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Life of the Party

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“You’re ridiculous. Are you, or are you not, coming to Aniyah’s birthday party wearing the suit?”

Steve opened his eyes and tilted his head up off the bench of the Quinjet, leathery energy bar crammed in his mouth, half of it sticking out like a foil wrapped duckbill. He chewed pointedly.

“Don’t try that with me; you can’t hide from this conversation behind whey-based food substitutes,” Sam told him. He was sitting back in the bench opposite, boots propped up on Steve’s duffel, as unimpressed as ever. Steve felt a bloom of annoyed affection; after two years in the future feeling lost and alien, it sometimes still struck him how damn lucky he had been to find Sam, who understood him on a level he hadn’t known even in his own time. “The correct answer is yes.”

It sure would be nice to get away with something around him for once, though. Steve tried on his most innocent, patriotic look. “M’mouf’sfull, Sham,” he said around the energy bar. “N’m healin. Shupersherum. Can’talk. Gotta chew firdy-free times.”

“I’ve seen you choke those down like a python unhinging its jaw to eat an entire litter of pigs,” Sam told him. “You’re only chewing because you think I think you have table manners and will leave you alone when your mouth is full.”

Oh well. Instead of answering, Steve opened his mouth wide and stuck out his tongue, then chewed the rest of the bar with his mouth open like a dog.

“You are ridiculous and disgusting, and neither of those are going to save you from my niece,” Sam said, leaning back against his own gear and relaxing as if the argument was already decided and over. “I am going to win her fifth birthday just like I won Christmas, and Steve, I’m not above using Captain America to do it.”

“You can’t win Christmas,” Steve told him piously around another protein bar. This one was chocolate flavored, and tasted about as chocolatey as the previous one had tasted of vanilla. “Christmas is about the spirit of giving and goodwill towards man. It’s about generosity and family.”

“I showed up in full uniform, brought her a set of goggles that let her see through walls, and took her for a ride in Tony Stark’s flying car,” Sam said. “Don’t get all high and mighty, I won the hell out of Christmas.”

Steve had to admit that Sam was probably right.

“I’m not sure how seeing Uncle Sam’s friend Steve in his striped pajamas is going to top that,” Steve argued, mostly on autopilot by that point. He’d pretty much given up already, and was wondering instead if dislocating his own jaw would be worth it if it could help get the awful protein bars down faster. Captain America’s healing caloric intake was demanding enough that he would eat dead rats if it made the gaping hunger ebb a little, but he didn’t particularly enjoy it.

“Do not,” Sam said, pointing at him. “Captain America and The Falcon are going to show up to Aniyah’s party, parkour off the roof, let her throw the shield that actually clocked Red Skull in the face in front of her entire preschool class, and then I’m going to give her a life-size robotic Redwing of her very own. And I am going to win the fifth birthday.”

“The shield is actually pretty heavy,” Steve offered, mouth full of a combo of chocolate cardboard and vanilla cardboard. It was not an improvement on eating them individually. “I don’t think an unenhanced five-year-old could even lift it.”

“So Captain America is going to help her,” Sam told him sternly. “Keep up.”

“I dunno, Sam,” Steve said, biting his lip. One last try. “I just…I’m not just Captain America. It’s uncomfortable when—”

No,” Sam admonished. “Do not go all ‘aw shucks, I wish people saw little Stevie Rogers’ on me. I was not born yesterday, and your defense for eating the last danish just this morning was ‘I’m physically incapable of making selfish choices, Sam, I’m Captain America.’ You are going to this birthday, you are reciting the pledge or whatever does it for preschoolers, and I am beating anything Sarah got for Aniyah out of the water.”

Steve stuffed in another three bars at once, swallowed, and finally laid his last card out on the table. “Every time I go to your sister’s place, she tries to set me up with every woman she’s ever met.”

“Well, yeah,” Sam agreed, unmoved. He waved a hand in Steve’s general direction. “That’ll happen when you show up to dinner looking like a lonely golden retriever who just wants to be loved. People want to fix it for you.”

Steve sighed and slumped back against the bench, defeated.

“Maybe try looking like you can stand your own company at the party,” Sam offered helpfully. “You could practice in the mirror right now. She might only try to set you up with, like, three of the moms there if you get really good at it.”

***

“Maybe also try to look a little bit less like you’re terrified of anyone under four feet tall,” Sam suggested as they got out of the car later. “It’s not very heroic.”

Steve nodded absently and looked around. Sarah lived in the suburbs, where there was lots of space for kids and dogs and gardens, but you paid for it by living in the suburbs. Sam and his sister bickered about it most visits, with Sam arguing for the diversity, art, food, music, etc. in the city, and Sarah pointing out that the last time she lived there with him, there were drunks breaking bottles and singing about piss and vaginas under her window at 2 am.

Steve figured they were both right and tried to stay neutral.

“But I am terrified of anyone under four feet tall,” Steve said after a moment, shifting his gear into a more comfortable position. “Do you think if I hide behind the shield, they won’t notice me?”

“Ha ha. No, and you can’t hide behind sarcasm, either,” Sam told him, slapping Steve on the shoulder and giving him an encouraging squeeze before ringing the bell. “Preschoolers can’t actually hurt you. This is just another reason Sarah wants to find someone to take care of your pathetic ass.”

Steve could clearly hear the joyous shrieks of at least twenty-five separate children in the backyard, along with the crashing thumps of a children’s party in full swing. It was not particularly encouraging.

Sarah opened the door wearing a yellow dress and a smug smile. “I,” she said slowly, definitely, “win.”

“Sarah,” Sam countered, pointing out Steve with his thumb, “I brought Redwing and Captain America. Whatever Target knockoff you’ve got ain’t gonna cut it.”

“You’re too late,” Sarah sang, cocking a hip and grinning. “You’ve been replaced. She has a new favorite superhero now, and it ain’t you.” She leaned in close to Sam. “I. Win,” she repeated.

“New favorite superhero,” Sam repeated. “New favorite superhero? Did Tony come over and pass out free Starkpads?”

Behind her, through the back windows, Steve could make out several children flinging themselves bodily at a wide assortment of wedge-shaped athletic cushions laid out on a tarp in the grass. A man dressed in what looked like a suit made entirely of black leather straps was reacting to each one with total amazement.

“Winter Soldier,” Sarah said smugly. “Superhero themed party talent. He charges by the hour.”

“You know, kids,” Steve heard from the backyard, “one of the most common threats a superhero has to face is inside an active volcano! We’re going to have to work on your evasion skills, so for the next five minutes, the floor is lava!” This was met by a sudden spike in both volume and pitch from the small children as they scrambled onto every raised surface they could find and immediately launched themselves right back off.

“I’ve never seen actual lava in my entire life,” Steve said, vaguely offended.

“You got a superhero impersonator for The Falcon’s niece’s birthday party,” Sam said, incredulous. “The Falcon, who is an actual superhero.”

“Do you make mega balloon laser guns? Do you do the chicken dance on command and call it the Super Boogie?” Sarah asked, still giddy with triumph. Sam pushed past her into the house, which was littered with plastic swords, satin and taffeta capes, and yes, several multicolored laser rifles made out of balloons. “Because I don’t think you do.”

“How much did you pay for a fake superhero when you have a real one right here?” Sam demanded, and Sarah stepped back to let Steve in. He ducked his head at her as he walked past, trying not to step on anything that might break.

“Not half as much as I happily would have,” Sarah said, following them out onto the patio and into the backyard, and the Winter Soldier turned at the sound of the door, smiled, and…

And…

And that’s when Steve stopped paying attention to everything else around him.

Steve was vaguely aware that Sam was still complaining, but Steve didn’t hear—he spent about five straight minutes fixated like a mouth-breathing creeper on the Winter Soldier’s lips instead. Steve wanted to draw them. He wanted to bite them. He wanted to be anywhere but a five-year-old’s birthday party, because there was no appropriate way to deal with this situation here. Not surrounded by children, and definitely not wearing the full Captain America tactical pajamas.

But the man’s face. And his hair. The way he moved. He was beautiful, everything about him was beautiful, and then he looked Steve in the eye and winked.

Steve snapped his jaw shut and hoped no one had noticed.

“Huh,” said Sam, who definitely had.

“Hey!” said The Winter Soldier. “Captain America! I didn’t know you were going to be here!”

It was so casual that for a moment, Steve panicked. Had Steve met him before? Had they worked together on one of those endless parades of hospital visits and charity dinners? They all blurred together, but surely he would have noticed The Winter Soldier. Surely.

“Oh my god,” Sam muttered. “He doesn’t recognize us. He thinks we’re like him. He thinks he was double booked.”

“And he is thrilled,” Sarah assured them. “That man has been running around dialed to eleven with twenty-five preschoolers for the last hour. He’s only got another five minutes on his contract and he’s still going strong, because he is a superhero.”

“For an hour?” Sam asked, turning to glare at her. Steve let out a sigh of relief—he’d been starting to sweat under Sam’s considering stare. “You told me Aniyah’s party was at three!”

“Yeah,” Sarah said, “so I could win her fifth birthday.”

“Hey man,” The Winter Soldier said, bounding up to the deck like a daydream in bondage gear. Steve spent a long time noticing how his costume wasn’t padded at all, and when he finally swung his gaze back upwards, Sam was looking at him knowingly. “They’re going whole hog for this one, huh? I gotta admit, I wore the kids out pretty bad, I didn’t realize you were coming.”

“That’s…fine,” Steve managed. He risked a glance at the kids, and did a double take. “Are they okay?”

“What?” The Soldier turned to look. The children were splayed across the grass, facedown and unmoving, like their strings had all been suddenly cut. Or like someone had gassed the place. “Oh, no, they’re just playing dead fish. First one who moves is out. It’s good for when you need a second to catch your breath.”

“That works?” Sarah asked, amazed. “There’s no way that works.”

“They love it,” The Soldier said. “Who knows kids, right? Anyway, do you want some time to get set up, or do you start right in? What are you leading with, I’ll wind ‘em up for you.”

Steve glanced around. Every adult at the party knew exactly who he was, and exactly what was happening, and was watching with undisguised delight. Some of them were recording.

“Uh,” he said, the color rising to his face. “I don’t…this is my first birthday party. I usually just shake their hands at the hospital and sign autographs.”

“Ah,” The Soldier said, trying to look nonjudgmental and failing abysmally. “Well. That could work, too.”

“I’m a friend of the family,” Steve added desperately, trying not to look like quite such a disappointment. “Sam here asked me as a favor.”

The Soldier looked at him thoughtfully, then at Sam. Sam glared.

“If you pay me for another hour,” The Soldier said after a long, thoughtful pause, “I will save you.”

“Yes, please,” Steve begged.

***

When Bucky got home, Natalia was already curled on the couch with Bucky’s laptop and a cup of hot chocolate. Bucky let his gear fall inside the entryway, shuffled out of his boots and jacket, then leaned back against the door and sighed. “I met my future husband today,” he announced. He dropped his keys into the cup on the table and kicked the hockey bag stuffed full of his costume and props in the direction of the laundry. “He’s a Captain America cosplayer and his name is actually Steve. He is perfect in every way, and I’ve already decided on the tux I’m marrying him in.”

Natalia ignored him, but there was another mug of cocoa on the benchtop, still steaming. Bucky padded over and took a sip.

“I saved his life and gave him my number,” Bucky continued, assuming that if she hadn’t gotten up and walked away mid-sentence, she was probably listening. He started stripping out of the black athletic wear he wore under his suit. “Don’t worry, I was super subtle.”

Natalia’s eyes flicked up at him over his computer.

“So subtle,” Bucky promised.

She stared at him.

“Yeah, okay, I told him to call me if he wanted to book a more private party,” Bucky admitted. “He sort of looked like a stunned deer, so I clarified that the party would be in my pants. So, only kind of subtle, I guess. Nice hair today, by the way,” he added, nodding to Natalia’s big golden curls, bouncy and perfect. He really wished she would tell him where she got her wigs from, but she was still pretending they were real. She didn’t do anything with them that he could tell, other than look stunning and natural in them, but he made his living with costumes. If he ever got her to admit she wore them, maybe he could get his hands on a few.

Natalia rolled her eyes and went back to the computer.

“You should have seen him, though.” Bucky stuffed the athletic gear into the washing machine before heading back to the kitchen in search of food. “He looked just like Captain America in this suit, it had to be custom. I could only tell the difference ‘cause Steve is actually prettier.” Bucky rooted around in the fridge, shoving ancient takeout containers around. “Do we have anything but cheddar in here that won’t make me sick?”

“Pickles,” Natalia offered. Then, “There’s not a lot of people prettier than Captain America.”

“That used to be the tragedy of my life,” Bucky agreed, “but I swear, he really is. Bigger shoulders, too, but the same waist. It was a religious experience. I was having trouble paying attention to anything else. And he’s…” Bucky hesitated and bit his lip to keep the stupid smile from tugging it up. “He’s just…sweet. He was just really sweet. The whole time, Natalia.”

Natalia definitely caught the smile. She looked at him, and there was something fond and pleased in the expression, before she cleared her throat and went back to the laptop. “You know the floor’s not actually lava, right?” she asked, typing away. “You can’t save people from it.”

Bucky stared hard at the cheese and pickles, then shrugged and pulled them both out. “No, dude showed up in costume with fuck all planned, and had to follow me. Apparently, he usually just does charity work at hospitals and doesn’t need anything but the costume.”

Natalia made a ‘yikes’ face.

“Right?” Bucky said, rummaging in the cupboards for the cereal. “Those kids would have eaten him alive.”

Natalia raised one perfectly sculpted eyebrow. “You did the thing where you try to hang as many children off him as you can before he breaks, didn’t you.”

I ran out of places to hang the kids off of,” Bucky agreed, going still with awe at the memory. “He just took the weight like it was nothing. I am going to spend the rest of my life with this man.”

Natalia sighed and looked back at the computer, scrolling through news feeds now.

“I got a shit ton of calls today, too,” Bucky mused, dumping the cheese, pickle slices, and cereal into a bowl and going to town. Natalia looked appalled. “Like ten new appointments, just on the train back from the storage locker. Half of ‘em wanted Cap, though, which, I’m not gonna get into that legal nightmare, no way. But a shit ton nonetheless. Oh, hey, another one,” he said, pulling his phone out of his back pocket and sliding to answer. “Hello, Winter Soldier Party Talent. How can I help you?”

Natalia pretended like she wasn’t listening in, but very clearly was. Bucky still hadn’t worked out how she could hear the other end of all his phone conversations, but he didn’t much mind, since he would usually give her the play-by-play later. Neither of them were getting much from this one, though—the guy on the other end was mostly just shouting.

Bucky frowned. “Sir? Sir. I don’t think you understand. Winter Soldier is a birthday talent company. I’m not actually a real superhero.”

Natalia was watching him openly now, grinning wide.

“Sir, if you’ve been robbed, you really should be calling the police. No, seriously, I’m not a real superhero. I do birthdays for kids,” Bucky said. Natalia returned to her scrolling, then froze, staring at the screen like it had grown arms and flipped her off. “Yes, I know Captain America is a real superhero. No, I can’t send him. I’m hanging up now, sir, you should call 911.”

Natalia continued staring at the computer, her face like stone. She clicked, once.

“Jeez,” Bucky said, staring at his phone. “You’d think people would get it. I haven’t had one of those in a while.”

“James,” Natalia said, voice tight, “You fucking moron.”

Bucky frowned at her. “I’m a moron? This guy thought I was a real superhero. Who hears a name as dumb as ‘The Winter Soldier’ and thinks ‘actual superhero’?”

Natasha held the laptop up and pointed. There was a picture of him next to the perfect cosplayer, obviously shot on cameraphone by one of the parents. The tagline said, “CHILDREN’S PARTY PERSONALITY SCHOOLS CAP ON SUPERHERO KNOWHOW.”

It was in the New York Times.

“Oh,” Bucky said after a while. “Huh. I guess he didn’t have bigger shoulders, then.”

How did you not notice,” Natalia hissed, teeth bared, “that you were coaching Captain America on how to make balloon animals?”

“Oh no,” Bucky said, reality dawning on him. “Oh no. Natalia, I gave Captain America my phone number and told him to book a party in my pants.”

Natalia stared at him in appalled wonder, the way someone might at a baby panda who had fallen down the bamboo stairs for the thirty-third time.

Bucky’s phone rang again. He answered on autopilot, still staring at the article. “Winter Soldier party talent,” he rasped. “We aren’t actually real superheroes, and we aren’t affiliated with Captain America. If this is an emergency, please dial 911.”

“Oh. Um,” came a voice on the other end. “I’m. Usually 911 calls me instead?”

The pickle bowl hit the floor at Bucky’s feet.

“Uh,” Bucky stuttered. “I. Hi.”

“Hi,” answered Captain Fucking America.

“Hi,” said Bucky again, still completely unable to come up with anything else.

“I was—hi?” said Captain America, sounding maybe a little panicked. “Hi.”

“Yes. Hi,” Bucky said, trying to hold on to something he was certain of in this conversation. “Hello.”

Natalia snapped Bucky’s laptop closed, leaned over the back of the couch, and stared straight at him with the most disgusted, incredulous look Bucky had ever seen on her face.

Bucky covered the phone. “I told him we could have a party in my pants,” he hissed, stricken. He had no clue how to continue. “I told the most amazing man in the history of our country to call me for a party in my pants!”

“And now he is CALLING YOU,” Natalia whispered back, gesturing furiously at the phone. “You fucking DONUT.”

“Donuts,” Bucky blurted into the phone as soon as he uncovered it. “I mean. Wait—”

“Yes!” Steve agreed, sounding relieved. “Yes, great. Donuts.”

“What?” Bucky said, finally gaining back enough control of his limbs to put down the orphaned spoon he’d been holding. Natalia gave a pointed look towards the mess of cheesy pickle cereal he left behind him on the hardwood. “No. Yes. Donuts. Absolutely.”

Natalia flopped back down on the couch and covered her face with her hands.

“I know a—I mean, there’s a place near me in Brooklyn with really good donuts,” Captain America said. “I haven’t, I guess I don’t actually know if they’re any good but it looks…nice? It looks nice.”

“I love donuts,” was what Bucky came back with. Natalia picked up one of the cushions she’d knocked off earlier and tried to smother herself with it.

“I love donuts too!” Steve Goddamn Rogers said, chipper with an edge of anxiety.

There was the sound of a short scuffle on the other end of the line. Bucky could vaguely make out someone saying “Let him do it himself,” and someone else saying “Did you hear him?”

There was another rustle, and then, “Steve is trying to ask you on a date,” someone said. It took Bucky a long moment to realize it was probably Iron Man. “And I am trying really hard to let him be a big boy, but you two are physically painful to experience.”

On the couch, Natalia nodded behind her pillow.

“Jarvis is sending you the address of this stupid donut place now,” Iron Man continued. “Wear nice clothes and show up Saturday at two. Got it?”

“Yeah,” Bucky said, “okay.”

The line went dead. Bucky took the phone from his ear and stared at it.

“Congratulations,” Natalia said, voice muffled by the pillow. “You haven’t even gone out with Captain America yet, and all his friends already think you’re a moron.”

“What do you wear,” Bucky managed, “to an accidental donut date?

***

Steve was so lost when it came to this.

He hadn’t known what to do in his own time when you liked someone, and now everything was different; things that had never mattered were important now, and things that had been necessary weren’t anymore, and Steve didn’t even know which was which. The terrifying reality for Steve Rogers was that now every single choice he made had the potential to be the wrong one. Did it matter when you showed up? Were you supposed to be late, on time, early? Or did no one care? Did it matter if you rolled your sleeves up? Did it matter how many buttons you did up on your shirt? Did it matter If you sat first, or they sat first, or where you sat?

And it hadn’t bothered him as much, all the other times someone had convinced him to try the whole date thing. Of course he’d wanted to make a good impression, because who wants to look like the useless mess he always did in any social situation, much less a romantic one? But this was different. He hadn’t wanted it so badly. He hadn’t wanted so completely to not mess this chance up.

Sam gave Steve That Look when he asked him to okay his outfit down to the buttons ahead of time, and That Look had only intensified when Steve had wondered aloud if he should try it on to be sure.

“You know I can’t go with you on this date, right?” Sam said, and Steve briefly, hysterically, pictured the possibility of keeping an earbud in while Sam coached him through it. There was no way Sam would go for it, and while there was every chance Tony would, Steve knew better than to trust even Tony’s most well-meaning romantic advice. “You are a full-grown adult. You don’t need a seeing-eye-date-dog, and even if you did, that is not how I’m going to spend my Saturday.”

“I really do need one, though,” Steve said, only half joking. “Did you see me on the phone? Tony had to make the date for me.”

“Steve,” Sam said sadly, “in the future, if your mom makes the date for you, she gets to pick out your clothes. Go ask Tony what you should wear.”

Steve went pale at the very thought.

“Look,” Sam continued. “You can do this, Steve. You don’t need help. I have only just now realized you were hitting on me at the national mall when we first met—”

“Oh god,” Steve said, burying his face in his hands and dropping into a kitchen chair.

“But in retrospect, you were doing a really good job,” Sam assured him, leaning against the kitchen island and taking a swig of cola from the bottle he’d stolen from Steve’s fridge. “Seriously. Had I been into dudes and not so completely certain of your heterosexuality at the time, we might be having an entirely different conversation about the long, lingering glances you were giving the hired help at my niece’s birthday party.”

“You have successfully stopped me wanting advice from you,” Steve managed.

“Glad to hear it,” Sam said, grinning. “just don’t get kicked out of the donut shop, you’ll be fine.”

Steve frowned. “Can you get kicked out of a donut shop? How do you get kicked out of a donut shop?”

Sam put his hands on Steve’s shoulders. “Please do not find out,” he said. “You can do this, man. You can absolutely do this.”

***

I can’t do this,” Bucky hissed into the phone.

Natalia cussed him out in Russian and hung up.

Bucky stared at his phone, bit his lip, and looked over at the donut shop. Steve had been right; it looked nice. It was actually not a terrible place for a first date. If this had been almost any other situation, Bucky would have been fine.

But this was Captain America. A man actually scientifically engineered to be perfect. The most brilliant tactical mind alive. A superhero so genuinely, completely good that when he dropped three helicarriers into the river and swore that Nazis were on board, everyone actually believed him.

Bucky was going to screw this one up so badly.

On the other hand, he didn’t need to get a head start on screwing it up before he even went in, and a no-show definitely counted. Bucky shook out his shoulders, stretched his neck, and opened the front door of the shop.

The bell above the door jingled cheerfully, and Steve Rogers, sitting at the chic little table right in front of it, stood up immediately. Bucky’s mouth went dry and he stood there, suddenly and viscerally reminded of exactly why he’d given him his number in the first place. Steve had a nervous, sweet smile on his dazzling, chiseled face, and he looked like he wasn’t quite sure what to do—and no wonder, since Bucky was staring at him like a slack-jawed dumbass. Bucky snapped his mouth closed.

“Hey,” Steve said, and his voice was just as deep and charming as Bucky remembered. Bucky swallowed. “Are you okay?”

“I don’t—” Bucky stuttered, caught, and couldn’t think of anything intelligent to say to Captain America, so the truth came tumbling out instead. “You’re just, God, I know you get it all the time, but you’re just really beautiful.”

The truth was immediately followed by churning, horrified embarrassment. What was wrong with him?

Steve blushed a little, then laughed and swung his arm a bit to the side. “Yeah, it’s a miracle of modern science. Even I’m not sure these shoulders are real, sometimes.”

“No,” Bucky said, still in the horrible parallel universe where he spouted every date cliché in the book, “I thought that was it too, at first, but it’s your eyes. You still had them when you were little, right?” Oh god. Oh god. Bucky almost went cross-eyed trying to stare in disgust at his own mouth.

Steve stilled, the blush going away, but it immediately came back full force.

Bucky was such a moron. Natalia was going to eviscerate him when she found out. He clamped his lips shut and pointed at the counter, hoping he could avoid further mortification. Maybe if his mouth was full, it wouldn’t keep running off.

Nope, he realized, as they stood in line. Nope. The stretching silence was weird. It was completely weird.

He groped for something, anything to say, and what came out was, “So what do you do?”

Captain America, the man on half the newspapers on the corner outside, blinked.

“I mean,” Bucky scrambled to cover, “I mean, uh, do you like what you do? I mean.” He looked around desperately for ideas, but instead accidentally met the gazes of three different patrons who were clearly heavily invested in judging him. One had a phone out and was trying to pretend he was reading. “What’s it…like.”

Captain America followed Bucky’s gaze, and his smile flattened when he saw the phone, too. The dude paled a little and slowly put it away. “Well,” Steve Rogers said after a moment. “It has its downsides.” He shook himself and looked at Bucky again. “But it’s…good. I value the opportunity to serve the American people and protect freedom around the world.” Then he shut his eyes and dipped his head a little, rubbing his temples.

The silence stretched again, but no fucking way was Bucky going to just drop anything to fill it after he bombed so hard the last time. He was still working on a response, having discarded So you like freedom, then, and Have you tried these donuts before oh wait you already said you haven’t, and Did you fall from Heaven nevermind no it was a helicarrier, when Steve blurted, “Do you like…being a fake superhero?”

Bucky paused, derailed, and looked carefully at Steve Rogers.

Steve immediately backpedaled. “I mean, I didn’t mean that, I—that came out wrong.”

“Did it,” Bucky asked, frowning. Steve was going red-faced again. Bucky hadn’t noticed it before, because he had been out of his mind with terrified adoration, but Steve had a full-face sheen of sweat and was tapping things a lot.

“I meant—I mean you—” Steve said desperately, and he was looking around now, too. “You. You call yourself a superhero themed actor? I mean. You are a superhero themed actor. I didn’t mean…I’m sorry.”

“Huh,” Bucky said, because Captain Fucking America was just as brainlessly terrified as Bucky was.

***

Steve was vibrating out of his own skin.

He was crashing, completely and horribly, and now Bucky was frowning at him. Steve hadn’t seen him frown once during the entire birthday party, but Steve was a special, talented mermaid and he had managed to piss off what was probably the most patient, easygoing guy in New York. A kid had peed their pants in his lap and Bucky hadn’t frowned. Ten minutes in a romantic context and Steve had managed to turn it all around.

He had been trying so hard.

“Huh,” Bucky had said.

This was the moment, then. This was the moment when the other person realized that being Captain America meant Steve could punch people really hard and really well, but basic date interactions were beyond him. When they recognized Steve Rogers didn’t actually get changed in that metal coffin, and the outside wasn’t really enough.

When they lost interest.

Steve braced himself.

“Which one are you going to get?” Bucky asked, smiling at the donut case and apparently oblivious to Steve’s private, terror-ridden freakout. Steve swallowed the lump in his throat and tried to say something, because Bucky was gorgeous; leaned over in those tight jeans everyone was wearing now, hands in his jacket pockets pulling the fabric tight around his shoulders. Bucky had a form that he clearly had to work for, unlike Steve.

Nothing came out when he opened his mouth, so Steve closed it again.

“What am I talking about,” Bucky laughed, turning to look at him. His smile had brightened to a full grin, and it made Steve breathless to look at it. “You’re going to order the whole case, aren’t you? I eat like a horse, but you’re about twice as big as me. We’re going to force them to close early.”

“Plus the serum,” Steve admitted, feeling gargantuan and ridiculous. “I run really warm and I’m constantly rebuilding. I eat like an Olympic swimmer.”

“That is fantastic,” Bucky said, turning back to the display case. “We are going to order every donut here, and I am going to be able to try all of them, without worrying about leaving half of them to go stale and half-finished. This is the best donut trip of my life already.”

Something uncoiled, just slightly, in Steve’s stomach, but tightened immediately when Bucky’s phone rang. That would be the escape call, the excuse to leave on an emergency Bucky didn’t realize Steve could hear the other side of.

Bucky did take the phone out, but he just frowned at it and silenced the ringer.

Steve uncoiled more.

They ordered, and Bucky hadn’t been kidding—he asked for one of every donut they had ready. They sat down with a mountain of donuts and related pastries, and Steve hadn’t eaten lunch from nerves.

“Hey!” Bucky protested, and Steve looked up, frozen, caught out taking in a Mango Tang-O (whatever Tang was) in three quick bites. Mouth completely full, Steve tried to figure out what to do. “I didn’t get to try that one yet!” Bucky complained, pointing at him. “You can’t eat the whole thing!”

“Oh, we’re—” Steve said around the donut, and actually spit out crumbs like an animal. He was going to jump out of the jet headfirst without the parachute next time. He swallowed. “We’re sharing? We’re sharing. Right. So you can try—I’m sorry, I didn’t even—”

Bucky looked him dead in the eye, picked up the one covered in multicolored sprinkles, and somehow stuffed the entire thing into his mouth. Steve stared, mesmerized. Bucky’s cheeks stuck out like one of his balloon animals, and there was a fraught moment when he clearly realized his mouth was too full for him to chew with it closed. He worked his throat, then gave up and chewed it with his mouth open, glaring in clear challenge the entire time.

Steve was immediately, completely, irreversibly in love.

He reached for another donut.

***

As it turns out, you can get tossed out of a donut joint if enough people are videotaping and screaming while you and your date holler “I AM THE DONUT KING” at each other with the combined weight of two dozen destroyed pastries at your feet.

***

Bucky was definitely going to marry Steve Rogers.

He pressed up tight to Steve’s back, hands tucked around and inside Steve’s leather jacket, and tried to ignore the trickle of blood on his upper lip—he wasn’t getting anywhere near it with the motorcycle helmet on. He hoped he didn’t bleed on Steve’s helmet, or if he did, he hoped Steve would be understanding. Since he also had what felt like a scalp wound from a broken bottle on the back of his head, too, it was probably too late to worry.

Steve was probably used to blood on all his stuff, though, if the night so far was any indication of how he usually spent his time.

Bucky’s split lip broke open again on his grin.

After the donut shop, they’d meandered around like the overstuffed cattle they were, laid themselves out in the sun to digest at the park for a while, and then Bucky’d had the idea to duck into the local brew pub for a beer. They hadn’t been there for very long before Steve decided to tell the local skinheads exactly what he thought of them, someone laid a punch, Steve toppled a table and Bucky started knocking faces into the countertops.

He’d been vaguely surprised to be kicked out of the donut shop, but he had to give it to the brewery: when Captain America starts swinging bar stools like a pro, it’s definitely time to move everything permanently outside. They’d nearly gotten their asses bruised with the closing door, and Bucky wasn’t even mad.

Steve pulled his motorcycle up to a red light, and when he turned his head to ask “You sleepy yet?” Bucky thought he was going to die right there. The streetlights made a halo of Steve’s windblown hair, his black eye was already turning green, and that bright, breathtaking grin was everything Bucky wanted to wake up to for the rest of his life.

“Why,” Bucky shouted through the helmet, knowing Steve would be able to hear him. “You thinking of taking a nana nap? Kids these days too busy for you?”

Steve tipped his head back to laugh, and Bucky didn’t even try to hide what it did to him. He was pretty sure Steve had noticed on the ride already—there wasn’t a lot you could do about biology when you were shoved up tight against the man of your dreams, his ass vibrating in your crotch with the roar of the engine. Steve’s breathing was definitely faster now than when he’d asked if Bucky wanted to go for a ride, so Bucky figured he didn’t much mind.

“Want to try something fun?” Steve asked, revving the motor.

Jesus Christ, did he.

***

They’d barely made it out from Steve’s insane slide under the semi, laughing like idiots and high on adrenaline, when Bucky heard the police sirens.