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It grew on me

Chapter Text

It started, as many things in Steve’s life did, with a harebrained idea from Tony.

“Cap, you’re looking a little scruffy,” Tony said, sitting beside him on the couch in the Avenger’s common room.  

Steve knew it was a joke. Tony liked to tease. They had achieved an awkward friendship after Ultron and the Triskelion. Strained at times but good. And teasing was just one of Tony’s ways of showing affection.

“Let me send you to my salon, my treat,” he continued. “Armando will do wonders for you.”

Throwing money at things was the other way Tony showed affection, but Steve wasn’t in the mood to indulge him.

“I have a barber,” Steve said. “He charges me ten dollars, and it takes ten minutes. I just missed my last appointment.” It wasn’t his fault entirely; a mad scientist had experimented on mammals, and the team had fought for a week trying to subdue (as gently as possible) sentient rats intent on taking over the world. Besides, his hair grew much faster than a normal human’s, it was hard to not get a shaggy from time to time if he changed his routine.

“Boring,” Tony said, throwing his arms up dramatically. “Natasha!” he yelled to where she was sitting in the kitchen eating grapes. She didn’t reply, just arched an eyebrow. Tony’s voice was petulant. “Tell Steve his ten dollar haircut is depressing.”

Natasha grinned like a shark, and Steve knew he was in for it. Usually she ignored Stark’s antics, but this drew her in. She came in to the living room and inspected his hair. It was a touch long, Steve admitted to himself, but surely didn’t require an intervention.

Natasha sat gracefully on the couch and continued to assess him. “You do need a hairstyle from at least the last ten years.”

“Leave behind the old man look,” Tony added quickly.

Steve chuckled. He supposed teasing was a way Natasha showed love, too. He sometimes wished more of his friends would show love in Sam-like ways: encouragement, home baked goodies, time together, but he supposed he couldn’t be too choosy.

“It's just hair. I don’t see what all the fuss is about.”

“If it’s just hair,” Natasha said, flipping her bright red locks over her shoulder, “then it shouldn’t be a big deal to try something new.”

“She’s got you there, Cap,” Tony said with a smirk.

Steve grimaced. It wasn’t a bad point, but he wasn’t ready to concede. It wasn’t that Steve was opposed to trying new things. He wasn’t. He’d eaten many new types of food, watched lots of movies, and enjoyed (some of) modern music. But he’d never gotten into pampering himself. It just seemed so wasteful. And to go from a guy who had barely scraped by in the 40’s to one who paid hundreds of dollars for a haircut, Steve didn’t think he could stomach it. Nevertheless, it seemed important to Tony and Natasha, so he resigned himself to go.

“Fine,” he said.

“Great,” Tony said, clapping his hands, “I’ll have Jarvis make you an appointment with my guy.”

“No,” Natasha’s voice was deceptively casual, and Tony squawked indignantly. “Steve doesn’t have the same aesthetic as you, Stark. He needs something more hipster.”

“Yes!” Tony crowed, immediately getting over his disappointment. “How have I not seen this before? Modern guy in old timey clothes, obsession with art and fancy coffee? All you need now is a beard and you’ll fit right in.”

“I am not growing a beard,” Steve said emphatically, hating how whiney he sounded. “But I’ll check out somewhere new for my hair.”

“Perfect,” Natasha replied. She began fiddling with her phone, and Steve had the feeling she was looking up barber shops.

“I can find a place,” he said, not fully trusting her judgement in this. Better than Tony, but still.

“No need, I already took care of it. Your appointment is on Tuesday at 1pm,” she told him with a grin.

There was no way she could have finished booking the appointment that quickly. Steve looked between his friends. “You two planned this,” he said grumpily.

Tony patted his knee, and Steve looked down, embarrassed to realize this was the most he had been touched all week. “I planned to send you to my guy, Cap. But you know Natasha, missions within missions.” He stood up and walked briskly away. “Get a hairstyle that doesn’t make you look like Mitt Romney.”

When Steve turned to talk to Natasha, she was already gone.

---

He hadn’t meant to miss his appointment. He hadn’t. But he got an intelligence lead that a Hydra splinter cell was stirring up support in the alt-right, trying to gain a foothold, and that had to be addressed. It was just small time activity, a few operatives, but Steve new better than to let a head of Hydra grow back.

Unfortunately, what he found was much more than he bargained for. Upon entering the building, something had immediately felt off. There should have been a flurry of activity, dingy interiors, and cheap equipment. Instead, the place was empty and eerily quiet. If people had been here at one point, they were gone now.

Deciding to not lose time and retreat, Steve scoped out each room to see if there were any signs of people. Most rooms looked like generic office rooms with fluorescent lighting, white walls, and panelled ceilings. After an hour of fastidiously checking each area, Steve came to a large loading bay, several levels high. The sunlight shone in through the open ceiling but the exits were otherwise locked.

Steve heard the sound of the shield deflecting bullets before he registered other’s presence. He quickly crouched down to make himself a smaller target while he scanned his surroundings. The shots were coming from multiple angles, but he couldn’t place them. He was fending off at least three assailants and had no doubt there were a few more trying to outflank him.

He regretted briefly not bringing Sam with him, but dismissed it immediately. If he were here, he’d be in danger and with no super soldier healing to keep him safe.

“Stand down, Captain America. We have you surrounded,” a voice came over the intercom.

Damn, Steve thought. He hadn’t meant to lose focus thinking about Sam. A bullet grazed his calf, and Steve had to hand it to these Hydra assholes, most people didn’t think to shoot his legs. At least they weren’t aiming for his head.

Steve decided he had to make a run for it. He feinted left and took off to the right. Another bullet hit his calf, this time the full meat of the muscle, and Steve felt himself tumble to the ground. He recovered quickly with a roll, but the throbbing pain made it difficult for him to put his full weight on his injured leg.

“Stand down, and you won’t be hurt,” the voice said, entirely too smug.

Steve gritted his teeth as more bullets bounced off the shield, blood trickling down his ankle. Scanning the room again. There was nowhere to go but out the way he came, and there were no doubt operatives waiting for him in that direction.

Steve dropped his shield, opening up his whole body as a target and pretending to surrender. They’d have to take him in hand to hand combat in order to really take him in, and he’d crush a few skulls before that happened.

Three men approached in full tactical gear, not exactly the poorly resourced operatives he had been led to believe.

“You have made a good decision,” the voice said, and Steve really wanted to punch that smug asshole. “You will do great things to rebuild Hydra.”

“No thanks,” Steve mumbled and threw himself at the oncoming operatives, deflecting their stun batons and landing several hits. The shots continued to rain down, and Steve realized in surprise that they didn’t care enough to protect their own men and were willing to shoot through them to get to Steve.

Another bullet hit him, this time in his thigh, and Steve cried out in pain and fell to the ground. One of the operatives took the opportunity to score a solid kick on his face and then another. Steve saw stars, things went fuzzy, and vaguely he realized he was going down. They were going to take him. Not for the first time, Steve wished he had died with the Howling Commandos.

The sound of repulsors and lasers firing drew the attention of the Hydra operatives. Tony took down the gunmen above them, while Natasha dispatched the three near Steve. Sam swooped in and carried him to safety.

“Don’t leave them behind,” Steve cried, trying to turn in Sam’s arms.

“Shut up, Steve,” Sam responded through gritted teeth. He carried Steve to the quinjet and immediately began tending to Steve’s wounds.

“It’s nothing,” Steve protested, now that the ringing in his ears had stopped. “We have to go back for them.”

Sam ignored his protests, carefully extracting the bullet out of Steve’s thigh and putting pressure on the wound. Steve struggled to stand, and Sam pushed him back down, still gentle though clearly furious. “They planned this to lure you in, Steve. You can’t go back. You’re their target.”

Steve heard the sound of an explosion, and Tony and Natasha appeared in a few minutes.

“Sorry we’re late,” Tony said with a grin, and Steve could tell it was strained. “This one” he pointed his thumb at Natasha, “won’t let me carry her, even away from explosions.”

Natasha grimaced and looked at Sam. “How’s Rogers?” She pointedly avoided looking at Steve.

“He’ll live,” he turned to Steve with a serious look, “but we are going to have a talk about why you dropped your shield.”

“Not to mention why you went solo,” Tony chimed in.

“I had to-” Steve started.

“Not now,” Sam said, and Steve caught the weariness in his voice. “I’m too angry to talk right now.”

Everyone was silent on the ride home, even Sam, who had a higher tolerance for Steve’s daredevil antics than most. Steve resigned himself to leaning back and ignoring the itching feeling of his skin and muscles re-knitting.

---

Sam asked Steve to come over the next evening for what Steve realized was meant to be his come to Jesus moment. They settled into Sam’s hideous but oh-so-comfortable floral couch. Steve felt as though he was being called into the principal’s office.

Once Sam had gotten them both something to drink and made a little small talk, he settled into the intervention portion of the night. “Steve,” he said, warmth evident in his voice, “I love you man, but you have a team here. You can’t go out there on your own.”

Steve clenched his teeth--it was more complicated than that. “I know, Sam. But the intelligence I gathered suggested it would be a small op.”

“Did you have Natasha verify that intelligence?”

“I’m not a rookie. I don’t need someone checking my work.”

“You are brilliant with strategy, I’m not saying you’re not,” Sam said, clearly placating him but still helping Steve relax in spite of himself. “But watching those guys surround you after you dropped your shield, that was some terrifying shit.” He scooted closer.

“I would have been fine.”

“Maybe,” Sam paused, taking a different tactic. “But let’s take my personal feelings out of it. They had multiple opportunities to kill you, but they didn’t. They wanted you alive. Can you imagine what would have happened if Hydra had captured you? They must have had some plan to turn you to their side or they would have just taken you out.”

“I wouldn’t--” Steve protested, feeling defensive.

“I’m sure you wouldn’t want to, but who knows what they could do?” Sam’s voice was soft and he gently squeezed Steve’s knee. “The point is, we all need someone watching our backs, man. To double check our hunches and keep each other safe. Don’t go out there alone again.” He slid a couple therapist’s cards across the table, and Steve gathered them up. It was Sam’s gentle way of trying to get Steve to seek help. So far, Steve had accumulated an impressive stack.

“Ok, enough hard talks,” Sam said. “You did good.”

Steve would have rolled his eyes if the encouragement didn’t warm him.

“How about pizza and another movie on your list?”

Steve stood, grateful to have their difficult conversation over. “Okay, Terminator is next.”

Sam screwed up his face. “Nope. I can’t handle any more gunfights right now. Looks like Harry Potter jumped to the front of the line.”

Sam was inordinately happy about this, and Steve suspected he would have found a way for them to watch Harry Potter regardless of what was next on the list.

---

Natasha showed up at his door a few days later with her own version of the come to Jesus talk. This one involved no discussing issues or acknowledging feelings. “The good news is, I rescheduled your hair appointment for today,” she said, when Steve answered the door.

Steve knew better than to back out on Natasha’s appointment a second time. He owed her for saving him, and also he couldn’t take her judgemental face for another day.

“Also, you’re taking me out to lunch to thank me for finding you a hipster barber,” she informed him when she walked through the door. “And to apologize for missing your appointment.

“I’m not going to put off fighting Hydra for a haircut,” Steve said.  

That wasn’t the full truth of it, and they both knew it. She and Tony were still mad at him for going in without backup, and he didn’t know how to make them understand. Steve didn’t bring anyone else on missions unless he absolutely had to. His small group of friends were all the mooring he had left in the world and, with the exception of Bruce and Thor, they were all ...breakable. Steve couldn’t handle losing any of them.

“Fine.” Steve looked down at his sloppy appearance. He hadn’t felt much like looking nice that morning. “Let me just jump in the shower first, then we’ll go.”

Natasha shrugged and sat down on his couch. “Don’t wash your hair.”

“Why?”

“They’ll do it there.” Natasha replied matter of factly, as she scrolled through something on her phone.

“Yeah,” Steve rubbed the back of his neck. “But usually I go in with it clean, and they just spray it down.”

Natasha leaned forward and put down her phone, giving him a wicked smile. “You’ve never had someone wash your hair?”

Steve shrugged. She made it sound like he had been on a street corner selling matchbooks his entire life. Why was this a big deal?

“I can hear you grumbling from here, grandpa.”  

“I didn’t say anything,” Steve responded petulantly.  

Natasha stood up and crossed her arms, “Sure you didn’t. Hop to it, Rogers.”

---

After lunch, Natasha drove them to a brick building in what even Steve knew was an up and coming neighborhood. There was a yoga studio and a gelato place on the same block. The building itself was unassuming, and inside, the salon had chosen a tasteful green for the walls and a light citrus aroma. Thank God Natasha didn’t go overboard, Steve thought.

Still, it was much fancier than he was used to. Idly, Steve wondered if he could make a run for it without being caught by Natasha. Even if he got away, she knew where he lived and he had no doubt that her wrath would be swift and probably embarrassing.

As he was plotting his escape, a young man in his mid twenties entered the room, and Natasha greeted him by name. “James,” she said, pinching Steve in the side to get his attention. “This is Steve. He’s very sorry for missing his last appointment.”

The man came over, and Steve allowed himself to quickly take in his form. He was shorter than Steve by at least 4-5 inches, and he had the most exquisite cheekbones, and pink pouty lips. His blue-grey eyes were accentuated by dark black eyeliner. Steve’s mouth went dry, and he mentally cursed Natasha. How could she do this to him? She knew he got dumb around hot people.

“Are you alright?” James asked, putting a hand on his arm.

Steve realized that James was waiting for him to respond. He smiled sheepishly. “Sorry, I’m out of it today.”

James’ answering smile was gentle, and he gestured for Steve to follow him to the back.

“See you later, Rogers!” Natasha called out. Steve half-waved at her, not taking his eyes off James’ backside. He had a nice round ass, plump, that Steve wanted to squeeze.

Steve followed James into a private room with a barber chair in front of a large, well-lit mirror. Once Steve was seated, he said, “Call me Bucky, by the way. I don’t know how she found out that my first name is James. Only my mom calls me that.”  

“Yeah, Nat does things like that,” Steve said with resignation.

Bucky ran his fingers through Steve’s hair to get a feel for the length and volume. Steve felt his cheeks flame hot, but Bucky didn’t seem to notice.

“What are you looking for, Steve?”

A cute little guy like you to cuddle with at night, Steve thought, and then hated himself for it. It’s not okay to objectify people in the service industry, he chided himself. Besides, it’s not as though he had time to date.

Steve winced when he realized he had again waited too long to speak. “Just tighten up the neckline and shorten it all over. Nothing fancy."

Bucky nodded and ran his fingers through Steve’s hair assessing. Steve barely suppressed a shiver. “I bet you'd look great with an undercut,” he said, “but that’s for another time.” Steve didn’t know what an undercut was, but he wasn’t going to argue if it kept Bucky running his fingers through his hair. Bucky removed his hands and gestured for Steve to get up. “If you’ll follow me, I’ll take you back to wash your hair.”

Steve hesitated. “About that. My old barber just wet it down. You don’t have to wash it or anything.”

“Steve.” Bucky’s face was a fascinating mix of playfulness and earnestness. “Have you ever had your hair washed?”

Steve groaned. “Why does everyone ask me that?”

Bucky laughed, and the sound was so delightful, Steve stood up in spite of himself. “You should try it, at least once,” Bucky said. “Just to see if you like it.”

“I don’t know,” and Steve knew he sounded pouty. So much for being a heroic symbol of American freedom--he was whining about getting his hair washed.

Bucky rolled his eyes fondly and pulled Steve along gently by his elbow. “A very scary woman ordered me to wash your hair, Steve. Come on.”

A wave of guilt washed over Steve, and he pulled back. “Bucky,” he said, putting both hands on the smaller man’s shoulders. Steve was pleased to find him lightly muscled. This close Steve couldn’t help looking down at him, taking in his thick eye lashes and plump lips.

Bucky cleared his throat, and Steve dropped his hands hastily. “Anyways, I mean, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”

Bucky honest to God giggled, and Steve felt himself melt. “That’s very sweet. But I do this job because I like it. I like taking care of people. But,” he paused, looking uncertain, “you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, either.”

Steve felt immediate relief, and it must have been obvious, because Bucky began to walk back towards the barber chair. Steve followed him, and they chatted as Bucky cut his hair.

“So, what do you do when you’re not saving the world?” Bucky asked.

Steve shrugged, trying not to disturb Bucky’s progress. “I enjoy drawing and running. But, to tell you the truth, I don’t get much downtime. I’m the team leader, so I go on almost all of the missions.”

Yeah, it was pretty cool to be Captain America, and if he was trying to impress his hot barber, then at least there was no one around to judge him. Sam would have called that a humble brag, but Sam wasn’t here, so Steve thought he could get away with it.   

“No downtime, eep.” Bucky said, spritzing his hair with a little more water. “I enjoy my job, but I couldn’t do it all of the time. I need breaks.”

Steve didn’t say, because Sarah Rogers raised a polite man, that maybe hairdressers could take breaks because they weren’t needed all of the time, but Captain America didn’t have that luxury. He didn’t like to sit still too long, most of his time in the Tower he spent training, and he didn’t think Bucky would count that as downtime.

“What do you do when you’re not here?” Steve asked, repeating Bucky’s question because he couldn’t think of anything else to say. Had he lost the ability to talk about anything beside missions?

“Well, I like to garden and play board games, and I volunteer at the Humane Society.”

“That’s great,” Steve said. And for one quick moment, Steve longed for a simple life of being around everyday people and doing small bits of good whenever he could. He shook it off. He would never be able to sit by when he saw the need to fight. And, ever since the serum, his life hadn’t been simple.

Bucky smiled, and if he was put off by Steve’s stilted replies, he didn’t show it. They fell into an easy conversation mostly on inane topics, and Steve was grateful that Bucky didn’t ask any of the typical Captain America questions.

“Well, Steve,” Bucky said handing him the mirror and turning the seat so he could see the back of his head, “if this looks good, we’re all done.”

Steve didn’t spare too much time checking it out. The haircut was everything he needed: clean cut, with a good tapered line in the back, and worked around his cowlick.

Steve went to pay the bill, but was informed by Bucky that Natasha had paid for it already and booked him another appointment in three weeks. Steve decided not to cancel it.

---

“Hair looks good, man” Sam said warmly, slapping his shoulder while on a mission in Brazil.

Steve nodded his thanks. The haircut wasn’t much different than his normal look, but already Natasha, Tony, and Pepper had complimented him. Even Peter had started to say something before Natasha shushed him. Steve felt a little paranoid. How many people had been conspiring to get him to a fancy barber? He worked out his frustration by punching the deep sea creatures that ran amuck on the beaches of Rio.

---

Steve arrived at his next appointment on time without Natasha’s help. Bucky greeted him warmly and settled a hand on his bicep, Steve felt his pulse quicken with the casual contact. Bucky was wearing a similar outfit as last time, a tight black V-neck over comfortable slim cut jeans. Steve wanted to bend down and suck a bruise onto his exposed collarbone.

Steve followed Bucky back to the chair, and they chatted for a few minutes before starting the haircut.

“I saw some footage of you fighting on the beach. Pretty cool,” Bucky said.  

Steve shrugged, trying to hide his smile.

“Was hoping for a peek at you in your swimsuit but, oh, well.” Bucky followed his remark with a cheeky wink, and Steve felt his entire face turn red. He didn’t say that Bucky could have seen his swimsuit anytime, but he wanted to.  

“You wanna try a shampoo today?” Bucky asked.

Steve nodded dumbly, and Bucky tried and failed to hide his smirk. He followed Bucky to the private shampoo room. The room was dark with small Christmas lights on the ceiling. Steve settled nervously in the chair, and allowed Bucky to tuck a thick towel around his neck.

Bucky’s small hands eased him back until he was laying with his head in the sink. He turned the sprayer on warm and gently wet Steve’s hair. The hot stream felt good on his scalp, but it was when Bucky began working shampoo through his hair, fingers massaging his temples, that Steve knew he was in heaven. He felt so... cared for. And in that moment, Steve unexpectedly found that he didn’t mind that a stranger was doing the caring.  

“Okay,” Steve mumbled, “this is nice.”

“It’s okay to want nice things,” Bucky said softly, and Steve had to bite down a moan when Bucky’s fingers rubbed at the back of his neck.

Steve was surprised Bucky had picked up on his difficulty with the whole fancy haircut process so quickly. He wanted. That wasn’t the problem. The undercurrent of guilt when he wanted nice things was the problem, similar to the guilt he felt when he wasn’t being useful. Maybe it was growing up in the Depression or the weight of the shield, or maybe something distinctly him, Steve didn’t know. Whatever it was, Steve felt most comfortable when he was fighting the good fight.

Steve felt his whole body melt, as he turned himself over to Bucky’s ministrations, enjoying the clean smell of the conditioner. He thought maybe Bucky was giving him more time than usual, but this was his first time and he wasn’t sure. Maybe everyone enjoyed this bliss.

When Bucky finished, he wrapped Steve’s head in a plush towel and helped him sit up. Steve stayed in the chair for a minute, not quite sure how to feel. His world had been knocked off its axis. He felt like he should be ashamed that he had to pay to have someone touch him so kindly, but, in that moment, all he felt was immense gratitude.

“Thanks. That was really nice,” Steve said earnestly.

Bucky grinned, and Steve’s heart did a tiny flip. “Glad you liked it.”

Once Steve was settled in front of the mirror, Bucky asked him what he had in mind.

Steve said, “I got a lot of compliments on my haircut from last time, so maybe something similar?”

“Or,” Bucky said, “we could shake it up. Have you ever thought of a fauxhawk?”

Steve’s lips formed a thin line. “Like the sides are shaved, and it sticks up on top?”

“No, no! A fauxhawk is longer on the sides and the middle just sticks up a tiny bit. Like Zac Efron’s hair.”

Bucky bit his lip and looked at Steve through his long lashes, and Steve felt his resistance crumbling. Before he could give in, Bucky interrupted his thoughts.

“I’m just teasing, Steve,” he said with a giggle. “Just wanted you to know you can say no to me. It’s your hair. Although,” he teased apart some of the strands on top of Steve’s head, “I do think you would look hot with a bit more texture up here.”

Steve couldn’t argue with that. If his cute little barber said it would make him look hot, then Steve was all in.

The final look wasn’t too different than Steve’s normal fare, just tighter on the sides and less straight laced on top. God knows Tony would like that part. Steve settled the bill with an overly generous tip. When it came time to book another appointment, he hesitated.

“I was thinking, my hair grows a lot faster than normal people,” he said, feeling awkward about his request. “Maybe I could see you more often? I mean, to get it cut more frequently?”  

Bucky beamed in response, and they made an appointment for two weeks time.

Chapter Text

After the shampooing incident, Steve dreamed that night of Bucky’s hands on his body. They were smooth and strong, tracing down the lines of his abs, until one took his cock firmly in hand. Bucky’s thumb ran over the tip, spreading the precome over the head, stroking him slowly, whisper soft kisses on his chest, until Steve felt half out of his mind with his need to come.

He awoke with a groan when his alarm sounded before Bucky finished him off. He was hard, but he had to meet Sam for their run in thirty minutes, and didn’t have time to rub a quick one out if he was going to make it to the subway in time.

It hit Steve like a thunderclap that he hadn’t been touched in so long. Not in a way that was sensual. Sometimes Tony would pat his arm or Natasha would squeeze his hand, and Sam gave the best hugs, but Bucky’s deft hands running through his hair and massaging his temples, his dream of Bucky’s hand on his dick-- that kind of touch he missed so much he was nearly overwhelmed with want.

It’s okay to want nice things, Steve said to himself. He decided to text Sam to cancel their run, hoping his friend wasn’t already on his way. Sam would understand.

Besides, Steve’s aching hardness hadn’t gone away, and the nice thing he wanted in that moment was to slowly finger himself open and jack off. And if, when satisfying his urges, he happened to imagine a certain brown-haired barber, no one needed to know. It was nothing to be embarrassed about. At least, that’s what he told himself when he worked two fingers into his body and came with his face pressed down against the pillow and Bucky’s name on his lips.

Jeez, Rogers, he thought later, you barely know the guy. It’s not like you’ve never had your dick wet.

---

Steve got called away on a mission, and he threw himself into it with all the fervor of a man trying to burn off his guilt. He was getting soft, he decided. Expensive haircuts, skipping training. It wasn’t terrible, but Steve needed to shape up before things got out of hand.

“Cap, I count five, no, six hostiles behind those trees,” Tony said over the comm.

Steve mentally did a tally: twelve Hydra operatives inside, six guarding the gate, and likely one or two surveying from up high. He knew they should hold off, wait for Sam or Natasha to arrive, or come back another day. But his near miss a month ago had been eating him. Why was Hydra trying to capture him?

“Tony, I want you to attempt a stealth approach to the south side of the building, see if you can get an image of what type of equipment they have in there and how heavily they’re armed.”

“Roger, Rogers.”

Steve rolled his eyes. Tony thought he was so hilarious.

Tony enacted stealth mode on his suit, and although he was visible with thermal imaging, he was invisible to the naked eye.

“Aerial survey, Cap. Looks like they’ve got some sophisticated computer systems, not near anything I’ve got, but still, not too bad. I count fourteen rockets, a shit ton, pardon my language, of assault rifles and hand grenades. I could list them out, Cap, but you get the idea. They are heavily fortified for a base this small.”

Who the hell was supplying them? Steve thought. The question was no doubt heavy in Tony’s mind, as well.

“Now, Cap, I’m happy that you are on the first step of your twelve step recovery from being a human battering ram, and glad that you brought me and all, but I think we still need to call in backup. You might have to jump to step four or five before we’re able to take this place out. Banner should be here, at least--”

“Tony,” Steve interrupted. “Rendezvous at my position.”

“Right-o, Cap, I’m proud of you.” It was said with such saccharine tone, it grated on Steve. Sam could get away with saying something like that, but with Tony it just riled him up.

Tony landed near Steve and walked heavily to him.

Steve scanned the horizon. “Any hostiles notice your approach?”

“Any hostiles notice my approach?” Tony said with sass. “Of course they didn’t. I would have picked it up, or Jarvis would have detected it. I know you’re new to modern technology and all, but what I have is top of the line. There’s-”

“Tony!” Steve whispered harshly. He thought he heard some sound on the wind or a snap of a twig, but maybe he had imagined it.

“What?”

Steve breathed heavily, still scanning. Something didn’t seem right. “Just, shush.”

Tony squawked in indignation, making a huffing noise and ready to resume their argument, when Steve saw it. A rocket, coming in rapidly and headed right for Tony’s chest.

Steve didn’t think twice. He ran for Tony, hauling up the shield and pushing him to the side, as the rocket ricocheted off his shield, exploding nearby. The ensuing blast knocked him twenty feet away.

Steve could barely hear Tony in his earpiece and wondered if it had fallen to the ground. He came to awareness, flat on the ground with smoke in the air, and Tony running a hand back and forth in front of his face.

Steve cocked his head to the side, trying to make out what his gestures meant. Several operatives ran toward their position, and Tony apparently decided it was not worth waiting for Steve to respond before attaching the shield to his suit, throwing Steve over his shoulder, and flying out of there.

The position was uncomfortable, but Tony needed one hand free to lay down enough fire to protect their escape. Steve couldn’t take a deep breath, the tightness in his chest reminding him of the many times he had pneumonia as a child. He slowed his breath and tried not to panic.

They reached the quinjet, and Tony laid him gently on a stretcher. Steve’s hearing was beginning to return, but still he could only make out part of what Tony was saying. The faceplate was open, and Tony kept grumbling and pointing at him in an accusatory manner. He busied himself tending to the worst of Steve’s wounds.

“I can’t hear you,” Steve said, probably too loud.

“I have armor, Cap. Armor.” Tony punctuated his thoughts by knocking lightly on his breastplate and letting the tinny sound echo in the room. “Don’t jump in front of a bullet for me when I’m wearing armor.”

“Didn’t think,” Steve rubbed his temples with his forehead. Now that his adrenaline was decreasing, everything hurt and all the lights were too bright. “Wanted to protect you.”

“You just don’t want to be the last one to die!” Tony yelled, his voice raw.

The statement hung in the air between them, neither of them moving, until Jarvis spoke, “Sir, it might be wise to get Captain Rogers to a medical facility.”

-

Tony dropped Steve off at the Tower medical facilities and all but ran out of the room. They didn’t talk about it. That’s not how they worked. Tony would steadfastly avoid Steve for the next several days, keeping his communication to curt replies if needed, until finally he would make a joke about Steve being old, or being a science experiment, or technologically illiterate, and then Steve would know they were okay. In the meantime, Steve lay on the bed in his hospital room, looked out the window, and wondered if Tony was right.

---

Despite his injuries, Steve was determined not to miss his appointment with Bucky the next day. His bruised ribs still ached and he was a little wobbly on his feet. But Steve had been looking forward to seeing Bucky for the last two weeks, and he wasn’t willing to reschedule.

Bucky greeted him warmly upon his arrival, before casting a worried look in Steve’s direction when he stumbled. Steve shrugged. He was too tired to deny it.

When they reached the shampoo room, Steve grimaced as Bucky helped him slowly lean back into the chair.

“Christ! What happened to you?” Bucky said worriedly.

Steve closed his eyes, willing his aching muscles to relax. “A rocket.”

“A rocket? How are you even alive?” Bucky crouched down next to Steve eyeing him in the dim room for more injuries. Steve wanted to reach up and run his fingers through Bucky’s thick, wavy hair. Tell him he was okay, that it was kind of him to worry.

“Uh, it was a small rocket. And I didn’t get hurt when it hit the shield, but I just got caught by the blast.”

Bucky clucked his tongue and stood up. “Just caught up by the blast,” he sassed. Then, quieter, “I’m sure you were helping the world, so thanks for that.”

Steve blushed, grateful that the dim light was hiding it. “You’re welcome.” It wasn’t that he needed recognition, but most of the Avenger’s missions flew under the radar, and it was nice that someone cared enough to say thank you.

Now that he was positioned in the chair, Steve let his body feel heavy and gave himself over to Bucky’s gentle touch. His fingers rubbed circles in Steve’s scalp, dissolving a headache he didn’t realize he had until it was gone. After feeling mostly pain for the last twenty-four hours, the nurturing sensations consumed all of his focus, thumbs massaging his tight neck, hot streams of water flowing through his hair, fingers rubbing along his temples.

“Steve,” Bucky whispered, and there was a bit of a laugh in his voice. “You’re going to have to stop making those noises or people will think I’m blowing you in the shampoo room.”

Steve startled, he hadn’t been aware he was making noises. He tried to sit up to apologize but winced at the sudden movement.

“Hey, hey, it’s okay.” Bucky’s hands were on Steve’s shoulders, gently pulling him back. “Lay back down.”

“Sorry,” Steve whispered, as Bucky resumed massaging his scalp.

“It’s okay, Steve. You’re in a lot of pain. I’m glad this is helping.” He sounded so sweet and sincere, and Steve wanted to stay in this moment for hours, gently comforted by Bucky’s ministrations. He felt guilty for underestimating the importance of barbers: he needed this.

Bucky massaged his scalp and neck for a while more, and this time Steve was certain Bucky had given him extra time. When Bucky tapped lightly on his shoulder, Steve allowed himself to be helped up. He still felt the bruising on his ribs, but his neck didn’t hurt anymore. Most importantly, he felt lighter.

Bucky put a hand on Steve’s back and led him out of the shampoo room. “Come on, big shot, let’s get you a haircut.”

Steve huffed a small laugh and walked with Bucky to the barber chair.

“Same as last time?” Bucky asked, making eye contact in the mirror.

“I was thinking,” Steve gestured toward his sideburns, “maybe a little shorter on the sides and longer on the top?”

“You gonna let me give you an undercut?” Bucky said with a smirk and a hint of excitement in his voice.

“I’d let you do most anything,” Steve said breathily.

Bucky’s eyes went wide, and realizing his mistake, Steve stammered to recover. “To my hair! I’d let you do anything to my hair. Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.”

Bucky grinned and picked out a pair of scissors. “That’s good to know, because between the sex noises and the propositioning, I was beginning to think you were getting the wrong idea about this place.” He winked, and Steve felt both charmed and mortified.

They chatted a while longer as Bucky worked. Steve learned that Bucky had grown up in Brooklyn and lived in the same building as his parents.

“Wait a minute? How old are you?” Steve teasingly made his voice sound scandalized.

Bucky glared at Steve, but there was no heat in it. “If you are implying, Captain Rogers, that I am too old to live near my parents, I’d say that you’ve not met them, because, if you had, you’d want to live near them, too.”

Steve put his hands up in surrender. “I’m sure they’re great.”

Bucky rolled his eyes, “See, you’re just saying that cause I got scissors in my hand.”

In the end, Bucky and Steve decided on a fade with a bit of length on top. Bucky gave him a sample of a nice smelling cream to style it with and taught Steve how to use it.

“Sandalwood,” Bucky said. “It’s one of my favorites, and it seems to fit your whole rustic-masculine-hipster shtick.”

Steve liked that Bucky thought of him as rustic and masculine, maybe not the rest. “I’m not a hipster,” he grumbled, but it was for show. He couldn’t be mad. His body felt better, his hair looked good, and he’d just had a fun and lighthearted conversation with a ridiculously hot man. 

Steve paid and booked another appointment in two weeks.

---

Two weeks was too long. If Steve thought he had missed Bucky’s gentle but firm touch before, now he didn’t think he could get enough. He saw Bucky regularly for the next few months, and with each appointment, Steve found himself looking forward to seeing Bucky more.

Sam seemed to think this was a positive development, and complemented Steve after every haircut, no matter how small the changes were.

“It’s good to see you taking care of yourself, man,” Sam told him, and Steve couldn’t help feeling proud of himself now, too. He hadn’t gone on any solo missions in several months, he verified intelligence with Nat or Tony before missions, and, most importantly, he was feeling more at home and happy in his body.

He was still busy. He still went on almost all of the missions, but he only occasionally missed his hair appointments. Bucky didn’t seem to mind, possibly because of the huge tips Steve left each time.

With his increased self-care, Steve’s libido recovered in a big way. Not that he told anyone about that bit. He felt a bit embarrassed about it, mostly because he hadn’t noticed that this part of him had shut down. He’d been too busy to think about it.

Now, though, Steve spent an inordinate amount of time fantasizing about touching Bucky. He pictured biting that plush bottom lip, spreading his legs and pressing against Bucky’s cock, as he gasped in surprise and pleasure. He would be so responsive, Steve just knew it. Steve would spend hours worshiping his little body, seeing what noises he could draw out.

As much as Steve wanted to ask Bucky out, he wasn’t naive enough to think Bucky returned his feelings. Service industry professionals were paid to be friendly, and Bucky’s actions were likely nothing more than professional courtesy and a kind heart. Bucky was probably sweet to everybody. It was pitiful, he thought, to be so taken with his barber.

Steve wasn’t going to stop getting the haircuts, God no, but he figured he should put himself out there again, see if he could get his heart to move on to a more appropriate person.

“I want you to set me up with someone again,” Steve said when he found Natasha in the common room of the Avengers Tower. 

Natasha looked amused. “Well, hello to you, too, Steve. Is that a new haircut?”

Steve blushed. She was right, it was a new haircut. Bucky had been trying out different styles with him. He seemed delighted that Steve’s ridiculously fast hair growth meant they could experiment. This one was was apparently called a “spiky quiff.” Steve wasn’t entirely sure that he liked it. It had looked good when Bucky had styled it, but Steve couldn’t quite get it to look right at home.

“Yes. Bucky says it looks good with my jawline.” He knew he sounded a bit defensive, but he wasn’t ready to have another person analyze his feelings for Bucky.

“I bet he does,” Natasha said, seeming quite satisfied with herself.

“Nat,” Steve said with a frown. His disappointed Captain America face did not work on her. “I don’t want to talk about it. Now, are you going to set me up or not?”

Natasha hummed, not quite agreeing or disagreeing. “I distinctly recall you telling me,” she said before using a whiny voice, “‘Stop meddling. I can find my own dates’.”

Steve only wanted one date: Bucky. But he wasn’t ready to admit that to anyone. “Well, I changed my mind,” he said. 

She eyed him critically for a few long moments, and Steve absurdly felt sweat prick in his armpits. “No,” she said finally.

“No?” Steve was surprised, shocked, if he was honest. Natasha had seemed obsessed with setting him up for a while.

“No.” She shrugged. “You work too much. I can’t set you up with someone to have you be unavailable to them.”

“You work as much as me!” Steve protested.

“And I’m not asking you to set me up with someone,” she replied, as though her point were obvious. “Remind me, Steven-”

“No one calls me that.” Steve pouted.

Natasha pretended not to notice his interruption. “...when your last date was?”

Guilt crept into Steve’s mind, but he decided to play dumb. “Who knows?”

“I know. And you know, too. It was a year and a half ago, and what happened?” Steve started to back up, this plan was backfiring. Natasha’s voice sounded bored, “Walk away, and no date.”

“Nothing happened,” Steve said uncomfortably, but not trying to escape anymore. 

Natasha narrowed her eyes.

Steve guiltily continued, “I mean, nothing happened because I had to go on a mission and forgot to call and cancel, and she waited for me for over an hour.”

Natasha gave him an unimpressed glare, and Steve felt the need to beg forgiveness all over again.

“I called to apologize,” Steve said in his defense.

“Correction,” Natasha’s voice was stern, and Steve felt a bit like he was getting called out by one of the nuns at St. Sebastian’s. “You texted to apologize and said you were too busy to date, after I had gone to the effort of setting you up.”

Steve stepped closer and sat himself down heavily on the couch beside her. “I’m sorry. I was a preoccupied with work at the time.”

“You’re still preoccupied with work.”

“I’m trying to work less,” Steve said, looking at his hands. “Last week I let you and Sam check out that remote outpost without me. And I took all day Sunday off from training.”

Natasha considered his argument. “Good point. You deserve a reward.”

Steve smiled at her widely and gave himself a mental high five, although he felt nervous that convincing her had been so easy. “Great! When would be good?”

Natasha rolled her eyes. “Don’t rush me, Rogers. This may take some strategizing.” She got up from the couch, abruptly ending the conversation. It was fine, Steve was used to it by now.

--

Steve had switched to a weekly schedule with Bucky, provided he was in town. Bucky hadn’t argued when Steve asked for the more frequent appointments, just smiled kindly and told him he was welcome whenever he wanted to come in.

Even with Steve’s fast hair growth, there wasn’t always much Bucky could cut off each week without Steve’s hair getting too short. So some weeks he gave Steve an extra long shampoo and just styled his hair. Other weeks they tried new looks, Steve letting Bucky do most anything he wanted. He hadn’t been able to talk Steve into dying his hair yet, but Steve knew it was a losing battle. He’d eventually give in.

The talk between them was easy and relaxed. Steve had shared a little about the 1940’s, and he’d learned some things about pop culture from Bucky. He tried to not ask too personal questions, but enjoyed learning that Bucky knew he wanted to be a barber in high school because he liked taking care of people and making them look good.

Steve showed up early to his next appointment, and Bucky was still busy with another customer. He sat near another man with a neatly groomed beard and curly black hair.

“Hey,” he said, getting the man’s attention. Steve wasn’t usually one to talk to other customers, but he was curious. “Do they style facial hair here, too?”

The man nodded. “Yeah, they clean up the necklines and make sure the growth is even. But really,” he leaned forward and lowered his voice, “I’m in it for the beard massage.”

Steve felt a quick flare of jealousy and hoped that this man wasn’t one of Bucky’s customers. Unlikely, he reminded himself, as Steve was Bucky’s next appointment. He dropped his voice to match the stranger’s, “They do that?”

The other man nodded. “I do it on the same day I get my haircut. They shampoo your beard, condition and massage it. I know it sounds weird, but it’s actually pretty awesome.”

Steve absentmindedly rubbed his chin, wondering how he’d look with a beard. He wasn’t sure about the look, but the idea of getting Bucky’s hands on his face, of stretching out the time he was touched, that seemed worth it.

When Bucky fetched him for his haircut, Steve smiled at the other customer and thanked him.

“Making friends, Steve?” Bucky asked teasingly as he wrapped a towel around Steve’s neck.

Steve chuckled. “I was just asking him about his beard. I was, uh, thinking of growing one.” It wasn’t exactly a lie; it was just that Steve had only been thinking of that for about five minutes.

Bucky ran his hands along Steve’s jawline, until he could approximate the shape of a beard. “Hmmm. I think it’d look good, you should try it out.”

Steve fought the urge to chase Bucky’s fingers when he removed them, but he still had some dignity.

“Okay,” he said weakly, because, really, Bucky’s approval was all it took. “I’ll give it a shot.”

The shampoo was wonderful as always, and afterwards Steve let Bucky do a neckline design, mostly because he was feeling adventurous and knew the after-effects wouldn’t last too long. Besides, it always made Bucky happy when he got to try something new.  

“It’s like you are my own personal Ken doll,” Bucky said gleefully, as he tipped Steve’s head forward. Steve caught his grin in the mirror, and his heart did a happy little dance.

“What’s a Ken doll?”

Bucky shrugged, long used to Steve not knowing things. “There’s this doll, she’s not terrible or anything, but she has this crazy unrealistic waist to bust ratio, kinda like you,” he said, and Steve couldn’t help feeling pleased that Bucky had noticed his body. He wasn’t vain, but he was one step away from wooing this man, and it was nice to know that at least the attraction wasn’t entirely unrequited.

“She’s more unrealistic than you,” Bucky continued, as though Steve might be offended. “Like, anatomically impossible or some shit. Anyways, her boyfriend or husband or whatever, is Ken. It’s not the best analogy for this situation, because he has plastic hair, but you get what I mean.”

Steve hummed in agreement, enjoying letting the talk wash over him while Bucky worked. Bucky always seemed to know when Steve had been through a rough week or just didn’t feel much like talking, and on those weeks Steve relaxed and let Bucky do most of the chatting.

Bucky handed Steve the mirror and turned him around in the chair, so he could get a good look at the back. Steve pretended to examine the results, even though both he and Bucky knew he didn’t care.

“Looks good, Buck. Thanks.” Steve thought he caught a hint of blush from Bucky when he said the nickname, and it made him feel giddy.

“It’s just a haircut, Steve.”

Steve caught Bucky’s wrist and ran his fingers lightly over his pulse point. “It’s more than that to me.”

Bucky blushed furiously with a small, pleased smile.

Steve settled up the bill, and Bucky suggested that he wait two weeks until his next appointment to give his beard a chance to grow in. Steve regretfully agreed because he couldn’t find a smooth way to say he was really in it for the touch and good conversation.

Chapter Text

Steve went on the first date Natasha had set up to support Steve’s don’t fall in love with your barber mission the day after he decided to grow out his beard. So far, things were going well. The woman, Tara, taught self-defense and was a personal trainer. Her pretty blonde hair was pulled back into a tight bun that emphasized her well-defined cheekbones.

Steve hadn’t known what to suggest for an activity, but after texting back and forth and learning that she was also into fitness, they decided to go on a casual run together. Tara’s thin body looked good in bright blue spandex tights and a fitted grey shirt.

“I can’t believe I’m actually running with Captain America,” she said with a laugh. “When Christy asked if I would be interested in going on a date with Steve Rogers, I was pretty sure she was kidding.”

Steve wasn’t sure if Natasha knew a Christy, or if Natasha was Christy and that was one of her covers. Maybe she liked to go to the gym anonymously. Whatever it was, Steve wasn’t going to blow it for her.

“When’d you figure it out?”

Tara pulled one leg up behind her as she stretched her quadriceps. “About five minutes ago.”

She had a nice twinkle in her eye, and a certain playfulness, and yeah, Steve could see why Natasha has set them up.

“If you thought I was lying, why’d you agree to a date?”

She shrugged, before switching to stretch her other side. “I figured I could outrun you if you were a creep, and, if not, it’d be a fun story to tell.”

That answer made his stomach turn sour. One reason he didn’t date was because he didn’t want to be a trophy or a story. Still, he tried not to hold it against her.

“You ready to go?” he said, bouncing side to side. He hadn’t done much stretching himself, but he never really had to.

She nodded, and they took off at a slow pace to warm up. As they gradually sped up, Steve let her edge ahead so that she wouldn’t feel like she was holding him back.

“I hope you’re not going easy on me because I’m a girl,” she said, a hint of challenge in her voice.

Steve stumbled but recovered his steps quickly. “I go easy on most people,” he said sheepishly. “Except my friend, Sam. But when he grumbles about getting passed, it’s pretty hilarious.”

Tara chuckled briefly, her breathing getting faster. “Fair enough. Go a little easy on me, but not too much.” She winked at him, and then took off running full speed.

Steve blushed at the intimation before charging after her. He caught up to her quickly, but her pace didn’t slow when he overtook her. If anything, she ran faster, sweat gathering underneath her armpits and down her neck.

She could probably keep up with Sam, Steve mused, and he wondered if his friend would be interested in going on a date with her. Immediately, Steve felt guilty. This was supposed to be his date; Tara was really fun, and already he was thinking of ways of getting out of a second date.

Tara didn’t speak much the rest of the run, moving at close to an all out sprint. When they reached the end of their loop, she collapsed with a groan into the grass. “I’d hate you if you weren’t so nice.”

Steve smiled at her, and reached down a hand to pull her up once she caught her breath. “It’s the serum, I would have never kept up with you before.”

She laughed. “Alright, that does make losing to you a bit easier. I could have run circles around tiny Steve.” She punched him lightly in the arm. “Want to grab smoothies? I know a great Paleo place not too far from here.”

Steve nodded and followed her as she made her way towards the smoothie shop. He wasn’t sure what paleo was, but he was used to army rations and protein drinks, so he figured he could swallow just about anything.

He wasn’t wrong. The smoothie was perfectly palatable, just like Tara. But she didn’t make him long to be around her more, or anticipate the next time they would be together. After the smoothie, he thanked her for the good time and told her he thought they would be better as friends than dates.

Tara frowned, clearly disappointed. “At least I got a story out this,” she said. “Thanks for not dragging it out or avoiding my calls.”

When he told Natasha about the date, Steve assured her that he had indeed tried with Tara, but they didn’t have a spark. She was fun, athletic, and liked to be challenged. But, and he didn’t tell Natasha this, she didn’t fill him with the same potent mix of fascination and lust that Bucky did. Natasha, for her part, seemed more pleased than surprised. Steve didn’t try to decipher her reaction, sometimes his friend was inscrutable.

---

The first few days of growing in the beard weren’t bad. Steve went from clean-shaven to a rugged look. The next week was the worst. Apparently the serum had not fixed the patchiness of his facial hair, and it came in thicker along the angle of his jaw and in his moustache, making him look like a big, muscular, chipmunk. Tony loved it and promptly bought him some awful smelling moustache wax.

Steve got called away for a mission in Costa Rica, and afterwards the press had a field day joking about how funny his uneven beard looked with the cowl. The mission wasn’t covert, but fighting with the mad scientist of the week wasn’t exactly the public, taking down alien invaders spectacle, so Steve didn’t know how they got pictures of him. He suspected Tony had leaked them somehow.

It was probably for the best, he decided. In the months since Natasha and Tony strong-armed him into going to a salon, he’d gotten a bit of a reputation for caring about his looks too much. Some people predictably criticized him for the waste of money, but others seemed to love it. Whole Tumblrs were now devoted to his haircuts with rankings and descriptions like, ‘Captain clean cut,’ or ‘sexy bed-head,’ ‘good grip for face fucking’ (which Steve privately thought was accurate but crude), and his least favorite, ‘Cap tries too hard.’

He was trying hard. Trying to strategize his way into his barber’s pants, or at least his arms, but the Internet had thankfully not picked up on that. He spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about Bucky’s hands on his face, and fantasizing about the upcoming beard massage.

Steve knew he was in too deep, but he felt paralyzed by indecision. He wanted to ask Bucky out, wanted to run his hands up and down his body, which was a little plump in the middle, with a nice, round ass. He wanted to take care of Bucky in all the ways Bucky took care of him. He was caught between longing and not wanting things to change.

If he asked Bucky out, it might make things awkward. Maybe he would get offended or say no, and Steve would end up with no Bucky and no haircuts. But if he didn’t ask him out, well, Steve would experience a gradual worsening of sexual tension until he exploded.

The mission in Costa Rica went smoothly, enough of a challenge to be exciting but not so much that he felt worn out. Somewhere in between throwing two murder-bots into a tank and drinking an Imperial with Tony at a bar after the fight was over, he decided that life was too short to hold back. His life, in particular, was likely on the short side, and he couldn’t wait for life to calm down enough for him to date. Life would never be calm, and maybe it was the adrenalin from the fight or the satisfaction from the win, but Steve wanted Bucky in a way that felt almost primal.  

If Steve asked him out, maybe they could celebrate his next successful mission together.

“I’m going to do it,” Steve said to Tony. He downed what was now his fourth Imperial.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Capsicle, but I like your conviction.”

Steve grinned at him, knowing full well the chipmunk look was off-putting. “I’m going to ask Bucky out.”

“Who the hell is Bucky?”

Steve narrowed his eyes. Surely Tony knew. Natasha had asked him many times about his haircuts. He had assumed that she shared Intel with Tony.

“My barber. The fancy one you and Nat talked me into.”

Tony dissolved into laughter, only slightly manic sounding. “Of course,” he said between wheezes.

“I don’t see what’s so funny.”

“Only you would fall in love with the first person to touch you in the 21st century.”

It stung. It stung in a way that Tony had likely not intended. Tony, who was himself a mix of battle worn and slap-happy, his filter especially low. Still, Steve hadn’t felt so pitied since his pre-serum days. Was he only interested in Bucky because of the touch?

“It’s not like that!” he said, words coming out hard and stilted as Steve tried and failed to control his tone. “Bucky is funny and sweet.”

“You barely know him, Cap.”

“That’s why you ask somebody out, to get to know them,” Steve said too loudly. He took a deep breath to calm himself before continuing. “Besides, I went on a date with somebody a week ago. I’m not desperate for company.”

Steve clenched his jaw, ready to end the conversation, and fully aware that Tony had a point. Steve had been getting haircuts for several months, and he and Bucky always had enjoyable, playful conversation. But it seemed like there was something between them, present in shared furtive looks.

Tony put his hands up. “Hey, I don’t mean it like that, Capsicle.” He gestured vaguely at Steve’s chest and face. “You’re clearly very hot and could have most anybody you wanted. Still.” He took a long sip of beer, for once taking time to gather his thoughts before speaking. “Isn’t it possible that you’ve not had much, ahem, touch of any kind for a while? So, without meaning to romanticize Bucky, who, by the way, is being paid to touch and be nice to you, you are making too much out of this?”

Steve felt his entire body tense. For one blindingly hot moment of mortification, he wondered if Tony was right.

“Rogers.” Tony waved his hand in front of Steve’s eyes, and he realized he had been looking at the ground for several seconds. “Ignore me. You know what Pepper says about my foot in mouth disease. If you like this guy, then just go for it.”

Steve smiled weakly, and begged off staying there longer. Everything had feel so right and clear, and now he wasn’t sure what to think.

---

Tony’s words stuck in his mind the next few days, poisoning his good mood. Steve knew something had broken open in him, and surely it wasn’t as simple as he needed touch. If that were the case, it could be any touch, not just Bucky’s.

Steve decided he needed to experiment. He didn’t want to get a haircut anywhere else, somehow that felt disloyal. But Tony had repeatedly described the benefits of massage, and now that Steve was apparently the type of person to spend sixty dollars on a haircut, what was one more indulgence?

He told no one; he didn’t want to give Tony the satisfaction. Steve drove to a small place in Brooklyn (no chance of running into his friends there) that had good reviews and a male therapist. He was doing this for science, after all. Best to replicate all of the variables. Christ, he thought, he’d been hanging out with Stark for too long.

The massage therapist’s office smelled like ocean mist. The lighting was gentle, and in the background soothing music played superimposed over the sound of running water. It wasn’t entirely awful, Steve decided.

The therapist was not quite as tall as Steve, but close. Where Steve was thick, this man was lithe with tightly muscled arms. He looked strangely at Steve, as if trying to place him.

“Aren’t you...?”

Steve stiffened. “Can we pretend I’m not?”

The massage therapist, Wes, his nametag read, nodded his head quickly. “Of course, of course. Sorry about that. Just didn’t expect Captain America to want a massage.”

Wes was fidgeting with his hands and appeared to feel guilty, so Steve decided he wasn’t so bad, even if he had called him Captain America instead of his name.

The massage was, well, it was really nice. Wes’ hands traced smooth paths up Steve’s back, the heels of his hands pressing along his spine. And when Wes’ thumb squeezed the sole of his foot, Steve was pretty sure he had found another modern indulgence he favored.

Steve left feeling noodly and relaxed. He followed the therapist’s advice and drank several cups of water, and took it easy the rest of the day. That night, he slept better than he had in a long time, and the next day Natasha told him he seemed more focused during sparring. Still, the touch didn’t make him tingle the way Bucky’s did. It didn’t have him tracing the lines where his neck had been stroked and longing for more intimate touches.

It wasn’t just any touch, he realized with relief, only Bucky’s. It wasn’t quite enough to go off for anything as big as a love confession, but it was enough for Steve to feel justified in wanting more.

---

Steve’s plan was simple and straightforward. He would call Bucky, ask him on a date, take him to a fancy restaurant, and hopefully kiss him goodnight. There was just one thing he had to do first.

Steve found Natasha and Sam on the Avenger’s common room floor, each reading a book.

“I changed my mind about you setting me up on another date,” Steve said, worried Natasha would be mad. “I don’t need your help after all.”

“Steven.” God, she sounded like his mother sometimes. “I already went to the trouble of picking someone else out and convincing them to meet with you. You can’t back out now.”

“It’s just...” Steve huffed, searching for the words. “There’s someone else I’m interested in, and I want to try things out with him first.”

“That’s great, man!” Sam said, always in his corner.

“Have you asked him out yet?” she asked.

“No.” Steve rubbed the back of his neck. “Not yet, but I want to. I just have to make a plan.”

“That could take forever,” Natasha said, trying and failing at holding back a smile.

“Maybe he’s not emotionally available for someone else,” Sam said to Natasha, trying to appease both sides. “It’s a big deal for Steve to admit having feelings for anyone. Maybe,” he said as he gave her his best puppy dog eyes, “you could call it off? Give Steve some time to figure things out.”

“It’s too late,” she said, amusement in her voice. “Don’t worry, Rogers. Everything’s going to work out.” She kissed him lightly on the cheek, and left the room.

Sam shrugged. “Man, I tried. Now, tell me about this mysterious crush.”

Steve checked to make sure Natasha was fully out of the room. Once he was satisfied she was gone, he said, “It’s Bucky, my barber. And before you say anything, it’s not because I’m lonely or desperate. I just, I like him.”

Sam grinned and clapped his hands. “I wasn’t going to argue with you! My grandparents met when my grandpa bet my grandma that she couldn’t make a cut shot in a game of pool. He was wrong, she kissed him, and they’ve been together fifty-two years. You never know what somebody's love story is going to be.”

Steve breathed a sigh of relief, of course Sam would be in his corner. Now all he had to do was figure out what to say to Bucky.

---

A few days later, Natasha announced she was bringing a date to the Avengers movie night. Steve and Tony were both morbidly curious about who she might bring. Tony guessed that it would be an international crime lord, and Steve thought it might be the head of a small country. Who else could handle Natasha? He knew he didn’t have room to judge; his one girlfriend had founded Shield. Regardless, she told him sternly that he was not allowed to miss this movie night.

When Natasha walked in that evening with Bucky on her arm and another man next to him, Steve felt a flash of panic. Of course Natasha had figured out his crush. Of course. And she cleverly only said she was bringing a date, not who that date was for.

“Everyone,” she said, drawing the assembled Avenger’s attention, “this is my friend, Bucky. Be nice to him.” She said it like a joke, but her eyes were serious, and she lingered on Steve for a moment extra. “And this,” she said, eyeing the other man. He had a Band-Aid on his cheek, a hole in his jeans, and his hair stuck up in several directions. Natasha sighed in resignation, “This is Clint, Bucky’s roommate. You can be mean to him.”

Bucky wasn’t wearing the fitted black shirt with slim cut jeans he normally wore at the salon. Instead, he was wearing the most ridiculously fluffy sweater Steve had ever seen. It looked like a big, blue cloud with a thick cowl neck. His hair fell in soft waves framing his face, and he wore small, sparkling earrings. Somehow, he pulled off the look, and Steve wanted to pull him into his lap and cuddle into the soft fabric.

Bucky caught his eye and smiled shyly, and Steve forgot his fantasy of cuddling when the blind panic returned. He was excited to see Bucky, had planned on asking him out in the near future, but somehow having him there in the moment, messing with his planned timeline, Steve couldn’t think straight. He excused himself to go to the bathroom and hated himself for it. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to see Bucky, of course not. It was mainly that he would have liked his first time seeing Bucky outside of the salon to be without an audience.

Steve splashed some water on his face and gave himself a firm talking to. “You are Captain America,” he whispered to his image in the mirror. “You single handedly liberated four hundred men from a prisoner of war camp. You’ve fought aliens, taken down Hydra, and shaken the hand of the president. You can go talk to Bucky.”

Natasha was there when he exited the bathroom pinching the bridge of her nose with her fingers. “Please tell me you have more game than this, Rogers.”

“How did you know?” Steve asked. It wasn’t a secret, he’d talked about Bucky with Tony and Sam, but he wanted to know if Natasha figured it out on her own.

Natasha rolled her eyes. “I’m didn’t spy on you, if that’s what you’re thinking. But when you met him you were entranced by his ass, and after that you could hardly stop talking about him. It doesn’t take a genius to figure these things out.”

Steve frowned and shifted on his feet. “Did you tell him that I like him?”  

Natasha narrowed her eyes. “We are not in middle school.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“Shut up, Rogers. It’s a thing people say. Go talk to James, and stop hiding in the bathroom.”

Steve didn’t say, why do you care , but he sure wanted to.

Steve entered the large kitchen only to find Bucky and Thor engaged in conversation. Thor was wearing a tight blue t-shirt, much too small for him, although Steve figured he had no room to judge on that front. He’d never really paid much attention to Thor’s body, but now that he was looking, he realized that Thor was what Tony would call ‘ripped’. His muscles had muscles.

As he and Bucky talked, Thor flexed his bicep, and Bucky squeezed it appreciatively.

“Indeed. Most Asgardians are exceptionally strong.”

Bucky gave Thor a quick and cheeky once over. “Do they all look like you?”

Thor grinned and flexed his muscles again. “I am the prince, after all. So I am a bit more-”

Steve cleared his throat, interrupting their conversation. Both men turned to him.

“Friend Steven! Young Bucky here told me that he is responsible for styling your hair.” He turned to Bucky. “Anthony and Natasha are pleased with your handiwork.”

Bucky’s face colored with the praise. “I’ve been doing it a bit, and Steve’s been a good sport about trying new things.”

Steve wanted to talk to Bucky, to explain why he had run away upon seeing him, but Thor was there looking between the two men and clearly pleased.

“On Asgard, the style is longer for men. Perhaps now that the good Captain has decided to grow a beard, he will grow out the rest of his hair, as well.”

Steve rubbed the back of his neck. “Not likely.” He turned to Bucky. “Um, Buck, do you have a second?”

Bucky stepped closer Steve as Thor busied himself putting water on to boil, and bringing out hot chocolate mix and marshmallows.

“Hey,” Steve said awkwardly, “I’m glad you could make it.” He tried to project earnestness, but he was pretty sure he was projecting the Captain-America-is-trying-too-hard vibe.

“Well, you ran out of the room as soon as I got here,” Bucky said quietly, “so I wasn’t sure you wanted me around. I mean, I get it. I’m just a barber and…” He trailed off, shrugging his shoulders.

“No!” Steve said, perhaps a bit too forcefully. Bucky had changed his life so much already. He couldn’t let him think Steve didn’t value his work. “It’s just, I’m awkward in social situations, and I kind of panicked.”

“Panicked?”

“Well, I wasn’t sure that I’d have much to talk about, and I swear Tony looks for things to rib me about whenever I’m around people.” He stepped closer but still a friendly distance apart. “I’m sorry. Sometimes it looks like I’ve got my shit together, but I really don’t.”

Bucky reached out and tugged at one of the tufts of Steve’s beard playfully, and Steve couldn’t help the relieved laugh that escaped him.

“We’ll be fine, Stevie.”

Meanwhile, Thor noisily searched for the mug he wanted from the top shelf. He was apparently taking his time to find what he wanted, and Steve noticed Bucky subtly appreciating his shoulders.

“Need some help there, big guy?” Steve said, clearing his throat. Okay, so he was a touch jealous.

Bucky, fully aware that he’d been caught staring, blushed furiously. “Shut up, Steve,” he mumbled.  

Bucky’s roommate, Clint, overheard him, as he entered the kitchen. “What are we mad at Steve about?” He glanced between the two men: Bucky sheepish but continuing to check Thor out, and Steve desperate to get Bucky to look at anything else.

Clint followed the two men’s eyes and let out a low whistle. He elbowed Bucky with a grin. “That’s some premium man-meat.”

Thor seemed unaware of their leering, and Steve felt a bit exasperated. How long does it take to find one mug?

Steve cleared his throat again. “Anything I can help you find?”

Thor dropped his arms and gave Steve one of his perpetually cheery grins. “How kind of you, Steven! I am looking for the penguin mug Lady Jane gifted me for my birthday.”

Steve pointed at the dishwasher. “I think Tony was using it earlier. It might be in there.”

Thor moved to open the dishwasher and Steve quickly intervened, because, nope, sometimes Stark put mugs on the bottom shelf just to be annoying, and Steve could not handle watching Bucky ogle Thor’s ass when he bent over.

“I’ll get that for you.”

Clint whined. “Rogers, you’re no fun.”

Thor winked at Clint and Bucky, and Steve realized indignantly that he had been playing it up for the crowd. It wasn’t like Steve had a right to be mad. He hadn’t staked a claim on Bucky, and Thor had the right to flirt with whomever he chose. Still, it rankled him.

Steve located the mug and handed it perhaps a bit too forcefully to Thor. “Here you go.”

Thor raised his eyebrows and the corners of his lips quirked up. “Natasha did say we were to be welcoming to our guests,” he said, with another wink at Bucky. Bucky chuckled and offered him a fist bump, which the Norse god gladly returned. “You should be more welcoming, Steven. Get this young man a mug.” He filled his own mug with hot chocolate and a mountain of marshmallows before striding out of the kitchen looking very amused.

Was Thor was trying to give him dating advice? If he thought Steve was willing to parade around, reaching up to show off his muscles, bending over to bring attention to his ass, and flexing his muscles to impress Bucky, well, he was probably right. But he couldn’t do that now . It would be too obvious.

“I’m just gonna-” Clint said, pointing at Thor and following him out of the kitchen.

When Steve and Bucky were alone in the room, Steve breathed a sigh of relief.

“I’m sorry about Thor and the whole,” he said, as he mimed reaching up for things. “Do you need anything? Snacks or hot chocolate?”

“I’m okay,” Bucky said quietly, “but I do want to talk about something.”

Steve nodded, suddenly wishing Thor and Clint were back in the room to make conversation easy.

“I know things were different when you were young,” Bucky said awkwardly, “but I’m gay, and I need you to accept that if we’re going to be friends.”

“What?”

“You seemed pretty uncomfortable with me checking out your friend. I mean, he was flirting with me, too.”

“Oh,” Steve said, stalling for time and wishing the earth would swallow him whole. “That’s not cause, you know, I don’t care if you’re... I just wanted to help him find his mug.”

Bucky studied him for a moment before breaking into a delighted smile. “You were jealous! Mr. Perfect All-American body is not used to someone else getting checked out.”

“No, I’m not! It’s not like that!” Steve protested, although he figured this was less damming than Bucky figuring out the real reason he was jealous of Thor.

Bucky was full on giggling now, and Steve felt battling urges to either hide from him or kiss him senseless. “It’s okay, Stevie,” Bucky said, rubbing the tears out of his eyes and chuckling. “You’re still one of the hottest men in America.” They stood there quietly together, Bucky still chuckling intermittently.

“Just so you know,” Steve said once Bucky’s laughter had died down. “I’m bi. Or maybe pansexual? That’s the one where you’re attracted to all genders, not just two, right?”

Bucky beamed at him, and Steve thought maybe all of the embarrassment had been worth it. “That’s awesome. Good for you.”

Steve smiled back, standing up to his full height and gathering his courage. “Actually, I wanted to know if you’d-”

Tony entered the kitchen looking mischievous, and Steve groaned. “I heard Bucky was in here checking out hot guys.” He made to exaggeratedly bend down to tie his shoes before Bucky stopped him.

“Relax, Stark. You’re not on my list.” Steve felt an immense sense of relief at that news. Everyone was hot for Thor, he could handle that.

Bucky continued, “Steve either, what with being my client and all.”

Steve felt like the air was punched out of his lungs. Tony noticed his disappointment and acted quickly, because no matter how much he liked to tease, he still had Steve’s back.

“You wound me, Buckaroo! Now, everyone’s getting restless, and if we don't start the movie soon there will be a riot.”

They followed Tony into the living room, and Bucky plopped himself down unglamorously next to Clint, who reached an arm around Bucky’s shoulders and pulled him close.

Steve paused, uncertain of where to sit, and Bucky jabbed him playfully with a foot. “Come on. You can join our cuddle pile.”

Steve sat stiffly on the end of the couch, trying to take up as little space of possible and unsure of what to do with his hands. Bucky reached over and squeezed his hand. He seemed to do that a lot, and Steve found he really liked it.

“People don’t get enough healthy touch,” Bucky said seriously. “Especially as men, we’re taught to be tough and always look strong, and I think that’s really bad for our ability to connect with one another meaningfully.”

Clint interrupted Bucky before he could continue. “Blah, blah, toxic masculinity creating unhealthy barriers, blah, blah. You’re just a human sized cat.”  

Bucky elbowed his friend in the ribs with a small smile, and it was clear Clint was actually more into it than he was willing to let on.

Bucky met his eyes, and his look was so earnest and warm, Steve wanted to melt in happiness. “Just do what you’re comfortable with, no pressure.”

Steve relaxed, grateful when Tony started Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two . If it didn’t require both of them acknowledging their friendship, Steve would send Tony a thank you card for helping him avoid awkward situations.

As the movie progressed, Bucky leaned more heavily against Clint, slipped off his shoes, and pulled his feet up on the couch. Holding his breath, and somehow worried that Bucky might slap his hand away, Steve gingerly took hold of Bucky’s shin and began rubbing small circles on his ankle.

Bucky’s answering smile was so tender, that Steve couldn’t help pulling Bucky’s feet into his lap and rubbing gently at the arches of his foot just like the massage therapist had done to him.

It was pleasant touching Bucky at first, but then Steve had to breathe slowly and try not to get an erection. Did this mean he had a foot thing, he wondered. Steve checked his reaction and decided he just had a Bucky thing, his feet included.

Steve felt his phone vibrate, and when he checked it, Tony had texted him: Stop torturing yourself.

Steve texted back: Hush. I’m watching a movie.

Bucky poked Steve gently with his foot and a pout, and Steve, who at this point was pretty sure he couldn’t deny Bucky anything, quickly turned off his phone and began rubbing Bucky’s feet again. Steve could almost hear Tony’s eye roll.

When Harry dropped the Resurrection stone and walked to Voldemort, ready to sacrifice his life, Tony called over to Steve, “Don’t get any ideas.”

Steve stiffened. “I haven’t done anything like that in at least two months!”

“I’ll give you a sobriety chip, Cap, but that’s still not long enough.”

Tony yelped in surprise as a Skittle smacked him on his cheek. Natasha had clearly thrown it, but no one had seen her do it. “Leave him alone,” she said warningly, glancing at Bucky to check his reaction.

When Steve followed her gaze, he noticed Bucky looked distraught.

“Are you okay?” Bucky said. “Do you need someone to talk to?”

“It’s not like that,” Steve whispered, trying to be comforting. “Tony just likes being dramatic.”

Tony started to protest, but another Skittle hit him in the face, and he seemed to take the hint.

Sam chimed in. “Steve has been making good progress towards being safer,” he said.

Steve tucked a lock of Bucky’s hair behind his ear. “Everything’s fine. You don’t have to worry about me.” Bucky relaxed, although he did not look entirely convinced.

Bucky ended up falling asleep during the movie, and Steve took the opportunity to steal longer looks at him. He was so beautiful, long eyelashes fanning across his cheeks. Steve wanted to run his fingers along his smooth skin and reach his hand under Bucky’s ridiculous fluffy sweater.

Steve felt a piece of popcorn hit the side of his face and realized he’d been caught looking. At least Natasha used something softer to hit him with. When he looked at her, she smirked and pretended to ignore him. Steve ducked his head and tried to focus on the movie. He was not successful.

After the movie ended, Clint tried asking Natasha out, but she playfully rebuffed him. “Ask me again next time,” she said with a smirk. Clint pumped his arm, clearly taking this as a win. Steve had to admire his moxie. Most men were too intimidated by Natasha to pursue her.

As he walked Bucky and Clint to the elevator, Steve tried to think of the perfect thing to say to end the evening. He knew Bucky had said he couldn’t date a client, but Steve had spent the evening strategizing and had come up with a multi-part wooing plan. Step one, Natasha had accomplished for him: Hang out outside of the salon. But tonight was a group, and now Steve needed to move to step two: one on one time together (again, not at the salon) in a casual setting. Fancy restaurants and dramatic dinners would come later.

“Hey,” Steve said to Bucky, as though he was just thinking of the idea in that moment, “I was wondering if you might like to grab coffee with me sometime?”

Bucky’s sleepy smile was slow and warm. “Of course! Here...” He fished his phone out of his pocket and handed it to Steve. “Let’s trade phone numbers.”

Steve felt himself shiver when their fingers brushed, as if he hadn’t been getting haircuts from Bucky and gotten used to his touch the last several months.

He texted himself from Bucky’s phone and handed it back. “Oh, and,” Steve said, and Steve even he could tell he was terrible at pretending not to be overly excited, but it was too late to change strategies, “I’ll add your name to the security list so you don’t have to check in next time. Stop by anytime you want to say hi.”

Bucky stepped into his space and wrapped his arms around Steve’s waist. “I had a fun time tonight.”

Steve melted immediately into the hug, maybe squeezing tighter than a friend might, but Bucky didn’t seem to mind.

Chapter Text

Steve was inordinately excited about the beard massage. He’d fantasized about it every time he was in the shower, running his fingers through his beard, although all showers now reminded Steve of getting his hair washed by Bucky, so all showers made him horny. Every time he looked in the mirror and the patchy growth (finally evening out), he closed his eyes, imagined Bucky’s hands caressing his face, and it all seemed worth it.

Once he arrived at the salon, it took all of Steve’s effort to feign a casual manner. He had been careful to not arrive too soon, not wanting to seem overly eager. It wasn’t just the massage. He hadn’t seen Bucky in a few days, and he was eager to spend time with him again.

Bucky greeted Steve warmly. Steve raised his arm to hug him, and then froze, remembering this was Bucky’s workplace, and maybe he didn’t want to be hugged here. He dropped his arm quickly reaching out and giving a surprised Bucky a firm handshake.

“Well, then, that was formal,” Bucky said, looking highly amused.  “If you’ll come with me, Captain.”

Steve blushed at the teasing and followed him. Apparently he hadn’t stopped being awkward around hot people.

Bucky had him sit in front of the mirror before they went to the shampoo room. “It’s still a bit uneven,” Bucky said pointing to a few spots, “but I think if we trim it down, it will give it a fuller look. Do you want me to shave your neckline?”

Steve nodded dumbly. He had never gotten far enough to consider that in his beard massage fantasy.

Bucky selected a straight razor and stropped it on leather to make sure it was sharp enough. “So, I’ll wash your hair first, then your beard. While you’re leaned back, I’ll shave your neck, and then we’ll clean up the rest once we’re back out here. Sound good?”

“Sounds great.”

Steve eagerly followed Bucky back into the shampoo room, thrumming with excitement. The hot water on his scalp was soothing, and Steve let himself relax with a sigh. Bucky chose a different shampoo this time, something that smelled like Juniper, because he claimed it fit his “sexy lumberjack look.”

Steve wasn’t going to argue.

The beard massage was a little messy at first. Bucky added an extra towel on Steve’s front to stop any water that spilled from wetting his shirt. Once his beard was washed and the massage began, Steve had to bite back a whimper, it felt so good. Bucky’s fingers worked conditioner along his jaw and up his sideburns. He thought it would feel weird having someone’s fingers on his face, but in reality it was decadent and relaxing in a way he hadn’t expected. He narrowly avoided moaning.

it grew on me 3

The scritching noise and gentle pressure on his skin as Bucky shaved the hairs on his neck reminded Steve that Bucky held a straight razor to his throat. He imagined Bucky as some sexy Russian spy sent to seduce him into telling him government information. Wearing skin tight clothes and gentle with a touch of danger, he wouldn’t have to work hard to get Steve’s secrets--he’d give them away with the barest touch of Bucky’s hands.

Steve felt Bucky move his head to the side as he tried to get a better angle. Usually he liked to be the one doing the manhandling, but in this case it was nice to give himself over to Bucky’s control. The muscles of his jaw were so relaxed, Steve wanted to just open his mouth and have Bucky slide his cock in. Slow but relentless, the weight on his tongue grounding, Steve wanting Bucky go as deep as he could, to just take.

When Bucky removed the towel and patted Steve’s shoulder to let him know he was done, Steve snapped out of his daydream and realized he had A Problem. A big problem, his brain supplied, and this was not the time to be cheeky. Steve’s pants were uncomfortably tight with his erection straining against them. He wasn’t just a little hard. He was full on, raging boner hard.

When Steve didn’t move immediately, Bucky said, “You feeling alright, Stevie? You’re not lightheaded, are you?”

Steve wanted the earth to open up and swallow him whole. He wanted aliens to invade. He wanted to burst spontaneously into flames. Anything to keep him from having to tell Bucky that he was having a situation down there.

“I’m fine. Just gathering my bearings, that’s all.”

There was no avoiding it. Steve took a deep breath, stood up, and walked stiffly after Bucky. Once they left the dark room, Steve glanced down at the tent in his jeans. He wondered what Bucky was thinking. Was he being polite and ignoring it? Maybe he just didn’t notice. Was he going to hate Steve for getting an erection?

Steve went to sit in the salon chair and winced when the zipper rubbed his hard dick.

Bucky’s look was worried with a hint of consternation. “Steve! You told me you weren’t hurt. Is everything okay.”  

Steve crossed his arms over his chest and his face flushed bright red. “I’m so sorry, this is so embarrassing,” he said helplessly.  

Bucky looked confused for a moment before glancing down at Steve’s crotch. His shoulders relaxed, and he smiled reassuringly. “Nah, don’t worry about it, really. It’s not your fault. It happens to a lot of people. Involuntary reactions are involuntary .” He patted Steve’s arm, and then put the cape around him casually.

Steve couldn’t tell if he was more relieved or disappointed. Sure, he was one hundred percent glad that Bucky wasn’t mad at him. But he’d treated Steve’s erection like it was no big deal, and maybe it would have nice for him to be a little affected.

Steve felt his traitorous mind wander to what it might have been like for Bucky to lovingly unzip Steve’s pants, freeing his impossibly hard cock. His deft fingers, so good at massage, would feel amazing. Or maybe his mouth, Steve’s cock stretching those plush lips.

Steve jolted back to reality with a start when Bucky started combing his hair.

“It’s really not a big deal, Steve,” he said gently. “Don’t worry about it.”

Steve thought, you haven’t seen it yet. It’s kind of a big deal . God, he would have hated Tony for making that joke, so why was it popping into his head? He tried to think about baseball or one of Tony’s annoying antics, anything to distract him from his boner.

Desperate to find something else to talk about, Steve asked, “So how long have you and Clint been friends?”

Bucky answered while he busied himself trimming Steve’s beard. “We met each other in high school. We were two of the founding members of our school’s LGBT club. Clint is the B part, in case you were wondering.”

Steve had heard some LGBT kids had a hard time in school. “Were you treated badly?”

Bucky shrugged. “Well, coming out in high school wasn’t exactly a treat, and some people were dicks about it, but my ma and pops were cool. See.” He paused and met Steve’s eyes with a smirk. “Another good reason to live in the same building as my family. They’re big time allies.”

“It’s time to move out on your own,” Steve said, enjoying their easy banter.

“It’s a big apartment building, Stevie! I’m practically on my own.”

“How many times do you go home for dinner per week?”

Bucky huffed a laugh. “Careful, or I’ll trim off your sideburn, and you’ll be asymmetrical. Now, how short do you want it up top?”

Steve was pleased to see that his beard really did look thick and even the way Bucky had trimmed it. “A little short on the sides and longer on top?”

Bucky hummed in agreement and got to work. After a few minutes, he paused, then tilted Steve’s head back up and assessed his work. “Neckline looks even. I think we should try a more dramatic fade one of these days. Really take it in tight along your sideburns.”

“Whatever you say, Buck.”  

Steve had taken to calling him “Buck” whenever he could, no that he knew it would make a pretty blush appear on Bucky’s face. It happened every time, and this time was no exception.

“Such a sweet talker,” Bucky grumbled, but Steve could see he looked pleased.

Steve was mostly quiet for the rest of the haircut, enjoying watching Bucky work. When Bucky was done, Steve complimented his work, left a ridiculously large tip, and made another appointment for next week.  

“If you’re not busy, we could grab a cup of coffee,” Steve said hopefully.

Bucky flipped through the online scheduler. “I have something in thirty minutes, but we could go for a walk.” He grabbed a sweater, signaled to a coworker that he’d be back soon, and followed Steve out of the building.

The air outside was crisp but not too cold. They walked together in companionable silence for a few blocks.

“So,” Bucky said, “you think you’ll ever do anything else besides the Captain America gig?”

Steve pursed his lips. He hadn’t really thought of doing anything else before. “No. At least, I don’t feel that way right now. I don’t know what I’d do with myself if I wasn’t Captain America.”

Bucky smiled. “You’d find something.”

Steve glanced at Bucky. He looked so beautiful in a deep blue sweater, relaxed and happy next to him. And it would be so easy to reach out and tangle their fingers together. Steve’s fingers itched to do so.

“You can do it, you know?”

Steve was startled out of his thought process.

“You keep reaching for my hand and then stopping,” Bucky chuckled. “We can hold hands, if you want.”

“You sure?”

“Definitely. I’ve decided that Steve Rogers needs more healthy touch in his life.”

it grew on me 4

Steve wasn’t quite sure what to think of that, but he reached out his hand, taking Bucky’s hand in his. His skin was soft and supple. “What about you? Ever think about going to college?”

Bucky shrugged. “I don’t think so. I’ve thought about being a nurse, but that’s not really what I want to do. Part of me just thinks that’s what I should do.”

Steve turned so he could look at him directly. “What do you want to do?”

Bucky blushed. “I just want to be a stay at home dad.” He resumed walking, pulling Steve along gently. “I mean, I’d cut hair part time just so I wouldn’t go crazy, but most of my time would be spent with my kids.”

“What makes you think you shouldn’t want it?” Steve asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe it’s some internalized gender expectations bullshit. Or, like, what if I fall in love, and my partner doesn’t want kids? Just seems short-sighted.”

“You’ll find someone who wants what you want,” Steve said confidently.

They circled the block, and Steve squeezed Bucky’s hand before dropping him off at the hair salon. 

--

He didn’t think about what Bucky had said until later. Did he want kids? He’d never really thought he’d live long enough to have a family. Maybe if the war had ended, and Peggy had been interested in that, he could’ve had a shot. But they had been too caught up in the rush of fighting Hydra to think that far ahead. In many ways, his life hadn’t really changed that much since waking up from the ice. He was still fighting Hydra, still caught up in the rush.

Steve didn’t feel it would be fair to pursue Bucky if he wasn’t at least open to the idea of children. He tried to imagine a world in which he came home to a partner and a couple of kids. It seemed so far out of reach that he wasn’t sure it was something he even wanted. But maybe he just hadn’t found the right person before now. Maybe with Bucky...

Steve shook his head. One step at a time. He didn’t even know if Bucky was interested in him, let alone the answers to the big questions, but it could be worth exploring. If he were with Bucky, he could be open to the possibilities.

---

It didn’t surprise Steve that he was being followed. What surprised him was that any Hydra operation had the resources and audacity to attack him in broad daylight on his morning run. And on the same day as the Avengers game night, Steve noted with annoyance. He had been looking forward to seeing Bucky again, and although that was probably not the most important thing in that moment, but Steve felt it all the same.

Two people were strolling on the path up ahead of him. The woman was laughing and resting a hand on the man’s arm, while he turned his head to glance at Steve. It should have been an innocent sight, but something felt vaguely unnerving.

Steve looked around, and clocked several more: a runner headed the other direction, a window open with someone peeking out of an office building, a couple on the grass. It was a bad situation made worse, because they had surrounded themselves with civilians.

Steve wasn’t good at low impact fighting. He was more of a blunt instrument. When they made their move, he wasn’t sure how he would keep the people around him safe.

He ducked under the bridge, anxious to draw the operatives away from a public space and continued along the river. It seemed, for a moment, that he had lost them. At top speed, Steve could run sixty miles per hours, and it was hard to keep up with him. He tapped the emergency button on his watch, only to find in unresponsive. The Hydra operatives’ tech must have inactivated it. Tony would be pissed that their tech was that effective against his.

As he rounded a bend, he knew no amount of speed would get him away from them. They had anticipated his route and headed him off. Steve turned to run back the other way, but several more operatives came up behind him. At least, they appeared to be operatives. They were all dressed in casual clothes, Kevlar underneath no doubt, and at first glance it was hard to tell them apart from civilians.

Steve regretted that running with the shield was uncomfortable. The ranks were slowly surrounding him, and he knew he had to act quickly. He feinted left then right, making it harder for them to anticipate his path. He committed left, running headlong at two men.

None of the operatives scattered when he ran towards them. The first stun baton hit him in the stomach, and Steve clenched his jaw in pain, trying to force his body to move and overcome the paralyzing force. He kicked out his leg and knocked his attacker several feet away. He ran a few more steps before a woman jumped on his back and flipped him to the ground with her thighs. Red Room, he thought as his body recovered from the spin. Blood trickled down his forehead as the woman punched him repeatedly in the stomach.

Several operatives attempted to restrain Steve’s arms and legs, and Steve fought back with all the desperation and mess of a man facing his worst nightmare. He wouldn't let them take him. He’d finally figured things out, was finally interested in living. No way in hell he was getting captured now. He got a hand free and pressed his emergency alert button again, praying it would go through.

Steve kicked a male operative in the face, feeling vindication at the sickening crunch. The female operative came for him, and he grabbed her by the waist and flung into the river. A hulking man, dressed in black spandex tights hit him across the face with brass knuckles. Steve felt his cheek begin to puff up.

“Now that’s just cheating,” he said.

“Come with us, and the pain will stop,” the man gritted out. He widened his stance, clearly not expecting Steve to take him up on his offer. He pulled out a stun gun and aimed it directly for Steve’s chest.

“Not on your life.” Steve grabbed an operative with a scar on his cheek and sandy blonde hair, and threw him at the man with the stun gun. Someone attacked him from behind, hitting his spine with another electrical pulse. The pain was overwhelming, but Steve was able to pivot away.

He wanted to run away, but he had to know. Steve grabbed an operative by the throat and held him in the air. “Who sent you? Why are you after me?”

The operative laughed, making the blood on his teeth spatter. “Cut off one head.”

Steve punched the man viciously. “What do you want with me?”

The other man continued to giggle. He released the poison capsule in his mouth saying, “Hail Hydra,” before dying with a smile on his face.

Steve surveyed the scene, dead or subdued operatives were everywhere. It hit him again that he wasn’t a normal guy, couldn’t have a normal life. Death followed him everywhere. He was aware that his he was bleeding, and when he tried to take a few stumbling steps, the ground was spinning. He crumpled to the ground and fell over.

Tony’s arrived, the sun reflecting harshly off the metal of his suit. He located Steve and hurried to his side, as the faceplate opened. “No, no, no. Please be okay.”

Steve didn’t move immediately. “You’re late.”

Tony chuckled, although there was a hint of hysteria to it. “Goddamnit, Capsicle. I came as fast as I could.”

He helped Steve sit up, and kept a hand on his back to hold him steady.

“How many?” Steve asked.

“How many, what?” Tony said. “We can talk details later. Right now, I’ve got to get you to a hospital.”

Steve’s body was feeling sluggish, he knew he needed medical attention. Still, he had to know. “How many civilians did I kill?”

Tony surveyed the bodies. “Jarvis, are any of these people civilians?”

Jarvis replied on speaker, so Steve could hear him. “Although individuals identified here have documentation that make them look like civilians, they are also wearing heavy body armor and bearing weapons, suggesting they are likely all Hydra operatives.”

“That’s good,” Steve replied muzzily, before his world faded to black.

---

Steve woke up alone in a hospital room.

“Jarvis, any news of deaths in the park on police channels, social media, anything?”

“None, Captain.” It was as Steve suspected. Hydra cleaned up their messes.

Steve pulled out an IV and stumbled to his feet.

As he entered the elevator, Jarvis spoke politely. “You are not fully recovered, Captain Rogers. Shall I alert the other Avengers to assist you?”

Steve stiffened. He wanted to talk to them, but not until he’d had some time to recover and think things through. They’d understand.

“Can you keep this between us, Jarvis?”

The AI sounded unsure. “Certainly, Captain. But might I recommend you stay in the hospital suite?”

“No, thank you. Wait. Any life threatening injuries detected?”

“None, Captain. Nevertheless-”

“Please take me directly to my apartment.” Steve wasn’t usually one to interrupt others, but he was just so tired.

Jarvis didn’t respond, but the elevator moved and opened to Steve’s floor. He stripped off his shoes and socks and collapsed into bed.

--

Distantly, Steve heard knocking on his door, and he struggled to get up. The knocking was light and cheerful, but to Steve, it felt like pounding. He limped to the door to reveal a smiling, excited Bucky. He was dressed in another ridiculous and adorable fluffy sweater, and holding a metal plate of cookies.

“Steve! You missed game night, so I thought-” As Steve’s full body came into view, Bucky froze and dropped the plate with a clang on the floor.

Steve knew he looked especially bad. One of the operatives had gotten him roughly across his face and damn near crumpled his skull. When he’d woken up at lunchtime, his eyes had been almost swollen shut. Now, they were better but rimmed in dark purple. He had three broken ribs, and a sprained left wrist. Nothing was critical, but he didn’t look pretty.

“Jesus Christ,” Bucky whispered. He reached a hand out to inspect Steve, thought better of it, and asked, “Why aren’t you in the hospital?”

Steve shrugged and winced at the movement. “I’m fine.”

Bucky retrieved the plate from the floor and loaded up the spilled cookies. He ushered Steve back into the apartment. Bucky flitted nervously around him, looking him over. When Bucky gasped and reached towards Steve’s side, Steve remembered that he had forgotten to change his shirt after leaving the hospital and this one had blood on it.

“It’s fine, Bucky,” he said, slowly pulling the shirt with dried blood away from his skin and revealing a jagged but healing cut beneath.

“It’s not fine, ” Bucky said with a sigh. “I’m at least getting you a clean shirt.”  

Bucky hustled back into Steve’s bedroom, returning with a large shirt. “Jeez, do you own anything that’s not for missions or fancy parties?”

Steve chuckled, and then gritted his teeth through the pain as Bucky helped him out of the change. Bucky whimpered when he saw the mess of bruising on his ribs.

“It’s really okay, Buck. This happens all the time, but I heal fast.” When Steve pulled his head through the collar of the clean shirt, he noticed Bucky’s eyes were wet. “Hey, what's wrong?”

Bucky wiped the back of his hand against his eyes. “Sorry, you’re the one who’s hurt. Just...all the time? This happens a lot?”

Steve nodded, a bit shocked at how distressed his friend was. It reminded him of his mother worrying over him any time Steve had gotten into a fight.

Steve allowed Bucky to corral him to the couch and fuss with the pillows to get him comfortable. “Are you cold? I can get you a blanket.”

“I’m okay, Buck.”

Bucky scanned the room and must have noticed the lack of blankets, because he hurried to Steve’s bedroom, pulled the comforter off, and carried it into the living room.

“I really don’t need it,” Steve said, half-heartedly protesting. In truth, it felt nice to have someone take care of him. Tiny Steve would have hated it; big Steve loved it.

“It’s what you do when someone doesn’t feel good.” Bucky arranged the blanket over Steve’s legs and waist, careful of any tender spots. “Do you want any water or tea?”

Steve knew that he had only the ingredients for black coffee, so he took the simple choice. “Water, please.”

Bucky went to the kitchen and busied himself fetching glasses. Steve heard him opening and closing cabinets and the refrigerator.

“There’s no food in here,” Bucky called out.

“I’ve been gone awhile.”

When Bucky re-entered the room, he didn’t appear to be buying Steve’s lie, but he didn’t push either. “When’s the last time you ate?”

“I had a protein shake for lunch.” Steve glanced at his watch. It was nearly eight. Normally, he would have eaten at least two thousand calories since lunch, but he’d been so tired and sore that he’d fallen back asleep after his shake.

Bucky pursed his lips and pulled out his phone. “What do you feel like eating?”

“You don’t have to do that,” Steve said, feeling a swell of gratitude nevertheless.  

“Yes, I do,” Bucky said firmly.

“I mean.” Steve grabbed his own phone. “I’ll order the food and pay for it.”

“Oh.” Bucky sat down heavily on the couch and breathed out. “Alright.”

Steve ordered Thai food for them, coconut curry for Bucky, and everything else for him. Now that he was awake, he was eager to eat.

Bucky didn’t seem to know what to do with himself once the food was ordered. “Are you sure you don’t need to be in the hospital?”

“I’m sure. I was there today.”

“But,” he gestured towards Steve’s abdomen, “internal bleeding or,” he pointed to Steve’s head, “a concussion. You’re not supposed to sleep after a concussion, we learned that in health class. Did they tell you that?”

“It’s really okay. I’m fine.”

“Do you want to go back to bed?” Bucky said. “Would you rather I go?”

Steve quickly reached for Bucky’s shoulder. “Of course not. Why would you think that?”

Bucky shrugged but didn’t move back. “I just came in here and started bossing you around. Probably should have asked first.”

“Oh,” Steve looked down. “It’s been a long time since someone took care of me. “I’m not good accepting it.” He forced himself to look up at Bucky. “Thank you.”

Bucky blushed and scooted closer. “You’re welcome. You wanna tell me what happened?”

Steve leaned back and closed his eyes. “I got jumped by some operatives from this organization that we’ve been fighting against. I was trying to keep the civilians safe, and didn’t notice the operatives had surrounded me until it was too late.”

“What about Tony and Natasha? Where was Thor?”

Steve squeezed his hand, “Tony got me out of there when I passed out.”

“Where were you?”

Steve realized that Bucky had assumed this happened on a mission, and he couldn’t decide if he wanted Bucky to know the circumstances of his attack. It might scare him away or freak him out. Besides, Steve reasoned, he was fine. There was no need to scare Bucky.

“Steve?” Bucky asked, leaning into him.

Steve cleared his throat. “Oh, it’s secret.”

Bucky nodded. “I understand.”

Steve leaned over and tucked the blanket over both of them. He wanted to be done talking about what had happened, and Bucky seemed to sense that. “Netflix and cuddles?” Steve asked hopefully. He had recently learned what Netflix and chill was, but that was something he could fantasize about later. For now, he was too sore. 

They agreed on wanting to watch something lighthearted. Bucky suggested a show called Grace and Frankie, about two older women in California. Once they started it, Steve wondered if the choice had been a tease about his age, but he found he didn’t mind one way or the other. Bucky was beside him warm and soft, giggling at funny lines.

When the food finally arrived, they paused the show, and Steve ate quickly, barely able to hold back from shoving all of it into his mouth at the same time.

“Quite an appetite there,” Bucky said with an amused smile.

Steve winked back, hoping for flirty, and Bucky dissolved into giggles.

“Your sass is undermined by your busted face and the Pad Thai sticking out of your mouth.”

Bucky didn’t seem to actually mind his voracious eating, so Steve let himself inhale his food. When he was full, he leaned back and rubbed his stomach, feeling more content than he had in a long time. Steve closed his eyes for a few moments, and when he opened them, Bucky was looking at him fondly.

“What?”

Bucky laughed. “What nothing . It’s just nice to see you take care of yourself.”

When Steve asked if he wanted to watch another episode of the show, Bucky agreed. He collected all of the empty cartons of Thai food, and threw them in the trash before settling back onto the couch.

“Hey,” he said, gingerly poking Steve’s shoulder. “Does it hurt here?”

Steve shook his head no, unsure of what Bucky was getting at.

“Good,” Bucky said, and rested his head on Steve’s shoulder.

Steve felt as though he might burst with happiness. He held himself still, unwilling to disturb Bucky’s closeness.

After they finished Grace and Frankie , Steve still didn’t feel like sleeping. Napping most of the day had thrown his sleep schedule off. He queued up Frozen , and Bucky happily snuggled in closer.  

Once the movie started, Steve reflected on how it felt to have Bucky in his home. He hadn’t thought much about what his apartment looked like before now. The brown leather sofa was comfortable, and, he guessed, the glass and steel coffee table was stylish. There were several abstract paintings on the wall, lines of red and gray, probably meant to be eye catching. Steve hadn’t picked most of the things out.

Before he lived in the Tower, Steve’s apartment had been small and homey with an armchair by a fireplace. But then Fury was shot there, Steve was attacked at work, and he’d fought Hydra agents to put down the Triskelion. He hadn’t bothered making his Tower apartment a home. He’d had a home in the 1940’s, with his friends and loved ones, but that had been ripped away from him, and then the fragile new life he’d created in DC had been destroyed. Steve didn’t know how many times one man could rebuild his life, but he’d been too tired to try again. And without any mooring, all that had been left was the desire to do good and the will to fight.

Steve had thought that was enough before but not now. He needed a fuller life, something he could share with someone, a life they could build together. He couldn’t do that in a sterile apartment. It hit him that it was more than personality that his apartment was lacking. It was lacking comfort items. Steve felt embarrassed and for one moment, heartbreakingly lonely.

But, Steve reminded himself, Bucky was here. Here and watching Frozen with him, so Steve would finally get all of the jokes Tony made about him. Bucky glanced over at Steve every so often, giving him warm, reassuring smiles.

“Steve,” Bucky said.

Steve scooted a little closer, drawn to his warmth. “What?”

“You’re brooding.”

“Am not.”

Bucky giggled. “Your face is all serious. It’s like we’re watching a documentary on the Cold War instead of a cartoon about a talking snowman. “

Steve chuckled in response. “I see what you did there.” He lifted his arm, and Bucky snuggled in close underneath it.

“Sometimes you go away,” Bucky said quietly, eyes still on the screen. “I never know what you’re thinking about, but one minute you’re right there with me, and the next…”

Steve laid his cheek on top of Bucky’s head, unsure of what to say. “I don’t mean to go away. I guess I just get lost in thought and can’t find my way back.” He squeezed Bucky tightly, ignoring the pain in his ribs. “Thank you for helping me find my way back.”

The movie ended, and both men sat in the dim light, not ready to say goodbye.

Steve turned his body so he and Bucky were face to face. “Can I kiss you?” he asked. Steve didn’t feel nervous about asking, just relief. There was an inevitableness to the moment, months of longing and questioning himself, almosts and what ifs, and now, now it felt like the simplest decision he had ever made.

Bucky blushed and ducked his head. “That sounds nice.”

Telegraphing his movements, Steve brought one hand up to cup Bucky’s cheek. His skin was smooth, and he smelled lightly of lavender. Steve kissed him on his brow, his cheek, before pressing their lips together. They kissed slowly for a while, the angle a bit awkward, but Steve didn’t want to move and break the fragile moment.

Some part of him wanted to storm in and capture Bucky’s mouth with his, pull him into a deep kiss, maybe later strip him down and pound into his tight body. But that was old Steve. The Steve who lived on adrenalin and a death wish. Old Steve never could have been with Bucky. Bucky who was so soft and sweet, who made Steve desperately want to be a new Steve. He wanted to know what intimacy was like for someone who didn’t feel like a weapon.

Bucky ran his fingers up and down Steve’s abs, teasingly soft touches. Steve pulled him closer only to wince with the movement.

“No more,” Bucky said with an indulgent smile and a hint of regret. “I only kiss people who can grope me without wincing due to untreated injuries.”

“We’ve been kissing already!”

Bucky shrugged. “Never said I was perfect.” He winked, and bruising or no, Steve wanted to pull him into his arms. “You want me to walk you back to the hospital wing?”

“Really, I’ll be fine.”

“Did they discharge you or did you just leave.” Steve could tell he was sad, but he couldn’t help finding Bucky adorable even with a frown.

Steve didn’t answer his question, but Bucky didn’t push. “I’ll go first thing tomorrow. Jarvis would have told me if I needed to stay.”

“I would recommend the Captain return to the hospital wing, as I did when he left,” Jarvis chimed in.

Not cool, Jarvis , Steve thought. “Okay, Buck, I’ll go.”

Bucky’s shoulders relaxed immediately. “Do you always have to be talked into going to the doctor?”

“No,” Steve said too quickly. They both knew it wasn’t the whole truth.

Bucky took Steve’s hand and began pulling him towards the door. Steve pulled back fractionally, struggling with what to say. Bucky waited patiently.

“You can walk me there, but, um, I’d like to go in alone.”

Bucky’s gaze softened. “Of course. Whatever you want.”

“What I want is to make out with you, watch another movie, and eat a whole pizza,” Steve grumbled.

Bucky laughed and resumed pulling Steve towards the door. “Next time I’ll say almost anything you want.”

“Promise?”

Bucky rolled his eyes, his expression still fond. “Alright hot shot, let’s get you checked out.”

Chapter Text

A few days later, Steve sat with Natasha, Tony, and Sam at the breakfast table in the Avenger’s common room.

“Where were you on game night? Bucky went to get you, but he never came back,” Natasha said, clearly pleased with herself.

Steve tried and failed to hide his smile. It was clearly killing Natasha to have waited this long to hear about it. He opened the newspaper to cover his face. “He came by.”

“And?”

“And we talked.”

Tony batted down the newspaper. “Stop being a tease, Capsicle. Can’t you see what you’re doing to the Black Widow? She used to be the most terrifying woman on earth.”

Tony was wrong about Natasha not being terrifying, but she did look almost... giddy. Although Steve thought that was probably too undignified of a word to use for her. Not for the first time, he wondered why she was so oddly invested in his love life.

“Fine.” Steve blushed lightly and fiddled with a napkin on the table. “We kissed.”

Steve heard a high pitched squeal, and when he looked up, Natasha and Sam were pointing at each other, neither willing to claim the noise.

“And then?” Tony asked, because apparently he just could not stop.

“And then nothing, Tony,” Steve said breezily. “We don’t all jump into bed right away.”

“Is this because you haven’t,” he paused then spoke in a loud whisper, “punched your V card?”

“For the last time, Tony. I am not a virgin.”

“At least you won’t be one for long, slugger.”

Steve briefly considered throwing Tony out of the window before he thought better of it. Nothing could ruin his good mood.

“So, are you guys boyfriends now?” Stark asked teasingly.

Steve’s good mood faltered. “We didn’t really talk about anything like that.”

Natasha facepalmed. Sam glanced at Steve and rolled his eyes at her theatrics.

“I can see you, Wilson,” Natasha said. 

Sam laughed, but Steve felt in on the joke. “No big deal, man. You guys can just take it one step at a time. Feel things out.”

Tony wouldn’t let it go. “But what if-” he started to say, but Sam’s warning look stopped him, if only for a second. “What if Bucky doesn’t feel the same way Steve does?”

Natasha narrowed her eyes at him threateningly, but Tony squared his shoulders and continued. “I’m not trying to be an ass,” he said defensively. “Bucky told me and Steve that he doesn’t date clients. Although, he also said he doesn’t find me attractive, so he may not have been in his right mind at the time.”

“Maybe he changed his mind,” Natasha said. Steve caught a touch of worry in her voice.

“Or maybe he can, pardon my language, Cap, fuck clients but not date them.”

“That doesn’t make any sense, Tony. Besides, we’ve only kissed. I don’t even know if having sex is on the table,” Steve said. He wasn’t sure what the rules were on these things.

“Okay, everybody. Let’s stay calm and maybe work on being a little less enmeshed in one another’s lives,” Sam said. “All that needs to happen is for Steve to tell Bucky how he feels, and then go from there.”

“We’re doomed,” Natasha muttered darkly. Tony chuckled, and they shared a commiserative look.

Steve wrung his hands together under the table. He had been in such a good mood. He and Bucky had made plans to go to coffee tomorrow. It had seemed so obviously a date, but now Steve wasn’t sure.

“I mean, why would he let me kiss him if he didn’t want to date?”

“He could be looking for something more casual,” Tony said. “Fuck buddy or something like that.”

Steve didn’t know the exact meaning of fuck buddy, but he was certain fuck buddy and boyfriend were not synonymous.

Sam was in full on therapist voice mode. “In which case, you would talk about your feelings, and you guys could clarify expectations.”

“Whatever, Dr. Phil,” Tony snarked.

“Dr. Phil is bullshit,” Sam replied. “This is common sense.”

Steve groaned, “Okay, I’ll talk to him about it. Just maybe not right away. What if he wants to be what you were saying,” he said, as he gestured at Tony.

“Fuck buddies.”

“Yeah. What if he wants that?”

Bucky wouldn’t, well, he just wouldn’t only want Steve for his body. But then, and Steve felt old insecurities flare up at the thought, nobody had wanted skinny Steve Rogers but Peggy. His mind and his heart without the muscles hadn’t been enough of a selling point. Maybe, Bucky… No, Steve wouldn’t let himself think it. Bucky liked all of him, surely.

“Then you’ll talk about it,” Sam said gently. “Look, you guys are at very least friends. What Tony’s talking about, that’s for people who only have sex and don’t do other things together.”

“You’re right, birdman. This could be more of a friends with benefits thing.”

“Not. Helping,” Sam said with an edge to his voice.

Friends with benefits sounded better to Steve. They would have something to build on. “Maybe I could win him over?”

“Steve,” Sam said, clearly tired of being the voice of reason. “You’ve got to talk to him about what you want, and then respect his wishes without trying to change him.”

“Don’t listen to him, Cap. You’re getting your foot in the door, so to speak. Dick in the ass, really, but you know what I mean.”

“Tony,” Steve said. It had all seemed so simple twenty minutes ago.  

“I’m serious. Give it time and let him get to know you,” Tony said.

Steve felt torn between his friends’ opinions and looked to Natasha for help.

“I’m not going to be the tie-breaker,” she said flatly. “I know less about these things than you do. You had a normal life before the serum, I grew up in the Red Room.”

“Don’t bring down the mood, Red Tide,” Tony said to Natasha. He turned back to Steve. “Trust me. You can win him over slowly. If you tell him about your feelings now, he might spook.”

Steve picked up the newspaper again, effectively ending the conversation. He pretended to be reading, but his thoughts were a whirl of confusion and indecision.

--

Meeting for coffee with Bucky had gone from something he was looking forward to, to something he was dreading. What if he shared his feelings, and it went badly? Steve obsessed over his outfit, as if that would solve his problems, until Natasha sent him an I’m-over-this-shit text that said: No dad jeans. Wear a leather jacket. You’ll be fine .

Steve got to the coffee shop fifteen minutes early, palms sweaty despite the cool weather. Trying to distract himself, he ordered his coffee and a raspberry torte with two forks, so he could share with Bucky.

Once the barista handed him the torte, Steve had a minor moment of indecision. Should he have gotten one fork instead of two? Wasn’t that more romantic? But that was stepping things up, and he was ready to take a long, slow strategy with Bucky.

Bucky was right on time, and when he saw him, Steve found himself hopelessly endeared by his outfit. Bucky was wearing an impossibly fluffy grey cardigan, a large chunky blue scarf, and, Steve didn’t quite get it but wasn’t complaining, skinny jeans. He looked like the hipster embodiment of a hug.

Bustling in with him were two women chatting animatedly and laughing. Steve’s heart sank. He’d been hoping for time alone with Bucky. He quickly hid one of the forks.

Bucky scanned the coffee shop, and when his eyes met Steve’s, he broke into a large smile. “Stevie!” he called out fondly. Steve blushed, use of the nickname soothing the hurt of not getting alone time with Bucky.

Bucky signaled his friends, and they all made their way towards Steve’s booth. Steve had a happy thought: this had to mean something. Fuck buddies don’t just meet each others friends--he’d looked it up on the internet. So meeting Bucky’s friends was a big deal, a boyfriend-type thing.

Suddenly feeling a mix of excitement and nervousness, Steve rose and extended his hand to Bucky to shake. He regretted it as soon as he did it. God, why was he so awkward?

“Geez,” Bucky said with a giggle, He stepped inside Steve’s outstretched arm and pulled him into a hug. “We’re not at the salon. You don’t gotta be so formal.”

Steve’s body quickly got with the program, and he softened into the hug, squeezing the smaller man gently.

Bucky pulled back from the hug but stayed under Steve’s arm. “Steve, these are my friends, America, and Kate.”

Both women waved back, surprise evident on their faces. They took off their jackets and dropped them in the booth. Steve held Bucky until he poked him in the stomach and nodded towards the register. “We’ve got to order our drinks.”

Steve hurriedly dropped his arm and did not miss the indecipherable look America and Kate shared between them.

After ordering, Bucky and Kate came back to the table with some ridiculous whipped cream covered concoctions. America, like Steve, had black coffee.

“You haven’t eaten your dessert,” Bucky said with a smile. “You didn’t have to wait on us.”

Steve tried to think of anything reasonable to do besides stuff the torte in his mouth. “I thought you guys might want some...” His voice rose at the end like he was asking a question.

“With one fork?” America asked coolly.

Steve cleared his throat. “Oh, right. I can go get more.”

“No worries. You don’t need to share,” Bucky said. He looked so happy to be there, Steve couldn’t help relaxing fractionally.  

“So,” Kate said, eyeing how closely Steve and Bucky were sitting. “Bucky didn’t tell us that his new friend was Captain America.”

“He didn’t?” Steve said in surprise. He was so used to being introduced that way, it didn’t occur to him that someone would see him differently.

Bucky bit his bottom lip. “Well, yeah. I figured, you’re Steve. Captain America is just what you do, not who you are.”

“That’s real nice of you, Buck,” Steve said quietly. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Kate’s gaze soften a little. When he turned back to them, America still looked unimpressed.

“America, Kate, and I met volunteering at the Humane Society,” Bucky said. “We’ve been friends ever since.”

“And what do you guys do?” Steve asked politely.

“We are not what we do either, Cap,” America said testily. Kate elbowed her, and they had a quick wordless conversation.

“I work as a personal assistant at McCoys,” Kate said. “And America’s in graduate school to become a social worker.”

America nodded. “I want to work with individuals who are homeless, especially LGBT youth.”

“That’s great!” Steve said, a little too loudly. “My friend, Sam, works with veterans.” Steve mentally facepalmed. Those things were only loosely connected.

“You mean Falcon? Could you introduce us?” Kate said excitedly.

Steve nodded, a little jealous that Bucky’s friend was apparently impressed by Falcon but not Captain America. 

Bucky pulled a board game out of his bag, and his friends began unpacking it and setting it up. They moved easily together having clearly played together before.

“The game is Pandemic,” America said, as she shuffled cards. “And I’m going to explain how to play, because Bucky is terrible at it.” She winked at her friend.

Bucky frowned in token offense before returning to his upbeat smile. He unwound his chunky scarf, and Steve was pleased to see how deep the V on his shirt was. He snuck a peek at his chest, trying to be subtle, but Bucky noticed him and dropped his eyes with a smile and a pretty blush.

“The goal of the game is to stop any of these diseases from decimating the world,” America said, in a not so subtle attempt to draw their attention back to the game. “We all have different roles and will work together to find cures.”

Once she finished explaining, Steve examined the role cards. He selected the contingency planner with a laugh.

“What’s so funny?” Bucky asked, leaning into his side.

Steve held up the card. “This guy has my old haircut. I can see what Natasha was complaining about.”

Bucky took the card from him and held it up next to Steve’s face. “Nah, you wore it better.” He dropped the card back in the box. “But that role is terrible, pick another one.”

Steve obliged, selecting the medic, to the approval of Bucky.

Steve leaned back and casually wrapped his arm around the back of the booth. He thought it looked like a platonic friendly gesture, but America did not seem to agree.

“You’ll need both hands for this,” she said primly, as she handed him his cards.

Bucky seemed to pick up on the tension and gave his friend an apologetic look. “Sorry, we’ll focus.”

Steve examined his cards. He had led the Howling Commandos in taking down Hydra, and his strategies had helped protect the earth from aliens, so he was sure this game would be a piece of cake.

He was wrong. It turns out that taking down enemy combatants was frustratingly different from finding cures for diseases and addressing outbreaks. He had to ask for help for most of his turns. America seemed to find his perturbation amusing, and he thought she might be starting to warm to him.

On one of his turns, Bucky took a long time to decide what his character would do, gaming out different actions. “Should I go to blue to disinfect?” he asked.  

Kate sighed dramatically. “This is worse than when you’re doing your hair. Once,” she looked at Steve like they were sharing a secret, “we had to drag him out of a bathroom because he was trying to make it look, and I quote, ‘messy, but not too messy, like, not accidentally messy.”

Bucky didn’t deny it. “I looked fabulous, and you know it.” 

America laughed. “No one’s saying you didn’t, ami.” She turned to Steve. “You better download some apps or bring a book with you whenever you go out, because you’ll be waiting for him to pick the right scarf or shade of eyeliner for hours.”

Kate began talking in a faux-whiny voice, “Is this blue too blue, or does this sparkling blue fit more with my color profile?”

America held up her hands, fondness and exasperation in her voice, “They look the same! They all look exactly the same.”

“Yeah, and who do you get to do your makeup before dates? Me,” Bucky pointed out, clearly warmed by their gentle teasing.

Kate shrugged. “Fair enough. Seriously though, the eyeliners all look the same.”

“I’ve seen a few shades of blue, and at least a couple of blacks,” Steve said, grateful that his artist’s eye was paying off.

Bucky beamed at him in response, and even America begrudgingly smiled.

After the game finished, Bucky and his friends chatted with Steve for a several minutes. The conversation was lighthearted, and Steve felt relaxed around their easy banter. But when Bucky went to the bathroom, both women quickly turned serious.

“Bucky told us you were friends,” Kate said. She tilted her head to the side, appraising him.

“Just friends?” Steve was pretty sure the internet would say this was a bad sign. He wanted to ask them what Bucky thought of him, if he was willing to bend his no dating clients rule, or if he wanted something casual. He wanted to ask them a lot of things that he probably should just ask Bucky.

Kate and America must have been friends for a while because their eye rolls were almost synchronized.

“I know that you’re famous, and rich and all that,” America said sternly, “but just because you pay Bucky for haircuts, doesn’t mean he owes you anything else.”

“Is this a shovel talk?” Steve said, with a bit of a squeak in his voice.

“That would imply that you and Bucky are boyfriends, which you’re not,” Kate said. “Not that you can’t be in the future, we just want to make sure you’re on the level.”

America continued, “He’s our sweet, delicate flower friend. He’s also a little…” She looked at Kate, clearly searching for the right word.

“Ditzy?” Kate volunteered.

“No. I’d say naive, if he wasn’t so slutty.” She turned back to Steve, and her expression was serious. “I mean that in a sex-positive, empowered way, not whatever you were thinking.”

Steve put his hands up in surrender. “I wasn’t thinking anything!” The tense moment held before Steve broke. “Alright, I like him a lot, okay?”

Kate grinned and slapped the table. “That wasn’t so hard to admit, was it?”

Steve nodded. Lord help him if these women ever met Natasha.

“Just remember,” America said, pointing a finger at him, “you seem like a stand up guy, but if you’re a dick, we’ll find out and kick your ass.”

Steve opened his mouth to speak, but Kate kicked him under the table just as Bucky rejoined the group.

“Doing your hair, ami?” America asked.

Bucky’s hair didn’t look that different than when he went in, but Steve didn’t study these things closely. Bucky was just so pretty, Steve realized with a sigh. He didn’t think he would mind waiting for Bucky to do his hair or makeup. Steve smiled, and glanced at America, who seemed more amused by his staring than before.

They talked a few more minutes before Kate indicated that she needed to head home. After gathering their belongings, they all walked out of the cafe together.

“This was fun, let’s do it again sometime,” Steve said, pulling Bucky into a hug. He wasn’t really sure if he was supposed to hug or shake hands (maybe fist bump?) America and Kate, but they made it easy for him by giving him hugs as well.

“You’re not so bad,” America said to Steve. “I’ll give you a chance.”

Bucky practically glowed when he heard that, and Steve felt as though he had passed some sort of test. They said their goodbyes, and Steve watched them go. Kate walked in the middle, reaching out and holding Bucky and America’s hands, all of them looking relaxed and comfortable.

Steve felt jealous of their easy affection and simple touches. He wondered if his friends would hold his hand. Natasha might, for a mission, or Tony to be funny. Sam would probably hold his hand if he asked, but he would be doing it for Steve, to be nice, instead of because of their shared interest.

It wasn’t quite appealing enough for Steve to bring it up. At this point, he would settle for friends who didn’t trick him into dates or haircuts.

---

Steve didn’t know if he should stop getting haircuts from Bucky now that they seemed to be moving towards something more, but he figured he would wait for Bucky’s signal on that one. He arrived at the salon a few minutes early and watched as Bucky settled up the bill with a customer. His shoulders were slumped, and he lacked his normal upbeat charm.

There was something self-satisfied about the customer, and Steve took an immediate dislike to him.

Bucky pasted on a smile as the guy left, “See you later, Dale.”

The guy, Dale apparently, grinned at him and waved. “Think about what I said.”

Bucky’s jaw flexed, but he returned the wave. His eyes met Steve’s, and Bucky relaxed a little. He looked exhausted, and Steve wanted to ask him about it, but wasn’t sure if this was the place to do so.

He followed Bucky back to his booth. Once he sat in the chair, Steve asked, “Is everything okay?”

Bucky shrugged and tried to force a smile. “It’s not a big deal. Just a rude customer. It happens.”

Steve clenched his jaw to fight the wave of protectiveness. “What did he do?”

“Nothing too terrible. I think he was trying to put me down to throw me off balance before he asked me out. It’s called negging, and it’s gross.”

Steve frowned but didn’t interrupt.

“And he kept asking me what I wanted to do for my career, and when I said I like what I’m doing now, he was all, ‘Your looks aren’t going to last forever. You better find something not dependent on tips’.”

Bucky grimaced, and Steve was sad to see that he seemed more defeated than angry. “Like, I’m not actually good at my job or something, and people just pay me because of my looks.”

“Bullshit,” Steve said angrily. He stood up and clenched his fists. “Where is this guy? He can’t talk to you this way!”

Bucky raised his hands in front of Steve, as if to block him from charging by. “Whoa. Easy. You can’t go punching somebody because they’re a dick.”

“Can you just not see him again?”

Bucky dropped his hands and lowered his head. “It doesn’t work like that. You know, the customer’s always right. I mean, if he did something really bad I’d have grounds, but just being rude? I can’t really turn him away.”

Steve didn’t know what to do or say. He wanted to hug Bucky until he felt better, but he didn’t know if Bucky would want that.

“The work you do is important, and people shouldn’t talk to you that way,” Steve said earnestly.

“It’s not like I’m saving the world like you do, or anything.”

Steve reached a hand underneath Bucky’s chin, trying to get him to look up. “You nurture people and make them feel good about themselves. You are so kind, and you listen to people, and...” Steve paused, searching for words and then chuckling sheepishly. “I’m really not good at speeches that aren’t rehearsed ahead of time, but I want you to know that I think your work is important. So there.”

Bucky laughed wetly, the corners of his mouth lifting. “Alright, alright. No need to get all worked up.”

Steve pulled Bucky into a sudden hug, and Bucky giggled at the manhandling. They were friends now, Steve reasoned. Workplace or not, friends hugged one another after a bad day. He was acting in a totally normal way.

Bucky pushed him away gently and grabbed a tissue from his station, which he used to dab underneath his eyes. “Ugh. My mascara is running. It’s supposed to be waterproof.” He met Steve’s eyes and smiled. “Thanks.”

Bucky led him to the shampoo room, and Steve felt a little guilty that Bucky was having to work on him, when he could have used the comfort himself. Steve wondered what it would be like to wash Bucky’s hair. He imagined being in a large bathtub with Bucky, rubbing shampoo in his hair and rinsing it out with a cup. Later, he would recline his head on Steve’s chest, fitting there so nicely.

It was a shift for Steve. Usually he fantasized about sexual things, but this time, despite Bucky being naked in his daydream, he was imagining a domestic scene. It itched in the back of his mind as something new and different for him. Steve, who had always fancied himself the protector, was now exploring the role of provider. It warmed him to think about taking care of Bucky.

Bucky hummed softly, a song Steve didn’t recognize, and Steve wanted to stay in the peaceful moment. His brain did not agree. “Maybe I could do this for you sometime,” he said, voice rising at the end.

Bucky froze. “Oh, well, this is where I work, so…”

“Yeah. I mean, not here. Maybe I could wash your hair sometime.” Even if the scene had felt domestic in Steve’s mind, he realized that there was no scenario in which Bucky was not naked when Steve was washing his hair. That was a pretty big step to jump from two people who held hands occasionally and had kissed a little.

Bucky’s fingers resumed their work, but he was quiet.

“I’m sorry. That made things weird.” Steve sat up, and the soapy water dripped down his neck onto the towel. “You gotta know how much I like you, Buck. Let me take you to dinner.”

Bucky laughed and kissed him on his cheek. Steve caught the scent of his coffee flavored lip gloss. “You make me want to break all of my rules, Steve Rogers,” he whispered against his skin. Bucky pushed Steve back down gently. “Now lay back or you’ll get soap in your eyes.” He used his hand to shield Steve’s forehead while he washed the shampoo out of his hair.

It wasn’t a no, Steve thought. But it wasn’t a yes either. To be honest, he had no idea what Bucky was thinking.

Bucky worked a conditioner into Steve’s hair, and let it sink in while he fetched a hot towel for his neck. Steve was normally able to relax into this part of the process, to enjoy Bucky’s smooth, efficient touch. This time... this time there were things he needed to say, and he’d have to wait to say them. Steve hated waiting.

Bucky rinsed out the conditioner and helped Steve sit up. He gestured for Steve to follow him back to his station.

Once Steve was seated, Bucky took a deep breath and said, “Now, what do you want to do with your hair?” He ran his fingers along the sides of Steve's head, assessing length of his sideburns.

Steve caught one of his hands and held it. “Can we talk about it?”

He apparently didn’t need to clarify what it was, because Bucky blushed immediately and pulled his hand back before beginning the haircut. At this point, asking Steve’s opinion on his hair was more a formality than a necessity.

“I have my rules for a reason, Steve. I don’t want someone to like me because I’m a service professional, or to expect me to be like this all of the time.” Bucky took the hair above Steve’s ear in short, apparently deciding today was the day for his undercut. “I’m not going to be a servant at home, and sometimes people expect the service part of a service professional to carry over to other parts of life. So, if you can promise me you don’t see me that way, then we can talk.”

Bucky’s face was bright red, and Steve realized that as much as it seemed like Bucky would be good at these things, he didn’t seem to like talking about his feelings either.

“I don’t have much at my house that needs to be cleaned, and I’m pretty sure Tony sends in housekeeping when I’m not there. I’ve never seen them, but the place is always magically cleaner.”

It was apparently the right thing to say, as Bucky cracked a smile. “As long as you aren’t expecting me to clean it.”

“I’d like to take you on a date,” Steve said. “Tonight, if you’re available.”

Bucky ran a thumb along Steve’s jawline, through his beard. “Okay. Let’s do it. We could just go to my place, and I’ll make you dinner.”

“Nope,” Steve said, feeling giddy and unexpectedly sure of himself. He wasn't going to let Bucky cook for him on their first date. “We are going somewhere fancy. Wear something nice and your favorite eyeliner.”

“I don’t have a favorite eyeliner, Steve.”

“You don’t?”

“No. They’re all my favorite. That’s the problem.”

The haircut ended, and Bucky walked with Steve outside, as he said he had a few minutes to burn.

This time Steve didn’t bother waiting. He asked right away, “Can I hold your hand?”

Bucky nodded and let Steve pull him closer. “You don’t gotta ask each time, Stevie.”

“I know. I just like it.”

Bucky had a small, pleased smile. “So what fancy restaurant are we going to?”

“It’s a secret.”

“It can’t be a secret, Steve. I have to google the restaurant interiors and then pick my outfit accordingly.”

“You do that?”

“No. But I thought it might help me weasel the restaurant name out of you.” Bucky glanced at his watch. “I should head back.”

Steve didn’t pull Bucky into a deep kiss, although he wanted to. He squeezed his hand and let go. “Send me your address, and I’ll pick you up at seven.”

Bucky smiled shyly, and Steve watched him as he headed back to the salon with a skip in his step.

Chapter Text

Steve didn’t talk to Tony, Sam, or Natasha. He wanted to figure things out without them, and sometimes their help muddied his thoughts. He was Captain America, goddammit. He could plan a date. Besides, this time he knew exactly what he wanted: a fancy date, somewhere fancy enough to make Bucky feel special without feeling out of place.

He selected an Italian place, Del Posto, somewhere he would never have been able to go before the war. It was upscale but cozy, the perfect thing for Bucky. From what he had seen, Bucky’s outfits tended to be sexy but not too fancy.

He selected a simple, understated outfit. No input from Natasha, no teasing suggestions from Tony. Steve chose grey slacks, a tight navy button down, and well shined leather shoes. He wore a suit jacket but no tie, although the idea of Bucky pulling him in by his tie was very appealing, but distracting. One thing at a time.

He stopped by a florist and picked up a dozen red tulips. The florist had been star-struck and wanted to make the bouquet patriotic themed by adding white tulips and blue wrapping. He politely declined the suggestions, but did let her select a pretty ribbon to wrap them in.

Armed with his flowers, restaurant reservation, and sexy outfit, Steve arrived at Bucky’s right on time. Months had been leading up to this moment, and by God, Steve was going to crush it. He knocked, and America answered.

He wasn’t disappointed. He wasn’t. America was just a bit of a ball buster, and Steve was floating on air and very much not in the mood to have someone give him a hard time.

“You brought flowers, good decision,” America said, as she shut the door behind him. “His favorites are irises, but he’ll like these, too.”

“Oh, I didn’t know.”

America punched him lightly on the arm. “I’m not criticizing. I’m giving you tips for next time.”

Steve smiled at her. He didn’t have to consult his friends or the internet to know that America expecting a next time was a good sign.

“Yeah, yeah,” she said. “Wipe that smile off your face. You still have to do good tonight.”

Steve was in such a good mood, he wanted to pull this prickly woman into a hug. Besides, one of his best friends was a prickly if not the prickliest of women. He was used to that by now. But America did not look open to hugging. Steve guessed she was a bit like a grumpy cat that warmed to you but was always one step away from biting.

“So, you live here, too?”

America shrugged. “Technically, no. Practically, yes. This place is closer to campus, so I crash here when I’ve got a test early in the morning or have to stay on campus late. Or,” she looked pointedly at Steve, “when I have to scare one of Bucky’s dates into behaving himself.”

Steve felt a sudden flare of jealousy, but he tried to reign it in. “Dates?”

America let the question hang as she walked past him into the kitchen and grabbed a glass of water for Steve and a bottle of beer for her. “Calm your tits, there’s no one else right now.”

Steve accepted the glass gratefully, allowing himself to relax. He didn’t have a claim on Bucky, and they hadn’t discussed being exclusive. Still, it made him feel better that there wasn’t anyone else.

“How many dates do you go on, Captain?” America asked lightly.

Steve took a sip of the water. He was really beginning to like her. It was nice to know that there was somebody so clearly in Bucky’s corner. “I’ve been on two dates in the last year. And I think one wasn’t exactly a date. I mean, Natasha meant it as a date, but I don’t think she told Bucky.”

America mumbled, “Superheroes,” under her breath before taking a swig of her beer. “Alright. That’s good to know.”

Bucky’s apartment was everything Steve’s wasn’t. It was warm and inviting. The pillows on the well-worn couch were mismatched, but looked comfortable. The walls were adorned with brightly colored artwork, bold primary colors, in stained wood frames. It looked pleasantly lived in, the coffee table had books laid out on it, possibly for America’s studies.

“Who did these?” Steve asked, pointing to a large painting of a street. Flowers grew on both sides on the road, and children played on the sidewalk.

America grinned. “I did. See, you knew how to win me over, didn’t you? Anyways, it’s a painting of my abuela’s street. I was experimenting with bright colors at the time, still something I like. Bucky paints, too, but he’s shy about sharing it.”

“It’s beautiful. And this one?” Steve pointed to another painting, more abstract but still with striking colors.

“This is my ex-girlfriend, Alex. We had an amicable breakup, and I liked the painting, so Bucky keeps it up on the wall.”

When Steve sat down on the couch, he was pleased to find it was just as comfortable as it looked. “Speaking of Bucky, is he…” 

“I warned you about this,” America said. She drank the last of her beer. “Shoulda brought a book.”

“Then I wouldn’t have gotten to chat with you,” Steve replied, trying to project every ounce his Captain America earnestness.

America was not impressed. “You don’t need to try so hard. I like you already.”

“You do?” He tried not to sound too shocked.

“Hey.” She pointed at him sternly. “On a provisional basis. Don’t get too comfortable.”

She looked up when Bucky entered the room. Steve followed her eyes and saw Bucky looking between the both of them and seeming pleased.

“Yeah, yeah. Live it up,” America said, walking over to him. “I’m playing nice.”

Bucky kissed her cheek, leaving a pink shine there.

America rubbed her cheek quickly. “Hey! What did I tell you about lip gloss kisses!”

“It’s lip glow, not gloss,” Bucky said. They had clearly had this conversation before. He turned to Steve and said, “It works with your body’s Ph to make your lips a unique color.”

Steve nodded dumbly, still taking in Bucky’s appearance. He was wearing a fitted lavender sweater, it looked like some kind of cashmere. His snug pants highlighted his strong thighs nicely. Steve was again torn between wanting to cuddle him or fuck him senseless. He shook his head quickly, neither option was on the table at the moment, and he needed to regain his composure.

“Ami, your boy brought you flowers,” America said with a nod towards the vase.

Bucky’s smile was blinding as he picked up the bouquet. “Oh, they are lovely, Steve. Thank you.” He started walking towards his bedroom before America stopped him.

“Where are you going?”

Bucky blushed bright. “To put them in my bedroom, so I’ll see them when I wake up in the morning. Besides, it’s not like Clint will appreciate them.”

America took the vase from him and put it back on the table. “Do that later. We all know if you go back to your bedroom, you will decide to change your outfit or your eyeliner or God knows what else.”

“You’re right.” Bucky kissed her cheek again, and she didn’t fight it this time.

“Alright, shoo.” She pushed him towards the door. “Go on your date, so you can come home and tell me and Kate how it went.” Then she pointed at Steve. “You be good.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Steve replied.

America didn’t acknowledge his sass and ushered them out of the apartment. Once they were in the hallway, they stood awkwardly for a moment, until Steve opened his arms and pulled Bucky into a hug. The fabric of his sweater was so soft, Steve couldn’t help running his hands up and down Bucky’s back.

“I’m happy to see you,” Steve said, kissing the top of Bucky’s head.

“Me, too,” Bucky said, pressing lightly against Steve’s chest.

When Bucky pulled back and looked up at him, and Steve saw a flash of it. The nervousness. It made him feel unexpectedly warm and confident. Bucky didn’t know what he was doing either. They would muddle through this together.

They took a cab to the restaurant, and Bucky held his hand the whole way.

“Everything okay?” Steve asked.

Bucky nodded. “Just a little nervous.”

Steve squeezed his hand. “Me, too. Thanks for coming with me, Buck.”

This close Bucky smelled so good, something sweet with a bit of a kick, lemongrass maybe. Steve wanted to do more than talk, he felt an overwhelming pull towards Bucky’s soft little body. The things he wanted to do to him: eat him out until he was breathless and begging, hold him in the air and fuck him, or be fucked by him, and wasn’t that a thought.

Steve came to when Bucky poked him in the stomach with a finger.

“You listening to me?” he said it playfully, but Steve detected a note of hurt in his tone.

Steve ducked his head and gave him a sheepish look. “Sorry, I got distracted.”

Bucky shrugged, and Steve couldn’t help but notice that he looked a tad disappointed.

“Hey, wait,” Steve reached for Bucky’s hand and tugged him closer. “It’s not you. I’ve been getting distracted a lot lately.”

Bucky let himself be pulled closer but wouldn’t quite meet his eyes. “I’m sure you have more important Captain America type stuff to think about.”

“It’s not,” Steve struggled to find the words. “You’re more important to me than Captain America.”

Bucky gave him a small smile and a disbelieving look. “I am?”

Steve nodded his head fervently. He briefly considered telling Bucky what he was thinking about but decided that saying, ‘I wasn’t listening because I was imaging fucking you,’ was only nominally better than, ‘I wasn’t listening because I was planning a mission.’

“Tell me again what you were saying.”

Bucky was grinning shyly now and looked out the window. “Nope. Too much pressure now to say something brilliant.”

“Everything you say is brilliant,” Steve sassed back.

Bucky rolled his eyes. “Now you’re just making fun of me, jerk.”

“Just a little, punk.” Steve kissed his temple, and Bucky relaxed into his arms. 

They arrived at Del Posto, and Steve open the cab door for Bucky. Bucky seemed in awe of the place with the dimmed lights, comfortable but upscale. When the menu arrived, he eyed the menu prices nervously. “Captain America is paying for this, right?”

Steve chuckled. “Yeah, he is. Perk of the job, I guess.”

Bucky ordered a fettuccine alfredo and Steve went for the pasta alla puttanesca. Steve ordered them a white wine to go with their meal and tried to look sophisticated when he sipped it.

Bucky still seemed nervous. “I don’t know what to do with my hands.” Steve reached his open hand across the table, and Bucky intertwined their fingers. “Thanks.”

Their conversation wasn’t the easy, casual talk they normally had. With his free hand, Bucky fiddled with the napkin in his lap, looking distractedly to the side.

“Something bothering you?”

He chewed his lip, clearly picking his words. “I’m excited to be here tonight, really I am. I just,” he paused, taking a deep breath, “I’m not sure how much I can promise you. This is all catching me by surprise.”

It hurt a little that Bucky was unsure, but Steve tried to be understanding. “I didn’t expect this either.”

“I mean, cuddling and holding hands is one thing, even kissing. But this, I don’t know. What do you want, Steve?”

Steve knew what he wanted: the whole shebang. But he also knew it was too soon to lay his cards on the table--Bucky was still a flight risk. “I just want to get to know you more. No pressure. Just take it slow.”

“That sounds very un-Steve Rogers from you.”

Steve chuckled. “My friends had a debate about what I should say to you. I went with Sam’s version, even if it will go to his head once I tell him.”

“You talk to your friends about me?” Bucky asked shyly.

Steve squeezed his hand. “Of course. I think I’m annoying them with how much I talk about you.” It wasn’t entirely true. Natasha could probably handle listening to Steve talk about Bucky much more, but the truth of the statement was there. Steve thought about Bucky all of the time.

“Okay, I can do this. Just, one step at a time. I’m nervous about it.” Bucky waved his hand generally at Steve, but the food came before he could elaborate.

Once they had tucked in, Steve said, “Let’s just agree to see where this goes, and no hard feelings if one of us changes our minds. Now, how’s Becca?”

Bucky seemed both relieved that Steve had changed the subject and pleased that he had remembered his sister’s name.

“Her semester is going well so far. And she’s planning on going to somewhere cool for her spring break. I suggested Cancun.”

“That’s neat. Have you traveled much?”

Bucky shrugged. “Haven’t had the chance yet. I’d like to, but you know, rent’s expensive and all. I am going to help Becca with the ticket, though, ‘cause I want her to have that experience.”

Steve took a sip of his wine. The seed of a big idea took root in his mind. “Where would you want to go?”

Bucky smiled and took his own sip of wine. “I know it’s cheesy, but I’d really like to go to Paris. Good food, see the Eiffel Tower, go to the Louvre.”

Steve leaned forward in excitement, “We could go next weekend! As long as there isn’t a mission, I could use a quinjet.”

“Whoa.” Bucky pulled his hand back from Steve. “I mean, I thought we were going slow.”

“We could go slow in Paris.”

Bucky shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “That’s not slow, Steve. If it takes a jet to get somewhere, it’s not slow.”

Steve nudged his foot under the table, and Bucky cracked a smile. “Okay. Slower than a jet, I can handle that.”

Bucky mostly settled for the rest of dinner. Their conversation flowed easily again with Bucky talking about a new litter of puppies they’d gotten in at the Humane Society where he volunteers.

“Natasha looks like she wants to take one, but she’s fighting it.”

Steve choked on his bite of food. “What?”

“One of the puppies, she calls it Pyshka. She really wants it.”

“Since when does Natasha go to the Humane Society?”

Bucky looked at him quizzically. “Since always. She doesn’t volunteer every week or anything, but I think they accommodate her schedule because she’s, you know…her. She didn’t tell you? How did you think she met me?”

Steve was flabbergasted. “I don’t know! I thought she just found your salon because of online reviews or something.”

Bucky laughed. “Did she at least tell you about Clint?”

Steve shook his head. What the hell was happening and who the hell was Natasha Romanov?

“So, she and Clint have a thing-not-thing. Mostly she ignores him, but he asks her out every time he sees her. She always says no, but then she tells him to ask her out again next time they see each other. I swear to god, he’s always excited about that second part. I don’t know how he perseveres. They’ve been doing it for like nine months.”

Steve leaned back in a daze. “Holy shit,” he said.

Bucky giggled. “Natasha told me not to curse around you. She’s going to love that you said that.”

Steve struggled to regain his bearings, no longer feeling surefooted. Bucky, for his part, seemed to find this hilarious. “I’m sure she meant to tell you. It’s hard for you superhero types to talk about feelings.”

“Hey,” Steve said, in mock affront. “It’s hard for everyone to talk about their feelings.”

Bucky’s expression softened. “That’s true. It’s hard for me, too.”

Steve stood up and came to Bucky’s side of the table. Bucky looked surprised, and Steve shrugged. “I want to sit closer to you.”

Bucky pulled Steve’s dish over to his side of the table, so they could both eat. “I’d like that.”

After dinner ended, Steve accompanied Bucky back to his apartment. He really wanted to go in with him, stay up all night talking, but he would try this slow thing if that’s what Bucky wanted.

“I had a nice time with you tonight,” Steve said, stepping closer.

Bucky smiled up at him. “You don’t gotta beat around the bush, Stevie.”

Steve grinned, bent down, and pressed their lips together. They kissed lazily in the hallway until Steve stepped backward, aware he was getting worked up. “Good night, Buck.”

Bucky opened the door, and America and Kate were standing right there. They were unapologetic in their eavesdropping.

“Hi, Steve ,” Kate said with a sing-song voice. She and America laughed, and Bucky stepped into the apartment and waved goodbye before closing the door.

Steve stood there in the hallway, relishing the moment. As he turned to leave, he heard the happy squeals of Kate and Bucky, no doubt as Bucky recounted the details of their date. Steve walked quietly down the hall, hoping to not alert them to the fact that he was in the hall. Once he was outside, he bounded home, floating.

---

A few days later, the Avengers were called to stop the reanimated dead rising from a swamp and taking over Florida. The bodies were mostly bone with some long sinewy muscle, and they moved in a slow, shuffling gait. Despite this, they were strong enough to seriously hurt someone. Taking them out was gruesome work, but it probably wouldn’t have required all of them under normal circumstances. However, after the attempted abduction of Steve, they decided to avoid any circumstances where one of them could be separated from the others.

Steve could tell Natasha and Sam were concerned about Hydra’s activities, but he couldn’t find it in him to share their worries. He was too busy still feeling thrilled about his date with Bucky.

“Cap, it’s weird that you look so happy about punching people,” Tony said through the comm. “Does he usually look this happy about punching people?”

“He’s just happy about his date with Bucky,” Natasha said, her voice all saccharine sweetness. She kicked a corpse in the leg, and the knee snapped with a wet crunch so loud they heard through the comms. Her teammates groaned.

“That’s just nasty,” Sam said. He aimed a gun for one and took out it’s legs. Unlike in the movies, the zombies couldn’t be taken down by headshots. Their bodies would continue to walk and still try to choke anyone who was around. The only solution was to take out their legs to slow their movement or blast them into a thousand pieces. Nothing fully stopped them from moving.

Tony had figured out that the bodies were being controlled by a hideous looking magician called Black Manna. His pale skin was slimy and his hair hung wetly over his face. Steve had sent Thor to intercept.

“Thor, what’s your status?” Steve said.

Thor was getting closer to Black Manna. He threw Mjolnir, the hammer taking out six bodies in one hit. “I, too, am curious about your date, friend Stephen,” he said.

Steve sighed heavily, but they all knew it was for show. “If you must know,” he said, never stopping his momentum and continuing to slice through bodies, “we had a wonderful date.”

“Aw,” Tony said. “That’s adorable. What’d you do?”

Steve surveyed the scene. “Tony, I’m going to need you to provide aerial support for Thor’s attack. We’re not getting anywhere just taking out the corpses.”

“Zombies,” Tony said. He followed Steve’s instructions and headed in Thor’s direction.

“Technically re-animated dead,” Steve corrected.

“Zombie is cooler.”

Steve had to give him that, although there was nothing cool about these zombies. They were growing in number, threatening to spill over the blockade Steve, Natasha, and Sam had created.

“We went to Del Posto,” Steve said, regaining his happy mood. The line was quiet, and Steve tapped the comm in his ears to make sure it was still active. He had expected a squeal from Natasha, for Sam to make some statement about how it was good that he was treating his man right, maybe for Tony to say the restaurant wasn’t fancy enough. “Guys? Am I still coming through?”

“Loud and clear,” Sam said, weariness in his voice.

Steve looked up in the air and watched Sam as he laid down suppressive fire. “Then what’s the problem?”

“We’ll talk about it later, Steve.”

Steve returned his focus to the battle, but he felt nervous. He threw his shield hard, watching it rebound off a pole and through six torsos. The lower halves continued to walk forward on unsteady legs, and the upper halves dragged themselves along by their hands. He shook his head to clear his distraction.

“Update, Tony,” Steve said sharply. He kicked through several bodies, fighting furiously to burn through his dread.

“Thor and Black Mana are locked into some kind of lightning fight. Their streams are hitting in the middle and sending up sparks. It’s very weird.”

“Like Harry Potter!” Sam shouted excitedly. “Damn. I wish I could see it. Steve, can I go look?”

“We need your aerial support here, Sam. There’s a build up.”

“Spoilsport,” Sam said, but he obliterated several bodies near Steve, so he was likely not too mad.

A giant light flashed, followed by a deafening explosion near Thor’s position. Smoke began billowing in the air.

“Update, Thor,” Steve said.

“Truly, I have vanquished my enemy and smote his ruin upon the earth,” Thor said cheerily.

The bodies continued to crowd in close to Natasha and Steve. “Tell Mana to make his troops stand down.”

“Quite right,” Thor said. “One moment.”

Steve heard a loud grunt through the comms, likely the result of Thor putting his hammer on Black Mana’s chest. Abruptly the bodies ceased movement and fell to the ground. After a few seconds, they disintegrated into dust and smoke.

Steve kicked the ground where a body had been with his toe, making sure nothing was left there. “Alright, people, good work. Tony, contact Strange and see if he has any ideas for containment of the prisoner.”

“Already on it.”

Steve let Tony and Natasha handle the logistics on clean up, and they all reconvened by the quinjet. Thor had opted to use Mjolnir to get back to New York, but Tony was joining them on the jet. Steve groaned, this was a bad sign. They were going to talk to him about something important.

Sam waited until they were on their way back, and Natasha had put the jet on autopilot before asking Steve about his date.

“So, do you think it was safe to take Bucky out to eat?” Sam said. 

Steve knitted his eyebrows together, “Of course, why wouldn’t it be?”

Sam sighed heavily, but his tone was kind. “Man, you just got attacked in broad daylight in downtown New York City. What if they had come after you and Bucky together at the restaurant? You wouldn’t have even had the shield to protect you guys. Not to mention civilian casualty risks.”

Steve’s blood turned cold. He hadn’t even thought of that. He glanced at Tony and Natasha. “You guys don’t think-”

“Don’t think the agency that cleaned up the bodies of at least ten operatives without anyone in the media knowing has the resources or the, I don’t know, general evilness to go after Bucky? Of course they do,” Tony said matter of factly.

Steve put the heels of his hands over his eyes. “Shit. I didn’t think about that. Shit. I just wanted to show him how important he is to me. I didn’t mean-”

“I know, Steve,” Sam said, clearly trying to keep him from spinning out. “It’s going to be okay. But maybe we should assign a security detail to his apartment?”

“Done already,” Natasha said. She was covered in uneven patches of smoke and grime. Like Steve, she often fought on the ground, and they got the worst of the mess during fights. 

Steve looked at her gratefully. Of course she had done that. “Thank you. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Or any of us?” Sam said, mild irritation in his voice.

Natasha examined her nails, pretending to be bored. “I did it months ago. If I had told you then, you would have called me paranoid.”

Sam pursed his lips. “Be that as it may, for now, it’s probably best if you lay low on your dates with Bucky. Don’t draw too much attention to him.”

Steve nodded. They were right. It wasn’t what he wanted. Steve had plans, big plans. All the excess modern times provided and his military back pay afforded had never appealed to him for use on himself. But Steve wanted to shower Bucky with presents and take him to fancy restaurants. It seemed more worthwhile to spend the money on Bucky instead of himself.

Those plans would have to be put on hold for the foreseeable future. Maybe once he figured out what Hydra was up to, they could go out. If he needed any extra motivation to go after Hydra, this was it.

----

Steve knocked on Bucky’s door, stopping abruptly when he realized how hard his fist was hitting the door. He was two hours early for their date, but he couldn’t just sit in the Tower anymore, stewing in his frustration and helplessness.

Bucky answered the door looking wonderfully frumpled. His hair, for the first time since Steve met him, was woefully out of place. There was a stain on his shirt, and his pants looked like he had spilled something on them.

He opened the door, his eyes widened, and he promptly shut it again. Steve chuckled, the knot in his chest loosening. He knocked again. “Bucky?”

Bucky spoke through the door. “You are obnoxiously early, old man. I’m not ready for you.”

Steve was pretty sure he was kidding. Mostly sure. “I just wanted to see you. Couldn’t wait.”

Bucky still didn’t open the door. “See, you think that sounds sweet, but all I’m hearing is,” Bucky affected a deep voice, “I’m a super soldier who looks awesome always, not giving my normal friend the forty-five minutes he needs to make his hair look fabulous.”

“Forty-five minutes?”

“Hey, America and Kate said they warned you! I don’t naturally look amazing.”

Steve wasn’t so sure about that. From the brief glance he had seen, Bucky looked handsome even in sloppy weekend clothes. “I thought you looked good. Please don’t make me leave.”

“Fine. You can come in, but close your eyes.”

He was apparently not joking. Steve agreed, in part because he felt ridiculous standing in the hallway, in part because he wanted to be close to Bucky again.

Bucky led Steve with a hand on his back to the couch and helped Steve sit down. Steve had brought scandalously expensive chocolates with him, and Bucky took them letting loose a little squeal and pressed a kiss to the side of Steve’s face.

“Really, Bucky,” Steve said, once he was seated, his eyes still closed. “You did not look bad to me.”

“Not bad?” he scoffed. “I’m not going for not bad. See if I get fresh with you tonight. Jeez.”

“Did you research 1940’s slang so you could say that?” Steve found himself hopelessly charmed by that, another way Bucky was trying to comfort him.

Bucky didn’t confirm or deny Steve’s suspicions. “Now, sit there with your eyes closed, until I leave the room and get in the shower.”

Steve did as he was told. It was actually a little sexy at first. But he quickly grew bored on his own, and without Bucky to distract him, his mind cycled back to pressing concerns with Hydra and the helplessness he felt.

Steve paged through articles on his phone. He glanced at his watch. America was right, he would have to download some apps to pass the time.

“Ta da,” Bucky said, entering the room with his hands up. He was wearing a turquoise tissue thin shirt with a deep V neck, tight jeans, and little sparkling studs in his ears. His hair was expertly tousled, and his eyes rimmed in navy eyeliner. He looked amazing. “It only took me twenty-five minutes. You should be impressed.”

“I’m always impressed by you, Buck,” Steve said, as he stood up. He folded Bucky into his embrace, enjoying the press of his face against his chest. They stayed there, tight against one another.

“If you smear my eyeliner, I’ll be mad at you,” Bucky murmured.

“Really?” Steve said. He kissed the top of Bucky’s head and pulled back. “I don’t believe you.”

Bucky stood on his tiptoes and kissed Steve’s lips, a simple peck. “You’re right. I’d be mad at the eyeliner, it’s supposed to be smudge proof.” He stepped back and did a little spin. “You haven’t complimented my outfit.”

“You look beautiful, Buck.”

Bucky flushed and stepped back close to Steve. “I was expecting you to say good or hot, but beautiful is nice.”

Steve couldn’t help himself. He kissed both of Bucky’s cheeks, before pressing more insistently at Bucky’s mouth, pulling him tight against his body. Bucky’s hands came up to encircle Steve’s neck. “I’m glad I’m here early. I just needed to get out of my head.”

“Oh,” disappointment flashed across Bucky’s face. “I thought you might have missed me.”

“I do! I mean, I did. I just had a hard day, but I did miss you.”

Bucky softened and pulled Steve into a soft kiss. “I don’t really know how to date a superhero. I guess you don’t have normal problems.”

Steve kissed Bucky’s forehead. “Some of the same things, and then lots of other ones.”

Bucky smiled at him. “Good to know. So, where are we going tonight?”

Steve looked at the floor guiltily. He hated that he could treat Bucky to somewhere nice, but he’d hate himself if he knowingly put him in harm's way. “Actually, I don’t think we can go out tonight. I’m sorry.” When Bucky’s shoulders slumped and his arms slid of Steve’s neck, Steve jumped in. “I mean, we can go on dates, just at my place or yours. The Avengers have to lay low for a little while. Some complications with a mission.”

Bucky seemed relieved that they could still spend time together, but still concerned. “Is everything okay? Are you safe?”

Steve didn’t want to worry him. “Yeah. Just some extra precautions we have to take right now.” He ran his thumb over Bucky’s knuckles and looked at him hopefully. “Want to make out and forget this talk?”

Bucky chewed the inside of his cheek. “I mean, yes, but. I don’t want to be just a distraction from your problems. If there’s something you need to do. You can do it.”

Steve brushed a hair that had fallen in front of Bucky’s forehead. Apparently artfully messy was a little actually messy, too. “There’s nowhere I’d rather be than here.”

Bucky scooted closer, clearly pleased by this answer. “How about pizza and a movie?”

Something on Steve’s face must have looked tragic, because Bucky giggled and poked him in the stomach. “And some kissing if you’re lucky. Stop looking like I took your favorite squeaky toy.”

“Am I a dog in this scenario?”

Bucky nodded. “We voted, and it was unanimous. My friends have decided that you are a golden retriever. You can blame Clint. It was his idea.”

“So, a dog you make out with?”

Bucky giggled again, and grabbed the remote. “Don’t overanalyze it. What do you want to watch?”

“I heard Star Wars is good.”

Bucky looked shocked. “Good does not cover it! But if we watch that without your friend, Sam, I’ll be in trouble. Although, he’s slacking by not showing it to you sooner.”

“I didn’t watch movies much for a while. I guess I missed that one.”

Bucky opened his Netflix account while Steve ordered the pizza. Bucky made a few recommendations about shows, Steve selected Firefly, because Tony spoke obsessively about it, and Steve was tired of missing references.

“The thing about Firefly,” Bucky warned him, “is that it seems a little ridiculous the first time you see it, and then awesome after that. Once you get to the awesome stage, we can watch Serenity, which is a fantastic movie.”

Bucky was right. The first episode was ridiculous. By the time the pizza arrived, Steve was having trouble holding in his questions.

“So they’re cowboys,” Steve said on his fourth slice of pizza, “but they also go around in space ships?”

“Exactly.” Bucky ate two slices and set aside a few pieces to save for Clint, taking them to the kitchen.

When he returned to the living room, he lifted Steve’s arm up and snuggled under it. Steve couldn’t help find his actions adorable. 

“And everyone speaks Chinese even though there are very few Asian characters in the actual show?” Steve said.

“We can’t all be perfect, Steve.” Bucky kissed Steve’s pec before laying his head there. He wrapped his arm around Steve’s waist. “But good point.”

“And-”

“You wanna cuddle me or complain about the show?”

Steve chuckled and ran his fingers up and down Bucky’s back.

“What I want,” Steve said, leaning back and pulling Bucky along with him, “is to make out with my boyfriend and complain about Firefly.”

Bucky went with him easily, but held back when Steve tried to pull him into a kiss. “Steve,” he said softly. “We’re on our second date. We’re not boyfriends yet.”

Some petulant part of Steve wanted to ask why he didn’t get credit for the months of haircuts, walks, and Avengers movies nights, but he knew that wasn’t the point. He ran his fingers through Bucky’s soft, messy hair. “I’m sorry. I’m just excited.”

Bucky look him in the eye, his expression fond. “I’ll get there. Just, don’t push, okay?”

Steve nodded.

Bucky giggled and poked him in the stomach, he seemed to really enjoy doing that. “Okay, enough with the puppy dog eyes, I want to make out with you, too.”

Bucky hooked a leg over Steve’s thigh and shifted closer.  Steve’s hand cradled the back of Bucky’s head, gently directing his head as they kissed languidly. Bucky tasted like cherries, and he made sweet little whimpering noises when Steve sucked kisses along the column of his neck. They made it through several more episodes, kissing and cuddling, entirely ignoring the show, before Bucky fell asleep on Steve’s chest.

Steve had meant to stay awake. To run his fingers through Bucky’s hair and study the features of his face as the light from the TV reflected off his cheekbones. He hadn’t meant to fall asleep.

Steve’s dreams started as a mishmash of images: planes going down, smoke in the air, a flash of Peggy’s bright red lipstick. He saw the Howling Commandos bodies on the ground all laid out in death, Sam and Natasha beside him, taken down one by one trying to save him. Steve was the last one left, several hands were on him dragging him away. He wanted so badly to die. To join the people he loved.

“Fight, Steve,” Peggy said. “You can’t die like this.”

They took him to a dark and damp prison cell. Distantly, he heard the sounds of screaming, the screech of metal. Hydra scientists came by to examine him, using gruesome metal devices to shock him into submission. It was awful, torture, and the worst thing Steve could imagine, until he saw the body beside him. Bucky’s body. He had been tossed in the cell beside his, several operatives around him picking him up and dragging him into another room. Steve screamed and lunged, tried to rip through the bars of the cell, to reach for him, but his strength was worthless. He wasn’t strong enough to keep Bucky safe.

Steve awoke with a violent start and sat straight up. His thrashing threw Bucky off Steve’s body and he knocked his head on the coffee table as he fell to the floor.

“Oh God, Bucky!” Steve yelled. 

Bucky curled up in a ball on the floor and was clearly disoriented. 

Steve tried to stand up, to do something, he didn’t know what. But Clint entered the room, quickly moving the coffee table out of the way and firmly pushing Steve back onto the couch.

“I’m okay,” Bucky told Clint. “It was an accident.”

Clint inspected the cut of Bucky’s forehead. It didn’t look deep, but there was still a lot of blood. Steve’s stomach sickened at the sight. He was wrong to think he was anything other than a weapon. Clint helped Bucky off the floor, and Steve, helpless and frantic, took a step towards the door.

Bucky grabbed his hand, “No, you can’t leave. Not like this.”

“I did this. I hurt you!”

Clint pulled Bucky towards the bathroom with Steve in tow. “You two can talk about this after I decide if Bucky needs stitches.”

Bucky sat on the toilet lid in the small bathroom, and Steve wedged himself into a space on the floor. Clint got down their first aid kit, surprisingly large for just two people, and washed his hands. He opened a package of disinfectant wipes and slowly cleaned the blood off Bucky’s forehead.

“Clint’s good at this because he gets hurt all the time. Real klutz.” Bucky said, trying to lighten the mood. Neither of the men were inclined to smile about it. Bucky winced when the alcohol of the wipes touched the open cut.

Clint glanced at Steve. “It doesn’t look like he’ll need stitches.”

Steve relaxed a little. It was good to know, but not enough.

Clint opened a neosporin bottle and squeezed it on a large bandaid. He positioned the bandage over Bucky’s injury. “You’ll have a hell of a bump there. Like an egg.”

Bucky laughed, and this time Clint cracked a smile in return. “Like when Brock punched you for putting firecrackers in the exhaust pipe of his car?”

“He called you a bad word, he had it coming,” Clint said in mock affront. 

It was so warm between the two of them, Steve hated himself for intruding. He wanted to get away.

“Clint, do you think me and Steve could have some privacy?”

Clint looked grumpily between the two of them. “You wake me up in the middle of the night and now you hog the bathroom?”he teased.

Bucky stood up and hugged Clint, who returned the affection easily.

Clint gave Steve a compassionate look. “You okay, man?” Steve didn’t know what to say, so he looked at the ground until Clint left the room.

Bucky extended his hand to Steve, and Steve took it immediately. “Come on, let’s go to my room.”

“I really should go-”

Bucky squeezed his hand. His face was calm but serious. “It’s okay if you need to go, but not yet. I can’t let  you leave until I know you’re safe.”

Steve’s knees were unsteady as he stumbled towards Bucky’s bed and sat down heavily. He felt strung out on adrenalin and overwhelmingly ashamed. Bucky never dropped his hand.

Steve said, “I’d never hurt you on purpose, you know that, right?”

Bucky kissed the knuckles of Steve’s hand. “I know that. You’re good to me.”

Steve pulled his hand away. He didn’t deserve it. Didn’t deserve him. He ran both hands through his hair, pulling at tufts of it. Steve closed his eyes for a moment, but images of his nightmare returned, bodies on the ground, and he opened his eyes immediately.

“Stevie, breathe.” Bucky leaned toward him but thankfully didn’t try to take his hand. Steve breathed in shakily. “You want me to call Sam?”

Steve shook his head. “I don’t know what I want.”

“We could walk around the city.”

Steve glanced at his watch. It was three am. Getting outside in fresh air sounded amazing, but if Hydra didn’t kill him for going out without backup, Natasha would. Besides, it wasn’t walking that he wanted. He wanted to run as fast and as hard as he could, to burn off some energy, but he also wanted to be close to Bucky.

“Can’t. We have to lay low.” He looked at Bucky, finally meeting his eyes. Bucky’s expression was so warm and accepting that Steve decided in that moment to be brave with him. “I know this makes me sound like an animal, but what I want is to punch things until I stop having feelings.”

“Okay,” Bucky said.

Steve was surprised. He had expected Bucky to be disappointed. “Okay?”

Bucky scooted tentatively closer. “Yeah. I mean, animals don’t really punch things, but I hear ya.”

Steve felt a small break in his overwhelming anxiety.

Bucky continued, “I assume you’ve got a plan for this whole punching to cope thing.”

Steve did. Bucky packed an overnight bag, and he and Steve took a cab to the Tower. One part of Steve wanted to insist that Bucky lay low or try to go back to sleep. The other part was so grateful he didn’t have to be alone. They hardly talked the whole way over, but Steve felt warmed by Bucky’s presence.

Steve showed Bucky the workout room Tony had made for him complete with several types of reinforced equipment. Bucky dropped his bag by a chair and sat down.

Steve pointed to a large punching bag. “I’m just gonna…"

“No gloves?”

It wasn’t a request, but it was close. Bucky wasn’t wrong. Steve had boxed until his knuckles were bloody on multiple occasions. He nodded and went to the closet to fetch some gloves.

Bucky busied himself with his phone, seemingly content to do his own thing. His head shot up first punch, the sound of the plastic gloves hitting the canvas bag loud in the empty room.

But Bucky just smiled at Steve and rooted through his bag until he found his headphones.

Steve wasn’t sure how long he boxed. He punched until his biceps felt heavy with the strain, and his body was soaked in sweat. He punched until the recoil in his shoulders felt liked a permanent vibration. He punched fast and slow, at times light on his feet and at others rooted to the ground. He punched until he no longer saw Peggy’s face on the ground when he closed his eyes.

Bucky had dozed off in his chair with his headphones still on. Steve stowed his gloves and tapped Bucky’s shoulder. “Wanna go upstairs?”

Bucky nodded, hands coming over his head in an adorable stretch.

Steve threw Bucky’s bag over his shoulder and held his hand as they rode the elevator to Steve’s floor and walked to his bedroom.

“I’m going to take a quick shower,” Steve said. “You can take the bed. I’ll sleep on the couch.”

Bucky reached up and ran his fingers through Steve’s sweaty hair. It must have felt a little gross, but if Bucky didn’t mind than neither did Steve. “Stay with me,” Bucky said.

“I can’t…” Steve trailed off, eyes focused on the bandage on Bucky’s forehead. The skin around it now swollen and starting to discolor. “This wasn’t a one time thing. I don’t get nightmares the time, it’s been a long time since I had one that bad, but...I’m not always safe.”

Bucky waited until Steve met his eyes again. “Stay with me.”

Steve didn’t have it in him to say no to what he wanted. “Okay, Buck. Shower first, but then...okay.”

“Okay, you’ll come cuddle?”

Steve nodded shyly.

He took a quick shower, letting the hot water loosen the muscles of his back and chest for a few minutes before drying off and putting on his pajamas. Bucky was in the bed, curled up and barely awake. Steve lifted the covers and snuggled close to Bucky’s body, reaching a hand over his stomach and pulling their bodies tight together. Bucky hummed his approval.

“Thanks for staying with me, Buck,” Steve whispered. 

Bucky pressed back against him. “Anytime, Stevie.”

Chapter Text

As the weeks passed and Natasha and Tony got no new leads on Hydra, Steve found that being stuck to his apartment or Bucky’s for dates chafed a little. He still wanted to treat Bucky to nice things, so Steve brought a little present each time: chocolates, a stuffed bear, a necklace he thought Bucky would like. Bucky’s face would flush, and he kissed Steve on the cheek each time, awkwardly pleased. Still, it wasn’t the same as getting to take him somewhere nice.

At one point, America noticed that Steve and Bucky weren’t going out. “You better not be staying in because you’re embarrassed of my friend,” she warned. When she saw the pained look on Steve’s face, she relented. “You’re trying to keep him safe?”

Steve nodded miserably, and America patted him on the back.

“It’ll work out,” she said. “You’ll see.”

Bucky, for his part, didn’t seem to mind being stuck inside. He happily snuggled up next to Steve for movie nights, always seemed delighted when Steve joined his friends in playing board games, and was so accepted by Steve’s friends that Tony had promoted him to honorary Avenger. When Steve told him things would change soon, Bucky shrugged and said him he was glad they were spending time together.

Steve arrived at Bucky’s house one night to the smell of cookies. He was used to that by now, as Bucky looked for any opportunity to try out new recipes. Steve had brought Bucky another bouquet of flowers, irises this time, wrapped in a pretty white ribbon.

Bucky greeted him with a quick peck on his cheek, took the flowers, and pulled him inside by the hand. “America’s not here yet, wanna makeout in the kitchen while I keep an eye on the cookies?”

Steve didn’t need to be asked twice. He followed Bucky to the kitchen and waited while he put the flowers in a vase. Bucky hopped onto the counter, and opened his knees so Steve could step between them.

Bucky wasn’t wearing lipgloss, or it had worn off while he was baking cookies, and his tongue tasted like bittersweet chocolate, hints of sugar on his lips. They couldn’t get going too much, America would arrive any minute, but Steve put a hand on Bucky’s back and pulled them closer together.

“Smooth,” Bucky said, teasing between kisses.

Steve hummed in response, working his way down Bucky’s throat to bite the junction of his shoulder and neck. It prompted a quick whimper out of Bucky who pushed Steve back with a grin.

“Whew,” Bucky said, as he fanned himself with a hand. “Put a pin in that for later.” He hopped down from the counter and checked the oven. The cookies were done. The whole house smelled like sugar and butter and chocolate, and Steve really wished America wasn’t coming over, so he and Bucky could share more sticky, sweet kisses.

Bucky pulled the cookies out, and Steve wasn’t sure if the flush on his cheeks was from the heat of the oven or their making out, but he flattered himself by deciding it was a mix of both.

Bucky loosened the cookies with a spatula and placed them on a cooling rack. Once he was done, Steve stepped behind him and wound his arms around his waist. Steve squeezed, enjoying the gentle softness of Bucky’s midsection.

“Don’t tease,” Bucky said. He started to pull away.

Steve pulled him back and resumed kissing his neck. “I’m not teasing.”

Bucky didn’t respond to Steve’s kisses, and Steve let go of him and tried to catch his eyes. “What’s the matter, Bucky?”

Bucky rocked on his heels, clearly feeling awkward. “It’s silly. I’ve never worried about being attractive enough until I started dating Mr. Perfect Body.”

“I think you’re very sexy.” Steve paused, gathering his courage. “Sometimes I zone out because I’m fantasizing about all the ways I want to have sex with you,” he said quickly. It was a little embarrassing to admit, but Bucky deserved to know.

“Oh.” Bucky flushed, seeming more sure footed and preening. He stepped into Steve’s space and ran his hands up Steve’s pecs, slowly pressing their bodies together.

Steve was into it, but he had to ask.“Why did you think I liked you?”

Bucky buried his head in Steve’s chest, again avoiding eye contact. “I don’t know. Maybe cause I’m nice to you?”

“Lots of people are nice to me.”

Bucky poked Steve’s stomach. “Not helping, Steve.”

“What I mean is, wait, no, that’s not what I meant,” Steve stumbled over his words. “I meant that you and I have a connection. I haven’t felt like this in a long time.” He didn’t say since Peggy, but they both knew it.

Bucky smiled against Steve’s chest, and they stayed there together swaying side to side as the cookies cooled.

“Steve,” Bucky said.

“Yeah, Buck?”

“Your boner hits at a weird place. It’s poking my belly button.”

Steve had hoped that it was not super noticeable, because now was not the time, penis. Besides, he was only half hard. “Oh, does it bother you?”

Bucky pressed close, deliberately putting pressure on Steve’s dick. Steve groaned as he felt his cock hardening up. “I like knowing that I do this to you.”

“Sweetheart,” Steve said, “your friend will be here soon, and I will spontaneously combust out of embarrassment if America sees me with a boner.”

Bucky giggled and stood on his tiptoes to kiss Steve before stepping back. “You’re the first big guy I’ve dated. Maybe I should get platform shoes, so I don’t get neck problems.”

“You dated a bunch of guys before me?” Steve knew he was digging. They had talked about previous partners before, and he didn’t mind that Bucky had been with other people. But Steve’s prior dating life included a few one night stands and Peggy Carter, and sometimes he felt helplessly inexperienced.

Bucky smiled at him softly. “No one like you.”

Steve’s heart did a happy little dance, and he pulled Bucky close, kissing him soundly.

A few minutes later, a knock came at the door, and Bucky left the kitchen to answer it. It seemed a little odd to Steve, as he knew America had her own key, but maybe another one of Bucky’s friends was going to stop over. Steve really needed to get Bucky to the Tower so they could have some privacy. Then again, Tony would probably find a reason to interrupt them just to be annoying, so this might be their best option at the moment.

When Bucky opened the door, he exclaimed, “Jasmine!” and crouched down.

A little girl about 4 years old ran into Bucky’s arms. Her hair was wildly curly, sticking up in several directions.

“I decided to knock in case any adult activities were happening on the couch,” America said with a smirk.

Bucky picked up Jasmine and carried her on his hip. “The couch is sacred and only for all ages activities,” he said.

“Uh-huh,” America said. She gave Steve a quick side hug. “Steve, this is my niece, Jasmine. Jasmine, this is Steve.”

Steve smiled at Jasmine, and she immediately hid her face. Bucky chuckled and kissed her hair, running a hand up and down her back.

“She’s a little shy,” Bucky said. “And also the best. Isn’t that right?” Jasmine lifted her head and looked Bucky in the eyes. “Who’s the best tiny bear?”

Jasmine put up her hands like claws and said, “rawr!” America and Bucky dissolved into laughter, and Steve was left feeling charmed and, well, terrified. Although he had decided to be open to the idea of kids someday in the future, he just figured the future would be a ways off, and he could sort out the kids issue at that time.

Bucky didn’t even question why Jasmine was there. He just kept murmuring sweet things to her, and Steve was helplessly endeared by how cute they were together. Bucky pulled up some children’s music on his iphone, and held one of Jasmine’s arms out, pretending to dance. They did twirls and dips, each time with Jasmine squealing with delight.

“He’s worried you might not want kids,” America whispered. “Now’s your chance to prove yourself. Get in there.”

Steve looked at her with alarm. “I’m not good at this,” he whispered back.

America laughed. “Everybody’s good at this with enough practice.”

The song came to an end, and Bucky came back over with Jasmine still in his arms. He blew a fat raspberry on her cheek, and she squealed again and put her hand over Bucky’s mouth. He blew a raspberry over her fingers.

“You wanna try saying hi to Steve again?”

Jasmine was more relaxed now, and met Steve’s eyes. “Hi.”

Steve didn’t know what to do. Should he wave? Shake her hand? Fist bump? He decided to wave. “Hi, Jasmine.”

“You’re tall,” she said.

“He is!” Bucky said. “I bet Steve could throw you real high!” Bucky turned to Steve. “She loves being tossed in the air.”

Jasmine gasped in delight and held out her hands for Steve to take her. You can do this, Steve thought. It’s just like throwing a watermelon in the air. A watermelon that, if you drop, would be badly hurt and also end your relationship with Bucky.

Steve took Jasmine and tossed her gently in the air, just a few inches.

“More!” she yelled.

Steve looked nervously at Bucky and America.

“She’s not going to break,” America said, clearly holding back a laugh. “I throw her a lot higher than that.”

Steeling his nerves, Steve threw Jasmine as high as he could without letting her hit the ceiling. She clapped in delight, and when Steve stopped, yelled, “Again!” Steve grinned, he could do this, and threw her a few more times. When he set her down gingerly, she immediately pulled on his pant legs to get him to pick her up again.

“Uh-uh,” America said. “You are a big girl. You can walk. Steve needs a break.”

Steve started to protest. He didn’t need a break, he just didn’t know the protocol for how many times you were supposed to toss a child in the air before they threw up. But he decided not to argue with America.

Bucky reached a hand out to Jasmine. “Want some chocolate chip cookies?” he asked. He reached for Steve with his other hand and walked with them both into the kitchen. Bucky threw Steve a fond glance, and Steve found himself warmed by it.  

The cookies were perfectly done, gooey in the middle with crispy edges. Steve helped Bucky put them on a plate, and they all went to the living room to eat. Bucky and Steve sat on the couch, and Jasmine sat on the floor right by where the plate of cookies rested on the coffee table. Smart kid.

America grabbed a cookie and kissed Jasmine on the top of the head. She spoke to Bucky. “Sorry, I’ve got to run, ami. I’ll be back soon. You mind watching Jasmine for a couple of hours, so I can get something done on campus?”

Bucky shook his head and glanced at Steve. “That okay with you, Stevie?”

Steve did not need to be a master strategist to know there was a right answer here. “Of course! Can’t wait to get to know little bear more.”

“Tiny bear,” Jasmine corrected, somehow sounding judgemental with a mouth full of crumbs.

“And Clint will be home soon, so we can take shifts if anyone gets worn out,” Bucky said.

Steve knew that anyone was definitely him, but, by God, he was not going to give in first. America winked at him before leaving the apartment.

Jasmine was still preoccupied with the cookies and grinning at Bucky with her chocolate stained teeth. She had seen America leave but must have thought her auntie was just going into another room. As soon as it sunk in, Jasmine began to wail. She ran to the door, half eaten cookie in her hand. “Merica!” she cried.

Steve felt awful. His first time taking care of a kid, and she was falling apart at the seams. He looked at Bucky who was barely suppressing a smile.

Bucky walked to the door and crouched down by Jasmine. “She’ll be back soon.”

Jasmine wailed harder, her little face had splotches of red on both cheeks.

“Wanna build a blanket fort?” he said.  

Jasmine abruptly stopped wailing and nodded wetly. She held both hands up, and Bucky immediately took her into his arms, not minding the chocolatey mess on her hands.

“Can Steve help?” Bucky said.

Jasmine squinted at Steve for a second, and he was terrified he might be found wanting. She pouted her lip, nodded, and held out her hands to be transferred to Steve’s arms.

“What am I, chopped liver?” Bucky asked playfully, as he dutifully handed her over.

Jasmine wiped her eyes and nose on Steve’s sleeve before resting her head down on his chest. Steve felt like he would melt, he was so happy, and he knew right then Jasmine had him wrapped around her little finger. Bucky seemed to know it too, and he looked at Steve with such honeyed warmth, that Steve wished in that instant that the three of them were a family. No stealing other people's kids, Rogers, he told himself.

Bucky fetched all the blankets he could find, which turned out to be at least twelve. There were several in the living room, a few more in a closet, and he pulled the pillows and blankets off his bed, and Clint’s bed as well. Once the giant pile was assembled, Jasmine gave instructions on how to arrange the blankets.

“You can help, tiny bear,” Bucky said. “Steve shouldn’t have to hold you the whole time.”

Jasmine shook her head and huddled closer to Steve. Steve agreed with her. He wasn’t ready to let go yet. Bucky just chuckled and looked fondly between the two of them as he carried out Jasmine’s commands.

Clint came home to an almost completed blanket fort, and Jasmine squealed and wriggled out of Steve’s arms to run over to him. He tried to not be too jealous.

“Tiny bear!” Clint swung Jasmine in a circle before bringing her up to perch precariously on his shoulder. “Already got people doing your bidding, eh?”

She giggled and nodded.

“Hey Stevo!” Clint said. “Always nice to see you in our humble abode.”

The three men finished building the fort to Jasmine’s specifications. Steve, the largest of them, had to hunch down low to get in, and then recline on his back on a pillow in order to fit. Once they were all smushed in together, Clint pulled out a book. Where it had been, Steve had no idea.

“I brought Little Mouse ,” Clint said, trying to sound innocent. “Thought Steve might want to read it to you.”

Jasmine pouted. “But you do all the voices.”

“Maybe Steve will do all of the voices,” Clint replied, handing the book to him. “You’ll do the voices won’t you, Steve?”

Steve looked at the three pleading faces, because of course Bucky had joined in, and knew he was stuck. There was no other option. He would have to read the book.

“I would love to do the voices,” Steve said with all the Captain America selling war bonds enthusiasm he could muster.

“Atta boy,” Clint said with a wink. He exited the fort and went into the kitchen.

With just the three of them again, Steve felt a return to the familial intimacy from before. Jasmine crawled onto his stomach and reclined on his chest, clearly indicating that reading time should begin immediately. Bucky snuggled close on the other side and rested his head against Steve’s shoulder.

“Alright,” Steve said, as he thumbed through the book,” let’s do this.”

The first page showed a giant lion speaking to a mouse. “Little mouse, little mouse-”

“No.” Jasmine interrupted. “Like a lion would say it.”

Steve had never heard a lion speak, so he was a little lost. He glanced down at Bucky who smiled back at him, warm and soft.

“I can do it, if you want,” he offered.

Steve shook his head, briefly shuffling jostling his two charges. “I can do it.” He took a breath before speaking in a deep, authoritative voice, “Little mouse, little mouse, where is your house?” Jasmine nodded while looking at the picture, apparently satisfied with his lion voice.

For the mouse’s response, Steve affected a squeaky voice, “I ain’t lying, mister Lion. I left it lying around, and now its gone.”

They worked their way through the book once, and then again, before Jasmine yawned and closed her eyes. Steve’s neck was uncomfortable from holding the compressed position, but with Jasmine sleeping on his chest, and Bucky snuggled up beside him, he wanted to stay there for hours.

Bucky looked up at him like no one had ever looked at him before, some mixture of pride and fondness, maybe the beginnings of love. “You’re good with her,” Bucky whispered.

“She’s easy to be good with,” Steve replied.

America returned shortly thereafter and took a sleepy Jasmine with her. The little girl waved half-heartedly, already falling back to sleep on her aunt’s shoulder. Afterwards, Steve began folding up blankets and stacking pillows. Bucky sidled up close to him, stood up on his tip toes, and kissed Steve on the cheek.

“Leave it. We’ll do it tomorrow.”

“It’s really no problem, Buck,” Steve said automatically.  

Bucky wound his arms around Steve’s waist, pushing his body between Steve and the blankets. He kissed his chest and his neck, pulling their bodies flush together. “Leave it,” he said breathily.

“Is this because I just did a good job with Jasmine?”

Bucky nodded and continued kissing. “Don’t over analyze it.”

“But, did you-”

“Steve,” Bucky said playfully. “Can we talk about it after?”

“After what?”

Bucky ran his fingers down Steve’s torso and moved them lightly underneath the hem of his shirt. He pressed up farther, before running his fingernails down Steve’s abs.

“After whatever happens next,” Bucky replied.

Steve let out a little, “Oh,” as Bucky pulled him by the hand to his room, near running. Steve barely had the foresight to grab a few pillows.

Once they were in the room, Bucky eagerly pushed Steve onto the bed. Steve went easily, sighing happily as Bucky crawled on top of him, straddling his waist. They had kissed many times before, but this time there was an intensity to Bucky, nipping at Steve’s lips and sucking on his neck.

Steve loved it. Somehow, he felt he should have guessed that Bucky would be bossy in bed, but it was a nice surprise nevertheless. He wondered if he had a type, Peggy had definitely been in charge when they’d slept together. Before he could analyze it further, Bucky leaned to the side, pulling Steve over on top of him.

Bucky’s strong hands framed Steve’s face, moving him just so. Steve gasped in surprise and pleasure when Bucky ground their hips together. Steve wasn’t going to last long at this pace. He ran a hand under Bucky’s shirt, enjoying the feeling of his smooth skin. He helped Bucky take it off, and huffed a laugh and took off his own shirt when Bucky tugged on it insistently.

“What do you want to do?” Steve asked. He was on top of Bucky, but supporting his weight on his elbows to avoid squishing his (almost, he could feel it) boyfriend.

Bucky squeezed Steve’s pecs appreciatively, his fingernails running over Steve’s sensitive nipples. “I’m flexible,” Bucky said, kissing between conversation. “But I’d really like to blow you.”

Steve froze. His mind immediately went to a dozen images of what that would look and feel like.

Bucky’s answering smug smile signaled he knew exactly where Steve’s mind had gone. “Stevie,” Bucky said softly, pinching his nipples more urgently. “You gotta get up if you want that. Do you?”

Steve shook his head to come back to the moment at hand. “Yes!” Too eager, Rogers. “I mean, um, yes, that would be nice.”

Bucky looked at him mischievously. “This is going to be much better than nice.”

Steve’s mind whited out, but he moved easily as Bucky rolled him onto his back. Bucky’s  dexterous hands were on hips, dipping below his waistband before unbuttoning the buttons of his pants. Steve’s brain got with the program, and he lifted his hips to shimmy out of his jeans and boxers. His cock stood up proudly against his stomach.

Bucky ran his tongue along the ridge of Steve’s dick, teasing and light. Then Bucky took Steve into his mouth, pink lips stretching over his cock. He looked so damn pretty, Steve found he didn’t care about anything else as long as Bucky kept. doing. that.

Steve fought the urge to thrust by gripping the side of the bed. Buck pulled back until just the tip of Steve’s cock was in his mouth, like he was suckling it, and looked up at Steve with big doe eyes. Winking, he slowly took Steve down to the root, luxuriating in it, moaning around the fullness in his mouth.

“Oh, that’s so good, sweetheart,” Steve said, babbling. Bucky hummed around Steve’s cock, and Steve made a sound like he’d been punched. He reached for Bucky’s head, then pulled back, unsure of what to do with his hands.

Bucky pulled off for a second. “You can put your hand in my hair if you want. Just don’t yank it. It’s bad for the roots.”

Steve couldn’t help laughing a little, because that was just so Bucky , but was quickly silenced when Bucky went back to work on his dick. He moved one hand up Steve’s thigh before gently taking hold of his balls, squeezing them lightly. Steve ran his fingers through the silky softness of Bucky’s hair, gathering it up when it fell over Bucky’s face.

Bucky massaged Steve’s balls for a little while, before sliding one finger farther back and softly circling Steve’s entrance. Bucky raised an eyebrow in question and Steve nodded quickly. “Yes, please.”

Bucky kept moving his jaw; sweet, slow movements, bobbing his head, but gestured to his nightstand. Steve opened the drawer carefully and fumbled unseeing with one hand. He didn’t want to take his eyes off Bucky and his sinful mouth.

Once he found it, Steve handed Bucky the lube, and Bucky expertly uncapped it with one hand, his mouth still sucking on Steve’s dick. He squeezed a little on his fingers, and carefully traced a finger around Steve’s asshole, helping Steve get used to the sensation. He caught Steve’s eyes, and when Steve nodded quickly, Bucky slowly breached him with one finger. It felt strange and good and intimate in a way he hadn’t felt in a long time.

Soon, Bucky added a second finger, and Steve let himself relax and enjoy the stretch, the subtle burning. Bucky crooked his fingers just so, and Steve moaned loudly, unable to contain himself. Encouraged by this, Bucky moved faster, bobbing his head up and down. Steve ran his fingers through his dark brown hair again looking for some type of anchor, feeling he might get swept away with his feelings.

“Oh, fuck, oh, Bucky!” Steve said between moans. Bucky seemed to really like Steve’s talk and moans, and soon his fingers were moving in and out of Steve faster, each time stimulating his prostate.

Steve forced his eyes down. Bucky looked so beautiful. Spit slick lips stretched wide, cheeks hollowed, flushed red, perspiration making his mascara run. Steve couldn’t handle it. He looked thoroughly debauched.

“Fuck, sweetheart, you look so good. So good. I’m going to…”

Steve’s eyes closed involuntarily and his muscles all tightened. He groaned, and then came down Bucky’s throat. Bucky swallowed and sucked him through it, before slowly withdrawing his fingers and wiping them on some tissue. He crawled up Steve’s body, kissing him and petting his chest.

“That was amazing,” Steve said, kissing Bucky soundly, breathless and, he could admit it to himself, so in love. “What can I do for you?”

“Kiss me,” Bucky said. Steve kissed him, tasted himself on Bucky’s tongue, and he chased the flavor in his mouth. Steve flipped them over, eager to press his body against Bucky’s.

“Steve,” Bucky said between kisses. “Suck my nipples.”

Steve grinned at the instruction. He had not expected Buck to be so bossy, but Steve was thrilled by it. He kissed his way down Bucky’s chest before lightly flicking his tongue over the nub of Bucky’s nipple.

Bucky huffed a laugh. “Tease.” He pushed Steve’s head down insistently, and Steve couldn’t hold in a moan about the gentle manhandling.

“You like that?” Bucky said, his voice husky. “You like it when I’m in charge?”

Steve blushed deeply, but told himself that it was okay to want nice things and to ask for what he wants. “I like that a lot,” he said near breathless.

Bucky’s grin was feral. He ran his fingers through Steve’s hair, tugging on it sharply. Steve wanted to crack a joke about damaging the roots, but all he could manage was a desperate whimper. “I like it, too. It’s so hot bossing around a big guy.”

Bucky pushed Steve’s head toward his other nipple, and Steve went happily. It was so nice to not have to think about anything, to relax and give Bucky control.

Steve laved his tongue more solidly over the nipple before putting his mouth over it and sucking.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Bucky said, pushing Steve’s head insistently. “Now bite it, baby. Do it.”

Steve’s cheeks warmed. It was the first time Bucky had used that pet name with him. He nibbled gently on the nub of Bucky’s nipple before biting down. Bucky moaned and arched into the touch.  

Steve worked over Bucky’s chest until Bucky tapped on his shoulder and directed him to lay on his side. He picked up the lube. “Hold out your hand.”

Steve did as he was told, and Bucky poured a little in his hand. He directed Steve’s hand towards his cock. Steve felt his whole skin alive with electricity and want. He ran his thumb over the top of Bucky’s dick and squeezed, relishing the whimper it earned him. He stroked down Bucky’s shaft, spreading the lube. Bucky brought his hand on top of Steve’s, directing his strokes.

“Rub your thumb along that vein, baby. Mmm. That’s it.”

Steve used one hand to slowly work over Bucky’s cock, taking care to explore any ridges or hot spots. He kissed Bucky slowly and deeply, letting Bucky tongue fuck him.

Bucky thrust his hips into Steve’s hand, moving faster, sweat beginning to gather along his brow. “You’re doing so good, Stevie. God, your hands.”

Steve felt thrilled with the praise, and wasn’t that a weird feeling. “You’ve got a pretty cock,” Steve said, trying out the words. He was never good at dirty talk.

Bucky grinned, his thrusts getting jerky. “Thanks, babe. Now tighter, yeah, just like that.”

Steve kept his eyes focused on Bucky, watching him unravel. Bucky’s hand gripped Steve’s hair again, and Steve loved the sting of it.

“Oh, oh, oh,” Bucky cried out before coming with a high pitched whine. He slowly caught his breath and looked at Steve with unadulterated fondness. “That was wonderful,” he said.

Steve carefully cleaned them up with a tissue while Bucky came down from his high. Bucky let Steve rearrange their position, and Steve kissed him, enjoying how sweet and pliant Bucky was after orgasm.

Steve threw on his underwear and cracked the door. “I’m going to get your blanket real quick.”

Bucky nodded lazily. “If Clint sees you, tell him you’re mine and I don’t like sharing.”

Steve kissed him again, soft. “Yours,” he said.

Mercifully, Steve managed to get the covers from the living room without running into Clint. He brought the blankets in and arranged Bucky in the bed so they could cuddle. After a few minutes, Bucky sighed. “I gotta wash up and brush my teeth, or I’ll hate myself in the morning. Wanna come?”

Steve agreed. They brushed their teeth side by side in the bathroom, and Steve returned to the the bedroom while Bucky washed his face with some fancy tea tree oil wash. When he came to bed, he changed into adorable pajama shorts that just barely covered the cheeks of his ass and a tank top. Steve squeezed his ass appreciatively.

Once they were snuggled in bed, and the lights turned down low, Steve brought up their earlier conversation. “You know that’s something I want, right? I haven’t always, and it scares me a little, but I can imagine it with you.”

“What’s that?” Bucky asked.

“Kids. A family. The whole nine yards.”

Bucky snuggled closer and hooked a leg over Steve’s thigh. “I’m sorry I didn’t bring it up. We’re so new. I wasn’t sure how to bring it up without sounding crazy, and your life is so different from mine.”

“America figured it out.”

Bucky huffed a laugh and pulled the blanket higher. “She and Natasha have become friends. I think they are conspiring together about us.”

Steve kissed the top of Bucky’s head, breathing in the sweet smell of his conditioner and, underneath it, something singularly Bucky. They fell asleep tangled together.

----

A few days later, the team convened in the boardroom to discuss Hydra’s plans. Tony seemed uncharacteristically nervous, flipping a screwdriver in his hand, and Natasha shuffled papers around. Sam was the only one who seemed relaxed. Steve hadn’t seen him in a few days, because Sam had spent the week attending to his VA duties. He was well compensated for his role with the Avenger’s, but said he needed non-Avengers time to feel grounded in reality and not like a weirdo flying around with high tech metal wings. Tony had feigned offense, but Steve thought he got it.

“Okay, before we get started, how are things going with Bucky?” Sam asked.

Steve leaned back in his chair and sighed happily. He and Bucky were going on another date that night, and Bucky was planning it.

“That good?” Sam asked.

Steve nodded. “He’s wonderful.” He smiled at Sam with a look he was sure Natasha would call dopey. “I have no idea what I’m doing, but we’re figuring it out together.”

Sam punched him lightly on the shoulder. “I’m happy for you, man.”  

Tony and Natasha were both quiet and appearing to ignore them, which surprised Steve. Usually they were champing at the bit for gossip.

“So,” Tony said, redirecting the conversation. “Now that Cap is in tip top shape again, it’s time we figure out just what Hydra has planned for him.” He didn’t sit down but nodded towards Natasha. “Widow, if you will.”

Natasha put a folder of several glossy photos on the table. Some showed tanks with, Steve realized upon closer inspection, people frozen inside. Others had awful metal devices hooked up to giant computers. Steve didn’t know what to make of them. Natasha arranged them on the table before describing the objects shown. “This one,” she said, “is called the chair.”

It looked like a high tech version of a medieval torture device. Straps that would presumably hold a person in place with a giant metal contraption overhead. Natasha pointed to the metal circle, “These pads come down and surround the person’s head. They conduct electricity through the subject’s brain.”

“What’s it do?” Sam asked, looking ill.

“We think it might be for some kind of mind control,” Natasha said.  

Steve scoffed. “No, seriously. What’s it do?” No one else laughed. “They can’t do that, right? People can’t just press a button and control someone’s mind. Can they?”

Tony paced up and down the side of the room. “Don’t be dense, Cap. It’s Hydra! They want to torture you, brainwash you, and make you do their evil bidding. They even have a place to store you between missions. You would be a literal Capsicle! The joke wouldn’t be funny anymore!”

Steve examined one pile of the pictures closely, while Sam looked through another pile. Some photographs were grainy while others were high quality. They couldn’t have been taken by routine surveillance.

“How’d you even get these images?” Sam said.

Tony and Natasha shared a look. “You don’t want to know.”

Steve had a suspicion they were right, but Sam didn’t seem to agree.

“Bullshit!” Sam said heatedly. “I can’t speak for Steve, but either I’m a part of this team or I’m not. You can’t keep me out of the loop on something this big.” He breathed out heavily. “I’m a highly trained soldier, and I don’t just come here to dispense dating advice” He looked pointedly at Natasha, and Steve wondered what that was about.  

Tony nodded. “Right-o. Okay, well, we may have hacked a Hydra lab feed and gotten pics.”

Steve looked between the two of them. “Why do you look guilty?”

Natasha said nothing, her face impassive, but Tony was quicker to crumble. “We may have also let an operative go in order to get into the system.”

“You got someone to double-cross Hydra?” Steve was shocked. “No way. They don’t turn.”

Tony looked even guiltier. “No, they don’t.”

“Fine,” Natasha said. “We drugged a Hydra operative in security lock down, implanted a tracking chip in him, let him think he escaped, waited for him to return to base, and now are using that locator as our key to bypass low level security and get a look around.”

“Okay,” Steve said, while Sam seemed to be weighing things in his mind before he spoke.  

Tony looked at him dubiously. “Just okay?” he said. “We also helped him escape without informing the FBI, CIA, anybody. They think he freed himself.”

“Okay,” Steve said.

“Okay?” Tony exclaimed. “Who are you and what have you done with Cap? We broke all the rules, no due process, ignored the chain of command, yadda, yadda. Where’s the lecture?”

“I have a lecture,” Sam said, minutely clenching his teeth. “But I’m tired of being the voice of reason around here.”

Steve looked to Sam to hear his objections, but Tony spoke to Steve first. “So, until we figure out how to smoke them out, you’re grounded. No missions.”

Steve turned to him sharply. “You can’t ground me. I lead this team.”

“It’s just for a little while,” Tony said, placating. “Keep a low profile, while we investigate what’s going on with Hydra and figure out a way to stop them.”

“No way,” Steve argued. He felt every muscle in his body tighten. No way he would let them make this call. If Steve couldn’t fight, he would tear himself apart waiting.

“You tell him, Sam,” Natasha said, gesturing at Steve.

“So now you want my opinion?” Sam gritted out. “You two can’t make all the decisions for this team!”  

Tony, Sam, and Natasha angrily discussed sharing information with the team and how to keep Steve safe. Their voices got louder as the argument escalated.

Steve was listening to them. At least, he was trying to. But the spectre of being tortured and brainwashed, the idea of being grounded, being unable to do anything to help... everything they were saying became white noise behind his slowly escalating feeling of powerlessness.

That was, until Tony said, “He should limit time outside the Tower.”

“But I have dates with Bucky,” Steve said weakly. They stared at him in shock, as though they had forgotten he was in the room.  “He’s coming over tonight, but on the weekend we have movie nights at his place.”

“Dates?” Tony’s voice was near hysterical. “We’re talking about Hydra brainwashing and taking control of one of the most powerful military assets the US has ever had, and you want to talk about dates?”

Anger flooded through Steve. “Since when am I an asset ? I’m a fucking person, Tony.”

Tony blanched, and Natasha cut in. “Of course you are a person. A person who Hydra could use to kill people. And,” she looked at him sadly, “you should consider holding off on things with Bucky.”

“What? You all but threw us together!”

“Rogers,” Natasha said warningly.

“Don’t Rogers me,” Steve said, feeling his heart shatter. “I’m your friend, and you’re suggesting I quit the best thing that’s happened to me in seventy years.”

“To be fair-” Tony cut in, but Sam’s look shut him up for once.

Natasha took several deep breaths, her nostrils flaring. The moment held, the four of them frozen. “Steve,” she said, strain evident in her voice. “You are being targeted by an international terrorist organization. It’s not safe for Bucky to date you.”

“Hey,” Sam interjected, “you can’t ask this of him. This can’t possibly be the only option.”

Natasha narrowed her eyes at Sam. “I don’t like this anymore than you do.”

Steve looked at Tony. “You and Pepper-”

“Live in a high security tower, and she has a bodyguard,” Tony said quietly.

“No,” Steve said, struggling to find words. “Just, no. I’m not going to stopping seeing Bucky. I’ll keep seeing him at his place or mine to draw less attention. I’ll... I’ll protect him.”  

Natasha’s tone was cutting. “You can’t seriously be that… thick headed! I thought we were past all this reckless shit. It’s not safe for you out there.”

Steve staggered to his feet and walked towards the door. Natasha reached for him.

“Let him go,” Sam said sternly. Once he was in the hallway, Steve heard their conversation resume, but he couldn’t listen to any more. He felt his heart breaking, his new life falling to pieces.

Chapter Text

Steve returned to his apartment with his mind in a daze. Everything had seemed so sure, and he had felt so certain. Bucky was one of the best things to happen to him, of course they should be together But maybe he was being selfish by wanting them to be together. What if something happened to Bucky? He would never forgive himself.

With Peggy, things had been different. They had been a team, and they were both soldiers ready to fight a war. Bucky hadn’t signed up for that. Steve couldn’t figure it all out on his own, and if he was honest with himself it wasn’t entirely his decision to make. He needed to talk to Bucky.

He texted Bucky to see if he would come over early, and Bucky responded with a series of smiley faces and a heart emoji, which Steve interpreted as a yes. Steve busied himself with ordering food, puttering aimlessly around the house, looking for places for future dates;  anything to avoid thinking about the conversation they needed to have.

When Steve opened the door to his apartment, Bucky’s expression went from delighted to concerned immediately. “What happened?” he asked, stepping inside when Steve made room for him.

Steve didn’t know what to say, and now, with Bucky in front of him, he didn’t know if he was strong enough for a difficult conversation. Steve panicked and swept Bucky up into a hug. They stayed there until Steve’s breathing slowed, and his heart stopped feeling like it was going to burst out of his chest.

“Wanna talk about it?” Bucky said.

Steve shook his head. “I don’t want to, I mean, I do. Let’s eat first.” Steve ushered him into the living room where he had already laid out the Pad Thai. Bucky sat beside him on the couch, concern evident on his face.

Steve put his feet up on the coffee table. He was always so careful with it, never wanting to scuff it. But why? He hated it. It was ugly. “I should probably get rid of this,” he said, pointing at the coffee table. “This place has never felt like home, and maybe getting rid of this would be a good first step.”

Bucky looked at him consideringly. “What makes a place feel like home to you?”

Steve served himself another full plate. “Your place feels like a home. It’s warm and comfortable. It feels lived in.” He put his plate down heavily, “It’s not just the apartment. I’m not, I don’t feel like I can really have a life. They won’t let me.”

“Who won’t let you?”

Steve stuffed a large bite in his mouth. He chewed while Bucky watched him thoughtfully.

“Whatever it is, babe,” Bucky said, “we can work it out.”

Steve felt warmed by that. Bucky was growing more confident in their relationship. And maybe he would be able to deal with all of the things that came with being attached to an Avenger.

“You have to understand,” Steve said hesitantly. “There are things I just can’t tell you. Not because I don’t trust you. The Avengers have to maintain operational security, and because of that, a lot of things are on a need to know basis.”

Bucky nodded. “So what kind of things can’t you tell me?”

Steve’s shoulders slumped. “I mean, there’s not a hard line or anything. I just, there is shit about my life that is hard to deal with. And maybe I’m not the kind of person someone would want to be partnered with.”

Bucky looked alarmed and squeezed Steve’s hand. “Steve, don’t say that. Even if things don’t work out with us, you’ll find a partner.”

Steve didn’t want just any partner. “Maybe. I don’t know.” He looked out the window, at a loss for words.

“Hey,” Bucky said, “you and me, we were friends before anything else. Let me help you figure this out.”

Steve looked at him uncertainly. “I want to tell you, but you have to promise not to tell anyone. Not America, Clint, Kate, or even your mom. Okay?” When Bucky nodded, Steve went on. “And I’m going to have to be vague.”

“I understand,” Bucky said quietly.

“So, you know how we’ve had to lay low for our dates to try not to draw attention to us? Well, we found out what Hydra’s plan is.”

“I thought Hydra was gone,” Bucky said, his expression worried.

Steve winced. “We thought so, too. But it turns out they are back.”

Bucky ran a hand through his hair before scooting closer and squeezing Steve’s hand. “Shit, and you found that out today?”

Steve shook his head. “No, we’ve known that. We just learned what their plan is today. They have this awful device that we think might be for brainwashing. We don’t know for certain that’s what it does or even if it works, but it’s still a big threat. And they have these giant canisters for cryogenic storage.”

Bucky shivered, clearly frightened. But he hadn’t left yet. He was there, next to Steve, trying to be encouraging, trying to be strong for him. And wasn’t that something. Maybe, just maybe, things weren’t as hopeless as Natasha and Tony believed.

“We don’t know exactly where their base is located, although Tony and Natasha are getting closer to figuring that out.” He looked nervously at Bucky. “I can’t tell you how.” Bucky seemed to understand. “So, now I’m stuck in this holding pattern, unable to do anything and frustrated.”

Bucky’s brows were together, assessing. “What can I do to help?”

Steve relaxed a little, leaning into Bucky. “Kissing?” he asked hopefully.

Bucky laughed, hopped up and straddled Steve. His lips were cherry red, Steve wanted to nibble on them. “Alright,” Bucky said, “you get a little kissing, but I don’t think this conversation should be over yet.”

Steve pressed his lips against Bucky’s, glad for the closeness and the break from the conversation. He ran his hands up and down Bucky’s back firmly, trying to memorize every part of his shape. He reached his hands under Bucky’s ass and squeezed.

Bucky squeaked. He smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “Stevie, your kissing like you’re about to go to war. What’s going on?”

Steve pressed his face to Bucky’s chest, embarrassed to have gotten carried away by his desperation. “It’s hard to talk about it.”

Bucky began running his hands through Steve’s hair. Since they had gotten together, Bucky had been choosing longer styles for him. Steve was almost certain that this was because Bucky liked having a good grip.  

“Why are they after the Avengers?” Bucky said. “Couldn’t they just brainwash anyone?”

Steve tensed again. He hadn’t told Bucky everything, and he wasn’t sure how much of that had to do with operational security and how much was fear that he’d scare Bucky away.

Bucky appeared to pick up on Steve’s hesitation. “They’re not after all of the Avengers, are they?”

“No,” Steve said, his head still on Bucky’s chest. It was a little awkward, but it felt so nice to be held and comforted. “I think it might be because of the serum, maybe my body can tolerate the brainwashing in a way that other people can’t.”

“Oh, babe,” Bucky said. He kissed Steve’s temple. “I’m so sorry this is happening to you! You already give so much.” Bucky resumed running his fingers through Steve’s hair, soothing him. “How did they even figure out that it’s just you Hydra is after?”  

Steve let his eyes slip closed, as he relaxed. “They’ve tried several times, but it was the run

that confirmed our suspicions.”

“Run?”

Steve’s whole body tightened. He hadn’t meant to tell Bucky that part. Maybe he could handle knowing the generalities of Steve’s job, but knowing that Hydra had tried to kidnap him in downtown NYC, that was another thing entirely. Now it was too late to hide it completely. “A couple of months ago, they tried to take me while I was on my morning run. I was able to take down the operatives, but Tony had to fly me to the hospital.” He paused. “It was the day you came over with cookies.”

Bucky’s fingers stilled, and Steve pulled back so he could look him in the eyes.

“Steve, if someone is following you, they know where I live. Jasmine comes to that apartment, not to mention Clint, and Kate, and Natasha. Why didn’t you tell me?” Bucky said.

“Operational security,” Steve said weakly. It should have been enough, but in this case it didn’t feel like it. “I thought it was enough for there to be a security detail at your place, but now I don’t know.”

Bucky scrambled off Steve’s lap, and Steve had to steady him so he didn’t fall over. “Someone is watching us? I at least deserved to know that.”

Steve looked at the ground guiltily. “You didn’t need to know.” It sounded bad even as it came out of his mouth. He had been furious when he found out Shield had assigned Agent 13 to monitor him. This wasn’t that different.  

Steve went on. “I know what this looks like, but it’s not about me not trusting you. It’s just, you could say something to someone that seems innocent but is overheard and ends up jeopardizing our mission.”

“Bullshit,” Bucky said, face reddening. “You could have told me more than this.” He paused, horror slowly dawning over his face, as he put the pieces together. “You didn’t think I could handle this. Why did you pursue me, if you didn’t think I could handle this?”

“Can you?” Steve asked, feeling small and near broken.

“I don’t know!” Bucky threw his hands in the air. “This would be hard for anyone to handle.”

“Peggy could.”

As soon as he’d said it, Steve knew it was the worst thing he could have said. Bucky’s face went from enraged to heartbroken. His expression crumpled and his shoulders slumped. “I can’t live up to Peggy Carter.” He stood. “I should go.”

Steve reached for Bucky, suddenly felt like the room was closing in on him. He tried to force a breath in but struggled to open his lungs, his pulse pounding in his temples.

“Breathe, Stevie,” Bucky was by Steve’s side again. “You’re not breathing. Look at me. Follow my breath.” He took one of Steve’s hands and put it on his chest. “Breathe in and out when I do.”

Steve’s world had begun to spin a little, and he saw stars dotting the edge of his vision.

“Come on, babe,” Bucky said urgently. “I need you to focus on me.”

Tears began to slip out the corner of Steve’s eyes as he focused on Bucky. Slowly, Steve’s breaths began to return to normal.

“That’s it. Stay here. I’ll get you some water.” Bucky stood to go to the kitchen, but Steve grabbed ahold of his hand, silently pleading with him to stay. Bucky squeezed his hand. “I’ll be right back. You’ll be okay, Stevie. Just relax. It’s going to be okay.”

Bucky went to the kitchen and returned with a glass. The cool water felt good going down his throat, and helped him feel grounded. Steve rested his head in his hands as Bucky ran his hand in long smooth strokes up and down Steve’s back. Steve was so grateful that Bucky was there comforting him. They were going to figure this out. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” Steve said. “You had the right to know that they were targeting me specifically.”

Bucky’s expression was almost unbearably fond and sad. “It’s probably for the best.”

Steve turned quickly, his world feeling off kilter again. “What?”

“You were right not to. I probably couldn’t handle it. I wish I hadn’t gotten my hopes up about us, but you’re right.”

“No,” Steve said. “It’s hard, but we can figure this out.”

“If you really believed that,” Bucky said, “you would have told me all this weeks ago. Besides.” Bucky began softly crying. “I already worry about you getting injured or worse. They televise your fights, and I try to avoid watching, but imagine if I fell in love with you and had to watch you die on TV. It would break my fucking heart, and I don’t know if I would ever recover.”

Steve wanted to close the gap between the two of them, but the hesitation was evident on Bucky’s face. “No, that won’t happen.” Steve threaded their fingers together and squeezed. “Tell me you want this, Buck. Tell me we can fight for this together.”

Bucky looked torn. “I do, but..” his voice faded out, and it was all Steve could do not to yell, but what?

“It’s just,” Bucky struggled for words. “I like soft things, Steve. Soft sweaters, blankets-”

“I could be soft.”

“But you shouldn’t have to. I want a future with kids and homemade dinners, and walks in Chesterfield Square. Hot cocoa in the winter and lemonade in the summer. Do you see what I'm saying?”

Steve shook his head, unable to piece it together.

“Ordinary things,” Bucky said. “I want a small, soft, ordinary life, and you, you’re extraordinary. You life is full of danger and heroism. You’re shaping history.”

“I could still have a family.”

Bucky squeezed Steve’s hand, but Steve felt no comfort from it this time. “Of course you can. With someone else extraordinary.”

“That’s not what I want,” Steve said, voice harder than he’d meant it. Bucky’s hand recoiled like it had been slapped, and he stood up and took a few steps back.

“No, wait,” Steve felt his voice crack. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap. The whole ‘there are other fish in the sea’ thing is hard to hear from the one that got away.” He attempted a wry laugh, but the joke fell flat.  

Bucky walked to the door. He paused before he opened it. “I'm not the one that got away, Steve. I’m the one you're biding your time with while you wait for your next Peggy Carter.” With that he slipped out the door before Steve could argue.

-----

Steve sat numbly on the couch replaying the moment in his head for hours. Should he have run after Bucky? Convinced him that he was more than someone to “bide his time” with? Or take the closed door for the no Bucky may have intended it to be? He texted Bucky to see if he got home okay but got no reply. Eventually Steve became exhausted with his thoughts and collapsed into the bed.

When he staggered into his living room the next morning, hair askew and in just his boxers and a t-shirt, Natasha was sitting on his couch.

"Are you wearing lip gloss?" she asked.

Steve touched his lips and shook his head. "No, it's lip glow. It works with your body Ph to make your lips their own unique color.”

Natasha appeared to be suppressing a laugh, but in the end failed. She let out the most undignified giggle and Steve sat by her, his own half-hysterical laughter bubbling up.

“You look like a trashy drag queen.”

“Bucky pulls it off.”

“So he did a makeover?”

Steve rubbed his lips absentmindedly. “No, but we did kiss for a while, must have stuck around somehow.” He wasn’t sure he was ready to talk to her about what had happened with Bucky.  

Natasha absentmindedly tapped her fingers on her leg. She looked more disheveled than he had ever seen her, and he’d seen her after battle. Lines around her eyes visible, as if she hadn’t slept. Finally, she cleared her throat. “I don’t love easy, Steve. And I love you.”

Steve’s mouth gaped open in shock. Natasha hardly expressed her emotions, but this, and love?

She screwed up her face upon seeing Steve’s reaction. “Ew. Not like that, asshole.” She swatted him on the shoulder.

“I didn’t think-”

“Shush. I’m emoting and it sucks.” She leaned forward and put her head in her hands, twirling the ends of her hair. “I didn’t have a family before I met you, and now, even though you irritate me with your recklessness and pigheadedness and stubbornness-”

“This is becoming less nice.”

She swatted him again, but her shoulders relaxed fractionally, and she stilled her hands. “You’re my family, Steve. And I don’t want to see you hurt.”

Steve didn’t know what to say, so he tried to imagine what Bucky or Sam would do. He wrapped his arm around Natasha and pulled her to his chest. She went awkwardly, as though she didn’t want to admit to wanting cuddles, before relaxing into him. Steve kissed the top of her head.

“I love you, too.”

Natasha relaxed further, and after she had been quiet for a few minutes, Steve realized she had fallen asleep. He wished he had a blanket to wrap around her.

He let her sleep for an hour before gently coaxing her awake. “You should go to bed, Nat. We can talk more later.”

She shook her head, and Steve wasn’t sure if she was saying no to talking or sleeping. Maybe both.

“I’m glad you got to see Bucky,” she said muzzily. She yawned. “I was wrong, you shouldn’t have to give up everything you love to be safe.”

“Bucky and I aren’t seeing each other anymore,” he said quietly.

Natasha sat up, guilt evident on her face. “What did you do?”

He looked out the window, avoiding her gaze. “I talked to him about Hydra. There were some things I hadn’t told him, but he figured it out on his own. He said I don’t believe in his ability to handle Captain America risks. I told him that wasn’t true.”

Natasha’s face fell, and Steve wondered if she was sad for him or for herself. “What did he say about that?”

“He said he cares about me,” Steve said, “but I should be with someone ‘extraordinary’, not ‘ordinary’ like him. And then he left.”

“Just like that?”

“Well, I may have snapped at him while he gave me the ‘there is somebody out there for you’ speech.”

Natasha laughed wetly. Steve hadn’t realized she was near tears.  

“But then I apologized, and he left.” Steve got lost in thought for a moment, thinking of Bucky and wondering why Natasha was so invested. When he spoke, his voice was gentle. “Can I ask you something?”

Natasha braced slightly but didn’t respond. Steve kept going anyway. He had to know.

“Why do you care so much? About things with Bucky?”

Natasha sat up and leaned forward, still pressed to Steve’s side but no longer under his arm. She was still for a long moment, and Steve knew he’d have to wait her out.

Finally, she spoke. “I thought if it worked for you, it might work for me, too. That I could stop being a weapon.”

Steve was floored. He didn’t know what to say. This wasn’t what he was good at. “You’re more than a weapon to me,” he said. “I mean, you’re not a weapon to me at all.”

She laughed, but didn’t look at him. “You’re not mad?” When Steve didn’t respond, she continued. “That I used you as an experiment? To see if a relationship with a normal person could work for someone like us?”

Steve shrugged and sank back into the couch. “It was a wonderful experiment. Besides,” he ran a hand up her back, “it’s not over for me and Bucky. I can feel it. I just have to give him some time.”

When she continued to look at him, all sleepy and sad, “You don’t know that.”

Steve did know. All of the confusion and doubt had washed away seeing how calmly Bucky handled news about Hydra. Bucky seemed to have only had trouble with the secrets. Steve knew it, against all odds and reason, Bucky was going to come back.

Steve didn’t want to argue with Natasha about it. The realization was too new and fragile. So he changed the subject. “Want to go on a mission with me?”

Natasha narrowed her eyes at him, but before she could protest he jumped in.

“A fun mission, I promise. I need to go shopping.” He looked around his bare apartment. “This place, it’s just not me. I need things to make it feel like somebody lives here. Like it’s not a hotel. And so I can take care of my guests.”

Natasha quirked a smile at that. She did enjoy wheedling Steve into buying things. There was more they needed to say, but it could wait for now.

After a shower and a change of clothes, Natasha returned to Steve’s apartment. He invited Sam along, in part because Steve wanted to be with his friend, but also because Sam looked at Steve like he was a hero every time he practiced self-care. It was a little unintentionally patronizing, but Steve let him get away with it because it felt so nice to have a cheerleader.

They all agreed that they needed to talk things out but later. For now, they just wanted to be together.

Once they got to Bed Bath & Beyond, Natasha wrinkled her nose at the surroundings. Mountains of kitchen gadgets, pots and pans, towels, and blankets covered the walls. Sam loved it, and secretly or not so secretly, Steve did too.

“You know he’s playing it up to see how much he can get away with before you notice,” she said, having just observed Sam give Steve a hug for picking out a comfy throw blanket. It had orange turtles with turquoise shells. Natasha said it was hideous, but Steve loved it.

Steve shrugged. “I don’t mind. Besides,” he said, nodding toward Sam who was across the store having some type of internal debate between two types of patterned pillows, “it makes him so happy.”

“Too bad he’s not into the D, you two would be cute together.”

“Nat,” he said, pinching the bridge of his nose. It wasn’t worth arguing about. Sam was kind and handsome, and in another set of circumstances, Steve might have pined for him, but he was too far gone on Bucky to have eyes for anyone else.

“It is hard dating one of us,” she said quietly. “Sam would understand.” She seemed to lose herself in thought for a minute.

Steve agreed with her, but he wasn’t ready to surrender to his melancholic feelings at the moment.

“Sam,” he yelled, entirely too loud. “Natasha’s making me feel things.”

Steve grinned at Natasha as Sam strode over holding a couple of fluffy pillows. Before he even started talking, Steve knew he would be using his VA counselor voice.

“Now is not the time to have emotional epiphanies. Now is the time for Steve to practice good self-care and pick between these two pillows.”

“Calling Mom on me?” Natasha said with a frown. She kicked Steve lightly on the calf.

Steve’s look was unrepentant. He pointed at the blue-grey cotton pillow, the exact color of Bucky’s eyes. “I like that one.”

“Thought you might.” Sam tossed the pillow in the already overflowing cart. “Now, let me introduce you to my buddy, George Foreman, and his grill.”

An hour and a half later, they arrived at Steve’s apartment with what had been several shopping carts full of housewares. Steve wasn’t entirely sure how they even bought that much stuff. One thing was for sure, there were plenty of pillows and blankets, soft sheets, flannel pajamas, and kitchenwares. Now Steve just needed to learn to cook.

“That was worse than when we had to do a three day stakeout with Tony,” Natasha groaned, flopping onto the couch.

“Don’t rain on my man’s parade,” Sam said. But Steve could tell he was looking a little worn out, too.

“Let’s put things away later,” Steve said. “Thai food, my treat?”

When Natasha and Sam tiredly nodded their heads, Steve chuckled and looked for a place that took online orders.

Natasha left shortly after the food arrived, needing some time to herself. Steve and Sam ate while rewatching an episode of Firefly , because Bucky had promised they got better each time.

“I still don’t get it,” Steve complained halfway through an episode.

“That’s okay, man,” Sam said. “Not everyone is sophisticated enough to understand the nuances of this show.”

Steve whacked Sam with one of his newly bought pillows. “How did I forget what an asshole you are?”

Sam’s laugh was deep and hearty. “Your other friends are billionaires and spies. You’re so busy trying to manage their chaos, my flaws are in your blindspot.”

Steve frowned. “Sounding too much like a therapist there.”

“How would you know?” Sam said a bit of frustration seeping into his tone.

Steve felt a sudden cold rush of embarrassment. Things had been going so well.

“Hey, hey,” Sam’s voice was gentle. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to give you a hard time. You did something good today. I’m happy for you.” He cast his arms around Steve’s shoulders and pulled him into a tight hug. “But,” Sam said after they parted. He appeared to be weighing his words. “It would be good for us if I was more your friend and less your therapist.”

Steve looked at the pile of therapist cards he had accumulated. “I’ll pick one. I promise.”

“I’ll still be here to talk, always. I want to be just your friend for a while.”

Steve nodded, idly playing with the tassels of the blanket in his lap. “I wish I could show Bucky all this.”

“You didn’t do all this for him, right?” Sam asked, leaning back on the couch.

“No, but I did do it because of him, if that makes sense. He helped me realize how empty things were.”

Sam hmmed in agreement. They spent the rest of the evening relaxing and watching Firefly. Steve still didn’t really get the show, but Bucky and Sam loved it, and that was good enough for him. Sam fell asleep on the couch, and Steve covered him with two soft blankets.

---

It had been two weeks, and Bucky still hadn’t called. Steve hadn’t given up, but he was wallowing in his sadness a little.


“Get up.” Natasha crossed her arms, leaning over Steve’s form prone on the couch.

Steve could acknowledge even to himself that he looked disheveled. He’s spent most of the last week sitting on the couch binge watching Grace and Frankie , Orange is the New Black , or whatever else he could find on Netflix. He longed for a mission, something to get him moving, make him feel needed, and whatever waiting game Hydra was playing was only making his wallowing worse.

“Leave me alone,” Steve said.

“Nope,” she said briskly. “Sam couldn’t hug you off the couch, Tony couldn’t annoy you enough to get you moving, so now you’re stuck with me. Get your ass up.”

Lightning fast, she reached over Steve, grabbed his shoulder, and rolled him onto the ground.

Steve groaned into the rug. “Why are you so mean?” He pursed his lips and pointed at her from his position on the ground. “Least favorite Avenger.”

Natasha rolled her eyes and busied herself fetching a water bottle for both of them. “You’ve been spending too much time with memes. Besides, I’m everyone’s favorite Avenger, and you know it.”

“You don’t have to rub it in,” Steve said.  

Natasha put a water bottle on the ground by Steve’s head, his face still smooshed to the rug. “Get up, princess.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s homophobic or gender prescriptive or something,” he grumbled.

“You can’t give me a lecture on gender politics when you’re wallowing on the ground. Get up. I’ve got good news.”

Steve sat himself up slowly, a bit embarrassed to discover that his Under Armor shirt had several stains on the front from sloppily eating on the couch. At least he wasn’t eating out every night. He’d been keeping his kitchen stocked and learning to cook a few dishes.  

“Alright, what’s your news?”

Natasha grinned. “I located the main Hydra base, and Tony has a rudimentary map of the building. We might be able to end this.”

Steve stood up and pulled Natasha into a hug. “Wonderful!”

“Gross,” she said, pushing him away. “When did you last shower?”

Steve let her go and sniffed his armpit, unfortunately confirming that she was right. He did smell.

“Tony is gathering the team, and we’ll meet tomorrow morning to discuss strategy.”

“How soon can we be mobilized?” Steve said.

“If planning goes well, it could be the end of this week,” Natasha said with a small smile.

“Great!” Steve said. “I’ve got to reach out to Bucky.” He began walking to his home office, and Natasha followed him.

“Steve, you obviously can’t tell him details of the base or the timeframe,” she said disapprovingly. “And it’s not like he’s returned any of your texts.”  

Steve sat down at his desk and pulled out some paper. “I’m trying a new strategy.”

“Letters, Rogers? You want me to find a carrier pigeon?”

Steve knew she was just trying to look out for him, but she didn’t know what he did. “You don’t just move on from someone like him,” Steve said. “I’ve got to fight for us.”

Natasha patted his arm and left him to his thoughts. Steve struggled to find the right thing to put in his letter, to tell Bucky just how transformative these past several months getting to know him had been. After several attempts, he wrote:

Dear Bucky,

When I met Peggy Carter, I was a young, skinny kid afraid of being useless and with something to prove. I needed her to remind me that I had a purpose and that I could help people. She taught me to be strong. Now, I’m so used to being strong and fighting, I need someone to remind me to be soft. Let me be soft with you. You are more extraordinary than you know.

Love, Steve

it grew on me 1

After a quick shower, Steve dropped the letter in the outgoing mail slot in the Tower and went to find Natasha.

----

Steve knew there would be trouble as soon as Tony briefed the team on the location and description of the base. It was mostly underground, which did not play to their strengths. It was too dangerous to send Banner in with the risk of structural collapse if the Hulk got out of hand and the same was true, to a lesser degree, with Thor. Tony could enter, but the suit was not ideally made for stealth approach inside, much the same with Sam and his wings.

That left Steve and Natasha.

“I will infiltrate with you, two is not sufficient to be safe,” Sam argued.

Steve half agreed. They compromised and positioned Sam part way in the base to act as a liaison between the two parts of the team, and he would provide ground or aerial support as needed.

They had selected the northern entrance per Natasha’s recommendations. There was no activity outside the facility, not entirely surprising for a secret base. What was surprising was that the Hydra operatives had somehow blocked thermal imaging. It appeared that no one was inside.

Upon entering the facility, Steve and Natasha found it empty of people. Steve almost called off the mission, but Natasha convinced him that, even if the base were abandoned, they could still gather valuable intel. Besides, the tracker they had implanted in the released Hydra agent was still broadcasting, albeit weakly. He appeared to be in the main computer room.

There was a buzzing sound in the air, like someone had left but forgotten to switch off an intercom. Natasha and Steve slowly made their way through the facility, checking doors for signs of activity. Everything was locked down and quiet.

Once they were in the middle of the compound, Natasha signaled. “Main computer room is around the next corner on the left side,” she whispered.

“Gather what we can, ten minutes max, and then evacuate,” Steve said.

Natasha nodded, leading the way with her gun drawn. Like all of the rooms they had checked so far, the door was locked. Inside, Steve heard the faint hum of fans cooling the equipment, but no human movement.

Steve tried to force the door open quietly, but it was reinforced. “Stand back,” he said. He kicked down the door. It made a loud cracking noise as it broke open. Steve checked to see if anyone was pursuing them from behind while Natasha cleared the room.

Inside there were rows of computers all connected to a giant mainframe. The place was tidy but not dusty. It it didn't seem like there'd been anyone inside for hours at least.

“Locator says our tagged operative should be in this room,” Natasha said, checking her equipment.

They walked through rows of computers, and Steve was glad that Natasha’s lessons in stealth approach had begun to pay off, because he hardly made a sound. He signaled for her to take one row while he took the other.

“Cap,” she said grimly, “found the locator beacon.”

Steve joined her at her position, and there, lying across a table, was the dead body of the Hydra operative Tony and Natasha had released from prison. He was smiling.

“This is fresh,” Natasha said, bending over the body.

“We need to get out of here,” Steve said, stepping closer to her. He heard a beeping noise. Behind them, the hallway exploded, hidden bombs detonating and blocking their retreat.

Natasha and Steve shared a quick look before racing toward a door on the opposite side of the lab. A second round of explosives went off, and Steve nearly lost his footing as the building shook. They were trapped.

“Update on your position, Sam,” Steve said through the comms.

“We’re taking heavy fire on all sides, just started. Most are trying to bypass out position and shell the building.”

It didn’t make sense, Steve thought. All of Hydra’s efforts about him had been to capture, not kill.

“Coordinate defense with Thor and Stark by providing aerial support,” Steve said.  

“On it,” Sam replied.

Natasha and Steve investigated the room as the facility continued to take heavy fire. The floor shook, but the ceiling showed no signs of caving in. After pulling out a knife, Natasha stabbed the sheetrock wall.

“What are you doing?” Steve said.

“Following a hunch.”

Instead of sliding straight through the sheetrock and out the other side, the knife scratched against metal. Natasha pulled the knife out. “The walls are some kind of reinforced metal alloy.” She investigated her knife. “Strong enough to dull the tip of this blade.”

Steve looked closer. “What does this mean?”

Natasha continued to scan their surroundings. “If I were to guess, I’d say this room may be near indestructible.” She looked at Steve, waiting to see if he understood.

“They’re trying to bury us alive,” Steve said, the realization slowly dawning on him.

Natasha shook her head. “Only one of us. Either they thought you’d come alone or they have a plan to get rid of me.”

Steve’s stomach dropped. They may have walked into a trap, but he was determined to protect his family no matter what.

She began investigating the floor more carefully, looking for breaks in the carpet. “This means, we’re safe from the explosions, but they must have some strategy to get in here and retrieve your body. Look for anything that could be an entrypoint.”

They split up, scanning different sections of the floor. Steve checked in with the rest of the team. “Tony, update.”

“I think we’ve got most of them under control. Sam located their launch area, and Hulk has been, well, smashing. But the building is collapsed on all sides. I don’t know how we’re going to get to you,” Tony said.  

“Natasha thinks they may have a plan for that,” Steve said. “We’re checking for alternate entry points.”

“Roger, Rogers,” Tony said, his voice strained. Something wasn’t sitting right with Steve, and it appeared that Tony felt it, too.

The sound of gunshots gradually lessened, and Steve found the returning quiet to be more disconcerting than the explosions.

“Cap,” Sam came over the comms. “A large number of Hydra agents are surrendering. Thor and Tony are coordinating rounding them up. We’ve called in for additional military support.”

“Don’t trust them, Sam,” Steve warned. Hydra never surrendered. What the hell was happening?

“Agreed,” Sam said. “I’m going to help them get things under control and then see if I can find a way to get you.”

“Nat thinks the room is heavily fortified,” Steve said. “You don’t need to be careful moving debris.”

Natasha had cleared three fourths of the room while Steve checked in with Sam. “Over here,” she called. She was standing in front of a scuffed area of carpet, it would have looked harmless if Steve’s senses weren’t on high alert.

Natasha kicked the carpet to investigate, and a trap door opened. A Hydra operative lunged out, and stabbed her with a needle. Natasha fell heavily to the ground. It appeared she lost movement in her legs but not her arms, because she quickly rolled over and dropped a grenade down the hatch. It exploded to the sound of screams below and blew off the trap door.

Steve grabbed Natasha and carried her to a corner, trying to find a defensible position before reinforcements arrived.

“Sam,” Steve called through the comms. “We are under attack. Natasha has been hit with some kind of tranquilizer.”

“On my way,” Sam said. Steve didn’t miss the edge of panic in his voice.

“Don’t let the prisoners get away,” Steve said. “This ends today.”

“They are here to tie up resources so we can’t get to you,” Tony said. He was clearly struggling with orders.

“Find a way to incapacitate them if you can, but don’t let them go. I’m not fighting this fight again,” Steve said.

Steve propped Natasha against the wall, so she could continue to use her gun. “Feeling foggy, Steve,” she said.

Steve heard what sounded like hands and boots on a metal ladder and prepared for a second wave of attackers. He took his shield off his back and leaned it against Natasha’s body, covering as much of her as possible.

“Bullshit, Steve,” she hissed. “You need that. Don’t be an asshole.”

Steve looked her in the eyes. “I don’t love easy, either.”

Natasha was quiet. “Don’t die before me.”

“I’ll do my best,” Steve said.

The first operative came through the hatch, and Steve launched himself towards him, kicking him back down. He did the same for the next several until one shot him in the calf, and Steve struggled to maintain weight on that leg.

Operatives swarmed the room. Some were armed with metallic cuffs and stun batons, others with guns. Steve fought them viciously, desperately. He left a path of bodies in his wake, throwing as many as he could down the hatch again. A couple of them slipped past him and went for Natasha.

The first one who reached for her was hit with bullet between his eyes, but she could barely fight back. Whatever they had shot her with hadn’t incapacitated her, but her responses were slower. One operative grabbed her by the hair, and Steve couldn’t help letting loose a grim chuckle, because that guy was going to get it. Natasha hit him with a Widow’s bite to the genitals.

But with Natasha gradually weakening, and Steve overwhelmed with others, he couldn’t protect her. An operative aimed a gun square at her head, and she had no way to defend herself.

“Stand down, Captain America,” the operative said. “Or we will kill her.”

The operatives around Steve froze, waiting to see his response. Steve couldn’t do it. He couldn’t watch her die or let her be killed.

“They’ll kill me anyway,” Natasha slurred. “Don’t stop fighting.”

The operative in front of Natasha grinned, clearly feeling confident he had won. Steve started to move, and the operative frowned. “Not another step, or I shoot.”

Overhead, Steve heard the sound of chunks of the building being ripped apart, the Hulk was coming for them. The ground shook, causing the operative to lose his footing. Steve dove for him, trying to overpower him. Steve managed to wrestle the gun out of his hands, but, in doing so, left his flank open. A bullet shot through his back and then another, and Steve cried out in pain.

Steve rolled onto his side, firing indiscriminately at the mass of operatives. The building continued to shake as the Hulk threw off debris, and the operatives looked nervously between themselves, knowing the time to capture Steve was shortening.

“Grab him!” one yelled. They redoubled their efforts. Steve fought tooth and nail, screaming as they pummelled him with fists and feet, trying to drag him to the hatch. One hit him across the face and another to the side of his head, and Steve’s fight became less coordinated, he was losing focus. It became harder to keep his eyes open.

The last piece of building blocking their exit was yanked away, and Sam entered the room with guns blazing. Hulk came in right behind him, and the whole room descended into chaos. Several of the operatives tried to escape, only to be thrown in a corner by the Hulk. He and Sam quickly neutralized the room.

Sam ran over to assess Steve’s wounds. Steve had been shot three places that he could count and was losing blood rapidly.

“Don’t you dare give up,” Sam said, gritting his teeth. He put pressure one Steve’s largest wound. “They have captured at least forty operatives, and some are giving up more intel. This ends today. You can go home and see your boy. This will all be over, Steve, so don’t you dare give up.”

Steve patted the side of Sam’s face weakly. “I am so glad to have known you,” he said. Sam’s face contorted in grief.

Before he blacked out, the final thing Steve thought was how much he would have liked to hold Bucky one last time.

Chapter Text

Steve awoke in a hospital bed with Sam asleep in the chair beside him. He looked exhausted, and although he felt guilty that Sam had been so worried about him, he was glad to have his friend next to him. It was a nice way to wake up.

“I told you not to give up,” Sam said. His eyes were still closed, but he must have heard Steve shift in the bed.

“I didn’t,” Steve said with a smile. “How’s Nat?”

Sam cracked an eye open. “Better than you. They must have intended to use the paralytic shot on you, so they could capture you. They used it on her by accident, but it didn't damage her.”

Steve breathed a sigh of relief. “Why am I here?” When Sam raised an eyebrow, Steve said quickly, “Not why am I in a hospital, I mean, why am I not at the Tower’s hospital facilities?”

Sam nodded and gestured vaguely at the some of the equipment in the room. “We needed some equipment they had here and a surgeon to get the bullets out, and Tony couldn’t get one at the Tower fast enough, so we brought you here.”

Steve yawned and winced when the sudden movement jostled some sutures. He tried to hide it from Sam, but he failed. “How long have I been out?”

“Around eighteen hours, including transport. Doc says you'll mostly be sleeping for the next few days.”

Steve knew Sam had likely not left his side while he was unconscious. “Hey,” he said, eying Sam’s frumpled appearance, “you should go get some rest. I’ll be here.”

Sam sat up and stretched with his arms overhead. “No leaving before I get back?”

“Scouts honor,” Steve said. He held up a hand sign, but since he had never been a boy scout, he wasn’t sure what the finger salute was actually supposed to look like.

Sam laughed and batted his fingers down. “Alright, man. I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”

Steve fell asleep again, waking when the other Avengers came by, but nodding off to sleep afterwards. He ate dinner, ravenous even for hospital food.

By the time Sam returned, it was evening. He stood in the doorway with a bag. “I brought you some clean clothes,” Sam said, “and I found this one,” he gestured as Bucky appeared next to him, “wandering the hallway.”

“Bucky!” Steve sat up quickly, his joy at seeing Bucky outweighing his pain with the sudden movement.

“They wouldn’t tell me which room you were in,” Bucky said, tentatively taking a step into the room. “I only found out you were in this hospital because Jarvis called me.”

Sam stepped past Bucky and dropped the bag next to Steve’s bed. “I’ll give you guys some time to talk, but you need anything before I go?” Steve shook his head, and Sam gave him a warm smile and clapped Bucky on the back. He promised to return in the morning.

Once Sam was gone, the room was quiet, save for the beeping of a few machines. The moment seemed to stretch, and Steve didn't know what to say. All he knew was that he didn’t want Bucky to leave.

Bucky’s lip began to tremble, and a few tears slipped from his eyes. “You almost died,” he said accusingly, but there was not heat in it. He wiped away his tears with his sleeve and stepped timidly closer.

“It’s nothing,” Steve said, a little giddy.

Bucky’s brow furrowed. “It’s not nothing.”  

Steve stilled. “You’re right, Buck. It’s not nothing, but I’m okay now.” Bucky softened, and Steve reached for his hand. “I thought you’d be happy that I went to the hospital.”

“They brought you in unconscious,” Bucky said flatly but unable to contain a smirk. He gestured at Steve’s head. “And who ever is cutting your hair now is awful.” Bucky took Steve’s hand and another step closer, but seemed unsure of himself. “Aren’t you going to ask why I’m here?”

Steve shook his head. He was too tired to care and just grateful to have Bucky near.

“It’s too late,” he said, looking at their interlaced fingers. He started crying again.

Steve’s heart was in his throat. “Too late for what?”

“I thought if I didn’t fall in love with you, I wouldn’t worry about you when you go on missions. But it’s too late for that now, and I can’t help it. I’m going to worry about you and there’s no going back.” It wasn’t quite an admission of love, but it was close enough for Steve’s heart to flutter. “Tony called me to tell me you were seriously hurt,” Bucky said, “and I swear to God my heart stopped.”

“I’m sorry to make you worry,” Steve said, squeezing his hand.  

Bucky shrugged, as if to say, there was no getting around it now. “I missed you.”

It was already evening, and Steve felt his eyes fighting to close. Bucky must have seen it, because he pulled a chair close to Steve and continued to hold his hand until he fell asleep.

----

Steve awoke a few hours later to find Bucky asleep in the chair beside him. They hadn’t taken time to clarify what they were to one another or to figure out what Bucky showing up meant. One thing was for sure, whether as a friend or lover, Steve wasn’t letting Bucky walk out of his life again. Given the sleepy smile Bucky gave him when he stirred, it seemed he was of the same mind.

Steve reached his hand towards Bucky, who stretched slow and sinuous like a cat before intertwining their fingers again. Steve tugged a little on their joined hands, pulling Bucky out of his chair and closer to Steve.

“Not fair,” Bucky said with a yawn. “You’re too strong.”

Steve frowned, not above using his position in a hospital bed to his advantage. “I’m injured. You told me people need more healthy touch.”

“I think you may have hit your head harder than they thought,” Bucky replied with a smirk, but he let Steve pull him down onto the narrow hospital bed. “Big jerk. Using my words against me to get cuddles.”

Bucky was pliant and sleep-soft, and Steve felt his heart near burst with happiness as he adjusted them into a comfortable position.

They dozed for a couple of hours, Steve rousing briefly for the nurses to take his vitals, until Tony decided it was time for them to wake up.

“Alright, Capsicle. Up and at ‘em,” he said, turning the lights on full brightness.

Bucky groaned and buried his face into Steve’s side. Steve was so happy for the contact that he didn’t mind the pressure on his bruised ribs. He squinted into the room and saw that Natasha and Sam had also joined them. Natasha looked positively delighted.

“Tony, I’m recovering from my injury,” Steve said with as much sternness as he could rouse.

“You tell him,” Bucky mumbled into his side.

Tony huffed a laugh. “We know you’re recovering! The doc said to kick you out of this room so you can recover at home.”

Steve looked quickly between Sam and Natasha to confirm Tony’s words. They nodded. “Why didn’t the doctor tell me?”

Natasha had a twinkle in her eye, “We told them not to disturb the reunion,” she said pointing suggestively between Bucky and Steve. She and Tony exchanged a quick fist bump.

Bucky steadfastly ignored them, his face still buried in Steve’s side.

Sam, still winning the award for most helpful and well adjusted friend, busied himself with packing up Steve’s belongings, few though there were. “Well isn’t this adorable,” Sam said, all sickly sweet. He tried to make it sound like a joke, but Steve knew he meant it.

Bucky finally rolled himself upright, his face a little puffy and creased from being crammed into the small bed. Steve wanted to cuddle him in a soft blanket and kiss him senseless. He wouldn’t, of course, Bucky hadn’t yet said what he wanted, and Steve was a little afraid to ask.

He appreciated his friends telling him he could go home, usually Steve was champing at the bit to get out of the hospital. But this moment of having Bucky back in his life, getting to cuddle and wake up next to each other, it all seemed so fragile. Steve wanted to luxuriate in his happiness a little longer, in case things came crashing down when they left the hospital.

Bucky smiled at him shyly and stood up. “Come on, tough guy, I’ll take you back to the Tower.”

Steve smiled brightly at him. “I’d like that.” He assumed that his friends had come to take him home, and he tried to non-verbally tell them he’d be fine without them.

Tony, it seemed, was not in a merciful mood. “Oh, we can take it from here, Buckaroo. Cap’s delicate, being a senior citizen and all.”

Natasha elbowed him in the stomach a tad too forcefully.

“Bucky and I will take the subway,” Steve said getting to his feet and wobbling slightly.

Sam rolled his eyes affectionately. “No you won’t. Either you ride in Tony’s car or you get a Lyft.”

Steve whipped out his phone out to request the ride. Tony was a great friend, but he didn’t need Stark level sass in his life right now. There were several drivers nearby. The hospital staff insisted that he use a wheelchair to get to the door, and although he grumbled, Steve thought it was probably for the best. He was still feeling a little weak.

When they got to the curb, Sam threw Steve’s bag in the trunk and helped him get into the car.  

On the ride back, Bucky cuddled up close to Steve. “I’m not sure what this means,” he said.

“Okay,” Steve replied.

“I just know that I want to be around you.”

Steve smiled brightly. “I can work with that.”

Once they reached the Tower, Bucky carried Steve’s bag as they walked slowly to the elevator. Bucky helped Steve to the couch and went to the kitchen to fetch him a glass of water. When he returned, he was holding a piece of paper and looking shocked.

“What’s so interesting about my grocery list?” Steve said.

“You didn’t do your own shopping before. Jarvis did it for you. There’s food in your kitchen.”

“Yeah, well, I decided I needed to eat more than protein shakes and take-out. I bought throw blankets, too, and some pillows.” He held up the blanket with the little turtles.  

Bucky picked up the blanket and rubbed the soft fabric. “It’s hideous, but I love it. Why did you do all this?”

Steve scratched the back of his neck awkwardly. “This place didn’t feel like a home, and somebody taught me to take care of myself.”

Bucky’s eyes fell to the ground, his cheeks flushing. Steve held out his hand, and pulled Bucky close to him. “I needed a wakeup call, and you were it. You made me realize I was only living half a life.”

Bucky had on a pleased smile, and he allowed himself to be pulled into Steve’s arms.

Steve kissed his temple. “You really are extraordinary, Buck.”

Bucky buried his face in Steve’s chest in a moment of uncharacteristic shyness.

“Come back here and let me say nice things to you,” Steve said. He pulled back so he could look Bucky in the eyes,

“I like nice things,” Bucky said. “Just take a sip of water and let my heart catch up.”

Steve did as he was asked. He was positive he looked dopey and happy, and Bucky would probably call it his golden retriever face. Steve didn’t try to fight it.

Bucky bit his lip. “Swear you didn’t buy this stuff for me. Swear it.”

“I bought this stuff because of you, but it’s for me.”

This appeared to be enough for Bucky who surged forward and kissed Steve full on the mouth. Steve caught on quickly, both hands coming up to frame Bucky’s face, tilting his chin up until their lips met perfectly. Steve squeezed Bucky’s midsection, and Bucky whimpered and threw a leg over Steve to straddle him.

When Bucky ground their hips together, Steve couldn’t contain a grunt of pain. His injuries were still pretty tender.

“Shit! Oh, shit, Steve. I’m sorry,” Bucky said, scrambling to move off Steve’s lap. Steve tried to grab hold of him, but Bucky slipped free.

“It’s not a big deal, sweetheart. Come back.” And, if he pouted a little, well, his cute, little boyfriend (hopefully) had just gotten him half hard and moved off his lap.

“You broke your hip! It’s a big deal.”

Steve frowned. “I didn’t break my hip. I got shot a couple of places, but…”

Bucky crossed his arms. “You were shot, you broke an arm and a hip, and you have a concussion.”

“Oh,” Steve said. No one had bothered to brief him on that. Steve reached for Bucky again. “It’s fine. Come back.” He furrowed his brow, figuring something out. “Wait a minute. You like me all needy!” Steve couldn't feign offense. He liked it, too. 

Bucky gave him an indulgent smile neither confirming nor denying Steve’s suspicions. “You’ll be fine, you horn dog.” When Steve continued to pout, Bucky rolled his eyes. “Jeez, you look like I kicked your puppy. Besides.” He twisted a little in his seat. “We should keep talking.”

Steve agreed begrudgingly. He took a deep breath. “Do you think you might change your mind?” Steve didn’t say about what, but they both knew. Bucky looked into his eyes, and Steve knew it was too late for him, too.

Bucky nodded, and Steve’s heart did a happy little flip. This was everything he wanted. Steve pulled him into an open mouthed kiss. His fingers found the hem of Bucky’s shirt, and he traced his way along the soft skin there. When he moved to pull Bucky’s shirt off, Bucky stopped him.

“I told you. No hanky panky for you, mister.”

“Why?” Steve asked.

“You’re hurt. You’re benched. No sex having.” He seemed to realize something. “Oh, my god! My old man boyfriend just broke his hip!”

“Boyfriend?” Steve said, his heart swelling.

Bucky blushed and leaned closer. “Well, yeah.”

Steve smiled in delight, and hugged Bucky close. “I love that.”

Despite being happy to have Bucky with him, Steve found that he was still exhausted. They relocated to the bedroom, and Bucky gingerly laid beside him, trying not to jostle him. Steve pulled him insistently closer. Gently, Bucky closed the distance between them and pressed their lips together.

Bucky’s smile was fond with just a touch of wickedness. “Steve, you look like all the king’s men barely put you back together, but...” He played with the hem of Steve’s shirt. “I’ve got some plans for you once you’re better.”

Steve grinned even as he felt himself slipping off to sleep. “I’m looking forward to hearing those plans,” he said muzzily.

Bucky stroked a hand through his hair, helping him fall asleep. “Tomorrow, Stevie. Sleep well.”