filling Steve’s mouth.

“You’re gonna kill me, Rogers,” Bucky says, panting with an arm thrown over his eyes.  “You’re gonna fuckin kill me.”

“Yeah,” Steve agrees, nuzzling against Bucky’s neck, before placing a soft kiss behind his ear.  “But what a way to go.”

“Sassy fucking punk,” Bucky says, halfway to a giggle.

“Come on,” Steve says, sitting up.  “At least let me get you off the floor.”

“Fuck off.  My floor is clean.”

“Good to know,” Steve answers.  “Still not comfortable.”

“Ugh, can’t you just pass out after sex like everyone else?”

“Okay, one, that wasn’t sex.  And two, no.  Come on.  I’ll tuck you in before I go.”

“Hold up,” Bucky says, peering up at Steve from under his arm.  “That wasn’t sex?”

Steve demurs.  “Well, it wasn’t – you know.”

“Pal, I hate to break this to you, but I got your spunk drying on my shirt, here.  I’m pretty sure that counts.”

Flushing bright, Steve thinks about his past experiences: the nameless men he’d picked up in dark bars, coupling in alleyways and dim bathroom stalls.  The women he’d explored with trembling hands because everything about them was so damned soft, and the few failed attempts at relationships he’s had, and how they’d left him physically satisfied, but unfulfilled.

“Bucky,” Steve says, pressing a kiss near Bucky’s ear.  “When we have sex?  You will definitely know it.”

Bucky gasps, low and soft, and then he’s turning toward Steve, looking up at him with clear, bright eyes.  Steve can’t – God, he can’t help it.  Bucky’s got that smirk hovering in the corner of his mouth, and he’s looking at Steve like he’s nuts and with so much affection.  Steve leans down to kiss him, sucking soft at his bottom lip.

“Come on, baby,” he says, helping Bucky up to stand.  When he does, Steve gets lost again, staring into Bucky’s eyes.  A smile he can’t tamp down plays on his lips. “I like you so much,” he says, and watches in fascination as Bucky colors.

Pinking, Bucky leans up to kiss him, before wrapping his arms around Steve’s neck and throwing his whole body into it all over again. “Feeling’s mutual,” he says, breaking the kiss. Then he looks down and grins.  “And now we’ve both got your spunk drying on our shirts.”

“You are such a jerk,” Steve says, laughing and pinching at Bucky’s ass.

“And you’re a punk,” Bucky says.  “And I’m exhausted.”

“Come on,” Steve says, and tugs him down the hall.  They take turns in the bathroom and then Steve does tuck Bucky into bed, leaning over and kissing him soft and sweet.

“No regrets?” Steve asks.  He hadn’t quite planned on things going so far tonight.  He’s not sorry, but it strikes him that Bucky might be.  

Bucky looks up at him with clear eyes that are blue and gray at once.  “None, Stevie.”  But then he looks uncertain, and Steve’s stomach drops.  “Did you want to stay?” Bucky asks.

“God, yes,” Steve says.  “But we both have early mornings.  And I’m not sure I trust myself alone in bed with you.”

Bucky smiles and something like relief, maybe mixed with disappointment plays across his face.  “C’mere,” he says, and reaches for Steve.  

They share one last, lingering kiss before Steve stands to leave.  “See you tomorrow?” he asks, standing in the doorway.

“You better,” Bucky answers, before turning over to snuggle down into sleep.

Steve watches him for a moment, sees the way Bucky’s face starts to soften with sleep, and the ache under his ribs swells.  It’s too soon to feel like this, and Bucky’s – God – he’s terrifyingly vulnerable.  Terrifyingly fragile.

Still, Steve’s smiling as the thumbs the lock on Bucky’s apartment.  He’s in it now.  He just has to figure out a way to be Steve, while also being Captain America.  It’ll be worth it, he thinks, to be both.

Chapter Text

December 15th

Before Bucky’s even fully awake, he’s thinking about Steve.  The way Steve smiled at him, the way he kissed, the way he’d felt under Bucky’s hands, under his tongue.

It’s heady, Bucky thinks, having all that power yielding to him.  It’s heady and intoxicating, and Bucky wants more. A part of him, a small part of him, is a little disappointed.  He’s had a habit of fucking first and asking questions later, a habit he’d been determined to break with Steve, but...Steve said c’mere in a voice that sounded like sex, and Bucky’d been all too willing to obey.

Now he’s alone in his bed in the predawn hours and wondering if he’s made a mistake.  He’s not interested in something casual, even with Captain America.  

“I like you so much,” Steve had said, and Bucky’s heart turned somersaults in his chest.  He hopes that Steve meant it the way that Bucky took it.  He hopes that Steve’s looking for more than just sex, because Bucky doesn’t think he can give just that.  

For the first time in a long time, he hopes .

Groaning, he runs a hand through his hair before sitting up in his bed.  He’s got all day to beat the hell out of some dough while he thinks through how he wants to deal with this.  Sooner than later though, he and Steve are going to have to talk.

 

It’s mid-morning and Bucky’s already feeling the late night.  His shoulders are tense and back hurts and even though he quit years ago, God, he could use a smoke. He’s just about to head out to the front for a triple shot of espresso when he hears a light rapping against the swinging doors that lead to the front.

He’s smiling before he even looks - only one person does that, and he’s a sight for sore damned eyes.

“Hey,” he says, motioning for Steve to come through.

“Hi,” Steve says, and gets right into Bucky’s space.  

Bucky cants his face up for a kiss and feels warm all over when Steve gives it without reservation.  “What are you up to, today?”

Steve shrugs.  “Training, mostly.  Might check out a lead on something on the lower east side.  You in for a full day?” he asks.

Smiling, Bucky shrugs.  “Yeah, late night tonight.  Was thinking I’d actually take the weekend off.”

Dark blue eyes shine soft as Steve smiles.  “Yeah?”  He reaches out and pulls Bucky in for a kiss.  “Oh!  Before I forget - can I get your number?”

“Sure,” Bucky says, and walks to the workbench. He keeps an order pad and pen there for notes, so he scrawls out his number and hands it to Steve.

“Thanks,” Steve says, and his smile is warm.  “I’ll call you later.  I kind of have to get going.”  He looks sheepish and there’s a long bat of lashes before he’s looking back at Bucky, guileless and sweet.

“Sure,” Bucky says, but he feels a clutch of disappointment.  

“Maybe I can see you tonight?” Steve asks, and something squirming settles in Bucky’s belly.  

“Yeah,” Bucky says, biting his bottom lip.  “I’d like that.”

Steve tracks the movement, his mouth falling open before he pulls Bucky close.  “You’re a menace,” he says, before he kisses Bucky, long and hard.  

Bucky’s still catching his breath when Steve pulls away.  He runs his nose along Bucky’s and takes a deep breath.  “A goddamned menace.”

Bucky feels dopey, like he’s floating, as Steve pulls away.  

“I really do have to go,” Steve says, and Bucky doesn’t doubt that Steve regrets it.  He can hear it in Steve’s voice.  It sounds so good.

 

A couple of hours later, Bucky’s manning the front while Miles takes a break.  Spencer, one of the techs who works on Bucky’s arm comes by and orders a latte.  He and Bucky make idle chit-chat while Bucky pulls his shots.

“Hey, so good luck,” Spencer says, and Bucky gives him a quizzical look.  “On the job?”

At Bucky’s baffled look, Spencer looks away.  

“Didn’t you apply at StarkTek?”

Bucky goes from looking confused to concerned.

“Shit.  Please don’t say I said anything,” Spencer says.

“About?”

“Someone requisitioned your file,” Spencer says.  “Someone from Stark’s office.  I figured you’d applied for a job.  God knows you’re talented enough to work for him.”

Spencer doesn’t mean anything by it, but Bucky goes cold all over.  

He was good at his job in the Army.  Doing well meant that people lived.  It meant that Fulton and Cooper and Ashe went home to their families, and that the bad guys went home in body bags.  

But that didn’t mean that Bucky liked it.  

And when he got hurt and headed home, his record was sealed.  The last thing anyone wanted was someone investigating his kill record, or know exactly what he and his team had sacrificed in the name of freedom.

Bucky hands Spencer his coffee and puts a smile on his face and pretends that he’s not seething.

There’s only one person who would requisition Bucky’s file, and the idea of turns his stomach.  The stuff in that file - there’s death and mayhem.  The wreck of Bucky’s body after the IED took his arm.

The wreck of Bucky’s mind….

Miles comes back from his break just in time, and Bucky lets him take over at the front.  

In the kitchen, Bucky pulls out his phone and texts the last person who texted him:

 

SGR: HI! :)  This is me.

JBB:  Hi, me.  :)

 

Staring hard at the phone, Bucky lets his fingers fly:

JBB:  Call me asap.  We need to talk. :(

 

“Mijo?”  Stella’s voice calls out, and Bucky slides the phone back into his pocket.  

“What’s up?” he asks, turning to see her poke her head through the double doors.  

It’s the last thing he sees before the first explosion goes off, and everything goes black.

Chapter Text

December 17th

 

Bucky heaves a deep sigh, looking down at the door of the cellar beneath the bakery.  There’s a short, sharp knock, and the door pops open, America’s head peeking up.  

“Miles had these in his backpack,” she says, pushing a walkie-talkie toward him.  “We thought, you know, if you’re close enough….”

Bucky takes the device with a grim set to his mouth.  “Yeah, okay.  Look, I don’t know what I’m gonna find out there.  You turn this on at the top of the hour, every hour, starting at noon.  I’ll get in touch if I can, okay?”

America nods, dark eyes wide and frightened.  

“I’m gonna see if I can find some help.  Only person you open that door for is me, you understand?”  At her nod, Bucky reaches out and cups her face.  “Don’t be scared, sweetheart.  The Avengers practically live across the street.  They’re not gonna let anything too bad happen, okay?”

“Okay,” she says.  Her voice is soft but Bucky can see a little of her usual courage seep back into her eyes.  

“Okay,” he repeats.  “Now get back down there.  You gotta take care of Stells for me, right?”  Nodding, America closes the door behind her and Bucky hears her slide the bolt into place.  Pocketing the walkie, he moves to the industrial ice maker.  “Sorry Stells,” he says, before bracing himself behind it.  He places his metal hand on the back of it, then shoves, pushing all of his weight into his left shoulder.  It slides a bit, so he braces further up, then shoves again.  It teeters for a moment before falling over with a crash, right on top of the cellar doors.  

“Okay?” Bucky yells.  When two thumps come back from beneath the ice machine, he smiles.  

Leaving is the last thing he wants to do, but he's gotta find help.  Stella seemed fine, but he's afraid that the excitment might end up being too much for her.  He needs to get her  - and the others - to safety as soon as possible.

He doesn’t know what he’s going to find out there, but he’s got a couple of scared kids, and some civilians with injuries on his hands.  They can’t hide under the bakery forever.

In the aftermath of the explosion, it took Bucky a few minutes to get his bearings.  Stella had landed damn near on top of him, and he was grateful.  Still, she’d taken a blow to the head from a flying coffee cup, and Bucky needed her to get something more than the quick and dirty field exam that his limited medical knowledge could provide.  

Once he’d settled Stella in her small office in the back, he went out front to assess the damage.  He found Miles pulling some rubble off of a customer, and America was was in the far corner, talking to a young woman who was sobbing.

When Bucky chanced a look outside, he saw what looked like animated skeletons running through the streets, stabbing people, smashing cars, bursting into buildings and dragging people out by their hair.

He didn’t know what the fuck was going on, but the one thing he learned in the desert was to roll with the punches.

He got all the survivors into the cellar.  They primarily used it to store dry goods and extra equipment, but it had a door that bolted closed from the inside, so it seemed the safest place at the time.  

A few hours in, they’d listened in silence, as something walked over the top of the cellar, making eerie clicking sounds.  A few hours after that, it became clear that one of the survivors was going to need medical attention, and fast.  He’d been impaled by a car antenna in the blast, and the wound was weeping more and more blood.  

Bucky’d gone up and brought back what he could - food, water, a pile of aprons and towels that they could use as blankets and wound dressing, along with the small first aid kit that they kept in the kitchen.  They were going to need more than their meagre supplies, and soon.  Seeing that he was the only one among them who was both uninjured and had military experience, Bucky decided that he would go.

Now, creeping along the lower edge of the windows, he pokes his head up, checking to see if the coast is clear.  There’s an urgent care facility three blocks up.  If the way is clear, he’s hoping to bring back supplies, or even actual help - a nurse or doctor - something .

He watches as a trio of skeleton things sweep past on the street.  One is holding a bloodied knife, another a rifle that it’s using as a bat, smashing windows as it walks.  The third is missing an arm and some ribs, but seems to keep going.

Once they pass, Bucky shifts, bracing to slip past the space where the front doors used to stand.  Plate glass crunches underfoot, and Bucky holds his breath.

The skeletons stop, one of them clicking at the others before the two break off, heading forward while the other rounds, heading for Bucky.

“Alright, asshole,” Bucky says, as the creature drops into a fighting stance.  “Let’s do this.”

The creature charges and Bucky holds his ground, tumbling away the last second.  The thing runs hard into the wall and falls, the radius breaking away, taking the hand with it.  Bucky watches in horror as the hand drags itself toward the creature, before the skeleton picks it up and reattaches it, shaking it out for good measure.

“Aw, hell no,” he says, and launches himself toward it.

It raises the rifle, ready to use it as a bat, but Bucky’s too fast.  He dives low, taking out the things legs, and when it’s down, he strikes hard, his heaviest rolling pin hitting sure and steady, shattering the thing’s skull.  

He watches for a long moment, but nothing more happens.  It stays down.

“Thank fuck,” he says to himself, before picking up the rifle and starting back down the street.

 

When he gets the Urgent Care facility, it looks to have been bombed out of existence.  There’s a gaping black hole where most of the building used to be.  Wincing, Bucky kicks at some of the rubble.  He’s fought off three more of the skeleton things, decapitating two of them and smashing the skull of the third in with the butt of his empty rifle.  There’s a gun shop another six blocks away, which happens to be on the way to a drugstore.  It’s the best idea he’s got, so he sets out, picking his way through the streets and taking out as many of those things as he can.

He’s just rounding a corner when he hears a booming voice.  

“All civilians off the streets.  Repeat, all civilians off the streets.  This area is an active combat zone and has been deemed unsafe.”

Rolling his eyes, Bucky continues to pick his way toward the gun shop.

When he gets there, the place has been looted, but he still finds a few boxes of shells, so he stuffs as many as he can into his pockets.  He switches out the rifle he’d found earlier for something with a scope, and picked up a couple of handguns, stuffing one into the waist of his pants and the other into his boot.  He scouts around, checking into the back rooms of the place, but doesn’t find any explosives.  

When he gets back out onto the street, the recorded voice is at it again.

“...active combat zone and has been deemed unsafe.”  

Bucky ducks back behind a car, in time to see a small battalion of about twelve of the skeleton things marching down the street.  Glancing up, Bucky sees that the building across from his had good sightlines.  It only takes him a few minutes to get up to one of the upper floors, bash out a window and take position.  Just as he’s about to fire, the Black Widow comes careening down the street on a motorcycle.  She fires into the crowd of them before standing and doing a backflip off the bike, leaving it to careen into the group, scattering them.

Bucky watches as several of the creatures regroup.  Another group of maybe fifteen come to join them, and before he knows it, the Widow is surrounded, trying to punch her way out of the crowd.  

There’s movement in the corner of his eyes, and Bucky watches as the Falcon swoops low, dropping Cap right into the fray.  It’s beautiful the way he and the Widow fight, seamless and without words.  

One of the creatures swipes at Cap with a knife (a knife - are you fucking kidding me?), and that’s all it takes to remind Bucky that he’s not here as a spectator.  Raising the rifle, he trains the scope on the creatures and starts picking them off, clean headshots that make them crumble.

With the first crack of the rifle, Cap and Widow duck, but as the creatures begin to fall, they stop wondering and start fighting again.  In a few minutes, the whole thing is over.  

Bucky watches as Steve looks up toward the window, narrowing his eyes, before raising his hand in a half-salute, half-wave. Bucky cocks the gun and and scopes the street for stragglers.

It goes on like that, the fight seeming to draw more of the creatures in, with Cap and the Widow fighting relentlessly, and the Falcon swooping in for air support where he can.  

Bucky’s taking aim, getting ready to fire again, when someone comes crashing through the window on the far side of the room.

Dropping the rifle, Bucky reaches for the handgun, rolling into a defensive crouch and taking aim.

“Easy, easy.”  The man stands up, holding both arms open, showing that he’s unarmed.  He’s tall, dressed in dark tach gear, and has blonde hair and a quiver strapped to his back.  Hawkeye.

“Just wanted to see who my snipe support is, man.  I’m Clint.”

“Barnes,” Bucky says, lowering his gun.  “Bucky Barnes.”  

“What are you, special forces?  Man, you’re one hell of a shot.”

Bucky glances back out at the street, then drops to pick up the rifle again.  A dozen more of those things have turned up, and Cap looks like he’s actually breaking a sweat with all the fighting.

As he squeezes off another round, Clint takes position inside of the window frame to Bucky’s left.  

“Got our sniper,” he says, voice conversational.  “Guessing he’s former military - has a StarkTek arm and man, he is one hell of a shot.”

“Hey,” Bucky says, flicking a glance at Clint.

“Yep.  Says his name is Barnes.”  

There’s a pause and Bucky frowns as Cap stops fighting and looks up toward Bucky’s window.  Bucky can see him say something, and a moment later, Clint responds.  

“Got it.  Incoming in four...three...two...get out of there.”

Clint lets an arrow fly and it detonates on impact, blowing the mess of creatures to pieces.

“So how do you know Cap?” Clint says, looking over at Bucky.  “No offense man, but he sounded kind of pissed.”

Bucky feels his face heat and Clint’s eyes widen.

“No shit?  You’re the bakery guy?  Hey man, great stuff by the way.  You make a hell of a cup of coffee.  Anyway,” Clint says, moving away from the window and digging something out of his pocket.  “You up here for funsies or what?”  He tosses the item from his pocket at Bucky, who catches it midair.

“Was trying to get to the drugstore a couple blocks down.  Got some injured civilians at the bakery.  One guy needs a medic, but the urgent care’s been blown to hell.”  He examines the object.  It looks a little like a hearing aid.

Clint motions for him to put it in his ear, so he does, and immediately hears chatter.

“Got six more on Park,” says a voice that can only be Iron Man.  “Hulk, you ready to smash?”  

In the distance, Bucky hears a roar.  

“Jarvis?” Clint says.  “Can we get med support to Cap’s bakery?  We got injured civilians there, in the - where are they?” Clint asks.  

“In the cellar, but you can’t get down there.  I shoved an ice maker on top and it’s bolted from the inside.”

“Well, shit.” Clint says.  “Sound like they’re holed up pretty good,” he says, tapping the earpiece.  Stand by.’  Turning to Bucky, he says, “Can you get in there?”

“Of course,” he says.  What’s this guy think, he’s just gonna barricade folks in and not be able to get them out?  Thinking about it, he rolls his eyes.  “I could probably use a hand.”

Clint nods, then taps his ear.  “Jarvis?  Have them meet us on site.  About -” He looks over at Bucky, eyebrows raised.

“Six people total, one head injury, one bleeder.”

Clint’s quiet for a moment.  “Copy that.”  He turns to look at Bucky.  “Let’s go.”

 

It takes them almost an hour to get there.  Along the way, Bucky realizes the time and turns on the walkie.  Of course he’s out of range, but he keeps talking into anyway, letting them know that help is on the way.  By the time they get there, it only a few shoves to get the ice maker out of the way.  Paramedics stand to the side, waiting while Bucky yells for America to open the door.  

He watches as they carry out the guy with the wound, then Stella, with America and Miles by her side.

America pauses, then runs to Bucky, squeezing him hard and burying her face against his chest.

“Hey, sweetheart,” he says, bringing his hand up to stroke along her hair.  “It’s okay.  I got help, right?” he asks, pulling away to look at her.  “They’re with the Avengers.  You’re gonna be okay.”

She nods, eyes wide, and Bucky pulls her in for one last, tight, hug.

“Alright, sweetheart.  You look after Miles and Stella for me, okay?”  

She nods, and Bucky kisses the top of her head.  He gives Stella a long hug, then watches as the ambulance drives away.

“Come on,” Clint says, turning to Bucky.  “Cap wants to see you.”

Chapter Text

December 18th

 

“Clint?  You in position?”  Steve eyes the portal that Dr. Doom has been using to unleash his skele-bots.  

“I’m go.  On your signal, Cap.”

“Good.  Nat?”

“I’m clear.  As soon as Sam delivers the payload, we can close this thing and move out.”

By the time they’d found the source of the skele-bots, Dr. Strange was already on the scene, trying to shut down the portal.  He’d been struggling, trapped between needing to draw more power to sustain his attempt, and not wanting to release the power he did hold, lest it accidentally feed the portal, strengthening it further.

With the Avengers there, Strange had been able to step away and together, they all formed a plan. Now, they were waiting for Tony and Bruce to finish creating a device that, when sent through the portal, would force it to close in on itself, rendering it incapable of opening again.

“I picked up the package and I’m on my way,” Sam says, and Steve turns his eyes to the sky, watching for Sam.  

The skelebots are still coming through the portal, but the team has managed to quarantine the area.  Nat, Rhodey and Steve are taking out as many as they can.  

When Steve hears the crack of a rifle, his blood boils .  

“Barnes, I know that isn’t you,” Steve says into his comm. "We agreed you were going to stay near the tower." 

“No, you ordered and ignored it.”

"Goddammit, Barnes."

"It was a stupid order.  And you are not my C.O."

“Dammit, Buck,” Steve says, but before he can lay into the guy, a half dozen skelebots come at him. It’s like they know the portal will close soon and they’re trying to get in as many licks as they can.

After that, everything becomes a blur.  Once the portal’s closed, the creatures become frenzied.  Steve’s aware of Tony firing the repulsors at them, Nat and Rhodey taking them on hand-to-hand and Clint and Bucky sniping from the rooftops.  Then Clint chases after a few stragglers that are getting away, and Bucky’s got his hands full picking off the ones that are trying to climb the building.  They seem to have figured out where Bucky is, and are going after him.  

Steve watches as Bucky sets down his rifle and starts firing handguns out the window.  Steve’s already on his way over, jumping onto a car and then leaping onto the side of the building, clinging to the brick.

“Sam?  You around?”

“Kinda busy, Cap.  What do you need?”

“Nevermind, I got it.”

With the shield on his back, Steve starts to climb the side of the building, picking off bad guys as he goes.  “On my way you, Buck.  You okay?”

“I’m good,” he says.  “Could use a couple more clips for the Glock if you’re carrying.”

Pausing, Steve realizes he hasn’t heard a gunshot in a over a minute.

“Are you out?  Bucky, are you out of ammo?”

Steve pauses and hears a grunt, then the sound of something solid hitting something else very hard.  

“Yeah, but I’m handling it.”

“Oh, you son of a bitch,” Steve swears.  “Barnes is out of ammo,” Steve says into the comms.  "I’m trying to get to him but we need back up.”

“On my way,” Sam says.  

Steve looks up and sees a half dozen skelebots pour through the window where Bucky was stationed.

“Now, Sam!  Jesus.  Buck?  How’re you doing?”

“Buck?”  

Steve hears some muffled grunts, a deep gasp, and then nothing.

It takes him moments to scale the rest of the building, and get through the window.  When he does, there’s a lone skelebot left, and it’s standing over Bucky with a bloodied knife.  It looks up at Steve, and seems to grin, before turning back to Bucky and pulling the knife back to strike again.

Steve has never fired the shield so quickly.

When Steve gets to Bucky, he’s lying out cold, his breathing harsh and gasping.  There’s a pool of blood spreading beneath him and when Steve reaches out, Bucky’s skin is cold and clammy.

“Oh, Christ, no,” Steve whispers.  “Please no.  Bucky, come on.”  Steve bends low over Bucky, making to gather him into his arms, before he stays himself.  He has no idea the nature of Bucky’s injuries, and he’s terrified of making it worse.

“Buck?” Steve says, cupping a bloodied hand against Bucky’s face.  “Sam!  Oh, Jesus, Sam hurry!”  Choking back a sob, Steve says “Come on, pal.  Don’t do this.  Don’t do this to me.  Come on.”

He doesn’t notice when Sam arrives or when the medics show up.  Nat tells him he rode in the ambulance with Bucky, and Sam says they’d had to physically restrain him from following him into the OR.

It’s not until Tony hits him with a syringe of SuperSoothe that Steve finally passes out.  The moment he comes to it all hits him.  The skelebots, Bucky, the fights they’d had before going out to put an end to Dr. Doom’s latest plan.  

Steve was furious that Bucky wanted to fight with them.

“Buck, I understand where you’re coming from, I do, but we don’t even have the Army out here fighting these things.  It’s too much of a risk.  I can’t support it.”

“Oh, yeah, sure,” Bucky says, with a stubborn set to his jaw.  “I’ll just hang out here, maybe make you heroes a nice welcome home meal, that the idea?”

“Fuck, no!  Buck - this isn’t - it isn’t safe out there.  You could get hurt.”

“Yeah, I got news for you - I could get hurt anytime I leave my damn house.  This is my city.  I’m not gonna sit around and do nothing.”

“Oh, hell!” Steve says, throwing his hands up in the air.  “Sam?  Can you please talk some sense into him?”

Shrugging, Sam says, “Actually, Cap, I’m kind of with him.  We can use all the help we can get.”

“Oh, fuck you!” Steve flaps his arms again and stomps off.  

When he returns, Clint’s helping Bucky with some tac gear, helping him fasten buckles across his chest before loading a half dozen grenades into a slot at the base of his spine.  

Steve surveys him and part of him can’t help the little flare of desire that sparks low in his belly.  Bucky is loaded for bear, and he looks gorgeous in his tac gear - pants tucked into his boots, goggles covering his eyes and hair swept back into a knot at the base of his skull.  Steve can see a half dozen weapons strapped to Bucky’s body, and the metal from his hand gleams against the carbon fibre gunstock he’s holding.

Standing in front of Bucky, Steve says, “You get out there, you stay behind me and you follow my command.  You get in the weeds, you call for backup.  You start to get tired, you need a break, and you tap out.  Do you understand me?”

Bucky shoves the goggles up onto his forehead, and looks at him with clear slate-colored eyes.  “I got it, Stevie.  I’m gonna be safe out there.  I know what I’m doing, and I can help.”

Steve grabs him then, holds Bucky tight to his chest.  When Bucky’s arms come around his waist, he breathes out a shaky sigh.

“Okay.  One more thing,” Steve says, pulling away.  “You get hurt?  I’ll fucking kill you.”

 

Turning over, Steve lets out a low groan.  He counts at least three broken ribs, a sprained wrist and he’s pretty sure that ache in his thigh is a stab wound.  He’s on the mend and will probably be good as new in the morning.  Closing his eyes, he thinks about Bucky and feels the stab of fear in his gut again.

“Jarvis?”

“Sergeant Barnes came out of surgery an hour ago, Captain Rogers.  He is expected to make a full recovery.  I believe Dr. Cho oversaw the use of the RegenereX machine.  He’s expected to be released from care by morning.”

“Oh, thank God,” Steve says.  “Thank God.”

Sliding out of bed, Steve pulls on a pair of sweatpants and a shirt from the closet.  He doesn't stay at the tower often, but often enough that he has some clothes there.  It takes him less than five minutes to brush his hair, wash his face, and brush his teeth.  When he gets to the elevator, it’s already open and waiting for him.

“Med bay, Jarvis.  If you don’t mind.”

“Of course, Captain.  Of course.”

Chapter Text

December 19th

Steve stands in the med bay, looking through the glass at Bucky.  He’d been stabbed in the side, the knife getting between the hard planks of the armor sewn into his jacket. The surgery was successful, but he’d lost a lot of blood.  

The fact that he hasn’t woken up yet has Steve on tenterhooks.  

He’s still berating himself for not insisting that Bucky stay behind.  The only reason he’d agreed to allow Bucky to participate at all was the fact that he knew - in his gut - that Bucky was going to get back out there whether Steve gave his okay or not.  At least this way he’d had access to the appropriate gear, plus back up on the comms.

Fat lot of good that did him.

The heart rate monitor beeps steady, Bucky’s heart tripping along in a way that provides a little comfort.  

Still - this is all Steve’s fault.  He never should have - God, what was he thinking?  He let a civilian into his life - into this world, knowing the kinds of danger he faces.

He doesn’t even have contact information for Bucky’s family.  He’d had to ask Nat to get it, and like the coward he is, he still hasn’t called.  

What the hell is he supposed to say to them?  

As he watches the heart rate monitor blip a steady pulse, Steve knows one thing for certain:  There is no way he can let this go on.  It was selfish of him to think he could have Bucky and be an Avenger.  He’s lucky he didn’t get Bucky killed.  

“Cho says he’ll be fine, Cap.”

Steve startles out of his self-flagellation to see Tony approaching the glass, looking in on Bucky.  The two men stand quietly for a moment before Tony speaks again.

“It’s terrifying, isn’t it?  There are people are out there walking around with nothing between them and the world but the clothing on their backs.  You know, I designed a suit for Pepper?  Had it slimmed down, just something she could wear when she leaves the tower.  Know what she did?”  

Steve takes his eyes from Bucky and looks at Tony’s reflection in the glass.

“She laughed at me,” Tony says, and there’s a soft smile on his face, before it falls away. “I watched her fall to her death once.  She fell a hundred feet into a ball of fire.  And not twenty minutes later, she pulled herself out of it.  Saved my ass - my suit was down, Killian had lost his damn mind, and let’s be honest, after watching Pepper die, I didn’t have a whole lot of fight left in me.

“But she surprised me.”  Here Tony smiles, catching and holding Steve’s eyes.  “She does that a lot.  Surprises me.  Saves my ass.  Moderates some of my lesser impulses.”

“She’s a good woman,” Steve says.  “One of the best.”

“Okay, Capsicle, I’m just gonna spell it out for you.  I’m better , because of her.  I’m a better man, because she loves me, and I want to be that for her.  I’m a better Avenger, because she needs me to be one.”

“Tony-”

“Nope.  I can already hear the stupid coming out of your brain through your mouth.  You’re about to do something self-sacrificing and idiotic, and I’m here to stop you.  You’re welcome.”

Steve can’t help but smile.  Tony’s always known to push all of Steve’s buttons.

Tony turns and Steve finds himself looking Tony in the eye.  “Ask yourself this,” he says, and Steve braces for what Tony might say next.  “What’s the point of fighting, if you’re not fighting for something.  Someone.”  Smiling, Tony shakes his head.  “Don’t answer that.  Just - don’t do something you’re going to regret.”

In the background, the beeping of Bucky’s heart picks up.

“Looks like Sleeping Beauty’s waking up.  You better get in there,” Tony says, before turning and walking away.

 

As Bucky comes to, Steve is holding his hand.  

“There you are,” Steve says, pushing a smile onto his face.  Bucky is pale, his long hair spread out on the white pillow.  There’s a few day’s scruff covering up his perfect jawline, and Steve’s fingers itch to rub against it, to feel Bucky, warm and alive under his fingertips.

It takes Bucky several sleepy blinks before he focuses on Steve.  “Hi,” he says, and there’s a soft, dopey smile on his face.

“Hi,” Steve answers, and he can’t stop the fond smile from escaping his lips.

Bucky’s eyes flick around the room as he takes in the scenery.  “Ah, hell,” he says.  “I got hurt, didn’t I?”

“You did,” Steve answers.  “Do you remember?”  He pauses and watches as Bucky searches his memory, a far off look in his eyes.

“Shit,” he says, pulling his hand back from Steve and reaching for his ribs.  “I got..stabbed?”  He looks confused when he can’t find the wound.

“You did,” Steve tells him.  “We almost lost you, Buck.  You lost a lot of blood.”

“It doesn’t...hurt?”

“Very new technology,” Steve answers.  “The RegenereX machine.  Something about building new tissue coded to your DNA?  It’s really more Tony and Bruce’s department.”

Bucky’s hand keeps tracing over his side.  “Neat,” he says.  “I think.  My skin’s not gonna become sentient or anything, right?”

The laughter that bubbles up in Steve’s throat feels good until he remembers why they’re here.  

“No,” he says.  “It won’t.  Look, I haven’t contacted your family yet.  I was trying to work up the nerve when you came to.  Do you want me to give them a call now?”

“Probably should.  In a minute.  How are you doing?”

“‘M fine, Buck,” Steve says, but looks away.

“Why don’t I believe you.  What’s going on, Stevie?”

This is the hard part.  The worst part, Steve thinks, because he really doesn’t want to do this.  But he knows it’s what’s right, despite what Tony might think.  He can’t make himself meet Bucky’s eyes.

“Look, I think we should...take a step back, me and you.  It’s - I can’t bring you into this life.  Just knowing me put you in danger.  I can’t be responsible for that.”

Bucky doesn’t say anything for so long that Steve finally forces himself to look him in the eye.

“You don’t want to see me anymore?” Bucky asks, and Steve can see the pain laid bare in Bucky’s eyes.

“Yeah,” Steve says, his voice soft.  “I think it’s for the best.  I’m so sorry.”

His eyes haven’t left Steve’s and Steve feels pinned by the clear blue-gray.  They’re giving him no quarter.   

Bucky opens his mouth, then presses his lips together.  His fingers curl around Steve’s, and Steve looks down, surprised to see he’s holding onto Bucky with both hands.

“You’re holding on awful tight for someone trying to let go, Stevie.”

“I - shit, I’m sorry Buck.” He untangles his fingers from Bucky’s and it’s maybe the hardest thing he’s ever done, which doesn’t even make any sense.  He hasn’t even known Bucky for very long.

Staring up at the ceiling, Bucky blinks a few times and it hits Steve like a punch in the stomach.  He did this.  He’s the one who made Bucky hurt.

“Yeah, okay,” Bucky says, keeping his eyes on the ceiling.  “At least now I can say I’ve been dumped by a super asshole, instead of just a regular asshole.  Aren’t I special?  Can you get me a phone so I can call my folks?  I want to let them know I’m okay.”

“Yeah,” Steve says, and he stands back, pulling away from Bucky like he’s been burned.  “Yes, of course.  I'll send Dr. Cho in, too.  Do you...do you need anything?”

“Can someone find my clothes?  Assuming I’m free to go?”

“I - what?  Yeah.  Yes, yes of course, Bucky.  I’ll - shit - I’m sorry.”

Bucky shrugs but doesn’t look at him. Steve stands there a minute longer, staring at the man in the bed.  It’s - Jesus Christ, it feels so wrong to just walk away from him.  

But he does it anyway.  

Chapter Text

December 20th

 

Bucky lays back in his childhood bed, bracing himself to face the day.  His mother had been frantic and furious when he’d called and asked her to pick him up.  The trains were still down until structural integrity testing could be done, which left Bucky stranded in Manhattan at the Avengers’ tower.  And he would be goddamned if he was going to ask Steve for a lift.  

Jesus.

All he could think about, the whole time he was talking to his mother, the whole time he waited for her to arrive, through Dr. Cho’s explanation of his injury and the healing process, and through the ride back to his folk’s place off Lake Carmel, was that goddamned file.  

He’d reviewed it once, while he was waiting for the Doc to take a look at his arm.  His psych eval was in there, as were a couple dozen pictures of him, fresh after losing his arm, with the ugly black scar where they’d seamed his flesh together.  He knew there were notes from his shrink detailing his plan to work through his problems.  He came out of the desert with mild PTSD but one hell of a case of survivor’s guilt.  

And Steve saw all of that.

Bucky doesn’t know if he’s furious with Steve for the invasion of privacy, or furious with Steve for deciding Bucky wasn’t good enough, or furious with Steve for not even offering an excuse for breaking things off - not owning his bullshit.  

About the only thing he does know is that he’s furious at Steve.  He’s blood-boiling, creative-swearing, rage-baking, furious at Steve.   

Sitting up in bed, Bucky’s steeling himself to throw off the covers and face the day, when there’s a soft knock at the door.

“I’m up,” he says, and his mother opens the door, two cups of coffee in her hands.

“How are you feeling, honey?”

Shrugging, Bucky says, “I’m doing okay, Ma.”

She hands Bucky the cup of coffee and he takes it, drawing a deep sip before making space on the bed for her.

“You know,” she starts, and Bucky braces himself.  Nothing good ever starts with ‘you know.’  “When you came home from Afghanistan, I thought I was done worrying over you.  I thought, ‘he’s home now, and he’s not going to do something like that again.’ I thought I was only going to have to worry over ordinary things, like I do with your sister.”  She pauses and gives him a meaningful look.  

“I know, Ma.  I”m sorry - you know I couldn’t just stand by and watch though.  We had hurt people at the bakery and….” Bucky shrugs because what else is he going to say.  He did what needed to be done, and he’s always going to be that guy.  He doesn’t know how else to be.

“I know, honey,” she says, and leans over to squeeze his knee.  “Now what has you so upset?  I know it wasn’t the fighting.”

Bucky pauses for a moment.  He weighs the pros and cons of talking things out with his mother, and realizes that yeah, this is a comfort that he’s entitled to, and he wants it.

“I was seeing someone.  He broke it off.”  Bucky shrugs, because it was more than that.  It’s not like they were in love - they’d hardly broken the seal on dating, but God , Bucky’d liked him so much.  He was the first person in a long time that Bucky could see a future with.  That Bucky had wanted a future with.  Now when he thinks of Steve he just feels sore, there up under his ribs where his heart and his dreams live.

Winnie’s mouth forms a tight, flat line.  “Sounds like he wasn’t so smart, you ask me.”

“Ma…” Bucky says, even as he knows it’s exactly what he wants to hear.

“Ah, baby.  You’re a good man.  I know you know that, but I know it, too.   We know it, too.  Hell, honey, anyone who looks at you for ten minutes knows it.”  When she sees that her pep talk hasn’t improved Bucky’s mood, she puts an arm around him and holds him close.  

“There’s no hope?” she asks.  

“No,” he says.  “He was pretty sure about it, and honestly, I don’t -” And here he pauses because as the words are lining up to be said, he realizes that they’re true.  “I don’t want to have to beg someone for a chance, you know?  Falling in love’s supposed to be easy, isn’t it?”

Squeezing him close, his mother hums agreement.  “I think that’s why they call it falling, honey.  It doesn’t take any effort at all.  Come on,” she says, rising and taking Bucky’s empty coffee cup.  “You know I’m a whole day behind on my baking.  I could use a hand.”

Smiling, Bucky waves a hand at her.  “Yeah, yeah, you just want me around for my kitchen skills.  Let me wash up.  I’ll be down in a minute.”

Bucky washes his face and brushes his teeth, and by the time he makes it downstairs, his Ma’s got the whole kitchen set up, just the way she’d taught him.  The mise en place (as he’d later learned it was called) pangs something in his heart.  It’s the way he still does it at the bakery, lining things up in the order that he’ll need them, measuring spoons and cups set out in just the right order, baking pans and cooling racks at the ready.

“Alright,” he says.  “What are we doing?”

Sitting at the kitchen table with his mother, they go through the lists of cookies, deciding which they’ll make today.  The old favorites are there - thumbprints and shortbread, soft, warm sugar cookies prime for decorating, along with Buckeyes and S’mores bars, and chocolate charms that held hidden Hershey Kisses inside.  Once they decide on an order, the pair get to work.  

They work together seamlessly, moving around one another with easy grace.  Soft Christmas music fills the air.  Before he knows it, they’re standing back, looking at several hundred cookies, baked and cooled and ready for packaging.  Bucky bites into one of the sugar cookies and grins.  No matter how sophisticated his palate becomes, plain sugar cookies with a bit of icing will always be one of his favorite things.

He’s surprised to find he feels more like himself than he thought he would.  He’s still crushed - you don’t hold someone like Steve Rogers in your hands - you don’t kiss someone like Steve, mouths sliding together until his face ached - and walk away from it without being crushed.  But he knows he’ll be alright, and alright’s gotten him this far.

 

He kisses his mother goodbye at the train station.  She’d driven him that far and packed him up with a tin of Christmas cookies in exchange for his labor.   The trains had been declared safe with only one track shut down for repairs, and Bucky wants to get back to his life.  The bakery was a mess, and the sooner he got that back online, the sooner he could get back to his life, and woe unto the Avenger who darkened his doorway again.

Of course, that lasts long enough for Bucky to get to the bakery and find Clint there, seemingly overseeing an army of droids, who are sorting through the rubble and getting the place back in working order.

“Hey,” Bucky says, feeling unexpectedly pleased to see Clint there. “What are you doing here?”

Shrugging, Clint says, “You make the best cup of coffee in the city, man.  I’m just being selfish.”

Bucky laughs.  “Hate to break it to you, pal.  You’re pretty unconvincing.”

Clint shrugs again and goes back to what he was doing.  

Bucky surveys the damage: all of the glass in the front needs to be replaced, but the display cases came through unscathed. The area where the register stood though is demolished.  Picking through the rubble, Bucky finds the remains of the advent calendar.  

His heart does that deep, panging thing again and his stomach gives another one of those lurching drops.  Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot left of the box to save.  He holds a few of the pieces in his hands, but eventually drops them into the recycling heap and turns away.  There’s no sense in thinking about what-ifs.  

His melancholy grows stronger when he starts sorting through the debris in the back.  He finds a couple of the minature playing cards from the advent gifts that Steve had given him, and his heart does that panging thing again.  When he finds the tiny metal shield, he has to stop and swallow against the emotion that rises up hard within him.  Because yeah, he’d thought about having sex with Steve.  He’d thought about making love.

But he’d also thought about other things.  Things like late night dinners at Bucky’s kitchen table, and easy conversation over cold bottles of beer.  Lazy Sunday mornings when they would have time to indulge in one another, to be good to one another.  Early mornings and sleepy smiles, getting used to the smell of Steve’s skin.  Beard-burn.  

It was the loss of that dream that had Bucky smarting.

Shaking himself out of his doldrums, he puts the shield in his pocket to think about later.  Right now, he can’t afford to dwell.

About an hour later, Bucky’s able to get one of the coffee machines running.  He makes a pot and just before it’s done brewing, Clint appears, an extra-large cup in his hand.

“You’re a good person,” Clint says, as Bucky fills his cup.

Bucky grins.  “Yeah, yeah, you just love me for my coffee.”

“Not just the coffee,” Clint says, his eyes closing as he inhales the steam.  “You were awesome out there.  It was good having you on the team.”

Shrugging, Bucky says, “Yeah, well, it was a one-time thing.  Glad I could help out though.”

“One time?  That’s dumb - you were great out there.  Is Steve giving you grief?  Want me to talk to your boy?”

“No, it’s - don’t.  It’s not - we’re not, ah, together.”

Clint stares at him for a moment, looking dumbfounded before he says, “Aw, Steve, no.”

“Anyway,” Bucky says.  “I really appreciate the help here.”

“What happened?” Clint asks.  “He really likes you.  I mean, we all really like you.  Why is he being a dumbass?”

“Come on,” Bucky says, feeling weirdly protective of Steve and that kind of makes him want to hit something hard.  “Guess I’m just not his type.”

Clint pulls back and little and stares.  “What?  He’s smiled more in the last month than he has the entire time I’ve known him.  Tony even stopped calling him Captain Grumpypants. He definitely liked you.”

And shit.  He knows Clint doesn’t mean anything by it, but Bucky’s still fresh off the loss and hasn’t fully processed anything, not really, so he can’t be blamed for the way he snaps.

“Look, he pulled my StarkTek file - which I’m pretty sure is a HIPAA violation, by the way - he read what was in there, and then he dumped my ass.  Can we please not talk about it?”

“Shit.  Yeah. Yes.  I’m - I’m really sorry, man.” Clint runs a hand through his hair and looks around the shop, before turning back to Bucky.  “Hey, we’re still cool though, right?  Because I really want to get you on the range with a bow and arrow.  If you’re that good with a gun, I can’t wait to see what you’ll do with a bow.”

Bucky smiles, letting go of some of his tension.  The last few days have been such a whirlwind that Bucky doesn’t know if he’s up or down, but he realizes  it doesn’t matter.  He’s still here.  If that IED couldn’t take him out, fucking animatronic, sentient skeletons couldn’t take him out, then Captain America doesn’t stand a goddamned chance.  

“Sure,” Bucky says, grinning at Clint.  “Now getcher ass back to work.”

Chapter Text

December 21

 

Steve walks down to the common kitchen, hoping against hope that it’ll be empty.  He needs some industrial strength caffeine, something, to take the edge off.  He didn’t sleep at all last night.

Every time he closed his eyes, all he could see was the way Bucky’d stared at the ceiling after Steve broke up with him, the soft pain of it hitting him in the gut, over and over again.

When he gets to the kitchen, Clint, Nat, and Sam are there.  Clint is staring at the coffee maker like it holds the secrets to the universe.  Hell, after a night like last night, maybe it does.  

Grabbing a cup, Steve goes to stand next to Clint, waiting for the coffee to finish brewing.  Clint looks up at him and sort of grunts, then back to the coffee.

“So,” Sam says.  “We gonna talk about Barnes?  He’d be one hell of a help to the team.”

“He cleared the background check,” Nat says.  “He’s not Hydra. Or AIM.”

“Yeah,” Sam says.  “I kind of got that from how he wasn’t trying to kill us out there.”

“Yes,” Clint hisses, then pours himself a large mug of coffee.  When he sets the pot back down, it’s almost half gone.  

“He’s not joining the team,” Steve says, keeping his voice even.  “And Nat, I told you to leave the goddamned background check alone.”

Nat does that little “sorry not sorry,” shrug of hers, and Steve feels his temper rise.  

Clint whips around to look at Natasha.  “Did you pull his file?  His StarkTek file?”

Wincing, Nat says “Why would I do that?  I pulled his history off the server, checked on his military record and talked to his C.O.  His financial records are clean, his dating history -”  

“Shut. Up!” Steve’s voice is low and controlled as he turns on Nat.  “I told you to let it lie.  You had no right -”

“Steve, come on.  We did the same thing when Sam joined.”

“Not exactly,” Sam says, leaning back in his chair.  “I consented to the background check.  Come on, Nat, you know he got a full work up when he joined the StarkTek program.”

“Yeah, and I know that things change. We had to be sure that Cap was safe.”

“Well you don’t have to worry about it anymore,” Steve says, his anger showing.

Sam gives Steve a confused look.  “What the hell does that mean?”

“It means,” Clint says, holding the mug of coffee near his face, “that after Bucky suited up and helped us take out the bad guys, getting hurt in the process, Cap here dumped him.”

“Aw, hell no.  Steve?  Tell me you did not.”

“Sam, it’s not -”

“Do you actually hate yourself?  The way you keep fucking yourself over, it kind of seems like you do.”

“Sam, come on.  I just - I can’t -”

“Can’t what?  Let yourself be happy?  Steve, you were happy.”

Sam looks at him with sad brown eyes, and Steve feels a kind of shame steal over him.  He’s never felt Sam’s pity before.

The rest of the room is quiet, and when Steve chances a glance, he sees all three of them are looking at him the same way.

“What we do is too dangerous,” Steve says.  “I can’t ask someone else to be a part of this.”

“Okay, but did you ask him?  Or did you just assume?” Sam asks.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Steve says.

“Wait,” Clint says.  “Nat, if you didn’t pull his file, then who did?  He was really pissed about that yesterday.”

“What?” Steve says, turning to Clint.  Did...did that mean Clint talked to him yesterday?  “Was he okay?” Steve asks.  “Did you talk to him?  How did he look?”

Clint huffs a breath and sets his mug on the counter before running a hand through his hair.  “I grabbed a couple of the droids and went to help clean up the bakery.  After everything he did for us, I thought it was the least I could do.”

“And?” Steve asks.  He doesn’t know what he wants.  He wants Bucky to be happy, and he wants to hear that he’s fine, and he knows it will break his heart.  God, Bucky was right.  He is such an asshole.

“And -” Clint says, and then closes his eyes.  “And he was pissed off that someone here pulled his file, and I would guess he’s bummed out that his bakery is fucked at least ‘til New Year’s, but beyond that, you’re gonna have to ask him yourself.”

“Shit,” Steve says, and pulls out his phone.

 

SGR:  How are you doing?  Are you healing okay?

BB:  …  

BB:  Healing fine, thx

SGR:  Do you need anything?

BB:  Nope.

 

“Steve, what the hell are you doing?” Sam gets up and walks to where Steve is standing.

“I’m…”  Steve gestures to his phone.

“No,” Sam says, and puts his hand over the phone.  “Don’t jerk him around.  If you’re done, you need to be done.”

“I -” Steve stops himself from saying anything more, but he wants to.  Sam’s right, Steve knows he’s right.  It hits him then, what he’s done.  He’s not going to be able to talk to Bucky, not going to be able to text him, and he’s sure as hell not going to be able to stop by the bakery, sit at a wobbly table, and watch Bucky work.  

The low-level distress that he’s been carrying ratchets up into something bright and hard and painful.

When he looks up, Sam’s giving him that pitying look again.  

“Wait,” Nat says.  “So, if it wasn’t me, who pulled Barnes’ file?”

Walking in, Tony looks around.  “I did.”  He stops and taking in the looks on everyone’s faces.  “What?”

Clint speaks up, wrapping both hands around his coffee cup.  “Cap broke up with Barnes, and Barnes thinks it’s because Cap read his file.”

“What?” Steve asks, his voice sharp and shocked.  “I didn’t - I wouldn’t!”  When he looks around the room, he sees that same pitying look on Tony’s face, and he has to sit down.  “This is why I don’t live at the Tower,” he says, and rests his head in his hands.

“And everyone thinks I’m the self-destructive one,” Tony says.  “Anyway, I had his file brought up to see if he needed any upgrades.  It’s an older model, and given what was in the file, I came up with some modifications that I thought would suit. I was going to talk to him about it, but that was before Doom showed and this one,” he gestures to Steve, “acted like an idiot.”

“I have to tell him,” Steve says, looking at Sam with pleading eyes.  “I have to explain.”

“Steve,” Sam says, and Steve already knows what Sam’s going to say.

“I’ll do it,” Clint says.  “I told him I’d give him a hand  - something about an ice machine - and then we’re gonna go to the range.  I’ll explain about the file.”

“Hey,” Tony says.  “Tell him to setup an appointment.  I have some ideas about the next gen.  Some improvements I think he'll like.”  

“You got it,” Clint says, and leaves the room.

“I can’t believe you,” Tony says, and Steve feels like he’s about two inches tall.  The team filters out, but Steve stays where he is, resting his head on his hands, and staring into nothing.

 

He’s still there hours later when the team starts filing in for dinner.  

Steve knows he looks pathetic, he does.  He just - seeing Bucky there on the floor, the thick, dark blood pooling up under him, all Steve could see was that it was his fault.  If only he’d been faster - if only he’d gotten there sooner.  If only he’d never let Bucky suit up to begin with.  

Bucky is safer without Steve in his life.  If that means...if that means that Steve can’t have what he wants, then so be it.  He can get by on his own.

“Steve,” Sam says, and takes the chair next to him.  “What are you doing?”  He can hear pity and sadness in Sam’s voice, and he realizes that the answer is that he has no fucking idea.

“I -”  Steve opens his mouth to answer then snaps it shut.  

“So you’ll take away his agency for your own need to see him safe?  Man, do you know how bad I wish I could lock Natasha up and never let her get near anything dangerous, ever again?  But if I do that, she won’t actually be Nat anymore.  And isn’t that why I love her?”

“What do you want me to do?” Steve asks.  “I can’t ask him to do this.”

“That’s funny,” Sam says.  “You said the same thing to me, once.  All I’m saying is think about it, and while you’re at it, think about why you won’t let yourself be happy.”

Sam gets up from the table and a few minutes later, Steve does too.

He thinks maybe he should go home, get out of the tower where everyone is watching his every move.  And okay, if maybe on his way there he happens past the bakery, that would okay, right?  He doesn’t have to go in.  He can just...look.

Resolved, he pulls on his leather jacket and heads to the elevator bank.  He’s halfway across the lobby when Clint comes walking in.

“Cap!” Clint says and walks toward him.  “Just the man I was looking for!”

Clint shrugs out of his backpack and unzips it.  He pulls out a tin and hands it to Steve, then watches him, expectant.  

“What’s this?”

Clint grins.  “I’d call it a parting shot,” he says, and fingers the bandage across the bridge of his nose.

Steve opens the tin, and the scent of gingerbread hits his nose.  It’s bright and spicy and Steve knows without tasting that they’re going to be delicious.  His heart does that swoopy thing in his chest because - because everything about this says home to him.  Everything about this says that the smell of fresh-baked things, that the smell of things that Bucky’s made - everything about that feels right. He feels a smile cross his lips and for the first time in three days, he thinks everything’s going to be okay.

When he finishes opening up the tin, his world falls out from beneath him.

There, nestled into waxed paper, is a stack of gingerbread men.  They’re decorated with simple white icing, and look absolutely flawless.  

A lump forms in Steve’s throat, and his eyes start to water.  “What have I done?” he asks, holding the tin out for Clint to see.

At the top of the stack is a slightly larger gingerbread man.  He’s got a cowl covering his face and there’s a tiny, silver shield in one hand.  Steve picks it up the cookie and holds it in the palm of his hand.  There’s a small, hollow space where the heart belongs.

“Come on, Cap,” Clint says, taking the cookie and the tin from Steve.  “Come on.  Let’s go fix this.”

 

Chapter Text

December 22

 

There’s a pounding at the front door and Bucky tilts his head back, looking at the ceiling.  

Thump. Thump. Thump.

It’s the kind of pounding that means nothing good.  It’s the kind you hear right before someone serves you a summons, or the landlord drops off a rent increase notice.

Maybe if he ignores it, it will go away.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

“Go away,” Bucky yells.  He’s tired and he’s sore and he’s hungry and he hurts.

It hurts.  

He’d hoped he’d be spending the days leading up to Christmas with Steve, but Steve is a super asshole, so Bucky’s spending it alone.  

Maybe he should order Chinese.  See if they’ll bring him a six-pack while they’re at it.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

“Pal, you don’t get away from my goddamned door I’m gonna come out there and make you.   And you do not want me to do that.”

“Bucky, open up.  Please?”  The please has a little bit of whine on it and are you fucking kidding me?

“You gotta be fucking kidding me,” he yells because it’s not enough that Steve dumped Bucky, now he’s gotta play this “checking up on you” bullshit game.  It’s a ruse.  It’s a ruse and he knows it, and Steve knows it too.  It’s how they do it - how they keep you from moving on with your life, keep you hanging by that thin thread of hope and goddamnit, Bucky is not playing this game.

He gets up and storms to the door, ready to tear Steve a new one.  He has no goddamned right.

“You got no goddamned right,” he says and then stops short.  

Steve is standing there, looking sheepish and like he’s trying to curl in on himself, make himself small.  He has a large box in his hands and he’s holding out to Bucky as though it might save him from Bucky’s wrath.  

Damn him all the hell.  He looks good, wearing jeans and boots and a leather jacket.  The fuck does he think he is, anyway?

Something about it pulls the fight right out of Bucky.  He’s exhausted and he’s hurting and he has sympathy for Steve, but it’s not enough to torture himself, playing the ‘let’s be friends’ game.  Maybe he could have done that before, but he’s had Steve in his hands and he’s tasted his skin, and he can’t go back.  Trying would be torture.

“What do you want, Steve?” he asks, trying not to wince at the sound of his own exhaustion.

“I’m an asshole,” Steve says.  “I’m an asshole and I was wrong and I’m sorry.”

“Okay,” Bucky says, and Steve looks taken aback.  “Well I’m not gonna argue with you,” he says.  “What do you want?”

“I got the cookies,” he says and then Bucky does wince.  He’d meant for it to hurt a little, but he didn’t expect to get called out on it, not right away.  

After they’d finished boarding up the windows at the bakery, Clint and Bucky went to the archery range, where Clint spent an hour showing him how to hold the bow and arrow.  Clint kept insisting that he try it left-handed, and Bucky’s arrows kept going wide.  Still, it had been fun.  He's missed the concentration and precision of shooting.  It made everything inside of him quiet and still, distilling everything into the mark.  He’d forgotten how peaceful it could be.

When they’d finished for the day, Bucky’d grabbed the tin of cookies that he’d rage-baked the night before.  Maybe it was a shitty thing to do.  It was definitely childish.  But, he’d promised Steve some gingerbread cookies.  This way he got to keep his promise.

He’d been following Clint back to the tower, ready to deliver them to the front desk, when Clint offered to messenger for him.

“One-time deal, man,” he’d said, before sliding the tin into his backpack.  “So, hey?  Tomorrow?  Oh, and I almost forgot.  Stark is the one who pulled your file.  He said he wants to do some upgrades and wanted to know if you’re down.  He said to make an appointment if you’re interested.”

“Oh,” Bucky’d said, because at least that meant that Steve hadn’t seen the file.   Though, if Steve hadn’t read his file, then why did he dump Bucky?  

And that was the thing that got him to open the door.  

Now Steve’s standing in front of him, looking hangdog and sad, and Bucky doesn’t know why.

“Did...you want something else?” he asks, because Steve isn’t saying anything.

“Yeah.  I...this is for you,” he says, and pushes the box toward Bucky.

“Yeah, no.  I don’t want anything from you.  Just - just leave me alone, Steve.”

“Okay, yeah, I will, I mean, I’m going to.  But -”  Then he deflates and Bucky watches as his shoulder sag and he looks defeated.  “I really want you to have this,” he says.  “Please, Buck.”

Oh, damn it all to hell.  Bucky softens a little at the use of the nickname, so he stands aside and lets Steve in.

“Might as well,” he says.  “Mrs. Winslow is a huge gossip, and you’re letting out all the heat.”

The relief that floods Steve’s face makes Bucky feel like a hero, and he kind of hates Steve for that.

They move into the apartment and Bucky sets the box on the coffee table.

Steve stands just inside the doorway, stuffing his hands in his jeans pockets before pulling them out and folding them in front of him.  He’s sort of leaning from one foot to the other, doing a nervous dance.

“You gotta piss or something?” Bucky asks, because he kind of is doing the pee-pee dance.

“No,” Steve says, and breathes deep.  “Sorry.  I just - I’m nervous.”  

Bucky does his best to look aloof.  “Look, Steve, I’m gonna open this box and say thank you, and then you’re gonna leave and I’m probably gonna get drunk, and we’re both gonna pretend not to know each other after this, okay?  Those are the rules.”

“Those are shitty rules,” Steve says.

“Yeah, well, since I’m the one who got dumped, I’m the one who gets to make them.”  He turns to the box and opens it, and everything around him stills.

It’s the advent box.  It’s been banged up to hell, and there are some places where he can see that new wood has replaced the old, but for all intents and purposes, it’s the same box.

“Steve,” Bucky says, and swallows against the lump in his throat.  

“I know that I fucked this all up, and I’m sorry, Buck.  I thought if we weren’t together you would be safe, but that wasn’t my choice to make, and I’m - it’s not worth it.  Not if it means being without you.  It’s selfish, I know, but if you could - if maybe we could….” Steve trails off as Bucky opens one of the drawers.  Something inside made a soft rattle when he was setting it down, and Bucky wants to see what’s inside.

He opens the drawer marked one and breathes deep.  “Oh,” he says, voice gone soft with emotion.  “You are such an asshole.”

The drawer is filled with tiny, Red Hot hearts, the kind that come out at Valentine’s day, but Bucky guesses if you’re Steve Rogers, you can find them year round.  He closes the drawer and opens the next one and the next.  They’re all filled with the same cinnamon hearts. They’re the perfect size to fit in the heartless gingerbread man.

“I can’t stop thinking about you,” Steve says.  “And even if...even if all you want - if all we can be is friends, that’s okay.  I mean, of course, it’s - anything you want, Buck.  I’ll do anything.”

Bucky pulls out one of the drawers from the box and pours the candies into his hand.  When he looks at the drawer, he can see the dovetail jointing.  He’s touched - someone took a lot of time to do it right.

“Did you do this?” he asks, finally turning to look at Steve.

“Uhm, yeah.  Clint - Clint helped. He, uhm, he got all the pieces.  From the bakery?” His face is a mess of hope and need, and it goes to war with Bucky’s righteous indignation.

“Fuck.”  Bucky pours the candies back into the box, then slides the box home.  He walks to the kitchen and opens a cupboard, pulls out a glass, then opens another for a bottle of Rye.  He pours three fingers, drinks deep, then pours two more.

When he looks up, he finds that Steve is still standing by the door.

“Christ.  Do you want some of this or not?” he asks, and Steve startles.  “I know it doesn’t do anything for you, but, it’s here if you want it.”

Steve steps forward and in a moment is beside Bucky, reaching into the cabinet for a glass of his own.  “Thank you,” he says.

Bucky nods, then closes his eyes and leans back against the counter, waiting for the booze to kick in.

When he opens his eyes, he finds that Steve is still watching him.  It’s  - he didn't think he would be on the receiving end of this look again.  

Steve is beautiful.  He’s tall, just a little taller than Bucky, and he’s strong and he’s fast, and he’s looking at Bucky like Bucky knows the secrets of the universe.  It’s heady and seductive and Bucky’s not sure he’s ready for all of that.  Not again.

Then Steve blinks, and some of the tension in his frame lets loose, and he’s not Captain America anymore.  He’s just some guy, some beautiful, gorgeous guy, who’s fucked up and wants to make amends.

“Stevie,” he says, and Steve looks at him with bright eyes.  “How do you feel about baseball?”

“I love it,” he says, and Bucky blinks.  

“Yeah?”  Bucky can feel the booze hitting his blood, making his head feel a little less heavy.  It’s letting him do what he wants, instead of what he thinks is right.  

“Well, you get three strikes and that last one was a doozy.  It might even count for two.”

“Is that -?”  Steve starts forward, then stops himself, then - and Bucky can see the moment he thinks ‘fuck it,’ and comes the rest of the way. He places a warm hand on Bucky’s hip and steps into his space.  His eyes are full of questions.

It feels inescapable, and it feels good.  He wants this - he wants Steve.  And not for the guy who wears a shield on his back, but for the guy who’s looking at him now, with soft eyes and his heart on his sleeve, like Bucky’s the only thing he could ever want.

For the guy he’s been falling in love with for the last three weeks.

“Bucky, I - thank you.  I...I promise, I’m gonna make this up to you.  You’re never gonna have a reason to doubt me again, I swear.  I just -”

“Steve,” Bucky says, and Steve looks at him, wide eyed.  “Shut up and kiss me.”

The smile that blooms on Steve’s face is everything.  

 

Thirty minutes later, they’re still standing in Bucky’s kitchen, making out like there’s no tomorrow.

That is, until Bucky yawns.  

“It’s been a hell of a few days,” Bucky says, ducking his face against Steve’s shoulder.

“Yeah,” Steve says.  “Of course.”  He pushes his fingers into Bucky’s hair, then leans in to steal one more kiss.  “I’ll - I should let you get to bed.”

“Yeah,” Bucky says.  “Or...or you could come with.  Just sleeping,” he says, and Steve wraps both arms around Bucky, holding him close.

“Just sleeping,” he says and kisses the corner of Bucky’s jaw.  “Yeah.”

“I will kick you out of my bed,” Bucky says, putting on his very best stern face.

“Oh, I believe you.  Here.  Let me make you some toast and milk.  Didn't you say you were hungry earlier?"

And Bucky is so touched.  This is what he's been waiting for: someone who will care about him, but also someone who will care for him.  It means everything. 

He stands aside as Steve makes the toast and pours him a glass of milk, and then Bucky proceeds to consume them both.  He's more tired than ever once it's done, and he yawns huge while putting his plate and glass in the sink.  

“Come on, baby,” Steve says, and Bucky sighs.  He could get so used to this.

 

As he tumbles down into sleep, he thinks about the day, and everything it brought:  He’s made a new friend, and he’s stood up for himself, and between both of those things, he thinks he might have won something that he really, really wants.

He’s laying with his head on Steve’s chest, one leg thrown over Steve’s thigh.  He feels warm and safe and wanted, and it’s something he hasn’t had in a long, long time.

“I’m so crazy about you,” Steve says, and kisses the top of Bucky’s head.  “Sweet dreams, Buck.”

“Sweet dreams, Stevie.”

Chapter Text

December 23

 

Bucky’s slow to wake in the morning.  His dreams are filled with something sweet and warm, and waking is a slow, melting thing, like candy floss on your fingertips. He is warm and safe and happy in his dreams.  

It takes him a moment to realize that he’s warm and safe and happy in his reality, too.

“It’s early, Buck,” Steve says, and tightens the arm he has around Bucky’s waist, pulling him in closer.  “Go back to sleep.”  The words are a sigh against his skin.

Freezing for a moment, Bucky realizes that he must have taken his shirt off in the night, because Steve is pressed close to him, skin on skin.  It’s not - Bucky’s not ready for Steve to see him like this.  To see his scars.  His wounds.

“Hey,” Steve says, pressing a kiss to Bucky’s shoulder, right over the scar tissue.  “What are you freaking out about?”

Holding his breath, Bucky turns, and looks at Steve.

“You’re here,” he says.  He’s glad to have the arm - and the scars, out of Steve’s line of sight.

“Well,” Steve says, a lopsided grin pulling at his mouth.  “You did ask me to stay.”  Then a wrinkle of worry fixes itself between his eyes, and Steve starts to push back.  “Do you regret it?” he asks, and no.  No.

Bucky tightens his hold on Steve, pulling him closer.  “No regrets,” he says.  “I just…” His eyes dart toward his shoulder.

“Buck,” Steve says, and leans over Bucky, pushing him onto his back.  It’s thrilling, how strong Steve is - so much power restrained.  Does anyone else know how gentle he is?

Steve kisses him: gentle presses of his mouth against Bucky’s skin.  He kisses Bucky’s cheeks, his brow, the tip of his nose.  He kisses down his neck, behind his ear, and onto his chest.  He kisses his way across Bucky’s collarbones, nuzzling in at the crook of his neck, and biting soft at the juncture.  He kisses down Bucky’s chest, his tongue flicking out at each nipple, along his sides, before coming back up dead center, his tongue flicking out to twist the few hairs scattered there.

“Do you have any idea how gorgeous you are?” Steve asks when he’s done.  “Whenever I’m around you, Buck, I can’t take my eyes off of you.”

It goes miles toward making Bucky feel comfortable with his naked skin on display.  Miles.

He smiles up at Steve and then pulls him in for a kiss.  They move together, Steve on top of Bucky, both of them thrusting against one another, mouths growing desperate, sliding slick and soft.

“Buck,” Steve gasps, and buries his head in the crook of Bucky’s neck.  

Bucky leans down, pushing first his and then Steve’s underwear down, both of them gasping as their cocks slide together.

“Like that?” Bucky asks, his hips thrusting up toward Steve’s.

“Yeah,” Steve pants.  “Yes.  Fuck.”

Steve fucks into the joint where Bucky’s thigh meets his hip and Bucky fucks up against Steve’s thigh, both of them getting close but needing more.  Bucky snakes his hand down between them and captures both of their cocks, stroking them both off until they’re spilling, hot and slick, onto Bucky’s stomach.

Steve is still keyed up, whining and begging, “Please don’t stop, Bucky, please,” until he comes again, tongue-fucking Bucky through it, as he shudders in Bucky’s arms.

“Stevie,” Bucky says, as Steve floats down from his orgasm.  Bucky’s hand is filthy with their release, and he giggles when he realizes that he has no idea what to do with it.

“Just - just -” Steve starts, and then laughs with him.  “I don’t know,” he says.  “You wanna hit the shower?”

“Yeah,” Bucky says, before he wipes his hand down Steve’s chest.

“What?  Oh!” Steve yelps, but Bucky’s already sliding out the of the bed, moving fast toward the bathroom.  Steve catches him around the waist in the hallway, lifting him off his feet and pressing his sticky chest against Bucky’s back.

“You’re gonna need help getting that off,” Steve says, and Bucky smiles, pressing back against Steve.

“Yeah,” he says.  “I am.”

 

An hour later, they’re sitting at Bucky’s table.  Bucky made crepes with strawberries and a vanilla creme filling, and he’d laced them with an orange liqueur before lighting them on fire.  Steve clapped his hands in delight, and Bucky plated the crepes, along with a frittata and some Lyonnaise potatoes and set it all out on the kitchen table.

“This is amazing, Buck,” Steve says, before shoving another forkful of food in his mouth.  

Bucky grins and sips his coffee.  It’s nice to see someone so pleased with his food.

By the time the meal’s winding down, they’re both playing footsie under the table.

“C’mere,” Steve says, and hooks his foot around Bucky’s chair, dragging him closer.

“Here?” Bucky asks, and rests his foot on the bottom rung of Steve’s chair.  

Steve grins at him before moaning around a bite of crepe.  “These are obscene,” he says, licking his lips.

Bucky tracks the movement of Steve’s tongue, and the two of them share a heated look.  

“What do you have planned for today,” Steve asks.

Shrugging, Bucky says, “I gotta finish getting ready for Christmas.  I have to pick up a couple more things, then I need to prep for tomorrow night.  Stella always hosts Christmas eve at her place, and I’m in charge of desserts - surprise, surprise.”

“Oh,” Steve says.  “Okay, yeah.  I can - do you need me to get out of your hair?”

“I mean...you could...hang out?”  It comes out more of a question than Bucky’s happy with, but it’ll do.  He’s still not entirely sure what they are to each other.  He doesn’t think Steve’s a casual sex kind of guy, but he also doesn’t know for sure, and he wants to before he gives away any more of his heart.  

“I won’t be in your way?” Steve asks.

“Well, yeah,” Bucky answers.  “But how else ya gonna learn?”

Steve’s answering smile lights up his whole face like fireworks.  Bucky can’t help but grin in response.

“Oh!” Steve says.  “Before I forget!”  He sets down his fork and napkin and goes to the living room, returning with the advent box.  

Setting it before Bucky, he says, “Open today.”  

Bucky studies Steve.  His face is serious and his eyes have gone dark blue.

Sliding open the box, Bucky’s a little bit surprised to find it’s not full of candy hearts. Instead, there’s something small, shiny, and silver.

“Steve,” Bucky says.  He pulls out the Captain America Shield, only instead of it being plain silver, there’s a red star at the center.  

“I thought, if you ever wanted to join us again, this could be your symbol?”

Bucky sucks a breath and looks at Steve.  He looks nervous but hopeful.  It’s a good look, Bucky thinks.

“I don’t know if I want all that,” Bucky says.  Serving wasn’t anything like he’d thought it would be, and being good at his job left him shaken a lot of the time.  What kind of a person is good at that?

Still, he had felt good fighting with the Avengers, protecting his city.  At this point, he’s not quite sure what he wants, but he appreciates that now he has options.

Shrugging, Steve says, “Well, think about it.  The team would love to have you, and I...I would be proud to have you on my six.”

“Oh, I’m definitely gonna be on your six,” Bucky says, leering.  He doesn’t miss the way Steve sucks a breath at that, how his eyes darken.

Playing a hunch, Bucky gets up and settles into Steve’s lap.  He threads the fingers of his metal hand into Steve’s hair and gives it a gentle tug.  Steve’s hands tighten around Bucky’s waist as Bucky pushes his head back, and leans down for a filthy kiss.  

When he lets go, Steve stays right as Bucky left him, eyes closed and head tipped back, breathing hard.

“Good to know,” Bucky says, before getting up and sitting back in his own chair.

“I am in so much trouble,” Steve says, finally opening his eyes and looking at Bucky.

“You really are, pal,” Bucky replies, but his grin tells another story. “Come on.  I gotta go by the bookstore and Caputo’s before it gets too crazy out there.  And you,” he says, pointing finger guns at Steve, “You are on KP.”

“What happened to being a guest?” Steve asks, looking outraged.

“Yeah, you lost guest privileges when you came all over my stomach.  For the second time.”

Steve laughs, a bright blush painting his cheeks.  “Worth it,” he says, rising to gather the dishes.  “Totally worth it.”

Chapter Text

December 24

Mijo , no, you have to…like this,” Stella says, placing her hands over Miles’ and showing him how to stir the ground chocolate into the milk.  She adds seasonings - cinnamon and other spices, a pinch of salt - before flicking a whisk through the hot liquid.

Steve looks down at his plate, surprise again to find it clean.  He’s been working on eating his weight in tamales, having fallen in love with the juxtaposition of tender corn masa with spicy filling.  As he looks over the crowd, he can’t help but feel warmed.  

Miles is there with his mother, as is America with her moms.  Bucky stands off to the side, putting the finishing touches on the dessert table.  Stella’s husband and brothers are there, Cosmi, Gabe, and Gus, and all of the nephews and nieces are spread around.  One couple (and for the life of him, Steve can’t remember who they belong to) sits quietly glowing on a couch, the man’s hand pressed lightly against the woman’s swelling stomach.  Various people come by to offer them congratulations and Steve catches himself smiling fondly.

Another couple is there, flitting from group to group, the woman thrusting her left hand out while the man looks on, wearing a quiet, pleased look.  Steve watched as Bucky congratulated them, then leaned in, kissing the woman’s cheek.  He loves seeing Bucky this way - relaxed and joyful, smiling and so pleased.

All of these people are in Stella’s world - be they people who started as customers but became friends, relatives, both distant and close, employees, and, Steve supposes, the family that she’s chosen.  People like Bucky.  It warms him to see his boyfriend ( Boyfriend! ! Steve thinks.  He has a boyfriend! ) so valued by the people in his life.

As he watches, Stella goes to Bucky with another plate full of food.  There are tender tamales, crisp carnitas, and flavorful arroz con pollo.  Passing the plate to Bucky, she nods at Steve.  “He eats with his eyes,” she says, and...well, she’s not wrong.  Steve would feel guilty but there’s so much food, and every single thing he’s eaten so far has been delicious.

Sitting down next to Steve, Bucky trades out his empty plate for the full one, then grabs a bite of one of the tamales before he passes the fork back over to Steve.

“Doing okay?” Bucky asks.  Steve was nervous when they got to Stella’s place, but it wasn’t at all what he’d expected.  Stella pulled him aside and thanked him for everything the Avengers were doing to help get the bakery back online, and for helping them during the attack, and for saving the city.  

“He is still smiling,” she said to him, and nodded over at Bucky.  Bucky was chatting with one of America’s moms, alternating words with stuffing his face.  America was standing by, looking miserable but also pleased, so Steve guessed they were talking about her, his suspicion confirmed when Bucky reached out to tousle her hair just before she dove in to hug him.  

It fills Steve up, seeing Bucky relaxed and easy with people he cares about, and who care about him.  He’d been braced for a lot of Captain America questions, maybe some praise, but instead, each time Bucky introduced Steve, latching their fingers together and with a light blush across his cheeks, Steve watched as people’s eyes widened, then filled with genuine pleasure at seeing Bucky so happy.  And hardly anyone there acknowledged that Steve Rogers was also Captain America.  

It was wonderful.

“I’m doing great, Buck,” Steve says.  “Thank you so much for bringing me here.”

Bucky grins, then leans up to press a kiss to Steve’s cheek.  “I gotta go finish up with the desserts,” he says, before stealing one more bite from Steve’s plate.

Before he can grow lonely, America comes to sit next to him, and before he knows it, she’s engaging him in a fascinating conversation about the history of Brooklyn, and more specifically, queer Brooklyn.  He’s amazed at all she knows, and finds there are very few blanks to fill in.

“Oh!” America says, as the grandfather clock in the corner begins to chime, “It’s time!”

Jumping up from her spot, she rushes to the dessert table, where Bucky has set out a stunning array of pastries.  There are plates of petit fours, warm financiers that are all but dripping with butter, a snowy white yule log filled with tender white cake, whipped cream and strawberries, a croque-en-bouche, with golden threads of sugar begging to be sampled, and a five layer chocolate cake, filled with salted caramel buttercream and bits of coffee toffee crunch.  

Rising, he brings his plate to the kitchen before standing beside Bucky.  “This is incredible, Buck.  I don’t know how you did this, even though I watched you do half of it.”

Bucky grins and ducks his head, face flushing, but there’s no mistaking the pride on his face as he watches people ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ over his work.  It fills Steve with a warm feeling all over again.

After dessert and a rousing white elephant gift exchange (Steve was terribly dismayed that his box of fancy chocolates was not popular, while Bucky’s “Reindeer on a Beer,” gag gift was heavily coveted), the two of them say their goodbyes.  Stella leans up to hold Bucky tight.  “Take him home now,” she says into Bucky’s ear.  “You eat with your eyes, too, mjio .”  

Steve looks away as Bucky flushes bright red.  

“Stella!” Bucky says, laughing and embarrassed .

“Oh, I was never young and in love?” she says, and while Bucky stammers, he doesn’t deny it.

“You’re a terrible person and I’m never coming back,” Bucky says.

“Yes, okay,” Stella replies, before thrusting a bag full of leftovers into Bucky’s hands, and wishing him a Merry Christmas. “I will see you on Tuesday.”

 

They take the subway back to Bucky’s house, the two of them covering the last couple of blocks in the cold, holding hands and walking slow.

“So,” Steve says, as they approach Bucky’s stoop.  “Tomorrow?”

“I got Christmas with my family,” Bucky says.  “You?”

“I usually spend Christmas with Sam,” Steve says.  “I’m actually afraid of what his mom would do if I don’t show up.”

Leaning down for a kiss, Steve stops himself from saying the things he wants to.  Stops himself from asking for what he wants.

It doesn’t take long, though, for the kiss to become heated.

“Come up,” Bucky says, fisting the front of Steve’s jacket.  “Please?”

“God, yes,” Steve says, going in for another taste of Bucky’s mouth.

They kiss long enough for the cold to seep through their layers, until Bucky breaks off with a shiver.  

“Come on,” he says, taking Steve by the hand.  

When they get inside, it’s moments before they’re pressed up against each other once again, this time shedding layers as they go.  

“Bedroom,” Bucky says.  “Come on.”

And then they’re in the bedroom, and then they’re on the bed, Bucky on top of Steve, the two of them wriggling against one another in their jeans, fingers shoved up under shirts.  It’s always like this, Steve thinks.  He’s always half mad for Bucky by the time they get to the second kiss.

“What do you want?” Bucky asks, and Steve’s brain shorts out a bit, thinking of the possibilities.  

Bucky’s hand slides down and cups Steve’s erection, squeezing through his pants.  “Anything you want,” Bucky says.

“I...you.  I want you.”  He doesn’t know how to name all the things he wants.  He knows it’s safe, that he’s safe, that he’s allowed, but...he doesn’t know how to ask.

Bucky reaches up and threads his fingers through Steve’s hair, then tightens them, pulling.  Letting out a gasp, Steve goes pliable, hands dropping to his sides, waiting for what Bucky will do next.

“Oh, sweetheart,” Bucky says, and nuzzles in at the side of Steve’s neck.  “Want you inside of me,” Bucky says, leaning up to kiss Steve’s mouth.  “Do you...can I have that?”

“Yes,” Steve gasps.  “Jesus, Bucky, yes.”

From there, everything slows down.  First Bucky pulls his shirt off and then Steve’s, before leaning back down to worship Steve’s chest with his mouth.  

Steve sucks a breath when Bucky’s tongue flicks over his nipples, then gasps and moans when Bucky opens his mouth to suck and bite.  Without thinking, he brings his hand to hold Bucky’s head there, relishing the tang of pain with the gentle heat of Bucky’s mouth.  

“Gonna take care of you, sweetheart,” Bucky says, as he mouths his way down Steve’s body.  “Gonna take such good care of you.”

By the time Bucky pulls off Steve’s jeans, Steve is leaking, a dark wet patch staining the front of his boxer briefs.  “Oh, Stevie,” Bucky breathes, before pulling off Steve’s underwear and taking Steve in his mouth.  Steve gives in to the roaring in his ears and throws his head back, letting himself feel every soft lick, every gentle suck.  He’s going to come embarrassingly fast, and he can’t bring himself to care.  Not when Bucky’s got his hand wrapped around the base of Steve’s dick, jacking him in time with his mouth, breaking now and then to lick at Steve’s balls.  

He can feel Bucky’s fingers sliding through the mess of saliva and precome, before they take a detour and dip down, back behind Steve’s balls.

Steve stops breathing and waits, caught between wanting Bucky to keep going, and wanting to pull away.

Kissing the inside of Steve’s thigh, Bucky pulls away to look at him.

“Have you ever?” he ask, and staring at the ceiling, Steve shakes his head no.

“Baby,” Bucky says, and he crawls back up Steve’s body, dropping gentle kisses along the way. “I’m not gonna do anything you don’t want,” he says.  “But if you want something, you gotta tell me.  This isn’t gonna work if we don’t talk to each other.”

Breathing deep, Steve lets out a sigh.  “I know, Buck.  It’s just - it’s not something...I don’t - I’ve only ever topped before.”

“Do you want to try?” Bucky asks, and Steve feels his face flush before nodding yes.

“How ‘bout we just play a little for now, and if you change your mind, you let me know?  That work?”

Risking a look at Bucky, Steve says, “Yeah.  Yeah, okay.”

“Okay,” Bucky says.  “Anything you don’t like, you tell me.”

Nodding, Steve thinks about his past.  About how he’s kept his relationships to mostly blow jobs and hand jobs, and how the men in his past had always assumed he’d be the one doing the fucking.  He’d tried touching himself a couple of times, there in the shower with the steam and the slick, but he hadn’t found anything compelling about touching himself that way.  Others? Sure.  He couldn’t wait to get his hands and his mouth all over Bucky.  He has to admit though, the idea of Bucky inside of him, the idea of Bucky fucking him - that’s a thought that makes Steve come faster than anything he’s ever imagined.

Bucky works his way back down Steve’s body, takes Steve’s softening cock back into his mouth and repeats his ministrations from before.  It’s so good that Steve doesn’t notice at first that Bucky’s right hand has started to wander.  His metal hand is wrapped around Steve’s dick and it’s that a mindfuck? Steve looks down his body, sees the metal digits - so strong - wrapped around his dick and shudders hard.  

Pulling off long enough to grin at Steve, Bucky goes right back to sucking and licking, and Steve’s just about to warn him when he feels Bucky’s fingers nudging his hole.  He waits for the panic, something touching him there, but it doesn’t come.  Instead he has Bucky’s hot mouth and Bucky’s hard hand and oh, Jesus, Bucky’s working his finger inside of him.

At the breach, he goes still, and then he flushes, his whole body cranking up the heat because, Jesus, that’s filthy, and Steve loves it.

“Yes, Buck,” Steve pants.  “Yes, oh - oh!” Steve comes, hard, and feels his body clench around Bucky’s finger, which is so ridiculously hot that he comes a little more, hot and hard into Bucky’s mouth.

Bucky eases his finger out, then rubs at Steve’s hole, and Steve is both thrilled and mortified to find himself pressing back.

Grinning, Bucky kisses and licks his way back up Steve’s body.  Steve’s dick is still hard, and after that, he’s not sure it’s ever going to soften again.

Jesus .

“Safe to say you liked that?” Bucky asks, and Steve rolls him over and kisses him deep, tasting himself and loving it.

“I didn’t - didn’t know it could be like that,” Steve says, and shivers again with how good he felt.

“Oh, baby,” Bucky says, and leans up for another kiss.  “I’m gonna be so good to you.”

“I wanna let you,” Steve says, and he hopes that Bucky understand what he means.  Steve thinks he must from the way that Bucky surges up and kisses him again.

They continue to kiss and Steve watches in fascination as Bucky prepares himself, losing himself in the feeling every now and then, and brushing Steve’s hand away when he tries to help.  

Instead, Steve wraps his hand around Bucky’s cock, which makes Bucky shudder hard before he pushes Steve away.  “If you make me come before I get your dick in me, you’re going home hard, you hear me?”

Stifling a grin, Steve pulls his hand away and watches as Bucky pleasures himself, getting himself ready for Steve.  Bucky wipes his hands on a towel before reaching into the nightstand to pull out a condom.  

“I don’t -" Steve starts, then pauses.  “I - I can’t - catch anything,” he says.  “I’m clean.  But I am more than happy to use a condom if you want it.”

“Oh, god,” Bucky says, and closes his eyes.  “No,” he says, dropping the condom back into the drawer.  “Just want you.”

Pushing Steve onto his back, Bucky pours lube into his hand before coating Steve’s cock with it.  He positions himself and Steve sucks a breath as the tip of his dick catches on Bucky’s rim.

With his eyes on Steve, Bucky takes him in slow.  He’s hot inside, and so tight, and Steve might lose it if Bucky starts moving any faster. Steve’s eyes roll back in his head, before he forces himself to look at Bucky again.

Once Bucky takes him all the way in, he looks down at Steve and circles his hips.

“Buck,” Steve gasps.  “Jesus.”

“Sweetheart,” Bucky says, before rising up and dropping down.  “Stay put, doll,” Bucky says, resting his hands on Steve’s chest and working his body up and down Steve’s cock.  It isn’t long before Steve is crying out, warning Bucky, but Bucky just works harder, leaning forward to kiss Steve as Steve thrusts up, his orgasm washing over him, leaving him sensitive and pliant, but still hard inside of Bucky.

Bucky doesn’t pause though, he keeps going and Steve is so sensitive that he’s caught between holding Bucky closer and pushing him away.  It’s too much, and he loves it.

“Oh, Buck,” he moans, his eyes clenched tight and fingers digging in to Bucky’s thighs.  “Oh, please, don’t - don’t stop, please, Buck.”

“I got you, baby,” Bucky pants, and he works Steve through his overstimulation until Steve’s chasing his orgasm once again.  God, he can feel the way Bucky’s wet inside, feel his own come dripping down his dick.  

“Steve,” Bucky pants, and his rhythm becomes erratic.  Steve steadies Bucky’s hips with his hands and thrusts up into him, watching as Bucky’s head lols back and he strokes his cock in time with Steve’s thrusts.

“Gonna come, oh, Steve, Stevie, gonna-”

And then he does, splashing hot and wet across Steve’s chest.  That’s all it takes for Steve to come once more, leaning up to wrap his arms around Bucky, burying his face in Bucky’s neck, gasping out his pleasure.

They pant against each other, each of them coming down from their high, before Bucky starts to laugh.  “Why do I have a feeling i’m going to need a few new sets of sheets?” he asks, and Steve blushes, but laughs as well.

He rolls them so that he’s on top of Bucky, before pushing up for a long, sweet kiss.

When they break, he nuzzles his nose against Bucky’s and Bucky grins up at him, leaning up to steal kiss after kiss.

“C’mon,” Bucky says, and leads him to the shower, where they spend more time kissing than washing, which is just fine with both of them.

As they snuggle into bed, Bucky lays his head on Steve’s chest before leaning up for one last kiss goodnight.

Steve catches Bucky’s lips with his, before pulling back to look into his eyes.  They’re dark gray in the moonlight, and Steve thinks they’re absolutely gorgeous.  His heart does that swelling, swoopy thing in his chest, and he's speaking before he can think better of it.

“I’m falling for you, Buck,” Steve says.  “I know it’s too soon, but I can’t - I don’t want to stop.  I can’t get enough of you, and I don’t think that will ever change.”

The smile that breaks over Bucky’s face is the most beautiful thing Steve’s ever seen.

“Stevie,” Bucky breathes, and leans in for another kiss.  Steve kisses back and they fall asleep that way, kissing and smiling, and never letting go.

 

Chapter Text

 

December 25, one year later...

 

Bucky wakes at four in the morning.  It’s his normal waking time, but they didn’t get to bed until after midnight, and Bucky was hoping he’d be able to get a few more hours in.  He’s hot, and as he comes too, he realizes that it’s because Steve is sleeping almost entirely on top of him.

Shifting a little, Bucky grins as Steve holds him tighter, pushing one leg between Bucky’s, grinding his soft cock into Bucky’s ass.  

“I can hear you thinking,” Steve says, his voice low and gruff.  “C’mon, Buck, we don’t have to be anywhere until noon.  Go back to sleep.”

“Too hot,” Bucky says, and kicks a leg out from under the covers.  Since Steve moved in, Bucky hardly has to run the heat at night - he’s got his own personal furnace.  Still, that makes it that much harder when Steve is on a mission and Bucky sleeps alone.

They’d done a lot of talking about Bucky training with the Avengers, joining the Avengers.  At the end of the day though, Bucky likes his quiet life.  He likes helping Stella decide the flavor of the month, likes dragging the kids to the farmer’s market, teaching them how to select the best produce, and likes teaching them how to haggle like the New Yorker’s they are.  In the end, they agreed that Bucky will come in and train once a week, but that he would lend support as a last resort.  It’s a compromise that leaves them both feeling good.

“It’s Christmas, jerk,” Steve says, and rolls off of Bucky before sliding down his body.  

“Mmm…” Bucky answers, full of anticipation.  Orgasms are Steve’s favorite way of getting Bucky back to sleep.  “Merry Christmas to me,” Bucky says, as Steve pulls down his briefs and takes Bucky’s hardening cock in his mouth.  

Bucky lets himself go, giving up his thoughts and worries for the day, thinking of nothing, letting himself just feel.  It’s gorgeous when Steve does this, the way he focuses all of himself on getting Bucky off.  In the year that they’ve together Bucky’s never even come close to getting enough of Steve.  He loves Steve’s passion and his drive - how certain he is about right and wrong, and how much doing the right thing matters to him.  Over time, he’s come to realize that it’s not the serum, it’s just Steve .

“Babe,” Bucky says and looks down his body to where Steve has his mouth wrapped around Bucky’s cock.  It’s gorgeous, the way his face flushes and his lips redden; the way his eyes flutter closed as though he’s the one receiving pleasure.

“Stevie,” Bucky breathes, because, god, he’s not going to last at all, and he doesn’t have to.  He knows this is all for him.  He loses himself in the warm, wet of Steve’s mouth, and the clever twists of his tongue, and it’s isn’t long at all before he’s got his fingers fisted into Steve’s hair, holding him still, thrusting up into Steve’s mouth and coming, coming, coming.

When he’s done, he drags Steve up for a kiss that tastes like come and morning breath, but it doesn’t matter, because it also tastes like Steve.  It tastes like home .

“What do you want, sweetheart,” Bucky asks, ready to get his love off any way he needs it.

“About four more hours of sleep,” Steve says, and rolls off of Bucky to pull him into his arms.

“Punk,” Bucky says, but he’s already snuggling back down, letting Steve’s warmth pull him under.

“Love you, jerk,” Steve answers, and that’s the last thing Bucky knows until after the sun comes up.

 

“This is ridiculous,” Steve says, trying to get through the front door, laden with bags.  They spent the early part of Christmas morning at the tower, exchanging gifts with most of the gang.  Clint gave Bucky an absolutely gorgeous scope for the rifle that Tony gave him, and Steve and Bucky gave Clint several pounds of coffee from specialty roasters all over the world.  He opened up the box, breathed deep, and said, “Aw, Coffee, yes!” with more affection than they’d ever heard him use before.  

After that, they headed to Lake Carmel for a raucous afternoon meal with Bucky’s folks, his two sisters, and their respective broods.  Steve was amazing with the little ones, and Bucky didn’t miss the soft, fond look on Steve’s face as he watched Bucky help his mother in the kitchen, with two-year-old Elissa on his hip.  

After that feast, they were due at the Wilson’s, where Darlene foisted plate after plate of pie onto the pair of them.  She’d accepted Bucky’s offering Pumpkin Cheesecake with good grace, setting it out on the table along with the rest of the deserts.  

Bucky’d watched, nervous, as she’d taken a bite, then grinned from ear to ear as she moaned her delight.  A moment later, she was sweeping the cake off the table, covering it in foil and putting it the fridge.  “You put your foot in that,” she said, and Sam laughed at Bucky’s puzzled expression.  

“It means you did good,” Sam said, chuckling.  “But I don’t think anyone else is getting a bite of that cheesecake.”

Now they’re back home and trying to figure out where all of the gifts are going to go.  Their little tree, which bare underneath, save their gifts to each other, when they’d left the house, now seemed overburdened as they tucked bags and boxes beneath it, a temporary resting space for all of their new treasures.

“This keeps up, we’re gonna need a bigger place,” Steve says.  

Bucky grunts because yeah, they will, but the idea of apartment hunting in Brooklyn is overwhelming, and they both agreed that moving anywhere else was unthinkable.

“Hey,” Steve says.  “Maybe we should get a dog.”  

Laughing, Bucky holds his arms wide.  “Pal, we don’t have enough room for the stuff we do have.  How is adding a dog to this chaos gonna be better?”

“I don’t know,” Steve says, shrugging.  “I think it would be nice, though.  I don’t like you being here by yourself when I’m away.”

Bucky softens at that.  “Maybe if we get a bigger place,” he says.  “Honestly, it wouldn’t be fair to keep one here.  This place is too small.  He’d be miserable.”

“Yeah,” Steve says, looking thoughtful, and okay, yeah.  Bucky knows it’s time.  Past time, but whatever.  He knows they need a bigger place.  And it’s not like they haven’t had this conversation a dozen times already.  Maybe in the Spring, he thinks.  Maybe then they can take some time and find a place.

“Anyway,” Bucky says.  “I’ll get the cocoa if you start the fire?”

“Of course,” Steve says, and leans in for a kiss.  

Most winter nights find the pair of them curled up in front of the fire and drinking cocoa (sometimes spiked with a little whiskey or schnapps).  Steve sketches or reads, and Bucky spends time reading cookbooks, browsing food-related websites, and corresponding with other chefs online.  He’d found a recipe for a Mexican cinnamon cookie that had Stella tearing up, because it tasted like her childhood.  

Tonight, however, they still have gifts to open.  

Thinking of the gift that Steve still hasn’t opened, Bucky grins to himself.  He stirs the cocoa powder into the milk, adding a pinch of salt and a little of the vanilla sugar that he keeps in a jar near the stove.  Steve’s capacity for calories has not diminished, and he has a sweet tooth like nothing Bucky’s ever seen.  

It’s one of the many ways the two of them just work.  After their slightly rocky start, Bucky gave his whole heart, and falling for Steve - loving Steve - has been the easiest thing he’s ever done.  In return?  He has never felt so loved.  

It makes what’s coming next a little easier, but not by much.  

Pouring the cocoa into mugs, he tops them both with peppermint marshmallows and carries them into the living room.

Steve has the fire going full blast, and has already stripped down to a t-shirt.  Clint tried telling him once that they come in sizes other than “smedium,” and Bucky’d had to tell Clint to shut his dirty whore mouth.  

Maria and Nat both coughed out some uncharacteristic giggling, so Bucky felt he’d done his duty.

“Good day?” Bucky asks, curling into Steve’s side.  

“Best day,” Steve answers, and nuzzles in for a soft kiss.  “Time for presents?” he asks.

“Presents?  You want presents?  Still?”  Bucky gestures to the pile of presents that they’d collected over the last few days.  Bucky leans in and pinches Steve’s side.  “Greedy,” he says, but still, he gets under the tree and fishes out a pile of packages.

They’d agreed early on not to go overboard, and that has Bucky feeling a little bashful as he pulls gift after gift out from under the tree.  It’s not his fault he’s been squirreling things away since August.  It’s how his mom taught him to shop.

“Bucky!” Steve yells, as Bucky hands him the eighth gift.  “What is all this?”

“C’mon,” Bucky says.  “You love it.”  He knows Steve grew up poor - really poor.  His old, thrifty ways still hold, but Bucky knows Steve secretly loves being spoiled.  

And god, he’s easy to spoil.

Steve grins through the unwrapping of his gifts, a couple of new sketchbooks and some really nice pencils, a Wacom tablet that Steve is instantly enamoured of, and the requisite new socks and underwear.  Bucky’d even stuffed an orange in the toe of Steve’s stocking, which resulted in Bucky having to duck fast when Steve threw it at him.

Of course, that made Bucky laugh even harder when he’d opened his own stocking to find an orange in the toe as well.  

“You’re a punk,” Bucky says, grinning from ear to ear.

“Gotta be, to put up with a jerk like you,” Steve says, and they kiss long enough for Bucky to forget to be nervous.

He’s just working up his nerve when Steve dives for the advent calendars.

“Come on,” he says, and damn if Bucky can’t see the child in him.  It makes him grin despite himself.

“Alright, alright.  Keep your pants on.”

“I thought you liked them best...what was it…?  Crumpled in a pile on the bedroom floor?”

“What, you don’t like them best that way too?”  Bucky grins, wolfish, and Steve blushes.

“Me first,” Steve says, and he thrusts last year’s advent box into Bucky’s lap.  On hearing the story of the advent calendar, and how it brought Steve and Bucky together, Bucky’s father made a second one, and gave it to the boys as an early Christmas gift.  Now, instead of trading off, they both got to spoil each other with little gifts each day of the month.  Bucky’d baked his way through the month, and Steve never ceased to amaze Bucky with the miniature knick-knacks that he found.  (He did succeed in finally getting Bucky to eat some of the beautiful chocolates.  The vanilla lavender caramels were his favorite.)

“Alright,” Bucky says.  “Let’s see this.”  He pulls open the drawer and gasps.  “What did you do?” he asks, pulling out a small silver key.

Beside him, Steve pales.  “I...we don’t have to.  If you hate it, we don’t have to.  But Pepper found it, and Buck, it’s perfect.  It’s already wired for Dottie, and the kitchen - you’ll love it - big granite counters and all the shelves pull out - it’s great.  And it’s big.  I mean, it’s not huge, but, Buck, it’s - it’s big enough….”  Steve swallows and looks at his lap, gathering himself, before looking Bucky in the eye.  “It’s big enough for a future.  And that’s what I want.  With you.”

Bucky can see Steve’s eyes growing glassy and it’s - Jesus - his idiot, gorgeous, perfect boyfriend.  Bucky takes the key in his hand and climbs onto Steve’s lap.  Swallowing hard, Bucky buries his face in Steve’s neck for a moment, breathing in the most perfect man that he will ever know.  

“This is what you want?” Bucky asks, and Steve grins.  “We can go see it tonight, if you want.  Or, you know, wait for tomorrow.  And if you hate it, you know, we don’t have to.”

“Steve,” Bucky says, and captures Steve’s mouth with his own.  “I can’t wait to see it.”

Steve’s answering grin is brilliant, and they kiss long enough for things to get heated before Bucky pulls away.

“You bought us a house?” he says, still incredulous.  

“I mean, I had all that back pay from the Army.  It just...it seemed like a good idea?”

“You’re an idiot, and I love you.”

“Hey!  Why am I an idiot?”  

“Because who buys a house for their boyfriend?  Jesus, Steve.  Cart before the horse a little, doncha think?”

“Is it too much?” Steve asks, looking up into Bucky’s eyes.  “It’s too much, isn’t it?  I thought so, but Tony-”

“Tony bought Pepper an island once.  He might not be the best judge of reasonable.”

“Like I said, if you hate it -”

“Shut it, Captain Perfect.  I’m sure I’m going to love it.  Besides,” Bucky says, and pulls out his phone.  “I’m pretty sure we’re going to need the space.”  He finishes the text and slides off of Steve’s lap.

“Open your box,” he says, fighting the grin that won’t leave his face, and losing.  Badly.

He watches as Steve opens the drawer labeled 25.  He pulls out a small pair of silver tags.

“If found, please return me to S. Rogers, 555-6263.”  Steve jingles the tags in his hand, then looks at Bucky.  “Buck?  What -”

Whatever he was about to say is interrupted by a sharp knock at the door.

“Go on,” Bucky says, moving away so that Steve can answer the door.

“What did you…?”  Steve trails off as he answer the door, and puppy bursts in, wagging its tail so hard that it’s more of a full-body wag.

“Buck!” Steve yells, then falls to the floor to pet the puppy, who immediately climbs into Steve’s lap.  It’s pure mutt - tan and white with a spot over one eye, and as Bucky watches, Steve falls onto his back, and the puppy climbs all over him.

Bucky watches, a fond smile playing across his face, as Steve and the puppy make friends.  

As the excitement begins to wane, Bucky walks over and hands the tags back to Steve.  

“He’s yours,” Bucky says, handing the tags to Steve.  “Go on.”

Steve smiles up at Bucky and holds the pup, his fingers twisting the collar around to place the tags.

“Wait, there’s...what?” Steve unlatches the collar and holds it up to his face, peering at the gold band already fastened to it.

When he turns to look at Bucky, Bucky’s on his knees in front of him.

“I’ve loved you since that day, when you ate my scone and stopped there in the street, smiling because you liked it so much.  That was the first time I knew I was gonna fall for you.  And I never stopped.  And every time I think I can’t love you more than I already do, you do something ridiculous, like buy us a house, and I love you even more, because you want a future for us, just like I do.”  

At that, Steve laughs and holds Bucky close to him, so close and so tight, and it’s - it’s everything Bucky ever hoped for, but it’s better, because it’s Steve.

“Gonna let me make an honest man outta you, Rogers?”

“Yes!” Steve laughs, and holds Bucky even tighter.  “Buck, Jesus, yes!”  He buries his face in Bucky’s neck and the two of them sit for a moment, wrapped up in each other, wrapped up in their love.

When Bucky pulls away, Steve’s lashes are wet, and he knows his own are, too.

“Come on,” Bucky says, pulling Steve up with him.  He goes to the cupboard where he’s hidden the puppy’s leash and hands it to Steve.

“Where’re we going?” Steve asks, and Bucky’s heart?  It just booms with love.

“The future.  Come on.”