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A Kiss With A Fist

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At five am on the dot, Steve's alarm goes off.

Steve is already awake, staring blearily up at the ceiling above as his brain comes back online little by little. He takes in a deep breath through his nose, his chest rising where it's covered by the duvet on his bed, and he rubs at his eyes to pick the gunk out of the corners.

The alarm keeps ringing, vibrating on his bedside table. He groans at it in response and stretches an arm out to turn it off. In the blessed quiet, he sits up and stretches his arms above his head until his shoulders make a satisfying pop.

The sun is barely up, his room dark aside from the bit of the rising sun beaming in from the window where the curtains haven't been pulled shut all the way. Outside, the world is quiet which is a rarity and a blessing all in one since they live in the middle of town, and Steve takes a second to just sit there while the rest of him joins him in consciousness.

He doesn't sit there for long, doesn't let himself fall back asleep. He is used to waking up at the crack of dawn pretty much every day so his body is more than ready to get up and get started after only a minute. Which is exactly what he does, when his eyes start to close again.

He gets out of bed and walks over to the closet while he runs a hand through his sleep tousled hair, smoothing it down in the back. There isn't a lot in the closet; his style has always been simple, some would even say boring, but he prefers comfort over style for most things.

He grabs a plain tee shirt and a pair of black joggers, both of which he gets into after carelessly tossing his sleep clothes onto his unmade bed, then he grabs his running shoes, his phone and earbuds, and leaves his bedroom fully awake and with a bounce in his step.

The apartment is quiet, outside his bedroom. The door to the other bedroom is shut which means Bucky actually went to bed last night. He had still been up when Steve had gone to sleep, nose buried in his books and pencil chewed to bits between his teeth.

Bucky stays up later than Steve does, most days, and always sleeps in later than him, regardless of when he goes to bed.

Back when Bucky was still a freshman, Steve would often find him hunched over the table with his head rested on either the keyboard of his laptop or a stack of text books in the morning, sound asleep and snoring softly. He would have to carry him like a child to bed because Bucky is a heavy sleeper and no help what so ever.

It doesn't happen as often anymore, though.

Sometimes, only sometimes, Steve misses that.

But Bucky's neck is better off without it.

Steve walks through the apartment on quiet feet. He stops by the bathroom to take a piss and the kitchen to down a glass of water and eat an energy bar, before he walks to the door and steps into his shoes while he untangles the earbuds' wire. He sticks the end into his phone, plops the buds into his ears as he hits play on his running playlist, and walks out the door.

It shuts behind him, locking with a soft click, and then he's off.

The streets are starting to wake up when he starts his run; some are going home while others are going to work or walking their dogs and/or strollers. Steve dodges them on the sidewalk, focuses on keeping his breathing even and on his feet on the pavement beneath him.

He runs and runs and runs for a near hour before he slows down into a jog when he starts to near his destination; the gym.

The gym is located on Grand Street. It's not a particularly big one; when you walk in through the door, there are walls full of posters and announcements and a desk facing the door and windows where the owner, an older guy named Logan, usually sits with his nose buried in the day's paper. Near the desk is a set of stairs leading down into the basement, aka the training spot.

It's small, not very big, but it's a good place.

Steve heads inside, panting and sweating. He nods a silent hello at Logan who nods back with a crooked smile, then Steve walks down the stairs and grimaces as he eyes the clock hung up on the opposite wall. He grimaces because it tells him that he's—

“You're late.”

Yeah. That.

Steve pulls the buds out of his ears and turns toward the voice with a guilty grimace. Melinda is looking at him from where she's leaning against one of the pillars in the basement, her arms crossed and her face holding an expression that is somewhere between unimpressed and displeased.

Knowing her, it's both at once.

Melinda is both his trainer and his coach. She's shorter than him by maybe seven or eight inches but that has never been a problem for either of them. She used to box professionally but quit years ago to become a trainer instead. Steve constantly counts himself lucky for having her train him.

Steve smiles at her, curling the earbuds up in his hand and stuffing them into his pocket. The smile grows a little wider when Melinda only narrows her eyes at him in return, her lips going into a tight, thin line.

“I'm sorry,” Steve says and steps toward her. “It's only by two minutes, though.”

“Still late,” Melinda says, her brows raising. “Better wrap those hands fast, Rogers.”

Steve gives her a sloppy salute, just to see her give a reluctant smile and roll her eyes. He walks over to the benches that are set up along one of the walls and smiles when he sees Matt sitting there, unwrapping his hands.

Matt has been going to the gym for longer than Steve has. He is always there, done for the day when Steve arrives. He's not a competitive boxer, Logan once told him when Steve asked. He only comes by to relieve stress and prefers to do it when no one else is there.

He's a quiet guy, this Matt, but Steve has managed to have several conversations with him. He's a good man and a good fighter, based on the couple of times they've sparred in the ring on the rare occasions that Matt stays a little longer than usual.

The first time they sparred, Matt kicked his ass and Steve learned his lesson; don't hold back on your opponent just because they're blind because they will pin you to the floor and hold it over your head for years after.

“Morning, Matt,” Steve greets him and grabs his own wrist wraps.

“Morning, Steve,” Matt says and turns to him, a smile on his lips. “Are you on time today?”

Steve huffs and sits down next to him. “If I say yes, are you gonna believe me?” he asks.

“No,” Matt says. “I know what time it is and I know when you're supposed to show up.”

Steve gives him a narrow eyed look.

Matt smiles. “Are you making a face at me?”

“Yes,” Steve says. “You're a smartass, Matt.”

Matt shrugs, then he stands and shoulders his bag, wrist wraps in hand. The smile doesn't leave his face, only grows into a grin before he turns his back to Steve and starts heading toward the stairs leading up and out.

“Good luck,” he calls over his shoulder. “You're gonna need it.”

When his hands and wrists are properly wrapped, Steve gets up and walks over to Melinda. She tells him to start with jump ropes and to keep jumping until she tells him to stop, so Steve does and pushes through when his arms and shins start to hurt.

It's tough but he manages.

They train for almost two hours before Melinda sends him off to the side to cool off. By then, Steve's shirt is sticking uncomfortably to his skin and his face is flushed, his body sore. But he feels good, even when he struggles to get back up after catching his breath and downing a whole bottle of water.

He takes the subway home. He's starving by the time he steps back into the apartment, his stomach making impatient, growling noises that, fortunately, were somewhat quiet during the trip home, so he decides to postpone his shower and heads for the kitchen instead.

There, a plate with tinfoil laid over it and a sticky note saying Eat up, punk! waits for him. It's times like these that Steve really, really appreciates having Bucky as a roommate and best friend because that man...

That man is something else, something special.

Steve sits down with the plate in front of him and a smile on his lips. He shovels a forkful into his mouth as he types out a message to Bucky and hits send when he swallows the food in his mouth.

‹ To Bork, 10:08: Thanks for the breakfast, jerk!

The only reply he gets is a string of winky face emojis. Steve finishes his breakfast with a smile on his lips and a content feeling settling in his chest as his stomach fills.

It's a good morning, all in all.

 

◆ ◆ ◆

 

Steve hasn't always wanted to box.

When he was younger, he wanted to become an artist. It was what he loved doing; creating and turning something plane and boring into something beautiful. Granted, he was a kid and didn't fully know how to draw yet but it was his version of beautiful which meant colors and colors and a big mess.

But then he hit puberty and things took a turn in the wrong direction. His body started changing in ways he didn't want it to and the bullies had new ammunition and a new thing to target about him.

It made him angry, all of it. He didn't mean to but he ended up in fight after fight after fight after—

His mother was the one who showed him boxing, after the tenth time he came home defeated and with something new to patch up. She took him to a gym half an hour from their apartment and had to nearly drag him into the class for the first lesson because he didn't want to go.

In his defense, he didn't belong in that class and she knew it. But it was all she could find and afford.

It wasn't so bad, as it turned out. After that first class, he fell in love with boxing. He fell in love with how good it felt to get his anger and frustrations out in a way that didn't hurt anyone. He hated being in a class where he didn't belong but he fell in love with the sport.

He fell in love.

Both with boxing and...

Peggy.

Peggy was a girl in his class. She had an English accent, although slightly faded over the years of living in America, and when she smiled, Steve counted himself lucky for his heart getting fixed when he was a toddler.

Peggy was his first kiss and his first girlfriend, his first relationship. For the months they were together, Steve was convinced that she was his dream girl. And maybe she was, maybe she could have been in another reality. But it didn't last.

Their relationship was brief and faded out into a friendship.

Peggy stopped taking boxing classes, stopped being interested in the sport. They still talk, occasionally. Peggy has a girlfriend now, an aspiring actress named Angie. Sometimes, Steve still sees her at his fights. Angie too.

They talk and laugh, like friends do.

Steve still considers her his dream girl.

His heart just happens to disagree, sees her only in a platonic light.

Not long after the break up, Steve managed to get himself into the right class for him and he started taking boxing more seriously. At first, it was nothing but a hobby; a way to get his frustrations with the world and with his body out.

His plans of becoming an artist were still in motion, he still planned on pursuing that dream.

But then his mother died and Steve stopped making art altogether. He threw himself into the world of boxing, maybe lost himself in it a little too. Before he knew it, boxing was all he wanted to do. So he kept at it, kept fighting and fighting and fighting even when people told him that the boxing world would never accept a man like him.

Steve has always been stubborn.

He became aware of the challenges that comes with being a transgender boxer very early on but he didn't let that stop him— doesn't let that stop him. He never intended for it to become his dream but now that's all he wants; to make it big and show all the naysayers that a man like him can make it.

(“Why do you box?” an interviewer had asked him once, after his first amateur fight.

“People tell me I can't,” Steve had answered, “so I wanna prove them wrong.”)

Through all of it, Bucky has been by his side.

When Steve was five, he met Bucky Barnes.

Back then, Steve wasn't Steve but that didn't matter. They were five and neither of them cared. All that mattered was that they got along and they did, a little too well at times. Bucky attached himself to Steve after their first interaction and Steve let him, happily welcomed him into his life.

They've been inseparable ever since.

Bucky has been with him through a lot; all the bullying, figuring himself out, coming out, coming out again, his first relationship, then his first break up, his mother's death, being homeless and offering him a place to crash for a few months while he found his footing, high school, getting hormones, recovering from surgery, you name it.

Bucky has always been there, a solid rock in a life that tends to crumble under Steve's feet.

Steve has been with Bucky through a lot too, like when Bucky and his family were in a nasty car accident that resulted in George Barnes passing away and Bucky losing his arm. He wears a prosthetic these days, one that he wants to replace with a more functioning one when he makes one.

Bucky was... different after the crash, understandably so. He shut himself away, didn't let anyone in for a long time. Bucky was still there, underneath all the trauma. It just took a while for him to find himself again, which he did through therapy and time.

Steve was there with him through it, just like he was there when Bucky came out as gay to his mom and sisters six months after the accident.

Steve and Bucky; they've been through a lot together. It has always been them against the world, side by side. There is no Steve without Bucky, so when Bucky went to college in pursue of his engineering degree and Steve started to get stubbornly serious about boxing, it made sense to move in together.

Their apartment isn't big; two bedrooms with just enough room for a bed and a desk, a kitchen and living room area spliced together, a bathroom, a closet, that's it. But it's cheap and they can afford it with the money Bucky makes from his part time job and what Steve makes from his matches.

They've lived together for almost four years, now.

There have been ups and downs, as expected, like the one or two— or five or six times Bucky has brought home a guy who then stayed for breakfast only to never be seen again because it “didn't work out” even if the guy was nice enough.

“Not the right one,” Bucky would always say, with this crooked smile that never reached his eyes.

Steve never asked about it, figured it wasn't his place.

He's wanted to, though. What's the right guy like? he's wanted to ask.

But he doesn't, isn't sure he wants to know.

He tries not to over-analyze that.

Steve himself, well.

Steve doesn't date, not anymore. There were a few people, both guys and girls, after Peggy but he doesn't really see the point of it nor does he care much for it. He focuses on the boxing instead because it's easier like that, easier not to think about his non-existing love life.

Besides, he has Bucky. What more could he need?

 

◆ ◆ ◆

 

“Pick up the pace, Rogers!”

Steve blows out a sharp breath. His arms hurt and his biceps are screaming but he doesn't let that stop him or slow him down. He pushes through it, gritting his teeth and bouncing a little in place as he listens to his trainer and starts moving his arms faster, fists hitting the speed bag one after the other.

The bag swings faster back and forth, slamming against the front then the back. It's loud in his ears, the smack, smack, smack, but so is Melinda's stern yet encouraging words coming from somewhere behind him.

Everything else is nothing but background noise to him, drowned out.

“Good!” Melinda praises behind him, clapping her hands together. “Two more minutes, come on!”

Steve groans, blowing out another sharp breath. His shirt is sticking uncomfortably to his torso, the sweat turning the light gray darker. His hair is sticking to his sweaty forehead and his face is flushed red. He's disgusting, feels disgusting, and his body is tired but he doesn't listen to it.

He ignores it and pushes through, bouncing in place.

He can do this.

And he does.

“Time!” Melinda calls with a pat on his shoulder.

With a deep groan, Steve takes a step back and lets his arms drop along his sides. He bends over ever so slightly and closes his eyes as he breathes hard, arms dangling in front of him. It takes him a minute to collect himself, then he stands back up straight and takes the water bottle that Melinda holds out for him.

His arms are on fire but his throat is like sandpaper, so he downs half the bottle.

“Thanks,” he says after and runs a hand through his hair, pushing it off his sweaty face.

“You did good,” Melinda tells him. “Keep that up and you might win the next fight.”

“I didn't lose the last one,” Steve says.

“I know,” Melinda says. “Doesn't mean you won't lose this one.”

Steve huffs and says, “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

“I'm doing my job,” Melinda says with a smile. “That includes making sure you don't get cocky.”

Steve rolls his eyes and gives his head a little shake, a smile on his lips. He raises the water bottle to his lips to take another swig but he pauses when he sees someone familiar out of the corner of his eye.

Bucky.

He's standing near the stairs leading up, hair a little messy like it always is after a school day and heavy bag slung over his shoulders. He's talking to Sam, an easy smile on his lips and right hand buried in the pocket of his jacket while the prosthetic hangs by his left side.

Sam is one of Steve's friends. Bucky's too, although not as much. He visits the gym once or twice a week, sometimes more if he has time for it. Sometimes he and Steve will spar in the ring, sometimes one of the available trainers will guide him through a few moves on a bag.

He's easing himself into boxing, he says, even though Steve has tried to throw him in head first since they met.

They met during one of Steve's early morning runs almost a year ago now. Steve used to pass him quietly until one morning where he ran by a little closer than usual and said On your left, kept doing it until Sam had enough and tackled him a few mornings after before he could even get the words out.

They've been friends ever since. Good friends, possibly even best friends.

Sam and Bucky get along fine, too. They didn't at first because Bucky was uncharacteristically standoffish toward Sam, as if Sam had somehow personally offended him in the ten seconds they'd been in the same room.

Steve still doesn't know why he acted like that but he's stopped asking. Sam and Bucky got over the rough bump of a start and can be in the same room without being at each other's throat now. Now, it's actually quite nice and their ribbing has turned into friendly teasing and bickering.

Steve can't hear what they're talking about, not from across the gym, but he can see Sam bodily rolling his eyes and Bucky's smile turning into a shit-eating grin, so he can only assume that Bucky said something stupid.

It makes him smile, small and private.

“May,” he says without taking his eyes off of them. “Can I take five?”

Melinda is standing right at the edge of his field of vision. He can see her look at him for a moment before she follows his gaze over to Bucky and Sam. Not that he pays much attention to her, not when Bucky is brushing a lock of hair behind his ear.

He looks good. Tired but good.

Melinda lets out a quiet huff, something near a chuckle, and steps back. She pats his shoulder as she passes, giving it a squeeze after the second one.

“Take ten,” she says. “But keep it PG.”

It takes a second for the words to really register and when they do, Steve frowns and turns to her.

“What's that supposed to mean?” he calls after her.

Melinda smiles at him over her shoulder and says nothing.

Steve scoffs, then he shakes his head and walks over to his friends.

Sam spots him first. His eyes shift from Bucky to him and he smiles, nodding his hello. Bucky turns only a second after, eyes landing on Steve and his lips stretching into a smile that makes the corners of his eyes crinkle ever so slightly.

Steve smiles wider, heart racing in his chest.

“Hey,” he says as he nears and instinctively spreads his arms out for a hug.

“Absolutely not,” Bucky says, holding up his hand to stop him. “I'm not hugging you when you're literally drenched in sweat.”

Steve drops his arms with a displeased pout.

Sam snorts next to him. He mumbles something under his breath that Steve doesn't catch, then he walks over to Steve and clasps a hand on his shoulder. He squeezes once and then lets go again as he continues walking.

“See you in the ring?” he asks as he passes, although it sounds more like a statement.

“If you can handle losing!” Steve calls after him.

Sam flips him off over his shoulder.

With a smile, Steve steps closer to Bucky. “How's your day been?” he asks.

“Bad,” Bucky says with a sigh. “My math professor thought it'd be a good idea to dump another assignment on us, so I know what I'm doing this weekend. Here's a hint; it involves a lot of numbers and no sleep.”

Steve frowns. “Didn't you just hand one in?”

Bucky smiles without humor. “Yep.”

“Okay, so I'm guessing dinner duties are on me this weekend.”

“You're always on dinner duty during weekends. You just suck and make me do it anyway.”

“Well,” Steve says and dips his chin. “You're so much better at it.”

“Flattery will get you nowhere,” Bucky says flatly.

Steve looks at him through his lashes and smiles toothily.

Bucky narrows his eyes back at him.

Steve smiles wider.

Bucky rolls his eyes and says, “You're not getting out of it by playing cute.”

“Fine,” Steve says and straightens. “I'll get us delicious orders from Roberta's.”

“Or you could actually cook for once.”

“My food doesn't taste good, though.”

“Your food tastes fine, Steve.”

“Fine isn't good.”

Bucky gives him a look and asks, “Why do you always have to argue with me about this?”

“Because I hate cooking,” Steve says with a shrug. “You know this.”

“I know,” Bucky says. “I hate that about you.”

“Aw, thanks,” Steve says and punches Bucky's right shoulder lightly, playfully.

Bucky rolls his eyes, a smile on his lips. “Just— Make sure there's food this weekend,” he says.

“I will,” Steve promises. “I'm not gonna let you forget to eat, don't worry.”

Bucky smiles at him, soft and easy. There's a light, pink-ish color dusting over his cheekbones, Steve notices now that he's closer and gives himself a second to actually look. A smudge of oil or dirt on his left cheek too, which makes Steve bite the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling too hard.

He decides not to mention it.

“Anyway,” Bucky says. “I was gonna stop by the store after my shift at work. You need anything?”

“Orange juice,” Steve says. “Drank the last this morning.”

Bucky stares at him, then he asks, “Did you put the empty carton back in the fridge?”

Steve scoffs and says, “No, I would never.”

Bucky raises his brows pointedly.

“It was one time,” Steve says with a roll of his eyes.

“It was not one time,” Bucky says.

“Yes, it was.”

“No, it wasn't.”

“Okay, so maybe it was twice,” Steve admits. “But I did throw it out this time.”

“Good,” Bucky says and smiles. “I'll get you some more juice.”

“Thanks,” Steve says. “I'll be home for dinner.”

“Jeez,” Bucky says as he takes a step back, laughter in his voice. “You make it sound like I'm your fucking housewife.”

Steve smiles and says, “You'd look pretty in an apron.”

Bucky flips him off with a humorless smile, then he turns and heads up the stairs while muttering something that can only be a number of insults and profanities.

Steve chuckles and stays rooted in place, watching his best friend until he disappears to the floor above. Even then, he stays still for a couple seconds longer, a smile on his lips and a sense of calmness settling in his chest.

Bucky always makes him feel like that; so at ease.

Steve takes in a breath before he turns and walks over toward the ring in the center of the gym where Sam is standing with his arms resting on the ropes and Melinda is leaning against one of the corner pillars, a pair of gloves in her hands.

Both of them are looking at him— watching him; Sam grinning toothily and Melinda with a small, knowing smile on her lips.

Knowing, but Steve doesn't know of what.

Whatever it is, he guesses it's nothing good.

“What?” he asks as he walks up to them, eyes narrowed suspiciously.

“Nothing,” Sam says. “You guys are just really cute.”

Melinda's smile widens ever so slightly but she's quick to hide it.

Steve looks from Sam to her and back again. “Uh,” he says. “Thank you?”

Sam raises his brows, gives him a pointed look.

It does nothing but confuse Steve more so he returns it with a questioning look.

Sam stares at him for another moment, then he sighs and looks to Melinda who is shaking her head in an almost disappointed way. The two of them look at each other and share a look of near exasperation.

Steve furrows his brows, crosses his arms. “What's that look for?” he asks.

“Nothing,” Sam says. “Come spar with me, Steve.”

Steve eyes the two for a moment longer, then he scoffs and takes the gloves from Melinda when she holds them out for him. He joins Sam in the ring as he puts the gloves on, his eyes still narrowed and now glued to Sam.

“If I win,” he says, “I wanna know what that look was about.”

Sam chuckles and says, “Alright, man. It's a deal.”

 

◆ ◆ ◆

 

Steve does win but only barely.

Sam is getting better.

 

◆ ◆ ◆

 

“You gonna tell me what that look was about or not?”

“I was hoping you'd finally realize the thing you've been avoiding for as long as I've known you.”

Steve blinks at him, stands still while Sam heads up the stairs.

Then he throws his arms out and calls after him, “That didn't help at all!”

Sam's laughter echoes in the stairwell.

 

◆ ◆ ◆

 

Steve thinks about it the whole way home, not that it helps any. But the second he opens the door to the apartment and steps inside, he forgets all about it because he's welcomed by a smell coming from the kitchen, a smell that makes his stomach rumble and mouth water.

He closes the door behind him and it locks with a soft click, then he toes out of his shoes and walks further into the place. As he goes, he pulls the earbuds out of his ears and eases his gym bag off his shoulder, dumping it unceremoniously at the end of the foyer.

He smiles when he reaches the kitchen.

Bucky is there, standing in front of the stove with his prosthetic arm off and his other busy with a spatula in hand, stirring whatever food he's cooking. He turns when Steve walks in and shoots him a smile, one that Steve returns with ease.

“Smells good,” Steve says and steps closer. “What 're we having?”

“Chicken,” Bucky says, then points at him with the spatula. “Do not take one more step in here, Steve.”

Steve stops mid-step.

“You reek,” Bucky says. “Go take a shower.”

Steve rolls his eyes but doesn't argue because even he knows that he stinks. His shower is quick but thorough. When he steps out of the bathroom dressed in sweatpants and a loose tee shirt, his hair damp and pushed back, the table has already been set and Bucky is placing a pitcher of water in the center of it.

Steve's stomach makes a loud noise at the sight. He doesn't hesitate to sit down but he waits until Bucky tells him eat up before he starts to dig in. His empty stomach appreciates the food and the rest of him appreciates the fact that he's sitting down.

They eat in silence. Steve finishes his portion first and leans back in his seat after, stomach full and glass of water in hand. He looks over at Bucky's who's taking his time finishing his own portion like always; he's always been a bit of a slow eater.

Bucky looks up from his plate, mouth full and brows raised questioningly.

Steve takes in a breath and sets his glass back down.

“I have a fight next Sunday,” he says, has been meaning to for a while.

“Who are you fighting this time?” Bucky asks around his mouthful.

“Rumlow.”

Bucky pauses mid-chew to make a face and to groan.

“I know,” Steve says. “I'm not happy about it either.”

“Liar,” Bucky says. “You get to punch him and we both know you love that.”

Steve pauses, then he shrugs and says, “Okay, maybe I'm a little excited about it.”

“That's more like it,” Bucky says, smiling. “He ain't gonna know what hit him.”

“Oh, I want him to know,” Steve says. “He's gonna lose and I hope he never forgets.”

“Didn't Melinda tell you not to get cocky? Several times?”

Steve lifts a shoulder and says, “I'm not gonna let him win.”

“I know,” Bucky says. “You're too stubborn for that.”

“Exactly,” Steve says, then he pauses for a second. “You're gonna be there, right?”

“Can't,” Bucky says. “I've got some lab work to do the next couple weekends.”

“Oh,” Steve says quietly, smile falling from his lips.

He's disappointed, although he's not entirely sure why. Bucky wasn't at his last fight either because he's busy and probably will be busy most weekends until he graduates with his degree. And sometimes— sometimes he doesn't want to come.

Steve gets it. But he misses him, misses having him there.

Bucky used to come to all his fights, always happy to. He used to be his biggest supporter and loudest fan in the crowd watching, cheering and yelling louder than everyone else with that big, proud smile of his even when the crowd was no more than a handful of people.

He still supports him, of course he does. He wouldn't be Bucky if he didn't love and support his friends. He's still the biggest Steve Rogers fan there is (“I created your fan club when I was five,” he'd said once) but...

But.

Bucky hasn't come to a fight in months. And Steve misses him.

They spend a lot of time together outside of their busy lives and sure, Steve has other supporters and friends in his corner, like Sam and Clint and Natasha and Sharon. But it's not the same. Not without Bucky.

He misses seeing him in his corner.

“Steve.”

Steve lifts his gaze and looks across the table. Bucky is looking back at him, his brows raised and a small smile sitting crookedly on his lips. He's leaned forward in his seat a little, hand flat on the table.

“I was at your first many fights,” he says. “I came until you stopped losing.”

“I still lose,” Steve says. It's not a lie.

“Not when I'm there,” Bucky says.

“Must mean you're my lucky charm,” Steve says. “Now you gotta be here.”

Bucky gives him a look. “Have you ever won when I'm not there?”

Steve stares at him. “Yes,” he says after a pause.

“There you go, then,” Bucky says. “Nice try, pal, but me being your occasional lucky charm won't magically make all my work disappear.”

Steve sighs and slumps down in his seat.

“Stop pouting,” Bucky says and kicks him under the table. “I'd be there if I could, you know that.”

“I know,” Steve says. “I just— I miss having you in my corner.”

Bucky gets this soft look on his face. He smiles and says, “I'm always in your corner.”

Steve looks at him quietly for a long moment, then he returns the smile.

“I know.”

 

◆ ◆ ◆

 

The Sunday arrives fast, almost too fast.

But Steve feels ready even days before; excited and nervous but ready.

He stands in his corner of the ring, forearms resting on the ropes and face toward the crowd gathering around to watch. There aren't a whole lot, never are at these amateur turned semi-pro fights where the competitors are practically nobodies waiting for their time in the professional league.

It's still a sizable difference from when he did amateur fights.

The crowd doesn't bother him, though. The stares and the murmurs make him a little nervous, of course, but that's only leading up to the fight. Once the bell sounds and he's facing his opponent, he barely even registers the crowd around them.

Then, it's only him and whoever he's fighting.

Steve takes his eyes off the crowd and looks in front of him when Melinda hands him his gloves. He puts them on.

“Remember,” she says. “He's a swarmer, he's fast and will get in your face. Let him punch first—”

“Wear him out,” Steve finishes for her, nodding. “Let him get sloppy. I know.”

“Good,” Melinda says and shoves his helmet onto him. “Don't get impatient.”

Steve smiles and says, “I won't.”

“Better not or he'll win.”

“He won't.”

“Make sure he doesn't.”

“I will.”

Melinda pats the side of his helmet, harder than she needs to. He flinches but smiles when she does and opens his mouth when she holds out the mouth guard. The taste of rubber is bitter in his mouth but he bites down and keeps it in place anyway.

Melinda steps aside when Sam hops up onto the side of the ring a second later. He grabs the top rope with one hand and reaches toward Steve with the other, beckoning him closer with a gap-toothed smile on his face.

Steve doesn't hesitate to step over to him, leaning into the half hug.

Sam squeezes him once, then he pulls back and pats his shoulder.

“You got this, man,” he says, confident.

Steve smiles— or, well, he tries to but the mouth guard prevents it from properly forming on his lips. He figures the rest of his face shows it well enough though because Sam lets out a huff that sounds amused before he hops back down and walks over to Natasha and Clint.

Natasha and Clint are both friends of Steve. They are good friends and avid supporters even though they have only known each other for a little over a year, Natasha for a couple months longer.

Steve met Natasha when she came into the gym with her girlfriend, a woman named Sharon who was interested in trying out boxing. Sharon is nice, she still occasionally comes by the gym to train but only as a hobby and to better her ability to defend herself.

She's good, though. Steve thinks she could be great.

Melinda has said the same, multiple times.

But Sharon doesn't want to go pro.

“I don't go looking for fights,” she'd told him once. “Not outside my job, at least.”

“You'd be great in the ring though,” Steve had told her.

Sharon had looked at him, a smile on her lips. “You just want another trans person fighting for respect in the boxing world, don't you?”

Steve had laughed and said, “It would be nice.”

He hadn't been able to convince her, still can't. Maybe one day.

Natasha, however.

Natasha doesn't do traditional boxing, never has. She prefers muay thai but that doesn't stop her from coming to just about every fight that Steve has, aside from a few when she'd been out of the country for a number of weeks.

Natasha attached herself to Steve after they first met and Steve welcomed her into his life with open arms. She's great most of the time and an asshole the rest of the time, so she fits perfectly into the little group of friends that Steve surrounds himself with.

Bucky likes her too, although they don't spend nearly as much time together.

Bucky does send a lot of time with Clint, though.

Clint came into their lives through Natasha. The two have a lot of history together, none of which either of them actually talk about other than in vague references, dark jokes, and the tendency to disappear for a few days with only a single warning text containing nothing but the peace sign emoji.

Clint is great. He's as much of a nerd as Bucky is, although he hides his intelligence behind the pretense that he's an idiot. He is an idiot, no doubt, but that doesn't make him any less smart. It doesn't make him any less of a disaster either.

Clint tends to get in trouble a lot, which leads to him getting hurt. There is always a band aid somewhere on him, sometimes worse if the trouble he got in escalated and got too much for him to handle.

He doesn't ask for help, says he doesn't need it.

Steve chooses to believe him, although he isn't happy about it.

Steve watches his friends as they gather and turn to him. Sam gives him a thumbs up with a smile on his lips while Natasha winks at him and dips her chin in a brief nod, a silent wish of luck, and Clint touches the tip of his bend middle finger to his chin then twists his hand toward him.

Good luck.

Steve signs back a thank you with his gloved fist, then he turns around to face his opponent.

Brock Rumlow is shorter than him. Not by much, maybe only by an inch or two, but it's enough to be noticeable. They're in the same weight class, although their muscles sit differently on their bodies; Steve is bulkier than Rumlow but Rumlow's shoulders are wider and more muscled.

Steve has fought him once before, although that was verbally. Steve has never hidden who he is, not since he came out and refused to go back in even when he was told it would be easier, and Rumlow has never been able to hide the ugly, vile, hateful beast that he is.

Rumlow had things to say back then and so did Steve.

There were no winners, then; they had both walked away angry, no better than when they arrived.

There were no winners but there will be now.

Steve intends to make sure it will be him.

Hate cannot win, he refuses to let that happen.

Rumlow is grinning at him from across the ring, that little curl in his lip that makes him look like a comic book villain and not a particularly good one either.

Steve returns it with a glare.

The referee beckons them closer and they meet in the middle. Steve only listens partially while the referee goes over the rules but he knows them already, knows them by heart because he has to. The referee steps back and Steve knocks his gloved fists to Rumlow's, then they part and step away.

“First, in the red corner,” the announcer says over the speakers, “from Gym Hydra; Brock Rumlow!”

Steve stretches his neck from side to side, starts bouncing in place.

“And in the blue corner, from Overthrow; Steve Rogers!”

Steve breathes in deeply through his nose.

Then the bell sounds.

Both he and Rumlow move instinctively, heading toward the middle of the ring with their fists up and body in fighting position. Steve looks at his opponent and his opponent looks back, grin gone and replaced with a look of furious determination.

Steve imagines he looks somewhat the same.

As expected, Rumlow takes the first swing.

And the next and the next and—

Wear him out, Melinda's voice says in Steve's head. Wear him out.

Steve likes to think he's a decent fighter but one thing he isn't is patient. He tries to be, Melinda has helped him control the part of him that screams to hit back twice as hard when he's punched. He has gotten more patient over the years and the fact that he only gets a handful of blows in during the first round is evidence of that.

They're clean blows too, which is better than the sloppy ones Rumlow threw at him.

Steve leans heavily against the ropes in his corner, panting. Melinda takes his mouth guard out and Sam is there with a bottle of water in an instant. He downs some, eyes locked onto where Rumlow is getting hydrated too.

The one minute interval goes by quick. The second round is similar to the first, although Steve gets more hits in this time and dodges more of Rumlow's, not letting him get more points. It's making him angry, Steve can tell.

By the time the last round starts, Rumlow looks worn out but Steve knows he's still gotten more clean blows in than he wanted him to. Steve has too, spends the last minute of the round making sure to get more, but he lost count somewhere during the previous round so he's... he's nervous.

The bell sounds and they step apart.

Steve gets his helmet off while they wait for the result and downs the rest of the water.

“You did good,” Melinda tells him.

“Kicked his ass,” Sam says, a proud smile on his lips.

Natasha winks at him from the crowd, which could be either good or bad, and Clint is smiling toothily and giving him double thumbs up.

Steve smiles, nodding at them.

“The winner of bout number two,” the announcer says, and Steve stops paying attention to his friends.

Instead, he walks to the middle and stands on the referee's left while Rumlow stands on her right.

“The winner,” the announcer repeats, “in blue corner; Steve Rogers!”

Those words—

It's like a weight has been lifted off his chest and Steve can't stop the smile that grows on his lips the second his arm gets lifted up into the air by the referee. The smile only grows when he hears Sam and Natasha's cheering from the audience.

Steve takes in a breath and stands a little taller.

He won.

 

◆ ◆ ◆

 

(Rumlow doesn't look happy about it.

Steve decides to be the bigger man and goes over to shake his hand, afterward. The tight smile on Rumlow's lips when they do should be worrying but Steve doesn't pay it much attention.

After all, Rumlow always looks mildly to severely displeased.

This is nothing new, the guy's a sore loser.)

 

◆ ◆ ◆

 

Melinda tells him to rest, after. She tells him— orders him not to show his face at the gym for three days, minimum, and she gives him a stern look when he opens his mouth to protest and negotiate it down to two days. The look is effective, as always. He closes his mouth and agrees with a nod.

Steve sleeps most of the first day away. He expects to, too. There are a lot of preparations during the week leading up to a fight and it's tiring work that always leaves him exhausted in the end, so the fact that he's dead to the world for the better part of a day is no surprise to him or anyone.

He wakes up a couple of times during the day. The first time is early, or late depending on whose schedule you follow. It's maybe around nine or ten when the door to his room creaks open and soft footsteps move across the floor, then someone sits down on the edge of his bed and gentle fingers brush his hair away from his face.

Steve shifts and makes a noise but doesn't bother opening his eyes.

“Hey, Stevie,” he hears Bucky whisper above him. “I've got a lecture to catch. There's some breakfast in the kitchen if you manage to drag your ass out of bed before I get back.”

Steve hums and mutters, “'kay, thanks.”

His face is smudged against his pillow so it comes out almost unintelligible.

If Bucky says something else, Steve doesn't hear because he falls back asleep and doesn't wake until hours later when his bladder decides it needs to be emptied. He leaves the bed for the few minutes it takes him to pee, then he falls face first back under the sheets and sleeps.

When he wakes up again, he feels a lot more rested. He's out of bed and has already showered by the time Bucky walks in through the front door with a bag of takeout in his right hand, his hair hanging loose over his shoulders for once.

Steve's stomach makes a noise at the smell of food.

“Is that Lang's?” he asks, sitting up properly on the couch he's been lounging on.

“Sure is,” Bucky says and dumps his backpack on the floor. “Figured you'd be awake and starving by now.”

“Bucky,” Steve says and smiles at him. “You're the best.”

Bucky returns the smile but says nothing. He sets the takeout bag onto the table in front of Steve, then he heads over to his room as he starts wiggling out of his jacket. Steve doesn't hesitate to dig into the bag and pull the containers out, stomach growling impatiently.

“Don't start without me!” Bucky calls from somewhere in his room.

Steve doesn't. He gets everything out and ready, along with two glass of water and utensils, and sits back down to wait for Bucky to finish in his room. It doesn't take long before Bucky comes walking back out, now wearing sweats and a different shirt, his hair in a messy bun and his prosthetic off.

Bucky joins him on the couch and they start to eat. They talk about the fight as they do and Bucky gets this bright smile on his lips when Steve tells him he won. Steve feels a lot prouder of his victory, suddenly.

After, when the food is gone, Steve throws himself back on the couch. He lays down with his head rested on the armrest and briefly stretches his legs across the length of it when Bucky gets up to put everything away. By the time he returns with a book and his laptop, Steve has bend his knees and made room for him.

A quiet falls over them. Bucky starts doing some work on his current project, switching between looking at his laptop and the book that he has laid out in his lap, while Steve lays back and watches him.

Steve has never been good at doing nothing. Even when he was younger and got sick more often, he hated doing nothing. Boredom made him feel restless and restlessness usually leads to irritation, which never ends well for him.

Steve isn't good at doing nothing, so he only lays there for half an hour before he does something.

Sometimes being annoying Bucky, because he's right there and Steve can't hep it.

Slowly, Steve stretches a leg out and pokes at Bucky's thigh with his toe.

Bucky doesn't react, so Steve does it again.

“Stop,” Bucky mumbles but makes no effort to make him.

“I'm not doing anything,” Steve says and pokes at his thigh again.

Bucky doesn't react; he types something on his laptop, then flips a page in the book.

Steve narrows his eyes at him, lips tight. He keeps poking at him, first lightly and then firmer and firmer when Bucky continues to not react. It doesn't take long before he finally gets a reaction out of him, though. It only takes a couple minutes and about a hundred pokes to his thigh.

Steve stretches his foot out to poke him for the hundred-and-first time but before he can, Bucky slams the book shut and turns to him in the blink of an eye. He looks annoyed, brows low and furrowed.

Steve bites back a smile.

“Can you stop that?” Bucky asks, voice raised ever so slightly.

Steve blinks at him, doing his best impression of innocence. “Oh,” he says. “Is this annoying you?”

He pokes at Bucky's thigh again and bites his lips when Bucky glares at him.

“Yes,” Bucky says.

“I'm sorry,” Steve says and pulls his foot back. “I'll stop.”

Bucky stares at him, eyes narrowed suspiciously. He opens his book again but doesn't turn back to his work, not right away. He keeps staring at Steve, like he expects him to start poking him again any second.

Steve smiles innocently and doesn't. He grabs a book from the table instead.

It takes a while, but then finally Bucky turns back to his work because Steve keeps his eyes firmly on the book now open and propped up on his stomach. He pretends to read but he hasn't actually read a single word on the page.

He's been watching Bucky out of the corner of his eye, waiting.

He waits until Bucky seems consumed by his work again and then another two minutes for good measure, then he moves. He stretches a leg out but instead of poking at Bucky's thigh like before, he digs his toes into Bucky's side and tickles him.

Bucky's reaction is instant; he yelps and flinches so abruptly and wildly that it sends the book flying out of his lap and clattering to the floor. He curses and turns to Steve with a glare, and Steve tries very hard not to laugh.

He can't help but snort though because there's a smile pulling at Bucky's lips.

It makes the glare look a lot less real.

“You're such a fucking punk,” Bucky says, laughter in his voice.

Steve smiles at him, wide and toothy.

A beat passes, then Bucky pounces on him.

They don't stay on the couch for more than a second, after that. They tumble off and land on the floor with a heavy thud, both groaning but both laughing too. They wrestle, rolling around on the floor and knocking into the table legs and the couch and everything else in the near vicinity.

Bucky is cursing between gasped laughter. Steve doesn't even try to say anything because he's laughing too much and because, well. He wants to win.

They wrestle and wrestle, until Steve pins Bucky to the floor below. He gets a hold of his wrist and holds his arm down, his knees on either side of Bucky's hips and his other hand on the floor beside his head. He's not sitting back, keeps his weight forward, but if he did, he would be sitting on Bucky's stomach.

Bucky struggles for a moment but Steve is stronger.

Bucky seems to realize this quick and gives up.

“I win,” Steve says and grins widely down at him.

Bucky is staring back up at him. His lips are parted ever so slightly and his cheeks are flushed, his eyes half lidded. He's panting, chest rising and falling even though they only wrestled for a couple minutes at most.

He looks—

The thought stops before it can finish.

A couple of seconds pass and Bucky still hasn't said or done anything other than stare up at him, almost as if he expects something else to happen. The grin on Steve's lips starts to fade, his brows furrowing little by little.

Before he can ask what's wrong though, Bucky rolls his eyes with a scoff and a smile on his lips. The dazed look is gone within the blink of an eye, so fast that Steve is convinced he was only imagining it.

“Yeah, alright,” Bucky says. “You win, congratulations.”

Steve lets himself grin again, wider this time.

“Get off me, punk,” Bucky says and squirms underneath him. “I've got work to do.”

With a chuckle, Steve does. He stands and holds out a hand to help Bucky to his feet as well, then the two of them return to their previous position on the couch, except Steve stretches his legs out and plants them in Bucky's lap.

Bucky places his book on his shins, unbothered and letting Steve spread out. He's quick to return to his work, quick to fall back into the studying mindset because he loves doing that, Steve knows this and he loves that about him.

But Steve is bored, so incredibly bored.

“You know,” Bucky says after a minute. “If you're bored, you can always help me study.”

Steve quirks a brow. “You know I don't understand anything you work on, right?”

“You don't need to,” Bucky says. “Ask me questions, like we used to do before exams.”

“You don't have an exam coming up,” Steve says but sits up anyway.

“There's always a test coming up,” Bucky says and holds out the book. “Besides, you can be a pair of fresh eyes for my project too.”

Steve takes the book and glances at the laptop. “I don't know anything about engineering,” he says.

“You're creative,” Bucky says. “Help me make it look good, I'll figure out the functionality.”

Steve looks at him for a minute, then he smiles, pulls his legs back to himself, and moves to sit next to Bucky with the book open in his own lap. Bucky returns the smile and shows him the project he's working on.

They spend the rest of the day there.

 

◆ ◆ ◆

 

Steve wakes up at his usual time the next morning; five am on the dot. His alarm doesn't go off but his body feels rested after spending the day before doing as little as possible, so he feels wide awake the second he opens his eyes. He's supposed to rest, he knows this, but he decides to go for a run anyway.

He gets out of bed and into his running clothes, shoes in hand as he leaves his room. The apartment is as quiet as usual, the rising sun casting a soft light across the wooden floor where it shines in through the living room windows.

Steve walks across the place on quiet feet and stops in front of Bucky's room. The door is ajar and he pushes it open as quietly as possible, then he steps inside and tiptoes over to the side of the bed. Bucky is sound asleep, spread out on his stomach with the duvet covering half his body.

He looks peaceful and Steve almost feels bad for even thinking about waking him.

Almost.

But not entirely.

“Bucky,” he whispers and pokes at his best friend. “Buck, wake up.”

Bucky groans in response but doesn't move nor does he seem to wake.

Steve shakes his shoulder and says, a little louder, “Bucky, wake up.”

Bucky moans and shoves his face into his pillow. Steve gives the back of his head an unimpressed look, then he grabs his shoulder and rolls him back over. Bucky makes a face but his eyes open into a narrow and bleary glare. He looks nowhere near awake and his hair looks like a bird's nest.

It's kinda cute.

Kinda.

Mostly, it looks ridiculous.

“Wha's'ng?” Bucky mumbles questioningly. It doesn't sound like words.

“Come running with me,” Steve says.

Bucky blinks at him, brows furrowed. “What?”

“Come on, you slug,” Steve says and smiles down at him. “Go for a run with me.”

Bucky stares at him for a long moment. Then he rolls over onto his side with a grunt and pulls the duvet over his head, the grunt turning into a drawn out groan as Bucky burrows himself further into the bed.

“Fuck off,” he says, voice muffled by his pillow.

Steve snorts. He digs a hand under the duvet to grab Bucky's ankle and tugs at him, not enough to actually move him more than an inch but enough to be annoying. If he really wanted to, Steve could drag him out of bed. They both know this.

“Come on, Buck,” he says. “It'll be fun.”

Bucky kicks at him and mumbles something that sounds like eat shit.

Steve tries to convince him for another minute but then he gives up when he realizes it's pointless because Bucky isn't gonna come out of bed for anything. He's not sure what he expected. Bucky usually isn't out of bed before nine am unless he has a lecture to get to.

Steve stands upright and takes a step back with a sigh falling from his lips and his hands on his hips. Bucky won't be able to see the look he gives him, not with the duvet pulled over his head and his back turned to him, but it doesn't stop Steve from giving him it anyway.

“Fine,” he says. “I'll just go for a run by myself, then.”

From under the covers comes a muffled, deadpan hurray.

Steve bites back a laugh.

“Celebrate all you want,” he says. “I'm still gonna drag you out of bed when I get back.”

Bucky responds by lifting his hand from under the duvet, all fingers down but one.

Steve runs. He tries to make it a fairly short run but once he's started, he can't get himself to stop nor does he want to, so he ends up running around Brooklyn for an hour. By the time he returns to the apartment, sweaty and panting, the sun is up and the rest of the city is waking up.

But there are no signs of Bucky waking up with it.

Steve sends a scowl to his closed door but doesn't walk over there. He heads to the bathroom and showers first, then changes into some clean clothes and starts the coffee machine before he heads over to Bucky's room and steps inside.

Bucky is exactly how he left him; wrapped in a cocoon of his own duvet and sound asleep.

Steve grins and grabs the ends of the duvet, yanking it off. Bucky immediately curls in on himself with an unhappy moan, his arm coming up over his head to block out the light in his room. Goosebumps start to rise on his bare skin; he's only in briefs and a tee shirt that has ridden up over night.

Steve catches himself staring for a second but thinks nothing of it.

“Morning, Buck,” Steve says, deliberately cheery. “Time to get up.”

“I'm disowning you as my best friend,” comes Bucky's grumbled reply.

“I did warn you,” Steve says. “There's coffee waiting for you but if you're not up in five minutes, I'm gonna dump a bucket of ice water on your head.”

Bucky sighs heavily and says, “I hate you.”

Steve leaves and goes back into the kitchen where he pours steaming hot coffee into two mugs; one that says world's okay-est roommate in bold, capital letter and another that says I'm an engeneer enginere engenere I'm good with math on one side. He places the latter on the counter and takes a careful sip of the former, eyes sliding over to Bucky's door.

Two minutes pass and still no Bucky.

For a second, Steve genuinely considers getting that bucket ready but then in the next second, Bucky comes walking out of the room, dragging his bare feet along the floor and running his hand through his disheveled hair as he yawns.

Bucky has taken the time to put on sweatpants before coming out. They sit low on his hips and he still hasn't bothered tugging his shirt down properly so the band of his briefs is visible, as well as a bit of tan skin.

Steve licks his lips and takes a swig of his coffee, eyes glued to his best friend.

Bucky doesn't look awake, still. His eyes are drooping, his shoulders are slumped, and he's dragging his body along like it weighs a ton and he doesn't have the energy to move it right. When he makes it to the kitchen, he slumps down on a chair with a harrumph.

Steve resists the urge to snap a picture of him.

For blackmail purposes, of course.

“Coffee,” Bucky says and holds outs his hand, eyes barely open.

Steve hands him the other mug with a smile. He takes a sip of his own while he watches Bucky take one, two, three— he practically chugs half the thing in a matter of seconds. It has cooled down by now but Steve doubts it's cool enough to chug. Bucky isn't awake enough to care, apparently.

With a satisfied sigh, Bucky lowers the mug and licks his lips.

Steve follows the movement with his eyes.

Bucky is quiet for a second or two, then he opens his eyes and looks at Steve. He places the mug on the counter and rests his elbow next to it, keeping his head propped up on his closed fist. He looks a bit more awake now, although his eyes are still not fully open.

“You know,” he says. “I kinda hate when you're on resting days.”

Steve quirks a brow. “Why?”

“You're making me get out of bed before eight,” Bucky says. “That ain't right.”

“Well, now you have the whole day ahead of you,” Steve says and smiles. “You're welcome.”

Bucky groans at him, then he sits up right and picks up his mug again.

“Aren't you glad we moved in together?” Steve asks.

“Overjoyed,” Bucky says flatly. “Thanks for the coffee. You gonna make me breakfast too?”

“Yep,” Steve says and puts his mug down. “You want eggs?”

“I want a gourmet breakfast with at least six different things.”

“Eggs it is, then.”

Bucky grumbles something unintelligible into his mug and Steve smiles at him, then he turns away and reaches for the fridge to start making breakfast. He may not be a good cook, at least nowhere near the level that Bucky is on, but he has figured out how to make a decent breakfast over the years.

Steve makes them sometimes simple; scrambled eggs and toast with a thin layer of raspberry jam spread on it, because it's Bucky's favorite. They move to the table and sit down, both taking a sip of their coffees before they start to eat.

“What are you up to today?” Steve asks, after a while.

“I, uh,” Bucky says, then clears his throat. “I've got a date tonight.”

Steve stops— everything.

He stares at Bucky, mouth closed and body unmoving. Disappointment sits heavily in his chest, it's almost painful. He swallows thickly and tries not to make it show, forces a smile on his lips and a curious quirk in his brow instead.

“You didn't tell me you had a date,” he says, tone light.

“I did,” Bucky says and looks at him. “Right now.”

Steve rolls his eyes, then he asks, “Is it— New guy, or?”

“New guy,” Bucky says. “His name's Ryan, asked me out last week.”

“Oh,” Steve says, disappointment seeping into his voice for a second. “That's great, Buck.”

“Yeah,” Bucky says, mouth crooked. “I don't know, we'll see how it goes.”

“I'm sure it's gonna be great,” Steve says.

Bucky snorts and says, “Way to sound encouraging, Steve.”

“I'm sorry, it's just...” Steve scratches his chin. “I'm surprised. You haven't dated in— in a while.”

Bucky is quiet for a moment, eyes locked onto Steve and an unreadable expression on his face. Then he smiles, as easy as ever but with something missing in his eyes.

“Well,” he says. “Can't wait around forever, right?”

Steve frowns. “I guess,” he mutters.

Silence follows and they finish breakfast with it.

There's an ugly feeling in Steve's gut that he's too afraid to look further into but he knows what it is; hatred. He doesn't know whether it's hatred for how disappointed he is that Bucky is ditching him for a date— well, it's not really ditching but the ugliness in his gut makes it out to be, or if it's hatred for a guy he doesn't even know.

Neither of it makes sense.

When his plate is empty, Bucky rises from the table and gathers his things into his hand. He puts the plate on top of the mug and balances both over to the dishwasher that he puts both into.

“Thanks for breakfast, punk,” he says and reaches over to ruffle Steve's hair.

Steve bats absently at his hand.

Bucky shoots him a smile that fades from his lips a split second before he turns around and disappears into the bathroom, leaving Steve to sit there, alone and frowning down at his hands.

 

◆ ◆ ◆

 

Bucky has a date.

That's fine.

That's good.

Steve wants him to be happy, wants him to find a nice guy to settle down with and get married to and do all the things that Bucky has talked about wanting to do for years. Of course he does, Bucky's happiness is one of the most important things to him.

Then why does he feel so awful about it?

 

◆ ◆ ◆

 

Steve leaves an hour before the guy comes. He texts Natasha while he heads down the stairs and meets up with her a few blocks down the street. She greets him with a smile and a fist bump, both of which he returns without hesitation.

Side by side, they head toward the subway. It's full and busy when they get there, like it always is during rush hour. They stand wrapped around a pole and Steve is uncomfortably aware of Natasha watching him the whole time. She's always watching, always observing, but this is more than usual.

Steve shifts and shoots her a smile.

Natasha narrows her eyes at him, ever so slightly.

She doesn't say anything though, not until they're off the subway and heading toward Sam's place.

“Are you okay?” she asks.

“Yeah,” Steve says. “I'm fine.”

“Then what's with the long face?”

Steve shrugs. “Nothing,” he says.

“That's a lie,” she says.

Steve sighs and looks down at his feet. “Bucky has a date tonight,” he says after a pause.

“And,” Natasha says slowly, “this bothers you.”

“Yeah,” Steve lets out in a breath. “That's awful, right?”

“I think it depends on why it bothers you.”

“It bothers me because—” Steve frowns. “I don't know why.”

Natasha hums. “Maybe you should think about that.”

Steve looks at her. Natasha smiles back at him and steps closer, wrapping her arm around his middle to give him a half hug as they continue to walk. Steve doesn't say anything, doesn't know what to say anyway, so he wraps his arm around her shoulders and they walk in silence.

When they make it to their destination, Sam is standing in the open door with his phone in hand. Clint is sitting by his feet, a leash in hand that is attached to his dog Lucky who is laying on the ground next to him.

Lucky is the one who notices them approaching. He immediately stands up and moves forward with his tail wagging wildly and barks falling out of his mouth one after the other. Both Sam and Clint turn to look at them too and they each raise a hand in greeting.

They sit down in the living room. Clint spreads out on one end of the couch while Steve does the same on the other end and Lucky decides to spread out on both of them, not that either of them mind. Natasha sits cross-legged on the chair to their right and Sam sits down on the one to their left.

Something gets put on the television but Steve can't focus on it.

“Bucky has a date tonight,” he says quietly, after a while.

“Good for him,” Sam says without looking away from the screen.

Natasha throws a pillow at him. She doesn't throw it very hard and it lands nearly silently on his chest, but Sam startles and shoots her an offended look anyway.

“What's that for?” he asks and tosses it back to her.

“Why are we throwing pillows?” Clint asks but no one answers him.

“Bucky has a date,” Natasha says and gives them both pointed looks, “and it bothers Steve.”

Sam turns off the television, then both he and Clint turn bodily to Steve.

Steve rolls his eyes and says, “You're making it sound worse than it is.”

“Am I?” Natasha asks, brows raised.

“Yes,” Steve says, then pauses. “I don't know.”

“It's never bothered you before,” Sam says. “What changed?”

“Nothing,” Steve says. “Nothing's changed but it still bothers me and I don't know why.”

“Is the guy shitty?” Clint asks, fiddling with the hearing aid in his right ear.

“No,” Steve says. “I mean, I don't know him but Bucky knows how to pick the good ones.”

Clint smiles at him and says, “Yeah, he does.”

Steve looks at him, brows furrowing in a silent question.

Clint only raises his brows and gives him a look that seems pointed.

It doesn't help.

“Steve,” Sam says, almost hesitatingly. “Have you ever thought you might be... jealous?”

Steve's first reaction is to laugh, so he does. It's an airy laugh, a mocking laugh, that lasts for no more than a second or two before it dies down and leaves him to frown down at the floor.

In truth, he hasn't thought about that. It hasn't even crossed his mind, until now.

Steve slumps down against the couch with a sigh. He doesn't answer.

Sam doesn't push, neither do the other two. They drop the subject when Natasha throws out a topic change after a pause that lasts for a mere second too long to be anything but awkward. She's not subtle about it, neither are the enthusiasm that the other two respond with, but Steve doesn't care.

He's a silent participant for a while, until Clint nudges him and ropes him into the conversation. It takes a while but eventually, he stops thinking about Bucky and the date and the potential jealousy that might be the ugly feeling in his gut.

Eventually, but only for a bit.

 

◆ ◆ ◆

 

Steve is home when Bucky comes walking in through the door, later. He's not smiling, is the first thing Steve notices when he comes into view of the couch that he's spread out on, dressed in sweats and with Mulan playing on the television. Bucky looks more tired than someone who's just been on a successful date.

That ugly part of Steve lessens while the rest of him worries.

“Hey,” Steve greets him and pauses the movie.

Bucky gives him a quiet nod in return and toes out of his shoes. He says nothing, only shrugs out of his coat and sloppily hangs it up before he walks further into the apartment, heading right for the couch and for Steve. He sits down with a heavy breath leaving him and falls to the side to lean into Steve.

Out of instinct, Steve lets his arm fall around his shoulders.

“Tired?” Steve asks and pats the side of Bucky's head.

Bucky hums in response, head on his shoulder.

“How was the date?” Steve asks after a pause and holds his breath.

“Fine,” Bucky says. “Ryan's nice but I don't think we're gonna be more than friends.”

Steve lets out a quiet breath and the ugly feeling washes away; he's relieved.

That only confuses him more.

 

◆ ◆ ◆

 

Steve is back in the gym the next day, a bounce in his step as he heads down the stairs.

Sharon is there too. She's standing by a punching bag with her fists raised and blonde hair put up into a ponytail that has become messy, locks fallen out and sticking to her forehead. A trainer is standing near her; her name is Bobbi and she's only part time but she's always here when Sharon is.

Steve only makes it two steps into the place before Sharon spots him. She drops her fists and turns bodily to him with a smile growing on her lips within seconds. He returns it easily and heads over toward her.

“Hey, Sharon,” he says and comes to a stop, then he nods to Bobbi. “Bob.”

“Steve,” Bobbi says, returning the nod.

“Hey, Steve,” Sharon says. “I hear you beat the asshole over the weekend, congrats.”

“Thank you,” Steve says. “You should've been there to see it in person.”

“I would've loved to,” Sharon says. “At least I got to see the video Nat took. Nice left hook, by the way.”

Steve smiles and opens his mouth to say something else, but he doesn't get to because then he spots Melinda coming over toward them. She raises her brows at him when their eyes lock. There's a hint of a smile on her lips though so the impatient quirk to her brows doesn't do much.

Steve takes a step toward her, then he looks at Sharon and asks, “Wanna spar later?”

“Sure,” Sharon says.

Steve smiles at her for a second before he turns and walks the rest of the way over to Melinda. She's standing still now, arms crossed and hip cocked out slightly. The smile is gone from her lips but there's still a hint of it in her eyes.

“Rested?” she asks.

Steve nods and says, “Yes, coach.”

“Good,” Melinda says. “Time to get back to training, then. Go wrap your hands.”

Steve gives her a sloppy salute and heads over to do as he's told.

“And make it fast!” she calls after him.

“Yes, coach!”

 

◆ ◆ ◆

 

The first day back is fine, it's great.

The day after, however. That's when it goes wrong.

 

◆ ◆ ◆

 

Steve wakes up and goes for a run, like any other day. He starts out slow, then faster and faster until he goes into a sprint for a while, music playing in his ears and heart thumping in his chest. When he nears the gym, he starts to slow down and down and then stops when he sees him.

Rumlow.

Rumlow is standing on the sidewalk outside the gym, leaning against the building with his hands stuffed into the pockets of his jacket and eyes on the road ahead of him. Steve isn't that far from him, so he can see how low his brows are above his eyes, the slight furrow and the way his lips are pulled into a thin line.

He looks angry, which can only mean trouble.

Steve takes in a deep breath, yanks his earbuds out, and walks toward him.

Rumlow notices him after two steps. He turns to look at him and steps away from the side of the building a second later, moving out to stand in front of him with that same punch-able curl in his lip that Steve despises.

“What do you want, Rumlow?” Steve asks and stops a couple steps from him.

“A rematch,” Rumlow says. “And let's make it a fair fight, this time.”

Steve raises his brows and asks, “You wanna fight right now? Here, in the middle of the street.”

“No,” Rumlow says. “In the ring, with no cheating.”

“I don't cheat,” Steve says.

“Didn't seem like that to me.”

Steve looks at him for a moment, then he huffs and moves to step around him with a shake of his head and his hands curled into fists. He's getting annoyed but he's not gonna allow someone like Rumlow the pleasure of upsetting him, not if he can help it.

“Go home, Rumlow,” he says and walks into the gym.

Rumlow follows him, which isn't surprising but it is annoying.

Logan stands from his usual spot when he does, paper forgotten and shoulders squared. He's shorter than both of them by several inches but visibly stronger and no less intimidating.

“This one giving you trouble, Steve?” he asks without looking away from Rumlow.

“It's fine, Logan,” Steve says and turns to Rumlow. “He was just leaving.”

Rumlow scowls and says, “I want a rematch.”

“You said that,” Steve says. “But I don't, so leave.”

“You scared, Rogers?” Rumlow asks, stepping closer. “Scared you're gonna lose?”

“No,” Steve says. “I know I won't.”

“Then let's have a rematch.”

“No.”

Rumlow scoffs. “Coward,” he spits.

“Maybe,” Steve says. “I don't need to waste my time on you though, not when I've already beaten you. You lost, Rumlow. Get over it.”

He doesn't wait for Rumlow to respond, doesn't want to. He turns and takes no more than two steps toward the stairs leading down when he hears Rumlow mutter something that sounds an awful lot like a slur that has been yelled at him more times than he can count.

Steve stops moving the second the word is said and tenses, knows Logan does too. Slowly, he turns back around and looks at Rumlow. He wasn't going to allow someone like this to make him angry but he knows he failed, knows he must look angry because Rumlow has a grin on his lips.

“What the fuck did you just call me?” Steve asks, although rhetorically.

“You heard me,” Rumlow says, then pauses for a second. “Freak.”

Steve punches him, right in the face.

He doesn't realize that he does it, not until after his fist has already made contact with the side of Rumlow's face and his knuckles hurt. He hears Logan say something, voice raised and angry, and he hears someone come rushing up the stairs behind him, but he doesn't pay attention to any of it.

Instead, he shakes the pain out of his hand and glares at Rumlow.

Rumlow stumbles a little but it doesn't take him long to find his footing again. When he does, he looks at Steve with a hand over the spot he got punched and a furious look on his face, one to match the one on Steve's own.

He punches back.

Steve should have seen it coming, should have blocked the punch. But he doesn't and the fist hits him right in the nose. The force of it makes his head fly back, pain shooting through his face.

His vision is blurry when he looks back at Rumlow and he can feel something wet streaming down from his nose, touching his lips then his chin. He can't care about that; not the pain nor his bleeding nose. Not right now.

Steve moves to attack back, goes to jump on Rumlow and fight him, but then there are hands grabbing him and holding him back. He assumes it's Logan but he hears both Melinda and Sam telling him to stand down, and then Logan is shoving Rumlow out of the building while telling him he's banned from ever stepping foot in this place again.

Steve wants to go after him. He wants to punch his face black and blue.

He doesn't, instead brings a hand to his nose and groans in pain.

 

◆ ◆ ◆

 

Sam takes him home. Steve is still bleeding when they stumble through the door of the apartment, a handful of curled up tissues held against his nose to keep the blood from staining his shirt more than it already has. His face is throbbing with pain, his knuckles too.

Sam has his hands on his biceps, walking a step behind him and guiding him through the door.

“I can walk by myself,” Steve says, although it comes out muffled.

“You walked into a wall on the way here,” Sam reminds him.

Steve tries to scoff but it hurts. He presses the tissues firmer to his nose and groans.

“I can walk by myself,” he repeats, stubbornly, and shakes Sam's hands off of him.

As if on cue, his vision goes a little fuzzy and he stumbles. Sam is there to keep him upright in a second but not before Steve bumps into the wall beside the door and knocks down the keys hanging from the hook there. He groans at the same time the keys clatter noisily to the floor.

“You were saying?” Sam asks, giving him a pointed look.

Steve groans at him and flips him off with his free hand.

Sam guides him toward the living room couch. They make it about halfway there before the door to Bucky's room opens and Bucky steps out with a confused frown and a question on his lips. The question dies before it can come out and Steve sees the second the frown becomes a look.

Steve winces, partially because of the pain and partially because of that look.

Bucky looks worried but more than that, he looks disappointed. Who can blame him, this isn't exactly the first time Steve has come stumbling home with a bloody nose and bruised knuckles.

“What the hell happened?” Bucky asks and hurries to them, grabbing onto Steve even though Sam has a grip on him already.

“I'm fine,” Steve tries to say but it comes out too muffled under the tissues.

“You shut up,” Sam says and pushes him down on the couch, “and sit your ass down.”

Steve sighs and slumps back on the couch, closing his eyes.

“Rumlow happened,” Sam tells Bucky.

Bucky groans and asks, “The hell did that bastard do now?”

“He called me—” Steve doesn't get to finish his sentence.

“He was being his usual self,” Sam says, cutting him off. “Got punched in the face, deserved it.”

“And he punched back,” Bucky guesses, voice flat.

“Yep,” Sam says.

“Of course he did,” Bucky says with a sigh.

Steve can't see him but he knows that Bucky has hung his head and is rubbing his temples. That's what he always does when he's annoyed or exasperated or too tired to deal with something. Steve imagines it's all three at once, this time.

Carefully, Steve pulls the tissues away from his nose and checks his nostrils for blood. There doesn't seem to be any coming out, fortunately, and he lets out a quiet sigh of relief. He hesitates for a second, then he raises his gaze from the floor and looks at his friends.

Both Bucky and Sam are looking at him, a twin look of disapproval.

Steve sinks into the couch a little more and puts the tissues back to hide the mess on his face.

Bucky's face softens at that, concern replacing disapproval.

“He asked for it,” Steve says behind the tissues.

“I know,” Sam says, “and I'm not mad at you for punching him.”

“I kinda am,” Bucky says, shooting Sam a look.

Steve frowns, while Sam gives Bucky a questioning look.

“You woke me up,” Bucky says, “because this idiot got a bloody nose for punching a transphobe for the, what? Hundredth time? I'm an exhausted college student, I need my sleep.”

Steve rolls his eyes, a smile tugging at his lips.

Sam huffs and pats Bucky's shoulder. “You should be used to it by now, then,” he says.

“I am,” Bucky says, then looks back at Steve. “Doesn't mean I like it.”

Steve looks at him and the smiles disappears again, little by little.

“Alright,” Sam says. “You got this dumbass? I've gotta go to work.”

“Yeah,” Bucky says. “Yeah, I've got it.”

“Good,” Sam says, then turns to Steve. “You're a handful. You know that, right?”

“I know,” Steve says, a small smile on his lips. “Thanks, Sam. For taking me home.”

“Anytime,” Sam says. “But don't make it too often.”

Steve chuckles quietly and says, “I make no promises.”

Sam leaves and the two of them are alone.

Both of them are quiet, not saying a word. Steve doesn't look up to meet Bucky's eye, not right away. It takes him a minute of staring down at the bloody tissues in his hand before he takes in a breath and slowly looks at his best friend.

Bucky is staring back at him, an unreadable expression on his face. He is silent for another minute, then he sighs and walks into the bathroom. He returns not long after with their first aid kit and a damp cloth in hand. He sits down on the table in front of Steve and sets the kit down, keeping the cloth.

“Come here,” he says and reaches for him. “You look like shit.”

Steve scoots to the edge of the couch and leans forward, letting go of the tissues. He doesn't flinch when Bucky starts cleaning the blood off his face because Bucky does it carefully, with gentle dabs and slow sweeps.

“You should see the other guy,” Steve says, a minute late and in a mumble.

Bucky looks at him for a moment, then he smiles and asks, “Did you break his face?”

“Nah,” Steve says. “Probably fractured a cheekbone, though.”

“Nice,” Bucky says. “He deserves that.”

“More, too.”

“Easy now, punk. You got to punch him, for real. Let it go, move on.”

“Bucky—”

“I know,” Bucky says. “Okay, Steve, I know. But just— don't. You can't punch human decency into a guy like that.”

Steve glowers and mutters, “When he says shit like that, I can try.”

Bucky lets out a huff, something that sounds near a chuckle. He sits back a little and pulls his hand away from Steve's face, a crooked smile on his lips and naked adoration on his face, his eyes bright with it. Something else, too.

“Can't blame you,” Bucky says and grabs Steve's hand. He puts it onto his own knee and starts cleaning the bruised knuckles too, carefully when Steve winces with a hiss.

But that's all Steve hears, all he does.

Bucky says something else, something about punching, but Steve doesn't hear it because he can't stop looking at him, can't stop his heart from suddenly tripping over itself as it starts to beat faster and faster and—

Oh.

“Oh.”

Bucky looks at him with a questioning hum. “Did you say somethi—”

Steve kisses him, cutting him off.

It's short, no more than a peck that lasts for a mere three seconds before Steve jerks back and pulls his hand away from Bucky, only to hide his burning face in both his palms. He sinks back into the couch cushions, wishing they would swallow him whole and take him away.

“Sorry, sorry,” he says into his palms, mortified. “Fuck, forget I did that.”

Bucky is quiet in front of him. He isn't saying a word, not making a sound, not moving. The whole room is quiet around them but even if it wasn't, Steve would still only be able to hear his own rapid heartbeat.

An eternity passes before anything happens and when it does, Steve holds his breath because Bucky takes his right hand and pries it off his face, pulling it back onto his knee. He isn't looking at him, Steve notices when he opens his eyes and dares to look.

Bucky isn't looking at him, he's staring down at the hand on his knee.

He's frowning too, a small crease between his brows.

Steve feels his heart sink. He swallows thickly.

Bucky takes the roll of bandages out from the first aid kit and starts wrapping Steve's hand in it. Instinctively, Steve pulls his other hand away from his face and reaches out to help him since doing it one handed is difficult.

They work together to wrap his hand, but neither say anything.

The silence is heavy and uncomfortable, and it lasts for a torturous few minutes.

“Why did you kiss me?” Bucky asks, breaking it.

Steve hesitates, then he quietly says, “Because I wanted to.”

Bucky purses his lips, doesn't look up. “You could've, you know, asked first.”

“I know,” Steve says, grimacing. “I'm sorry. I had an impulse and acted without thinking.”

“Yeah, you tend to do that,” Bucky says. “Next time, ask first.”

Steve pauses, staring at him. “Next time?” he asks, holding his breath.

Bucky shrugs and says, “If you want.”

Steve doesn't answer that. Instead, he says, “Bucky, I— I think I like you.”

“Twenty years and he finally likes me,” Bucky says flatly. “Mission accomplished.”

“Jerk,” Steve says and kicks his foot. “No, I mean— I mean, like... I really wanna kiss you.”

Bucky's jaw twitches as he clenches. “I gathered that,” he says.

“Bucky, can you look at me for one second?”

Bucky stops moving but his hand doesn't leave Steve's. He's quiet and still for a minute, then he takes in a breath and slowly looks back at him. There's an unreadable expression on his face but whatever it is, it doesn't look happy.

“I'm sorry,” Steve says. “I didn't mean to just throw this at you. I guess I'm a little... confused or— or surprised.”

Bucky looks at him for a long, silent moment. “Sleep on it,” he says, “and if you still wanna kiss me when you haven't just been punched in the face, then maybe we'll talk about it.”

He starts wrapping Steve's hand again, but Steve doesn't help.

“Are you mad at me?” Steve asks, frowning.

“For getting punched? Not really. For kissing me?” Bucky pauses. “I don't know. Depends on how you feel about it later.”

“Okay,” Steve says, voice quiet. “But... we are gonna talk about it, right?”

“Yeah, pal,” Bucky says. “We'll talk about it.”

Steve smiles, small and a little sad, and lets out a breath.

 

◆ ◆ ◆

 

Sam comes by, later. Bucky has already left for school by then and Steve has been laying on the couch for hours, staring up at the ceiling and contemplating his life. He doesn't even react when Sam lets himself in, doesn't respond to his greeting.

Only when Sam appears above him with a raised brow does Steve acknowledge his presence.

“Hey,” he says in a mutter.

“Hey,” Sam echoes and frowns down at him. “You okay, man?”

“Yeah,” Steve says and sits up with a sigh. “Yeah, I'm fine.”

Sam looks him over. “Okay,” he says slowly. “You ready to go?”

Steve nods and gets to his feet.

They go back to the gym. Logan is waiting for them when they get there, sitting on his desk rather than behind it. He looks up from his phone when they step inside, stares at them for no more than two seconds, and then he huffs.

“You look like shit, Rogers,” he says.

“Thanks,” Steve deadpans with a humorless smile.

He knows he doesn't look good; his nose is bruised and red but at least it isn't bleeding anymore. His hand is bound in bandages and he kept a pack of frozen peas on his knuckles for a while to keep the swelling down. That probably doesn't look good either.

Logan puts his phone down and stares at him in silence.

Steve looks back, shifting from foot to foot.

Neither say anything, not until Sam clears his throat and nudges at Steve pointedly.

“I'm sorry,” Steve says to Logan. “For the fight, earlier.”

“Apology accepted,” Logan says. “But don't be. I would've punched him too.”

“So,” Steve says. “I'm not in trouble?”

Logan looks at him, then he says, “Not with me.”

Steve looks from him to the stairs leading down. “Is she here?” he asks

“She's here,” Logan says.

Steve nods, then he turns to Sam and says, “Give me a minute.”

“I can give you two,” Sam says and smiles. “Good luck.”

Steve smiles and takes in a breath before he heads down the stairs.

Melinda is there alright, standing in a corner of the ring and watching one of the new boxers named Daisy spar with Bobbi. She notices him when he leans against the ropes next to her but she only looks at him for a second before she turns her attention back to the two in the ring.

“She's good,” Steve comments after a minute.

“She is,” Melinda says. “Getting better, too.”

Steve smiles, small and crooked.

Melinda glances at him. “I can't train you if you're not clearheaded,” she says.

Steve sighs. “I know.”

“Don't let it happen again.”

“I'll try.”

Melinda looks away, clearly not pleased with that answer.

“I'm not gonna promise anything,” Steve says. “Not when I know I would only break it.”

Melinda sighs quietly. “You are a handful, Rogers,” she says.

“You're not the first to tell me that.”

“We need to work on your self-control.”

Steve smiles. “Does that mean you're not dropping me?”

Melinda gives him a sideways look, a hint of a smile on her lips. “Looks like it,” she says.

Steve's smile grows bigger.

“But,” she continues, “you're still doing extra work tomorrow.”

Steve laughs, a quiet chuckle. “I'd expect nothing less, coach.”

 

◆ ◆ ◆

 

Sam comes back home with him again, not long after. They stop by a fast food chain to pick up something to eat on the way since dinner is nearing and neither have the energy to bother making anything.

They eat on the couch, some documentary on birds playing on screen but Steve isn't paying much attention to it. He keeps glancing over at the door in hopes that Bucky will come through and down at his phone in hopes that he'll text him instead. He wants him to come home, wants them to figure this out, whatever this is.

This waiting around is making Steve anxious.

“Alright,” Sam says suddenly and turns the television off. “What's going on with you?”

Steve looks at him. “What?”

“You're jittery,” Sam says. “Have been since I came back. What's up?”

Steve bites his lip, then he sighs and slumps back on the couch. “I kissed Bucky,” he says.

Sam looks at him for a moment. “Is that good or bad?” he asks.

“That's—” Steve frowns. “I don't know.” He winces. “I may have done it without asking first.”

“Wow,” Sam says.

“Yeah,” Steve says with a grimace.

“Bet he wasn't a fan of that.”

“You got that right.”

“So,” Sam says and turns to him. “Why'd you kiss him?”

“I'm in love with him,” Steve says because that's what he is; utterly in love with his best friend.

Sam smiles at him, wide and toothy. “Wow,” he says, again.

Steve narrows his eyes at him and says, “You don't seem surprised.”

“Well,” Sam says and shrugs. “I kinda suspected you had feelings for him.”

“Wha— I didn't even know!”

“Maybe your brain didn't but your heart did.”

Steve huffs. “Poetic,” he says.

“I'm serious,” Sam says. “You've always acted like someone in love around him.”

Steve pauses for a moment, then he groans. “How could I have been so blind all these years?” he asks the ceiling above.

“You know now,” Sam says and pats his knee.

Steve sighs and turns his head toward Sam. “Do you think he loves me too?” he asks.

Sam laughs, loud and sudden.

“Okay, why are you laughing?” Steve asks, glaring.

“Bucky thinks you hung the fucking moon, Steve,” Sam tells him. “There isn't a universe out there where he doesn't love you. I won't speak for him in what way but trust me, he loves you.”

Steve smiles, heart hammering and cheeks suddenly warm.

 

◆ ◆ ◆

 

Sam leaves an hour later and Steve goes to bed, falling asleep the second his head hits the pillow.

He doesn't wake when Bucky comes home, if he does.

When he wakes up, Bucky isn't there either which is... frustrating.

Steve texts Melinda to let her know that he's skipping morning training. He texts Bucky too, asks him where he is and when he's coming back, but he gets no response. So he makes himself comfortable on the couch and decides to wait.

Around noon, he hears the lock turn and the door open. Bucky steps inside and looks like a deer caught in headlights when he sees Steve sitting there but he recovers quick, a smile replacing the look of surprise in an instant.

“Hey,” he says and takes his backpack off. “Feeling better?”

“Sort of,” Steve says. “Face still hurts like hell.”

“Looks like it too,” Bucky says and smiles. It looks awkward, too fake.

The silence that falls over them is awkward too.

In all of the twenty years of being best friends, there has never been a silence between them that has been this awkward and uncomfortable. It makes a heavy weight appear in Steve's chest and he suddenly fears the worst is about to happen.

He swallows thickly.

“Buck,” he says. “Can we have that talk now?”

Bucky tenses. He looks nearly nauseous for a second but then he nods and walks over to sit down on the other end of the couch. He leaves more distance between them than there have been in a long, long time.

Steve hates it.

“I talked with Sam about— about what happened,” he tells him.

Bucky hums, face pale and eyes downward.

“Why do you look like I'm about to tell you the worst possible news?”

Bucky releases a breath, then he looks at him. “Aren't you?” he asks.

“I don't know,” Steve says. “Depends on what the worst news would be.”

Bucky shrugs. “I don't know,” he says.

Steve is quiet for a moment, heart dropping. “We could— We could always pretend it never happened.”

Bucky's eyes snap to him instantly. “Is that what you want?” he asks.

“Kind of, yeah,” Steve says in a breath.

“Oh,” Bucky says quietly. The disappointment is undeniably.

Hope sparks in Steve.

“No,” he rushes to say and scoots closer. “Not— I mean, I don't regret kissing you but I do regret how I did it and I would give anything for a do-over, so I can do it right.”

Bucky looks at him, eyes flickering over his face. “What are you saying, Steve?” he asks.

“I'm saying,” Steve says, then he takes in a deep breath. “I'm in love with you, Buck.”

Bucky stares at him, frozen. “Don't be pulling my leg—”

“I'm not,” Steve interrupts, reaching out to grab his hand. “I'm not, I swear.”

Bucky suddenly lets out a breath and leans forward. He practically collapses against Steve, head landing just off-center of his chest. Steve throws his arms around him in reflex, one hand on the back of his head and the other gripping onto the back of his shirt so tightly.

Bucky stays with his face hidden when he says, “I've loved you since I was fifteen.”

Steve doesn't let him stay there. He shoves him back and looks at him, eyes wide and heart hammering in his chest. Bucky's face is red and his eyes are a bit shiny but he's looking at him, not hiding anything.

The naked love in his eyes makes Steve's heart trip on itself.

“Nine years?” Steve asks, voice quiet.

Bucky nods. “Yeah,” he whispers.

“Nine years,” Steve repeats, “and you never— you never told me.”

“I didn't want you to know.”

“Why not?”

Bucky shrugs. “You didn't feel the same,” he says.

“I did—”

“You didn't,” Bucky interrupts, “and that's okay. I never expected you to feel the same, couldn't let myself hope for something like that, so I never told you because I didn't want to get my heart broken and make things awkward between us. But then...”

“Then I kissed you,” Steve finishes for him when he trails off.

“Yeah,” Bucky says and gives him a small, crooked smile. “And it— to be honest with you, it shocked me. I didn't wanna get my hopes up though, so I told myself it didn't mean anything. You always get like that when you've been in a fight.”

“Like what?”

“Wild with adrenaline,” Bucky says. “Doing shit you don't usually do.”

“I've never kissed you before, though,” Steve says.

“No,” Bucky says. “Why did you?”

“I told you,” Steve says. “I wanted to and I wanted to because I love you. And I think I might have loved you for a long time but never realized it. Guess it took me getting punched in the face to get my head out of my ass.”

Bucky smiles, cheeks turning pink. “You've been punched in the face before,” he points out.

“I have,” Steve says. “I've also, uh. Remember when you had a date with that guy? I may have been— okay, so maybe I was jealous. Of him.”

Bucky raises his brows, his smile growing. “You were jealous,” he says.

“I was,” Steve says.

“Steve, I've been on dates before.”

“I know. I don't know why this time was different but something must've changed.”

“Well,” Bucky says and shifts closer. “I'm glad it did, whatever it was.”

“Me too,” Steve says and smiles.

He lets his hand slide over and into Bucky's right, grabbing on and squeezing when he feels Bucky's fingers curl and grab him back. His smile grows softer and he moves closer, eyes never leaving Bucky.

Bucky doesn't look away either, his eyes flickering over his face before stopping on his lips.

Steve notices and does the same, licking his own.

“Do you want that kiss do-over?” Bucky asks in a whisper.

Steve reaches up with his other hand to tug a lock of hair behind Bucky's ear, then he cups his cheek. Bucky's stubble is rough under his palm but the skin above is soft under his thumb when he brushes it over it; soft and warm with a blush.

Bucky leans into his touch and Steve's heart stutters.

“Yes,” Steve answers and leans closer. “Can I?”

Bucky nods and licks his lips. “Please,” he breathes.

Steve closes the distance between them and kisses him, properly this time.

Kissing Bucky isn't like in the movies. There are no fireworks blowing up around them and time doesn't slow down or stop, it continues moving in its usual, regular pace. It doesn't make Steve's heart go into a gallop like it's in a race to the finish line.

Kissing Bucky isn't like that.

Kissing Bucky is like coming home.

Until Bucky tilts his head to the right. The movement cases their noses to bump together and Steve jerks back with a hiss, his one hand going up to cup his nose on instinct. It throbs against his fingers and he moans in misery.

Beside him, Bucky laughs.

“Shut up,” Steve says and shoves at him.

“I'm sorry,” Bucky says between laughs. “You just— We can't have a proper kiss, can we?”

Steve slumps forward and rests his head onto Bucky's shoulder with a miserable whine.

“We will,” he says. “I promise.”

Bucky kisses his forehead in response.

 

◆ ◆ ◆

 

Steve's nose heals over the next couple weeks.

During that time, he trains ruthlessly with Melinda and finds that he loves the extra work even though his body hurts after. He spars with Sam and Sharon, whenever either of them are available and at the gym. When they're not, he finds someone else and even spars with Daisy once or twice, Matt too.

He and Bucky decide to take things slow, during this time. They kiss every now and then but it isn't anything more than pecks and careful kisses because every time either of them get a little too enthusiastic, they always end up bumping noses and Steve ends up with ice on his and Bucky laughing.

It's not so bad, actually.

He could do without the pain but Bucky laughing himself to tears is okay.

After three weeks, Steve can touch and wiggle his nose without it hurting too bad. It aches a bit but not enough to make him wince or be a problem. He's had plenty worse, a sore nose is nothing compared to some of it.

He's on the couch when Bucky comes home, the day after making this discovery. He's watching the news but quickly loses interest when his eyes move over to Bucky who has his hair down today, tugged behind his ears with locks framing his unshaven face beautifully.

Steve is suddenly overcome with love and want. He turns the television off and holds out a hand, a smile on his lips.

“Hey,” he greets him. “How was class?”

Bucky makes a face when he asks, dumping his backpack on the ground and putting his jacket and boots away. He walks over to the couch with a slouch in his shoulders and lets his right hand slide into Steve's. Steve pulls him down into his lap and Bucky spreads his legs, knees on either side of Steve's hips.

“Tiring,” Bucky says and sighs. “I'm graduating soon, yet there's still so much work.”

“But you love that,” Steve says, knowingly.

“I do,” Bucky says, scrunching his nose. “And I hate that.”

Steve chuckles, then he leans in and kisses him because he can. Bucky kisses him back with a hum and moves his hands to Steve's shoulders. His right only stays there for a couple seconds before it moves around and up into Steve's hair, dragging him closer.

Steve lets him, lets his lips part and the kiss deepen.

Their noses bump but it doesn't hurt this time.

“Nose healed?” Bucky asks against his lips.

“Enough,” Steve says and kisses him again.

The kiss gets heated quickly and even though they agreed to take things slow, Bucky presses his hips down and against him and Steve lets his hands slide up along his thighs until he can grab his hips. He could stop him, stop Bucky from moving his hips in suggestive ways, but he doesn't.

He encourages it for a while, even bucks his own hips up to meet him, but when he feels how it's effecting Bucky, he stops him. He breaks the kiss and leans back to look at him, a grin slowly forming on his lips.

“Are you getting hard from a little making out?” he asks, tone teasing.

Bucky shrugs, acting unashamed even though the blush painting his cheeks a pretty pink and the slight dip in his chin tell a different story.

“Maybe,” he says. “What of it?”

Steve looks at him for a moment, heart thumping in his chest and heat pooling low in his stomach. After a minute, he sits forward until his lips are a breath away from Bucky's and he tightens his grip on Bucky's hips to pull him closer to himself.

“Bedroom?” he asks in a quiet voice, a near whisper.

Bucky takes in a breath, then he nods and lets out a breathy yeah. He kisses Steve for only a second, not long enough for Steve to kiss him back, before he pulls away and rises from Steve's lap. He grabs his hand and drags him along to Steve's bedroom.

Steve follows willingly, a smile on his lips.

 

◆ ◆ ◆

 

Their clothes disappear, between kisses and comfortable laughs. They fall into bed together and Bucky spreads his legs to let Steve settle between them, both of them smiling at each other with nothing but love in their eyes.

Steve is nervous. Bucky is too, he can tell, but they take it slow and kiss and laugh.

And it's good, it's great, it's them.

Even after twenty years, Steve still has new things to discover about his best friend— his boyfriend.

He can't wait to discover new things about him for the rest of his life.

 

◆ ◆ ◆

 

After, Steve lays down on his back and lets Bucky cuddle into his side, one leg between both of his own and his arm thrown across his stomach. His prosthetic is off and so are their clothes, thrown carelessly around the room.

Bucky has his hand resting on Steve's chest, thumb brushing over the scars there in gentle and caring sweeps, while Steve is running his fingers through Bucky's hair, his cheek against his forehead and a sense of peace and right settling in his chest.

“I have a fight on the twenty-first,” Steve says, after a while.

Bucky hums in response and moves his hand to Steve's stomach. He says nothing, only tilts his head up to look at Steve. There's a smile on his lips and a soft look on his face, sated and happy.

Steve looks back and says, “I want you to come with me.”

Bucky is quiet for another moment. “Why's that?” he asks.

“Because I wanna kiss you when I win,” Steve says.

Bucky's smile is soft on his lips. “Confident, are we?”

“With you in my corner?” Steve smiles. “How could I lose?”