Actions

Work Header

Waiting To Prove You're Not Alone

Work Text:

Absolutely nobody was surprised when someone somewhere released a sex tape of Stark and some random guy in the late nineties. Even Pepper just rolled her eyes and ordered JARVIS to call in the usual legal team to look at getting it taken down and suing the right person. Steve was annoyed at having to see an accidental five seconds of Tony Stark having sex, but otherwise he had to admit, Tony’s reaction was pretty funny. Bruce and Clint both kept snickering at Tony every time he came walking past on the phone complaining about how ‘the camera totally adds ten pounds!... and takes away two inches’, and Steve kept his amusement hidden behind a disapproving glare, but that was mostly just because Clint and Bruce both looked so earnestly apologetic when they thought they were disappointing Steve.

However, Steve was very surprised when, on the red carpet at a charity event for FDNY, he got asked about it. “What is your reaction to the recent revelation of a video of a homosexual encounter that involved Mr. Stark?”

Steve’s eyebrows went up in surprise and he hesitated. Pepper started to intercede, but before she could speak as soon as she got to Steve’s side, he shrugged. “I never needed to see Tony naked?” he said with a sheepish grin. There were a few laughs, but one guy near the back spoke up.

“What about the fact your fellow Avenger is a homosexual?” the reporter asked and Steve quirked an eyebrow.

“Pretty sure his girlfriend is proof he’s not homosexual,” he said simply. “I think there’s a term for liking men and women,” he pointed out.

The guy, who Steve still couldn’t see, spoke again. “But doesn’t it bother you? Back in your day, nobody tolerated that kinda garbage,” he said in a more pointed tone.

Steve’s smile slipped and his jaw clenched. “Lemme tell you something, Buddy,” he said seriously. “Yeah, back in my day it wasn’t tolerated, and because of that I knew from the minute I figured it out, that I’d never get to tell my best friend that I loved him, and sure enough, he died without knowing that I’d been in love with him for a decade,” Steve snapped. “So let’s get something straight,” he said seriously. “Do I approve of my teammate’s exhibition and philandering? No, it’s entirely uncalled for, but these days he’s got a lady friend that put an end to that stuff.” He looked straight at the camera closest to him. “But do I approve of loving whoever the hell you want to? Yeah, and I’m damn glad if I had to wake up in the future, it was one where nobody has to hide like I did.”

Steve knew he had overreacted, and he knew from the way Pepper wasn’t following him when he moved on that he probably had just started a media firestorm. He had a mild moment of panic as he vaguely wondered if it would get back to Bucky, wherever the ‘Winter Soldier’ had ran away to. But in the end he figured Bucky had worse problems than finding out his old best friend was sweet on him all those years they lived together in a ratty little apartment over seventy years ago.

~

“Here’s what I don’t get,” Bruce said, sitting on the couch beside Pepper. “How is it the biggest slut and then the virgin end up both being into dudes?” he asked rhetorically, earning glares from half the people in the room. Pepper elbowed him and he shot her a flat look. “Did you really just elbow me? Natasha is still afraid of making sudden movements around me and she could kill someone with her pinky nail, but you elbowed me?”

Pepper scoffed. “Tony pokes you all the time, if you were going to snap, he’d be dead by now. She just has PTSD,” she defended and Tony grinned at her sarcasm.

“I love it when you’re a dick to my friends, it reminds me why I kept you,” he said, fluttering his eyelashes from her other side.

“Pretty sure I kept you,” she pointed out and Tony shrugged.

Steve sighed, leaning back in the chair, head hanging as he stared up at the ceiling. “Why are you all so hung up on my love life?”

Natasha shrugged. “At least now I know why you kept not calling those girls I told you to call,” she said and Steve raised his head far enough to glare at her.

Steve gave her a stern look. “We are not talking about this. You’re worse than Sam and he tried to set me up with his cousin-“

“Oh wow, yeah, black chicks, I totally forgot that wouldn’t have been a thing back in your day,” Clint said, and Steve sighed dramatically.

“Still not talking about my love life!” He glared at Tony before he could protest.

After a few moments of silence, Tony suddenly burst into giggles. “Oh God, I wonder if Thor’s ever gone ‘adventuring’ like I used to,” he said, and Bruce grinned suddenly, clearly fighting laughter. Pepper shook her head in longsuffering disappointment in her boyfriend and friend. Natasha looked curious and Clint looked vaguely freaked out by the notion.

Steve hummed, then stood up. “Yep, that’s my limit. I’m going to bed,” he said, shaking his head as he left the room with a wave over his shoulder at the others.

~

Steve regretted agreeing to do the press conference about his ‘coming out’ almost as soon as it started. The questions were invasive and some even reference things Steve wasn’t familiar with yet. After the third hint at him seeing someone one reporter got brave and finally asked if he was dating anybody and if it was a member of the Avengers.

“Look, I’m not dating anyone, I really don’t want to date any of my friends, I’m not looking to date someone, and I don’t know anything about gay celebrities, but I’m not dating one of them either,” he said frankly. He knew he was going to regret saying it, but he couldn’t help wanting to get it out. “Guys,” he said seriously, eyes as wide as he could make them, knowing how easy people fell for his face when he got all earnest. “Look at it from my point of view. Even if it was really seventy years ago, to me, the love of my life died just over a year ago,” he said softly. “I’d like to think most people can respect what that means for where I’m at.”

It was only his successful ability to lie his ass off that kept him from cracking up at the dramatically pained looks on some of the people’s faces at the thought of Captain America still suffering after the death of the man he loved.

The only problem was that that was more or less where Steve was.

As he lay on his couch hours later, he couldn’t help but close his eyes and see Bucky’s bright eyes and cocky grin and miss it more than anything.

~

Sitting on the roof to draw the skyline from above as the sun set and the lights of the city came alive was one of Steve’s favorite parts of living at the Tower. He had never really liked his apartment in DC. It wasn’t his city. He had grown up in New York. He might not be in Brooklyn anymore, but The City was close enough, and no matter what part, New York had been his home, and it always would be.

“You know, the security could use upgrading.” Steve startled and stood up suddenly, wheeling around and reaching for the shield that wasn’t on his back as he found himself only about twelve feet away from the Winter Soldier.

Steve swallowed, unsure of how this was going to go. “Yeah. Barton tried to warn Stark about what a good spy could do when JARVIS is rebooting,” he said, watching closely for any sudden attacks.

The Winter Soldier tipped his head. “Who is Jarvis?” he asked, walking over casually. He sat on the wall that bordered the edge of the roof, facing where Steve had been sitting in a chair away from the edge. His eyes flickered to the sketchpad on the ground beside his feet and he leaned down, picking it up, silver metal glinting in the dim lights. “You did always draw so well,” he said in a strangely fond tone.

Steve swallowed hard, trying so hard not to get his hopes up. “Remembered that, huh?” he asked.

The man looked up and his blue eyes showed a hint of familiarity even if those weren’t the eyes he’d grown to know quite yet. “Yeah, it’s surprising what all you remember when you’re allowed to thaw out fully.” He flipped a page with his real hand, exposed in what looked like just a long sleeve shirt and jeans, no tactical clothes. “Damn, did you do this from memory or did you find a photo somewhere?” he asked, holding up a sketch of Bucky beside his face.

Steve’s jaw clenched and he swallowed hard. “I have an eidetic memory. Serum didn’t just enhance my body,” he explained.

He looked back down at the sketch pad in his hands and nodded, hair falling over his face. “I’m him, huh? James Barnes. I really am an American born ninety-seven years ago.” Steve nodded. The Winter Soldier smiled wryly, shaking his head some. “Gotta say, you look pretty damn good for a nonagenarian.”

“Technically, I’m twenty-six,” Steve replied softly. “No idea how old you are, though.”

The smile slipped some and long, scraggly hair fell in front of his eyes. “Yeah. Me neither. Can’t be much older than I should be, though. They never kept me awake for more than a couple months at a time. Usually days. So I figure at the most, I’m thirty.”

“Why are you here?” Steve asked quietly.

The blue eyes that came back to meet Steve’s seemed so much more familiar this time. “Because I know you,” he said in a strained voice. “I- I know you, Steve,” he said hoarsely and Steve’s heart skipped at the way his name was said. “I went to the Smithsonian. I saw- I saw us and I remember things. I remember- I remember waking up and seeing you, and you were all big and tall, and it was weird, but I remember feeling so safe because if you were there, that meant I was okay. And then I was scared because if you were there, that meant they could hurt you.”

Steve’s throat tightened and he nodded. “I hadn’t seen you in over a year, and a lot had changed in that year, huh?”

He nodded, looking down at the hands still wrapped around the sketch pad. “Clearly I had changed some, too. Just didn’t know it yet.” He slowly dropped the pad and looked at his hands. “I fell, but I didn’t die.”

Steve let his head hang. “I should’ve saved you. I should- I should’ve been faster-“

“Bullshit. I volunteered to go with you to keep you safe,” he said firmly. “I made that choice. I knew the risks. I told you when you were that skinny little kid getting beat up for stopping two kids from kicking that damned starved cat in the alley that I’d always be there to back you up and keep you safe, and just cause you got big and strong didn’t mean it was gonna change,” he said vehemently. “It was my job to protect you-“

“I was never your responsibility! Damn it, Bucky, that’s exactly-“

“Say it again.” Steve frowned, looking up at two wide eyes fixed on him.

“I was never your-“

“No.” Hands, one metal and one flesh and bone, clenched on the dirty jeans he was wearing. “Not that.”

Steve’s throat clicked when he swallowed. “Bucky?” he tried almost desperately.

This time, the eyes that met his, though filled with tears, were eyes he knew. “Nobody else ever really called me that. I mean… my mother started it, but she died. The nuns called me James. At the ship yard and in the army they all called me Barnes.” He shook his head, a tear breaking free to slip down his cheek. “But you always called me Bucky, no matter that we grew up and it was more of a kids name. You never tried to call me James. You call me Bucky.” He sucked his bottom lip between his teeth, shaking his head before releasing his lip. “You never tried to make me anybody else but Bucky,” he choked out before letting out a weak sob. “Steve,” he gritted out, and within a second, Steve was stepping closer.

“It’s really you with me, huh, Buck?” he asked, kneeling down in front of Bucky, though still out of arms-length, as if that would stop the Winter Soldier if he wanted to kill him. He looked at his face with a faint smile. “I told you, Buck, I told you it would be you and me, no matter what.”

Bucky let out a wet laugh. “God, things are so messed up, Steve.” He shook his head, letting his head fall back. “Oh God, Steve, the things I’ve done, the shit I am responsible for-“

“Wasn’t you,” Steve said, and Bucky’s eyes fell to his.

“But I remember it. I remember it all. Every throat I slit, every child I smothered in their bed, Steve. I remember it all. He may not be me, but I have his memories and- and I killed so many people-“

“Not your fault,” Steve defended and Bucky scoffed bitterly, eyes rolling.

“Oh cut the shit, I’m a cold blooded killer. I have more blood on my hands than the damn Nazis ever did, but you weren’t in love with them so you took them out just like killers deserve,” he snarled, and Steve grew still. “Yeah, I saw that,” Bucky said, cheeks still streaked with ears. “Fuck!” Bucky pressed his face into his hands. “It’s what made my programming break for real. Steve fucking Rogers, Captain America, a fucking queer. Oh how times have changed.”

Steve’s jaw clenched. “I’m not apologizing for telling my story. It’s mine to tell. I won’t be sorry for what I felt either.”

Bucky let out a snort of derision. “All the dames, all the girls hanging around screaming for Captain America, all the long legs in short USO skirts, and you fell for the dirty, roughed up soldier? Really?”

Steve refused to balk. “No,” he said simply. “I fell in love with the boy that spent a week eating only one measly meal a day so he could buy me Aspirin when I had the flu so bad I was hallucinating and my mother was too sick to come home from the TB ward even when she wasn’t working because she’d give it to me, Buck.” He shook his head. “No beautiful girl ever worked her hands raw at the ship yard to afford to cut on the gas when I got sick in the winter so I could get warm. And I refuse to be apologetic about outright sharing my story now that I woke up in a time where I’m allowed to tell the world that I was in love with a person that deserved it.”

Bucky rolled his eyes, shaking his head as he looked over Steve’s shoulder. “I never deserved it-“

“You don’t get to decide whether you deserved how I felt. That’s my choice and my life,” Steve said firmly.

“I was nothing next to you!” Bucky argued, face showing every emotion as they swept across his face in waves, like no one emotion was enough. “I was a dirty orphan that stole shit when the nuns weren’t looking, I was one of the boys that camped out by the steam grates just because one might blow a dame’s skirt up, I was getting in fights just because the other guys wanted to fight, and-“

“And you just happened to also have a heart in there,” Steve said with finality. “They kicked you out of the orphanage at fourteen, the height of the worst years this city ever face, and you fought your way into a job at the docks and the first thing you did was buy me a sweater since winter was coming and you knew my mother couldn’t afford one for me.” He shook his head. “No, you were never perfect, you got into the same kinda trouble all guys did back then, but how many of those other boys you fought with and played cards with do you think worked at the docks when they were too little to really handle it, tore up their hands and hurt their backs, just so they could keep their friend from getting sick as easily that winter?”

Bucky snorted. “Probably not many,” he admitted. “Steve, I never deserved anything from you. You were always the good guy. You didn’t need some rough fuck up like me around, but you let me be in your life all the same.”

Steve shook his head, smiling sadly. “Buck, you were my best friend – the only friend I had, really – long before I loved you. Feeling that way was always second to you being my friend. Even if it had been possible to be like that back then, it still would’ve always been second to having you be my friend.” He looked at him closely. “You were always the best person I knew. Say what you want about me, but you Buck? You were the best guy I knew.”

Bucky smiled sadly, looking up to meet his eyes. He shook his head. “I never gave a rats ass about Captain America. The boys on the front lines may have been impressed by that crap, but the man I followed into battle was Steve Rogers. You were a hero when you were a skinny kid from Brooklyn to me. All that shit they put in you did was make you look like it.” He looked down at his knees. “Steve-“ He froze suddenly and Steve felt the back of his neck prickling. He turned to look over his shoulder and saw the arrow before he looked further to see the man holding the bow.

“Stand up. Hands where I can see them. Step away from Captain Rogers,” Barton ordered, stepping closer slowly. “No sudden moves, Cap, you don’t know what he might do.”

“Barton,” Steve barked, voice strong. “Put the bow down. You don’t know what’s going on.”

Barton hummed. “I’d bet my left nut Frosty is playing you like a fiddle now that he knows how you felt about his outer beauty.”

Steve shook his head. “He’s out of his programming. He knows who he was and who I am. We’re just talking.” Barton got closer and Steve stood up, jaw clenched as he stepped to the right and fully blocked Bucky behind him. “I said put it down, Clint,” Steve ordered.

Clint shook his head. “Can’t. You know I can’t. Steve, get out of the way-“

“Steve,” Bucky said hoarsely behind him. Steve tensed when he felt a hand on his back. “Move.”

Steve turned sideways between them both, hands extended. “You are not attacking him, either,” he told Bucky, but before he could turn all the way to look at Clint again, he heard a soft ‘shnick’ and felt the softest brush of something skating past his chest before Bucky let out a choked sound of surprise. By the time his head finished turning to Clint, in the split second he’d been moving, the arrow Clint had had knocked was gone. “No!” He jerked around to look at Bucky, but it was too late. Even his superhuman reflexes weren’t enough to reach out in time as Bucky tumbled backwards off the wall and fell off the roof. Steve stood in shock momentarily, absolutely stunned, before he finally reacted.

Steve rushed to the edge, looking over in horror as he, for the second time in his life, expected to watch Bucky falling away from him. Instead, he saw Bucky sprawled on his back, unmoving, on the Iron Man landing strip. “Jesus Christ,” he breathed in horror, before turning around, fixing a glare on Clint. “You have two seconds to get out of my way before you follow him,” he snapped, and Clint simply stepped back out of the way.

Steve ran for the access door and rushed down the stairs in a panic. That fall was a good sixty feet. Even though he knew Bucky’s very existence suggested he could handle much more than a sixty foot fall, Clint had shot him in the chest and then he fell sixty feet. He got to the top lab floor and sprinted down the hall, sliding into a wall he sort of dented, barely missing Stark when he came out to see who had ran into one of his walls. “Whoa! What the hell?! You broke a wall-“

“Get Bruce,” Steve called back, not explaining anything else as he kept running. The elevator would be too slow, so he took the stairs down to the penthouse and when he ran out onto Stark’s platform, ignoring JARVIS warning only Stark was allowed out there, he saw Bucky was moving. “Shit, Bucky?!” he called as he ran out, careful not to slide off the edge as he got to him.

Bucky was writing in pain, teeth gritted. “Oh that bastard, I’m gonna kill him, Steve, I’m gonna throw his ass off a building- AHH!” he cried out when Steve’s hand landed on his side where his ribs were broken.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” Steve breathed, looking him over. His flesh and blood arm was clearly broken, his leg looked wrong so it was probably broken, the arrow stuck out of the right side of his chest, his lips and teeth were coated in blood, suggesting internal injuries, and he still had the strength to talk about killing someone. “Look, how fast do you heal? How do you heal? I know whatever you’ve got is something like me.”

Bucky coughed weakly, whining in pain when he did. “Need to reset my arm before it heals, but it won’t be that fast. The leg will take a while to heal. Missed my heart, so I won’t die from the arrow or the collapsed lung, but I need a medic. Definitely need that,” he wheezed, eyes wild with pain. “Steve,” he panted, screwing his eyes shut. “Steve, I need you to find me help. If- if anybody tries to take me out now I’m a sitting duck-“

“You really think I’d let them?” Steve asked. He heard the door opening and looked up to see Tony and Bruce warily coming closer. Clint was behind them, just inside the door. “Look, before you react, before you yell at me, and before you try to attack like Clint did, we’ve got a man down. Bruce, I need some help here.”

Stark whistled as he got closer. “Damn. Look what the cat dragged in-“

“More like what the bird dropped off,” Bucky gritted out, swallowing hard as he eyed Stark warily.

Steve scoffed. “Dropped off the damn roof,” he muttered and Bruce cringed as he looked up above them.

“Damn. You fell that far and you’re still conscious?” he asked, coming over. He knelt down and held up a hand. “Don’t do anything stupid, okay?”

Bucky raised an eyebrow. “You think you could stop me if I did?”

Bruce smiled suspiciously. “I think you don’t wanna find out, and I really don’t want you to find out because I don’t want to hurt anybody tonight.”

Steve gave Bucky a serious look. “Don’t try anything. Seriously. Just trust me on this.”

“Yeah, whatever,” he said, grimacing. “You a doctor?” he asked, and Bruce hummed as he started looking at the arrow, tearing Bucky’s shirt around it to get a closer look at the wound.

“Well, I’m not a medical doctor, but I’m the closest we’ve got,” he explained. “Dr. Bruce Banner,” he introduced, absently waving a hand at Bucky as he leaned in to look at the skin around the arrow. He noticed a set of dog tags around Bucky’s throat and raised an eyebrow. “Now where did you get those?” he asked absently.

Bucky grinned. “Sergeant James Barnes, and let’s just say I knew where they’d left ‘em when they got me,” he said and Steve carefully reached out to look, and, sure enough, they were his actual dog tags.

“Jesus, I can’t believe you actually found them.” He held them in his hand, wiping away the blood with his thumb.

“Alright, this arrow needs to come out, but I need better supplies than scraps of a tee-shirt,” Bruce said, rolling to his feet. “Any chance we have something flat to move him with?” he asked Tony.

Bucky shook his head. “No need to go through all that. I’m not dying, I can get around if somebody can get me up. One leg still works and one arm. I can walk with help as long as we don’t have to go too far.”

Bruce and Tony both looked horrified at the prospect, but Steve stood up, looking down at him. “You sure, Buck? This is gonna hurt real bad,” he said, and Bucky nodded, jaw clenched as he steeled himself.

“Ain’t the worst I’ve had, Punk,” he said, holding up his metal hand.

Steve’s heart fluttered and he couldn’t help but smile sadly. “Alright, Jerk,” he said, squatting down to help pull Bucky up to his left leg that wasn’t broken. Bucky whined through his teeth in pain as the got upright, but he clung to Steve with his good arm, the other hanging uselessly at his side. They took a few steps before Steve stopped.

“That arm doesn’t need to be moving,” he said, then wordlessly moved some. “Don’t hit me,” was all the warning he gave before scooping Bucky up.

Bucky groaned, letting his head fall back over Steve’s arm. “Jesus Chris, I am a goddamn world class assassin, is this really necessary-“

“I wouldn’t have to carry you like a princess if your dumb ass didn’t keep falling off of shit,” Steve argued, ignoring the looks Bruce and Tony were giving him as he carried Bucky inside. Steve didn’t meet Clint’s eyes as he walked past him, but he felt Bucky’s metal hand come off of where he was holding his shoulder just long enough to guess what Bucky had done and it made it hard to not snicker no matter how angry he was.

~

Tony was hovering in the background as Bruce patched Bucky up in the lab. He checked the wound on his chest and chuckled. “Already healing. You got a good dose of whatever formula they tested on you, huh?” he muttered, taping the bandage back down. “What’s your healing usually like?”

Bucky winced when Bruce tightened the straps of the brace on his arm. “I’m not sure about the bigger bones like a humorous or femur, but I broke both the radius and ulna on a mission and it took two weeks.”

Bruce hummed. “Good, you’ve only broke the ulna in your arm and tibia in your leg. A few weeks isn’t enough to need a full plaster cast on either of them.” He looked up at Steve. “What’s your heal time?”

Steve shrugged. “Week? Maybe two? Only thing I’ve actually had break was my wrist. Put me in a brace for a week.”

Bruce made an interested sound. “Mine is pretty much instant, but then again, you two both are free of my ‘other side’,” he said and Steve chuckled.

“At least I volunteered,” he added and Bruce winced.

Bucky coughed and sat up, hand on his ribs. “Wait a minute, so you have a dose in you, too?” he asked Bruce.

Bruce smiled secretively. “Not exactly.”

“Remember Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?” Steve asked Bucky, who raised an eyebrow. Steve nodded to Bruce, who gave him a timid shrug.

“I was working with the Army, researching an answer to Steve’s serum,” he explained, making some notes on his clipboard. “I wasn’t a test subject, I was the nuclear physicist running tests with gamma radiation,” he explained. “Accident. I got hit.”

Bucky raised an eyebrow. “So that’s why you warned me not to do anything stupid, huh, Doc?”

Steve cringed. “Put it this way, his ‘other side’ could wipe the floor with me.”

“Why are you here?” Bruce asked softly, hopping up onto the lab table behind him. Stark seemed to take this as an excuse to come join the group, leaning across the table beside Bruce, elbows propped on the metal top. Steve gave them both a warning look and Bruce just raised an eyebrow. “You’re still on so many hit lists. Why’d you break into the one place there’s people who can stop you?” he asked Bucky.

Bucky shrugged. “I remember who I am. The only person who remembers who I was is this guy,” he said, gesturing to Steve. “I wanted answers and I wanted to see my friend.”

Stark narrowed his eyes. “How the hell did you get past my security? Fury himself couldn’t do that. Barton fails nine times out of ten he tries.”

Bucky watched him closely. “Watched for a week, timed the security changes and the power surge that suggests a reboot. Knew when to make my move.”

“молодец.”

They all jumped at the voice that came from the back corner of the lab, away from all doors. Steve looked around and glared. “Was that necessary?”

“Боже мой…” Steve turned and saw Bucky was pale as he stared at Natasha.

“Buck?” he asked and Natasha stepped into the light, walking over.

Bucky shook his head slowly. “You’re the sixth,” he said, a smirk suddenly growing. “Smart girl. I knew one of you made it.”

She stilled suddenly, face going carefully blank. Steve new what that usually meant. Stark raised an eyebrow, gesturing between them. “You two know each other? Oh wait, is there a club for Scary Russian Assassins?” he asked and Bruce rolled his eyes at him.

Natasha walked up and stood beside Steve, keeping him between her and Bucky. “No, but the Winter Soldier did shoot me once years ago. Or through me, more correctly,” she said with narrowed eyes. “I’m the sixth what?”

Bucky’s lips curled in a sad smile. “How many little girls were in the Red Room?” he asked her and her eyes widened and she paled.

“как вы знаете, что?” She asked, sounding unnerved.

“You really don’t know how?” he asked, shaking his head. He pushed his hair back with his metal hand, catching everyone’s eyes. “How many?” he asked her again and she nodded.

“Six,” she confirmed. “Now tell me,” she said in a dangerous tone. “How do you know?”

He leaned back some, smiling sadly. “Which are you? Galina? Inessa?”

She stepped closer. “Natalia,” she answered, and he nodded. Steve mouthed ‘Natalia?’ over her head but Stark and Banner both shrugged.

“The youngest, too.” He watched her closely, looking her over. “Hmmm I can see it. A little bit in the eyes, maybe.”

“Okay, what’s going on here?” Stark asked, standing up, gesturing between them. “I’ve never seen Sexy Death look scared like that.”

Bruce cringed comically. “I have,” he said and Natasha didn’t even glance at him, making him frown. “Usually I can get a laugh out of you with that one.”

“How do you know about the six of us?” she asked in a low tone. “How do you know their names?”

“There were six girls. They wanted boys but all six tries there were girls,” Bucky said. “Galina, Inessa, Marta, Polina, Yulia, and Natalia.” He shook his head. “They didn’t want me to know that. They told me their names when the reactivated me to kill them in the nineties. The way I was programmed, I didn’t care about names. Only that I had six targets and only got five.”

Steve looked at Natasha closely. “That place… they trained you from birth, right?” he asked gently, and she nodded. “Why would they train you and then kill you?”

She tilted her head, eyes never leaving Bucky. “The Soviet Union fell. They didn’t need us anymore. I was eleven when they sent us all out at once and then started taking us out. I didn’t know who was doing it, but I managed to escape. The others were all older than me by a few years.”

Bucky nodded, looking at her closely, though Steve could see tears in his eyes. “Galina and Polina were fifteen, Inessa was fourteen, Marta and Yulia were thirteen, and Natalia was eleven. And they gave me the order to kill them. I didn’t know who I was killing until couple weeks ago when my memory started coming back. I didn’t remember the details until just now,” he said in a tight voice, tipping his head back. “You don’t know what I’m talking about, do you?” he asked, and she shook her head. “Do you know when you were taken from your mother?”

“No,” she said, and he shook his head.

“You weren’t,” he whispered. “None of you were kidnapped or orphaned. You were bred to be perfect soldiers. They woke the Winter Soldier to breed them a small group of assassins,” he said, and Natasha’s eyes widened. “The six girls in the Red Room were all my daughters. No idea who the mother was, they just got samples from me to put on ice once and put me right back under again. I assume they had a woman with some form of the same stuff they tested on me in her.”

Bruce looked at Natasha. “You’re not just really good at blocking pain and injury, are you?” he asked, and she smiled ruefully at him.

“No. I was waiting until one of you noticed,” she said. “How else do you think someone as small as me can take down someone as big as Steve?” she asked. “I’m well trained, yes, but I’m a little more enhanced than that. Not much. No superhuman strength. Just stronger for my size. Faster. Things like that.” She grinned at Bruce. “How do you think I outran a raging Hulk with an injured leg?” she asked, and Bruce smiled, nodding. She turned back to Bucky. “So that’s how I am how I am. I figured it was the experimentation,” she said, and Bucky shook his head.

“Genetically engineered little girls.” He snorted. “And people think the Americans are sick, huh?”

Steve made a face suddenly, grimacing. “The really gross part is that she’s older than I am,” he said suddenly and Natasha turned to laugh at his face.

“That’s what you get out of that? Find out your old best friend is my biological father and you’re freaked out by the fact that I’m four years older than you?” she asked. “Not worried about the fact you kissed a girl with your best friend’s DNA?”

Steve grimaced. “I like to pretend that didn’t happen, thanks,” he said and Tony gaped.

“Holy shit! Cherry Pie got to first base with the scary redhead?!” he asked in shock and Bruce rolled his eyes.

“If you keep calling her that, your scary redhead is going to have your balls,” he warned, though he then hesitated and glanced at Steve. “Dude, you kissed Natasha?” he asked, and Steve glared.

“Very mature, Bruce, I expect it from Stark, but you on the other hand?” he asked.

Natasha snorted and grinned at Bruce. “You should’ve seen him. We were running from SHIELD, right, and PDA makes people look away instead of look closer, so right there in the middle of this mall I just grabbed him and kissed him and he turned as red as Stark’s suit,” she said and Steve glared at the side of her head.

“You’re a terrible friend,” he said and she winked at him.

“You’re a terrible kisser,” she said, and Steve narrowed his eyes at her.

Bruce coughed slightly. “Not what I heard,” he said, and Steve flushed bright red, shaking his head in minute jerks. Tony nearly fell over in his haste to turn to Bruce and beg him for information.

Natasha looked at Steve suddenly. “Oooh, what have we here? You and Bruce sharing secrets without me?” she asked.

Steve cleared his throat. “Can we deal with the problem at hand? That being, there is a current former-Winter Soldier sitting beside us on a table after he broke in to see me. What’re we going to do?” he asked them all. He glanced at Bucky apologetically. “Look… I don’t want to, but Buck, we’ve got to lock you down.”

Bucky sighed, leaning head against his hand. “I figured.”

Bruce nodded. “You may be coming back into who you are, but your programming is wearing off, not broken. You might continue to return to being James Barnes, or you might start to crack entirely as the programming slips.”

“And if I get dangerous, I don’t want to hurt anybody,” Bucky agreed. “I’ve been remembering who I am, but I didn’t even really believe it until I got up on that roof and saw Steve drawing. I knew that wasn’t something they programmed in me. I knew that was something I used to watch him do all the time and the way he talked to me, things started feeling more real. But you’re right. Two hours ago, I was still not even sure I was who I thought I was.” He looked at Steve. “If I slip back, the first one I’ll go after is you. You’re my mission, still.”

Steve reached out and rested a hand on his shoulder, looking him in the eyes. “And you’re still my friend,” he replied and Bucky let his eyes slip shut. “Don’t worry, okay? I’m gonna make sure we take care of you, Buck. We’re gonna figure this thing out.”

Bucky nodded, reaching up and curling his hand around Steve’s wrist. “Can’t get any worse, right?”

Steve nodded. “Right.” He looked at the others. “What do we do? We don’t have anybody above us to give us a cell for him, but we can’t let him roam around free.”

“Hulk chamber,” Bruce and Tony said in unison, then grinned at each other over Natasha’s head. Bruce continued. “Tony built me a room when I moved in while he was still in California. Basically, up in my personal lab, there’s a room that’s graded for Hulk containment. We can set it up like a bedroom and for the first few days we can observe him. I’d like to do some tests, if that’s okay,” he said to Bucky. “Nothing medical and invasive, just mental things. Try to work out what you’re going through.”

Steve saw his wariness and shook his head. “Bruce won’t hurt you. I wouldn’t trust Stark as far as I can throw him, but Bruce is a good guy.”

“Thanks, Cap. That’s real nice coming from the one guy that breaks more rules than all of us,” Stark joked and Steve raised an eyebrow.

Bruce slid off the table and nodded for Bucky to follow him. “You should be able to walk with that advanced of a brace, so come with me. We can’t let you wander around, but we’re not turning you over to anybody else now that SHIELD is gone.”

Steve put a hand on Bucky’s arm. “I’ll come with you. I don’t want you getting locked up to knock something loose in there and you bring out the Hulk on us all.”

Bucky looked grateful. “Good.” He shook his head, jaw clenched. “I don’t want to hurt anybody tonight.”

Steve nodded. “I’ll make sure you don’t.”

~

Bucky made Bruce agree not to tell anybody what things they talked about when Bruce was doing tests on his potential triggers, so Steve had no idea if he was alright or not, but he’d been in the Hulk chamber for three days and Steve hadn’t wanted to intrude unless Bucky asked for him.

He also hadn’t seen Clint but in passing. Natasha didn’t offer any word about him when she was around, but Steve wasn’t that keen on asking after Clint anyhow. He knew why he had done it, but it didn’t change what Clint tried to do without even giving him a chance to explain the situation.

Steve ruffled his hair, sighing as he leaned against the refrigerator, absently staring at the things inside. He couldn’t sleep. He kept worrying and dreaming and it was a mess in his head. So much had happened and yet now that Bucky was secure and safe, he could only think about all the things that could go wrong. He could break out. He could set off Bruce and leave them all in a mess. Worst of all, he might not get better, but worse. Steve wasn’t sure if he could handle losing Bucky again. The first time had been the worst thing to ever happen, a second time would be unbearable.

“Can’t sleep?” Steve smiled softly as he turned to Pepper. She walked over and opened the door all the way, grabbing the milk. She opened the jug and grabbed a mug off the drying rack beside the sink, not bothering to find a real glass. She poured some and went to sit on the barstool at the island, watching Steve. “You okay?”

Steve sighed, shaking his head as he grabbed a bottle of soda and shut the door, going to lean on the counter across from her. “Just can’t sleep.” He picked at the label on the bottle and she smiled.

“Worried about him?” she asked knowingly and Steve raised an eyebrow. She rolled her eyes. “If anybody knows what it’s like, don’t you think it’s me?”

Steve grinned. “Well, when you put it like that,” he said, tipping his head to one side. “I don’t know,” he admitted, rubbing at his cheek. “I haven’t talked to him since that night he showed up. Bruce tells me he’s okay, but there’s no real update because he can’t tell me anything in detail. I can’t read Bruce, he’s a better secret keeper than any of us. He could be covering Bucky deteriorating with the slipping programming and I wouldn’t know about it until it’s too late.”

“Is it really him in there?” she asked gently. “Are you sure-“

“I won’t lie, I didn’t know for sure if Bucky was still in there when I fought him in DC,” he admitted. “But I- I didn’t care,” he whispered. “When I fell?” He shook his head, biting his lip. “I’d done my job. The carrier was going down. I fought him as long as I had to to stop those ships going out, but after that? I was done,” he muttered. “I dropped the shield. I stopped fighting.” He looked up. “If he hadn’t been in there he would’ve killed me, and at that moment, I didn’t care.” His voice cracked slightly. “If Bucky was gone. If all that was left was the Winter Soldier? I was going to let him kill me.” Pepper’s eyes widened and he looked away. “I’ve hated every day I’m here,” he admitted weakly. “I’ve hated the entire world. Sam helped a little, but he wasn’t enough to erase the fact that I woke up in this time and this place that I don’t understand.” Steve swallowed hard. “I have nothing here, you know? I didn’t want to be here. I didn’t want to wake up. I made my peace with God when I was going down in that plane and I thought- I thought it was over. I was fine. My mission was accomplished and even if I had friends there, I hated leaving them, but I knew that they’d be okay. And they were,” he said with a small smile. “They lived full lives. They were happy even after me.”

He looked away. “But then I woke up here and I have nothing. If I’d been found and woke up five, ten years after I crashed? It wouldn’t have been so bad. But nearly seventy years later all my friends are gone or as good as. Nothing I knew of the world is the same, really. New York is the closest to the same as anything and even it’s a million miles away from what I knew growing up.” He smiled sadly. “And I didn’t have much growing up. I had even less after my mother died. But even when I had nothing, I had Bucky.” He looked up and a tear slipped free. “But I didn’t this time.” Pepper reached out and curled her hand around his wrist and he ducked behind his bangs, taking a deep, calming breath. “I hate this life. I hate it so bad,” he gritted out. “I hated being alive when I let him die. I hated that I failed him the one time he needed me most when he did everything he could to take care of me. And then here I am facing down the terrible truth that he didn’t die, he faced something far worse.” He smiled. “If Bucky was gone and the Winter Soldier was all that was left, I was going to let him kill me on that carrier. Instead, he knew me. He knew me and this time when I fell, he saved me.”

Pepper stroked his wrist soothingly. “And now you’re afraid that after you have him back, you’re going to lose him again,” she finished for him. He nodded and she smiled sadly. “I know a little bit about that,” she said and Steve looked up, cringing.

“Shit, you do, don’t you? I’m sorry for bringing up bad memories-“

“Oh stop,” she said, letting go of his arm as she leaned back. “I was watching it live on TV when Tony fell out of the sky in New York. I thought he was dead. Then when I got him back, I knew I’d do anything to never have to go through that again. What happened?” She shrugged. “Same thing. When the house got blown up, I thought he was dead again. I thought this time it had to be real.” She shook her head. “Most people don’t realize, but Tony and I are all each other has had for a long time. For fifteen years, I was his assistant, and pretty much, his best friend. And as high maintenance as he is, that meant he was the only friend I really had.” She smiled. “Tony told me once that I was all he had, and it was true, really. I mean yeah, he’s got some friends, and I’ve got some friends, but for seventeen years we’ve been each other’s family, pretty much. When I thought he was gone, I didn’t know what I could possibly do without him. I’ve forgot what life was like without Tony.” She nodded. “So I understand. I really do. I can imagine really easily how much I might wouldn’t want to be in a world without my best friend.”

Steve smiled. “Better get him to stop the virgin jokes, then, cause I really did almost throw him off the building the other night,” he said and she laughed out loud.

“Ah, you really do like him, underneath the exterior,” she accused playfully. She looked at Steve’s face and shook her head. “Sometimes we all forget how young you are,” she said and Steve raised an eyebrow.

“You’re not exactly ancient, Pepper,” he said, and she grinned.

“Oh it’s been a long time since I was twenty-six. I’m not old enough to be your mother or anything, but I’m closer than I’d like to be,” she said and Steve raised an eyebrow.

“You’re either exaggerating or you just aged very gracefully,” he said and she smirked.

“Flattery, Rogers, will get you everywhere,” she said, sliding off her stool. She walked around leaned in to kiss his cheek. “Don’t worry too much, okay?” she said, squeezing his arm. “If he’s okay, he’s okay. If he’s not, we’ll try to help him in whatever way we cant. Nobody’s abandoning him, you know that, right?”

Steve nodded gratefully. “Goodnight, Pepper,” he said, and she patted his shoulder as she walked away, going to put her empty mug in the sink and then leave the room as quietly as she came.

~

Instead of apologizing, Clint made his amends by plopping down beside Steve while he was watching Tony and Natasha play video games and slinging an arm around his shoulders amicably. “So a little birdie told me a ‘Sam’ is on his way up,” he said, turning his eyes to Steve. “Who’s Sam? You got yourself a boyfriend?” he asked, wiggling his eyebrows.

Steve flushed and swatted at him. “Sam Wilson. Falcon,” he said, and Clint huffed.

“Not fair, bird name is my thing,” he whined.

Natasha snorted. “Steve’s sweet on him,” she said with a grin.

Steve glared. “I am not.”

“Yes you are,” she said, a smirk twisting her lips. “You met him what? A week before we went on the run. And where was the first place you suggested we go to be safe? With your new boyfriend-“

“He’s not my boyfriend. God I hate that term, it’s so odd,” he muttered, and Tony wiggled his eyebrows.

“Your ‘Guy’ then?” he asked, and Steve glared even though Tony wasn’t looking up to see it. “It’s okay if you’ve got a male suitor, Steve, we all know you’re gay, it’s expected.”

The elevator doors dinging interrupted and Steve glared at them all as he stood, as if daring them to make a remark. He walked over and smiled when Sam came off the elevator. “Hey,” he said, and Sam grinned, holding out his arms.

“I finally got time to come visit your new digs!” he said, spinning in a circle. “Being friends with billionaire’s has it’s perks, huh?” he asked, Steve laughed when Sam met him with a brief hug.

“It’s good to see you,” Steve, said, turning to nod to the couches. “Ignore them. They’re banned from speaking to the normal people.”

“He’s hot, Steve!”

“Yeah, buddy, score!”

“You go, Glen Coco!”

Steve frowned at that last one, torn from his decision to walk away like he hadn’t heard them by is curiosity. “What the hell, Clint?” he asked incredulously.

Tony cackled gleefully. “Oh God, we have to make him watch Mean Girls,” he said, and Natasha’s lips twitched as she fought to stay serious.

“You’re totally Regina Georgia,” she said to Tony, who huffed.

“Yeah, well Steve’s Cady,” he said, and Clint snickered.

“He’s totally Cady.”

Steve sighed, letting his head drop back as he stared at the ceiling. “God, give me patience,” he muttered and Sam laughed, clapping him on the shoulder.

“Trust me, Steve, their reputation precedes them. I won’t judge you for your friends,” he teased.

Tony snorted. “Probably good, since last I heard, his frosty frozen buddy is still trying to kick the soviet shenanigans they pulled on him,” he said and Sam tensed.

Steve gave Sam a sheepish look when he glared. “You dumbass, did you let him in the building?” he asked expectantly and Steve gave him wide, innocent eyes.

“Technically not,” he defended and Sam sighed.

“You can be so stupid, Rogers-“

“He was on the roof! That’s not inside! And he only came inside cause Clint shot him!” he added, pointing at Clint.

“And you were talking to him while unarmed, weren’t you-“

“Come on, he was scared! What else was I gonna do-“

“He could’ve been playing you, man-“

“But he wasn’t! He needed my help-“

“And last time he needed you dead-“

“Not the same-“

“Entirely the same-“

“Sam!”

“Don’t ‘Sam’ me, Steve!”

Tony whistled lowly, interrupting their bickering. “Holy shit, Steve has a Pepper,” he said and Steve flushed at the implication.

Natasha smirked but shook her head. “Nah, Sam’s more his Bruce, I think. Pretty sure James is his Pepper.”

Steve made a face. “Okay, we’re taking this conversation elsewhere, but before we do, ew, don’t call him James, that’s just weird.”

Natasha gave him a look that clearly read ‘are you kidding me?’. “You think I’m going to call the Red Room sperm donor ‘Bucky’ like he’s a six year old?” she asked, and Steve sighed, rubbing at the bridge of his nose.

“Sam, let’s go. I feel the serious urge to drink all of Tony’s liquor cabinet in hopes it might even slightly make my friends less annoying. That’s a sign it’s time to go out,” he said and Sam grinned.

“Lead the way.”

~

When Steve finally saw Bucky, Bruce was bringing him up from the Hulk chamber. He’d spent a week in there and after the first few days, Bruce reported that there had been an obvious improvement. His speech patterns had even picked up his old accent the longer he was aware of who he was. When Bucky saw Steve, they both just stared at each other for a moment, eyes roving each other’s faces, before Bucky grinned that same sly yet warm grin Steve knew well. “Miss me, Punk?” he asked, and Steve let out the breath he’d been holding and pulled Bucky into a hug, one that Bucky returned, clinging to Steve.

“Jerk,” Steve said in a strangled tone, trying not to let his emotions overcome him as they held onto each other for longer than was strictly necessary.

Currently, Bucky was sitting beside Bruce at the counter while Steve leaned against the island across from him in the kitchen. “So, what’d I miss while I was finishing my defrost?” he asked around.

“Well, the world is still kinda falling apart, Natasha keeps disappearing for hours at a time and coming back with blood on her boots so somebody’s getting killed, and Steve didn’t kill Clint for shooting you off the roof,” Tony said. “Oh, and Steve said something to Pepper to make her suddenly look at him all sad and shit.”

Clint smirked from his spot sitting on the counter. “And Sam came all the way from DC to visit,” he said, fluttering his eyelashes at Steve. “Steve got all excited and spent three whole days gallivanting all over the place with him,” he said with a mock-dreamy sigh.

Steve glared. “I forgave you for disobeying my orders, but in a minute I’m gonna kill you just out of spite,” he threatened and Clint made kissy faces at him.

Bucky smirked, raising an eyebrow. “Well, well, well. You sweet on this fella?” he asked, and Steve flushed.

No!” he stressed. He glared at Clint. “Just because I came out doesn’t mean I can’t still have male friends. I sure as hell don’t have any attraction to you lot and I’m friends with you.”

Natasha grinned from where she sat beside Clint. “And yet you didn’t come home until dawn the last night he was here,” she accused.

Bucky whistled. “Sounds like somebody was makin’ time with somebody.”

Steve crossed his arms, leaning back against the counter. “Sam is just a friend. A straight friend. Also a regular human friend who can get drunk and likes to go out all night to celebrate mission accomplished,” he explained. “Sam is my friend.”

Pepper walked in just as he spoke and she groaned. “Ah no, are they teasing you about Sam again?” she asked, swatting at Tony on her way past him.

“Ow, it wasn’t me!” he defended.

Pepper glared at Clint, who gave her a wide smile. “Hey, Steve’s the one with a crush on him!”

Steve shrugged when Pepper glanced at him and she grinned. “Well even if I think Clint’s full of it, I wouldn’t blame you,” she said, bumping hips with Steve. “Sam’s cute.”

Steve grinned. “Never said he wasn’t good looking. Just that I wasn’t dating him.”

Tony nodded. “Definitely attractive,” he agreed. “Wouldn’t have thought you’d go for a black guy, though,” he said, and Steve raised an eyebrow. “What? Even when I was younger some people thought it was a little weird for me to date black girls, you were around fifty years before that. It’s just natural you’d be hardwired to be a little prejudice, even if not on purpose.”

Bucky snorted. “Steve’s first generation Irish, why the hell would he be prejudice about shit? He didn’t stand for anybody to be like that, even if it got his ass kicked all the time when he’d mouth off to the wrong guy.”

Clint made a face. “What does being Irish have to do with anything?”

Bruce raised an eyebrow. “Did nobody pay attention in history class?” he asked, shaking his head at the blank looks. “Okay, so, you know how Republicans are about Mexicans?” he asked, and Steve and Tony both nodded. “Steve was basically an anchor baby to a lot of people.”

Steve snorted. “Irish, catholic, and my mother didn’t re-marry after my father died, she got a job instead.” He shook his head. “Racism was never in my nature, no matter what. Besides, most people put aside their prejudices when the depression hit anyways. When you’re all struggling to live, there’s no time for hatred.”

“Especially you,” Bucky said, looking him over. “Don’t think I ever told you, or anybody really, but when everybody thought I was jealous of you getting all the attention when you showed up looking like that, I was just thanking every lucky star out there that you’d have a chance to live to see thirty. Every damn winter I thought I was gonna lose you,” he said and Steve smiled sadly.

“I know I was a heck of a burden-“

“If you finish that, I’ll come over there and sock you in the jaw,” Bucky threatened, making a fist at him with his metal hand. Steve smiled and Bucky’s smile flashed right back at him.

Bruce looked between them curiously. “We’ve all heard all about ‘skinny Steve’, but how bad was it? The way you’re talking…” He trailed off, and Bucky grimaced, looking down at the counter instead of at Steve.

“If you ask Steve, he’ll downplay it-“

“Really, Buck, I was just a little skinny and unfed,” he said. “Anybody like that is a little sickly.”

Bucky looked at Bruce, ignoring Steve. “He was asthmatic before there was much to be done except breathe steam and pray, he was skinny as hell even for how underfed we were, he had next to no immune system – I’ve picked up enough over my activations to know he had some sort of primary immunodeficiency from birth probably – and he’d get some sort of lung infection or cold or flu or pneumonia every time there was a cool breeze.” Bucky ticked off. “He had low blood pressure, poor circulation, and his heart made funny noises sometimes,” he finished. “So basically, the fact I managed to get him to nineteen forty-one still able to get into scraps with big guys just because he was stubborn and damage his fragile little self every time he was healthy enough to go lookin’ for a fight was a miracle.”

Steve glared. “You make me sound reckless-“

“The only time you stopped getting new bruises was when you were in bed sick,” Bucky said simply.

Bruce looked Steve over. “And none of that other than the stubbornness carried over? The serum you got fixed a heart defect?” he asked and Steve nodded.

“Yeah. One minute I was five-five and about one hundred and ten pounds, next minute I was six foot tall and about two hundred and twenty of muscle.” Steve shrugged. “I don’t miss it, that’s for sure.”

Bruce hummed, looking him over. “The way he’s talking, sounds like you’re lucky Erskine picked you. You probably wouldn’t have made it.”

Steve shook his head. “I don’t doubt it. Without Bucky’s job at the docks, even with the soldier’s pay coming to his account, I couldn’t have afforded to turn on the heat that winter, and without anybody to help me out, I’d have probably died for sure. I had just already been dosed up by then, so it wasn’t bad.”

Clint nodded, wiggling his eyebrows at Steve. “Nat says you’re like a furnace now,” he said, and Steve frowned at the leer Tony gave him.

“What?” he asked, confused.

Pepper sighed. “Did Natasha find out how warm you are because you had sex?” she asked, and Steve gaped.

“NO! Oh my God, are you kidding me?! Natasha would probably kill any of us for trying since it would mess up the team morale. Also, did we forget I recently had a whole big press conference about preferring men?” Steve asked, pointing over his shoulder. “Remember? Stark’s sex tape, me yelling at a reporter, press conference giving them the big, sad eyes-“

“A-ha! I knew you did that on purpose!” Tony accused and Steve gave him a flat look.

“Just like I play up the poor, confused old man thing. Trust me, I know how easy it is to get sympathy,” he said and Clint grinned.

“I’m the opposite! I play up the ‘dumb corn-fed hick’ routine and nobody takes me seriously then BAM! I learn all their secrets cause they get careless.”

“Yeah,” Bucky muttered. “And you’re lucky you’re not a dead corn-fed hick,” he said, the first time he directly addressed him. He quirked an eyebrow lightly. “That’s the thing about Steve, he plays up the innocent kid, card, but I’ve seen him kill people without a second thought and even if it was a smart move because I was still teetering and could’ve hurt him, you shot me off the roof right in front of him.” He sucked his teeth. “You’re lucky Steve didn’t toss you off after me. You’re even luckier that arrow that skated past his chest wasn’t two inches to the right, cause it would’ve got him in the heart and I’d have killed you for it,” he said seriously.

Clint shook his head. “I never miss,” he said simply and Bucky gave him a skeptical look.

“Everybody misses-“

“I never miss,” Clint pressed. Bucky gave him a disbelieving look and Clint gestured to him. “How often do you miss?”

Bucky shook his head. “That’s different. I was a machine tooled to be expressly used as a super soldier. I was coded like a computer, not trained like a soldier. I was already a hell of a sniper before they got me and unmade me.”

Clint shrugged. “I’m the best shot in the entire world, and I’m not saying that to be cocky, I’m saying it because it’s true. I haven’t missed a shot – outside of when I was mind controlled and was fighting it – since I was twelve years old. Any weapon, any distance, any conditions.”

Tony raised an eyebrow. “You still felt confident enough to shoot at apparently two-inches off target from Steve’s chest?”

Steve scoffed. “Two inches off from going in under my arm and getting my heart. The arrow brushed my chest on the way past,” he said, glaring at Clint. “Thanks for being arrogant enough to not think about killing me-“

“It’s about trust.” They all startled when nobody heard Natasha coming in. She hopped up onto the counter, crossing her legs under her as she leaned against Clint’s shoulder. “Clint’s not lying, he’s never missed a shot in his entire history with SHIELD. It’s about trust, though. If we’re teammates, we have to trust each other. I don’t trust easy, but unless Clint decides he wants me dead, I trust his ability. Plenty of times he’s shot around me. Shot through me once, but I gave him the signal to do it.” She held up her hand, showing a scar on the back of it. “Me and this other guy had hands around each other’s throats, and he was getting the upper hand, so when I saw Clint aiming I nodded and he shot through my hand into the guys neck.” She ruffed Clint’s hair. “Maybe shooting Bucky was a poor decision, but he doesn’t miss, so Steve was safe.”

Clint winced. “Let’s be honest, I don’t make the best decisions without direction sometimes,” he said to Natasha, who pouted comically. “I don’t mean that! Bringing you in instead of killing you was totally a good one,” he said, swatting at her leg. “But c’mon, putting a parrot in Fury’s office wasn’t that smart-“

“You did not,” Tony said suddenly, and Clint smiled proudly. Natasha nodded, looking mildly amused.

“Oh God, I was grounded for two months after that. Confined to SHIELD dorm-level and taken off mission rotation,” he said, shaking his head. “Couldn’t even go see Phi-“ He stopped and swallowed, looking down. “Well, I couldn’t go to other places at HQ.”

Pepper’s eyes grew sad and she bit her lip. “You guys were friends?” she asked softly, and Clint looked up, frowning on confusion.

Natasha nudged his hip. “Pepper was friends with him,” she said gently. “They were pretty close, actually.”

Steve frowned. “Who?” he asked softly and Clint looked away, crossing his arms. He glanced to Bruce, who shrugged.

“Agent Coulson,” Tony answered, clearly understanding. “His name was Phil.”

Steve’s heart sank. “Ah jeez, you guys were friends?” he asked.

Natasha nodded. “Yeah, the three of us were a team, usually. Clint and Phil before me,” she clarified. “I did more one person stuff, though, so when Pegasus got hit and Clint got taken, I was in Russia, then I got sent straight to get Bruce.”

Clint smiled sadly. “Last time I saw him, he was running late for a meeting, and last time I talked to him, we were bickering over the comms about reasons why he should bring me ice cream while I was keeping watch over the Tesseract and his reasons why I could kiss his ass,” he said in a soft tone, and Natasha leaned into him some, laying her head on his shoulder. Clint rolled his lips together, looking away from them all. “He’s the reason I’m here. He’s the only reason I was on the list for the Initiative. Fury wanted Nat but not me, but Phil explained all the reasons a good sniper is invaluable and how I’m the best so I’d be perfect for the team.” He took a deep breath. “And yet, he never got to see me get here,” he whispered in a tight tone as he turned and press his lips to Natasha’s hair.

Natasha squeezed his arm. “He didn’t need to see it to know you’d work out,” she said softly. “You guys were friends for a long time. He knew you when you were the cocky nineteen year old I’ve heard stories about, there wasn’t anything you could do to surprise him as long as you guys knew each other.”

“Were you in love?” Everybody startled when Bucky spoke, since he hadn’t spoken before. He shrugged at the eyes on him. “Sounds like he was special to you.”

Clint chuckled. “Nah, nothing like that. Not my style, wasn’t his either.” He smiled with a sad fondness in his eyes. “He was a good man who had faith in me when nobody else did, and even though Nat’s my best friend, he was something a bit more, kinda like family more than a friend. But nah, he had his lady friend and I like women, so it wasn’t that kind of love, but trust. I trusted him.”

“Love is for children,” Natasha said simply. “Trust though? Trust is the ultimate feeling you can have for someone.”

Bruce gave her a sad look. “You really think that? You’ve never loved anybody? Not just ‘in love’ but any kind of love?” he asked.

She shrugged. “Love is a fairytale. Love is just blending lust and stupidity together, the way I’ve always seen it.”

Bruce shook his head. “That’s just sad,” he said openly, not even sugar coating it. “You two are best friends, but you don’t love him?” he asked, and Natasha shook her head.

Clint smiled sadly. “Don’t judge her for it, Doc, she’s built different than most of us.” He turned and nudged his temple against Natasha’s. “I love you for the both of us,” he said, and she rolled her eyes as if she thought he was ridiculous. “Hell, let’s be honest, how much easier would life be if you could shut it off?” he asked, slinging his arm around Natasha. “Do you know how many times my bastard older brother has fucked me over and nearly cost me my place with SHIELD in my lifetime, and yet every damn time I fall for it again because no matter what, he’s my big brother and I love him?” He shook his head. “I wanted Loki dead more than anybody on this damn planet, but even with how much I hate him, I could understand why Thor wanted so damn bad to protect him. I’ve pissed so much of my life away trying to help my brother even when I know he’s gonna fuck me over again and again. The bastard helped beat me half to death and left me to die when I was seventeen years old, and I still help him every damn time he drags himself back into my life because no matter what, I still love him.”

Pepper snorted. “It’s nowhere near that serious, but why the hell do you think I stuck around with Tony for fifteen years before we even got together?” she asked. “Every day he made my life a living hell but he was my best friend and I loved him.”

Tony huffed. “I did not make your life a living hell every single day. I admit I was difficult sometimes, but it’s not that dramatic-“

“Remember the time you were presumed dead for two months?” Pepper prompted and Tony gaped.

“That does not even count as my fault, Pepper!” he defended.

Natasha held up a finger. “I do remember it being entirely your fault when you almost got her killed in Monaco,” she said and Tony pouted comically.

“I was dying-“

“And didn’t tell me, yes I remember,” Pepper added.

Steve grinned at the incredulous look on Bucky’s face. He leaned closer, voice lowered so that Pepper and Tony could keep arguing without interference. “And this is the life of the ‘amazing’ superhero,” he joked and Bucky grinned.

“Eventful,” he said with a nod and Steve smiled brightly.

“It has its moments.”

~

There were ups and downs with Bucky. It was only to be expected. One night Tony and Bruce blew up something in the lab while Bucky was down the hall on his way back from the roof and it was only an entire hour later that Steve found him huddled in a corner, hands over his head, whispering the same phrase over and over in Russian. It had taken Natasha speaking Russian to him to help bring him out of whatever flashback he was stuck in.

The next day, Steve talked everybody into at least attempting to learn Russian phrases that might be important.

Tony, unsurprisingly, learned enough to carry on a conversation overnight. Bruce, definitely surprisingly, already spoke Russian. Clint didn’t speak more than dirty phrases he’d picked up along the way and apparently decided that was enough. Bucky just told him that he’d better hope a flashback interrupted by ‘your mother is a cheap whore’ didn’t end in Clint getting his ass kicked. Steve wasn’t the best at languages, but he picked up enough to at least calm Bucky down if he had to.

After a few weeks, Bucky was becoming more like Bucky. Every day a little more of the man Steve remembered was coming back. However, the more of Bucky that came back, the heavier his guilt became. Steve couldn’t help him with that. Bruce helped him a lot, it seemed. Tony seemed offended that Bruce could have long, secret conversations with Bucky but dozed off whenever Tony started talking about his problems.

Bruce always rolled his eyes and pointed out that Tony’s problems were fear, Bucky’s problem was guilt, something Bruce was intimately familiar with. He wasn’t the only one. Clint and Natasha both seemed to have a lot to offer Bucky by way of methods of dealing with guilt, even if they didn’t want to sit and talk about it like Bruce did.

The worst days were when Bucky shut him out. Steve hated that more than anything. He knew what Bucky was thinking and he hated it. Bucky had times when he thought Steve was too much of a good man to associate with him. He was, once again, trying to protect Steve even though Steve didn’t need it now half as much as he had when they were kids.

However, the bad days were worth the good ones, and today was a good day.

Steve and Bucky had just finished washing dishes side by side when they walked out into the living area and, much to their amusement, found Natasha sitting in a chair facing the large windows, enjoying the view, with a towel around her shoulders and Clint merrily snipping away at her hair. “Uh… that’s new,” Steve blurted out, wincing at how stupid he sounded as soon as it was out.

Clint looked back and snorted. “Oh please, I’ve been cutting her hair for years.”

Natasha nodded. “Yep. Nobody else is cutting my hair, that’s for sure. SHIELD can’t cut hair for shit.”

Clint snorted. “That’s for damn sure.” He ruffled his own hair pointedly. “Cut mine, too.”

Tony chose that moment to walk in, take one look at them, and then announce, “I can make a bot that does it better!” and walk right back out.

It turned out he really, really couldn’t.

After testing his contraption on a visiting Thor and almost getting his ass struck by lightning for it, Thor took Natasha’s long-vacated seat while Clint fixed the mess Tony’s robot had made of his hair. “It’s not that bad, really,” Clint said, snipping away. “Let’s be honest, you’ve let it go for a while there, buddy. When I first saw you, it was surfer dude, but recently it’s been sort of Scandinavian death metal.”

“I know not what you speak of,” Thor announced. “But I have let my hair grow quite long,” he admitted. “It’s actually a very somber tale,” he added. “Since we were old enough to no longer require our mother to cut our hair, my brother and I cut each other’s hair. When I first thought him dead after my first trip here, I stopped cutting it. And then I meant to ask my mother to cut it but…” He trailed off with a sad look. “Now I have no brother or mother.”

Clint, for all Steve knew he hated Loki, gave Thor a sympathetic pat. “Yeah, I know the feeling, Buddy,” he comforted. After a few moments he stepped back and nodded. “All done. It’s shorter than it’s been in a while, but it isn’t all gapped up now at least,” he said, glaring back at Tony, who gave him an innocent look.

“I really thought I had it!”

Clint snorted and shook his head as he wiped the hair on his hands off on his jeans. He glanced at the chair then looked at Bucky. “Want me to help you out while I’m at it?” he asked, and Bucky grinned.

“Hell no,” he said, shaking his head. “Don’t take it personally, but there’s only one person cut my hair since the nuns kicked me out when I was fourteen and even without that, I’m not sure getting near my neck with shaper things is a good idea just in case I snap.” He ran a hand through his hair, looking contemplative, but didn’t speak then.

It was much later, when Steve had expected Bucky to have gone to his ‘room’, as he still liked to stay in the Hulk Chamber just in case he had a dream and went violent, that there was a knock on his door. When Steve let Bucky in, Bucky turned and gave him a sheepish look. “So… I was thinking about earlier and I hoped that you might… cut my hair?” he asked, holding up a pair of scissors.

Steve smiled softly and nodded. “Sure, Buck,” he said, leading Bucky to his small kitchen. He rarely used it, mostly everybody used the communal one, but it had tile floors and a chair Bucky could sit in. When Steve first started combing Bucky’s hair, making sure there weren’t any tangles so he could cut it straight, he couldn’t help but speak as gently as he ran his fingers through Bucky’s hair. “So earlier you said nobody’s cut your hair since me?” he asked and Bucky chuckled, careful not to move.

“They didn’t care what my hair was like. Their soldier never got frustrated by this mess like I do sometimes,” he pointed out.

Steve nodded absently, snipping away carefully. “Why haven’t you had it cut sooner? Or asked me to?” Steve was so careful as he cut away inches and inches of Bucky’s long hair.

Bucky sighed softly when Steve ran his fingers through Bucky’s hair. “I didn’t know how to ask,” he admitted.

Steve tutted and kept cutting. “How about ‘Hey Steve, my hair’s a pain, wanna fix it for me?’” he suggested and Bucky just grinned. They stayed quiet for the most part until Steve was done. When he finished, he ran his hands through Bucky’s hair, checking that the strands were all the right length, then stepped back some, only to have his breath catch when he looked down at Bucky finally. He brushed his bangs back from his forehead and Bucky raised an eyebrow.

“What? Did you mess it up?” he asked, and Steve shook his head.

“Nah. You just…” Steve swallowed hard, biting his bottom lip. “You look just like I remember you,” he breathed, fingertips still lingering on Bucky’s jaw. He smiled weakly. “Sometimes, I get scared you’re not really you,” he admitted. “It’s too good to be true, you know? I mean not what happened to you, that’s horrible, but the thought that we both got brought back seventy years after we ‘died’ and you’re managing to be you again? It’s too good to be true, really.” He shrugged, dropping his hand. “I guess seeing you the way I always remember you… it’s harder to ignore how unrealistic this all is.”

Bucky reached out and caught his hand, pulling Steve back to face him. “Hey,” he said, looking up at him. “Know what else is unrealistic? Super soldiers. Or a man in a flying metal suit. Or cellphones,” he stressed and Steve gave him a small smile. Bucky smiled back. “I know it has to be hard sometimes to believie I’m me, because I still catch myself looking for my skinny little Steve and remember you’re Captain America. But just… don’t give up on me okay?” he asked, looking uneasy. Neither of us are the men we were eighty years ago. I’m not ever going to get over what I became. But we’re alive, and we’re together, but I don’t know how much good I’d be to anybody if you weren’t here. I’d still be that guy, that machine, if I didn’t have you, Steve.”

Steve swallowed hard and wrapped his arms around Bucky. Bucky, who was still sitting, pressed his face against Steve’s middle, arms going tight around his waist. “I’m not going anywhere,” Steve promised, hand twisted in Bucky’s now-short hair, hugging him close. “You’re my best friend, Buck. I told you, I’m with you till the end of the line.”

Bucky made a weak sound, but nodded, hands fisted in Steve’s shirt. “You better be, Punk.”

Steve smiled, closing his eyes. “Jerk.”

~

Steve was just taking a sip of his coffee when Pepper patted his arm on the way past. “You’re not busy right? Go get dressed, you’ve got a date in an hour.” The way he choked and spat coffee halfway across the living room would’ve actually been impressive if Steve hadn’t been too busy having a heart attack.

“I what?!” he asked quickly.

Pepper nodded. “Natasha and I found the perfect guy! We didn’t tell him who he’s meeting for dinner, but I can assure you, it’s a good blind date.”

Steve flushed. “I- I’m not going on a date with a stranger!” he said incredulously. He groaned. “Oh God, the future isn’t different at all. No matter what world it is, my friends are determined to make me go on dates they set me up with.”

Pepper rolled her eyes. “It’s good for you, Steve.” She gave him a small frown. “Besides, he’s already gonna show up. You wouldn’t stand him up, would you?”

Steve glared at her half-heartedly. “You spend too much time around Tony,” he said but resigned himself to the fact that he couldn’t very well stand his date up. “Damn it,” he muttered as he got up and went to get dressed.

~

When Steve got back, most of the others were in the living room. He fixed Tony with a weary look as he stalked over and flopped on the couch, putting his feet right on Tony’s lap before pulling the pillow over his face and screaming into it. Natasha looked at him from the chair she was curled up in and tilted her head. “Hey Steve, how as your date?”

Bruce and Bucky both turned from where they were playing chess on the floor and Bruce raised an eyebrow. “Steve had a date?” he asked skeptically.

Natasha nodded. “Pepper and I set him up on a blind date-“

“Ah, that explains it,” Bucky said, grinning as he looked at Steve, who was still apparently trying to smother himself with the pillow. “Bad date?”

Steve pulled the pillow down to his chest and glared. “You always did love watching me fail,” he accused and Bucky smirked.

“Nah, I always did hope the friend of the gal I was taking dancing would like you! It’s not my fault girls I liked always had a friend or a cousin who needed a date, too, and you were my only friend,” he defended.

Natasha frowned. “What was wrong? Pepper said he was an artist. I know what you like in a man and he was very attractive to your tastes. Kinda tall but not taller than you, dark hair, light eyes, nice hands-“

“I do not have a type, Natasha, and I’m not that shallow,” Steve defended. “Looks aren’t all that important.”

Tony scoffed. “Of course they are, nobody wants to date an ugly guy-“

“Hey, I used to be the ugly guy,” Steve interrupted. “I really don’t care that Nathan was attractive, he was pompous and presumptive,” Steve said with a bitter edge to his voice. “I cannot believe Pepper thought I’d like him.” He sat up some, putting the pillow behind his shoulders. “Do you know the first thing he did – before we had even ordered – was ask me to let him paint me naked when dinner was over? Seriously?” He shook his head. “You just don’t start with ‘Hi, I’m Nathan! I’m definitely painting you naked later’ when you meet someone.”

Clint barked out a laugh and Tony doubled over giggling. “Oh God! Pepper is the best friend I ever had,” Tony wheezed. “That was the best description of a first meeting EVER and it’s her fault!”

Bruce raised an amused eyebrow. “Seriously, though? ‘Great to meet you, I’m gonna paint you naked’? Just like that?” Steve nodded with a wide-eyed look.

“I mean, I’m all for being up front with your intentions, because God knows I still can’t tell if somebody’s flirting with me or mocking me half the time-“

“Probably flirting,” Natasha offered, but Steve ignored her.

“But that as a little ridiculous. And after he detailed wanting to ‘really capture me’ when I’m-“ Steve blushed and cleared his throat. “Well, I’m not saying what he said, but in a certain state that I’m damn well never letting anybody paint me in-“

“Fucked out?” Clint asked and Steve’s already red face grew nearly purple, but he nodded and Tony’s cackling grew louder.

“Anyways, after that, he proceeded to go on and on about how many people think he’s great and why his art is better than other painters and told me allll about his gallery opening and how ‘pointless’ it was because of how small the gallery is.” Steve let out a heavy sigh, putting a hand over his eyes. “I’m officially never letting Pepper set me up on a date ever again. Actually no, that’s it, nobody else is ever talking me into a blind date again.”

Natasha shrugged. “Did you at least take him up on the ‘fucked out’ part, if not the painting?”

Steve gave her a look so dark that it brought new meaning to ‘if looks could kill’. “In all our time together, have I ever given you the impression I’d do that on the first date?”

She sighed dramatically. “Steve,” she whined. “Come on, we set you up on a golden opportunity to get laid and you seriously-“

“I don’t need you two interfering in my love life-“

“We don’t give a shit about your love life, Steve, we’re trying to help your sex life!” she argued. “Look, Steve, a twenty-six year old person should have a healthy sex life, it’s only natural,” she said simply.

Steve crossed his arms over his chest. “And what about privacy, isn’t that another healthy trait natural in a twenty-six year old?” he asked and she tilted her head. “I can make my own decisions with my life without you and Pepper interfering.”

“Yes, but you wont make decisions, Steve! You are built like a brick shithouse, you could have all the guys you wanted – hell you could get more ass than Tony at his richest and most famous –“

“Whoa,” Tony said, holding up his hands. “Leave me out of this.”

Bruce cleared his throat, looking at Natasha disapprovingly. “Hey,” he said gently. “It is his choice, Natasha. He’s right, he’s twenty-six years old, he can make his own choices about his sex life. It’s nobody’s business but his what he does and who he does it with as far as dating.”

Natasha rolled her eyes. “Look, we’re just trying to help our friend have a normal, healthy sex life-“

“And what is healthier for someone’s sex life than them making their own decisions about what they want out of it?” Bruce asked. He leaned back against the table behind him, ignoring the chess game he had been facing as he stretched his legs out. “It’s entirely fine to choose not to have sex, no matter what you look like. Not everybody has to have sex all the time.”

Clint raised a hand with a sheepish shrug at Natasha. “I can attest to this. I haven’t dated anybody since I moved in here and I’m totally fine-“

“Yes, but you’re forty-one and tired of all the bullshit, not twenty-six and in your prime,” she said. “Look, I get it.” She held up her hands. “I’m sorry if you felt like Pepper and I were prying. We honestly just wanted to help.”

Steve shook his head, laughing tiredly. “You two both treat me like I’m your little brother, Nat. You and Pepper both, you take this ‘youngest of the group and only gay one’ thing far too seriously. I don’t need you meddling. If I wanted advice about dating from either of you I’d ask. And honestly, yeah, if I needed advice about anything dating related it would definitely be you or Pepper I asked. But just because I came out doesn’t mean I’m not still me. I’ve gone on a grand total of two dates – three if we count this one – since I got defrosted and it’s just not a priority.” He turned to her. “And like I said in the past, it’s hard to connect with someone when they’re your age, but you were born seventy years before they were.”

Tony patted his feet. “It’s okay, Cherry Pie, nobody else besides the two redheaded fun-suckers are so hard-up to get you laid. The rest of us are judgment free-“

“Pepper told me about the dating profile,” Steve interrupted, and Tony changed directions without even pausing.

“Well it’s just weird, man! At your age I was already in the triple digits and you’re still probably in the single digits for encounters, not just partners,” he said simply. “But whatever, Bruce is right, peer pressure is bad and all that stuff.”

Bruce snorted. “Stark, it is entirely normal for some people to keep their partners in the single digits. It’s entirely not weird.”

Tony shot him a look. “Oh like you would still be single if you didn’t turn into the Other Guy sometimes-“

“No, if I wasn’t Hulk adjacent, I’d probably be married and teaching physics at a college somewhere,” Bruce argued. “Unlike you, who tried every flavor on every menu before finding the one you wanted to stick with, I made my choice closer to the start, I loved the same woman for years and years, and I don’t even attempt dating now because even if I was willing to risk it, I’m not sure I could ever love anybody the way I still do and probably always will love her. Nothing can change that. Trust me, I’d try if I thought it could, but the reality of things are I am the Hulk, I’ll never get to be with the woman I love again, and I’m actually okay with my life as it is because I put that behind me and made peace with my angrier, greener side,” Bruce finished just as calmly as he started. “My point is, I make the conscious decision to not date anybody, so I know from practice that Steve is absolutely not wrong for making his conscious decision to not date because of his disassociation with the people in his age group. Sometimes the healthy choice is the unusual choice, because every person is different.”

Steve pointed at Bruce and grinned. “You replace Natasha as my favorite,” he proclaimed and Natasha rolled her eyes, but smiled at Steve’s words.

~

Steve was almost asleep when he heard his bedroom door open. He sat up suddenly, only to frown when he saw it was just Bucky. Bucky walked in, finger to his lips, and crawled into bed beside Steve. Steve slid back down, frowning. “You okay, Buck?”

Bucky nodded, curling on his side to face Steve. “Yeah, just wanted to talk,” he said, and Steve waited, looking over at him, hands crossed on his middle as he looked to his right at Bucky. Bucky held his gaze, face carefully blank. “I’m the real reason you don’t want to date, aren’t I?” he asked, and Steve flinched slightly. “You’re still in love with me.”

Steve sighed, closing his eyes. “Of course I am, Bucky. But you know I don’t expect anything like that from you, you were my best friend first-“

“But why?” Bucky asked softly. “Steve, I’m not the man you fell in love with. I’m never going to be the same Bucky that fell off that train-“

“You weren’t the same man I fell in love with when you fell off that train, Buck,” Steve said, sounding weary. “Bucky, I fell in love with a teenage boy,” he pointed out. “I feel in love with a carefree, fun loving boy that helped shelter me from the worst of the Depression no matter how bad it got because he was too good to let me suffer. The man that fell off that train was a war-hardened soldier who had to do things he wasn’t proud of and who had faced the worst human beings have to offer.” Steve smiled sadly. “None of that changes how I feel.”

Bucky sighed, shaking his head. “Why not, Steve? What could I possibly have to offer you-“

“That’s the problem, Bucky, this isn’t about you,” Steve pointed out. “This may sound backwards, but it’s about how I feel about you. It’s my heart, my life, and even then, it’s still not my decision. I didn’t wake up one day and choose to love my best friend the way I should love a girl. But it happened, and I dealt with it for ten years every single day and I did fine,” he said gently. “Bucky, I made my peace with it when I realized how I felt about you that I’d never get that. I know people seem to think I’m naïve and idealistic, but I was more of a realist than anything. I knew that wasn’t ever going to be an option for me back then. Yeah, now I could be with another man and it would be okay, but it doesn’t change that I lived ten years being totally fine loving you without it interfering with anything else.” Steve looked at him with a sad smile. “You’re my best friend, Buck.” He shook his head minutely. “That’s all I want from you. I want to help you keep getting better because no matter what, you’re my best friend. I knew back then I’d probably have to marry some girl one day, even if I don’t like them, just because there was no excuse for a man like me to stay a bachelor forever. At least now I don’t have to do that. People don’t just accept they have to get married, and they sure as hell don’t just accept I’d have to marry a girl if I did get married. I’m happy with the life I have now that I have you back, okay?” he asked, and Bucky eyed him closely.

“Are you, though? Are you really happy here? Cause I gotta be honest, from what I remember, you didn’t seem very happy when the Soldier was doing surveillance on you,” he said.

Steve smiled and nodded, stretching his arms up above his head before curling them around the top of his pillow. “I wasn’t as happy then. You would’ve been watching me before I met Sam and made a real friend, before I got back to New York and made a home here and fell back into working with the other Avengers, and before I realized that you were alive and there was a chance you might still be you.”

Bucky frowned. “You mean you weren’t happy then but you are now?” he asked, and Steve sighed, closing his eyes.

“I wasn’t… in a good place.” He chuckled harshly. “I woke up in this future where nothing made sense, I kept an open mind but it didn’t help that much, because I didn’t get to go anywhere or do anything without a SHIELD escort. Then I met the others and we all just rubbed each other the wrong way being pushed into a pressure-cooker of a situation like we were with Loki. Then we all split, I went around to see if anything was left of the world I knew and really, not much was. All my friends were dead other than Peggy and that was worse than if she’d been dead-“

“Peggy’s alive?” Bucky asked in surprise, and Steve bit his lip, but nodded.

“Yeah, but she’s so old and sick it isn’t like she’s really in there anymore. Remember the old lady on the fifth floor? Mrs. Goldberg?” he asked, and Bucky nodded. “Remember how she always seemed confused when she saw one of us because we weren’t still little boys, or how she’d trail off in the middle of a conversation and then realize you were there and have forgot already that you’d just been talking to her?”

“Shit,” Bucky breathed suddenly, and Steve nodded.

“I visited her twice, and she ‘realized’ I was there to see her eight times between the two trips, Buck.” He shook his head, blinking hard as his eyes burned. “But hey, she had a good life. A long, happy one.” Steve snorted. “People joked about how somebody was really determined for it to spell SHIELD by naming it Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division… Peggy named it that. Because of my shield,” he said, and Bucky chuckled. “She created something amazing. She had a long, happy life. She’s got grandkids she got to see grow up.” He smiled even as a tear streaked his cheek. “But it still hurt, having her not even remember that I was there to see her when I’d been there for an hour. And she’s the only one, Buck. Nobody else is left. Most of them have been long gone.”

Bucky looked at him closely. “You say you don’t like dames, but you loved her, didn’t you?” he asked, and Steve made a face.

“Yeah… but not the way I should have,” he finally said. “I’d have probably married her,” he added. “At the time, she was the only woman who had ever looked twice at me before the serum. She liked me from the start. She liked me as Steve Rogers, not Captain America. And I liked her treating me like a normal person no matter how I looked. I respected that woman more than most people I’d ever met, you know?” he said with a soft smile. “We’d have probably been happy enough. I mean, I couldn’t have been with a man back then no matter what, and I loved her enough to be happy with that. It would’ve been real nice, probably. But I died, she lived, and I woke up nearly seventy years later.” He groaned. “There wasn’t a damn thing for me but loneliness and grief when I woke up. I buried myself in work, and Natasha was kind of my friend, but she’s a spy to the bone, really.” He looked over at Bucky across his arm. “Before I met Sam, I didn’t have anybody to talk to. Any friends really.”

Bucky smirked. “I still think you liked him,” he teased and Steve glared playfully.

“I’ll never admit to a damn thing,” he said, and Bucky laughed.

“That’s practically admitting it right there, buddy! Face it, you talked to him because he’s attractive and then realized he was a good guy,” he said, and Steve rolled his eyes, though his cheeks burned a little.

“Thinking friends are attractive is not the same as a crush,” Steve defended. “I mean as much as I want to strangle him most of the time, look at Tony. The guy’s handsome, no two ways about it.” Steve shrugged. “Still just my friend, and sometimes less than that.”

Bucky nodded, looking at Steve closely. “You’re happy now, though?” he asked tentatively, and Steve smiled at him.

“Yeah, Buck. I’m plenty happy now. There is nothing more I could really want than some great friends, a home, my health, and my best friend back.”

Bucky looked at him for a long time and nodded. “I’m happy you’re happy, Steve. It’s all I ever wanted,” he said and Steve smiled tiredly.

“I know you did. The only thing I want now is for you to keep getting better. You’re doing so well, you’re recovering so much of yourself, and you’re healing finally.” He shook his head. “Nothing else matters.”

Bucky gave him a long look. “You sure?” he asked finally, and Steve laughed and nodded.

“Yes, I’m sure.”

Bucky narrowed his eyes playfully and then grinned. “Alright then, c’mere, you dunce,” he said, rolling over to fling his arm around Steve’s waist, pulling him closer until his cheek rested on Steve’s shoulder.

Steve laughed lightly as he brought his arms down, one hand sliding into Bucky’s hair, ruffling the now-short strands playfully, and the other catching Bucky’s wrist across his belly, sliding far enough to accommodate Bucky’s nearly-facedown position along Steve’s side. “You’re staying here?” he asked, and Bucky nodded, then shushed him.

“Shaddup, I’m going to sleep. You’re like a fuckin’ furnace. It’s crazy to think I ever had to do this to keep you warm,” he muttered and Steve grinned.

“Yeah, don’t think I forgot you using that excuse to mooch my body heat in Austria-“

“Oh God, that fucking snow,” Bucky groaned. “I was justified. It was cold and you’re warm. You’re still warm. I don’t like being cold anymore, so this is great,” he said.

Steve sobered up a little, but smiled sadly, stroking his hair. “I know what you mean about the cold,” he whispered and Bucky nodded silently against his shoulder.

Bucky stroked his thumb against Steve’s shirt absently, humming softly. “Don’t worry, Steve. I’ll keep you warm,” he promised.

With his eyes shut and Bucky’s arm around him, Steve could almost imagine it was any other night back in their two-room apartment in Brooklyn.

~

Bucky stumbled out to the kitchen, still half asleep. He’d tugged on one of Steve’s sweatshirts leftover from SHIELD with the logo on the back when he crawled out of the warmth of Steve’s bed, but it was hanging halfway off his shoulder as he shuffled to the elevator and then out of it through the communal floor to the kitchen. He didn’t expect anybody else to be up, but he was surprised to find Pepper, Tony, Natasha, and a woman he sort of recognized but couldn’t place. “Coffee?” he mumbled hoarsely, and Pepper nodded to the coffee machine.

“Somebody didn’t returned to his room last night,” Tony pointed out and Bucky glanced at him, raising an eyebrow.

Natasha snickered. “And somebody is wearing Steve’s sweatshirt,” she added.

Bucky rolled his eyes. “Laugh it up,” he mumbled, moaning when he got the first sip of Stark’s expensive and delicious coffee. “Besides, who says this is Steve’s sweatshirt? Maybe I was with Clint last night,” he said, shrugging, which knocked the sweatshirt even further off his shoulder, exposing his metal arm nearly to his elbow.

“Clint spent the night sleeping in Bruce’s hammock on the roof when he locked himself out, try again,” Natasha said with a grin.

“Yes, it’s Steve’s, grow up,” Bucky said, then made a face. “God, I can’t believe I just told somebody else to grow up,” he said and Pepper chuckled.

Tony wiggled his eyebrows. “Well now. Maybe not Captain Cherry Pie after all-“

“Okay, seriously,” Bucky said, voice less jocular than before. “Stop with the virgin jokes. It’s not funny, it bothers him, and it’s starting to piss me off.” He gestured with his mug as he walked closer, pajamas making him no less threatening as he stalked up to Tony. “Stevie hides it well when the stuff people says bothers him. If you weren’t his friend, he’d have kicked your ass already, don’t you get it? This ‘good ol’ captain patriotism and kitten rescue’ shit?” he asked in a low voice. “That’s just the propaganda posters, buddy. Steve Rogers is a rebellious kid who grew up rough and picked fights with guys twice his size just because somebody told him he couldn’t. Do you not understand that if you keep making him angry, he’s going to beat the shit out of you?” Bucky asked.

Tony looked tense, but as flippant as ever. “What, after he finishes blushing?” he scoffed and Bucky gave him a serious glare.

“I watched Steve break a man’s arm without effort. The only reason he hasn’t reacted is because you’re his friend and he actually does like you in spite of your jokes. But the problem is, the jokes aren’t funny anymore and if he gets angry enough to snap, you won’t be laughing about it,” Bucky said in a dark tone. “And do you know how upset he’ll be when he comes back down and realizes he just put his buddy in the hospital?”

“And let me guess,” the woman Bucky didn’t know said. “You don’t take to kindly to people upsetting ‘Stevie’?” she asked, and he turned sharply, ears burning when he realized what he must’ve called Steve.

“Oh God, don’t ever let him know I called him that,” he said suddenly, cringing.

Natasha raised an eyebrow. “Steve doesn’t like it?”

Hates it,” Bucky stressed. “He didn’t mind until he was about seventeen and realized he’d stopped growing and was always gonna be little, cause he said it sounded like something you’d say to a kid, not a grown man. Then even after he got all big he still hated when I’d call him Stevie,” he said with a smile at the memory.

“So. You really are deprogrammed, huh?” the woman asked, and Bucky couldn’t help himself.

“Okay, really, is nobody going to introduce us?” he asked, looking around the room. “Ignore them, Miss,” he said, turning back to her with his best, most charming smile fixed on his face. “Ignore my companions, they’re animals,” he said, winking at her.

She gave him a flat look. “Really? Flirting?” she asked.

Bucky leaned back against the counter, grinning slyly. “There’s a pretty girl I don’t know standing in the kitchen, what else am I gonna do?” he asked, and she raised one eyebrow without otherwise reacting. “C’mon, I don’t at least get a name?” he asked and she rolled her yes.

“Hill,” she said, and he smiled patiently until she sighed and shook her head. “Maria Hill.”

“Well Maria Hill,” he said, stepping closer to hold out his hand. “I’m-“

“I know damn well who you are, who you were, and I have a good idea I know who you could be if you snapped into some sleeper program,” she said, and Bucky gave her a wounded look.

“Hey, I’m totally coming out of it, Lady. See? I’m all thawed out and everything! Stark even made sure this thing wasn’t bugged,” he said, waving his metal arm.

She hummed. “Yeah, and now you’re sleeping with Captain America, so you can see how to someone on the outside it kinda looks like deep-cover infiltration,” she said and Bucky spluttered.

“I’m not a time bomb. Bruce has checked a thousand times. I seem to be actually free of that programming. If I hurt somebody it’s because they deserved it, not some latent programming.” He winked. “And you’re just jealous, admit it,” he said in response to the first part of her accusation, which made Pepper choke on her toast when she laughed. Bucky winked and went back to get another mug and put coffee in it. He grabbed the sugar bowl and put four big scoops in the cup before turning and walking out with both coffees. “Nice to meet you, Miss Negativity, but I’m going back to bed.”

Natasha smirked. “With Steve?”

Bucky shrugged. “Yep! We shared a bed for ten years, you are all making this out to be a much bigger deal than it is.”

~

Steve was just finishing his four hundredth pushup – Clint hated him sometimes – when out of nowhere, he was doused with water. He fell onto his front and looked up, spluttering, only to see Bucky running off with a bucket. “BUCKY!” he shouted, rushing to his feet, stumbling as he ran after him. “Hey you jerk!”

Bucky laughed hysterically as he dropped the bucket and ran out of the gym. “What happened to super speed, Rogers?!” he called back, getting out into the hall where he could get to a sprint. Steve was soaking wet as he ran, splattering the walls when he ran into one as he wheeled around a corner. A woman screamed as she came out of the hall to the labs and Bucky dodged her. “Sorry, Miss!” he called, and Steve ducked past her making her yell again. When they ran out into the living room, Bucky ran around the couches and stopped by the windows, looking for the door but unable to remember which was a door instead of a window. “Ah, c’mon!”

“Dead end,” Steve said, grinning at Bucky as he looked for a way to go. “I’ve got you now.”

Bucky bit his lip, then deflated. “Okay, okay, I give,” he said, giving Steve a serious look. “I’m sorry.”

Steve smirked. “Ah, it’s all good, I was hot anyways,” he said, and Bucky eyed him warily as he walked closer. Steve held out a hand. “Truce?”

Bucky closed the distance and nodded. “Alright, t-“

“HA!” Steve cried, grabbing him by the wrist and pulling him into a hug.

“Nooo, you’re wet!” Bucky whined, struggling against Steve as he hugged him close and shook his head, splattering him with the water in his hair. “Plah, blech, gross!” He pulled away and fell with a yelp, tugging Steve down on top of him.

Steve laughed when Bucky grabbed him on the sides to keep him from falling on him, back arching with a yelp. “No, stop!” he cried, and Bucky grinned evilly.

“You’re still ticklish, huh?” he said, and Steve cried out, laughing manically when Bucky dug his fingertips into his ribs.

“Buck, STOP!” he cried, falling over and kicking at Bucky, who just grabbed him around the middle, still tickling him. “BUCKY!” he cried, flailing and pulling away, only to shove Bucky back against the floor and grab his wrists, holding them away as he shook his hair, splattering Bucky with water.

“Ew, gross, stop! It’s coooold-“

“Should’ve thought of that before you dumped it on me-“

“I’m gonna kill you, Rogers, I really am-“

“That’ll be hard to when I wring my shirt out on your face!”

“I’ll pound YOUR face-“

“What the hell is going on in here?!” Both Bucky and Steve both froze and looked up, only to see the woman they had scared standing behind them, her arms crossed. Bruce was standing behind her, looking amused, whereas Clint and Natasha were both snickering and elbowing each other when their laughs got too noticeable.

Steve jumped up suddenly, blushing as he stood tall. “Sorry about the hallway, Ma’am-“

“Yeah, real sorry, lady,” Bucky said, then paled. “I mean, Ma’am.”

When she stalked up to them Steve noticed how tiny she was. She was even smaller than Natasha, if that was possible, but she stalked right up to him and poked him in the diaphragm (his chest was a little too high) and glared at him. “You knocked my work right out of my hands and then dripped on it! I’m going to have to redo two pages of equations!” She whirled on Bucky. “You both are going to go down that hall, pick up all my papers, including the ones your buddy dripped on, and you’re going to sit down and put them all back in order page by page.” She glared up at them. “All four hundred and seven pages,” she commanded in a scary tone for someone so small.

Steve nodded, then flinched when it made water fleck her face. She winced and then wiped her face, glaring up at him. He pointed at Bucky quickly. “He did it, Ma’am.”

Bucky glared. “Don’t sell me out-“

“Well you dumped water on me-“

“Yeah but you don’t sell a guy out-“

“Oh my God, just shut up and go pick up my papers!” she commanded, pointing at the hall to the labs.

“Right away!” Steve said, grabbing Bucky and shoving him ahead of him as they both started towards the hallway where they had ran into her.

It wasn’t until they finished over an hour later that Bruce came in, looking amused at their positions. Steve had changed into dry clothes, but Bucky was still a little damp around the seams from the hugs and wrestling. “I gotta say, watching Dr. Foster whip two super soldiers into shape? Hilarious,” he stressed, going past them to open a cabinet and take out some sort of samples.

Steve looked up, eyebrows raised. “That was Jane?” he asked, and Bucky frowned.

“Who is Jane?”

Steve chuckled. “Thor’s lady friend. I’ve heard her talked about but I never met her.”

Bucky let out a low whistle. “Damn. I can see why he likes her. Tiny little gal, but I can honestly say I was terrified for some reason.”

Steve’s eyes widened and he nodded seriously. “I haven’t been that scared of a lady since I first met Natasha.”

Bruce walked over and grinned. “I heard from Thor that she was totally down to break into a secure SHIELD facility with him, but he made her stay behind while he went in because he was planning on getting shot at and didn’t want her to get hurt. She was absolutely ready to break in to get her research back.”

Bucky frowned. “Why would SHIELD take a scientists research?” he asked. “I mean I know now they had some serious bats in the belfry but what did she have they wanted?”

Bruce shrugged. “Anything? Science is dangerous, because if you’re good, chances are the government is on your ass. Tony is the only reason I’m not still off the grid. He’s able to give us some protection because he’s too rich and powerful for any government to touch.

Steve shook his head. “Damn shame.”

Bruce snorted. “No, a damn shame is how much work I was able to do off the grid as opposed to here. I mean yes, I work on some important things here with Tony and occasionally Jane, but I was vaccinating children in third world countries, you know? Doing things that have immediate benefits.” He made a face. “I actually have a feeling you’d particularly be annoyed by this one: ever head of the antivaxxers?” he asked, and Steve raised an eyebrow. “Basically, a lot of people are deciding that vaccines aren’t worth the good they do, they think they’re bad for kids, so now a lot of the diseases that vaccination had nearly wiped out are coming back.”

Bucky raised an eyebrow. “Wait, people purposefully don’t vaccinate their kids?” he asked skeptically.

Bruce nodded. “Yeah, in 2010 there was an outbreak of Whooping Cough that killed ten babies and it was determined the outbreak cluster was near a school system where three-fourths of the parents had got exemptions from vaccinating their kids, meaning the babies that got sick all came into contact with non-vaccinated people-“

“You mean people choose to NOT protect their kid from that shit?” Steve asked incredulously. “I had Whooping Cough, and it was really fucking bad,” he stressed. “I almost died and I wasn’t even a baby-“

“Broke two ribs, didn’t you?” Bucky asked, and Steve nodded.

“Seriously, that’s fucked up,” he said flatly.

Bruce raised an eyebrow. “Did you really just say ‘fuck’ twice?” he asked, and Steve rolled his eyes. “No, it’s just, I’m pretty sure nobody’s ever heard you say that one,” he said, and Bucky snorted.

“Yeah well, that’s some really fucked up news to us. Them people can come back and talk to us about how much they want their kids to get fuckin’ polio,” Bucky said, and Steve nodded.

“Seriously.”

~

Steve and Bucky officially met Jane at dinner. She was sitting beside Thor, smiling at something the girl beside her – another person Steve didn’t know – had said. When they sat down, she looked up at them and smiled. “Hello, guys. Finish straightening up my papers?” she asked, and they both gave her sheepish smiles.

“Yes, Ma’am,” they said in unison.

The other girl laughed. “Ha! Ma’am.”

Jane shrugged. “I kinda like it,” she said, shaking her hair back.

Thor smiled brightly. “Ah, so my friends, you have met my dear Jane already today?” he asked, looking at her like she was the only thing he wanted to look at.

She shot them both a playful glare. “A certain pair of toddlers were playing around and knocked my papers out of my hands and dripped water on some of my equations. They’ve been fixing that, though.”

Steve smiled brighter. “It’s nice to finally meet you, Dr. Foster. Thor’s talked about you a lot every time he comes by.”

Bucky smirked, leaning forward some towards the girl across from him, beside Jane. “Didn’t mention you’re pretty friend, though,” he said, grinning. “Hi, Doll. What’s your name?”

She snickered. “It’s Darcy, and I assume your name is ‘boob starer’ since you looked at my face exactly once,” she accused and Bucky grinned sheepishly, sitting back with a shrug.

“Can’t help it. I’m getting used to this future full of boobs,” Bucky said openly and Steve slapped a hand over his face.

“Bucky-“

“What?! It’s true!” Bucky defended. “Everywhere I go, there’s boobs in plain sight! I mean damn, I used to have to work real hard to get a dame to unbutton the top two buttons on her blouse and gimme a peek and now they walk around with them all over the place! It’s distracting!”

Steve groaned. “Why am I friends with you?” he asked and Darcy cackled.

“I like him, don’t be mean,” she said to Steve. “That’s what I like about this place,” she said to Bucky. “The dudes never have sleeves,” she said, nodding to where both Clint and Thor were wearing muscle shirts. “I’m totally fine with the oogling cause I do it too,” she said, and Jane rolled her eyes behind her. Steve felt her pain.

“Are we talking about Tony? I heard oogling,” Pepper said as she walked over and sat beside Steve.

Darcy shook her head, taking a bite out of a piece of a carrot. “Nah, Bucky and I are talking about our respective ooglings of boobs and arms,” she said and Pepper made a face.

“Greeaaaat,” she drawled sarcastically.

Darcy grinned. “No, great are all the butts!” she said, gesturing with her carrot. “I love trip time with Jane because apparently it’s a requirement to be a superhero that these people have to have great asses. Your dude has a really great butt, you are a lucky woman,” she said, gesturing to where Tony was standing at the refrigerator getting something out. “Almost as nice as Captain Ass-Merica,” she said and Steve wasn’t sure if he should blush or be offended.

Bucky shook his head. “Nah, Steve’s is better, “ he said, and she shrugged.

“Clint’s is the best. He likes his pants to look painted on, right Clint?” she asked, and he just winked.

“I knew you were coming, Babe! Had to show off for ma girl,” he drawled, making her laugh.

Tony came over and spun his chair around to straddle it, handing Pepper a glass of wine. “Gotta say, though, pretty sure Steve wins the best tits, though, even with you in contention,” he said, and Steve gaped, unconsciously crossing his arms over his chest.

“Tony!” he yelped and Tony winked.

“You’re a naturally large-chested man, own it!” he said, and Steve huffed. Tony smirked at Bucky. “In all seriousness though, Natasha’s got the best boobs.”

Bucky choked on his water. “Okay, first, ew have you forgotten the part where she’s my daughter?! And second, She’s totally going to kill you if she finds out you said that.”

“Wait, what?!” Darcy asked suddenly. “Daughter? You’re like her age!”

Steve snickered when he realized nobody had told her about Bucky apparently. “Actually, he’s a year older than me,” he said, and she eyed him suspiciously.

“A year old in real years or popsicle years?” she asked and he gave her a stern look.

Bucky grinned. “I’ve was lookin’ after this guy when we were both kids back in the 30s. I ‘died’ and ended up getting thawed too,” he explained, leaving out the darker parts of the story. “Let’s just say back in the 80s they took a sample from me and made a mini-super soldier baby. Thirty years later, I’m a twenty-seven year old with a thirty year old daughter.” He made a face. “We don’t really talk about it. Or think of each other that way. But it’s the facts,” he said, shrugging.

“Whoa, that’s so cool!” Darcy said with wide eyes. “Holy crap, that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever heard and Thor’s nephew is a horse,” she said, and Bucky and Steve both dropped their forks, gaping at her.

Tony frowned. “How the hell is your nephew a horse?” Tony asked and Bruce’s eyes widened.

“Oh my God that’s not just mythology?!” he asked, looking horrified.

Clint just raised an eyebrow. “Do Asgardian’s consider their horses family?” he asked, and Thor cringed.

“It’s not something really spoken of… and perhaps you, my friends, are not the best to speak of it once again with-“

Darcy interrupted. “Remember his brother? The evil one that ended up not being all that evil cause he like died to save Jane, and stuff? Anyways,” she ate another carrot, talking while she chewed. “When he was younger, he like turned himself into a lady horse, and got busy with a man horse, and then gave birth to a baby horse, so Thor’s nephew is a horse.” She nodded. “True story. I thought it was just from the mythology like Bruce,” she said, gesturing to Bruce. “But then I asked Thor and he totally was like ‘nah dude, my brother fucked a horse!’ and it’s now the second-coolest story since you’re actually younger than your offspring.”

Pepper stared, Bruce looked like he’d just had a minor heart attack, and Tony just opened and closed his mouth a few times before humming. “You know… I’m not sure I’m actually that surprised,” he admitted. “Dude had issues.”

Bucky just shook his head. “I got tortured by a man with a red skull for a face and then got turned into a super soldier assassin for the next seventy years, and even I’m having trouble with this one,” he said and Steve nodded.

“I know how to fix this horrible mental image,” Bruce said suddenly. “Tony, you owe me fifty bucks,” he said, holding out his hand.

Tony huffed. “And what for?” he asked.

Bruce grinned. “Steve dropped two f-bombs in the lab. I win.”

“Lies!” Tony cried, clutching at his chest. “I’m scandalized! Steve Rogers, did you really-“

“Say ‘fuck’? Yeah, why is this a surprise?” Bucky asked them. “This is Steve, here.”

Steve snorted. “They all seem to think I’m some kinda prude,” he said, and Bucky snickered.

“What?” Tony asked. “Cherry Pie blushes over half the things I say-“

“I can’t help I’m pale, Tony, but that doesn’t mean I have a clean vocabulary,” Steve argued. “You don’t grow up one-foot-in-the-gutter and not get a pretty impressive collection of swears.”

“And the Army,” Bucky said, grinning. “Pretty sure Steve can curse in four languages still.”

Steve snickered. “Like a sailor,” he confirmed and Bucky snickered, knocking their elbows together.

“Nah, man, you don’t know swearing until you join the Air Force,” a voice said behind them.

Steve’s face lit up and he spun around. “Sam!” he said excitedly, jumping up from beside Bucky to go greet Sam with a hug. “Oh my God, when did you get here?! JARVIS, why didn’t you say Sam was here?”

“I’m sorry, Sir, but he asked not to be introduced,” JARVIS replied.

Steve turned back to the others, his arm still around Sam’s shoulders. “Oh, Darcy, Jane, this is Sam Wilson,” he said, walking them back over.

Darcy smiled brightly. “Oh yeah! You’re that hot guy that was in the pictures of Steve at that bar a few months back!” she said and Sam groaned.

“You mean the drunk guy? Yeah that’s me,” he said, glaring at Steve. “You’re not getting me drunk again, Man.”

Jane just smiled. “It’s nice to meet you, Sam,” she said, and he smiled.

“You too,” he said.

Bucky gave Steve a look. “So this is Sam?” he asked, and Steve did a double take.

“Oh wow, I’m sorry, I forgot you weren’t up for visitors last time,” he said, walking Sam over. “Sam, this is Bucky, Buck, this is Sam, the guy I told you about.”

Bucky cringed slightly, holding out his hand. “I’m really sorry about the whole ‘tried to kill you’ thing,” he said, and Sam smirked.

“It’s all cool, man. I’m just glad Steve was able to get you back, man. He’d done told me we were gonna hunt you down when he was fully recovered, but you came up before we had to go looking.”

Bucky shrugged. “Well, you know how Steve is, how could I stay away?” he joked.

“Alright, well, Sam and I are gonna go, but we’ll see you guys later,” Steve, said, and Sam waved to them when he and Steve turned to go.

“Later, guys!” Sam called and he and Sam left to a chorus of ‘bye’s and ‘later’s.

Bucky just narrowed his eyes at their retreating backs before turning back to keep eating his dinner, all too aware of the empty seat beside him.

~

Bucky was laying in Bruce’s hammock on the roof when Darcy came out and pulled up a lawn chair beside him, reclining to look up at the sky. “Huh you can kinda even see the stars this high up. Cool.”

Bucky smiled. “You can see like two stars,” he teased. “Back in the War? In forests in Germany and mountains in Austria, at night you could see thousands of stars. Millions even. It was amazing. Steve used to try to draw it from memory the next day, but it’s just not as easy to draw stars as landscape.”

Darcy grinned. “I bet he could draw people real easy, huh? I wonder if he’s got a drawing of Sam. Sam’s cute.” She blinked. “Oh dude, I bet they’re on a date!” she said suddenly. “Oh wow, they would be so hot together,” she said, and Bucky huffed.

“Steve is not on a date with Sam, Sam’s straight,” he said, and she shrugged.

“So? Steve’s hot enough to turn a guy. One kiss and that straight line would bend in a heartbeat.” She sighed dramatically. “And that’ll be Steve off the market. I mean I couldn’t date the guy, he’s too nice, it’s creepy, but Steve Rogers would be all wrapped up in the Sam Wilson show, no room in his bed for anybody else.”

Bucky shot her a look. “I’m not stupid. I know what you’re getting at.”

She shrugged, giving him an innocent look. “So you didn’t get jealous as hell when Same showed up and took your friend with him and Pepper was wrong when she mentioned that you and Steve have been having sleepovers lately?” she asked and he grumbled.

“I wasn’t jealous, and they take this sleeping thing too seriously. Steve and I shared a bed for years. Used to, everybody shared beds if they weren’t rich as hell,” he said simply. “Since I’ve got better, I just missed it. I missed having Steve there so we could talk about things. You know how it is, I’m sure when you were younger you did sleepovers and when the lights go out, you and the girls admit things that are harder to talk about when you can see each other’s faces.”

She smiled sadly. “Yeah, I get that. But I still think you’re jealous,” she said.

Bucky bit his lip. “I’m not. Not really. I’m happy that Steve has Sam cause he helped Steve a lot,” he said. “But I don’t know. We spent all day together, then suddenly Sam shows up and he just left. We hadn’t even talked about him going anywhere, but he didn’t even hesitate. I don’t blame him, not at all. I just kinda was taken aback. It was just me and Steve all day, which is unusual, cause stuff comes up for both of us, but it was a nice day. I wasn’t expecting it to end so abruptly, you know?”

She looked up at him. “Yeah, I guess so.” She eyed him closely. “How does it work though? I’m not that absent, I know all about Steve’s confession to the media about a certain other man out of time.” She shifted some to face him. “You two just… what? Act like there’s nothing there? You share a bed occasionally even though as close as a few months ago, he was still in love with you?”

Bucky smiled to himself. “He’s loved me since we were kids. He says it’s just his thing. I’m his best friend first, according to him. Always have been. He doesn’t want anything but that.”

Darcy smiled knowingly. “Yeah, but what do you want?”

Bucky tried to answer, but the problem was he really couldn’t.

~

Bucky hated very little more than when the Avengers got a call and he had to watch JARVIS-fed footage with Pepper in her office and hope nobody got hurt. “How do you do it?” he asked her once, and she just shook her head.

“It’s what I signed up for,” she had said simply.

Now, they both sat watching nervously as their friends fought giant robots halfway around the world in Dubai. Without SHIELD the crazies had started coming out of the woodwork, and for the first few months it was mostly small beans, things that they could leave up to the local governments. But in the past month, there had been three calls to situations where there were evil masterminds taking over cities and even one memorable attempt to overthrow the government in Colombia.

Pepper was biting her nails down to nubs and Bucky had to grab her hand and hold it so she stopped before it bled. She gave him a weak smile but nodded. However, she jerked forward in her seat, squinting as she looked at the screen. “JARVIS please tell me Rhodey’s-“

“I’m afraid not, Miss Potts,” JARVIS replied, and Bucky saw what she saw and his heart stopped.

“No!” he choked out, watching as the small blue figure up on the roof of the Burj Al Arab took another two hits from whatever the robots were firing. The last hit threw him backwards, but not far enough to fall off. They could still see a blue-clad figure laying in the netting around the helipad on the roof, but even when the robot he was fighting flew off the roof, he didn’t get up. “Oh God,” Bucky gasped suddenly and Pepper grabbed his knee, holding on tight.

“JARVIS, status update?” Pepper asked.

“Mr. Stark has been notified that Captain Rogers is down. I estimate ninety seconds flight time from his current location to the Captain’s location.”

Bucky shook his head. “He isn’t moving, Pepper. Steve’s not-“ He bit his lip and looked down. “I can’t look.”

Pepper put an arm around him, pulling him into her side. “It’s gonna be okay. He’s Steve, right? He’ll be fine. He’s got shot plenty of times by plenty of things. He gets right back up.”

“And one day he won’t just get right back up,” Bucky said tightly. “One day- and what if that day is today?”

Pepper just pulled at him until he let his head fall to her shoulder, eyes fixed on the screen, watching as Iron Man flew to the roof where Steve still lay unmoving.

~

The minute the Quinjet landed in the hangar and the hangar doors shut behind it, the locks disengaged and Bucky was into the hangar. When the cargo door dropped, he waited only as long as it took for Steve to be helped down it before rushing forward and hugging him. He was careful of the arm Steve had in a sling, but otherwise he gripped him tight. “Steve,” he whimpered and Bucky felt a hand on his lower back.

“I’m okay, Buck,” Steve said gently, rubbing at his back. “It’s okay.”

“It’s not at all okay,” Bucky said, shaking his head against Steve’s neck. “Jesus, you almost died-“

“I did not almost die,” Steve dismissed, pulling back some to look at Bucky.

Natasha knocked into Bucky’s arm on her way past. “He’s lying, he almost died,” she confirmed and Steve glared.

“It’s just true, Cap,” Bruce said, patting his shoulder on the way down past him. “Almost bleeding out will kill anybody, super soldier or not.”

Bucky pulled back some and turned to the others. “I want in,” he said quickly. Natasha and Bruce stopped to look at him. “I can’t do this again,” he said with an urgent shake of his head. “There were four different ways the fucker that shot Steve could’ve been taken down but nobody was able to do it. You need an extra set of eyes and I’m super soldier enhanced. I want in.”

Natasha sighed. “James, you know we can’t just let you in. We still don’t let you out of the Tower, you can’t just decide you want to play super hero.”

Bruce shrugged. “She’s right. It’s not that simple-“

“No, it is that simple,” Bucky stressed. “I’ve did this four times. Four times sitting around watching Steve go out and getting hurt. You don’t get it, but I don’t do ‘watch Steve get hurt’. I do ‘cover his back’, big difference,” he said. “I don’t give a damn about ‘playing super hero’, but I give a damn about Steve.”

“Bucky-“

Bucky turned back to glare at Steve. “No! You know how it feels to be stuck sitting around while your best friend is leaving and might not be coming back. Add the fact that I watched you get shot while I was half a world away and just sat there watching you laying there for several minutes with no clue if you were alive and nobody helping you.” He shook his head, jaw clenched. “I’m not doing it again. You know how it works, Steve. Me and you. Not me sitting on my ass in New York while you’re in freaking Dubai bleeding to death on a roof.”

Steve’s expression tightened but he grabbed Bucky’s elbow. “Buck, I’m so sorry-“

“No,” Bucky said simply. “Either next time I’m with you, or next time I follow you.”

“What’re we talking about?” Clint asked as he and Tony came down the ramp behind Steve. “Are we yelling at Steve?”

Natasha tilted her head. “Bucky wants in next time.”

“No, Bucky gets in next time, or I get myself in,” Bucky said intently. “Look, I can break in anywhere I want and steal whatever I want. I know how to hijack a submarine, I’m so well versed in stealing shit,” Bucky said simply. “You think I don’t know forty-seven ways to steal a car down in the garage, get to La Guardia, and steal any of Tony’s three planes and one helicopter?” he asked.

Tony stopped, narrowing his eyes. “How do you know there are three planes, even Pepper only knows about two-“

“You kept your parents’ Cessna and it’s still serviceable but you don’t like to talk about it because your daddy issues are about third-worst out of the group,” Bucky answered.

Clint hummed. “I get it, trust me, but… you sure that’s a good idea? You haven’t even tried leaving the tower yet. We don’t know what might happen,” he said, and Bucky raised an eyebrow.

“You know what’s gonna happen if anybody tries to tell me not to?” he asked and Clint smirked.

“I like your style.” He slung an arm around Bucky, looking around at the others. “I say we bring ‘em.”

Tony rolled his eyes dramatically. “If you break a city, we’re totally selling you back to the Russians. Putin would love you,” he said, and Bucky winked lecherously.

“If I remember correctly he already did,” he said, and Steve sighed, slapping a hand over his face.

“Oh my God, Bucky,” he groaned, then sighed. “Look, fine, we’ll see how it works out, but really, this isn’t something that happens often. I don’t get hurt-“

“I don’t care how often it happens, once is all it takes to kill you, Steve,” Bucky said seriously. He lowered his voice some, looking up into Steve’s eyes. “You’re the only thing I have in this whole world, Stevie,” he said softly. “I can’t do it again. Don’t ask me to.”

Steve’s eyes softened and he nodded. “I know, Buck. I know.” He reached out with his free hand and caught Bucky’s wrist. “I get it,” he said finally. “But for now, I’m tired, and I’m sore, so can I just go relax and we can talk about this later?”

Bucky nodded, moving to loop his arm around Steve’s waist, ducking under his arm. “Come on, let’s get you to bed,” he said, helping Steve as they started walking.

Steve just ruffled his hair with a grin. “Still trying to look after me, huh? Even though I don’t need it anymore.”

Bucky shrugged. “It’s my job. I signed up for it with the intention of keeping it forever, and I’ve damn well got some time to make up for.” The smile Steve gave him made Bucky feel settled finally for the first time since the second he saw Steve get shot.

~

Bucky couldn’t stop smiling as he looked around at the people, the cars, the buildings… all of it. “You know, when I shipped out, I never really thought I’d make it back,” he said, smiling sadly as he looked up at the buildings. “Much more familiar view.”

Steve nodded, following Bucky’s eyes to the Chrysler building. “Still just as beautiful now as it was then, huh?” he asked softly.

Natasha and Clint, who were accompanying them just in case Bucky did snap on his first visit out into public, stopped beside them, looking up. “Oh look, a building. Can we keep moving?” Natasha asked.

Clint glanced up then back at them. “Wait, was that one here back then?” he asked, and they both looked at him flatly. “What?! Remember who you’re talking to. My highest point of education was like the third grade. After that it was all practical learning. I don’t know history about stuff that SHIELD didn’t teach me history about.”

Bucky snorted. “Yes, Clint. They finished the Chrysler building in….” He let out a breath. “What, ’30?” he asked Steve, who nodded.

“About.” He smiled a soft, secret little smile. “It was around the time I met you. I was still in school.”

Natasha shook her head. “Man, that is so weird,” she said, looking up. “You two were alive before that building was there. You two were alive- oh wow,” she said suddenly, looking at them. “Did you two see airships in the sky?” she asked, and Clint’s eyes widened.

“Oh shit, that’s right!” he said, looking to them both.

Bucky grinned and Steve laughed as they started walking again, Clint and Natasha on either side of them. “Yeah,” Steve said. “Saw the newsreel of the Hindenburg crash at the picture house, even,” he said. “Last time you really saw a Zeppelin in the sky.”

“Yeah, you’d see them occasionally. The cross-Atlantic flights passed by the City. From our side of the river, you could see them over the skyline,” Bucky said. “Steve used to draw them,” he added, looking at Steve, who nodded.

“I drew everything, though,” he said, and Bucky smiled, looking at him with a proud look.

“Steve drew better than anybody in the neighborhood,” he said. “Even went to art school for a little while before we got too broke,” Bucky added. “He’d sell some sometimes, it was so good.”

Steve shrugged. “I had to contribute somehow. I felt useless. I couldn’t get work as little and sick as I was and you were the one working to support us both. The one thing I could do was art, and if I could sell a few drawings, it at least helped put food on the table.”

“You could make anything taste good, though,” Bucky soothed. “You didn’t ever have that much to cook with, but I never ate a single meal that tasted as shitty as what it really was. You could work miracles with the least ingredients,” he praised.

Steve grinned. “You were just hungry enough you didn’t care,” he dismissed.

“Stevie, I couldn’t cook and you fed me, I was grateful to have hot meals that weren’t burnt,” he said, and Steve laughed.

“See?! It was shit!”

“Well we were poor!” Bucky said with a wave of his hand. “Hard to make boiled cabbage for the sixth day in a row taste good.”

Clint groaned. “I remember that kinda life,” he said, shaking his head. “Never a lot to eat in the circus. Me and Barney used to have to split a bowl of boiled cabbage we got from Madame Zara if we brought her some customers.” He snorted. “Hell, half the reason I joined SHIELD when they tracked me down was the promise of three meals a day.”

Natasha nodded. “Cooking wasn’t something a soldier needed so they didn’t teach us. Hard to get by with no skills when you’re twelve and on your own,” she said. “I spent ten years living on what I stole or conned people into buying me. SHIELD was a steady supply of food and a place to sleep in a real bed for more than a week at a time.”

Steve smiled sadly. “My mother taught me how to cook. She had to work, so I needed to cook my own food. Then after she died, Bucky needed to work so I had to cook our food. I still like cooking, I just don’t do it as much since Bruce tends to start cooking before anybody’s hungry and it’s rude to not eat it when you get hungry.”

“So,” Clint started. “What we’re learning here is that Captain America would make a good house-husband.” He grinned and winked.

“You joke,” Bucky said. “But swear to God, the guy used to get my shirts pressed so neat there wasn’t a wrinkle in sight. Hand on the bible, I never saw any other person with clothes as perfectly creased as ours.”

Steve shoved him playfully. “Shut up, you’ll have Barton wanting me to do his laundry for him.”

“Oh no,” Natasha said. “Clint enjoys laundry. The freak. Swear he gets some odd pleasure from eradicating stains the same way he takes out a threat,” she said and Clint shrugged.

“I’m good at it and it’s cathartic. I can get blood stains out of white cotton I’m so good. And ironing is actually a great way to relax. It’s like archery, very repetitive motions. You get into a groove, you know?”

“You’re a freak,” she said simply. “Nobody should like laundry.”

When they got to the park, after blocks of Natasha and Clint bickering about laundry, Clint seemed to forget they were technically there to watch Bucky because his and Natasha’s bickering ended with an abrupt, “Loser has to buy the ice cream!” before he took off running around the curve towards the ice cream stand. Natasha gasped in surprise and sprinted after him.

“NO FAIR! YOU CHEATED!” she yelled and Clint’s laughter echoed back to them.

Bucky smirked. “I really like them,” he confided in Steve, who grinned.

“Me, too,” he admitted. He sighed, looking around. “So, I take it no sudden urges to murder everybody in sight?”

Bucky smiled and nodded. “I’m good, Steve,” he said, knocking their shoulders together. “Know what though?” he asked, walking off the path and onto the grass. “It’s been a long time since I felt grass,” he said as he sat down and laid back on his back, stretching his arms out beside him. “Ah man, so nice.” He pulled the glove on his real hand and touched the grass, smiling as he stroked his fingers over the blades.

Steve sat down beside him, laying on his back to look up at the sky. “This was a good idea.”

“Hell yeah it was. I didn’t realize how bad I missed just going out and relaxing.” He closed his eyes, crossing his arms behind his head. He smiled when he felt Bucky move closer until his head was resting on Steve’s bicep where he got comfortable. “Hmmm, that cloud looks like cotton candy,” Bucky said out of nowhere, pointing up above them.

Steve laughed suddenly. “Buck, all clouds look like cotton candy, you dunce!” he said, and Bucky snickered.

“No, but like, see there’s the stick,” he moved his hand. “And that’s the big hunk of it on top, see?”

Steve snorted as he tried not to laugh. “You’re insane.”

“Mhmmm, got you to laugh though,” Bucky said, and Steve turned to look at him, their noses almost bumping. Bucky smiled softly at Steve. Steve couldn’t help but smile back, neither of them saying a word as they simply looked at each other. Bucky looked at the freckles on Steve’s nose, going cross-eyed to do so, and Steve grinned. “Whatcha grinnin’ at?” Bucky asked playfully.

Steve shook his head. “Not much, although, I gotta say, I really think your eyes’re bluer than ever. Never seen eyes that bright blue.”

Bucky raised an eyebrow. “Oh yeah? Looked in a mirror lately? You’ve got some pretty blue peepers yourself, Stevie.” Steve made a face at the nickname and Bucky poked him in the side. “Suck it up. I like calling you Stevie.”

“But it sounds like a little kid-“

“And ‘Bucky’ doesn’t?” Bucky asked, making Steve huff and roll his eyes. “I could call you ‘Goldilocks’?” he offered, reaching out to flick at Steve’s bangs and Steve gave him a highly alarmed look. “Didn’t think so,” he said, nudging Steve’s chin with his forehead.

Steve ducked his head some and bumped their foreheads together and closed his eyes. “Hey Buck?” he mumbled and Bucky hummed. “Wake me up before I get a sunburn, mkay?” he asked, and Bucky smiled but nodded where Steve could feel it.

Bucky slid until his head was resting on Steve’s chest and closed his eyes as well, enjoying the sounds of the park around them even if they remained silent.

~

The photographs of Captain America laying on the grass taking a nap with a dark haired man tucked into his chest surfaced by the time they all came together for dinner that night. “Well, well, well. ‘Gay Icon Steve Rogers, AKA Captain America, spotted out on a date’. Very classy,” Bruce said, eyes twinkling with amusement.

Tony giggled. “Mine’s way less classy- ‘Captain Queer’s New Fame Seeking Fling’. Ha! It’s like an article about me from a decade ago!”

Steve groaned and Bucky just patted his shoulder. “Sorry, Steve. I didn’t think-“

“No, it’s not your fault,” Steve said. “I didn’t think about it either.”

Tony waved the tablet. “You should straighten this out before people think you’re off the market. At this rate you’ll never cash in that V-card,” he said, and half the table groaned.

“Tony, even I’m getting tired of the virgin jokes,” Clint whined.

Bucky glared. “I thought I told you about the jokes-“

“I’m going to slap him if you don’t,” Bruce said to Bucky, and Bucky eyed Stark warningly.

Steve finally just had had enough. “Oh for fucks sake-“ Most everybody startled at his language. “Michael Horne,” he said simply, sitting back in his chair, holding his hands out. “There you go, enough of this crap.”

Tony frowned. “Who?”

Pepper hummed. “The one from security?” she asked. “What about him?”

Steve shrugged, crossing his arms. “Answering Tony’s jokes. I’m not a virgin because I had sex with Michael Horne. And yes, I think he does work security for you now, but at the time he was a SHIELD agent.” Clint and Natasha stared at him in shock, Stark looked utterly confused, Bruce looked amused, and Bucky’s face was carefully blank for some reason. “What?” Steve asked innocently. “He wanted to know so badly, so now he does.”

“Dude… you had sex on a mission didn’t you?” Clint accused suddenly. “Oh Steve, I never would’ve pegged you for that one,” he said, shaking his head disappointedly. “Mission-sex is never a smart idea. Take it from me, the last thing you want to do is end up having to fight off attackers while buck ass nude after having sex while there’s still a threat of being interrupted.”

Steve’s cheeks were faintly pink, but he held his head high. “It was post-mission, the rest of the team went out to celebrate. We volunteered to stay behind and watch all our gear at the safe house, we were alone together, got to talking, one thing led to another… you know how it goes.” He shrugged. “So yeah. Not a virgin. Can the jokes please stop now?”

Tony grinned suddenly. “Why’d you only do it once? Were you so bad at it he didn’t wanna go out with you again? Or did you pull a ‘not into dating’ thing and not give him your number? Ew, was he ugly? I bet he wasn’t, damn your pretty face,” he rambled and Steve’s cheeks grew pinker.

“I said my piece, and now we’re finished-“

“Noooo, but was it good?! Is this Michael hot? Why haven’t you did it since-“

“Tony-“

“Are you terrible in bed? Do you snore?”

“Tony!”

“I bet he’d have gone again-“

Steve finally slammed a hand on the table. “DO YOU REALLY NEED TO HEAR THAT I FELT MORE DISTANT AND ALONE THAN EVER AFTER SO I DIDN’T WANT TO, IS THAT WHAT YOU WANTED TO HEAR?!” he cried angrily. “Jesus Christ, Stark, can you not let anything go?! Fuck!” He growled in frustration as he shoved his chair back and stalked out angrily.

The stunned silence that filled the room after Steve left was only interrupted when Bucky cleared his throat, eyes full of fire in Tony’s direction. “I’ll give you four seconds to try and make it to the suit before I kill you,” he said simply. “Go.”

Tony laughed. “You’re not-“ He sobered quickly. “Oh shit, you are,” he said, then kicked his chair over backwards as he stood, spurring the room into a flurry of motion.

“James, NO!”

“TONY, RUN!”

“I’LL RIP YOUR FUCKING HEAD OFF!”

“JARVIIIIISS!”

~

Steve was face down on his bed, face hidden in the covers, when he heard his apartment door open, a flurry of footsteps, and then it slamming. “JARVIS, I said privacy-“

“I’m afraid Dr. Banner overrode me,” JARVIS answered. “It appears there was an incident.”

Steve frowned, lifting his head just as his bedroom door opened. Natasha shoved Bucky through the door and glared, crossing her arms. “You get to deal with it. He’s your best friend,” she said to Steve, and Bucky rolled his eyes.

“Fuck off, okay? He deserved it-“

“You could’ve broken his jaw!” she said, and Steve sat up suddenly.

“Shit, Bucky, what did you do?!” he asked, and Bucky scoffed, going to flop down across the foot of the bed, poking at his bottom lip.

“Nothin’ he didn’t deserve.”

Natasha scoffed. “He kicked Tony’s ass,” she said simply.

Bucky shrugged, leaning back on his elbows. “I warned him weeks ago to stop fucking with Steve, told him I’d kick his ass if he kept messin’ with him. He didn’t listen.”

Steve groaned. “Bucky, I don’t need you to fight my battles-“

“Same shit you’ve said our whole lives, different altitude, that’s all,” Bucky said. “You know damn well you could be Hulk sized and strength and I’d still be sticking up for you, Stevie. So deal with it.”

Steve glared. “Bucky, Tony’s an asshole, but he’s harmless-“

“Hey, he busted my lip, so he’s scrappier than I thought,” Bucky said, poking out his bottom lip to show Steve.

Natasha sighed. “Yes, he busted your lip, and you busted his nose and gave him a black eye so bad he may not see out of it for a week,” she said sternly.

Bucky grinned. “Shouldn’t mess with my friend.”

Steve groaned, throwing his pillow at Bucky. “It’s okay, Natasha. He won’t mess with Tony again tonight,” he promised. “I’ll keep him here.”

Natasha glared. “He better not, because next time he’s getting sedated and tied down.”

After Natasha left, Steve turned to glare at Bucky. “Buck-“

“No, Steve. I told him once if he kept on with the jokes I’d kick his ass, he did it anyways, so he earned that beating,” Bucky said. He sat up and crawled over to lean against the headboard beside Steve, putting the pillow behind him. “So,” he said, bumping their shoulders together. “You okay? I can go kill him if you want.”

Steve sighed, sliding down and pulling the pillow over his face. “I might need your help killing myself. I cannot believe I had that kind of an outburst! They’ll never let me live it down-“

“Oh, after the beating I gave Stark, they’ll at least think twice about it.” He wiggled down enough that Steve could lean his head on Bucky’s shoulder. “Now be honest. Are you okay?”

Steve laughed hollowly, putting a hand over his face. “Oh God, I snapped and not only revealed my sexual history after so long not telling Stark a damn thing, and then I had a breakdown and admitted my issues with said sexual history.” He rubbed his hand down his face and pouted. “Why can’t I keep a lid on it like Clint or Natasha?”

“Cause they’re both scary sometimes?” Bucky offered and Steve grinned in spite of himself. “Alright, so tell me about this fella,” he said, and Steve laughed sharply.

“Oh hell no, I’m not talking about-“

“Why not?!” Bucky said, shrugging to jostle Steve’s head. “I told you all about Lisa Lombardi-“

“Yeah and I didn’t ask about that,” Steve said, making a face. “You just wanted to brag to somebody and nobody else listened to you.” Bucky gave him a flat look and Steve sighed, letting his head fall backwards off of Bucky’s shoulder. “His name is Michael, we were on a SHIELD mission together, and it just happened.”

Bucky smirked. “Details, Stevie! What’s he look like? What kind of mission? How the hell did it ‘just happen’?” he goaded and Steve grumbled.

Steve looked up at the ceiling. “We’d all been on this mission for three weeks. We were staying in adjoining rooms at a hotel. One room had the gear set up, the other room had beds and a few cots for us to sleep with. It was a team of six. I can’t give you details because even if everything is declassified now, I still don’t feel right talking about it.” He blushed slightly. “He’s really handsome,” he admitted. “Nearly as tall as me, bulkier, kinda like Clint, with black hair and brown eyes. All tan and stuff. Really great jaw,” he said, and Bucky snickered.

“I get it, he’s handsome, so what happened?” he asked, and Steve bit his lip, looking down at his hands.

“The others were gonna go get something to eat since we were done and were gonna pack up leave the next morning. I volunteered to stay behind and start packing up the stuff, and Michael stayed back to help me. We started talking and when we finished we sat down and he was flirting with me, and I still really suck at that, but he kissed me so I guess I didn’t fail at expressing I was interested as well, and… well, you know. Sex happened,” he said, bright red.

Bucky cackled at his face. “You’re so red, Steve,” he said, poking his cheek, making Steve bat his hand away. “Well, okay. Was it… you know, good?” he asked, making a face.

Steve sighed, putting a hand over his eyes. “Do you really need to know-“

“Yes! Come on, this is what we do! We talk about these things! I won’t even ask you details, okay? Just… general overview,” he urged.

“Yes, okay? It was good.” He snickered. “Actually pretty damn great.” He sighed, letting his head fall over on Bucky’s shoulder again. “But, like I kinda blurted out, while it was great at the time, and we did it as a ‘what happens in the safe house stays in the safe house’ thing, so there wasn’t any drama involved, I still just felt really… alone after.” He shrugged. “It just made me think about how I didn’t have anybody who would care if they knew.” He looked at Bucky. “As much as I was just complaining about you asking, I knew that I’d never get to tell anybody. Nobody would give a damn. I mean, I had sex with a man and I didn’t have a single friend who would even be curious about that. It made me think about how truly alone I was and it made me think about how you used to tell me all about the girls you went out with and that made me miss you, and… I don’t know.” He shook his head. “I didn’t want to do it again, because even if I could trust anybody else outside of SHIELD to sleep with them, I’d just be reminded how lonely I was again right after and it’s not worth it. Sex might be nice, but it’s not worth a week of feeling like I can’t breathe for the loneliness.”

Bucky smiled sadly, ruffling his hair. “Hey, you’ve got friends now. You could get out there, meet you a handsome fella.”

“I’d like to,” Steve said. “But I’m more out in the open now. It’s hard to not be recognized as Captain America these days. Since I’ve been living with Tony and going out to his events, anybody I meet is gonna just want to sleep with me because I’m Captain America. It’s hard to meet anybody that likes me cause I’m Steve.” He sighed. “It’s not impossible. Sam just likes me cause I’m me. But Sam doesn’t wanna sleep with me. I’m sure one day it’ll happen. I just hasn’t happened yet.”

Bucky snorted. “Same Steve as always. Even in a future where nobody’d call you a scoundrel for it, you still just wanna find the right ‘dance partner’, huh?” he teased.

Steve snorted, shoving him playfully. “Yeah, well, what about you? This is the longest I’ve ever seen you go without at least getting a date, if not a little bit extra,” he said, wiggling his eyebrows.

Bucky gave him a flat look. “What, you think it’s voluntary? Please, even if I could get out and meet a dame, I still am considered dangerous in case something sets loose a deeply hidden Winter Soldier order. Last thing I need is to be kissin’ a girl and then snap her neck.”

Steve flinched. “Yeah, that wouldn’t be that good,” he said, and Bucky nodded with a grin. He smiled up at Bucky. “I really wish I coulda seen you punch Tony,” he admitted and Bucky smirked.

“Knocked him off his feet,” he said proudly, then shoved at Steve. “Alright, alright, c’mon, it’s late, we could both use some sleep. Get your butt in your pajamas and let’s go to bed.”

Steve smiled and nodded. “Alright, alright.” He rolled off the bed and to his feet. “Bossy.”

“You know it, Rogers!” Bucky called after him.

~

Steve and Bucky were in the gym playing Frisbee with his shield when Tony called them up to the lab. They headed up immediately and were intercepted by Bruce. “Hey guys, Tony already call you?” he asked, walking with them.

Bucky nodded. “What’s this about, any idea?”

Bruce smirked. “Tony would like to be the one to tell you. His big reveal and all.”

They walked into the lab and Tony looked up, smiling. “Ah, Bruce! You brought me ducklings, how thoughtful!” he cried. “Captain Tights, your buddy said he wants in, right?” he said, gesturing to Bucky. Steve rolled his eyes.

“What do you want, Stark?” Steve asked with a longsuffering sigh.

Bruce grinned. “No, Steve, just listen.” He nudged Tony and Tony grinned.

“Well, Rocky over here stands out just a little,” Tony said, gesturing to his metal arm. “We can’t really bring you out with a big, shiny metal arm because there were reports of a big scary guy with a metal arm when you were still all ‘Murderous Russian’ and trying to kill people, right?” He spun around his screen and pointed it at Bucky. “Well, with your haircut and lack of guyliner, the only thing linking you to that guy is the arm. However, we fixed that.”

Bucky leaned closer, raising an eyebrow. “You want to give me a new arm?” he asked skeptically.

Tony nodded. “Yeah, man. Bruce can make sure it’s all done safely in the surgical part, and I can design something that looks and feels like a real arm, so nobody will notice even if you shake hands with somebody.”

Bucky raised an eyebrow. “You think you can pull it off?”

Bruce gave him a flat look. “Dude, we’re a pair of super-geniuses and this is the twenty-first century. That arm is soviet work from the sixties.”

Steve looked at Bucky, who grinned. “Whadya say, Steve? Think I’d look good with a new arm?” he asked.

“Whatever you want, Buck. But it might be a good idea,” he admitted.

Bruce gestured to Steve. “It’s probably gonna be inescapable that you’re Bucky Barnes once somebody gets a shot of your face and you’re with us. But nobody has to know Bucky Barnes is the Winter Soldier. If it comes out, we can just pull something out of our asses about ‘well Steve got frozen for seventy years, turns out his buddy did too.”

Bucky grinned. “Works for me! When do we do this thing?” he asked.

Bruce looked at Tony, who shrugged. “Whenever you want, man. It’ll take at least two days to get everything together, but I have the arm built.” He smirked. “Any preferences? Want the weird red star thingy tattooed on?”

Bucky flinched slightly. “No. Please don’t.”

Tony nodded. “Sure thing, no red star. Well, we’ll get you ready for arm transplant in a couple days, okay?” he asked, and Bucky nodded.

“Sure thing.”

~

When Bucky woke up, he groaned, wincing. “Shit, Doc, was a hangover necessary?” he asked, slowly sitting up.

Bruce cringed. “Sorry. You had to be sedated and for a super soldier, you need a hell of a sedative,” he apologized. “But hey, look, new arm,” he said, tapping Bucky’s elbow.

He looked down at his left arm and was surprised to see it looked legitimately like a regular arm. It even had hair and a few freckles. “Damn, look at that,” he said, turning it over and flexing his fingers.

Bruce tossed him a wrench and Bucky caught it easily. “Dexterity hasn’t suffered, right?” Bruce asked, and Bucky shook his head.

“Still pretty good. The feeling is a little better, even,” he realized. “Before it felt like wearing work gloves, really. I could feel pressures but not textures. I can sort of feel the texture of this now.”

“We gave you more electrical impulses in the fingertips. And heat and cold sensors so you can tell if something is too hot or cold to touch with your real hand without hurting yourself,” Bruce explained. “Couldn’t get any closer to real feeling, but it has to feel a little more real.”

“Definitely,” Bucky answered. “Now, where’s Stark at?” he asked, looking around. “Figured he’d want to see how it works.”

Bruce cringed, slapping a hand over his face. “I apologize so much for not catching him before he did it. He didn’t want to be around for you to kill him.” He gestured to Bucky’s shoulder and Bucky twisted his arm to look and stopped to stare.

Instead of a red star, Stark had put Steve’s shield on his shoulder. Bucky sighed, shaking his head. “Well, if it was necessary for him to stick something there, at least it wasn’t that fucking red star,” he said with a shrug.

~

When Bucky showed them the ‘tattoo’, as expected, everybody laughed their asses off. Steve looked amused and just shook his head. “I knew you were Captain America’s number one fan,” he teased.

Clint choked on his coffee suddenly. “Oh shit, dude, Steve, remember how Coulson was a total fanboy?” he said, and Steve gave him a sad smile, but nodded. “No, he had a tattoo just like that,” he said, fighting to keep from giggling.

Natasha grinned lecherously. “But not on his arm,” she said, wiggling her eyebrows.

Tony gaped. “Shut up, Agent had a tattoo?!”

Clint nodded. “Yep. Captain America’s shield. Right on his ass. Apparently he and some buddies got drunk once in their training days and he lost a bet.” He shook his head with a nostalgic grin. “Good ol’ Phil. He’d have died laughing over this thing,” he said, nodding at Bucky’s arm.

Bucky shrugged, flexing. “Hey, if I had to have a tattoo, why not something for Stevie,” he said, winking at him.

Steve just smirked. “Don’t expect me to get your initials on my ass or something in return.” He looked at Stark. “Next step is seeing what he can do.” He turned to Bucky. “I know you want in, but I can’t let you come with us if you can’t keep up. You’re rusty at best.”

Bucky glared. “How many times did I make six-hundred yard head shots with a Springfield when they didn’t even train us for more than a five hundred yard body shot and a two hundred yard head shot?” he asked and Steve grinned.

“I’m not saying you weren’t great, I’m saying we don’t know what you’ve got now. You probably lost a lot of the Winter Soldier prowess coming out of the conditioning,” he pointed out.

Clint whistled. “Dude, they didn’t train you snipers but for five hundred yard body shots?” he asked and Bucky shrugged.

“The US wasn’t known for their snipers back then. The Germans could pick you off at a thousand yards with a heavy crosswind, but they didn’t even train us for more than five hundred with a clear line of sight and no breeze. Our gear was shit,” he said. “We weren’t a unit with snipers, really. I just happened to be a good shot with a rifle. Once I hooked up with Steve’s crew, I got a modified M1, but sometimes we’d lose one and I’d have to go back to the Springfield. With the sweet M1 I got from the SSR I could match any German there was.”

Clint shook his head. “Oh how things have changed,” he said, grinning. “Put it this way, the official world record for a sniper shot is one and a half miles, just over two thousand- seven hundred yards, right?” He grinned. “They don’t have the weapons SHIELD had. I’ve did that shot and more four times without a spotter.”

Tony scoffed. “And SHIELD didn’t have Stark weapons,” he pointed out.

Bruce raised an eyebrow. “I thought you were ashamed of your legacy?”

“So?” Tony asked. “I’m ashamed of what happened, not what I made. A gun is a tool just like a screwdriver. I use screwdrivers to build things, other people use screwdrivers to destroy things. Sadly, our weapons weren’t going to defense, they were going to dirty business deals.”

Bucky winced slightly. “Case in point,” he said softly. “A brainwashed super soldier becomes the world’s greatest assassin,” he said, ruffling his hair uncomfortably.

Natasha elbowed him. “Lies. I’m the world’s greatest assassin, and don’t you forget it,” she said, and Bucky gave her a grateful smile.

“Yeah well, you only exist cause of me, so I still get credit for that,” he joked earning an eyeroll.

Steve patted his shoulder, smiling. “C’mon. Time to go see what you can do,” he said, and Tony smiled somewhat ‘evil genius’-y.

“I have the perfect test!”

~

The first round of testing Bucky out was fighting Thor. They called him from where he was staying with Jane and he flew over in just a few hours. When he arrived and greeted them all, he agreed to test Bucky’s skills fighting. Obviously, Thor was more than a match for any of them, he was even a fair fight for the Hulk, but he was slower than Bucky, so it was a pretty good fight. Everybody knew Steve and Bucky could keep up with each other, so Thor was a challenge.

After a solid forty minutes fighting Thor, Bucky finally threw in the towel, simply letting Thor throw him down on the floor. “Alright, alright, I give!”

Thor cheerfully offered him a hand. “Wonderful bout, my friend! You are indeed a very skilled warrior. Your family must be quite proud!”

Steve smiled from his spot sitting on the boxing ring with the others and shouted, “Yep, I’m seriously proud of ya, Buck!”

Bucky saw Thor’s confusion and shrugged. “Only family I ever had, only family I ever needed,” he said, walking over to take the towel Steve held out for him. Bucky leaned against Steve, who made a face.

“Ew, get off me, you’re all sweaty,” he said, shoving at Bucky. “So, what’s next?” he asked the others. “Should we see how he shoots?”

“Is the throwing of knives considered a skill a warrior of this realm should possess?” Thor asked. “I only ask because I have never seen any of you utilize this skill. I’m not very adept at it myself, I always just used the mighty Mjolnir, but others I know are skilled with blades.”

Natasha shrugged. “I can use a knife, but I can use just about anything to kill a person. I once assassinated an arms dealer with thirty-five cent and a rubber band.”

Clint raised a hand slightly. “I trained as a knife-thrower before I got trained on the bow. I’m a trick shot with anything really.” He shifted and pulled something out of the pocket of his cargo pants. He flipped open a shockingly large hunting knife to have casually been in his pants while sitting around at home. “Somebody throw something,” he said, standing up in the boxing ring.

Tony shrugged and grabbed one of the many tennis balls they had lying around to throw at Steve’s shield for him to block. “You sure-“

“Just throw it!” Clint urged and Tony wound up then threw it the opposite direction of how it looked like he was going to throw it.

Before it even started its descent from its arch Clint’s knife sliced into it and pinned it to the beam behind it. Thor laughed heartily. “Quite impressive!”

Clint winked. “Plenty where that comes from, Darlin’,” he drawled. “No, wanna see something really cool?” he asked, bouncing excitedly. “Tasha, c’mon,” he said before turning and running towards the ring corner. He leapt and used the bounce from the ring ropes to get high enough to grab the rafter above the ring. He swung his legs up and hooked them over the beam and then fell backwards, holding his hands out. Natasha grinned as she ran and jumped, grabbing his wrists. They swung back once and then Clint swung her up onto the rafter across from where he was and then swung himself up to stand on top of the rafter.

Tony raised an eyebrow. “What the hell, were you both acrobats in a different life?” he asked, only to gasp when Natasha turned and ran along the beam where she stood, leaping and sliding through the crossbars around columns, Clint on her heels.

“Holy shit!” Bucky said as he watched them playing what looked like tag on four-inch wide beams twenty feet off the ground, their movements as nimble as a pair of cats. When they got to one end of the gym, instead of stopping, Natasha leapt off the beam and caught herself ten feet down on the bars that held a small cluster of punching bags, swinging around the bar once before dropping to the ground. Clint, almost even more impressively, simply dropped from the rafters and landed in a roll, continuing his chase after Natasha until he finally caught her around the waist and picked her up, making her curse as he tossed her over his shoulder.

Bruce laughed and they all clapped as Clint walked over and dropped Natasha to her feet beside Thor. “Holy crap, are you guys part feline?” he asked, looking impressed.

Natasha bowed dramatically. “Ballet and gymnastics were one of the first things I learned as a child. Assassins need to be graceful.”

Clint just shrugged. “You were kinda right, I snuck into the acrobats training sessions under the Big Top. I started trying it out on my own when they went to bed. I can also do trick shots off the back of a galloping horse, but I doubt that’ll help in our superhero fights,” he said with a grin. “I’m telling you, man! If I hadn’t turned to a life of crime and then joined SHIELD, I could’ve been a hell of either an Olympic archer or a gymnast.”

Natasha shrugged. “I’m too fat to be a ballerina, but I’d be a hell of a gymnast,” she said, then shoved Clint. “If all else fails, we can go join a Cirque in Vegas.”

Bucky made a face. “Well, I can’t do any of that, but I can shoot the hell out of somebody, so let’s go to the range and get it on, Carnie,” he said, and Clint smirked.

“You’re on, Old Man.”

~

It turned out Bucky really could still shoot the hell out of anything they could test him on inside the range.

~

Steve smiled as Bucky came out of the bathroom giving him a grumpy look. “I hate you,” Bucky said flatly, looking down at himself.

They had decided that instead of it getting out Bucky was still alive through a sighting and press freak show, he would come to a Stark Industries charity event with them. There was no way to identify him as the Winter Soldier now that he cut his hair and had a normal looking arm, so there was no reason to keep hiding him. And in true Tony style, he refused anything other than showing up with Bucky in tow at a big event with hundreds of cameras.

Which was the reason Bucky now stood in front of Steve in an all black designer suit. “I hate you so hard,” Bucky reiterated.

Steve grinned, walking closer. “You clean up nice, Buck. Who would’ve known that same bum who walks around in sweatpants all day can look just right in a fancy suit.”

Bucky grumbled. “I think this outfit costs more than my super-bionic arm, that’s not right at all.”

Steve shrugged, gesturing to his suit on the hanger by the door. “Mine cost more. Tailor made,” he said, going to get it now that Bucky was out of his bathroom. “Alright, the others are already dressed. I take less time than most of them so I’m usually the last, but we don’t want to be late. Grab your shoes and go,” he instructed, gesturing to the shoes he had set out for Bucky.

When Steve rejoined Bucky waiting with all the others, Bucky looked up and his laughter died as his eyes widened and his jaw dropped. “Holy crap, talk about cleaning up good,” he said, looking at Steve. “Shit, Steve, I thought the stars and stripes were a good look for you.”

Steve grinned sheepishly, straightening his tie. “Yeah, blue’s a good color for me no matter what outfit,” he said, doing a small twirl for Bucky.

Bucky just shook his head, a small, fond smile twisting his lips. “You were always gorgeous, but man, you look nice in that outfit,” he said, making Steve roll his eyes.

Natasha just raised an eyebrow at Bucky. “You need a photo and a moment alone?” she asked and he glared at her.

“Alright!” Tony called, clapping his hands together and then holding them out wide as he strolled into the room. “Ready to go? Daddy’s here, children!”

Bruce cringed. “Don’t ever say that again, please.”

“Seconded,” Clint said, raising a hand.

Pepper walked along beside Tony, smiling at their reactions. “Oh wow! James, you look so nice!” she said, walking over to grab Bucky’s hands, holding them out to look him over. “All black is a great look on you,” she said and he winked.

“You look real nice in blue,” he said, twirling her with the hold on one of her hands. Her pale blue dress was tasteful but beautiful, fitting her like a glove. “Very nice. Also, really great legs,” he teased and she laughed.

“Tony hates me being so tall but you notice he never complains about me having long legs when my dress is a few inches above the knee,” she said with a wink.

Natasha walked past them all. “Alright, let’s get this monkey show over with. I hate people asking me shit,” she said, and Clint snorted.

“You just hate hiding weapons in a dress,” he accused and she shrugged over her shoulder.

Steve frowned, looking over her very fitted dress, frowning. “Where the hell could you have weapons hid in that thing? Actually, how are you breathing right now?” he asked and she laughed.

“Oh Steve, nothing points out your sexuality better than how close you’re not looking,” she said, gesturing to her chest. He tilted his head, shrugging and she rolled her eyes. “Look, I’ve got big tits, but they’re not naturally this big. There’s a gun and two clips hidden in this bra, not to mention a knife strapped to the inside of each thigh and my necklace is actually a garrote.”

Clint winked at her. “I taught you so well,” he teased.

Pepper looked uneasy. “Do you usually go so armed to a charity ball?” she asked and Natasha shot her a look.

“I don’t sleep with less than this much in arms reach,” she said and Pepper hummed.

“I’m suddenly really glad you sleep on a different floor.”

~

When they got downstairs, as comical as it was to Bucky, they got in a car, drove around the block, and got out at the front of the building just so they could walk the relatively short red carpet at an event in their own damn building. Sure enough, Tony pulled Bucky up beside him to the photographers and started out with, “As you may have noticed, Sergeant James “Bucky” Barnes isn’t exactly as dead as we expected.”

It was mayhem, and Bucky had to just smile and wave and let Tony do the talking for him until Tony decided they were done and they followed the others, who had used the opportunity to sneak past without stopping to talk, inside.

When Bucky got to the room where there was a bar and tables of people and dancing going on, he made a first stop at the bar to get some drinks, then went to find Steve. When he found Steve talking to an older woman, he slid up beside him and offered him one of the drinks in his hands as soon as he found an opening. “Hey, there you are,” he said, then leaned in to smile at the woman. “I’m sorry, but can I borrow Steve for a moment?” he asked, earning an indulgent smile. “Thanks.”

Steve smirked when Bucky led him away some. “Thanks for that opening to escape the press-“

“I hate you very, very much, Steven Grant Rogers,” Bucky said, looking him in the eyes. “You should’ve never left a man behind!”

Steve laughed. “Oh come on, it was funny, admit it,” he said, sipping his drink, only to make a face. “The hell is this?” he asked, looking at it closely. “Is that just a wine glass full of vodka?” he asked, and Bucky grinned.

“Takes a lot for me to feel anything,” he said with a shrug.

Steve hummed. “Great. I can’t feel anything no matter what, but thanks for ten ounces of vodka that will do absolutely nothing for me and doesn’t particularly taste good,” he said playfully.

Bucky shrugged and took the glass back. “More for me!” he said brightly, taking a far too healthy drink from one of the glasses.

Steve cringed. “Apparently the Russian influence hasn’t left you entirely,” he said flatly. He looked around and saw some people glancing. “Oh great, now I look like I’m here with an alcoholic,” he said, and Bucky laughed.

“Fuck ‘em!” he said simply.

“What’re you drinking?” Natasha asked, sliding up beside them soundlessly.

Bucky offered her Steve’s glass and she took a sip, then hummed. “Damn, that’s good vodka,” she said, looking impressed. “Stark got the good stuff.”

“I expect little else,” Steve said under his breath, only to raise an eyebrow when Natasha just walked off, sipping the glass of vodka as she went. “Won’t she-“

“I guess not?” Bucky offered, then snorted into his glass. “It’ll be damn funny if she does get drunk, though. I’ve never seen it.”

Steve shook his head, sighing. “If you all get drunk and I’m the only sober one of the evening, I will kill you all,” he accused.

Bucky shook his head. “I can get lightly buzzed, but drunk ain’t happening. And I doubt Bruce will drink,” he said, looking around for him.

Steve nodded. “Yep, he’ll stick to water, but know what else he’ll do? Be gone in about fifteen more minutes,” he said from experience. “Bruce bails early. Clint finds somebody to dance with, Natasha sits somewhere and glares at people suspiciously, Pepper and Tony schmooze, and I hide in corners until I can go without Pepper giving me that disapproving look.”

Bucky smiled suddenly. “Not tonight you don’t!” he said, setting his now empty glass down on the table beside them before spinning slightly and dramatically offering Steve his hand. “May I have this dance?” he asked, wiggling his eyebrows.

Steve flushed suddenly, eyes widening. “Bucky, no!”

“C’mon,” Bucky said, grabbing his wrist.

Steve resisted. “Bucky, no, I don’t dance-“

“Then no time like the present to learn!” Bucky argued, pulling him behind him as he started out towards the dance floor.

“Bucky, people will look-“

“And? You’re a handsome devil, they’re lookin’ whether you dance or not,” he teased. He pulled Steve along until they got to the edge of the dance floor, then he just fell into the crowd of dancing people.

“Bucky, oh God, why do I even go anywhere with you?” Steve muttered, ducking his head.

Bucky smirked at his blush and pulled Steve around. “Stop being a pansy,” he teased. “You fight monsters and robots and aliens with just a shield, but you’re afraid to dance? C’mon.” He put a hand on Steve’s waist and caught his other hand to the side.

Steve sighed, letting his head drop. “Great, and I’m the girl,” he said, giving in and putting his hand on Bucky’s shoulder. “I hate you.”

Bucky laughed, pulling Steve along more than dancing with him. “You don’t hate me. You just suck at dancing. Gotta learn sometime, Stevie.” Steve gave him a flat look at the nickname and Bucky winked. “You like it, really, you just pretend you don’t.”

Steve laughed in spite of himself. “I really hate that nickname,” he argued playfully.

Bucky gasped over-dramatically as they fell into a rhythm. “Look at that. You’re dancing.”

“Oh shaddup,” Steve said, ducking his head bashfully. “Alright, so maybe it’s not so bad when you keep me laughing and I forget that any minute now somebody’s going to get a photo of me stumbling all over the dance floor.”

Bucky’s smile softened. “Steve, you’re not stumbling all over the dance floor. You’re just… kinda awkward,” he said, taking in how stiffly Steve held himself. “Loosen up!” he said, slapping Steve on the ass.

Steve yelped and jumped some. “Bucky!” he hissed, flushing.

Bucky cackled. “Your face!” he said, returning his hand to Steve’s waist. “C’mon, Tinker Bell.” By the time their third song ended, Bucky seemed satisfied with the shade of pink Steve had achieved from all his teasing so he let Steve drag him away from the dance floor. When they got to the bar, they found Pepper standing and talking to Bruce. “Sorry, Ma’am,” Bucky said when he bumped into her.

She grinned. “I saw you and Steve dancing. Didn’t think anybody would get him out there,” she said, and Steve groaned.

“He made me. I had no choice,” he said with a pout.

Bucky smirked. “Hey, I had the most handsome dance partner out there, even if you can’t dance for shit,” he said, slinging an arm around Steve’s waist.

Bruce grinned at Steve’s glare. “Having your best friend be a total asshole sucks, huh?”

“You have no idea,” Steve said, jumping slightly. He glared at Bucky and grabbed the hand on his ass. “Bucky, c’mon, it’s not funny. I know what you’re doing, you’re trying to get a photo of your hand on my ass,” he said, and Bucky snickered.

“But it’s funny!” he defended, sliding his fingers into Steve’s. “Admit it, it’ll make people laugh their ass off.”

Steve groaned. “And it’ll make me lose some of the ‘wholesome goodness’ persona they pinned on me. Last thing I need is more hate-mail than I already got after I came out.”

Bucky rolled his eyes. “Yeah well, they clearly don’t know you or that ‘wholesome goodness’ shit would’ve never happened,” he pointed out. “You were always a rebellious little shit. You did things just because somebody told ya not to.”

Steve smirked suddenly. “Yes, but they don’t know that.”

“You’re no better than him, really, are you?” Bruce asked Steve with a knowing look.

Bucky scoffed. “Oh no, Steve is a goody two shoes, don’t get me wrong, he’s just got rebelliousness in his blood,” he said, squeezing Steve’s hand. “You were a terrible soldier,” he pointed out and Steve grinned.

“Yeah well, if I was a good one, you would’ve never got out of that factory,” he said, earning a warm smile.

“Trust me, Steve, I know damn well how lucky I am to have you,” Bucky said in a softer tone.

It was worth the snickering from Bruce and the ‘awww’ from Pepper when Steve’s face lit up some at Bucky’s words.

~

Steve called it a night first, leaving Bucky to dance around with Natasha, both of them speaking to each other in Russian the whole time. On the way out to the private elevators, Steve got stopped by a few members of the press. He fixed on a smile, though he was actually kind of tired. “Hi, can I help you guys?” he asked and the woman nearest him held out a digital recorder and started asking questions.

After a few of the usual ones, he finally got the question he’d expected. “Mr. Stark revealed tonight that Sergeant James Barnes also was found frozen, like you, and was managed to be woken from his cryo-state. How did you react to this news?”

Steve smiled. “Obviously I was overwhelmed. I mean it’s the best thing I’ve heard in years, because my best friend is here, but I have to admit, it made me pretty guilty. We never went back for his body when he was killed in action, and because of that, he was out there alone all this time. I hate that he had to suffer for our actions back then, but at the same time, if he hadn’t been found frozen, I wouldn’t have him back now. It’s a tough situation, but the bottom line is that he’s happy, healthy, and I have my best friend back,” he said simply.

“You were seen dancing with Sergeant Barnes, is he the man from the park? Are you dating?” someone asked, and Steve fought the urge to groan.

“Yes, he was the man from the park, but no, we’re not together,” he answered. “Bucky likes women, not men.”

The woman spoke up again. “But surely he knows about your coming out and the revealing of your feelings about him.”

Steve shrugged. “Yeah, he knows,” he said, rubbing at the back of his neck. “But he’s okay with that. Like I said, Bucky is my best friend first, nothing else matters. He knows I know he likes ladies, I made it clear I don’t expect anything from him, and he’s always been a tactile kinda guy, so he isn’t gonna stop hugging me or whatever just because he knows I had other feelings about him. It’s not important to Bucky.” He smiled. “I’m lucky to have the best friend anybody could ask for, and that’s all I want. My best friend.” He looked up and saw Tony walking out and grinned. “And I see Tony’s coming this way so I’ll leave you guys to him, thanks,” he said, ducking away as they all turned and skated across the lobby to vie for Tony’s attention.

~

Steve woke up before Bucky, like usual, so he left Bucky asleep like he normally did the nights Bucky stayed with him and went to see who else was up for breakfast. When he got there, however, everybody was huddled behind Bruce, watching something on his tablet. “What’re you doing?” he asked, yawning as he shuffled over to the coffee maker.

Natasha grinned. “Watching Bucky really piss you off.”

Steve frowned. “I’m not angry at Bucky, though.”

“Not yet, but you will be.” Bruce clicked something and handed him the tablet. “Watch the video.”

Steve took the tablet and hit ‘play’, leaning on the counter as he watched.

“There seemed to be some discrepancy in the story told by Steve Rogers and his newly recovered friend, and openly expressed former love-interest, James ‘Bucky’ Barnes last night at the Stark Gala.” The video showed Steve talking with an innocent smile on his face.

“No we’re not together, Bucky likes women, not men.”

The video changed back to the same woman as before. “However, Barnes had a slightly different story to tell when we caught up with him later that night, since Rogers left earlier than Barnes.”

“What was your reaction to Captain Rogers coming out and claiming to have been in love with you in your youth?” a woman asked Bucky.

Bucky shrugged. “It explains why he never liked any of the girls I set him up with back when we were younger, that’s for sure. Always wondered why a great guy couldn’t get a girl, turns out he didn’t want one,” he said with a polite smile.

“And what about his naming you the ‘love of his life’?” she asked.

Bucky’s smile turned smug. “Hey, what more could a man ask for than for a guy as incredible as Steve Rogers to so much as look their way, nonetheless have feelings for ‘em?”

“Captain Rogers confirmed earlier that you were the man in the photograph of him from the park in a rather intimate position. Care to comment on allegations that you two are dating?”

Bucky smirked. “Well, technically he was my date tonight,” he said, winking at the camera. “And I must say, I had by far the most handsome date in the building on my arm, huh?”

She looked surprised. “You don’t wish to end the speculation about the nature of your relationship-“

Bucky just wiggled his eyebrows and grinned. “Look, Ma’am, the nature of our relationship is that Stevie’s always been the hero he is to you people now to me, even when he was a skinny little kid who half-froze in the wintertime. He’s the only family I’ve ever had, he’s the only friend I ever needed, and he’ll always be the center of my world.” His smile softened and he tilted his head. “The fact he’s tall and gorgeous now doesn’t mean he wasn’t always an incredible person even if I was the only one that saw that. So go ahead!” He smirked. “Speculate away.”

The video changed to the woman speaking and a few photos of Bucky and Steve dancing. “A little confusion between the official story and the real story seems to be at play here, but as far as we can tell, the photos almost speak for themselves.”

Steve stared blankly at the screen and handed it back to Bruce before letting his head fall back and bang against the cabinet door. “Dammit, Buck!” he groaned. “I really am gonna kill him one day.”

Natasha snickered. “I wish I could say sorry, but it’s too funny. He laid it on thick.”

Steve glared at her. “You’re the reason I sometimes wonder if attitudes can be genetic,” he grumbled. “Screw it. He’s got something to answer for.” He stood up, slamming down his coffee mug so hard it actually cracked the mug before storming out of the kitchen.

~

Bucky was asleep when the door opened with enough force to make him jolt awake. “Wha- Steve?” Steve yanked the covers off of him and he yelped, sitting up. “Steve!” he cried, blinking at him tiredly. Steve was glaring and he cringed. “Ah man, what’d I do?”

Steve crossed his arms. “Why the hell did you talk that kinda crap when they asked you about me last night?” he demanded. “Was it necessary to fuck with them?”

Bucky blinked tiredly, then smirked suddenly. “Wait, the stuff about you being all tall and gorgeous, and me having the sexiest date?”

“More specifically allowing them to keep speculating on stuff instead of just saying ‘No, ma’am, we’re not dating’ and being done with it,” Steve said, turning to stalk out.

Bucky sighed and slid out of bed, following him. “Why does it matter-“

“Because that’s how these people are! They will keep guessing until you say something definitive!” Steve answered, turning around to face him, arms crossed. “You don’t have to make a joke out of everything. You could’ve just said like I said, ‘I like girls and all he is is my friend’ and it’s over! I told them straight that you’re straight and my best friend, and that’s it! No questions asked.”

Bucky rolled his eyes. “Steve, I just had a little fun-“

“It’s not funny, Bucky! I’m the one that’s going to get called a liar and have more people asking me if we’re dating, and even if I say we’re not, somebody inevitably is going to take my denial while you don’t deny it as some sort of conspiracy-“

Bucky grabbed his shoulders. “Steve, it’s not that serious-“

“It IS though, Buck!” Steve growled, pulling at his hair. “I knew letting you talk to the press was a bad idea. You love stirring up trouble too much.” He looked up. “Bucky, why couldn’t you just back me up?”

Bucky raised an eyebrow. “Maybe we should’ve got our story straight, then,” he said in a strange tone that made Steve frown.

“Bucky, that doesn’t make sense. I just told the truth,” he said and Bucky sighed.

“No, Steve,” he said softly, looking at him uneasily. “Maybe you just told the truth the way you think it is.”

“What?” Steve asked in confusion. “Buck, it’s not that complicated. You just tell them the truth if they ask-“

“So what?” Bucky asked suddenly, head twisting some as he leaned back slightly. “Just tell the truth? The honest truth?” he asked and Steve’s expression grew even more perplexed.

“Bucky, what’re you talking about?”

Bucky bit his lip and then released it weakly, head dropping so that his gaze was around Steve’s chest, not his face. “Steve, it wouldn’t be the truth. Not really.”

“How?” Steve asked softly, almost as if he was afraid to ask aloud.

Bucky laughed weakly, hands almost painfully tight on Steve’s upper arms. “I’ve always been happy having you be my best friend, you know?” he mumbled, then looked up, meeting Steve’s eyes. “It’s all I ever wanted.”

Steve shook his head, clearly still absolutely baffled. “That’s all I want, too, Buck-“

“And even when I realized there could be more, I couldn’t do that to you, Steve.” Steve’s stomach turned to lead and his skin paled. Bucky slid his hand from Steve’s arm to his neck. “You are… a thousand times better than me. You’re a better man, a better friend, and you deserve something more.” He smiled a small, broken smile, stroking at the skin behind Steve’s ear. “Steve, the truth, the real truth, is that I’ve loved you since sometime before I got shipped out back in forty-one.”

Steve stared, eyes wide. “W-what?”

Bucky snorted. “Really, that’s what you say?” He shook his head, smiling at him. “Steve, you’ve always been the only thing that mattered to me. You know that.” His eyes softened. “Yeah, all I ever wanted was for you to be my best friend. But that didn’t mean I didn’t imagine it sometimes. What it’d be like to be able to hold your hand, or kiss you. And if our story had been true, if I’d just been frozen somewhere and woke up here with you? I probably would’ve kissed you the minute I knew that was okay now,” he admitted.

Steve swallowed hard, clearly trying to process. “Bucky… if you felt that way, why didn’t you?” he asked. “You had more than enough chances-“

Bucky let out a wet laugh, eyes sparkling. “Because you deserve more, Steve. NO, listen to me,” he said, seeing Steve open his mouth to protest. “No matter how much better I am, I’m still the Winter Soldier-“

“Bucky, you are not-“

“I am,” he said firmly. “I still look at things and see potential weapons. I still look at people and see the fastest way to kill them. I still remember you being my target, Steve. I remember being ashamed of myself for failing to kill you,” he gritted out. He swallowed and looked into Steve’s eyes. “I stopped being worth your love a long time ago, and yeah, maybe you’re selfish to love me no matter what, but I’m selfish too, because I’m not taking you away from somebody that deserves you, Steve,” he finished fiercely. “Somebody out there is worthy. Somebody out there actually deserves Steve Rogers. And that ain’t me.”

Steve’s jaw tensed and his eyes hardened. “What did I tell you about letting me make my own decisions?” he asked sternly. “You don’t get it do you?” he asked, shaking his head. “Bucky… it’s just you. Don’t you see that? I want you. I love you. I could settle for something else, but I deserve what I want and that’s you.” He carefully rested his hands on Bucky’s waist. “It’s only been you for the past eighty years, Bucky.” He leaned closer, resting their foreheads together. “Why would you make me settle for something else if I could have you?”

Bucky smiled sadly, reaching up to cup Steve’s jaw in his other hand. “Cause it’s my job to look out for you, Steve. And I’d tell a bum like me to keep walking, cause Steve Rogers is too good for that.”

Steve shook his head minutely, staring into Bucky’s eyes. “You’re the best guy I know, and not even you get to call you anything less,” he said, then closed the gap, pressing his lips to Bucky’s.

Bucky gasped softly, his hand clenching around the back of Steve’s neck slightly at the electric touch of Steve’s lips against his. Steve’s hands tightened in Bucky’s shirt, pulling him closer until they were pressed flush. Bucky started to pull back to protest but Steve followed him, sucking his top lip between his teeth, nipping at it. Bucky moaned softly, sliding his hand into Steve’s hair, kissing back finally.

When the kiss broke, Bucky pulled away with a sigh, hands sliding down to rest on Steve’s chest. When Bucky opened his eyes he saw a worried look on Steve’s face, but he just smiled. “I’m not sure if I wanna thank whoever taught you that, or get jealous and sock ‘em for it.”

Steve snickered. “Pretty sure she’s probably dead now,” he said, and Bucky raised an eyebrow. Steve shrugged. “A couple of the USO girls kissed me once or twice,” he said and Bucky wiggled his eyebrows.

“You go, Stevie,” he said, then tilted his head, looking into Steve’s eyes. “Steve… I’m no good for you,” he said and Steve rolled his eyes.

“Bucky, save it. You can’t tell me you want me back and expect me to let you just wimp out,” he said, and Bucky huffed.

“You’re allowed to think I’m good enough, but I’m not allowed to think I’m not?” he asked and Steve grinned playfully.

“Exactly,” he said, leaning in to peck Bucky’s jaw. “I’ll let you keep fooling yourself, but if I’ve got a chance, I’m gonna try and win you over, you know that, right?”

Bucky glared half-heartedly. “You really have no sense of self-preservation, do you?” he asked, crossing his arms.

Steve smiled brightly. “Nope!” he said, then finally stepped back. “Alright.” He turned and went to the bedroom. “I’m going running. You sit here and pretend you can convince me you’re not good enough for me,” he said and Bucky groaned, putting his face in his hands.

“Steve, in a lifetime of questionable decisions, I’m the worst one you could make!” he called, and Steve popped his head back out of the bedroom and shrugged.

“Don’t care!” he said cheerfully before ducking back into his bedroom.

Bucky couldn’t help but smile in spite of himself. “You’re being stupid, Rogers!”

“Hard thing to do when I’m leaving all the stupid with you, Barnes!” he called out of the bedroom.

Bucky just shook his head and laughed. “Fuck it. I need coffee,” he decided, leaving the apartment without a backwards glance.

~

Steve grinned when Sam came walking in. “Hey, buddy,” he said, and Sam greeted him with a hug.

“How’s it going?” Sam asked.

“SON OF A BITCH! I’M GONNA FUCKING STAB YOUR FACE!”

Sam jumped and Steve just sighed. “Don’t worry, that’s just Bucky trying to get into his uniform.”

Sam frowned. “Uniform?”

Natasha came walking in, glaring at Steve as she held up an empty hanger. “You did this, didn’t you?” she asked, throwing the hanger onto the counter.

Clint came walking in giggling. “Dude, Bucky’s gained weight since the last time he was measured,” he said, holding up a button.

“It’s really not that bad,” Tony said as he followed Bucky into the living room. “It’s just a little tight-“

“MY ASS WON’T FIT IN THE PANTS!” Bucky cried angrily. He stalked over to Steve and flopped down beside him. “Steeeeve why didn’t you tell me I’m fat?!”

Steve grinned. “You’re not fat, Buck,” he comforted. “You were starved when we got you. You’re just healthier now.” He ruffled his hair. “Seriously, Bucky, you were real skinny when JARVIS measured you to buy you some clothes.”

Bucky looked down with a pout. “I’ve never been fat. I’ve never had any fat on me at all. I was always kinda skinny.”

Steve rolled his eyes. “Damn right. People fuss about being fat now, but I’d have killed to be fat since it meant I wasn’t going hungry half the month.”

Clint flopped down across from them. “It’s not fat, dude. It’s ass muscle. It comes with the job. It’s part of being an Avenger.”

Sam raised an eyebrow. “Y’all are letting HIM join up?” he asked and Bucky gave him a pointed eyebrow raise. “What? Man, last thing I knew, you were still de-programming from trying to kill us all.”

Bucky ignored him and looked at Clint. “What do you mean, ass muscle?”

Natasha wiggled her eyebrows. “Ever looked at an ass that wasn’t Steve’s?” she asked and Bucky and Steve both stilled. She rolled her eyes. “Oh please, JARVIS was set to alert Stark when you finally admitted to Steve you want him back.”

“Thanks for that,” Clint grumbled. “I had money on just one more week, you guys. If you’d waited until this week, I’d be a rich man.”

Natasha smirked. “I won,” she said proudly.

Sam looked at Steve, who shrugged. “He still won’t go out with me, says he’s not good enough for me or some shit. He’s wrong, but I’m letting him stay deluded,” he said simply, patting Bucky’s shoulder teasingly.

Bucky ignored him. “Anyways, what about the butts?” he asked, and Natasha continued.

“Somehow, we all have giant asses,” she said simply. “I almost want to accuse Fury of picking only people with big asses, but I really doubt he cared.” She pointed at Clint. “His ass is the best, mine is second, Steve’s is third.”

Sam burst out laughing. “Oh shit, you’re serious? Wait where do the others rank?” he asked.

Clint held up a finger. “Stark is fourth, Banner is fifth, Thor is sixth. However, we all have sweet asses.”

Bucky gave him a flat look. “So you’re saying the price for joining your band of misfits is a big, muscular ass?”

Steve snickered under his breath. “Not complaining,” he said, and Bucky shoved him, blushing.

“Steve!” he squawked and Steve gave him a sweet smile.

“You’re the one who always says they don’t know the real me. May as well stop hiding it,” he said, shrugging playfully. “The real me thinks you’re beautiful.”

Bucky rolled his eyes but Clint actually smiled. “Awwwww that was adorable,” he said, and Sam chuckled.

“In a really creepy way,” he agreed, making Bucky sigh.

“I hate you all,” he grumbled.

Steve bumped their shoulders together and smiled. “Don’t worry, they’ll fix your outfit and then you can accidently shoot him and call it a training accident,” he comforted, earning an offended gasp from Clint and an amused smile from Bucky.

~

The first call out with Bucky was actually pretty simple. There was an AIM cell trying to steal equipment from a college and when the police caught them, they were armed a little heavier than the police could handle. Tony had dropped Bucky and Clint off on rooftops surrounding the intersection where the fight was going down while the others came from another route. Bruce was staying out of this one, since it didn’t really require Hulk-level interference.

Bucky settled with his rifle, taking in the situation down below. “Ah crap. Fellas, we’ve got hostages,” he said, looking through the windows on the first floor. “Six- no, seven people.” He twisted some to see better. “First floor, west windows one and two. Probably human shields.”

“Think we can take ‘em out without hitting hostages?” Clint asked. “I’ve got a pole in my way, but I can reposition easily.”

Bucky hummed. “My guess is we could take out the ones directly behind them with non-lethal shots through the hostages, but something tells me we’d be in deep shit for shooting people through non-vital areas just to kill some bad guys.”

“Negative on that, Sarge,” Tony said suddenly. “No shooting civilians just because they’re in your way.”

“Really?” Bucky asked. “Sarge is a thing now?”

“May as well be,” Tony replied. “Cap and Sarge, it works out.”

Bucky chuckled. “‘Cept I earned mine. He just got a nickname that stuck.” He saw the doors opening and he shifted his gun. “Oop, we’ve got movement.”

“Roger that,” Clint said. “Two hostiles coming out. Human shields on front and sides. Clever terrorists,” he mumbled.

Bucky followed them until they stopped in the middle of the area cordoned off by the police. “I can take the one on the right,” he said. “Hawkeye, got the one on the left?”

“One on the right? How do you have the one on the right. I’m on the right.”

Bucky sighed. “Head shot. I’ve got a civilian in my way on the left but the gap between the two fronts is big enough to get a bullet through.”

“You’re asking to fire a shot through a two inch gap between civilian’s heads?” Clint asked incredulously. “Are you insane?!”

“No, I’m just that good,” he said simply. “You can make the other shot.”

“Negative, you two!” Steve called. “Not taking that risk. Stark, get to the east side. There’s something coming out the second floor. Some weird smoke. Probably gonna need you in there to see what they’re up to. Natasha’s inside already, but she’s radio silent so don’t try to tap in.”

Bucky frowned when he saw Steve walking inside the perimeter towards the terrorists. “Cap, the fuck are you doing?” he asked.

“I’m going to talk to him. Buy some time,” he said and Bucky saw him put his shield on the ground before walking closer.

“Are you insane?!” Bucky hissed. “Barton, you keep your eyes on that building. If anything so much as twitches I want a bullet in it.”

“Understood,” Barton replied.

All of a sudden there was a low rumble followed by a hissing sound and then, without warning, suddenly purple smoke was rising up from the manholes, storm drains, and steam vents all around the square. “Fuck!” Bucky hissed as he lost visual. “Status, what is this purple smoke?!”

“SARGE, HAWKEYE, GET OUT NOW!” Tony suddenly yelled across the comms. “The smoke is a diversion, both buildings you’re in are wired to blow!”

Bucky was up instantly. He looked across at Barton, who was already sprinting along the roof and, in a split second, he saw the windows somewhere near the middle shatter outwards with a bloom of flames just before he actually heard the explosion and felt the pulse of the blast wave. He saw Barton leap off the roof and onto the building next to it as the building started to implode beneath him. He stood and looked around, trying to find the nearest roof, but before he could the building exploded beneath him. He took a breath and crossed himself before running, swinging his gun across his chest, and leapt off the lip just before it dropped from beneath him.

“SARGE!” someone cried over the comms, but he was already freefalling. He saw the ground coming up and he tried to guess what bones would break first in the moment it took to fall, but just before he hit the ground, something else hit him, something big and fast, and his head slammed into something hard.

Instantly, everything went dark.

~

Bucky woke up as he was laid out on a table. He groaned, wincing at the bright light. “Shit, dim the lights,” he moaned and immediately a face appeared in place of the light. He blinked to clear his eyes and saw Bruce leaned over him. “Doc?”

“Oh good, you’re not dead,” Stark said off to the side and Bucky turned to look at him, standing there in his Iron Man suit still, helmet on the table beside him.

“Get the number of the truck that hit me?” Bucky asked, wincing when Bruce poked something on his temple. “Oh fuck, stop that!” he whined, swatting him away. He sat up and everything spun for a moment.

“Easy, dumbass!” Tony said, walking over. “Do you realize you fucking jumped off a building?!” he asked.

Bucky raised an eyebrow. “You realize I survived falling sixty feet off your building just a while ago and that was only a seven story building? Not much further. Also, I initially survived a fall of nearly five hundred meters that time?”

Bruce dabbed at his temple and Bucky saw blood coming away. “Yeah, well, doubt lightning would strike three times, Barnes,” he said, shaking his head. “You’re already healing so no stitches, but I gotta disinfect this.”

“Yeah no need to thank me for flying way too fast in that narrow of a street to catch your ass,” Tony said.

Bucky smirked. “Thanks for bashing my head in,” he said with a wink, only to wince when that hurt. “So,” he said. “How’d it go?”

Tony sighed, shaking his head. “Well, dumbass, Natasha freed the hostages inside, the explosion was a distraction for the AIM cell to try and escape, but since Clint hates people trying to blow him up and your boyfriend was majorly pissed at them for trying to blow you up, it didn’t take long to neutralize them all.” He held up his helmet. “I had to hear it all on comms, by the way, since I was bringing you here to make sure you weren’t dead.”

“Not my boyfriend.”

Tony scoffed, rolling his eyes dramatically. “Not yet.”

Tony left and Bruce tended to his head, cleaning him up and putting a bandage on it. He had just finished taping down the corner of the bandage when the door flung open and Steve walked in, looking more than a little pissed. Bucky cringed. “Shit.”

Bruce hummed. “Somebody’s in trouble,” he sing-songed, earning a glare.

“James Buchannan Barnes-“ Steve started, and Bucky groaned.

“Whole name, really?” he asked and Steve just continued.

“I cannot believe you!” Steve snapped. “You thought it was okay to just fucking swan drive off a building?!” he roared.

Bucky raised an eyebrow, sliding off the table. “Last time I checked, I was standing on top of a building that was actively EXPLODING!” he stressed. “What’d you want me to do, stay put?!”

“You could’ve called for help! Or jumped to another building-“

“I didn’t have time! It was coming down!” Bucky defended. “It was jump or fall into the rubble and get buried!”

“You could’ve died-“

“I’ve never died before falling off of shit-“

“THIS MAKES THE THIRD TIME IN MY LIFE I’VE HAD TO WATCH YOU FALLING AND HAVE NO WAY TO HELP YOU!” Steve roared, grabbing him by the shoulders. “Do you not get it?! Do you have no idea what every damn nightmare that you wake me up from is about?! I SAW you hesitate! You watched the other building first instead of running! If you had followed orders, you would’ve made it, and when you saw you weren’t gonna make it, you could’ve TRIED to ride out the implosion!” he argued. “Jumping off of shit is NOT okay! Ever!”

Bucky’s anger faded some as he saw the look in Steve’s eyes. “Steve… I’m sorry if I scared you-“

“You live to scare me, don’t you, Buck?” he asked viciously. “Do you know what would happen if I watched you fall to your death twice in one lifetime-“

“Steve, I’m okay,” he said softly. He reached up and curled his hands around the back of Steve’s neck. “Stevie, I’m sorry and I’m fine.” He closed his eyes when Steve deflated and leaned his forehead against Bucky’s shoulder.

“Bucky I’m sorry I freaked out- I just- Bucky-“ Steve groaned, pulling back enough to look at Bucky’s face. “It was terrifying.”

Bucky nodded. “I’m sorry.” He stroked at the nape of Steve’s neck. “So we need to work on this okay? I can’t be a liability in the field like this but I’m not backing out.”

Steve winced. “Just stop jumping off buildings. It’s terrifying enough when Clint does it, but he has a way to stop himself. You don’t.”

Bucky frowned. “He jumped onto another roof.”

“And sometimes he leaps off the roof and then shoots a grappling arrow at another anchor point while he’s falling,” Steve said and Bucky raised an eyebrow. Steve rolled his eyes. “He has a death wish, I’m sure.”

Bucky smiled and stroked at Steve’s neck. “Maybe we should work out something like that for me. Maybe gimme a vest with tools in it?”

Steve nodded. “Well talk to Stark,” he said. He led his hands slide from Bucky’s upper arms to his wrists. “I just can’t watch it again, Buck. Do you understand me?”

“I understand well enough,” he said, wincing at the memory of the Winter Soldier watching Steve fall into the Potomac.

“Soooo no bloodshed in my lab then?” Bruce asked, and the both jumped, having forgot he was there. He smirked. “I know, I’m good at invisibility, right? I think it’s how small I am. That or the practice blending into my surroundings.” He walked over, throwing a pen into his pen cup. “Wish I was more athletic, I’d be a killer spy.”

Bucky smirked. “Nah, too handsome, Doc. Your mark would catch those gorgeous brown eyes and that ‘blending in’ thing would be shot to hell.”

Bruce laughed. “Yeah, yeah, get out of here, go charm somebody it’ll work on,” he said, shaking his head with an amused grin.

Steve stepped back, offering his hand to Bucky. “Promise not to yell anymore if you promise not to apologize again,” he offered and Bucky nodded, but bypassed his hand, pulling him into a hug.

“We don’t shake, Stevie, we hug it out like real men,” he said, patting him on the shoulder hard.

Steve just grinned. “Whatever you say, Buck.”

~

It was cold.

There was snow on the ground and ice on the road. The car had hit a tree as planned when he cut the brake lines. He had timed the spot in the road the brakes would fail precisely and was within five hundred yards. As he walked towards the wreck, it was smoking but there was no fire. He needed a fire to cover the brake line damage. When he got closer, he could see the woman was dead. Her eyes were open, staring into nothingness and the locket around her throat – broken open and bearing the photo of a child – was slicing into her skin from where it had got caught on the seat, spilling blood down her front, and her head was tilted the wrong way as it rested against the seat. The man, however, was breathing.

He quickly circled the vehicle and punched in the window, showering glass on the man. The man jerked, looking at him suddenly. He expected fear in the man’s eyes, but instead he saw something else.

Recognition.

“Barnes?” the man grumbled. He had no idea who ‘Barnes’ was or why this old man seemed to think he was ‘Barnes’, but the man smiled slightly, his teeth coated with blood. “Figures I’d end up in a snowy hell with old ghosts,” he all but whispered before choking on his own blood.

The man was dying quickly, but it wasn’t quick enough. He reached out, grasped the man’s head and slammed it into the steering wheel repeatedly until his skull was caved in and any breath left had ceased.

Good. The mission was complete. Nothing left but to kick start the engine fire to be sure there was no evidence of the tampered with brake lines.

When the flames were burning high, the bodies inside the vehicle consumed in the blaze, his job was done. His handlers would pick him up along the way-

“AHHHHHHHHHH!” Bucky woke up screaming, jumping up so fast he fell out of bed. He couldn’t stop screaming even as he scrambled towards the wall, ducking down, hands over his head.

“Bucky!” Faintly Bucky could hear Steve calling his name and shouting, but he couldn’t stop screaming. “JARVIS! I need you to call Bruce down here fast!”

“Right away, sir.”

“Bucky, Bucky, you gotta breathe,” Steve begged, kneeling in front of him. Bucky could see Steve, he could see his face, and he could hear him speaking, but he couldn’t stop screaming until his screams shattered into broken, heaving sobs that shook him so hard it rattled his dog tags against his chest.

Bucky didn’t calm down one bit until Bruce was suddenly in front of him and a needle was going into his arm. Almost instantly, everything went dark.

~

Steve sat beside Bucky, tear tracks still fresh on his face, while Bruce checked his vitals again. He was still asleep from whatever sedatives Bruce gave him, but Bruce said it looked like they were wearing off.

“What happened?” Bruce asked gently, patting ineffectively at his own sleep-ruffled curls.

Steve shook his head. “We were asleep. I was woke up by him just screaming and jumping out of bed. I’ve woke up to him crying or screaming before, and he’s been woken up by me doing the same, but not like that.”

Bruce raised an eyebrow. “You two still share a bed even though you both have talked about the fact you’re in love with each other but aren’t doing anything about it?” he asked, and Steve shrugged awkwardly.

“It’s… not different. I didn’t think he would want to, since he’s the one that denies anything will ever happen, but he knows I wouldn’t try anything if he really doesn’t want me and I shared a bed with him for most of the time I was in love with him before. Tony offered him his own place in the building but he wants to stay with me and I’m not telling him no,” Steve said softly.

Bruce smiled in amusement. “You two are a hell of a story, Steve.”

Steve smiled sadly. “I doubt many great romances of history involve waking up to a flashback so violent one person involved is huddled on the floor screaming.”

“I dunno,” Bruce said, shrugging. “Plenty of the oldest love stories were about two warriors, and war has always caused PTSD. I wouldn’t be surprised if-“

“Steve?” Bruce fell silent as Bucky started to wake up. Bucky groaned, squirming on the bed. “Steve, my head hurts really… oh God.” Bucky sat up suddenly, only to grab his head. “Oh shit.”

“Sorry,” Bruce offered with a sheepish smile. “Sedatives strong enough to put you down leave a hell of a hangover.”

Steve grabbed his hand, holding it tightly. “Bucky, are you okay?” he asked.

Bucky swallowed hard, looking up suddenly with tears filling his eyes. “Steve- Steve I killed Stark.”

Steve frowned and Bruce raised an eyebrow. “Um, Tony’s fine. He was in his lab when I left mine to come down-“

“Not Tony Stark,” Bucky said hoarsely, swallowing hard as a tear broke free from his lashes and skated down his face. “Howard- Howard was Steve’s friend,” he whispered weakly. “And I killed him.”

Steve reached out to brush the tear off of Bucky’s cheek. “Buck, Howard and his wife died in a car crash over twenty years ago.”

Bruce cleared his throat and they both looked up. “Um… there was- there was evidence that that may have been a HYDRA hit,” he offered. “So he may not be wrong,” he added regretfully.

Bucky nodded, his chin shuddering as he tried to keep his composure. “He knew me,” he whimpered. “I- I cut the brake lines on the car and timed when it would crash. The woman was killed on impact. Her neck was broken and her throat was cut by a necklace with- oh God,” he choked out. “A necklace with a baby photo of Tony in it.” He let out a sob. “Howard was clearly dying, but not fast enough so I- I walked around to his side of the car and he looked up and said my name and then said he wasn’t surprised he ended up in a snowy hell with old ghosts and then I bashed his head in,” he cried, hands over his eyes. “Oh God, oh God!” he sobbed.

Steve blinked through the tears on his face but shook his head. “It wasn’t you, Bucky. It wasn’t you-“

“THESE TWO HANDS RIGHT FUCKIN’ HERE MURDERED YOUR FRIEND!” he cried, holding out his hands. “I killed him! I killed his wife! Jesus Christ, I’m the one who murdered Tony’s parents!”

“No,” Steve said sternly, pulling Bucky’s wrists until his arms were around Steve instead. He leaned their foreheads together, grabbing the sides of Bucky’s head. “You were programmed for a mission. The Winter Soldier was programmed for something and the Soldier carried out his orders. Bucky Barnes was not even there for that. That was a tool wearing your face, you got it?” he defended. “You didn’t kill Howard, Buck. You wouldn’t do that.”

Bucky sniffled, shaking his head. “I can remember the feeling of- of his skull cracking under my hands! And- and the smell of gasoline when I helped the fire along so that it consumed the wreckage and covered the cut lines!”

Steve shook his head. “It wasn’t your fault. I promise, Bucky. I promise you didn’t do it.” He stroked his cheeks with his thumbs, swiping away tears. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry this happened to you. I’m so, so sorry you have those memories. I’m sorry, Buck.”

Bucky whimpered and let his head fall forward until he was leaning against Steve’s chest, hands fisted in the back of his shirt. Steve held him, stroking his back. He looked over at Bruce, who gave him an apologetic look. “Steve,” he said softly, hesitating some. “Steve… I have to tell Tony. You know that, right?” he asked reluctantly. “He’s my best friend. I can’t keep something like this from him.”

Steve sighed, but nodded. “I know,” he said, jaw tight. “I wish you could, but I really do know.”

Bruce nodded regretfully. “I’m sorry this happened.”

Steve shook his head. “Tony deserves to know the truth.” He looked up. “But if he says a damn thing to-“ He swallowed hard. “If he reacts badly, we’ll find ourselves with a situation on our hands,” Steve said lightly, but Bruce nodded immediately.

“Understood. I’ll keep him occupied if it seems likely,” he said, then started to leave. “He’ll be alright now, I think. But I’d probably suggest seeing if Sam can come visit? He’s got experience with this kinda thing. Maybe if Bucky talked to him…” Bruce trailed off, but Steve nodded.

“I’ll give him a call first thing.” When Bruce left, he turned back to Bucky and worked to get him back under the covers, sliding in with him. He held Bucky as his crying tapered off to whimpers and shakes, lips pressed to his head. “It’ll be okay, Buck. I promise.”

~

It took a few days for Bucky to come out of Steve’s apartment. Sam had come to visit and he and Bucky had talked a little. Bucky didn’t say much, but Steve knew Sam was able to give him an unbiased ear for what he did say. Steve gave them space and wasn’t surprised that nobody had seen Tony leave the garage in a while either. However, the first night Bucky came out with Steve, they went to see Bruce and found Tony laying on Bruce’s couch, playing with a Rubik’s cube.

Steve tensed but Tony just continued twisting the block while speaking. “What’s up, Pops?” he asked and Steve chuckled.

“You forget Tony, you’re much older than me,” he said, leaning back against the table beside Bruce

Tony sighed, dropping the cube on his chest. “Okay, do we have to do the talking thing? I’m bad at the talking thing. Can we just get it over with?”

“Tony,” Bruce chastised softly and Tony rolled his eyes dramatically.

“Fine, Bruce.” He sat up, putting the cube on the table beside him as he looked at Bucky. “Look, Frosty,” he started and Steve gave him a warning look. “I’ll give it to you straight. My parents died twenty-five years ago. I’m more than over that at this point in my life. Hell, I didn’t even like them that much.” He rubbed at the back of his neck. “It sucks to know what happened in details but… well at least my dad’s drinking wasn’t the cause,” he said, shrugging. “I kinda always thought he was drinking and driving.” He snorted, leaning back. “Alcoholism and whoring around apparently was a Stark family trait.”

Steve frowned. “Whoring around?” he asked and Tony scoffed.

“Oh, come on, you knew the guy in his prime. My dad was a bigger slut than I used to be,” he said and Bucky and Steve exchanged a glance.

“Uh… Tony,” Bucky said gently. “Howard was kind of… not at all like that.”

“Yeah, no,” Steve, said, shaking his head. “I mean, obviously we don’t know what he was like later on, but when I was friends with him, he actually told me he flirted around with women to keep up appearances but didn’t have any interest in anything more.”

Bucky nodded. “Personally, I was shocked to find out he had a kid, cause I was pretty damn sure he was a homo,” he said and Steve blushed, but nodded. Bucky gestured to Steve. “Howard was really into making Steve take his clothes off for any tiny thing Howard needed him for.”

“Yeaaah, it got a little awkward,” Steve said, wincing. “Especially when he was measuring for uniform upgrades.”

Tony blinked at them, face blank. “Holy shit, you’re saying my dad wanted to bang Captain America?” he asked, and Bucky and Steve both nodded. “Huh.” Tony leaned back, crossing his legs. “You know… actually that explains a lot,” he said, rubbing his beard in a way that looked sort of like an evil genius contemplating something. “Also explains why my mom never seemed to like him that much. Or why he never seemed to really give a damn about me. We were totally a cover, I bet.” He cringed suddenly. “Well shit, maybe we didn’t have whoring around in common, but I totally had sex with guys when I was younger. Dammit, will I EVER stop being similar to my dad?!”

Bruce chuckled darkly. “Could be worse. My dad was a violent yet very intelligent atomic physicist, and I’m a natural genius nuclear physicist who turns into a rage monster. At least your got alcoholism and a predilection to fuck men sometimes.”

Steve chuckled softly. “You know, my dad was a soldier. I never met him, though. Died in the trenches.”

“Never knew my Pops,” Bucky said. “Orphanage brat. Barely even remember my mother. Closest thing to a dad I had was Father Mathews and I wasn’t exactly the religious type. I only went to church cause Steve guilted me into it.”

Steve raised an eyebrow. “You still took your rosary with you to Europe,” he said, and Bucky grinned, bumping their shoulders together.

“Yeah, cause you gave it to me,” he said and Steve smiled bashfully. “I used it to keep together all the letters I got from home. Well, the ones I actually got,” he said. “Hard to get mail to a foxhole.”

Steve shrugged. “I only sent you about five before I got sent on the performing monkey circuit.”

Tony smirked. “I have photos of that. Somewhere, I do anyhow. Posters and everything.”

Steve groaned. “I hated my life. I hated everything. Patriotic duty my ass, I was a showgirl.”

Bucky wiggled his eyebrows at Bruce. “Should’ve seen his suit.”

Bruce chuckled. “Couldn’t be much different than the suit now-“

“Tights, Bruce,” Bucky said with a full on leer. “They were tights.”

Steve gave him a playful glare. “Yeah and now I know why you wanted me to keep that suit,” he said accusingly.

Bucky smirked. “I’m not at all ashamed of that request. I stand by you in tights being a hell of a sight for sore eyes after I’d been a POW.”

Steve ducked his head, smiling. “You are shameless,” he accused.

“C’mon, your ass in tights, Steve,” Bucky said with a laugh. “Back me up,” he said, and Bruce held up his hands.

“I’m staying out of it.” He smirked. “I do know Steve apparently has the third best ass out of the Avengers,” he joked and Steve groaned, letting his head fall onto Bucky’s shoulder, eyes pressed against his shirt.

Tony frowned. “Wait, where do I rank?”

“Fourth,” Bruce said with a smirk. “I’m fifth, though, so I can’t say much.”

Fourth?” Tony huffed. “That’s just not right. I have a great ass!”

Bucky groaned and shook his head. “Alright, alright, so we’re good, right?” he asked, Tony, who sobered up some, but nodded.

“Yeah, dude, we’re fine,” he said solemnly. “It’s all in the past – literally – and hey man, I know about not being the one behind the wheel, okay? You really just aren’t to blame.”

Bucky cringed. “Yeah, Sam says so too.” He nudged Steve. “Alright, c’mon. Sam wants to go running with you before he leaves.”

Steve grinned. “You should come. Make him not feel so slow,” he joked, grabbing Bucky in a headlock and ruffling his hair as he tugged him towards the door.

“Ahh, get off me, Punk!”

“Make me, Jerk!” Steve cried, laughing as Bucky tugged free, but didn’t go far, absently reaching back to grab his hand and pull him along by it.

~

Steve wasn’t sure what woke him up at first. He didn’t hear crying or yelling so Bucky wasn’t having a nightmare, and he hadn’t been having one. But he couldn’t really imagine what else would’ve woken him up in the middle of the night. He stretched some as he rolled onto his back, only to feel Bucky pull back some. He looked over and found Bucky awake, raised up on one elbow, head propped in his hand. “Buck?” he muttered sleepily, frowning.

Bucky smiled sadly, stroking at Steve’s side where his free hand rested. “Sorry if I woke you,” he said, and Steve hummed, shrugging.

“S’okay.” He looked at Bucky’s impossibly blue eyes highlighted by one beam of light from outside shining directly on his face. “You okay?” he asked softly, catching Bucky’s hand against his chest, curling their fingers together.

Bucky nodded, stroking his thumb absently along the back of Steve’s hand. “Yeah. Just can’t sleep.”

Steve grinned. “So you’re sitting here watching me sleep? Creep,” he joked.

“Why do you let me stay here?” Bucky asked softly. Steve’s smile slipped and Bucky continued. “Why are you so good to me, Steve?” He looked into Steve’s eyes with a strange vulnerability Steve had only seen a few times since Bucky came into himself. “You’re so much better than this. You- you’re worth more than I ever will be-“

“Bucky,” Steve started, but Bucky continued over him.

“You always were. You were always ten times the man I am or ever will be.” He rolled his lips together uncomfortably. “I don’t deserve you.”

Steve pulled Bucky’s hand to his mouth and kissed his palm. “Buck, for the hundredth time… it isn’t about that.” He gave Bucky a dim smile. “It’s not about you being worth it. It’s about me loving you no matter what could be better about you. Nobody is perfect,” he whispered.

Bucky gave him a slightly damp-eyed smile. “You are, Stevie. You always were.”

Steve shook his head. “Nah, I haven’t been perfect a day in my life. I’ll settle for ‘good’.”

“The best,” Bucky said, cupping Steve’s jaw, thumb brushing his chin. “Always were my best guy.”

Steve didn’t reply with words. Rather he sat up far enough to kiss Bucky for only the second time ever. This time, Bucky didn’t protest. He slid his hand into Steve’s hair, kissing him back. He moaned softly when Steve pulled him closer, rolling over to prop himself above Bucky from the side, one hand on the bed opposite him, bodies flush. Bucky looked up at Steve, tipping his chin up to steal a small kiss. “I’m not the man you fell in love with, Stevie. I won’t ever be the same.”

Steve shook his head, pressing their foreheads together. “I’m not that same kid you fell in love with, either.”

Bucky gave him a familiar smirk and chuckled. “Yeah, guess you’re not, huh?” Steve grinned and shifted further, kissing Bucky as he caught his wrists, pushing them up above his head, pressing him into the pillows with the force of his kiss. When he pulled back, Bucky arched up, trying to follow. He opened his eyes and pouted when Steve sat up, kneeling above him. “Heyyyy, come back here,” he complained playfully and Steve bit his lip, giving him a slightly nervous glance through his bangs as he slowly slid his hands up Bucky’s shirt.

“Can I?” Steve asked quietly.

Bucky chuckled, nodding. “Like I’d say no,” he said, and Steve’s innocent façade dropped and he grinned impishly.

“I dunno, you’re the one who kept saying this wasn’t gonna happen. I’ve been on board since the day you told me you liked me back,” he said, skating his hands up Bucky’s sides, teasingly light touches painting Bucky’s body as Steve slowly divested him of his shirt.

Bucky shivered when Steve’s thumb brushed his nipple and sat up far enough for Steve to pull his shirt off all the way. “Yeah, yeah, don’t get smug. Just get naked,” he said, and Steve laughed at the grumpy look on his face, but nodded, sitting up to strip his own shirt off. When Steve dropped his shirt, Bucky smirked. “Nice cans,” he said and Steve rolled his eyes.

“Bucky,” he tutted and Bucky grinned.

“No really!” He reached out and rested a hand on Steve’s chest. “You’ve got a bigger rack than half the girls I’ve been with-“

‘Bucky!” Steve cried, blushing, and Bucky laughed. Steve narrowed his eyes and growled playfully before pushing Bucky down flat again, kissing him to shut him up. Bucky hummed in surprise, but simply caught Steve around the middle, kissing back without hesitation. Bucky pushed Steve over, rolling them both to pin Steve down, propping himself up on his elbows, grinding his hips down against Steve’s. Steve moaned softly against his lips. Bucky broke the kiss and moved to kiss down Steve’s chest, leaving a trail of wet kisses down his sternum and continuing downward. Bucky didn’t hesitate to hook his fingers in Steve’s shorts, tugging them off his hips and down. He pulled up to look up at Steve’s face, eyes meeting as he pushed his shorts down, nails scraping lightly along thick, muscular thighs on the way.

Steve, kicked his shorts off and Bucky moved back between his legs, tongue following the line of Steve’s abs downwards. “Jesus, you look ridiculous naked,” Bucky said and Steve made an offended sound. Bucky sat up some, rolling his eyes. “Oh c’mon, nobody looks like this,” he said, gesturing to Steve’s broad chest and shoulders and ridiculously narrow waist.

“Yeah, and your eyes shouldn’t be possible, but they are,” Steve argued, raising an eyebrow. “Besides, are you really complaining?”

Bucky smirked. “Never said that,” he sing-songed, dipping his head to press kisses to Steve’s left pec as he caught Steve’s erection and stroked him slowly. “You really think my eyes are that nice?” he mumbled against Steve’s skin.

Steve moaned softly. “Ridiculous, even. Nobody’s eyes should be that beautiful.”

Bucky chuckled, kissing along his collar bone. “Such a charmer,” he teased.

Steve grinned, eyes falling shut as he arched his back some, rolling his hips up into Bucky’s hand. “I didn’t even get started on your mouth,” he drawled playfully.

“What about my mouth?” Bucky asked in a husky tone, kissing up the side of Steve’s throat, pausing on a spot that made Steve shiver some. He rolled his hips down, thrusting against Steve’s thigh slowly.

Steve chuckled, stroking his hands down Bucky’s sides. “You never shut your trap,” he joked and Bucky laughed, pulling back to smile down at him.

“Oh yeah, that’s flattery for ya,” he said, pushing Steve’s hair back from his forehead.

Steve tilted his chin up to kiss Bucky tenderly as he caught the waist of his shorts, pushing them down over the swell of his ass. “Your lips are nice to look at and your smile is gorgeous,” he whispered against Bucky’s lips.

Bucky pulled back and rolled off of Steve so he could kick off his shorts, then smiled at Steve. “Gorgeous, huh? That’s a new one.”

Steve kissed him, pushing him down onto his back. Steve moved over to situate himself between Bucky’s thighs. “You know you’re beautiful,” Steve whispered, lowering himself to rest along Bucky’s body, holding his weight on his elbows as he framed Bucky’s head with his hands.

Bucky kissed him softly, shifting until Steve’s hips were cradled between his thighs. “You were always beautiful to me,” he breathed, blinking his eyes open to look into Steve’s. “Always.”

Steve stroked Bucky’s hair as he kissed him hard to stop Bucky from saying anything else. He wasn’t sure he could handle the things Bucky was saying. He rolled his hips against Bucky’s, earning a deep groan. Bucky’s hands tightened on his hips and, as Steve started a rhythm, he matched it.

Unlike most of the last few weeks, tonight, when Bucky closed his eyes he didn’t get flashes of the things he had done. There were no more nightmares behind his eyelids. Not with Steve’s lips on his skin, Steve’s breath against his neck, Steve’s body pressed against his, Steve’s erection rubbing against his, Steve’s hips between his thighs, Steve’s hands in his hair, Steve filling his every sense. Bucky moaned, arching his back as Steve’s teeth scraped along his throat and his tongue licked at the sweat between his collar bones. “Steve,” he moaned hoarsely, tangling one hand in Steve’s hair, the other clutching at his shoulders.

Steve groaned softly, shifting just enough to kiss Bucky, but never enough to put so much as a centimeter between their bodies. One of Steve’s hands left his face and hair and shifted to his thigh. Steve’s big, warm palm felt like an anchor wrapped around his thigh, another point connecting them so that everything, every part of him, was Steve’s.

Bucky didn’t want it any other way ever again.

“Buck, Bucky,” Steve moaned against his lips, tipping his forehead against Bucky’s. Bucky opened his eyes and the sight of Steve, eyes screwed shut, face twisted in pleasure, was the most beautiful thing Bucky had ever seen. “God, Bucky,” he panted and Bucky groaned, nails digging in to the flesh of Steve’s ass where it rested.

“Yes, God yes,” Bucky panted, biting his bottom lip as the way they trust against each other grew a little harder and faster. “I’m so close, Stevie, oh God, Steve.”

Steve let out a hoarse moan, thrusts growing erratic as he came, his release coating Bucky’s and his stomach. “Fuck,” he panted, hips rolling to a stop as he panted against Bucky’s lips.

Bucky whimpered, positively trembling he was so close. “Steve, Stevie-“

“Shhhhh.” Steve shifted away from Bucky just far enough to get his hand around Bucky, kissing him as he stroked him deftly. “C’mon, Buck. I’ve got you.”

“Steve!” Bucky cried as he came, hips jerking into Steve’s hand, spilling into his fist.

Steve moaned at the sight, kissing Bucky’s jaw as he fought to catch his breath. “That’s my guy,” he whispered against his ear and Bucky laughed tiredly.

“Are you praising me for having an orgasm?” he asked and Steve laughed, sliding off to one side to lay beside Bucky. Bucky turned his head, heart skipping a beat when he saw the warm smile on Steve’s face as his laughter faded into quiet contentment. “Hey Steve?” he asked softly.

Steve met his eyes and smiled. “Yeah, Bucky?”

Bucky found Steve’s hand and tangled their fingers together. He smiled shyly at Steve. “I am your guy, ya know?”

Steve rolled onto his side and pulled their hands up, kissing his knuckles. “Yeah? You mean it this time?”

Bucky nodded, shifting closer to hook a leg around Steve’s knee. “I’m not getting over you, and you’re too stubborn to get yourself a better fella. I know how stubborn you can be, Punk.” He leaned in and kissed Steve sweetly. “I love you, Steve,” he whispered.

Steve smiled against his lips. “Love you too, Buck.” He grimaced as he moved. “I’m gonna go take a shower before I even think about going back to sleep,” he said, and Bucky made a face.

“Flip ya for it?”

Steve smirked and kissed him quickly. “Share?” he offered and Bucky grinned.

“Sounds good to me.”

~

When Steve and Bucky wandered into the kitchen for breakfast, the only people still there were Clint, Pepper, and Sam. Pepper was just shutting the dishwasher when Clint snorted, choking on his coffee, alerting her to their walking in. “Well somebody oversle-“ Pepper stopped, then fixed a smile on her face. “Overslept.”

Steve frowned and glanced at Bucky, only to double take when he saw the bruise on Bucky’s throat. He flushed to the roots of his hair instantly. “Ah jeez.”

“Good lord, are you a vampire, Rogers?” Clint asked, and Sam just burst into snickers, bumping their elbows together.

Bucky slapped a hand to his neck suddenly and Steve cleared his throat but awkwardly reached up to guide Bucky’s hand to the other side. “Ah, Steve,” he complained and Steve cringed.

“Yeah, sorry about that,” he said, then turned and headed to the refrigerator, leaning further into it than he really needed to in an effort to hide his face.

“It’s just not fair, you know?” Bucky said, walking over to stand beside Steve at the refrigerator. “Last night there were scratches all the way down your bicep and today I’m the only one with marks,” he said, leaning in to grab him around the hips, startling Steve into hitting his head on the refrigerator door. “I can’t stake my claim,” he purred, winking over at Pepper with a lecherous grin.

“Bucky!” Steve all but squeaked, glaring at him though his cheeks were bright red. “Not in front of-“

“Oh Stevie,” he sighed mockingly. “You really think I’m not gonna make it clear to every damn person I can that you’re mine,” he asked with a playful smirk.

Steve glared. “Bucky, nobody else needs to know what we get up to behind closed doors,” he chastised.

“Soooo that ‘not dating’ thing,” Clint started, smirking.

Bucky sighed dramatically and walked over to lean against the counter in front of him. “If I’m correct, then you’ve never had Steve Rogers turn those big blue eyes on you around four in the morning and tell you he doesn’t care how fucked up you are, he still loves you, and then start taking your clothes off-“

“Please stop there,” Sam groaned, clapping a hand over his eyes.

Bucky smirked. “I’ve never had any man that good in the sack before,” he said dramatically.

Steve sighed, shaking his head as he walked over and shoved a bagel in Bucky’s mouth. “You’ve never been with another man,” he pointed out and Bucky bit a chunk out of the bagel then gestured with it, talking with his mouth full.

“Not the point, it was incredible is what matters,” he said, leaning over to kiss Steve’s cheek with a smack.

Sam sighed, dropping his head to the table. “Steve. Please make it stop.”

“But Sam,” Bucky drawled. “Isn’t building healthy relationships a good step forward for people learning how to live again?” He winked. “Hot, sweaty, passionate screwin’ has to be a big part of that, huh?”

Steve groaned. “Okay, I’m out. You deal with him,” he said to Clint, who was nearly purple he was laughing so hard. “Pepper, I’m really sorry for him,” he said, shaking his head. “I should’ve let him keep moping instead.”

Pepper snorted. “Are you kidding? Now he’s just being Tony, I’m used to this way better than the moping.”

Bucky pointed at her with a smile. “See, Steve? I like her!”

Steve just shook his head. “Sam, wanna go running?”

Sam raised an eyebrow. “Gonna ask me to braid your hair and gossip about boys?” he asked and Steve glared playfully. “Yep, I’m in,” he said, slapping the table as he stood up.

Before Steve walked out, he hesitated, sighed, and walked back over to kiss Bucky quickly. “Be back soon,” he said and Bucky grinned at Steve’s annoyed but accepting look as he followed Sam.

Bucky turned to Pepper and smirked. “Ya know, things are lookin’ up for me these days.”

Pepper rolled her eyes. “Yep, just like Tony,” she said, patting his shoulder as she walked out.