Bucky decided to take a page out of Clint’s book that morning. He bypassed the coffee mug and went straight for the pot. It’d been a rough night; Shuri had fixed him up as best she could, but even she couldn’t do much about the nightmares.
He made his coffee, grabbed the pot with his left hand, and then hurled a butcher knife at the intruder sitting at his kitchen table.
The knife embedded in the wall behind Black Widow’s head. She didn’t even bat an eye.
They considered each other, Bucky chugging half the pot while studying her face, Natasha not blinking nearly enough for good optic health.
If they both waited for the other to talk first, there would be another forty-five year long Cold War. Bucky decided to be the bigger man and said, “What?”
“Steve’s been hit with a curse,” Natasha said. She said it calmly, so Bucky didn’t immediately go flying out of the apartment to tear apart the Tower in search of Steve. Then again, Natasha would probably be calm if New York City spontaneously burst into flames. He lowered the coffee pot and squinted at her.
“Of course he has,” he said. He felt, abruptly, exhausted. “What is it?”
“The witch kept ranting about sexual repression and archaic moral principles,” she continued blithely.
“It’s not like you to prevaricate, Romanov.”
Natasha pressed her lips together. For a moment, Bucky thought she might start laughing. “It might be easier just to show you.”
Which was how they ended up at the re-established Avengers Tower. Steve and Bucky had their own floor there, but even though Tony and Bucky had made amends as best as two men suffering from PTSD could, Bucky didn’t like to impose. It couldn’t be comfortable bunking with the man who murdered your parents, Hydra-puppet or no.
Steve did stay there, once in awhile, when busy Avenging. Or if he got back late from Avenging. Or maybe for Avenging movie parties where everyone braided each other’s hair and talked about the boys they liked, Bucky didn’t know. The point was it usually wasn’t weird that he was there, except that today he’d apparently got himself cursed.
Natasha didn’t immediately take him to Steve and Bucky’s floor. Instead, she took him to a conference room, then pulled up a holovid of Steve sitting on the couch on their floor, alone. His head was in his hands and every line on his body spoke of exhaustion.
Sam walked into the room.
Steve looked up to accept the bottle of water from Sam, and. And. And little pink hearts swirled up over Steve’s head, cartoonishly, like he was a wolf who had just seen an attractive dame walk by.
Bucky’s mouth dropped open.
He’d seen a lot of weird things in his long, long life, but he’d never seen anything quite like this. The hearts wobbled over his head for approximately twenty seconds, before they burst like pink bubblegum.
“What,” Bucky said.
“We believe that the number of hearts that appear over his head corresponds with how much he likes a person,” Natasha explained.
Something hot twisted in Bucky’s chest. He viciously suppressed it. Thankfully, he had a lot of practice at viciously suppressing negative emotions. “So he’s in love with Sam.”
He wasn’t surprised. Emotionally devastated, yes, but not really surprised. If anyone deserved Steve’s love, it was Sam.
“Well, no,” Natasha said. When Bucky tore his gaze from the holovid to look at her, she shrugged one shoulder. “At least, not as much as he loves the rest of us. We all average between seven to nine hearts, depending on his mood or how pissed he is. Tony got the lowest number after an argument, but he still got five.” She paused, then added smugly, “I got ten once.”
“Oh,” said Bucky.
“Dr. Strange says it should wear off in a day or two,” Natasha said, consolingly.
“Oh,” Bucky repeated. His mind was curiously blank. Not that that was an uncommon occurrence, all things considered.
Natasha, thankfully, had an unending well of patience. “He wants to see you,” she said, guiding.
Bucky eyed her suspiciously. “So then why didn’t he send me an electronic message?”
Natasha eyed him back. “Do you mean a text message?”
Bucky waved his hand. She knew exactly what he meant.
“Don’t know,” said Natasha, shrugging.
Bucky trusted Natasha as far as he could throw her, which wasn’t very far, since she would break his spine if he tried to throw her, but Steve was Steve, and Bucky was doomed to follow the dumb punk off the edge of a cliff one day.
“He’s on your floor,” said Natasha, helpfully.
“Thanks,” Bucky remembered to say.
Even though he didn’t live at the Tower, the scanners still recognized him, and the sarcastic Irish AI took him up to his and Steve’s floor without question.
Bucky hesitated by the door. He told himself, sternly, that he couldn’t expect more from Steve, not when Steve had already given up so much for him. All he needed was between seven to nine hearts, at least more than five.
And if he only got one heart, that would be more than he deserved.
So he swallowed down his stupid fear, opened the door, and said, quietly, “Hey, Steve.”
Steve’s head snapped up. “Wait—” he said, and Bucky had a moment to see the whites go all around those baby blues before the room virtually exploded with little pink hearts. Dozens and dozens and dozens of them, until there was easily more than a hundred, likely more than two hundred, swirling around the room like a whirlwind of cherry blossom petals.
“Oh my god,” Bucky said, strangled.
“Oh my god,” Steve said, horrified.
Bucky laughed. He doubled over, clutched his stomach, and laughed, straight from his belly.
“Oh my god, shut up,” Steve said, wading through the hearts so that he could grab Bucky by the shoulders. The hearts crowded around his bright red face, and Bucky had to prop himself up against the wall, coughing with uncontrollable laughter.
“Don’t be such a jerk,” Steve said, irritably waving away the hearts that kept bumping into his face.
“Steve,” Bucky gasped. “Really? Really?”
Steve covered his face with one hand, trying to hide his blush. He never blushed, not like Bucky used to, not even when they were awkward preteens. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled behind his hand. “I told them not to let you come here. I didn’t want to put this on you.”
“Steve, you dumb punk,” Bucky said, swiping the back of his hand over his eyes. He tipped his head and grinned up at him, brighter than he had in decades, surrounded by hundreds of happy pink hearts bouncing off each other like brainless, cheerful moths. “I love you, too.”